Scary Mental Places (NC-17, x/o/g)

Xander sat in his private room, staring at what his Uncle had given him. He knew what was in the box, he had been shown the stones and the tools his Uncle had used to cut them, and the notebook laying at the bottom. The envelope that had been passed on from his Aunt was something else entirely. He picked up the slim weight, staring at his name on the front. Someone knocked on the door, breaking his concentration. "Yeah," he asked, dropping it as the door opened so he could face Oz. "What's wrong?" he asked, taking Elizabeth from him.

"She wanted you," Oz said as he sat in the other chair, watching his lover soothe the baby. He noticed the things on the desk. "Finally ready to open them?"

Xander nodded. "It's been three weeks and I'm kinda curious. My Uncle left me an emergency job, a letter from my Aunt, and his gem recutting kit." Xander looked up. "I'm leaving the kit to the kids, maybe one will want it."

"Maybe," Oz agreed. "Want me to open it for you?" he asked, nodding at the envelope.

"No, I'll do it." He hugged the baby to him. "Tigger, why don't you like to nap on Oz?"

"You're comfier," Oz smirked. "Even Miri went to sleep easier on you." He picked up the small bag, pulling the notebook inside out to flip through. "Smallest textbook I've seen."

Xander nodded, carefully handing back the baby. "Maybe she'll use it." He picked up the letter from his Aunt and slit it open. His mouth fell open as he read it, prompting Oz to take the letter from him.

Oz read the letter then shook his head. "Giles!" he called, waking the baby. "Shh, I'm sorry, so sorry," he cooed, rocking her slightly.

Xander reached over, taking her back. "Shh," he whispered, "it's okay."

Giles hurried in and took the letter Oz held up. He slowly smiled as he read. "That's definitely an impressive lineage, Xander." He bent down to kiss Xander's forehead. "I had heard whispers and rumors of this organization but I've never met a member."

Oz snapped his fingers. "Philip, the priest that helped us close the portal, recognized Xander's pendant that his Aunt had sent to him."

"Bet we met two more of them," Xander quipped.

Giles chuckled. "Possibly." He stroked down the back of the baby's head, trying to make her hair settle down. "We can talk to them the next time we're in LA."

"I have an exam in a week," Xander said softly, kissing her head. "All napping again," he said as he handed her back and took the letter, folding it up and putting it away. He opened the other letter, grinning as he read further. "Guys, I have a job." He looked up. "My Uncle owned a porn production company. I can write for them."

Giles groaned. "Xander. . . ." He shook his head. "Never mind. In relation to your last job this isn't that questionable." He handed Oz the mail he was holding, taking Elizabeth from him. "I have no idea why that wretched store is sending you letters."

Oz coughed, folding up the letter in question. "I do, don't worry about it." He stood and walked out with a wave.

Xander shrugged as Giles looked at him. "Not a clue. Going to put her down?"

"I was going to fix dinner, she was going to come help." He walked out with the baby. "If you take that job, I really would rather not hear about it." He closed the door behind them.

Xander shifted in his chair, slouching some. "I wonder if I could do that."


Oz slipped into Xander's room, locking the door behind him. "Hey, I need to share this." Xander put down his cup of coffee, waving at the other chair. "Thanks. I just had to share." He handed over the letter Giles had given him. "Remember when we got the money from the city?" He got a nod so took a deep breath. "Well, I took my friend's suggestion and bought the store he works in. The porn store."

"What!" Xander screeched, then covered his mouth. "Sorry. *You* own the porn store? *Sunnydales'* porn store? As in, all by yourself?"

"Well, Willow's a silent partner. I was hiding behind her." He slumped a little. "I really don't want Giles to know."

Xander nodded. "Yeah, I don't want to go to the hospital this month. Okay, so what's going on?" He looked down at the letter again. "Audit?"

"Yeah, and they want to talk to Willow."

"Can you explain it?"

"Maybe. The IRS can be kinda picky." Oz shrugged and slumped a little more. "Can you help?"

"Yeah, definitely. Whatever you need." Xander reached over, rubbing down a relaxed thigh. "We'll get through this."

"I can only hope so," Oz said softly, looking at the innocent piece of paper.


Oz sat across from the woman there to audit his business, mentally groaning at the sight of her severely cut black power-suit. "Ms. Rosenberg's been held up by family concerns, her mother's throwing a fit."

She nodded and put down her pen. "I've read your statement about the ownership, but I have some questions for you."

Willow walked in, blushing. "Sorry, the paramedics took a long time today." The auditor looked shocked. "She passed out, it's been a common thing recently." She took the seat beside Oz, patting his hand. "Was what we did wrong? I never knew there would be a problem with him hiding behind me."

The auditor crossed her arms on the table. "There are a few irregularities that need to be addressed."

Oz raised his hand slightly. "When I got your letter, I checked with our old accountant; he gave me an hour-long lecture." That got a small pleased smile.

"Good. I know now that it was an honest mistake." She gathered up the papers. "If you could give me the accountant's name, we could work this out and not have to explain every third item to you both. The only decision we'll need you to make is whether or not Ms. Rosenberg is going to remain an owner."

Willow shook her head frantically. "No, please no. I don't want it."

Oz patted her arm. "Okay." He looked at the auditor. "I'll bring our books to the accountant's office and have him call you."

She handed over a business card. "That's my number. Was he the accountant for your last business?" Oz nodded. "Good enough. Tell him to do it quickly. The faster we get this settled, the less painful it will be for your business."

"Are we going to have fines?" Willow asked. I'm a really poor college student and I'd rather not go to prison right now because I couldn't pay you guys."

She shook her head. "No, all of your taxes were in order as far as I could tell. It was your ownership issues that pulled up the flag." The auditor looked at Willow. "If you don't want to be an owner, the store will have to buy out your share." Oz coughed. "No owner equity set up?"

"Neither of us," Oz sighed. "It's more of a stock system from how it was explained to me. She has a few as compensation for letting me hide behind her."

"Did you two draw up an agreement?" Willow nodded. "Give the accountant a copy of that also, I'll be in touch about a week after I meet with him." She stood and walked out.

Willow looked at Oz. "We're really okay?"

"We'll know in a week," Oz reminded as he gave her a hug. "Need a ride?"

"No, I need to walk this off before I scream." She stood and walked out too.

Oz stood, taking a deep breath. "We'll be okay," he told himself as he headed to his car, "even after Giles finds out."


Oz glanced up at Giles as he walked back into the living room, then back down at his book. "Tell him," Xander said from the couch.

Giles looked at both of his men before sitting in front of Oz. "Tell me what?" he asked gently, grabbing one of the cold hands to rub across.

"I, ah. . . ." Oz put aside his book, curling up a little in his chair, taking his hand back. "I own something, have for almost a year now." Giles nodded slowly. "I took my friend's suggestion and bought his job." Xander coughed, giving him a 'keep going' look. "I, um, own the porn store, Giles."

Giles' mouth fell open. "You own what?" Oz nodded, shrinking in on himself. "I thought you were joking when you brought up the suggestion! Why haven't you told me?"

"I was scared of what you'd say," Oz told him gently. "I still wouldn't have told you if it wasn't for the IRS."

"You were audited!"

"My hiding my ownership behind Willow caught their attention. I heard from the auditor today. Everything's okay. I wasn't getting all I was due and we're buying Willow's interest out before her mother dies from shock this time."

"We?" Giles asked dryly.

"We," Xander agreed, looking up. "Its Oz's, but we're still a family. Isn't it a chain?"

"Four stores total," Oz agreed. "Don't help."

"Sorry," Xander said with a grin.

Giles swallowed. "I do believe I'm in shock."

Oz shifted so he was facing him. "Just as long as you don't end up in the hospital." Giles glared at him. "Sorry."

"No," Giles said as he rubbed over his face, "you don't need to be sorry. I just wish you had told me sooner. Though there hasn't been a good time to do so recently."

Oz nodded. "That's what I was waiting for. A good, happy time." He looked over at Xander. "You have input too."

"I'm okay with the topic," Xander said with a shrug. "As long as you're okay, I am."

"Then we're fine," Oz said. A heavy silence fell across the room, one that always spelled out something coming. He looked at Xander. "Waiting?"

"Feels like it," Xander admitted. He picked up the phone, staring at it.

Everyone jumped as it rang, Xander tossing it at Oz. "Yeah?" Oz answered carefully, frowning as he listened. "Okay, we'll be there soon." He hung up, shaking his head. "New girl's in the hospital, that was Buffy." He stood, pulling Giles up with him. "She needs you, badly."

Giles pulled Xander up, letting him walk out of the room first. "Come, let's do our duty."


Giles brushed some of the young woman's dark hair behind her ear, looking down at her still form. "We'll fix this," he promised. He looked up at Buffy, nodding at her determined look. "Stay with her."

Oz nudged her as she opened her mouth. "You can't, you're not in shape."

"Let us," Xander agreed. He headed for the door, walking out into a familiar body. "She'll be fine, Wes." He walked around the former Watcher-turned vamp, aiming his body at the elevator. He was joined by a silent Oz, and they rode down together. Xander let his lover drive, using the ride to examine the weapon stash in the car. They pulled up in front of Willow's apartment, Xander getting out to get her.

Willow answered the door, her smiling falling away as she saw him. "Where?"

"New girl got it in a nest a few blocks away. Bad concussion and broken bones."

She nodded, heading inside, only to come out in a cloak with a small bag in her hand. "Let's go." She led the way to Xander's Explorer, getting in the back. "I've got a light spell started. How big's the nest?" She shifted as she buckled up, crossing her feet. "Why can't they do these things on nights when we don't have plans?"

"Big. She was mumbling about tens of hundreds." Willow shuddered. "She's got a skull fracture and a few assorted broken bones. Giles and Wes are with her and Buffy," Oz told her.

"Was she there?"

"No, she was on patrol when four vamps dumped Kelly in front of her and took off."

"Buffy got the four," Xander noted. "Kelly probably got a few too."

"So we just have a honkin' big nest," Willow sighed. "I've got a UV lamp, some stakes, and my spells."

"We've got stakes," Xander said, holding up the bag, "and rope."

"Trap?" Oz suggested as he pulled up in front of a cemetery. "Plan?"

"Block the entrance, flash the light spell, turn on the UV lamp?" Xander suggested. "Oz, you push through to block the escape. It's your turn."

Oz nodded, restarting the Explorer as he noticed movements behind some of the gravestones. "Incoming," he said, pointing at the vamps running toward them. "Flash now, Willow."

She chanted, eyes closed, hands forming small symbols, then a light flashed around the SUV, letting them get away. "Lot of vamps," she said, looking out the window as they pulled away.

"Many," Xander agreed, nodding. "Backup?"

"Wes," Oz said. He pulled out his cellphone, tossing it to his lover. "Call Giles, see if he has a clue." He checked his mirrors, flinching. "Willow, where's Spike?"

"Angel asked for his help. He had a massive buildup coming." She scooted down in her cloak, trying to hide. "How are we fighting this? There were *tons* of them."

"We'll deal, we always do," Xander told her to keep her calm. He looked at Oz, seeing his grim expression. "We'll get a plan and come back."

"Trap them inside and burn?" Willow suggested. "I found a safe burning spell."

Oz shrugged. "We'll see. Doing it during the day would be easiest."

"We'd need to warn Angel, in case they run."

Willow sighed. "These uprisings may be connected. He said something about a new Master."

"Huh," Xander said softly. "Why do I the think vamp us are in there somewhere?"

"Fair guess," Willow muttered. "Vamp me seems to like trouble and chaos."


Xander took the lead into the cave under the cemetery they had been at last night, frowning at it's barren condition. "They left," he called.

Giles walked in, looking around. "It seems they fought," he noted, pointing at the big piles of ash in front of a raised stone seat. "It looks like some Master found a few minions lacking."

Xander shuddered, stepping onto the dias so he could walk around the stone seat. He looked down at the biggest pile then at Giles. "There's a figure under the ashes on this side." Oz walked up beside him to look down at it. "Wasn't vamp me."

"Might have been vamp me," Willow said.

Giles looked at them, frowning, so Oz explained it to him. "New Masters that Angel and Wes never heard of trying to take over?"

"A good point," he admitted tiredly, "much as Wesley suggested last night, though I didn't want to think on that subject." He looked around the bare room. "Let's go, I'm sure we'll figure it out."

Vamp Willow waited until she was alone to step out of the shadows she had cloaked herself in. "I'm sure you will," she said quietly. She walked across a patch of sunlight, a puff of smoke coming off the back of her neck. "Ah, demons, never can hold too many," she sighed as she headed for her room. "Maybe I should give them a taste of this, spin one of my new demons off as a doppleganger. It might be," she licked her lips as she saw the form chained to her bed, "fun."


Xander opened the door, letting Angel inside the house. "Any luck?"

The vampire nodded, heading for the dining room, not waiting on his childe. Angel sat, looking around. "The alternate Xander took his new family on the road," he said quietly. "All sixteen of them." He looked over his shoulder as Xander and Spike walked in. "Your counterpart somehow got fourteen bikes and left on a cross-country roadtrip."

"Let me guess," Xander said dryly as he sat, "he chose couples and people like him? A few doubled, one bike with bags and supplies in tow?" Angel stared at him. "It used to be a dream of mine, get a bunch of people like me and travel with them. Jesse and I planned it out one summer."

Giles nodded. "He is what you could have become." He looked at the vampires. "Any news on Willow's other part?"

"She's in town," Spike said softly. "She was watchin' us earlier." He stared at Giles. "She sucked up a few extra demons from what we could tell."

Giles groaned. "I know what she's doing now. We can only hope she moves on, I don't know of a way to stop this process."

Angel nodded. "We can talk with her."

"Red went to do that," Spike said, then moved before Oz and Xander could grab him. "She left me a note! It's not like I could have stopped her. She and that new friend of hers went while I was napping."

Oz growled and Giles patted his arm. "We'll save her," Giles assured him. "I'm sure she won't hurt herself."

Wesley lurched into the dining room, falling into a chair. "I had to," he gasped and started to cry. "I followed her, and I had no choice."

Spike slapped him, glaring at the young vampire. "What did you do to her?"

Willow walked in and everyone looked at her, and at the bloodstain on her shirt. "Staking hurts," she complained, "but Wes is nice."

Xander stood up slowly, staring at her. "Willow, tell me you're not," he begged.

Wesley looked at Giles. "Her doppleganger staked her, it was a reflex," he said, silently begging for forgiveness. "My demon made me."

Willow shrugged. "She was controlling his demon, they both created me." She stared into Xander's eyes, giving him a smile. "It's not that bad. I feel really free to do things now."

Spike grabbed her by her shoulders, shaking her lightly. "We'll fix this, I promise we'll get her."

She chuckled, patting his chest. "I'm okay. Really, Spike, I'm fine. We'll be fine."

Angel turned his glare from Wesley to her. "You're getting a soul."

"I still have mine. She anchored it before I died." Wesley nodded. "See?"

Giles pulled Xander down, holding him. "As long as you're contained," he said softly. "Is she leaving?"

"Tomorrow night." Willow smiled at Spike. "Want to teach me? I don't think Wes is going to be a great Sire. We could travel."

Spike nodded, pulling here in for a hug. "Of course we will, pet. I'll be your Sire and you'll hold my leash."

"Ah, puppies," Willow said with a grin. "As long as I don't have to paper train you."

Angel groaned, turning away from the couple. "What next?" he asked Giles.

"We wait," Oz sighed. "We don't have other options." He pulled Xander's frozen body over, hugging him. "I'm going to put him into bed."

"No!" Xander said, pulling away. "We can't let his happen. That's not Willow!"

Oz stood, rubbing his lover's arms. "Accept it, Xander, it's real."

Spike pulled a stake out of his duster pocket, staking her. "I agree, that wasn' her." He brushed the dust off his hand. "She smelled funny, it wasn't her."

Xander nodded. "See, we need to go save her." He started for the door, patting down his pockets.

Angel sighed as Spike knocked Xander out. "Thank you, let's go get your keeper."

Everyone but Oz and Xander walked out, Oz staying to keep Xander calm.


Giles stepped into the crypt, sliding along the wall with his crossbow ready. Angel moved past him, heading for the main chamber, Wesley and Spike behind Giles to guard him. "Willow," Angel called, "where are you?"

"Here," a tiny voice called.

Spike headed in the opposite direction, following his nose. He knew Willow's smell like he knew his Sire's, after all Willow had been the one to spell him into harmlessness. He was stopped by a wall he couldn't see, growling as he pounded on it.

"Let me," Giles said, stepping forward, hand out to touch it. "It's brick, she's hidden it."

Spike shoved him out of the way, pounding and clawing at the bricks, tearing up his hands as he started to loosen them. He yelled as the first brick came loose, tossing it over his head, ignoring Giles' yell of Angel's name as the brick hit his Sire. He pulled more bricks out, climbing through the hole he made. "Willow," he said, ripping the chains holding her out of the wall and taking the microphone off her. He cradled her gently, rubbing down her back as she cried. He looked up as a shadow fell across the hole, squeezing Willow tighter. "She's fine." He stiffened as he heard a whisper from the shadows around them, letting his senses verify what the familiar voice had told him.

"We'll get her checked out," Giles said gently, working to widen the hole. "Come, let's get her to safety."

Spike nodded, handing Willow out, turning to look at the chained body he could barely see, smiling at his Willow. "Pet," he sighed as he unhitched her. "That was a brilliant suggestion."

The real Willow smiled. "She hasn't had a period in forever," she croaked, hugging him, trying to hide her shirtless state under his jacket.

Giles smiled at her as he reached in a hand. "Very good work, Willow, I'm very proud." He helped her through the hole, holding her still until Spike could get out too. "Angel contained her once he heard you whisper. He mentioned it to me when I asked him why he had punched you."

Spike pulled her to him, leading her out of the chamber and to Xander's Explorer, laying her in the back. "We'll get you to the hospital, pet, make sure you're all right." She nodded, clutching his hand and the blanket around her. "Let me in too," he sighed when she wouldn't let him go. He looked up as Giles closed the hatch. "Thanks," he said softly.

"I'd do no less," Giles said, walking around to get in and drive.


Xander grabbed Willow as she walked through the door, staring at her, then nodded and let her go. "You and Spike get the bedroom beside Miri, it faces west. Angel, you and Wes are sharing the vamp-proof room down the hall from ours." He grabbed Giles, simply holding him.

"I'm fine," Giles said patiently. "So is she." He rubbed through the damp hair with a smile. "Did Oz toss you in the shower, love?"

"Wanted to be clean for you," Xander said with a sniff at the sweaty chest. "Come on, Oz is drawing you a bath and all the babies are down." He led his lover up to their room, stripping him once they were safely locked in and pulling him into the bathroom. Oz helped them both in, taking one side of Giles' body so they could both cuddle him.

Giles smiled, relaxing into the warm, scented water, his lovers taking turns sluicing him off with a sponge. At his first yawn, Oz let out the water, grabbing the towels warming in front of the heater. Xander helped Giles out, grabbing the second towel to wipe Giles' back off, and when he was done he and Oz dried each other. They led Giles out to the bed, laying him in the center so they could curl up on either side of him.

Giles chuckled, hugging each of his men. "I really am fine."

"Giles," Xander said softly, "we know Vamp Willow manipulated Wesley and we know she didn't die when Spike staked her."

"This is way beyond the calling," Oz added. "You're not supposed to have to fight things that won't die."

"The extra demons she absorbed gave her extra lives and abilities. We trapped her to deal with her in the morning." He was squeezed so he smiled brighter. "I really am fine, my boys."

"We're just making sure," Xander told him.

"Of course you are." He rubbed down their backs. "Is this what you had planned?"

"No, I was being happy," Xander said as he rolled on top of Giles' body. "Weren't you being happy?"

"Very," Giles said with a smile, grabbing the firm rear. "I'm very happy with you two."

"Good," Oz said as he started to nibble on Giles' ear.

Giles chuckled, trying to get away from the pleasurable torture. At least he was until he felt himself being slid into a warm hole. "Xander," he moaned, "Oz!"

"Right here," Oz said, giving him a kiss. He watched Xander as he finished sliding down. "You okay?"

"Yup." Xander leaned down for a kiss from each of his men then sat back to move some. "You okay?" he asked Giles.

"Do what you feel like, love," Giles told him. "My body is here for your pleasure."

"Wrong way around," Xander said with a grin, shifting to pull off higher.

Oz lunged up, ticking Xander, making him wiggle, shift, laugh, and move, only stopping when Giles yelled as he got off.

Xander panted, giving Oz a pathetic look. "I wanted him to have a long, good time."

Giles stroked over Xander's hips. "It's fine, Xander, I enjoyed it. I've never gotten off because someone was laughing while they were one me."

"I thought it'd be interesting," Oz said, giving Xander an innocent look. "Didn't you enjoy it?"

Xander groaned, pulling Oz up to kiss him. "Yeah, I liked it, of course I liked it." He climbed off Giles' deflated cock, pouncing on his other lover, knocking him backward as he wiggled and nibbled. When he licked over Oz's cock, his head was held there. "Not more?" he asked, looking up and giving a little pout.

"Yeah, you can have more, but I would like your mouth for a while too."

Xander nodded, going back to his sucking.

Giles shook his head, rolling so he could watch them, giving Oz a sleepy kiss. "Give him as good as he's giving." He yawned.

"Sleep," Xander said, pulling himself off Oz to give him a hug. "You deserve a rest." He held Oz's cock still as he slid down it, then gave Giles a wicked grin and attacked Oz.

Oz shrieked as he was tickled, wiggling and bucking, trying to get away from the torturing fingers. He came with one last, loud, shriek, pulling Xander in to hug. "Cruel," Oz panted, pinching the taut butt.

Xander pulled back with a smile, licking his lips. "My turn?" He found himself on his back, his cock quickly disappearing down Oz's throat. "Oz!" he yelled, pushing his lover's head down as he filled his mouth. "Oh, Gods, good," he panted.

Oz arranged them both so they were curled up with Giles, holding them both so he could sleep.

Miri opened her door, frowning at her fathers' door. "Me sleep!" she protested and slammed her door.


When Xander walked into the kitchen, he found his daughter scowling at him. "What's wrong, Miri?" he asked, giving her cheek a kiss.

"She didn't sleep well," Oz said from his place in front of the stove.

"Me no sleep," Miri agreed, frowning again. "You noisy."

Xander blushed. "Sorry." He accepted a plate and a kiss from Oz. "Thanks."

"Welcome." Oz sat across from Miri, moving her bowl away. "We're sorry we woke you up, we didn't mean to." She blinked at him. "It wasn't something we planned to do." She nodded. "We okay? No more mads?"

She nodded. "You no be loud, me sleep." She grabbed her bowl of cereal, starting to eat again. "Me go play?"

Oz hit himself on the head. "You're supposed to start daycare today, aren't you?" She nodded. "Hurry up."

She picked up her bowl, drinking the contents down, then jumped up and ran upstairs.

"I'm still not big on her going to daycare," Xander said quietly as he laid his fork down. Oz nodded for him to go on. "Can I also mention that I'd prefer her in HeadStart instead of a church daycare?"

"She's too young for HeadStart and the daycare is a good place. We asked everyone we could."

"She's going to be way different from the other kids. Especially if she talks about her playmate."

"I'll warn her not to talk about the ghost," Oz assured him, reaching across the table to stroke down his cheek. "It'll be fine."

"If you're sure," Xander said. "I don't want her hurt and picked on."

"I'll be careful and talk to the workers. She'll be fine. Quit worrying." Oz stood up, giving his lover a kiss as Miri ran back in screaming. "Come on, let's go check out the daycare." She trooped out the door, dragging her old diaper bag. Oz winked and followed her.

Xander slumped, looking at the ceiling across the kitchen. "Please don't let her be hurt. She doesn't deserve it." He pushed his plate away, staring out the window until Oz came back.


Oz let Miri walk through the door first, nodding at the women that came over to them. "Hi, we talked on the phone?"

The oldest woman nodded and smiled. "Yes, we did. Hello, Miriam."

"Miri," Oz corrected. "She only gets called that by an Uncle and when she's in trouble." He nudged her. "Say hi."

"Hi," she said shyly, waving. "Me play? I bring books."

Oz looked at the diaper bag, taking one of Giles' books out before handing it over. "Okay."

"Pretties," she pouted, pointing at it.

"No." He shook his head to emphasize it. "You know better."

She shrugged then looked around the play area. "Me play?"

"Sure," the woman said. "Chloe is in there already." Miri ran for the play area, dragging her bag with her. "Why don't we go into the office and fill out the paperwork?"

Oz followed, sitting on the offered chair. "I have some questions." She nodded, stopping her shuffling of paperwork. "Is she going to have problems because her father and I are together?"

"We'd like to say no, but we will be alert for such incidents. We don't believe that there should be any onus on Miri because of your relationship." She joined her hands on the desktop. "I'm also sure you've warned her not to show off her," she cleared her throat, "gifts?"

Oz nodded. "She's known that for years. How involved was your group in the arson?"

"A few," she admitted, "but any of our workers who were there have been warned as soon as we found out she might be coming here." She glanced at the book sitting in his lap. "She does know not to discuss *those* sort of things, correct?"

Oz nodded. "We talked on the way in." He shifted. "My mates are very concerned about how she's going to be treated. Her father was against her coming here at all."

"After her past, I'd be worried too." She frowned slightly. "To be frank, we're going to be watching her behavior closely. We realize she isn't of *our* faith and that she has special needs. We were all surprised you brought her here actually."

"I heard the other daycare was overcrowded. Miri's the oldest child and the only mobile one. If it wasn't so far away, we'd be sending her over to the one in the next town over, next to the mall."

She nodded. "Well, we have your phone number, or will once the forms are done, and if we have problems we'll call immediately."

Oz nodded. "You don't seem thrilled to have her here."

"A child such as your . . . daughter creates extra work for us. I won't lie to you, there are some of the women that don't want her here."

Oz stood. "Good enough. I think we solved the problem." She nodded, sighing in relief. "Thank you for being honest."

"I thought it'd be best." She stood up to shake his hand.

He nodded, walking back out. "Miri!" She ran over. "We're going to the other place. Get your stuff." She ran back to the play area to get her bag, tossing things back into it and making the other girl cry. "Just your things," he said as he walked over. She held up her bag so he could check it. "Okay."

"Have book!" the little boy sitting in there with them cried.

"Which one did he have?" Oz asked her. She pointed it out. "Can we buy you a new one so he can have it?" She looked at the books and pulled out three to give to him. Oz pulled a paper from between them and stood, taking her hand. He handed the books off to the little boy, who stopped crying and gave him a wet smile. "Let's go."

"We play?" she asked as he led her out.

"At the other place, the one your father liked." He buckled her into her car seat and got in, leaving the daycare center.


Oz looked around the daycare they had all agreed on, nodding at the groups of children playing quietly. He held Miri still as the head of the center walked over to him.

"Hello, thank you for waiting." She smiled at Miri. "Hello." Miri waved. "You can play in a minute, dear." She waved toward the glassed-in office. "Shall we?"

Oz followed her, sitting Miri on his lap once he was comfortable. "You have our preliminary paperwork still?"

"Yes, we do, though I have a few questions. Your daughter's not had a few of her immunizations."

"Our pediatrician assured us we didn't need to get a Hepatitis B shot for a two-and-a-half year old."


"And she's already had chicken pox."

"Me get itchies," Miri agreed, nodding.

"Hmm, well I can see your point but our rules demand that she have full immunization for her age."

"Which is good, but she doesn't need a Hepatitis B shot. Our doctor is firmly against that inoculation and we agree with her.

The woman smiled. "She'll need it to start school."

"Not really," he said dryly. "Sunnydale still has it on the suggested shots list." He shifted Miri to his other leg. "Are we having a problem already?"

She waved a hand. "Not yet." She picked up some papers, looking through them. "I see you have three contact numbers and four authorized to pick her up?" Oz nodded. "I guess that's fine. Do you have an allergy and drug sheet for her?"

"She only has one allergy and we're not needing drugs." He rooted through the diaper bag, handing the information sheet off. "That should be everything you need."

She leaned back as she read, then nodded again. "This is excellent. We have everything except your payment." He pulled out his wallet, handing over a small stack of bills. "Thank you. One last thing," she said as she stood, "did you bring her a lunch?"

Oz handed over a take-out bag, kissing the back of his daughter's head. "She wanted a salad."

"That's fine." They followed her out, Oz handing Miri her diaper bag and the bag of new books. "Oh, you packed well for her."

"We tried a daycare in Sunnydale and some got left there." He took back the bag so he could merge them, handing them to the daycare worker instead. "We put labels in all of them at the mall."

"Excellent, it will stop problems later when we have to repack for everyone."

Oz stopped, reaching over to pull out a box of labels and her crayons, labeling them too. "You might want to check everything else." He handed the worker the crayons, bending to hug Miri. "I'll be back this afternoon, after naptime. You be good, just like we talked about. Okay?" Miri nodded, giving him a pout. "You'll be fine, make lots of friends, and you'll tell us about it at supper."

Her bag was handed to her by the older woman and Miri walked toward the other kids under the careful supervision of her father.

Oz cleared his throat. "There is something else," he said quietly but the manager held up her hand.

"I've heard about the arson," she said, staying quiet. "We're going to ignore any slips she makes."

Oz nodded, relaxing. "Okay. Ignore anything about her ghost too, please."

She chuckled. "Of course. We won't try to correct her or dull her imagination. She's safe here." She walked him toward the door.

Oz sat in the car, not sure if he should be upset because Miri didn't cry him for him or not.


Xander walked in behind Oz, catching his daughter as she came running and yelling, "Daddies!"

"Hey, sweetie," he said, hugging her tightly. "Did we have fun?"

Oz nodded at the daycare worker who handed him Miri's bag, checking it. "Her books?"

"We're gathering them now," she said with a smile for Miri. "Her book was picked for story- time."

"Me have fun!" Miri crowed. "Me come back?"

"Next week," Oz told her, patting the back of her head. He took the books, checking them and handing one back, but taking the one a child was walking towards them with. "Thank you."

Miri turned, waving at him. "We play later." He smiled and ran off.

Oz finished packing the diaper bag. "Thanks. This is Xander, we thought you should meet him before he has to come pick her up."

"Yes, thank you." The worker waved. "She was excellent all day, if a bit boisterous."

Xander nodded. "She hasn't had a lot of kids to play with." He kissed his daughter's cheek. "Come on, we're picking up chicken while Daddy Giles makes potatoes." She cheered and hugged him. "Thanks." He turned and walked out with her, going to put her in the car.

Oz waited until they were alone. "She was okay?"

"A little loud and energetic."

Oz nodded. "Okay. Thanks. Next week." He walked out, getting in beside Xander. "She was energetic."

"She's normal," Xander asserted. "Those kids were *way* too calm. It was creepy."

"All on drugs," Oz noted as he started the car. "They were surprised that she wasn't." He backed out, heading home.


Giles caught Miri as she ran into the door, picking her up to hug her. "How was your first day?"

"Me play!" she said, nodding. "Get told to calm down."

"I'm sure you were just being happy, my love." He kissed her cheek before putting her down. "Go clean up." He took the bags from Xander's hands, giving them a confused look. "What did we go shopping for?"

"Miri wanted a backpack and some new clothes." He stole a kiss. "And I needed some new clothes too." He walked back out, taking the rest of the bags from Oz's hands. "Get supper." He walked back in, setting the bags down as he sat next to Giles in the breakfast nook. "How was your day?"

"Fine. The inventory was done quickly. The student that stole all that stuff didn't sell any of it." He rubbed down his lover's arm. "If you had waited, I would have helped you shop."

"I only needed jeans and stuff," Xander mumbled, relaxing. "She liked it."

"I was sure she would. She needed the interaction of other children."

Oz walked in, putting down the bags of supper. "They think she's hyper and that we're bad because we didn't demand the Hepatitis B shot." He sat with them, picking up Xander's hand to rub. "Once a week is good."

"Yeah, it's good for her. I just wish she wasn't so happy going."

"Love, you're going to have to get used to this. Next year she'll be starting pre-school."

"I know," Xander sighed, "but I don't want her to leave."

"She's going to come home. She's not leaving the house yet." Giles leaned over, kissing him. "You'll be fine, we aren't leaving and neither is she."

Oz nodded, giving Xander a squeeze. "It's a long time before she starts thinking about leaving us. Don't anticipate."

"I'm trying but this morning I kept seeing her graduating."

"That's still a long way away," Giles reminded him. "Don't think of it yet, she'll have to go through school first."

"We'll have many graduations before the big one," Oz told him, picking up Miri as she ran back in. "We still have kindergarten, elementary, and junior high graduations before the big one." He kissed Miri's hair and passed her over to her father. "Get a hug then set the table." He stood, heading over to start gathering supper together.

Xander got a long hug and put Miri into her booster seat so he could do his share of the work.