Xander watched their munchkins run back into the castle and felt the weight slip off his shoulders. "Let's go play," he whispered to his husband, handing him the keys to the Range Rover. "Want to escape for a few hours before we have to go back in and be dads again."
Oz restarted the SUV, pulling away from the castle quickly, heading back to the ferry dock.
As they walked through the park, hand-in-hand of course, they kept smiling at the other over their naughtiness, feeding the other bits of their ice cream cones.
Derek looked up as Nick walked back in shaking his head. "They escaped?" he asked with a small smile.
Nick nodded, sitting down on the bottom of the formal staircase. "Guess so. Range Rover's gone." He looked up with a wicked little grin. "Think they went to find a cheap motel where people won't complain?"
The older man shook his head. "No, I think they went to go play. The last few days have been very trying for them." He sat down beside his friend, stroking down his arm. "Philip wants to talk to you," he said quietly. He saw the small hint of panic start in the green eyes so patted him again. "Nothing bad for us, just a small announcement." He stood up, holding out his hand, which his friend took. "Come on, I'm sure he doesn't want to be saved from the children yet but he wanted to talk to you more." They walked up to the library, finding the former Priest right where they expected to find him, buried under the children, laughing as he was hugged and tickled.
Philip looked up at them and smiled. "Give me a minute, guys. Gotta teach them to respect their Uncles." He got to his knees, smiling down at the brood. "Ya guys behave and I'll come back to play more later."
"Daddy win!" Serena said, jumping up and down.
"Yes, princess, I heard," Philip told her, patting her head. "Now settle down and practice reading so I can read ya a story later." He watched as they all ran for the shelf Grandpa Derek had cleared off for their books, sitting down in front of it to read to each other. Philip stood up, walking over to sit beside Nick and Derek, taking the younger man's hand in his and squeezing lightly. "Nick," he said quietly, "I left the Church."
"No," Nick said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You didn't." Philip nodded so he looked at Derek. "You let him?"
Derek smiled at him. "It wasn't my decision to make but he has some very goot reasons for it." He looked down at the person trying to get his attention by tugging on his shirt. "Yes, Xandra?"
"Read me?" she asked, holding up a book.
"In a minute, I need to talk to Uncle Nick." She started to pout so he picked her up, putting her in his lap.
"Nick, I left because I couldn't say I stood for the same things," Philip started quietly. "And I'd like it if ya'd be happy for me."
"Hey," Nick said, leaning closer to kiss his friend's cheek. "If this makes you happy then I'm ecstatic and I'll stand behind you." He looked up at the small groan from the baby. "What?"
"No make babies," she said, shaking her head at them. "No want more brothers and sisters."
All the men's mouths fell open as they stared at her. "What?" they asked in unison.
Xander looked at his phone and Oz's pager as they went off in disgust. "Are you ready to go back?" he asked, finger on the off button.
"Nope, but it could be an emergency." He read the words on his pager, frowning. "Xandra's just come up with a problem, not medical, and they want us home," he said, looking up.
Xander answered his phone, frowning at the table. "Derek, this had better be good. You're interrupting our fun time." He looked up at Oz, his mouth open. "Yeah, sure, we'll be right home." He hung up, sliding the slim little machine back into his front pocket. "Come on," he said, tossing down some money, "we have to head back. Something's wrong with Willow and Xandra just accused Nick and Philip of trying to make babies."
Oz frowned as they walked out. "How does she know about that?"
Derek watched the two men sit down in front of his desk, raising an eyebrow at the balloons tied to Oz's wrist. "Have fun?" he asked.
"Yes, and unless this is good, we're going to go do it some more," Xander countered, patting his husband's hand. "I need to spoil him right now so I feel better."
"Is that why you do it?" Oz asked, turning to him.
"That too, I know it makes you feel special but it makes me feel all happy and tingly when I see that look you give even the most simple spoiling thing like the note you found in your lunch." He grinned, blushing a little. "It's as much a big thing for you as it is for me."
"Then I won't complain so much when you want to, I'll just be happy." They shared a small kiss, interrupted by Derek's cleared throat. "What? I'm liking him here."
"Yes, and I should still make you two pay for the couch replacement," he reminded them. His semi-happy expression fell away, leaving a worried one. "Boys, there was a bit of bad news while you were gone. Philip's left the Church and he found out that Oz's marriage to Willow wasn't legal." Oz nodded and Xander blanched so Derek pointed at him. "You understand what this could mean?"
"It means that she can contest now. And under a Palimony suit, she can get something from me too." He looked at his husband. "God, Oz, I'm so sorry, love," he said, reaching over to hug him. "I want to stop her for you."
Oz shook his head. "Think you're missing the point here, Xan. She's gonna try to get it all." He frowned at him. "So you comfort me?" His mate nodded. "That's an odd transference."
"No, I can fuss over you but not for myself." He grinned happily. "It's her fault. She made me this way." Oz and Derek simply nodded so he turned to his father. "So, would you like to tell me where you buried her?"
Derek shook his head. "I didn't have a chance. She's already talked to a lawyer, even before Philip had told me." He leaned forward. "Xander's right, Oz, she's contesting. She's not fighting over the quad, except for visitation, but she wants Xandra and the one she's carrying."
"Over my dead body," Oz said quietly. He gripped his husband's hand. "I refuse to let her have them. I'll bring up every bad things she's ever done to keep them here."
Derek's smile lifted all their moods slightly. "Yes, I'm sure you will. Just remember not to mention the real purpose here." He looked at his son. "And yes, she can get you under Palimony. We've already talked to the judge that handled your case and he said he couldn't handle it this time but he would hand over the file personally." He leaned back. "And, one last piece of news. Willow's spell casting night before last almost killed the whole house. For some reason she lost control of the spell and the energy started to whip around her. I reached out to her, holding it steady until she could get it, and everyone's fine. Except her." He cleared his throat, tossing pictures over to them. "It seems she was trying to summon something to come after you, son, and it backfired for some reason."
Xander looked at the bruises on his friend's face in the picture. "Did the whatever do this?" Derek nodded. "So, what do we do?"
"Now, you file against her, which you have through my intervention. Demand full and permanent custody due to her behavioral problems. As for the youngest two, that may be a problem but we could argue that this is the only house Xandra's ever known." He looked up as Rupert walked in, raising an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"
"Willow's lawyer just summoned me to testify in her behalf." He laid the paper down on the desk. "It seems we were never told about the court date." He looked at the boys. "I'm sorry, I'll do what I can to help you." He walked back out, leaving the paper there.
"Where there's one," Buffy said as she and Alex walked in, putting their own down. They, too, smiled at the couple before walking out.
Derek shook his head. "This can still work in our favor. I've talked to our lawyer and he's already working on everything." That got a small nod. "I don't want you to worry, boys, let us handle it."
"If Xandra goes to London," Xander said quietly, "I will kidnap her." Oz touched his shoulder. "No, I'm not losing my family to her selfishness." He stood up, walking out and outside onto the back porch. He sat down in the swing, watching the birds playing among the flowers. Oz silently sat down beside him, just giving him the comfort of his presence. "Oz, I know this is going to be a really hard time for you without this crap, but I'm going to need you," he said quietly, turning to look at him. "I can't lose them."
"We'll try our best," the slightly older man said, rubbing over his mate's back, soothing him as he let go on his shoulder. "We'll find a way," he promised.
Jonathan looked at the form in his hands, frowning. "I don't care what she said, man, I'm not going to help her hurt those kids." He looked up at the lawyer. "I'm their nanny, I'm supposed to make them happy, comfy, and safe. She can leap." He looked at the judge. "I'm not going to do it."
"You could be put in jail," the judge told him, rubbing over the hem of her sleeves to straighten them. "Just answer the question, sir."
"Did those two men force her into a relationship with them," the lawyer asked again.
"I wasn't there then," Jonathan answered, frowning up at the older man, "but from what everyone told me, meaning the whole house, it was *her* that forced *them* to accept it." He shrugged. "Anything else?"
"No, no further questions."
The Legacy's lawyer, a distinguished looking older gentleman who, unfortunately, dyed his hair oak brown, stood up. "How long have you been taking care of the children?"
"Since the quad was around six months old. Their former nanny had hurt them, as Mr. Harris had found out."
"And who's been the most active of the parents of them all?"
"Well, Serena and Xandra go to Mr. Harris all the time, he's just theirs, ya know? And he's always the lead in their lives. Even when they were little, it was him that rocked them and talked to them and told them things. The other three, well, Precious went to her mother mostly, Oz did the two boys. Derek's the grandpa and he's always with them."
"So, you actually spend very little time with the children?"
"Only when we're at home. Which is infrequently. Most of the time, I have them out of the house, going place, seeing things, learning stuff."
"Objection," the other lawyer said. "Stuff? Things?"
"I take them to museums, to plays, to bookstores and to children's reading time at the library. To sports events, to religious events of varying faiths since *all* their parents were adamant that the children be exposed to all faiths so they could make their own choices with understanding when they got older."
"Yes," the Legacy lawyer said, picking up a small pile of papers. "I have the copies of your schedule here for them. Do they even complain about this level of activity?"
"Five hyperactive kids? Not hardly. Brandon, the non-talkative one, his first words in the morning are usually 'where are we going today' and I try to plan around their preferred nap and eating schedules so they can spend the nights with their parents and they can wind down as they tell them what they did. And they only complain when they go to the doctors or don't get to go out because of grounding or illness."
"Ah, thank you. And what was your last planned trip?"
"Um, Native naming ceremony and the Shakespeare festival that we couldn't go to because Timmy got Chicken Pox, even after the vaccination." He shrugged. "Since then, we've pretty well been housebound, except for their dad's trip to Nevada to answer some questions there. The boys and Serena went with their fathers and their Uncle Nick."
"And is he an Uncle?"
"In the most literal terms, I think a half-brother to Mr. Harris; in the sense that the kids look up to him as an adult that they can learn from and trust, most definitely."
"And the one that's not theirs?"
"She's his constant lap cuddler. Since she's a year younger, almost to the week, she's not doing some of the same things they are now. The learning to read time. So Nick and Derek have both picked up the slack by reading to her during those times when they're available. Or a father when he is. Or Grandma, Derek's mother, when she was there. We all pitch in. We're raising them on the community principle."
"Thank you." The Legacy lawyer sat down.
"If I may?" Willow's lawyer asked, standing. The judge nodded at him. "And, what part of the community are you?"
"I'm the one that teaches them. The caregiver when their parents have to be away at work. Or as Oz calls me, the Activity and Nurturing of Egos Master." He smiled sweetly. "What's she?"
"Their mother," the lawyer said dryly.
"Bet me," Jonathan said.
"Strike that," the judge started.
"No, I want to hear this, Your Honor. Why don't you think she's a good mother?"
"Because as soon as those kids were weaned of breast feeding at six months, I had complete control. Even when she was home. The only time she saw them was when she was walking past the nursery or when one of them cried too long because I was in the bathroom or something."
"And could that have been letting the others help?"
"No, the fathers actually went to steal the kids back from the others when they wanted time. She just sat and watched them, reading her little books." He shrugged. "She wanted the status but not the hassle. And I won't even mention having to keep the kids out of their fights some days."
"Did they fight?"
"Willow and Xander, yeah. Oz tried to stay out of it, make peace between them, but she was always picking and nagging and sometimes mean to him." He shifted. "Especially those nights when she went out to celebrate life and came home drunk. I routinely locked the nursery door so the children weren't exposed to her during those times."
"And what did you do during the others?" the lawyer asked. "Did you block her access?"
"No, if she was acting normal, it was all good. If not, then it wasn't. That's part of my job, to make sure the children aren't hurt by any of the petty politics that might crop up around them."
"Objection?" the Legacy lawyer said.
"Overruled. Politics?" she asked. "Can you please explain that?"
"Not easily. Sometimes Derek, who heads an organization out of the house, has to meet with the other people in it that don't live there. Sometimes they get snotty. Sometimes I keep the kids away from them." He shrugged. "Don't know what you want me to say here."
"Thank you, that will be fine," the Judge said, looking at the lawyers. "Anything further?" They shook their heads. "Dismissed."
Xander looked at Willow's lawyer, staying calm outwardly, touching the ring on his finger whole time. "Yes, I am Xandra's father, even if the genetics don't match. I've raised her, I've cared for her, I've nurtured her. I delivered her actually."
"So, in essence, you're like a foster parent?"
"No, I'm the only father, besides Oz, that she's ever had. And the only one she'll ever know. I started proceedings to adopt her when the divorce was finalized, before we found out that Father Philip couldn't actually marry them."
"And Mr. Osbourne was going to help you?"
"He and I are a team, mates really." He held up his ring. "We stand up for each other, no matter what happens. And yes, he supported my petition to adopt her, his name was right beside mine because we had found out that she wasn't ours naturally."
"And if you had known sooner that your...girlfriend had cheated?"
"I don't care. She's *my* daughter, always will be. As for who the father actually is? I'm not sure she even knows."
Willow's lawyer smiled. "Well, we're getting someone tested right now. What are you going to do if he challenges you for custody?"
"I think we'd not mind him having visitation but we'd fight anything else." He gave the lawyer his best bland look. "Why? Thinking it was you?"
"Young man," the judge warned. "I'll not have any disrespect to the attorneys from you."
"Yes, ma'am, but I was asking about the testing. We've not even been told that there was and no additional blood was taken from her."
"We have her results on record," the lawyer told him. "We don't need a new sample, Mr. Harris."
"Were you going to inform us of this fact?"
"Why? I'm not obligated to do so?" he said happily, going back to his table. "Yours," he told the Legacy's lawyer.
"Mr. Harris, I understand this is trying for you emotionally but I have to bring up issues of your background before he does. Your own home life?"
"Wasn't as pleasant as some. My mate is working toward counseling so I've been spending a lot of time with him and with Derek, Doctor Rayne, who's always been ready to listen."
"All right, and what is Derek Rayne to you?"
"He's been the most influential person in my life, barring one, without who I wouldn't be here right now. The man has taken over the role of my father, helping me overcome many of my own issues and helping me work to become the calm person you see today who is very secure in his love." He smiled at Oz then looked back at the lawyer. "He is the man that I go to when I need to talk to someone about personal issues and when I have a work problem to figure out."
"And, in truth, you've asked to call him father?"
Xander glanced at Derek, who nodded slightly. "Yes, I have."
"Why did you check with him?" the lawyer asked.
"Because he asked that I not call him that in front of the press. We've had some problems with them thinking he was in a relationship with me and we didn't want to feed their hunger for gossip about him."
"Ah, I see. And what about Doctor Rayne's mother?"
"She's a sweetie. She's accepted me fully as a member of her family and my children, including Xandra and the one she's carrying now, as her great-grandchildren." He smiled gently. "She wanted to be there to hold her when we christened her."
"Were your other children christened?"
"Father Philip and a Rabbi, since her mother's Jewish, did the quad. Xandra wasn't done. We did a blessing for her but not a real christening."
"Philip wasn't there. And we were caught up in personal problems at the time."
"Partially." Xander shifted again. "I was having some problems, and so were they, with Derek. Oz and I have since worked them all out, I'm not sure if Willow did or not." He touched his ring again. "Derek has always been there for us, it was our own faults, jointly, that we left for those months."
"Yours and Mr. Osbourne's?"
"Mostly, yes. We had a fight with Derek, and we left. He came for us afterwards and we went back, worked things out, and now we're happy and safe there."
"Did Doctor Rayne accept your relationship?"
"Yes, always. When it was just the two of them, when it was the three of us, and he supported me fully when I made the break from her. I asked his opinion because I was having doubts and he gave me his real opinion of her behavior towards me and Oz."
"And what was that?"
"That she was abusive, mentally, and occasionally physically. That she was the reason I has such low self-esteem for most of my time there before then."
"Did she hit you?"
"Yes, on my arms and my chest. I had many bruises there for a while."
"But she worked it out."
"Derek made her see her problem and she stopped hitting me, but the pinches and the small punches to correct me never stopped."
"And why did you allow this to go on?"
"Because I've known her since I was four and she's always done it. I thought those were her ways of showing she cared. It wasn't until I started taking Psychology classes that I saw that it wasn't supposed to be that way."
"Mr. Osbourne supported you in their relationship?"
"He had the toughest adjustment of all of us when *she* suggested it. It took him a while and I never pushed my way between them. I actually kept trying to give them more space. It wasn't truly what I had wanted at the time but I did, and do still, love them both."
"So she initiated this threesome?"
"After a reception the Luna Foundation hosted to present a new artifact for the Hall of Antiquities. She and Oz had gone to spend some time alone since she had been away for a few weeks. When I tried to give them some space, by hiding in my room, she pulled me over to her room and told us what we really wanted. And she was right on my part. I've wanted Oz for a long time. Ever since I allowed myself to admit that I liked both men and women."
The Legacy's lawyer picked up a folder. "I have here a copy of the Social Services record. Your mother made a false report when you came out to her, correct?"
"What was the other one over?"
"Willow had called the children while we were in Florida on a dig to help Doctor Rayne, telling them that I was bad and had made her go away."
"Objection, heresay," Willow's lawyer shouted.
"Let me rephrase that. How did you find out that one of the children was having some problems with you?"
"Brandon kept trying to tell people that none of us, including Oz, were his father. He shouted in the middle of a mall that he was being kidnapped."
"Using those words?"
"No, we taught them the phrase 'not my daddy' very early on." He shifted again. "The Social Worker was alerted by someone there. She suggested we put Brandon into counseling."
"And did you?"
"No, Brandon came to me later that same night and apologized. He told me what Willow had said, hugging me hard as I laid in the bed pretending to me a miserable lump of human." The lawyer smiled gently at that. "Brandon's a very perceptive child, he knew I was upset. That's what made him figure things out."
"And how is he now?"
Xander grinned. "He's fine. He and I are back to our usual thing. We bake cookies and brownies together to spend time alone. If I still had my car, we'd wash it together. He said it was dangerous looking and shiny, so it was good."
"I read to her, play with her. I'm a very hands-on father when I'm anywhere near them. She is never without an adult and when she's home, she's mine. Her and Serena."
"Why that one of the four?"
"Because from birth, she's reacted most favorably to my voice. Brandon used to cry whenever I spoke and he was in the room. Serena used to smile and babble to me. My voice put her to sleep her first night while they were in the hospital and she's been fond of me since. I'm her Daddy."
"And the others?"
"I'm their Daddy too. Precious is more Derek's now that Willow isn't paying as much attention to her. The boys are all Oz's. Brandon likes me but he's exactly like a younger version of his father when we started to work for Derek. Tim likes me but he follows Oz around."
"I have one question," Willow's lawyer said. "You've known for a while that she was pregnant and that there's a chance of the child being biracial. Will that affect how you see it?"
"I will love all the children I have, no matter their gender, race, orientation, or religion once they're able to choose their own ways. If the child is biracial, she or he will still be mine."
"Dismissed," the Judge said, waving him away.
Oz looked at the lawyer as he paced. "What do you want me to say? That I love Xander? Yes, I do. It took me some time to come to that conclusion though. I used to tolerate him being there because he made Willow happy. Then I found that I genuinely liked him for himself, for the person he was. We had been friends before but now we're much closer. He's the one that's allowed me to find whole new areas of myself and be comfortable with them. Without his input, I'd probably be just playing in a band right now, majoring in music. I wouldn't have found a career that fulfills me in ways that even music, fatherhood, and love can't."
"And why did you tolerate him?"
"Because he and Willow have been friends forever. I knew that when she cheated with him in high school that she wouldn't ever get over her crush on him. And I agree, he's addictive once you get to know him." That got him a small smile from the gallery. "Why I tolerated him? Because I thought I loved her the way I do him. I was wrong on her."
"What if you're wrong on his?"
"I'm not leaving Xander. Never. Not for any reason. The least we could ever be is close friends, the way some marriages turn into. We're still going to be very loving, no matter what happens. Not even he can push me away."
"So, you're clinging to him?"
"That goes both ways."
"And if he leaves you?"
"Xander won't," Oz said quietly. "There's no form of alternate existence where that might happen. He loves me more than life itself. Same as I do him. Even if we didn't have the children."
"And are you looking forward to having more sometime in the future?"
"Not really. I think we're both happy with the family we have. When they're teens we might get nostalgic and adopt one more but otherwise no."
"You've talked about this?"
"Yes. When we went to file papers for my attempted divorce from Willow, we talked about that. I asked. He said 'we'll see' about the one in the future." He smiled slightly. "Xander thinks big families are a good thing but he doesn't think he can handle more than we have and the one on the way."
"You're fully expecting to get control of them all?"
"We're good parents. Xandra has always been ours. She loves us. We're really the only parents she knows because Willow has traveled extensively back and forth to the London office of the Luna Foundation. I think if you ask her, she'll tell you she's happy with us and wants to stay. And yes, we'd both like to have custody of this last one. We all, all the members of our house, believe that Willow's a bad influence on a young and impressionable child."
"And your behavior with your... boyfriend isn't?"
"We consider ourselves married and mated," Oz said coldly, holding up his ring. "And the children have never seen us do more than kiss and lay cuddled together on the couch. Even when they've snuck into our room, they've only seen us holding the other. We do a lot of hugging but otherwise, no."
"I see. And what about their mother?"
"I'm sure Jonathan has done a good job shielding them from her drunken sluttishness. And I can only remember one time that any of them might have walked in. Willow was alone, as far as I know, and Tim got scared and ran to tell Jonathan that she was hurting herself." He touched his ring for support. "As for her recent behavior, I have seen the reports of it. Someone made a complaint about her drunken partying in London, and about the way she'd been pulled out of an orgy and three flats of different men, all in one week. I don't want any child to see that so yes, I want full custody of this one also."
"And you'd want to adopt?"
"Yes. And yes, I am aware of the prejudice against gay couples adopting, Xander's worried himself almost sick studying it for a paper. If we encountered too strong of distaste, one of us would adopt him or her first and the other on her or his first birthday."
"So, you've actually planned for the eventualities?"
"Yes, we have. I've also arranged to take a semester off, I have the most time in right now, to take care of her infant needs. That will bring us to summer, and we'll both start again in the fall, together on the planned curriculum. By then, Jonathan should be able to care for her those few hours even with the other kids."
The Judge looked at him. "Why should I grant you custody over her, young man. She has a relationship with the child already."
"Because she's still drinking. Because no one's sure what sort of person this child will be exposed to. Because I don't think the child will stay with her his or her whole life. As soon as the baby's not a suckling little infant that needs her, she'll hand it off to someone, probably a nanny, and I'd rather it was raised with full love and compassion. No matter who's it is."
"You're really willing to take on a child not your own and raise it as your own, no matter what?" she asked, shocked. He simply nodded. "No onus against the child?"
"We love all our children equally. They may have their favorite people but they are still all my children, no matter who the father is. I've known since Xandra was four months along that she wasn't mine and it hasn't mattered yet. Why should it now?"
The Judge got down on the floor with the children, smiling at them. "Little ones, I need to talk with you. Could you please put down your books?" She smiled at the youngest one. "You too, dear."
"No," Xandra said, clutching it to her chest. "My book. Daddy buy it."
She nodded. "I know, I'm not going to take it, I just want to talk to you."
"Timmy will," she said. Her brother shook his head, holding up his own book. "You no take?"
"No, won't take it," he told her, smiling. "She judge, talk to us." Tim reached over, patting her ankle just like daddies did. "Why talk us?" he asked the judge.
"Because I need to decide which parent you're going to live with."
"Daddies," the kids said, pulling back open their books.
Xandra smiled at her. "We love daddies. Mommy no talk to us." She wiggled closer. "I three now."
"So I heard. What did you get for presents?"
"I got dolly. And I got bear. And I got books. Lots of books." She patted the one she held happily. "And cake. And ice cream. And... and..and..." She looked at Serena. "What else I get?"
"Dresses. Pretty ones."
"Yup, lots of pretties from Auntie Buffy." She nodded. "Me pretty?"
"Very pretty," the woman said, stroking down the side of the child's face. "Are you happy where you are now?" The baby nodded. "Do you want to see your mommy more often?" She got a confused look. "Would you like to stay with her for a while?"
Brandon stood up, pushing his sister behind him. "You no hurt Xandra. She good baby. We 'tect her," he told the Judge, frowning. "You no hurt her."
"Me 'tay," Xandra said, patting the back of his leg. "Really 'tay." She looked at the judge. "Me talk to mommy lots. She no be at birfday though." She smiled up at her brother. "We swim now?"
"No," the judge sighed, "you can't swim now." She stood up, calling the parents into the office. "I'm distressed at the level of coaching," she told them once they were sitting in front of her. "One child protecting her from her mother? The one in question asking if she had earned her treat yet?"
Xander cleared his throat. "Swimming right?" She nodded, her lips pursed. "Xandra spends six hours a day in the pool swimming. That's her thing. Her whole wardrobe of normal clothes is almost never worn because she's in a bathing suit." He looked down at the child sitting between his feet. "Stand up, want to see which suit you're wearing."
Xandra looked up and pouted. "Grandpa say no baving suit today." She pouted at the Judge. "Have to see you, meany." She went back to her book.
Oz patted his lap. "Want a hug?" She nodded happily, climbing up into his lap. "You can go swimming later. She wanted to know if you'd rather live with us or mommy."
"You," Xandra said, sucking on her thumb. "Me nap?"
"Sure, if you're tired, you can nap." He stroked her hair as she rested against his shoulder.
"Wouldn't you rather do that on your mother?" the judge asked. The baby shook her head. "Why not?"
"Oh. Well, maybe you could try? For me?" She watched the father hand her across to his husband, who kissed the top of her head, then handed her off to her mother, who held her awkwardly at best. The baby slid off her lap after less than a minute, going back to her father.
"Me nap you. Comfier." She climbed back up, lying back down.
Brandon pulled on Xander's belt. "We nap?"
"In the car on the way back," he told them. He held out his arms and the baby crawled into them with a big smile, the first she'd seen from him. "Now," Xander said slowly, "the judge wanted to talk to you guys about going to see Mommy on occasion, going to visit her in London or New York when she moves there. What do you think of that."
"Talk her phone," Brandon said with a small pout. "Why visit?"
"Because she'd like to hold you," the judge told him. "You can't do that over the phone."
"No want huggies her. She mean, tell me daddy bad." He snuggled into Xander's shoulder, looking up at him. "We 'kay?"
"Yup, we're fine. You're a good baby and I know you didn't want to hurt me."
"Yup." Brandon looked over his Daddy's shoulder at his brother and sisters. "She wants us to have Mommy hugs," he called. The others booed, turning to stare at her.
"No!" Precious said, and the couch moved.
"Hey," Oz said sharply. "None of that. You'll scare the judge." He shared a look with her and the couch moved back. "Thank you. Now come sit over here beside me please." She picked up her book and pulled on Serena's ponytail until she came over too. "Good girls," he said, patting both of their heads. "Now sit and practice reading so we can read you a story later after you show us you can." They nodded, opening their books and he turned to look at the judge again. "That's how we decided to teach them. They have to read us a paragraph to get a story."
"Four pages now," Xander reminded him. "That's how much of their first books they've gotten through." He looked at the baby on his shoulder. "But you didn't want to stop last night, so you read a few more pages, didn't you?" he asked with a small tickle.
"No ticklie me, daddy. Me read," he told the judge with a small nod. "Lots."
"Yeah, you read lots," Oz said, rubbing his back. "And I was very impressed and happy with you for it too," he said, leaning over to give him a kiss. Xandra patted the side of his face. "What, sweetheart?"
"Shh, me nap," she said.
"Okay, we'll be more quiet," Xander said. "Want to go nap on Grandpa?" She shook her head. "Okay." He turned back to the judge. "As you can tell, we have a tight family here. Willow's disrupted it too many times." She punched him on the arm. "Don't *ever* do that again," he told her coldly. "Never in front of the children and never again." He handed the baby off to Oz. "I'm going to go get Jonathan so they don't have to listen to this stuff." He walked out of the office.
Oz glared at Willow. "Hurting us wasn't enough?" he asked quietly. He looked down at the children looking up at him. "Nap guys, Jonathan will go sit with you guys in the car soon."
The judge waited until the children were gone and the other man was back in his seat, now moved to the other side of his mate, to make her decision. "I'd like for the mother to have a trial visitation," she said. The two men's mouth fell open. "This is basically a case of foster parent against biological parent and unless you can prove definitively that the mother has problems too big to be cured, she has precedence."
"What about the child's rights to be happy?" Xander asked. "I was raised by a mother like her. She forgot when I was born."
The judge sighed. "Gentlemen, this is not full custody. I'd like for her to have visitation. Say a month in the summer and over your Christmas break maybe." She held up a finger. "No more until I've had my say. Yes, I can see problems so I will call Social Services over there to check on the house first. I will have her checked up on and at the first sign of trouble she'll be removed back to your care." She turned to Willow. "You, my dear, need help. That much was obvious even to me." She looked at the parents. "I'd like for her to go back with her mother for a month now. That would give her a good amount of time before this one was due, and give the mother some time to bond with this new one afterwards before she has to go back."
"No," Oz said simply. He shook his head. "Willow, what did you do?" he asked.
She smiled sweetly, smirking. "What do you mean, Oz?"
Derek and Rupert sighed as they walked in. "We thought as much," the former Watcher said, putting his hands on her shoulders and shocking her with some of his own powers. "Your Honor, I'm the children's Godfather, as is Doctor Rayne, and we would like to make known our objections. I've known Willow as long as I have Xander Harris, and I'm most distressed by her recent changes. If you allow that child to leave with her, I'm not sure she'll be coming back."
"She'll have to."
"Not if she kidnaps her," Xander said quietly. "Which I wouldn't put past her." He stood up, nodding at Derek. "Ma'am, Willow's been known to do some very harmful things. There are things we didn't want to be put into the official records but I've caught her using her daughter as part of a spell." He grimaced at his former friend. "She's Wiccan, and I know a number of them, all good, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt but what you saw Precious do earlier was a direct result of her behavior." She nodded slowly. "I don't want her to hurt my daughter the same way she did her."
"And I've seen her reading inappropriate books to the children also," Oz said. "I don't think that the Handbook of the Inquisition was an appropriate bedtime story."
The judge just nodded. "Be that as it may," she said, her face very vacant, "she's getting visitation." She pounded her gavel on her desk. "Good day."
Derek pulled Willow up by her hair, dragging her into the hall. "You cast on her, didn't you?" he hissed, checking around them. She simply smirked. "Willow, there are always higher powers. Be very careful what you do. And I will be warding Xandra and this one." He turned, going back to his family to take them home. "You can pick her up when you're ready to go," he said as he walked away.
"I'm going this afternoon," she said simply.
"No," Oz told her, "you're not. You have to give her enough time to say goodbye and pack her clothes."
"She'll have plenty there," Willow told him. "And I'll let her call later from the plane. Xandra," she said, holding out her hand.
"NO!" Xandra hid behind her father. "Bad you! You mean! No go you!" She looked up as the judge walked out. "Me no go her! Bad you too!"
"Dear, it's in your best interests to go with her," the Judge told her, taking her off her father's legs and trying to hand her over.
Xander grabbed her, hugging her. He walked over to where Derek was, holding her tightly. "Ward her now," he whispered, "enough to do it fully later." He looked down at her, putting her down to get down on her level. "I know you don't want to go, Xandra, but you have to do something very important. Look at me," he said, tipping her head back up. "You know Mommy's pregnant right? That she's going to have a baby?" She nodded. "Well, you need to protect the baby. That's why you have to go over. If we sent one of the older ones, she might get suspicious so we need you to tell us about the baby." She nodded again, relaxing. "So you have to go with her for a while. Okay?" She shook her head. "But you have to," he said. "Only you can do this."
"Why me go?"
"Because the judge is messed up," Oz said, getting down on her level. "He's right though, you have to watch the baby. Okay?"
"'Kay," she said finally. "Me call?"
"All the time. And when we have to go back to Florida, we'll find a way to call you from there. Too. Okay?" She nodded, hugging them both. "Hey, you'll be home really soon," he whispered, stroking through her hair. "And you'll be home for a really long time. I promise." She nodded, going over to hug her daddy. "I'll miss you, princess," Xander said, hugging her hard again when she came back to him. He looked down at her. "You be good and listen to Uncle William when he gets back in a few days, okay?" She nodded, sniffling. "Hey, I'll talk to you too when you call. And I'm sure William will let you call on the big screen in the working room." She nodded, turning to Derek.
"Oh, Xandra, I'll miss you so much," he said, holding her. He laid a hand on top of her head, saying something quietly. "Be safe and be goot and you'll be back soon," he promised, kissing the top of her head.
Willow walked over, glaring at Derek. "I'm not going to hurt her."
"I doubt that," Xander said quietly. "But if you do, I'm going to be there." He knew she saw the truth in his eyes because she flinched. "She will be calling or I will be coming over. And I'm sure no one will say a *thing* about it."
Willow took her daughter's hand. "Come on, dear. You have to come with me now."
"Bad you," Xandra hissed, pulling away from her. "I walk." She glared at the judge. "Bad you too."
Derek and Oz waited until they were alone outside to turn on Xander. "You're going to mess her up more," Oz told him, pulling them into an alcove next to the stairs.
"Guys, did you think I was kidding?" he asked, crossing his arms. "I've seen Willow and Precious working spells together. I know what happened earlier was one cast on the judge, and I remember that Derek told us that she had lost control while casting. Where did the energy go?"
"Into the child," Derek admitted, "but to tell your daughter to protect the baby? Isn't that a little much? Oz is correct that it will hurt her more."
"Yeah, but that's the only way it'll work, guys. The only way they'll both come home." He walked around them, heading for the van. He looked at Jonathan. "A month," he said quietly.
"I'll be damned," he replied.
Jonathan sat naked in front of the altar in his room, breathing deeply. "Goddess, I need a favor," he prayed quietly. "I don't ask for much, and I know you don't usually grant these things, but I need you to protect those two children. I know she'll harm the one she's carrying. I need for them both to come back home." He lit the candle, sighing as the flame shot up. "Thank you. Your will be done as you need me," he vowed, bowing.
Rupert tossed some herbs on the small metal plate in his chosen working spot in the gazebo. "Gods, hear my pleas. Protect those children and the one she carries." He put a picture of Willow on the plate and set fire to it. "Protect her from the bad ones of your subjects so they may make their own choices." He poured some more herbs on it, watching as the fire built up some. "Let them be protected as I have protected them," he whispered.
Derek and Philip looked at each other and silently got up, walking out to the garden and spot they had chosen to work in together. They lit the fire they had laid out earlier, sitting next to it, silently adding their pleas to those of the ones floating around their house right now.
In London, Willow doubled over in pain, rolling onto her side and moaning. "Goddess, why?" she gasped, passing out from it. The bottle of alcohol on the bedside table shattered as it fell.
TO BE CONTINUED...