Owen is looking at a file at the nurses' station in the Pit, when he has the feeling of being watched. He looks up to see a Hispanic couple in working clothes, with a teenaged girl. The girl is pointing at him. They look chagrined when they see that Owen has noticed them. He walks over.

"Can I help you?"

"You - were working Christmas Eve," the man says in heavily accented English. "There was a baby."

Owen nods. "The baby was handed to me," he says. "By her?" He nods at the girl. She nods faintly.

The man coughs nervously. "We - have a friend who works in the hospital. She says you took the baby home. We want to speak with you."

Owen sighs.

.**.

They assemble in Derek's office, Cristina and a lawyer for the hospital included.

The man introduces himself as Hector. "We're in the country legally," he starts. "We - had a difficult time when we arrived. My younger girl - she is at home - she got taken advantage of. She got in trouble and hid the pregnancy."

The hospital lawyer asks, "Why are you here?"

Hector swallows. "I - know two of your doctors took the baby. My wife - she don't think that's right."

The teenage girl translates the speech in Spanish to her mother, as Cristina grips Owen's hand. His face is grim and dark.

The lawyer speaks. "The Hunts followed every law in Washington State. In fact, they didn't start the adoption proceedings until he was four months old and had spent time in a foster home. No judge is going to just hand the boy over."

The woman scowls as this is translated. She speaks rapidly in Spanish.

"She wants to talk - parent to parent," Hector translates. "Without the lawyers. It is important that we keep our family together."

"No," Owen says firmly. "We won't speak without a lawyer present. You're the ones who started this with a lawyer."

Hector pauses. "We just want to know him."

"She gave him up!" Owen explodes. "She gave him up under the Safe Haven law! You can't just show up and ask us to hand him over! You don't have a case!"

The woman starts shouting at Owen in Spanish, as Derek and Cristina try to calm him down. The angry words are interrupted by the sound of pagers.

Owen and Derek all look at their pagers.

Owen takes a deep breath. "We have ambulances coming in," he informs Hector. "There's an apartment building fire. We must take care of the patients first."

Hector nods. "I understand."

.**.

It's late at night, when Owen finally gets home. Cristina is waiting for him in the living room. Diego is curled up against her shoulder, snoozing.

"How are the girls?" Owen asks, sitting down beside her.

"They're good," she says, taking his hand. "Our little man here didn't want to fall asleep alone."

"What happened with the grandparents?"

"They left after you did." Cristina pauses, before taking in a deep breath. "Have you talked with anyone at the vet centre recently?"

He looks sideways at her. "Just about my volunteer work."

"Have you thought about speaking with one of the counselors about this? The custody battle?"

Owen looks down. "No."

"Things are getting intense," she says carefully. "I'm going to invoke the frying pan clause."

Owen turns to face her. "I hate that name."

"I know," she half-smiles. "That's why I use it."

.**.

The next day, Owen meets with Phil, a counselor at the vet centre.

"Thanks for seeing me so quickly," Owen says, sitting down on a familiar couch.

"It's been a while," the counselor nods. "What brings you by?"

"The frying pan clause."

Phil smiles quizzically. "The what?"

Owen sighs. "Cristina and I have a deal. If she thinks that I need to speak with a counselor, I have to. Otherwise she gets to kick me out."

The other man frowns. "And it's called a frying pan clause because?"

"After I stopped going to therapy the first time, I became triggered and I tried to deal with it on my own. I tried not to let it affect Cristina, but I got mad at something and threw a frying pan in a sink, and her reaction let me know that she was scared of me, in the dark place I was in. So, when we went back to the shrink, we devised the frying pan clause. Cristina came up with the name. It's a way for Cristina to tell me that she's worried about me and that I need to speak with a professional, and I have to do what she tells me."

Phil nods. "So is she afraid of you now?

"No." Owen shakes his head. "She never lets it get that far again. As my ally against the PTSD, it's her job to tell me when she sees that I'm struggling with my emotions. And as part of the clause, I agreed to always act on it. It's like landing on the 'Go to Jail' square in Monopoly. 'Go to therapy, do not pass Go, do not collect $200'."

The therapist chuckles, "I like that."

"It works for us," Owen shrugs. "I have a lot to lose if I don't listen to her."

"So why did she bring up the clause?"

"As you know, we've started adoption proceedings..."

Half an hour later, Phil has written out pages of notes. "I can see how this is stressful," he says. "You've built a family of five, and now someone wants to threaten this."

Owen nods. "I don't get why they keep persisting. We have the law on our side. The girl gave him up. She isn't even asking to see him, it's the grandparents who want this."

Phil nods. "That's true. She gave him up under the Safe Haven law. But think about this, Owen - the grandparents didn't give him up. They weren't consulted about this. From what you've said, family is very important to them. Can you see how they're struggling with this?"

"I guess." Owen looks thoughtful. "I'd be sick if one of my girls ever went through something like that without telling me."

.**.

Owen comes home to a harried atmosphere of screaming children and a frustrated wife.

"Do something with this," Cristina orders him, handing him a howling Diego. "He's teething."

"And he smells," Owen chuckles, handling him gingerly. "What's with the girls?"

"They're trying to boss each other around and I can't kick them outside to play because it's been raining forever," Cristina grumbles. She looks at him closely. "Why do you look happy?"

"I saw Phil today," he says, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. "I'm going to see him again next week."

"Good," she nods. "Take the girls with you, will you?"

Owen laughs. "One crisis at a time, okay?"

.**.

Owen leaves the operating room, stripping off his gloves with a heavy sigh. He looks back at the table, where a nurse is covering a body with a sheet.

Cristina strides into the scrub room, purposefully. She pauses when she sees his dark expression.

"We lost a kid," he says, disposing of his gloves.

She smiles gently. "Our lawyer just called."

"Oh yeah?"

Cristina steps close and hugs him. "Diego's birth mother is showing signs of AIDS. They are dropping the custody bid. But they still want to talk visitation."

Owen exhales and hugs her back. "I didn't want it to end like this," he says quietly.

"I know."

.**.

"So that's it?" Derek asks over the phone.

"That's it," Owen smiles. "We're going to consider monitored visits. As long as the visits don't hurt him."

He turns as a sudden wail comes from the living room.

"Daddy!" Chloe runs to the door. "Diego fell. He's bleeding."

"Gotta go, Derek. Kid emergency."

"Gotcha."

Owen rushes to Diego, lying on the floor and howling, bleeding from his mouth. Mallory hands him plastic gloves from their first aid kit.

"He was walking and he tripped," she says.

"We didn't touch the blood," Chloe adds.

Owen pulls on the gloves and looks into the boy's mouth. "Looks like he cut his lip on a tooth. Nothing serious."

Chloe smiles and hands him a tissue to blot the blood with.

Within a few minutes, Diego is giggling, perched on Owen's lap.

"It's okay baby," Mallory soothes, hugging him and kissing his forehead. "Daddy made it all better."

"Are you sure he doesn't need stitches?" Chloe asks, craning her head to look at his mouth.

"I'm not going to suture him just so you can watch," Owen chuckles. "He's fine, Dr Chloe."

.**.

December 25

Cristina lies in bed, blankets covering her face. She waits, listening to subdued giggling.

"It's 6 o'clock now," she hears Owen say.

"Wake up!" Mallory shrieks by her head.

Cristina sighs. Four small hands grab the blankets and yank them off her face.

"What?" Cristina asks, in her best sleepy voice. She slowly blinks her eyes. Mallory and Chloe are staring at her intently, their faces inches from hers. "Did my pager go off?"

"Yes!" Chloe grins at her. "Santa paged you. Merry Christmas!"

Cristina laughs as they pull the blankets off of her. She looks at Owen, standing by the bed, holding a sleeping Diego.

"He's not impressed with this tradition either," he winks at her.

"Finally, a child that likes to sleep in on Christmas morning! He's my favourite now," Cristina snorts.

"MOM!" The girls start pulling on her arms.

"When are we going to stop doing this?" Cristina whines at Owen.

"In 17 years," he snorts. "When Diego is 18."

"But what if he wants to sleep in every Christmas?" Cristina teases, sitting up.

"Wait until he sees what a Hunt Christmas is like," Owen grins. "He's going to be up at 6 next year, and the year after that."

"And the year after that," Mallory adds.

"And 14 more years after that!" Chloe pipes up. "Now get out of bed. Please."

"Fine," Cristina grumbles, swinging her legs off the bed.

"YAY, YAY, YAY!" Mallory shrieks. "LET'S GO!"

"INSIDE VOICE!" Cristina moans.

Diego stirs and opens his eyes at the noise. He looks at everyone sleepily, nestled against Owen's chest.

"Welcome to your first Christmas at home," Owen says.

Epilogue

Owen arrives at the track meet late, after surgery. He searches the crowd of athletes - and waves when he sees Diego. Diego waves back then continues chatting with his teammates.

Owen looks at the bleachers and spots a familiar figure. He sits down next to Hector.

"How's he doing?" Owen asks.

"He qualified in the first heat for the 400 metres," the other man replies. "His team will be running the relay soon."

"Good, I didn't want to miss that." They watch the boys stretch.

"He runs so well," Hector says softly. "Just like his mother did."

Owen nods. "We got his latest blood test results this morning. His viral load hasn't changed, it's still barely detectable."

"Good." Hector pauses. "He told me all about his new lizard. How many does he have now?"

"Seven," Owen chuckles, "He takes good care of them. I've never seen healthier reptiles."

"He's a smart boy."

"That he is."

They sit and watch Diego get ready to take off.