John Hagen watched the new guy with the kids, frowning slightly.  Something about the way he was acting was very familiar.  He saw Horatio come over and one of the kids take off crawling for him squealing happily.  Even he had to smile when Caine grinned a sappy, daddy grin and picked up one of the twins.  He moved closer, still watching them.

Xander looked back at him.  "Hi, John.  Welcome to our insanity."  He stopped one of the crawling ones by picking him up by the back of his shirt, holding him off the ground.  He turned him around and put him back down, letting him crawl at Eric, looking very determined. "Ask Uncle Eric if he'll take you to swing, Tim."

"Sure, I can do that."  He picked Tim up, carrying him over to the swings.  He only swung gently but the baby loved it, beaming at everyone.  "We need to set up the baby swing at the house."  He gave him a squeeze when he wiggled.  "Don't, you'll fall.  Then Daddy will fuss horribly."   He kept going, smiling when Ray made it over to him.  "Hi, Ray."  Tim spit.  "Be nice."  Horatio came over to grab his nephew, sitting down in the next swing. "He's got one in the closet."

"We put it together this morning," he admitted.  "Tim did not want to vacate it."  Ray wiggled.  "No, you can't crawl around without an adult, Ray.  I'd have to hurt someone if you got hurt."  He saw Greg sneak past.  "I'm getting him a cat collar," he sighed.  "Xander!"  Xander waved and followed Greg all the way to the sandbox.  Greg sat down and beamed proudly.  "You still shouldn't sneak away, Greg."

Eric laughed and looked at Tim.  "He's asleep."

Horatio looked then smiled. "Good."  He looked at Ray.  "Is he?"  Eric checked then shook his head.  "Pity."  Ray wiggled so he took him over to play in the sandbox too.  Ray immediately started to dig down in and try to crawl into the hole.

John came over to help them.  "Who showed you my picture?"

"No one.  Calleigh said you were coming out.  I figured if I was wrong you'd say something."  He looked at him.  "Besides, who else would be staring at the kids with that sappy yet scared look?"

"Good point."  He patted Ray on the back, getting a look.  "Hi, Ray.  My name's John, I knew your granddaddy and grandmommy."  Ray spit at him.

"Nephew," Horatio warned.

Xander picked Ray up.  "No spitting unless it's a bad guy."  He handed Ray to him, watching his terrified look as the toddler cuddled him.  "There, that's a good apology, right?"

"A very good one," he agreed, letting Ray back down.  He caught Greg and put him back into the sand.  "You are very sneaky."

"He is, that's why he's getting a kitty collar tonight," Xander agreed dryly.  "With GPS if I can find one."  Horatio smothered a laugh.  "He made it onto the porch this morning while you were taking out the trash."

"He did?"

"He did.  Right past your feet.  Fortunately I had the gate up out there too."  Horatio moaned.  "He's getting a kitty collar with a GPS attachment."

"We'll see what we can find, Xander.  John, this is Xander Harris.  Yelina gave him Ray to guard over while she and Ray Senior were being hunted."

"I'm sorry as hell you lost them, Horatio," he said quietly.  Both boys stared at him.  "It's all right, boys.  I'm a nice guy, even if you do scare the crap out of me."  Ray cackled and pounced his arm.  "Thanks for the baby hug, Ray."  He patted him on the back, watching him go back to his digging.  "How are you managing with three of them, kid?"

Xander smirked.  "I've had them since Ray was four months old, John.  They're being raised as triplets.  They also like to watch me do home improvements so they're going to love watching me put together their playsets."

"You could buy them and simply put them together," Horatio offered.  Xander scowled at him.  "Never mind.  It is cheaper and it would give you more to do."  He looked at John.  "Xander used to work construction.  He did a lot of work on the house."

"Congrats, kid."  He smiled at the baby poking him on the arm.  "Yes, little one?"


"Greg then.  What's wrong?"  Greg opened his mouth.  "No, I don't have food.  That's probably Uncle Eric."  Greg took off crawling toward him, only stopping when he hit something that hurt his hand.  "Crap."  He and Horatio both went to see what was wrong, Xander staying with Ray.  "He lets you handle this stuff?"

"Unless he needs fussed over."  He picked the splinter out and looked at him.  "Next time ask and we'll carry you, Greg."  Eric chuckled.  "He's hungry."

"He's always hungry, H.  He's a crawling stomach.  Fortunately there's cereal and things in the diaper bag."  Horatio went to get it and brought their stuff over that way since none of them were with it.  Xander got the camera out to take pictures of the play equipment.  A passing cop gave him a funny look.  "He's building his own set for the house," he called.  "The one in the sandbox with him is H's nephew."  The officer nodded, smiling at Horatio and John, then kept going.  "Um, H, Greg," he called, pointing at the baby trying to follow the horse the officer was riding.

Horatio moaned, jogging to catch him.  "You can go for horse rides when you're older, Greg.  I promise we can go on pony rides when you're older."  He walked him back to the sandbox shaking his head.  "He's definitely quick," he told John.

"I can see that."  He patted Greg on the head, getting a beaming grin.  "Are you the one they said was a story hound?"

"No, that's Tim, Speed's son," Horatio said with a nod at Eric.  "He's blissed out on the swing so let him nap.  Please.  He snuck into the bookcase last night and nearly toppled it onto himself."

"I'm anchoring it to the wall tonight," Xander promised.  He opened a bottle of juice and put a nipple over it.  "I love this new nipple for commercial bottles."  He waved it and Greg lunged, making John catch him.  "Thanks."  Greg snatched the bottle to suck on, grinning around the nipple.  "Yes, you're a good boy," he promised.  Ray looked over from his trying to tunnel under the sand.  "You are too.  See if Greg will share already."  Ray crawled over and sat on Greg's ankles so he could snatch the bottle and drink, grinning at his brother.  "Give him a baby thank you, Ray."  Ray gave him a pat on the head.  "Thank you."  Greg took it back.  "Nicely, Greg."  Greg went back to sucking his bottle.  They ended up snatching it from each other, staring at each other while they drank.

"Those are some strange kids," John said finally.

Xander beamed. "I wouldn't expect anything else."  Someone bounced over and he stiffened. "Heathen bitch," he muttered.  "Yes, dear?"

"What're you doing, Xander?" she asked.

He looked at her.  "I'm doing what Hallie asked me to do, Willow."  She pouted.  "Why?"

"We need you."

"If you had needed me you would have treated me better.  Anything else?"  She looked stunned.  "Then shoo, before you hurt the kids."  She pouted again, looking forlorn.  "Horatio?" he said quietly.

"Miss Rosenburg, how did you get to Miami?"

"I had an oops."  She shrugged.  "They happen.  So I came to see Xander."

"Xander is very happy with the boys," John assured her, staring her down.  She wilted.  "I promise you he's a great father.  The whole crime lab watches over him since he's helping Horatio with his nephew Ray.  The twins he's being raised with are healthy and content.  You can't ask for a better parent than that guy."  She pouted.  "Now, what sort of oops did you have?  Would that be like sneaking into the baggage part of a plane or some other sort?"

"No," she said, still pouting.

Hallie appeared.  "Excuse us.  Xander, baby, Tara's coming down in a few weeks with Andrew."  She grabbed Willow and made her walk off.  "Sorry, dear!"  She waved a hand and took Willow with her back to Sunnydale, handing her to Giles.  "She went to interfere in the task I set for Xander.  Keep her here.  No more teleporting."  She disappeared.

John looked at Horatio.  "Wasn't that the woman who came to help that one kid who ended up killing his family for hurting him?"  Horatio nodded.  "Ray?"

"Was there when Yelina and Ray Senior were being tortured," he said quietly.  "She steered Xander to him."

"Thanks, kid.  She'd appreciate that and so would his daddy."  He punched Xander on the arm, getting a small smile.  "You're good."

"Thank you."  The babies were staring at the empty bottle.  "Do you two not want to play?"  Greg got free and went to dig into Ray's tunnels, Ray pouncing him with a squeal to help.  Eric brought Tim over.  "He done with his nap?"

"Nope, still going."  He cleared a small area in the sand for him to nap in, laying him down and putting his t-shirt over him.  "I've got to hit the outhouse."  He walked off, leaving them alone for now.

John looked.  "He does look a lot like his daddy."  Horatio nodded, looking at Tim.

"Ray, let Tim sleep," Xander ordered, turning him around. "Play with Greg while Tim naps."  Ray pounced Greg again, getting a baby grunt of displeasure but they dug the tunnel until they came to the wood, then Greg pounded on it.  "I know," he sighed, shaking his head.  "You need baby bongos."

Horatio looked at him.  "No they don't.  They have pots and pans."

"Fine," he muttered.  John laughed.  "I only want them to be happy."

"I'm sure they will be."  He looked at the little body invading his lap.  "Hi, Ray."  He got the biggest shiteating grin from the baby.  "You need changed, don't you?" he sighed.  Horatio took him to do that by the bench, it had a trashcan next to it.  "He changes diapers?"

"They love to have him help change diapers," Xander assured him, keeping Greg from pouncing Tim.  "Let him nap, Greg."  Greg pouted.  "Tough.  Unless you want to nap with him?"  Greg pouted.  "Then play."  Greg took off for the swings.  "Watch him," Xander ordered, going to catch Greg and swing with him for a bit.

"Sure, a napping baby isn't that hard," he admitted, watching Tim nap.  He did look a lot like his Daddy Speed.  Horatio came back and Ray yawned, crawling under the t-shirt to use Tim's stomach as a pillow.  "Aww."

"Usually the twins use Ray as a pillow," Horatio offered.  He smiled at Xander and Greg, both of whom were squealing in delight as they swung.  "Not too high."

"I know.  You fuss like Alexx, Horatio."

John snickered. "You can."

"It's got a reason."   He looked at him.  "We're doing Thanksgiving as a dinner this year.  Are you coming?"

"I wouldn't mind.  Any idea where Calleigh's hiding?"

"She had to get her oil changed in her car.  She'll be over once that's done."  He smiled when he heard the yawn.  "Good morning, Tim.  Did you have a good nap?"  Tim yawned again and flipped onto his side, snugging around Ray.  "That's fine, you nap."  Tim threw some sand at him.  "Behave."  John laughed and poked Tim on the side, getting a glare.  "Behave," Horatio ordered.  Tim scowled at him too, then huffed and hugged Ray tighter, going back to his nap.  Eric came back.  "You all right?"

"Called Momma.  She's on her way over with Alexx.  She stopped to pick her up."  He smiled at the cute duo under his shirt.  "They're adorable when they're asleep."  He heard a high pitched cackle and looked back at Greg.  "Lower, Xander."

"A breeze caught us, Eric."  He stopped the swing, letting Greg down.  "Go pounce your uncles.  They'll play with you since the other cubs are asleep."  Greg got his determined face and crawled over to pounce Eric's ankle, gnawing on it.  "I think that's a 'ha, got you', Eric."

"It probably is."  He picked him up, going to let him try the slide while Xander swung on his own.  Greg squealed as he went down the small slide, glaring at it when it dumped him into his uncle's hands again.  He tried to get back up it so Eric put him at the top and had to rush to catch him.  Horatio came over to catch and Eric let him slide back down.  Greg got tired of the slide after a few tries and took off crawling to investigate the rest of the play set.  This one had a wood and rope bridge that made Greg giggle as he crawled across the shaky thing.  On the other side was ropes and he couldn't quite figure out how to get up it, but he liked the platform on the other side.  There was a higher slide and he got onto it, making Horatio catch him at the bottom, his squeal echoing.  Even Alexx was smiling when she joined them with her two kids.  They came over to help play.  "Greg's the only one awake," he said, kissing his mother on the cheek.  "Momma, the ones you don't know are John Hagen in the sandbox with the two napping ones and Xander's on the swing."  She smiled and went to introduce herself to Xander.  He took the pouting Greg and put him back at the top of the slide, letting him wiggle until he slipped onto his side and went down that way that time.  "I think it's time for safer pursuits."

Alexx's kids ran to the sandbox.  Tim glared at them for waking him up again but they cooed and patted him until he went back to sleep.  Alexx looked at Greg, checking the spot on his hand.  "Someone got a splinter."  She kissed it and Greg beamed, hugging her.  "Hello, sugar.  Come on, let's go see Eric's Mommy."  She walked him over, letting her have Greg for a few minutes.  She noticed the watchful look on Xander's face.  "Relax," she mouthed.  She smiled at the fussing Greg got.  "He's a good boy but he's very fast."

"He tried to follow the mounted officer's horse," Horatio agreed.  He came to get Greg.  "Come on, let's check your diaper."  Greg fussed.  "I'm not changing it unless you need it."  He checked his diaper then let him play in the sand.   He pounced Alexx's daughter and started to shower her with sand, making her laugh and do it back.  "Don't bury him," he ordered.  He smiled at Eric's mother.  "Hi, Mrs. Delko."

"Horatio."  She kissed him on the head.  "Where is your nephew?"  He pointed at the lump of infants under the t-shirt.  "They're worn out already?"

"They tore up the living room before we came here," Xander offered, coming over.  "Alexx, our cooler of stuff got moved if you wanted to put your stuff with it.  Greg and Ray had a bottle of juice that they shared.  Tim got worn out on the swing with Eric.  He loved the wind up one at the house.  Refused to let anyone else have a turn. Greg made it onto the porch this morning too."  Horatio moaned at that.  "The rules of kitty collars on babies are the same, right?  Two fingers' space?"

"Should be.  Check the goth store, Xander.  They might have one specially for babies."

"Okay.  Will it have GPS?"

"Maybe," she admitted.  "If not, there's always the spy shop."

He nodded, getting that.  Ray poked his head up but Tim growled so he only waved and hid again, making the adults chuckle.  "He's a good napping buddy."

"He is," Alexx agreed.  "Tim, baby, Uncle Eric's mommy is here," she said quietly.  "Wouldn't you like to get up and play with her and my babies?"

Tim uncovered his head.  "Poo!"

"Poo?" she asked, looking at Xander.

"I'm almost thinking that's a no, but I'm not sure," Horatio admitted.

Xander shook his head.  "He's hungry."  He dug into the diaper bag, coming up with a yogurt tube.  "Want it?  Gotta get up."  Tim let Ray go, watching as he crawled to help torment the bigger kids, then he got his treat to suck on.  "Good boy!"  He smiled and patted him on the head.

"Those are so much more convenient than what we had when my babies were younger," Eric's mother sighed.

Horatio smiled.  "Xander didn't know about them until Calleigh told him.  Tim seems to like them."  He smoothed down some fly-away hair.  "Someone got the static problem this morning."

"I ran out of dryer sheets," Xander admitted.  Tim finished sucking down his yogurt, handing the rest of the tube to Greg when he came to snatch it and suck on it.  "Share," he ordered firmly.  Eric's mother looked at him.  "Greg knows he's got to share with the others.  He's hyper so he's got more appetite.  He also knows he's not supposed to snatch food."  Tim didn't seem to want it back, he went to dig in the sand.  Greg got to finish the yogurt and he took it to throw it out once he was done.  Then Greg pounced Horatio to cuddle.

"Hi, Greg."  He smiled at him. "Feel better?"  He got a beam and Greg crawled over to pounce John, settling into his lap with a small yawn.  "Sure, you be sleepy with Uncle John."

"I have no idea what I'm doing," he said, looking a bit panicked.

"Just be a baby seatbelt," Xander told him.  "Then you can put him into the sand when he starts to snore."  John nodded, letting Greg fall asleep on him.  When he was snoring he put him under the t-shirt, letting him nap in the shade for now.  "See?"  He grinned.  "They did brilliantly the other day," he bragged. "Greg made the potty/bathtub connection and they all figured out how to use it when Horatio sat them on it for a few minutes.  They're going to be brilliant little ones some year soon."  Alexx patted him on the back.  "They will be."

"I'm sure they will," John agreed.  He smiled at the two kids, pulling Ray out of the hole.  "Let's not suffocate, little Ray."  He let him go, watching as he pounced Xander, getting a cuddle, then he went back to playing with the sand.  He stole some from Tim's pile and got swatted at, but he threw some back at him and went back to playing on his own.   The adults let Xander sketch some rough outlines of play equipment for the kids, letting Alexx approve of things and noting where babies their age couldn't play with those yet, but it was fine for later on.

Later on, after lunch and when the babies were ready to go home to get out of the hotter sunlight, Eric's mother pulled Horatio aside.  "Why aren't you taking care of your nephew?"

"Because there's too many threats in my life," he admitted quietly.  "I do spend about half my free time at Xander's with the boys.   He does know me and we do get along well.  I get to babysit all I want and spend all the time I want with Ray, Mrs. Delko.  Xander has never tried to keep us apart.  He's even given me my own room in their home so I can go over all I want."

"He is your family."

"He is but it's safer for him if he's there.  I do work a lot of long hours.  I also have a lot of danger.  The Mala Noche threat hasn't ended yet."  She scowled.  "I see as much of him as I reasonably can.  Even the nights I don't spend over I still pop in for dinner at the very least.   Xander has always said if I get to the point when my hours are reasonable and no longer stretching ten or twelve hours a day, and when I'm not in danger, then he'll gladly let me have Raymond."  She sighed, shaking her head.  "That's what a good parent does," he assured her.  "I have all the contact with Ray I could want.  He's bent over backward to help me with Ray.  He's given me time to grieve and time to get to know my nephew like a parent would.  Ray loves us both."

"It's not right for him to be raising your family."

"The boys are as much family as Ray and I are," he corrected.  "The same as Xander is to Ray and the twins.  I consider them my family."  She stared at him, her eyes narrowed.  "Not like you're thinking," he said dryly.  Now he knew why Xander had been wary.  "He's a very good father, Mrs. Delko.   He's done an excellent job with the boys.  He handles them very well by himself and with others there to fuss over them.  He's said all along my entire staff can come over to help fuss over them if they want.  Tim is Speed's son," he said quietly.  "Alexx and everyone come to fuss all the time.  Even Calleigh and Eric."

"Fine.  It's still not right for a boy his age to be raising children that aren't his own."

"The twins' mother gave them to him when she died," he said firmly.  "He's been a wonderful father.  I have no doubt he'll continue to be a wonderful father.  Including to Raymond.  The same as I'm slowly moving into the family so I have all the time I need and want with the *three* of them."  She gave him a horrified look.  "I will not have you hurting Xander.  The way things are suits us all.  He's a wonderful father."

"Fine."  She walked off.  Her son looked at her then at Horatio.  She said something in Spanish and he glared at her. "Eric."

"Momma, Xander's not like that!  He's a great father.  Shit, Momma, I hope like hell I'm a father like him someday." She gave him a stunned look.  "At least he'd never be disappointed in their career paths," he hissed.  She sighed and nodded.  "Now, lay off them.  Xander's the best father I've ever seen, including Poppi.  Even Alexx said so."  He walked her to his car, taking her home.  "I think you had too much sun, Momma."

Alexx looked at Xander.  "It's not like that.   She's a fussy mother of the old school.  She thinks only mothers should raise children."

"So next time I'll wear a skirt," he said dryly, giving her a look.  She nodded at that, taking her kids home.  He looked at John.  "Sorry.  That's why I was wary of them meeting Eric's mother.  The traditional thought that I've got a dick so therefore can't be a good father annoys the shit outta me."

John nodded. "It would me too, kid."  He smiled.  "Help you get the kids to the car?"

"Please," he moaned, letting him take Greg since Greg was still sucking up to him.  He got Tim, Horatio got Ray, and they let John watch them while they got the diaper bag and things.  "Want to come play some more?"

"No, I'm about kidded out for the day," he admitted, smiling at them.  "I'm sorry Calleigh didn't show up."

"They'd pounce her and would've buried her in the sand," Xander said with a grin.  "They love their auntie.  Tim and Greg like to grab blonde women in the store because they love her so much."  John laughed.

"He's not joking," Horatio offered.  "Even with one hand in Calleigh's hair Greg still grabbed other blondes by the head.  Then he'd compare their hair shades to his and hers."  John walked off laughing, getting into his car to head off.  He looked at Xander.  "Keys?"

"Can I kick her ass if she tries something?" he asked.

"Without the physical violence component, yes."  They were tossed over.  "Thank you.  I'll keep her from doing it, Xander.  So will Alexx."

"Uh-huh."  He slid in, checking the boys.  They were all looking expectant.  "What?" he complained.  Greg made a hand-waving motion.  "Ah, music."  He turned it on once the engine was started, buckling up at Horatio's amused look.  "Maybe they'll really nap," he said quietly.

"I can only hope so.  It'll give us time to put the living room back together again."  He looked at him.  "You do need a new couch, Xander."  Xander sighed.  "We can afford it."

"I don't know that."

"She told you that."

"I still need to be cautious.  We don't know how long the stipends will last."  He suddenly yelped and put the fire on his butt out.  "Hey!" he complained.  His cellphone rang.  "Yes, Hallie, you torched my butt?"  He listened and sighed.  "But...."  He groaned, holding his head.  "How much per year?  Yeah, we can live on that as long as I don't have to pay house taxes and personal taxes.  Because I had to live that problem before," he reminded her.  He groaned.  "Here, talk to Hallie."  Horatio pulled them over and took the phone.  "I'm a bad pack alpha."

"You're not.  You're simply worrying too much," Horatio told him.  He listened to what she said.  "That's more than reasonable, Hallie, but what happens if you get promoted to a new job or if something happens to you?"  He smiled.  "That is one reason he's worrying, yes.  That and he doesn't want the boys to turn into Anya."  He smirked at him when Xander growled.  "It's was a clear sign to me, Xander."  He listened to her.  "Really?"  He blinked.  "Hallie...."  He sighed and nodded.  "If it does, it does.  What happens if...."  He nodded.  "That's more than reasonable.  We will today.  Yes.  I think he still wants to build most of it for them.  That's fine.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "She set it up in a mundane trust for the boys.  The house's taxes have been paid for the next twenty years, Xander.   Even if she does die or get moved out of her job, we're secure.  Now, we're going to get a new couch and maybe a few chairs.  Plus the parts of the playset you don't want to build."  Xander looked at him.  "A nice plastic slide?  A ball pit?"  Xander let out a small smile at that.  "Please?"  Xander sighed but nodded.  "Thank you.  Do we have the stroller?"  He pointed in the back.  "Good, then let's do that.  You get next year's stipend on the second of the year."  He glanced at the boys then at him.  "How much do we have left?"

"About thirty thousand."

"We're getting six a year to feed, clothe, and amuse them.  It'll be enough."  Xander nodded at that.  "Good."  He drove them on, taking them to the toystore he had been looking at.  "They're going to go insane," he sighed.  Xander nodded.  "Oh, well.  They can have a new stuffed animal each if necessary."  He got them out and got the boys into the stroller, nodding at the Chief when they ran into him and the Mayor.  "Sirs."

"Horatio.  What are you doing here?" the mayor asked.

"This is Xander, he's the one who has custody of Ray for right now.  We're buying play equipment for their house."

"Ah."  He smiled at the boys.  "You three are adorable," the Chief cooed, chucking Ray under the chin.  "You look just like your big brother did at your age."  Ray sucked on his finger.  "Such a good boy, Ray."

"The other two are Tim and Greg," Xander told him quietly.

"Very strong young men it looks like."  He patted them both on the head, getting a scowl from Tim.  "You look familiar."

"That's because their mother took a sperm donation from Speedle to create Tim and one from Las Vegas's lab to create Greg," Horatio told him with a small smile.

"Ah!  Interesting.  So they'll be brilliant young men."

"Tim's already a story hound," Xander assured him with a grin.  "I'll let you guys talk.  We're looking at an indoor play area for them."  He walked inside.

The mayor looked at him.  "That arrangement suits you, Caine?"

"It does.  There's still too much danger and too many hours in my life for me to take care of my nephew full time.  He has graciously allowed me to spend any amount of time I have free with the boys.  Including giving me a room in his house, sir."

"That's good of him."  He smiled and clapped him on the arm.  "They all looked very strong and healthy, Lieutenant.  I hope you can work things out so you get your nephew all to yourself."

"Right now, I like him with the twins," he said, smiling some. "It's good for him.  He's very loved.  Xander treats him the same as he does the twins.  He loves them all equally and it's very good for them.  I couldn't do a better job on my own."  That got a smile and a nod.  "I am on the watch for those who decided I'm moving in for *other* reasons."  No matter what Hallie had said just a few minutes ago about how it would suit them both.

"Most of the department knows about your nephew, Horatio.  I wouldn't worry about that.  Have fun finding toys."

"Thank you, sir.  Christmas is going to be insane with them."  He walked inside, giving his boss a small smile.

"Mr. Harris has also been instrumental in keeping a biker gang from his street, Mr. Mayor.  He caught one breaking into his house and presented him to Horatio.  He helped defeat them twice when they went for other residents to cause damage.  When they came for him he still stood tall, though I heard he fired on a gas can one had because they were going to burn the house with the boys and him in it."

"I heard about the barbequed thug," he admitted, walking him back to his limo.  "They looked happy together."

"Horatio does enjoy his time with the boys," he admitted. "I talked to him last week about it, sir.  He's got a room in their house and he spends most of his free time over there, plus Mr. Harris has gladly accepted all the lab over to play with the boys and check on them.  I hear ME Woods even fusses at him when he spoils the boys with candy."  That got a smile and they got into the back.  "He's been very happy to work with the lab about when people want to come over.  I heard Duquesne had to borrow clothes a few times after she helped give the tykes a bath and they splashed her."

"I heard something about Horatio walking them around a store to buy high chairs and them grabbing blondes."

"They do love her," the Chief assured.  "She's probably their favorite aunt."

"That's good.  It's good for them to like his new family."  He looked at his Chief of Police.  "Do you think they'll get together?"

"I don't predict the future, sir."

"Good point.  What about him and Duquesne?"

"Maybe, but I don't think she's ready to be a mother yet."

"That's reasonable.  She's still young."  He nodded and the driver took them to their next stop.  He knew he was conservative but it heartened him that she was still doing 'womanly' things by his mind and his publically lauded crime lab wasn't being run by a gay man.  The Chief wisely kept any opinions to himself about his politics and leanings toward the traditional ways.  He liked that about the man.  He liked even more how Horatio had been subtly redirecting the gossip about his living situation with the truth.


Xander flopped down on the new couch that night, eating his chinese food, which Horatio had sprung for.  "Thank you for making me do that."

"You're welcome.  It's very comfortable for them."  He smiled at the three boys piled together in a beanbag chair napping.  "They've been tired recently."

"Alexx said that they do that right before a growth spurt."  He ate a bite of noodle.  "I'm still watching to make sure they're not getting sick."  He ate another bite and looked over as Greg sniffed then let out a wail.  "Coming, guys."  He put down the food and came over to see what was wrong.  "Eww, Greg."  He walked him into the bathroom held at arm's length.  "What did you sneak and eat, cub!"

Horatio smiled, going back to his dinner.  He did move Xander's dinner away from Tim's little fingers.  "Come have some of mine, Tim.  Don't steal Daddy Xander's.  He needs food like Greg does."  He held out a bite of chicken after sucking the sauce off it.  Tim took it to gum, smiling at him.  "Good boy.  Ray?"  Ray got away from Xander's food too.  He heard the bathtub come on and put both their foods up so he could go help.  "That bad?"  He looked and grimaced.  "Eww, son.  What did you eat?"

"I don't know but I suspect it was a bug," Xander admitted.  He let the running water clean the naked butt, ignoring the giggling going on.  "This is like velcro."

"Let me," Horatio offered, taking the baby to clean him.  He did it better. "Hold his chest for me?"  Xander did that, straddling the side of the tub.  He used the washcloth.  Finally Greg's butt was clean.  "There."  He put on cream then the new diaper, then his pants, letting him go.  "I left our food on the table."

Xander smiled.  "You didn't know Ray could climb?"

"Crap."  He muttered, going to find them. Tim was on the table, face down in his carton of food licking it up like the cat would.  Ray had Xander's noodles over his head and was plucking them off to eat them.  They watched as Greg got up there with them and helped by plucking some noodles off Ray's head and nibbling on them.  "Camera?"  Xander found it and handed it over. He got one of them without them knowing then they all looked over at the flash, getting another one since Speed's face was covered in brown sauce.  "Boys," he sighed.

"I'll start the bath."

"Thank you."  He went to save his dinner and put it in the fridge, giving Tim a piece of carrot to suck on while they waited on the bubbles to happen.  He got Ray's head cleaned off into the carton, ignoring Tim and Greg pulling some out for themselves.  He carried the two messiest ones in there, Tim following along.  He loved his bath time.  He found Xander running bubbles too.  "Think it'll help?"

"Yup."  He got Greg naked, noticing his butt was already leaking more nasty stuff.  He set him on the toilet, earning a baby cheer.  "You go in there instead of the diaper, Greg."  He bundled the dirty one up and tossed it.  The other boys went into the tub until Greg was done.  "If you keep that up, we're going to see the doctor tomorrow."

Horatio nodded.  "I agree.  Or at least call Alexx."  He decided to go do that.  "Alexx, Horatio.  Greg's letting out things that look like textured black tar.  Could be some sand," he agreed.  "It's still like dark brown or black tar with sand though.  Exactly.  We're both worried."  He nodded, making notes on the grocery list on the fridge.  "I can go find some tonight.  Thank you.  No, we had to use running water and a washcloth.  Not in the least bit loose.  Sticky, very sticky.  Thank you."  He hung up and called their usual pharmacy.  "This is Horatio Caine for Mr. Harris.  Yes, the father of the triplets.  Pepto," he sighed.  "They ate something at the park earlier.  That and some anti-diarrheal medicine.  Can it be delivered?  Thank you.  We've got them in a bath.  I'll be here.  I'll have it ready, thank you.  They'll deliver some, Xander."  He started back that way but someone knocked on the door.  He went down to see who it was, finding a social worker they had worked with before.  "Mrs. Delko?" he guessed.

"A parent who saw the man living here taking pictures in the park."

"He's building a playset for the triplets."  He let her inside.  "I'm waiting on some medicine to be delivered."

"That's fine, Horatio.  Why would Eric Delko's family call me?"

"She's against two guys raising triplets," Xander said from the top of the stairs.  "Horatio?"

"Go back to the bath, Xander."  He nodded, doing that.  "He was only a foot outside and all three boys are still giggling."

"I can tell.  Medicine?"

"They picked up something in the park that made Greg, one of the twins, poop tar-like stuff."

"Ah.  That happens I guess."  Someone tapped and he answered, paying the delivery driver and giving him a tip, taking the bag.  She smiled and followed him upstairs.  "Where is he putting a play area?"

"There's a large room behind the stairs.  They're going in there."

"That's good.  Good for days you can't take them to the park."  She looked at the gate, smiling at it. "Very effective and I'm sure they can't get over it.  Is it triplets or twins?"

"Twins and my nephew," he admitted, letting her see the rest of the house.  "We had to buy some new furniture today."

"That's fine, Horatio.  I'm not worried."  A naked, damp body came crawling out.  "I see someone escaped."

"He needs medicine.  He let some into the water," Xander called.

"I can do that," Horatio agreed.  "Catch Greg for me please?"  He looked at Alexx's instructions and measured out the correct amount of medicine, letting Greg have it.  "There you go.  Go sit on the potty."  She let Greg go, watching as he crawled back into the bathroom.  She checked, smiling when she saw Xander had put him on the toilet.  "It's very practical in this situation and they don't mind."

"I don't mind.  Are the other two under the bubbles?"  Xander let her see the two hiding behind him, making her smile.  "Are you letting the water out?"

"Yup.  I don't think we need that and bubbles."  He finished draining the tub and rinsed it out, letting Tim back into the tub when he started to pee.  Horatio got some paper towels to clean up the mess.  Xander hosed him off with the faucet then put him back down next to Ray, who smiled at the pretty woman.  "So, who called?"

"You were taking pictures in the park."

"Um-huh.  I'm building them some play equipment.  I used to be in construction before I inherited the twins and got given Horatio's nephew.  I did the work to fix up the downstairs while the boys watched."

"That's interesting.  Did they help?"

"No, they sat in their carseats and cooed at my manliness," he said with a grin.  "They loved it when I painted with the low-fume paint."  She smiled at that.  "I checked and they stayed out harm's way."

"Good.  It sounds like you're a very good father.  What did you have planned for their play area?"

"We got them a ball pit, like you find at some fast food places?"  She nodded.  "I'm making them a tower to go with the slide kit we bought earlier today and I'm putting a giant mat at the bottom to catch them so they can't get hurt.  It'll have a boat-style swing seat for them to sit in.  We got that as well.  The rest will be crawling platforms, gentle inclines with non-slip surfaces, and a few areas to help them figure new things out.  They learned how to climb the other day.  They're taking a bath now because Ray decided he wanted to eat my dinner from his hair."

She smiled.  "That can happen."  She patted Greg on the head.  "That's a very good boy to let that out in there."  He beamed at her and did it more for her pleasure so she'd smile some more.  She watched Xander rerun the tub of water.  "You've clearly got a good handle on them."

"I've had them since Ray was four months old," he said quietly.  "They're just now getting to be ten months in another few weeks and Ray'll be going into nine months a week later."  She nodded.  "I'm sorry if I worried some people."

"That's all right.  They noticed it was a male heavy group with the boys today."

"It was us, Detective Hagen, ME Alexx Woods and her children, plus Eric Delko and his mother," Horatio offered.  She nodded, making note of that.  "Eric's mother is a bit traditional.  Right now having Ray here is best for him.  He's loved and Xander has  more free time to play with him than I do unless I retire."

"That's perfectly reasonable, Horatio.  Are you staying over?"

"As often as he wants," Xander agreed.  "His room is the next one up."  She smiled and went to snoop.  He looked at Horatio.  "Taking pictures?" he mouthed before turning to stop the water and put the boys back into it.  He looked at Greg.  "Are you still leaking?"  Greg let out a fart and he sighed. "That's fine.  You can join the bath when you're done."  Greg fussed and held up his arms.  Horatio came in to clean him up and put him into the water once she was gone.  "We good?"

"She said we were," he promised.  "Quit worrying, Xander."

"I'm supposed to worry, they're my pack," Xander said quietly.

Horatio looked at him. "Our pack."

"Point.  Why don't you worry then?"

"Because I don't need to, Xander.  They're fine and healthy.  She saw that.  Greg's leaking problem will be solved.  Let me get a pull-up for him."  He went to get one meant for swimming, putting it on the boy before he could let more into the water.  "There, that should help."  Xander smiled at him.  "It'll be fine, Xander."

"If you say so."

"I do.  Quit worrying.  Remember, Tara's coming soon."

"I'd like to have the playset done by then," he admitted.  Someone else knocked and he sighed, leaving Horatio with the boys while he went to answer it.  "Hi, Calleigh.  What happened earlier?"

"Stuff."  She gave him a hug.  "Did someone tell John that I had baby envy?"

"I think someone joked that you didn't show up because you didn't want to seem too maternal," he offered.  "Not us."  He let her inside, checking the street.  He frowned.  "Were you followed?"  She looked and shook her head.  "Crap.  Tell me that's not someone watching the street," he said, nodding at the suspicious car.

"Let me call it in, Xander."  She moved to where she could get a better view of the car's license plate.  "Dispatch, this is CSI Duquesne.  I'm at Hillcrest Street by Palmer and there's a suspicious car sitting with occupants.  License plate...."  She was interrupted by a gunshot.  She grabbed her arm as she fell.

Xander came out, aiming at the car taking off.  He blew a tire and the windshield.  The car crashed into a building.  "Horatio!"  He came jogging out.  "Boys?"

"I let out the water.  Go back inside."  He took Calleigh's gun.  "Go now."  Xander headed inside, locking it up.  He got the boys into their nursery, in the closet.   Then he came back out with a gun, handing it to Horatio behind his back.  "Thank you.  Them?"

"Closet," he said quietly.   "Any others?"

"Not yet.  Help Calleigh while I see where our backup is."   He took her cellphone to do that.  "Dispatch, this is Lieutenant Caine.  We have a CSI down.  I repeat, officer down, non-fatal injury to her shoulder.  Two suspects trapped in vehicle.  Needing backup and rescue."  He heard the ETA and smiled. "Thank you."  He hung up and went to check on them.  He saw lights coming on and he waved at one neighbor.  "We're handling it."  She nodded, going back inside.  John showed up first, Fire/Rescue right after him.  "The tires and front windshield were blown, making them crash into the building.  That was right after they shot CSI Duquesne."  John took off for her.  "They're moaning. I didn't check more than that."

"That's fine, Lieutenant.  Do you know who they are?"

"All I know is Xander spotted them, he told Calleigh because she had just come over.  They shot at her."

"Gotcha.  Let us handle it."  He nodded, backing off until another senior officer got there.  One winced at the sight of IAB striding over.  They got the two suspects out, getting them into the ambulance after Calleigh had been taken.   They were going to different places.

Horatio looked at Rick Stetler.  "I don't know.  I was inside with the boys."

"Who has them?"

"They're in a safe spot."  He looked around then pointed inside.  "Wolfe, check on the boys?"  He nodded, heading inside.  "Nursery."   That got another nod.  He looked at him.  "Sorry, Xander saw them."

"Xander?"  He frowned. "Harris, the guy who has custody of your nephew?"  He nodded. "Who blew the tires?  If Duquesne was down and you were inside...."

"Xander was out here," he admitted.  "I have the gun he used."

"He's good?"  Horatio nodded. "He's licensed?"  He nodded again.  Ryan Wolfe came back out.  "You left them alone?"

"They're asleep in the closet. There's nothing in there that could harm them and I closed the gate, Horatio."  He handed over the baby monitor's speaker.  "Here.  I moved the base."

"Thank you, Mr. Wolfe."  He put it in his shirt pocket.  He pulled at the damp material.  "I was helping with a bath.  They managed to dump chinese food over themselves."

Rick rolled his eyes.  "You're not half as coherent as usual, Caine."

"It happens."  He heard a coo and winced. "That's Greg."  He heard a meow.  "That's fine.  The mother cat came in to check on them."  He got an incredulous look.  "She's recently had kittens in Xander's closet.  She'd never hurt the boys."  He looked around then at him.  "I don't know what happened, Rick, Xander was out here with her.  You'd have to ask her or him."

"Fine.  Where is your nephew's guardian?"  He looked around.  "Mr. Harris?"  He came over from a neighbor's house.  "What are you doing?"

"They were watching her house."  He looked at him.  "Yes, I blew the tires and windshield after I saw them shoot her in the shoulder.  Here."  He pointed at the injured area.  "Horatio came out, I went to put the boys in the closet.  I came out to help her until paramedics got here."

"You seem pretty calm."

"I'm from a town with a high death rate, Officer.  I had to protect myself and others before.  It was unfortunate but I spotted them watching 518.  They were in a dark car without the engine running.  When I pointed them out to Calleigh she moved outside to get a better view of the license plate and car."

"Okay, why didn't she spot them?"

"She had just gotten here and she lives in the other direction," he said, nodding behind them.  "She probably didn't see them."   He nodded, making note of that. "I pointed them out to her.  She moved outside to get a better view.  She was calling, I was in the doorway, when they shot her.  I came out and grabbed her gun and shot the tires and then the windshield because they were trying to get away."  That got a stunned look.  He sighed and pulled out his license, handing it over.  "Yes, I'm licensed.  I've had to become a very good shot.  My town had a thirty percent homicide rate."  The license was noted then handed back.  "Horatio came out when he heard the crash or the gunshots.  He sent me back inside to handle the babies.  I put them in the closet, I brought him another gun because he didn't have his on him."

"How many do you have?"

"They're on file, including pin impressions and serial numbers," he noted.  That got a heated look.  "I can't rattle it off from the top of my head, man.  It's a crime scene!  Why are you bothering me?"  He walked back inside, going to put the boys to bed once he had cleaned his hands.

"Yelina went to him because he's a known protector, Rick," Horatio said quietly.  "He's from a small town called Sunnydale, which is like Regent Street."  That got a shudder.   "It's not his first act of protection and he did protect Calleigh when she was shot."

"Fine.  We'll talk more later.  Who was first on the scene after you?"

"John Hagen, he went with Calleigh since Fire/Rescue was getting the suspects out of the car at that time."

"I'll check with him."  He stomped off.  "Wolfe, I will know everything you find as soon as you know," he ordered.

"Once I have all the reports I'll gladly carbon copy them to you," he agreed.  "Not before I've made a full conclusion however."  He got another glare.  "It would be irresponsible of me to do so, Stetler.  When I know you will."  That got a single nod and he went back to storming off.  He looked at Horatio.  "Xander is apparently a very good shot, Horatio.  Both hits to the tire were near the center.  The hit to the window was center mass so it didn't hit anyone, just created a mess so they couldn't see."

Horatio nodded.  "He's listed as a marksman."  He looked around.  "I'm going back inside.  Give me a bag for her gun."  Ryan handed one over once he had it opened.  He carefully put the gun inside and sealed it, making the note on the front of who it belonged to.  "I'll be inside."  Ryan nodded, locking the gun into his kit.  "Thank you.  Tell John to stop over when he gets back."

"Sure.  You'll know before Stetler will.  Which house were they watching?"  Horatio pointed.  "I'll be here."  That got a nod and he went back inside, slamming the door.  "Don't be pissed at him," he muttered. "He was acting on instinct."

Horatio came up the stairs, finding Xander sitting staring down the stairwell.  "She'll be fine."

"I want to know who they were," he said quietly.

Horatio took the gun from his hand and walked it off with the one Xander had given him.  He found the safe open and carefully unloaded both guns before putting them back.  Then he did a check.  He had a few more than he had registered.  He checked the drawers too and sighed.  He couldn't fault him, not with his past.  He closed the safe's door and walked back to the living room, pulling Xander to his feet.  "You can never do that again.  The proper course of action is to call it in, give them the information you have.  You are not an officer, Xander."

"It was instinct," he said quietly, looking at him. "I had to protect her."

"You did.  You did it very well, but next time do not take an officer's gun to do that.  Do not shoot at the suspects.  You could have hit someone, Xander."  Xander swallowed and nodded.  "Do you need to be sick?"  He shook his head.  "Good.  Now, sit down.  We'll talk about this stuff.  You're going to be asked to give a statement to at least Internal Affairs."

"Sure," he agreed, sitting down on the couch.  He looked at Horatio.  "I'm sorry, Horatio.  I did what I thought was necessary."

"I know, Xander.  That's why you're not in trouble yet.  I doubt anyone would press charges on you for protecting her."  He patted him on the head.  "Need a soda?"

"No, I'm good.  The boys are down.  Did you change the combination to the safe?"

"No.  I was tempted but I didn't."  He went to get himself some water while he calmed himself down.  When he came back out, he sat on the couch next to Xander.  "You need to get over what happened in Sunnydale, Xander.  I know it's a big part of who you are, but Miami's not like that.  You don't need the same instincts."

Xander snorted, taking the water to sip before handing it back.  "I thought I had buried it, Horatio.  I thought they were nicely buried and not going to have to come back unless someone hurt the kids."  He continued to stare and think well past his bedtime, only coming out of them when someone pounded on the door.  He checked the clock before he walked down there.  "If you wake the kids I'm going to kick your ass," he said quietly. "It's three in the morning."

"I'm Rick Stetler with Internal Affairs, Mr. Harris.  May I come in?"

"Can't it wait until a decent hour when you won't wake the kids?"


"Fine," Xander sighed, letting him inside.  "We can talk down here.  Horatio's up there asleep on the couch."

"I thought he had his own room."

"We were talking."  He closed the door after checking the street.  He walked him to the room behind the staircase.  It was just as big as the living room and kitchen upstairs.  "This is going to be the play area.  Excuse the boxes and wood, I'm building most of it."  He sat down on top of some of the wood.  "Make yourself comfortable.  Did you need a statement?"

"Do you have someone slated to take care of them if you end up in prison for taking an officer's gun?"

Xander gave him a cold look.  "You'd rather I had let them run her over and kill her?  Or anyone else?"  He looked stunned so Xander stood up.  "My former town had a thirty percent homicide rate the year I graduated, Officer.  I was on the semi-legal protection squad to protect the other students.  Yes, I reacted on instinct to protect your officer and my friend.  I'm sorry if I broke a shitload of laws.  I'm not sorry she's alive and if you charge me with that I'll get the biggest bitch of an attorney in this city to get you back," he said calmly.  "As for my kids, no one's going to need to take care of them for me.  Yes, they have plenty of people I can ask.  I won't have to.  I know that.  What I did was right.  I protected Calleigh from the assholes who were going to hurt her.  The car was heading right for her when I got the tires and then the front window."  That got a shiver.  "I'm sorry as hell if I bother you being like this but welcome to my life, Stetler.   Now, if you want a statement I can be civil if you can.  If you can't, then come back at a better hour when you won't wake my kids."

"You think you're so tough."

"No, I know I'm so tough.  That's why I have Ray."  He glared at him.  "Not my fault.  I have Ray because I'm a damn good protector.  She knew that."  She being Hallie but he didn't need to know that.  "I've done it for a very long time.  I thought I had buried those instincts when I got the boys.  I knew I wasn't going to need them in Miami and I hoped I wasn't going to have to protect them.  This whole neighborhood is on edge because of the biker gang a few months back."

"One of them was Mala Noche."

"Does Horatio know?" Xander countered.  He shook his head.  "He needs to know.  Was it about Ray and Horatio?"  He shook his head.  "Then it's not critical.  Why were they in my neighborhood if it wasn't him?"

"One of your neighbors is a procurer."

"The guy who runs the nursery?  He lives in 514.  I thought they were watching 518."

"They were.  They're an elderly couple they thought they could take out to take over their house as a crash pad."

Xander shook his head. "Not hardly.  The neighbor on my left is a neighborhood spy and has called on me in the past when I walked outside without a shirt on."  That got a grimace.  "She was probably the second call tonight."

"She was the third.  Duquesne's, then Caine took it over, then hers."  Xander nodded, sitting down again.  "Have you killed others?"

"No, I've never killed another living human being," he said blandly.  "I didn't have to."  That got an odd look.  "I didn't."

"Caine said something about Regent street."

"My town was full of things like that.  They liked to snack on teenagers."  He shrugged.  "No living human beings among them."  That got a groan.  "I did what I had to so I and my friends could survive, Officer."

Horatio came in.  "Calm down, Xander."

"He wanted to know."

"He doesn't need to know."

"Then he won't remember," he said practically.  He shrugged a bit.  "That's how it usually works."  He looked at him again.  "No, I have never, including tonight, killed a living being, Stetler.  I know very well neither of them died from what I did to protect her."

"One is in critical condition."

"Then he should have been wearing his seat belt, he shouldn't have been firing on her, or trying to run her over after he shot her, and he shouldn't have been in my neighborhood.  Horatio's already corrected me on what I should have done."

"I want the gun."

"I gave it to Horatio."

"Ryan Wolfe has it," Horatio assured him.  He heard a wail and Xander moaned, getting up.  "I'll get Tim."

"Sure."  He sat down again.  "I did ask politely for you to not wake the kids.  They'll never go back to sleep now."   He stared him down.  "Did you want her dead?"


"Then I'm sorry as hell I used her gun to shoot their tires and the front window.  Next time I'll react differently."  He stood up again.  "Anything else?"

"We're not done."

"It's three in the morning.  You just woke up my son.  We're done until a decent hour of the morning.  I know it's your job to make me fucking sorry for saving her but I'm not going to put up with disrespect to my family.  You can come back at a decent hour if you have more questions.  Or you can arrest me and I'll sue the city.  Your choice."  Stetler backed off.  "Let me walk you to the door so I can lock it after you, Officer."  He nodded bruskly and let himself be led off.  "I'll be up by ten and they'll be fed and playing by then.  Between then and three, they'll be in the living room, then they go down for a nap until five.  After that they're up until eight, when they have a bath and go to bed," he said quietly as he walked him out.  "Just come back anytime that's not a naptime please.  I'll gladly cooperate once it's a decent hour and you can grill and roast me all you want then."  He let him out then closed the door softly and locked it behind him, heading back upstairs. "I'm sorry."

"You weren't disrespectful, Xander."   He walked him into his room.  "He was being disrespectful by coming here at three in the morning to try to throw you off your game."  He got him down onto the bed and tucked him in.  "You sleep.  I'll be here."

"You have to work."

"I can do that from home."

"Um, still no internet connection."

"I can fix that as well," he promised, patting him on the head.  "I'll be here tomorrow."  He walked off, going to his own room after checking to make sure the boys were sleeping.  He smiled when he heard Xander settle in for the night.  It was a good sign.  They'd get through this too.


Horatio got woken up first, his cellphone didn't wake the boys thankfully since it was near dawn.  "What?" he complained.  He sat up.  "I'm not sure yet, John.  How is she?"  He smiled.  "That's fine.  No, I'm going to be here.  Because Stetler showed up at three this morning," he said, glancing at his alarm.  He reached over to turn it off.  "I was about to get up anyway.  We do have a few things left to set up and I told him I'd be here.  Of course I will.  Bring her over if she signs herself out today."  He smiled.  "Of course we'll fuss over her.  She needs it."  He nodded.  "I'll be here."  He hung up and called his boss's voicemail.  "Since Stetler came over at three this morning to get a statement I'm working from Xander's today.  Mostly to set it up so I can work here from the future when the boys get sick.  I'm on my cellphone if something happens.  Calleigh's fine, John Hagen called me.  She'll probably get out today, it wasn't a serious injury and she's been closed up.  She'll be coming here for a few hours as well if you need us."  He hung up and got up, going to take a shower.  He walked back into the nursery, sniffing.  "Poor baby, Greg," he sighed, going to change his diaper.   This time it was Tim so he changed him and gave him the medicine while he was still half-asleep.  Then he went to take his shower.  Once he got out he dried off and slid into casual clothes, heading to call the cable company.  The boy would go insane without cable and it was the cheapest and fastest way to get a high speed internet connection as far as he knew.  Hallie appeared, taking the phone and hanging up. "No?"

"You already have it.  He never thought to ask and hook it up, Horatio.  The boy doesn't have a computer."

"I have a laptop I can bring home."  She smiled at that.  "Where are the connections?"  She pointed.  "Thank you.  Any other perks I should know about?"

"Not yet.  Need another one?"

"His car?"

"Runs," she admitted.  "It'll be fine, Horatio.  His car taxes are paid out of the trust before he gets paid to raise the boys.  It'll be just fine.  I know he's infected you with the worrying but trust me.  Please?"

"I do.  If you think about it, he's doing a pack alpha's job.  He's worried about the well- being and survival of the pack."

She pinched him on the cheek.  "You are just adorable!  Go get your laptop, I'll stay.  By the way, Greg shared his caterpillar snack."

"That's gross."

"They're babies, they do that."  She smiled.  "Shoo, go get the laptop, I'll stay here."

"Thank you.  I'll make him get a tv later too."  He headed down to the hummer, going to the lab for a few minutes.  He ran into his boss walking up the halls.  "I left you a voicemail."

"I got it.  Are they okay?"

"We figured out what the boys ate that turned their diapers into tar.  Apparently they shared a few caterpillars with some sand."  His boss made the most disgusted face.  "That's why they're crapping stuff that looks like sandy tar."

"I like Harris's idea of putting an indoor play area in.  How long before you're up and running?"

"I'm hoping I can get it to work today."  He went into his office, grabbing his laptop and walking back out with it under his arm.  "I left them all sleeping."

"When did Stetler get there?"

"I woke up at 3:15 and he was there."

"Oh.  How's Calleigh?"

"John said she's fine.  It was a through-and-through.  They closed her up.  He didn't think they were going to keep her.  If they tried she was probably going to sign herself out and go home.  I've told him to bring her over so Xander can fuss over her.  It'll make him feel better."

"That's fine, Horatio.  You are leaving the hummer?"  Horatio looked at him.  "It is an *official* vehicle," he noted dryly.

"I always bring it home, even on my days off."

"We had one of the ones on night-shift shot last night."

"If my team needs mine they'll call and then come get it."  He walked off.  "Thanks, boss."

"Welcome."  He shook his head, going back to his office to make that note.  He did let that man get away with too much.

Horatio came back to the house and found Stetler knocking.  "You couldn't wait until rush hour?" he taunted.  He let him inside.  "Xander's still asleep.  He didn't fall asleep until four thanks to you."  He walked upstairs, finding a large tv sitting there and a nice desk in the corner - facing the play area - waiting for him.  "Thank you," he called quietly.  He put down the laptop and logged in, plugging in all the proper cords.  It came up and he smiled.  "Even better."

"This is nice," he said.

"Close the gate."  The gate was closed.  "Thank you.  The boys will be up soon.  They apparently ate a few caterpillars yesterday while playing in the park."

"I wondered what stunk."

"The last round of diapers."  He went to check on them, finding Greg awake.  "Good morning, Greg."  He brought him over to change him, finding him having a normal wet diaper.  "That's a good boy.  No more eating bugs, Greg."  He finished changing him and put him down once he had him in something to play in.  "Go play.  I'll feed you in a few minutes.  Don't chew on the man out there."  Greg crawled off, going to crawl in with Daddy, making him smile.  "Fine, do that if you want."  Rick came to the door.  He motioned him back.  "Xander?" he called quietly.  "Incoming Greg."  He heard Xander snuffle and shift, then Greg cooed and they both heard the bed rustle again.  He checked Tim's new diaper.  It was still clean.  Ray's was fine.  He walked out, going to check on them.  Greg was snuggled into Xander's throat, sucking his thumb.  He went back to the living room.  "It's going to be hours.  I'm not waking him for you."  He settled in to read his email, including the note about official vehicles being meant to stay at the office.  He snorted at that one, deleting it.  "She's fine."

"I heard."  He stared at him for a few minutes longer.  "He keeps guns in the open?"

"There's a gun safe."  He looked up from his reading.  "I'm sure you've pulled his license by now to see what he has?"  That got a nod.  "You also probably did a background."

"What I could that wasn't blocked," he admitted.  "The boy thinks he's Rambo?"

"No.  Why would he?"

"What he said last night."  He walked over.  "He said they had a semi-legal defense team?"

"They had an unusually high death rate."  He heard the quiet knock and went down to answer it.  "John, Calleigh.  Most of the boys are in bed.  Greg's up but he's with Xander."  John reached behind him to pick up the baby.  He groaned. "I'm getting you a bell collar myself, Greg."  He let them inside.  "Stetler's upstairs," he told her quietly.

"Might as well get it over with," she complained.  She walked up there, her arm in a sling.  "Piss me off, they didn't give me enough pain killers." Greg cooed and settled into her lap when she sat down. "Thank you, Greg.  You're very sweet.  Horatio, can I have some water?"

"Of course."  He went to get her a bottle of it, getting John some as well. "Rick?"

"No, I'm fine."  He nodded at the gate so John shut it.  "He'll scream if the kid gets free again."

"Greg loves her," John said, smiling at Horatio then at Calleigh.  "You look good like that, Cal."

"I can beat you with one arm injured, John."  Xander padded out to look at her, then went into the bathroom and came out with three bottles, putting them in front of her.  He grunted and went back to bed.  She smiled.  "See, that's what a good boyfriend does."

"If I had any at home they'd be yours," he assured her.  He smiled at the look on Horatio's face.  "I can see where the babies get the fussy nature from."

"Indeed.  Need me to grab Greg so you can take something?"

"No, he's trying to drink my water for me."

"Bottles are in the fridge, John," Horatio ordered.  "Did you see them eating bugs yesterday?"

"I think Eric's mother caught Ray eating one, why?" she asked, taking one of the pills.  She sighed in pleasure a few minutes later.  "Those are nice."  She laid down with Greg, cuddling him.  "We'll nap.  Yes we will."  He squealed when she snored, playing with her hair while he fell back asleep.

Stetler shook his head but John smiled, taking a picture.  "That's so cute."

"She is," Horatio agreed.  "The boys all love her. That's why they pounce every blonde in the stores.  Put it on the table.  Someone will be up soon."  He finished his email.  "Xander, are you up?" he called.  He came back out, glaring at him. "I know it's early.  Stetler's here to take a statement."

Xander blinked at him. "I said a *decent* hour, asshole.  This isn't."   He went back to bed, slamming the door.

John turned to hide his laughs.  Horatio didn't.  "You knew he said after ten, Rick."  He got up to answer the screaming summons from the nursery.  "Ray," he sighed.  "There is no reason for that.  Daddy's not mad at you."  He changed him and let him go play.  "Go pounce Uncle John."  He found Tim staring at him.  "Good morning, Tim.  Want changed again?"  He checked his diaper, then took him to change again.  Once he was clean, diapered, and clothed he let him go free too.  "There, go pounce Uncle John too.  Let Auntie Calleigh sleep.  She needs a nap."  He crawled out, snatching the bottle off the table to suck on, staring at Stetler.  "Don't bother him."  He went back to his desk.  "I'm working from home today, John."

"That's fine, Horatio.  I'll come back at lunch?"

"If you want.  We can always use the help.  It's like a chorus of baby birds most of the time."  That got a smile and a nod, John taking the camera with him.  "I want the others," he called after him.  "Catch Ray, Rick."  He stopped the babies and closed the gate, doing a head count.  "Thank you.  They're very fast for being so tiny."  He typed in an email to his boss.  He got one back that bad diapers weren't a good reason to be sick.  So he called a delivery service and sent two of them to him.  By the time Xander got back up he had a 'never mind, that is a good reason, I've told Alexx to call you when she gets in about those and let her have them.  I hope they feel better, Horatio' waiting on him.

Xander padded back out, getting a soda to drink on his way to the shower.  "What?" he growled, staring at Rick.  "Some of us are night people."

"I did some research on your town, Mr. Harris."

"I worked with Buffy."  He paused, looking at the tv, then at the desk.  "Uh-huh."

"It was already on, you simply didn't realize it.   Take a shower, I'm working from home today."

"Any idea what caused the tarry diapers?"


"Eww."  He finished his soda on the way to his shower, coming out of there only wearing a towel.  Tim followed him in to get dressed.  "Check on the kitty, Tim."   Tim peeked into closet then sniffled.  He looked.  "Horatio.  We need a furry burial.  Only one's alive."  He came in to look, finding all the dead kittens to take outside to bury them.  The living one was checked over but it was nearly gone too.  The mother was nowhere to be found.  He went to check the nursery closet.  Not in there either.  He sighed.  "I have no idea, Tim.  We'll figure it out and you can have the momma cat anyway."  He went to put on boxers, a t-shirt, and sweats, plus socks.  "Okay, let's go find nummies."  Tim led the way, smiling and pouncing Ray when he found him.  "Food," he called.  Greg lifted his head.  "Gently, cub."  He plucked him.  Calleigh made a grabbing motion.  "I've got him, Calleigh.  I'm getting him something to eat."  She grunted and shifted position.  "Go nap on my bed."  He handed Rick the baby and picked her up with a small grunt, carrying her into the bedroom.  He tucked her in and went back to the kitchen, taking the baby Stetler was staring at.  "What else did you want to know?"

"They said you didn't do that much."

"Which is why I'm in Miami.  They're bitches.  And?"

"You swear in front of them?"

"They can't speak yet.  I think it's safe for another few weeks."  He gave him a look.  "Swearing is saved for when I hit my thumb or other bad things happen."  That got a snort and Horatio came back. "Did you see the momma cat?"

"She's on the roof sunning herself.  We'll figure it out after we have her fixed, Xander."  He took the food to feed the little stomachs.  "Go give a statement, Xander."

Xander grumbled but went that way, flopping down on the couch. "What else did my former friends say?"

"That you're missing."

"No, they know I'm here."

"That you're not that important to the fight."

"Sure, because I didn't revive Buffy or anything," he said dryly. He shrugged. "Their opinions no longer matter to me."

"Good.  Because I asked another source."  He stared at him.  "They said a few more interesting things."  Xander shrugged.  "They said that you've had some violent moments in your life."

"My parents were alcoholics.  I'd say that's a yes.  Fortunately I'm doing everything opposite of what they would've done so I'm a *good* father."

He nodded at that.  "They said you helped blow up the high school."

Xander walked over to Horatio's computer, opening a new browser window so he could find the video he wanted.  He waved him over and hit play, letting him see it.  The IAB officer stared in horror, then at him.  "Yeah, that was my graduation.  I led the battle," he said dryly.  "The explosives worked when swords didn't.  We knew they weren't going to, we were hoping to distract people so families and innocents could get out of the way."  He walked around him and got into another file.  He typed in a password, getting it denied.  He typed in a second one and it opened, letting him see that file.  "That's what I did this spring.  Horatio, I just got into a classified Pentagon file if they ask."  He watched him watch it, then watched him go get sick.  He closed the screen and walked back to the couch, sitting down again.  When he came back he handed him the rest of Calleigh's water.  "That's my *former* life.  I thought I had buried the instincts," he said quietly.  "Apparently not deep enough."

He finished the water.  "The pack thing?  You called one a cub," he said at the confused look.

"I've been possessed by an animal spirit.  It only makes me more protective of what's mine and my family."  He shrugged.  "I got possessed by the spirit of a soldier too.  It helps.  He liked guns."

"Fine."  He tossed out the empty bottle.  "Can you not lay low?"

"I try really hard.  They came here.  Not like I planned on barbequing that one guy either.  He didn't drop the can when I expected him to."

Stetler shook his head.  "I heard."  He looked at Horatio, who shrugged.

"I wasn't here that night.  They constituted a danger to the boys."  Greg let out a loud shriek.  "I'm working on it, Greg."  He brought over the scrambled eggs, letting each one have his own bowl.  Greg picked his up and put his face in it.  "No, eat with your fingers."  He took the bowl back and put his hand in it then put the messy fingers in his mouth. "That way you don't wear it."  Greg went with that, doing it some more for his reward of a smile.  Tim was sniffing it.  "Eat, Tim."  Tim looked at him.  "Eat, Tim."  He fed him a bite.  "It's eggs.  You liked eggs yesterday, you still like eggs today."  Ray pouted.  "You eat too, nephew."  Ray started to push the bowl off his tray but Horatio caught it and sat down with a spoon, feeding him.  Then Tim creeled so he fed him from his bowl.  Ray glared at Tim.  He fed him.  Greg watched, following the spoon while he ate with his fingers.  "Glad you're amused, Greg."  Greg clapped.  "Thank you.  Finish your eggs."  Speed patted the tray and when it didn't get him more he flung it at Horatio.  He glared at him.  "That was not polite, Tim."  He got him some more and fed it to him, making him a more happy baby.  "Xander?"

He came in and took over feeding duties, letting Greg down.  "I mopped last night," he promised when Horatio started to say something about their son, the hoover, sucking the eggs off the floor.  He put Tim down too. "Your mess, you clean it up."  He moved to do that, swatting Greg out of his way.  He grinned at Ray. "You, eat more."  Ray leaned forward to get the spoon back.  "Good boys."  He walked back out.  "Sorry. With three meals can either be very amusing or very frustrating."  Tim followed him out, climbing into his lap, staring at him.  "Get me a book," he agreed.  Tim got down and went to get a book, dragging it back in his teeth.  "You want a textbook?  Okay, that's a bit weird."  He put him into his lap and opened it anyway.  "This is the story about ...Math," he said, smiling at him. "Which daddy is not very fluent in, but we'll figure it out as we go along."

Horatio came out to take the book and Tim, walking him back in there to read to all three of the kids from the kitchen.  "This is the story about numbers and math," he said, letting Tim have right under his chin so he could see the best.  He went through each step of each problem on the page, making Greg and Tim both grin at him but Ray looked very confused.  "Don't worry, you'll understand this one more when you're older, Ray."

Stetler s hook his head.  "You've driven him insane, you know that, right?"

Xander looked at him.  "Technically you can't drive a person to insanity.  You can only show them the road signs and give them a nudge in the right direction."  Stetler stomped off.  "Have a good day, Officer," he called, smiling and waving as he locked the gate again.  He went into the kitchen, making himself and Horatio some food, and of course the babies would snatch bites when they could.  "Are they liking the foreign language of math?"

"They are.  Or at least Tim and Greg are.  Ray's very confused."

Xander leaned down to kiss him on the head.  "Me too.  It's not a language I get either."  He grinned.  "Such good boys."  He went back to his frying eggs, smiling when Horatio closed the book.  Tim pouted.  "More later.  Let us eat first.  Go play on the rug."  Horatio found the remote and turned the tv to PBS, making all the boys go see what that thing was.  They had no idea.  Ray looked back at them.  "It's good for you.  Go ahead."  He crawled out and pounced Greg until he laid down so he could sit on him.  He even patted the tv.  Then he squealed when he saw a train!  He knew that train!  That train was in books!  Tim cooed and reached out too.  Xander handed Horatio a plate with a grin.  "Thank you for talking her into cable."

"Welcome."  He sat down to eat, looking at the floor.  It was mostly clean. "I'll get that in a bit."  Xander handed over the hand-vac, getting a nod since Horatio was stuffing his face.  At least he was until one little hand came up and made a grab for his fork.  He looked down.  "Still hungry, Tim?"  He fed him a bite, getting a smile and Tim went back to watching the book that moved.  Someone with a nice voice was even reading to them.  "Books on tape?" he asked before taking another bite.

"We have ten of them," Xander admitted, eating his own.  He looked out there, standing up.  "Ray's squishing Greg again."  He sat down, letting Horatio see and laugh.  "Where's the camera?"

"John took it to get the pictures off it."  He smiled.  "He got a good one earlier of Calleigh cuddling Greg."

"Aww."   He finished his breakfast and got down to clean the floor while Horatio finally fixed the dish washer and ran it.


John came over for lunch, looking around. "She still out?" he asked.

Xander nodded at his bedroom.  "Camera?"  He held it up.  "You'll want it."

John snuck back that way, finding Horatio in the doorway.  Horatio took the camera and snapped a few pictures then got out of his way.  He looked, finding the boys all cuddled up with their favorite auntie, Greg with one hand in her hair, all of them sucking on parts of her to make her feel better.  They were all asleep, even her.  He smiled and coughed politely, waking her. "Don't move.  The boys are with you."  He took a picture of the look on her face when she realized what they were doing, then one of Tim, who was sucking on her chest.  Nowhere near her breast, just on her upper chest.  He grinned and showed it to her.  "They decided you needed love."

"I do need love.  I'm not so sure about the hickeys though.  Help me up?"  He nodded, putting the camera back into Horatio's hands while he moved Tim then Ray very carefully.  Ray swatted at him but Tim bit, making him yelp.  "Ow, you okay?" she teased.  She got Greg undone from her hair and let him help her stand.  "Aww."  They all moved together so Ray was a pillow again, letting the adults cover them up.  They got a picture of that and she went to the bathroom, firmly shutting the door when she heard a shuffling noise.  She had learned that lesson when Greg had tried to help her change her tampon one night.   By the time she got out there, Tim was asleep in the beanbag chair and the other two were begging like puppies in the kitchen at Xander's ankle.  "Need help?"

Xander gave her a hug.  "Sit down and behave, woman.  You're here to get fussed over."

"I'm fine."

"Bullshit, getting shot hurts.  Been there, done that; shut up and accept it or I'm making you babysit all three with the sling on."  He stared her down and she giggled but went to the couch.

"Xander, we do not want the boys to swear as well," Horatio said patiently.  "Stop doing that in front of them.  Children are like parrots."

"Sorry."  He finished lunch, letting John put those two into high chairs and handing them their plates of food.  He handed John a spoon.  "It's good practice."  He went to hand Horatio his lunch, Calleigh hers, then nudged Tim until he woke up.  "Hungry?"  He smiled and held up his arms so he carried him in there and put him in his high chair, taking over feeding duties.  "Thanks, John.  I left you a sandwich."

"Thanks, kid."  He went to get it, walking back out to the living room.  "How did they like the tv?"

"I'm guessing it was like story time for them," Horatio offered as he typed in something. "Eric and Ryan are annoying each other greatly, Calleigh."

"Can we spank Ryan?"

"It's Eric's fault."

"Can we spank him anyway?"

Horatio looked at her.  "No.  He doesn't always show common sense but he's a good tech."

"Fine."  She ate her sandwich, smiling when a little hand came up to pluck at the bread. She looked down.  "Hi, Ray. You done?"  She handed him a piece of the bread, getting a baby grin.

Horatio held down another piece and Ray came to bother him instead.  "Good boy.  Someone should probably change you."

"I'm not that comfortable with kids," John announced, finishing up and heading off in a hurry.

Calleigh snickered.  "Good to know."  She finished her own lunch and got up but Xander swatted her on the head and took the plate, forcing her back down onto the couch.  "I'm fine to help."

"Sit down, woman."  He walked off, going to put the other two boys down.  "Go get Auntie to read to you.  She's got books!"  Tim headed off faster than Greg did, pouncing her to crawl up beside her.  "There, that's how you can help."  Horatio smiled at her, then at Xander.  "You can help by doing a load of wash if you wanted."

"I can do that in a few minutes, Xander.  Go take a shower while we're both up."  He nodded, going to do that, Ray following him.  When Xander came out, Ray came crawling out with a towel thrown over his naked body.  He was wearing it like a cape.  Horatio picked him up and took him to get diapered and dressed.  "Did you make a mess?"

"No, he crawled in without warning," Xander said as he came out in clean sweats and a t- shirt, plus socks. "I'm going to start work on the playset.  You guys be okay with the mighty midgets?"

"We'll be fine, Xander," Calleigh assured him.   He grinned and slipped down the stairs, latching the gate behind him.  "Do you get fussed over too?" she asked quietly.

"I haven't gotten hurt yet but I have been warned by someone that I may end up in a closet."  He smiled at Ray when he came over to help him.  "Want to talk to Eric too?"  He pulled him up, letting him pat a few keys.  Eric sent back a 'hi, boys' message.  He smiled and wrote that it was Ray taking an interest in his everyday routine and got back to it with only an occasional helping finger from his nephew.  At least until he heard Xander yelp.  Then she got Ray and he headed down the stairs, the gate closing behind him. "Xander?"

"Fine," he called.  "Got bitten."

"By what?"  He came in and saw the blood, moving closer.  "What bit you?"

"The hand saw.  It only nibbled the side of my finger."  He let him see.  "I need a sink down here."

"Come on."  He led him up to the bathroom, letting him rinse it out.  "Why did it bite you?"

"The blade wasn't tight enough and it snapped off.  I'll fix it later."

"It was fully tight earlier," Horatio said, frowning at him.  "Did you change the blade?"  He shook his head.  "Then we'll have to see what happened."  He found the first aid kit with Tim's help.  He had apparently had booboos, he held up his foot.  Calleigh patted him and smiled, getting one back.  "Not yours this time, Tim.  Daddy Xander got hurt."  He went back to the bathroom, drying the finger off.  "How deep is that?"

"Not very."  He found a bandaid but Horatio took it from him to open and place for him.  He looked at him.  "You do that very well."

"No one can bandage their own fingers precisely," he instructed.  He got him into the living room, counting heads.  Greg was halfway under the couch so it was fine.  "He's okay, guys, but give him lovies like you are the auntie."  The two visible boys piled onto Xander to hug him and kiss his booboos like he did theirs, getting smiles and pats and hugs from Xander and Calleigh both.  "Greg, get out from under the couch," Horatio ordered.  No answer.  They sighed and got up, moving the boys out of the way so he could tip the couch and get the errant baby out from under it.  "What is that, Greg?  Don't put the mouse in your mouth!"  He took the quivering mouse away from him, going to toss it outside, up at the mother cat. "Here, kill those!"  He caught the baby and walked him back inside, going to swab his mouth with listerine while Calleigh and Xander put the couch back into the proper spot and sat down.

"Good thing I didn't talk him into the sleeper sofa," Xander said dryly.  She nodded.  They sat there and patted and cooed at the boys, letting themselves be fussed over. They were already very good at it.

Horatio came back out with Greg.  "They learned that fussing from you."  He stroked Xander on the head, handing him Greg.  "Let me call his doctor, make sure we don't have to do anything other than that."  He shook his head the whole way into the kitchen.  "This is Lieutenant Horatio Caine, I'm...  Yes, about the triplets.  No, a quick question, I'm hoping it's not an emergency.  I just caught Greg trying to eat a live mouse.  So far, I've swabbed his mouth with listerine after I threw the mouse out.  Off the back porch.  Still living then.  That's what I was thinking.  Yes, I'll hold."  He waited, knowing that the nurse was giggling while she asked the senior nurse and the doctor.  She came back.  "No, we've already got that problem.  He ate a few caterpillars at the park yesterday apparently.  Tar, looked like some sand.  I'm not sure, there were twice as many adults as kids.  I can do that.  Thank you."  He hung up and went to get the pepto.  "Just in case," he said, feeding Greg a good dose of it.  "If you eat bugs or furry things, you have to take the nasty medicine, Greg.  Learn that quickly, all right?"  He heard his computer beep and went to answer Eric's question, sighing.  He typed in what had happened, getting a blank response screen. Apparently he was laughing too.

"It's not your fault," Xander promised.  "He's a quick little one."

"They make traps," Calleigh reminded them.

"Yes, but we have a stray cat.  She can eat them," Xander said with a grin for her.

"She caught that one and was chewing on him," Horatio agreed.  He watched Greg try to get the taste out of his mouth. "I told you not to eat the bugs or the furry things, Greg.  That's what happens."  Greg pouted and cried but they couldn't make the Pepto taste go away for him.

Alexx came up the stairs a few minutes later, taking Greg and the others to check over.  "Come on, boys, let's go talk about eating things you shouldn't."

"Xander let them clean up the floor this morning," Horatio offered.

"I had mopped," Xander defended.  "It's not like they wouldn't anyway!"

"What happened to your finger?"

"Saw blade came undone and bit me," he admitted.  "It's fine."

"With that much blood on the bandaid?" she countered.

"I put it on, Alexx."

"Uh-huh.  I'll look at it next.  Calleigh, then I'm going to check your shoulder."

"Does that mean you're going to do Horatio's prostate exam afterwards?" she asked with a sweet smile. "Since you're doctoring the rest of us and he's not hurt that's something he probably avoids."

Alexx looked at her.  "Only if someone pays me a *whole* lot and tapes it."  She walked the boys into the bedroom to look them over, ignoring Horatio's bright red blush.

"I had one of those this year, thank you anyway," he mumbled.  "Take another pain pill, Calleigh.  Before you get warped into Xander."  She snickered and leaned on Xander's shoulder, getting cuddled.  He smiled at that, taking a picture and sending it to John, who sent back a growl.  That was one way to get Calleigh pampered and spoiled at home.  Make her hovering ex-boyfriend jealous.  John came in about four and picked Calleigh up, carrying her down to the car, letting them get the gate for him.  Though he did have to put Tim back into the house and shut the door before he came home with them.  Then he took Calleigh back to her place, spoiling her with take out, a neck massage, and then tucking her into bed and reading to her for a bit when she asked.  So he even got to sleep on top of the covers until she woke up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Then he got the couch but that was fine with him.  It meant he didn't sleep well so he could make her breakfast too.


Xander heard what was going on a few days later, grimacing at the bad news.  He didn't want to think about the major bust of the Mala Noches.  He really didn't.  He did see Horatio on the news and his hyena instincts started to scream that his mate was in danger.  He tried to reason with the little voice in the back of his mind, even letting Tim help by cooing in his ear, but it wasn't going to help.  When Horatio came home later that night he pounced him to check him over.

"I'm fine, Xander.  I wasn't in any danger," he assured him.  Xander snorted and undid his shirt but he stopped his hands.  "No."  Xander looked at him and growled, moving closer.  "I'm fine.  There's no injuries."  He kept staring back.  Xander sniffed him then growled a deeper growl.  "I had to fire my gun, no one shot at me.  They shot at John not me."  Xander let it go, going back to sniffing him.  "Thank you.  Good evening, boys."  They all smiled at him and crawled over to get some attention.  "We should sit down and read tonight.  Yes we should."  He settled in with the boys, letting them comfort him.  It had been a bad bust.  Maybe he should've went home tonight?  No, with the way Xander was pacing he'd have to follow and then someone else would have to babysit the kids.  "Calm down, Xander.  You're scaring the boys."

Xander went back to doing dinner, watching them.  He'd let it go, for now.

The next morning Horatio woke up in a small space.  He looked up.  They were his clothes.  "Why am I in my closet?"  He patted himself down, finding his spare phone in there with him.  He turned it on, thanking his common sense that made him keep it charged and the corporate people who invented buy one get one free phone offers.  He called Frank.  "It's me," he said quietly.  "Locked in a closet.  Growled and sniffed all night," he sighed.  "No, it would've been easier if he had been possessed by a badger instead of a hyena," he admitted quietly.  "I'm probably going to be a bit late."  He tried the door.  "Locked.  Thank you.  Please."  He hung up, standing up carefully so he could get dressed.  At least he was still clothed.  The light from his phone was barely enough to tell what he was putting on.

John Hagen walked into the house after a quick knock using Calleigh's emergency key.  He came up the stairs, closed the gate, and found Xander growling at him in the kitchen.  "He's fine, Xander. Wasn't he fine last night?"  Xander's growl changed pitch.  He walked in there, smacking the kid on the head.  "Quit!"  Xander gave him a sheepish look.  "Thank you!   He's fine.  He wasn't in any more danger than usual.  They were shooting at my big butt not Horatio's hair this time.  Now, we need him for more briefings, so can I steal your beta?"

Xander nodded.  "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Those instincts of yours are good for a lot of things, but you've got to let Horatio do his job, kid.  Sometimes he gets hurt, then you fuss.  Okay?"  Xander nodded, going to let Horatio out.  "Thank you.  Horatio, you dressed?"

"Nearly," he said, walking out putting on his jacket.  He tipped Xander's face up.  "I understand why but you can't keep me from going to work, Xander.  Others need me to protect their packs and families too."   He got a silent nod and a pitiful look.  "Thank you.  We'll talk later tonight."  Xander sighed and went to make him lunch. "I can buy lunch."  Xander growled and glared.  "Fine, you can make me lunch to make sure I'm all right.  I'll probably be in the lab all day."  Xander handed over the lunch and he got a gentle stroke to the cheek.  "Thank you."  Xander nodded, letting them go.

Outside in the hummer, John looked at him.  "You really okay?"

"I didn't even know he moved me until I woke up.  I woke up clothed, that's nice."

"So, are you his *beta* or his *mate*, Horatio?"  He waited while Horatio started the engine before getting a look.  "It'll matter about how you react to it later tonight."

"Mate without the benefits," he admitted.  "I knew I should've went home last night."

"Then you would've woken up in that closet or in your cuffs."

"Don't even think about that."  He backed out of the driveway.  "Why did Frank send you?"

"He was already in the meeting area with the boss and he knew I was having car trouble so I sent the cab here.  Besides, he told me I'm about as big of an alpha dog, just a different species."

"I guess that's reasonable."

"You guess?" he teased.  "I thought it was always a certainty."

"Even with evidence sometimes we have to guess," he said dryly, driving them to the lab once he could get onto the street and go forward.  "How late are we?"

"About five minutes.  Tell him the boys unplugged your alarm."

"They did that yesterday but I made it on time."

John smiled.  "I guess last night you needed the deeper nap."

"Or he gassed me."

"Or he gassed you," John admitted.  "Think he has some?"

"I know he has some, John.  It's in the safe."

John snickered.  "Maybe you should become a mate with benefits?  It might calm that down."

"I doubt it," he grumbled.  "It'd make it worse."

"Yeah but you would have the authority to stop him from doing stupid stuff too."

"He has recently?"

"He took chocolate from Calleigh's hand."

"Good point."  He considered it.  "I don't know yet."  They turned a corner.  "At the moment there's a chance I'm going back to my place tonight."

"The boys will wail, Horatio.  You haven't been to your own house in weeks."

"I have."

"Not to spend the night."

"True.  Maybe it's time I do that."

"He'll know it was him."  Horatio gave him a look.  "It'll make the boys paranoid, all four of them, Horatio.  You and I both realize that the boy has never had a *good* relationship."

"We talked about his last ex.  Formerly demonic and a sex addict," he sighed.  "With money issues."

"She had some?"

"She wanted all his and refused to spend hers."  John nodded.  "The one before that wasn't much better.   Hopefully I'll have a calm day today."

"With the other bust?"

"That depends on me going in on it."

"When have you *ever* not went in, Horatio?"

"Good point."  He parked in his usual spot, getting out with John.  They walked inside, signing in and heading to the meeting area.  "Sorry."

"Alarm clock?" the Chief asked dryly.

Horatio leaned down.  "Xander got overprotective and was worried I'd be in danger and leave Ray without an uncle," he said quietly.  "I woke up in a closet, sir."  Then he took his seat.

"That's a reasonable worry a lot of spouses and friends have had to have," he admitted.  "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"Good.  Then let's go over today's raid."  He let the head of the Rapid Response unit have the floor to give out the area and plans for their day.  At the end he kept Horatio back.  "Did you deal with it?"

"I lied and told him I'd be in the lab today.  It'll be fine."

"As long as you deal with it.  Those wounds festering create a lot of stress and strain on any relationship, Horatio.  Even a platonic one like you have.  This is one of the reasons he didn't want to give you Ray outright."

"I know, sir.  We'll finish working it out tonight."  That got a nod and he followed his boss out, slightly shaking his head.  He did avoid the press all day.  He did not want to make Xander worry more.  Once the raid was done and he was safely back in his office he considered his options.  Including taking the boys home with him tonight.  He knew that Xander would stop him.  He'd end up pounced or worse if he tried that.  He decided he'd stop over for dinner tonight then go check on his own house.  He hadn't been home to sleep in over a month.


Horatio came in a few days later looking very upset.  He pulled John out of the way of traffic.  "He won't let me see Ray or the others."

"What did you do?" he asked, looking at him.

"I went home that night after dinner."

"So you abandoned the pack?"

Horatio moaned and headed back out, going to talk to the boy.  He was on-call, he could go join a scene in a few minutes.  He drove over to the house, finding the locks had been changed.  He knocked and then walked around to the back porch, knowing Xander hardly ever locked this one.  He was right and he got in.  Xander glared at him.  "I didn't abandon you."  He closed the door, smiling at Tim.  "Hi, Tim."  He gave him a cuddle but Xander took him back.  "I can hold my son."  He took him back, staring Xander down.  "They're mine too, Xander."

"You left!"

"I do have a home of my own.  I decided I should check on it."  Xander stomped off, taking Tim with him.  He glared at his back.  He was acting like a teenage girl.  He walked after him, smiling at the two sleeping babies.  He sat his boy down, looking at him.  "Just because I went home for a few nights doesn't mean I don't want to be here, Xander.  I needed some time off.  That's all."

"You don't get vacations from a family!"

"True, usually those take babysitters.  I think you could use a night off as well."  Xander snorted and checked on the kids then him.  "Sometimes my job puts me in danger.  It doesn't mean I'm not trained to deal with it.  I've been an officer for a very long time, Xander."  Xander was still glaring. "I'm better trained to go into dangerous situations than you are.  Even if you don't want to acknowledge that because it means I can be hurt, I am."  He made Xander look at him again.  "The same as Ryan, John, Eric, Calleigh, and the rest of the officers you know are.  This is our job."

"You didn't have to go on that."

"I did.  They threatened my people.  The lab is like my pack, Xander.  You know that."

Xander slumped, nodding.  "Whatever."

"At least I'm not on bomb squad anymore," he offered, sitting next to him.  Greg blinked at him.  "Good morning, Greg."  Greg smiled and laid back down.  "You can't keep us from the boys, Xander.  At all.  It's not fair to them or us.  It's not our fault that the people who do bad things like to use violence to accomplish them."  Xander looked at him.  "I'm fully trained.  I had on my vest."  Xander shook his head.  "Yes I did."

"Not with the shot I saw."

"It was under my shirt, Xander."  Xander slumped again.  "I know now and then I've got to do dangerous things but I can assure you I'm not going to leave you four alone."

Xander stood up.  "They're your pack too, Horatio.  You wanted a position of authority in it."  He walked off, going to take a shower.

Horatio sighed, looking at the boys.  He waited until Xander came out and went to get dressed.  "I still do, Xander.  Just because I went home for a few nights doesn't mean that I don't."  He followed once he was sure he had on some sort of clothes.  He leaned in his doorway, watching him move around his room.  "I'm sorry I didn't communicate that very well," he said quietly.  "Even you need time off now and then."  Xander looked at him. "You do.  You could use some right now as a matter of fact.  You knew I had a dangerous job when we met.  You told me that."  Xander nodded, sitting down on his bed to put on some socks.  "It's roasting in here, Xander.  Why put on socks?"  He came in to look at him.  He tested his forehead.  "Are you sick?"  Xander ducked away from him.  "None of that."  He looked him over.  "When was the last time you ate?"

"Last night."

"Did it stay down?"

"No.  Hasn't in a week."

"Are you pregnant?" he joked.

"Don't suggest that.  With my life it might be possible," he said flatly.

"Sorry, I was trying to make you smile."  He looked him over.  He found one very bad scar on his foot.  "What happened?"  Xander pulled his foot away from his hand.  "Xander?"


"Uh-huh."  He looked him over.  "Let me get the thermometer."  He went to grab it from the bathroom, closing the door once he had shooed Greg out.  He tested his temperature, frowning at it.  "How long have you had one of those?"


Horatio sighed and nodded.  "You need to see someone."

"I'm fine."

"Not if it can be passed to the boys," he countered.

"It won't be."

"How do you know?  Is it from an infection?"  Xander sighed but nodded.  "Where?"  He rolled over, letting him see his back.  "What did you do?"  He looked at the deep cut, growling some.  "Xander, did someone try to kill you?"

"I've been accident prone recently," he complained.  "I slipped while I was putting together the play set."

Horatio touched the injury.  "Saw?"  Xander nodded.  "Power saw?"  Xander nodded again.  "When?"

"Week," he said quietly.

"Why didn't you tell me!"

"Why would I!  We're not together!" he said, glaring at him.  "Get off!"

"Fat chance."  He pulled him up, handing him his socks.  "How did you get the scar on your foot?"

"That was years ago."

"That doesn't matter.  How?"  He mumbled something but Horatio was good at decoding people who mumble.  He glared at him. "Are they still alive?"  Xander nodded.  "Are they coming down here?"

"That would require them to save money and not drink it."

"Fine.  You're still seeing someone.  You can see my doctor if you want."  He walked him out, calling Frank.  "Is he hovering near your desk?  Yes, him.  Because I just found out Xander slipped and hurt himself while building the play set, Frank.  He's got a good, infected gash on his back.  He's running a temperature.  He's chilly in a very warm house.  Please."  He waited while he transferred him to where his boss was hovering this time.  "It's me.  Xander's managed to injure himself and not take care of it.  I'm taking him to my doctor.  His back.  Power saw.  He said he tripped.  It's still on his back, sir.  I'm very sure.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "Put on a shirt."  Xander sighed but did that, putting on shoes too.

Greg saw the shoes and squealed, crawling out to pounce the others.  "Yes, we're going out."  He got them into more appropriate clothes and changed in one case, taking them down to the hummer to put them into the back.  Then he marched Xander down there, putting him into the front.  He drove them to his doctor's, not saying a word about how irresponsible it was for him to ignore these sort of things.  He knew that.  He knew very well it could've led to him dying and the boys being left alone in the house for however many hours it took someone to check on him.  He ignored the voice that said he hadn't been over in two days.  He didn't want to think about that or how he hadn't noticed for the five other days he had apparently been sick.  He parked and got the boys into the stroller, walking Xander inside.  He smiled at the nurse.  "Hi, this is the guardian of my nephew Ray.  His name's Xander Harris.  He's got a small issue."  He made Xander turn around to show her the injury.  She gasped.  "He's been ignoring it."

"I'll work you in, Horatio.  Go ahead and have a seat.  They are adorable boys."  She smiled and went to tell the doctor, who nodded that he could work him in for that.  She came out to let them back into an exam room, smiling at the cute set of boys.  "Which one's which?"

"Ray is sitting with Tim," he said, pointing at them.  "Greg's the one trying to grab the books for Tim."  She giggled and gave him an older magazine, earning a bright, happy, beaming smile.  "Say thank you, Greg."

"Baba!" he said beaming at her.

"Yes, she is a blonde, Greg," Xander agreed happily.  The nurse smiled but blushed a bit.  "His favorite auntie is blonde; he likes to compare their hair colors."

"Ah.  You're a very smart little boy, Greg."  She patted him on the hand and Tim took her hand to chew on.  "Hi, Tim.  I wasn't going to ignore you."  She stroked over his head, then over Ray's.  "Can you two speak?"

Tim growled and took her hand back to gnaw on.  Horatio sighed and found a treat in the diaper bag he had remembered to grab, handing him one.  Tim beamed and waved it then ate it with a smile.  Ray tried to grab it and he glared at him.  "No!"

Ray pouted at the pretty blonde woman.  "Baba?"

"Sure, you can have a bottle," she promised.  "Horatio, there's a fountain just outside," she reminded him.  He found some diet crystal light mix and a clean bottle, going to make it. "Now, how did you fall, Mr. Harris?"

"I slipped while I was measuring.  I didn't have the saw on but when I slipped I hit the blade with my back.  For some reason I've been really clumsy this last week and a half.  I did this a week ago.  I puked dinner the last few days.  Horatio made a joke about me being pregnant.  I hate doctors."

"Many people do but we are a necessary evil, Xander."  She helped him out of his shirt, looking it over.  "Where else have you been hurt?"

"About a week and a half ago I slipped going down the stairs and knocked myself cold for about five minutes.  I only work on the playset while they're down for a nap."  She nodded, checking his head.  "I had a small concussion but I managed it."

"How many have you had?"

"Six, seven, something like that."  He shrugged and shifted.  "I'm sorry I'm such a pain in the ass."

"You're not, sir.  Trust me you're not."  Horatio came back and she gave him a look so he took the boys into the hall for a minute.  "Could the concussion be why you've been so accident prone?"  He shrugged.  "Has it in the past?"

"Maybe.  I don't know.  I've got one hell of a headache," he said, looking at her.  "Have since he started to yell at me."

"Are you two together?"

"Cooperative parenting arrangement but he's been home the last few nights."

"Ah.  Maybe a babysitter tonight so you can sleep?"

"No, it's not necessary."  He held his head when someone knocked.  "Please don't do that," he ordered calmly.

"He slipped and knocked himself cold a week and a half ago, Doctor.  Since then he's been a bit more accident prone.  He said he had a slight concussion."


"Six or seven in the past," Xander said, looking at him.  "I used to do a lot of protecting others by stupidly jumping in.  My head and hard objects have met many times."

"I see.  Can we get your medical records from anywhere?"

"Sunnydale General has some.  Not that many but some."  The doctor looked at him so Xander sat up, showing him his scars.   "Not always a reasonable moment."



"All right, that explains a few things.  Are you with Horatio?"

"Cooperative parenting arrangement.  I have custody of his nephew."

"I heard about that."

"Good, make him get his eyes checked.  He kept missing the nail the day he helped with the play set.  The saw wasn't running when I slipped.  Thankfully."  He nodded, coming over to check him over.  "I've got another one on my leg."  He moved his pantsleg out of the way so he could see the smaller injury.  "I ignored that one for hours until the dripping blood got annoying.  I didn't even feel it happen so I don't know how."

"How many years did you protect others?"


"All right.  You're how old?"

"Twenty-two last week."

"I see."  He looked at him.  "I've seen the same in combat veterans."

"My town has a very high death rate, higher than Miami's," he said quietly. "Mine was just as necessary to protect others."  That got a nod.  "Before you ask, I'm usually very good at doctoring myself.  I guess I didn't clean the one on my back well enough.  I know it broke open two days ago when I got it in the shower."  The doctor and nurse both sighed.  "I'm not used to having medical treatment.  I've been a treat at home sorta guy for a very long time.  The kids have seen the doctor more than I have in my whole life."  That got a smile. "Mostly because Greg likes to chew on things like bugs and mice.  He found a live one and fussed for days that he couldn't have it back to eat."

"Headache?" the doctor asked.  Xander nodded.  "Throat sore?"

"No.  Tired.  Just got up.  We were all napping in the living room together."

"All right.  Let me look at these closer."  He looked at both injuries, pressing gently, seeing the one on his back puss up.  He grimaced and checked his eyes and ears, staring into his eyes.  "You're definitely coming off a concussion," he decided.  "Have you been waking yourself up every few hours?"

"Greg ate a grasshopper that he managed to find.  He's been doing it for me."  That got a knowing smile.  "I'm working on that problem with him.  He's incredibly curious."

"I'm sure he is."

"Why would caterpillars create tarry poop?"

"I don't know.  That's not my area."

"Have to ask the pediatrician the next time we see him."  He held his head.  "And there's the little guy with the hammer.  I hate him."

"We can give you something for that and for the infection, Xander."  He smiled and wrote out one.  "Are you allergic to anything?"

"Nope.  Just sunlight some days.  It's very bright."

"It is."  He made notes in his new chart.  "Have Horatio bring you back in a week so we can check on you."  Xander looked at him.  "Yes, you have to.  The same as you have to take care of yourself or else those boys are orphans."

"I thought I was doing okay."

"You were until the one on your back infected.  Part of taking care of them is taking care of yourself.  You can't afford to be this sick, Xander.  You should have went to the ER with the concussion."  Xander moaned but nodded, hanging his head. "Thank you.  I'll give these to Horatio and some care instructions."

"He's got to work.  They're doing a bunch of raids.  I can handle it."

"Not with three children you can't."

Xander looked at him.  "Single mothers all over the world manage it, doc.  I'm as good as any woman."  He took the prescriptions.  "I'll come to the follow up."  He put on his shirt with a wince and a hiss.  "Thank you."

"Welcome."  He watched him walk out, motioning Horatio inside.  "He believes he honestly can handle triplets with a concussion and two infected cuts, Horatio."

"I'll arrange it so there's someone around.  Does he have medicines?"

"He has them.  He fell a week and a half ago?"

"He did?"

"He didn't mention it?"

"He had a headache about that long ago."  He frowned at the doorway.  "I'm going to spank him when we get home.  Thank you, doctor."

"Welcome.  Also, he said you need your eyes checked?"

"I'll do that this month."  He walked out, finding Xander making a follow-up appointment.  He put down his debit card for the fees and took the prescriptions.

"I can do that."

"You can't drive.  You can't see straight.  Quit complaining, Xander."

"You have to work and I can get it delivered."

"Shut up, Xander."


Horatio glared at him.  "Yes, and do it now."  He signed the slip for the nurse, taking the follow-up appointment card.  "Thank you.  He's a bit stubborn."

"It could be from the concussion."

"No, he's always like this."  He let Xander have the stroller because he grabbed it first, but followed him out.  He came back to get a medical excuse for himself then went back to helping put the kids into the carseat so they could go to the pharmacy.


Frank walked into Horatio's office with Alexx right behind him.  "What did he do?"

"Fell a week and a half ago on the stairs.  Gave himself a concussion.  He's since fallen another two times onto the tools."  Alexx moaned.  "Both cuts are infected, he's got a pounding headache, but he's managed the boys."  He looked at them.  "Did you two get new keys?"

"We made them off Calleigh's new key," Alexx admitted.  "His note said to.  What did you do?"

"He decided to lock him in a closet so he couldn't go be in danger," Frank told her.

She nodded.  "And?"

"I went home for a few nights."


"I know, but he was injured before then.  I didn't even realize it."

She stared at him.  "Maybe you should nap with the boy instead of in your own bed tonight."

"I'm taking the boys with me tonight back to my place so he can sleep."

"He'll hunt you down and gut you," Frank assured him.

"We already agreed he needed the night off so he could get some real rest.  They're setting up playpens at my house right now."  He looked at him.  "Then Xander's going to go into the guest room and lock the door while I take care of the boys.  That way he won't be back at the house building things while he's dizzy and has a headache."  He gave them a look. "It'll be fine but if someone wanted to babysit sometime soon he could definitely use it."

Alexx nodded. "I'll bring the boys to play with my two brats this weekend," she promised, walking out shaking her head.  Eric gave her a confused look.  "Xander has a concussion."

"Are the boys okay?"

"Horatio couldn't tell the difference, Eric.  I doubt this is his first."

"Not from a car accident?"  She shook her head.  "Slipped on the stairs?" he asked hopefully.

"And then the boy still went back to building the play set and got cut on the tools twice."

"Crap," he muttered.  "I'll babysit."

"Tell Horatio that.  They're at his place tonight, Eric."  He nodded, going to do that.  She went back to her morgue, going to rant at the bodies for a bit.  Some men never knew how to take care of themselves.  That one needed more help than most in that area apparently.

Eric leaned into Horatio's office.  "I can babysit tomorrow night if you want."

"Please.  Thank you, Eric."

"Welcome, H.  What happened?"

"He's stubborn and this isn't his first."

"Are the boys okay?"

"They're fine.  He's acting like nothing happened, even though he's got infected spots and hasn't been keeping down food, plus he's running a fever."  He gave him a look.  "It's like watching Calleigh when she's hurt."

He snorted.  "I remember the last time."  He grinned.  "Tonight?"

"Tonight we're at my house, I'm locking Xander in the guest room and taking care of the boys myself."  That got a smile.  "He's setting up playpens and I'm going home on time tonight.  Right now I have John Hagen over there helping him."

"Good job, Horatio.  He can out stubborn Xander."  He grinned and went to tell Calleigh and Ryan.  "Xander has a concussion."

"He was in a wreck?" Ryan asked.

"No, Alexx told me he slipped on the stairs and knocked himself out.  Then he went back to building the play set so he's fallen a few times onto the tools and has a small infection in a few spots."  She moaned, holding her head.  "They're at Horatio's right now.  He's taking care of the boys tonight while Xander has to rest."

Ryan shook his head, walking off.  "Hey, Horatio, want me to watch the boys back at his place?" he suggested.  "That way you only have to worry about Xander?"  He smiled at that offer but shook his head.  "You sure?  I doubt squealing babies would help the headache."

"The concussion's nine days old, Ryan."

"If it's lasted this long it's not a minor thing.  Baby him, I've got the boys."

"Are you sure?"  He nodded.  "Then we can do that.  They're at my house, come get them when you get off shift."  Ryan nodded, going to make that note for himself.  Horatio got back to work.  His boss strolled in an hour later so he held up the medical excuse. "They're at my place."

He looked it over then at him.  "Fight?"

"Stairs.  Power tools."

"Ow.  He okay?"

Horatio looked at him. "He's stubborn.  He didn't tell me and I didn't realize he was hurt."

"Pity.  Baby your boy tonight, Horatio.  Are you on tomorrow?"  He shook his head. "Then take very good care of him.  Who's babysitting the boys?"

"Ryan Wolfe offered tonight and Alexx said she'd steal them this weekend for a few hours."

"Good of your team."  He closed the door.  "Have you two finally worked out how to be together?"

"No, sir.  We're not that way."

"You should be, Caine."  Horatio looked up at him.  "The only thing that'll stop an attitude like that is having someone to show him what being fussed over is like when they need it and don't admit it.  My wife was the same damn way.  All former slayers are."  Horatio went a bit pale.  "I mentioned him and she went very still and told me all I needed to know.  This isn't his first concussion?"  He shook his head, leaning back.  "Then baby him so he gets out of the old mindset.  He needs to disengage from it."

"I know.  I'm working on it."

"You can't do it while he's not yours, Caine.  It doesn't work that well."  He walked off, going back to his rounds of bothering people.  They had a very high profile case going and he needed to be kept informed by the minute.  Horatio's team liked to come to him with details after the fact.

Horatio considered it.   Maybe he should get pushy with Xander tonight.  At least he could hold him while he slept.


Horatio walked in his door with Ryan right behind him. "John?"  He smiled from the porch.  "The boys?"

"Playing on the beach.  Hey, Wolfe."

"I'm here to babysit tonight."  He walked out and smiled.  "They're adorable even if they do look like sand monsters."  Xander shot a grin at him.  "Put them into the water to hose them off so I can take them home for the night, Xander."  Xander frowned.  "I'm babysitting so you get some real rest.  You need it to heal.  You're getting me out of a horrible setup."  John snickered at that.  "Delko set me up with one of his exes."  He came down to help gather and clean off the boys.  "I'll have them at home.  They'll be just fine.  You can call and check all you want.  I'll feed them spaghetti and clean up the mess.  I'll read to them.  We'll have bubbles tonight in their bath."   He stared at Xander.  "It's my turn to watch them for a few hours, Xander.  You need to rest to heal or you'll never get better."  Xander sighed but nodded.  "Good.  Now, let's get them cleaned off."  He carried Tim and Greg down to the water, letting them get splashed until they were soaked but not sandy.  Ray followed and dove into the water, spluttering.  "You can't swim yet, Ray."  He let Tim go to catch him, then grabbed Tim to carry all three back up there.  Horatio had towels waiting and took Greg to dry off since he was so wiggly.  He got the boys out to the carseats, Horatio having moved them to his car earlier, and took them home.  Fortunately he had the new keys.  He carried them upstairs, changing their clothes and diapers, then settling in to play with them.  They wouldn't miss the daddies until bedtime.

Horatio helped Xander up onto the porch then inside, going to put him onto the couch once he was clean of sand.  "You rest.  We'll have dinner soon.  Did you take your antibiotic?"  Xander yawned and nodded.  "Good boy.  You rest."  He gently stroked his hair, letting him fall asleep there.  He smiled at John.  "Thanks."

"Welcome.  It's a fun way to spend my afternoon off.  I only had to stop him twice.  Once he wanted to run and be chased.  The other he nearly fell over. Watch your boy better, Horatio."  He left them alone, closing the front door behind him.  He called Calleigh.  "Want dinner when you get off?"

Horatio tucked a throw around Xander and went to make a nice, subtle dinner.  Something that wouldn't irritate his stomach or head.  He heard the snuffling start and walked back out there, finding Xander curled in a ball.  He sat down, letting the boy rest on his thigh for now, petting him gently.  Dinner could wait.   Xander was more important.


Horatio woke at the knock the next morning, untangling himself from the Xander octopus that seemed to have grown during the night.  He padded out to the door, opening to find Ryan there with the boys in their stroller.  "Were they good?"

"They were excellent good boys," he agreed happily.  "Went right down for me.  Ate and loved on me all night while we played and read.  We had cocoa puffs for breakfast."  Horatio gave him a look.  "You're out of their regular cereal and the cheerios; cocoa puffs had less sugar than the rest."  He pushed the stroller inside.  "They were darlings all night long for me."

"Thank you, Ryan."

"Welcome, Horatio.  Have a good day off."  He smiled.  "I put the carseats back into the back of the hummer but I didn't hitch them down.  Greg was trying to get out and explore."   He handed over something.  "For Xander's birthday last week."  He left, going to work.

Horatio pushed the stroller further inside and put the boys down, making sure everything was safe for them.  He had to move one glass statue but that was fine.  He opened the present, finding a zipable net to go around the top of the stroller so the boys couldn't get out and wouldn't get eaten by bugs.  "Thank you, Mr. Wolfe," he said quietly, going back to bed.  The boys followed, like usual, and he lifted them up so they could snuggle the daddy too.  Xander felt one and curled around Tim, cuddling him. The others arranged themselves against his back and settled in to go back to sleep, letting Horatio cuddle them all.  "Good boys," he said quietly.  He smiled at the baby snores from Greg.  He settled in to hold them and think about a few things.  They had missed Xander's birthday?  How?


Horatio watched as the boys ate their scrambled eggs, looking at Xander.  "Ryan brought over a belated birthday present," he said casually.

"Why?  I didn't need anything."  Horatio handed it over.  "That'll be very handy."  He grinned.  "I'll write him a nice thank you note."

"We could have celebrated your birthday, Xander."

He looked so confused.  "Why?  It's not important."

"Yes it is."  He looked at him.  "Even though theirs are more important it doesn't mean yours aren't.  As a matter of fact, most of the time children like to help celebrate birthdays.  I used to spend a lot of time every year making my mother a card."  Horatio watched him look away and eat a bite of food.  He reached over to touch his hand.  "We're celebrating yours too, Xander.  The same as we celebrate mine."

"I haven't celebrated in years."  He got his hand free.  "It's not a big deal.  The twins' first is coming up in a week.  Ray's is right after that, right before Christmas.  Those are more important."

"Everyone's birthday is important, even yours," Horatio corrected.  "We'll be doing something special for yours tonight."  Xander gave him that same confused look. "I said so."

"It's not important."

"Just because you have them doesn't mean you have to ignore your own wants and needs, Xander."

"I haven't celebrated it in years, Horatio.  Why would I start now?"

"Because I think it's important to celebrate surviving another year."

"I do that on the anniversary of when I met Buffy."  He ate another bite and pushed Tim's  plate closer again.  "Finish up, Tim."  He ate another bite, getting a smile.  "Good boy.  You too, Greg.  Very good boy to clean your plate."  He got a bright grin.  "Ray?   You should eat."  Ray stuffed his mouth, then nodded off again.  He smiled at him.  "Poor little sleepy guy.  Are you running a temperature?"  He checked his forehead. "No, you're not sick."  Horatio came over to check, then went to get the thermometer.  "Am I still warm?"

"Apparently.  It's not high.  He's probably cutting another tooth."  He checked his gums and nodded.  "One of his back ones."  Xander smiled at that.  He got the baby tylenol down and gave Ray a dose, then looked at the begging Greg.  "You're not sick.  It's medicine."  He put it back and handed him another bite of eggs off Ray's plate, making him happy again.  "Eat, you crawling stomach."

"He's normal for a hyper baby," Xander protested.

"I was teasing, Xander."  He looked at him.  "We are going to start celebrating your birthday, even if you don't like it.  The same as we celebrate mine and the boys'.  Am I clear?"  Xander slumped but nodded.  "Thank you.  Now, what did you want for your birthday?  I haven't even figured out what I'm getting you for Christmas," he said at the opening mouth.  "Give me a hint please."

"I don't need anything."

"It's not about need, it's about want, Xander.  What do you want?"

Xander shrugged.  "I'm fine on that too."

Horatio groaned.  "You're not making this very easy for me."  Xander gave him a sad look.  "What's the last thing you bought for yourself?"

"Work boots."  Horatio made 'go on' motions.  "Replaced some clothes that I ruined on patrol.  Um, blank tapes so I could copy off someone's stuff."

"Music."  Xander shrugged at that.  "What do you do like to listen to, and do not say anything."

"It depends on my mood."  He saw the frustration come back.  "Sorry," he said, ducking his head and going back to eating.  Tim reached over to swat him.  "Hi, Tim.  What's wrong?"  He grinned at him.  "Get them extra presents instead, Horatio."

"No, I've gotten them plenty of things.  I'm getting you something."  He stared at him.  "If your friends had been decent and normal what would you have asked them to get you?"

"Maybe some music or some new comedy albums."  Horatio stared at him.  "Teenagers don't have that much money and I've always been a music sort.  Or comics when I was younger.  I guess, I guess I could use some new t-shirts if you wanted.  Maybe a few new pairs of socks?"

"That gives me some idea of where to start looking," he admitted.  He made Xander look at him.  "Remember, we are a pack, Xander.  That makes me family and a friend as well.  I'm allowed to get you stuff for the important things and birthdays are important.  The same as Christmas is."  Xander nodded, understanding that.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  I already finished yours."

"Good."  He smiled at him.  "I'm sure the boys were big helps."

"No, I did it while they were down for a nap.  Sometimes they're not the right sort of helpful."  Horatio smiled at that.  "I think you'll like it.  Can you help me shop for Calleigh's?"

"Sure."  He patted him on the cheek.  "Now, finish eating.  No more letting Tim steal your breakfast."  Xander snatched the bite back out of Tim's fingers to eat himself, giving him a look.  Tim pouted.  "His, Tim.  He needs to eat too.  You still have some on your plate."  Tim went back to eating his own breakfast.


Horatio came in later that night, nearly flopping down in relief at being out of the stores.  Xander had found what he wanted for Calleigh.  That had been within an hour.  Getting out of the stores had taken another two.  Most of it hadn't even been the boys' fault.  A few times it had been overeager women who had stopped them to coo at the babies.  He watched Xander head for the kitchen and instead pulled him down beside him.  "We're having takeout tonight to celebrate your birthday."  Xander gave him a look.  "You shouldn't have to cook on your birthday, Xander."  He patted him on the back.  "Even a belated birthday."  He heard someone knock.  "What!" he yelled, making Greg jump.  "Sorry, Greg."  Frank came up the stairs, giving him a look.  "There's millions of women in Miami who wanted to get a cuddle from the boys but they weren't blonde enough."

Frank snickered.   "I've seen it before at the grocery store."  Xander nodded.  "You okay?"

"I'm fine."  Horatio gave him a look.  "I am."

"You still have to take the antibiotic and the medicine for your head, Xander."  He looked at Frank again.  "What happened today?"

"Delko's sister Marisol came to lunch today and tried to hit on John.   He was nice about it and Calleigh only gave her tolerant looks.  One new case, Wolfe's, and it's going to drive him insane."  Horatio nodded at that.  "The boy needs a leash and some puppy training, Horatio.  Eric said he's coming over to babysit tonight?"

"He did say he could."  He looked at Xander, who looked confused.  "So you can rest some more, Xander.  That way you heal faster."

"I'm fine."

"You're not fine.  You've got the shakes.  Frank, can you get him a soda?"  He nodded, going to do that, bringing back a bottle of juice for Greg too before he could start to chirp.  "Anything else go on today?"

"The Las Vegas team wants to come see Greg's son.  Not all of 'em but a few of the techs and the detective."  Horatio shrugged.  "I'll tell them you said that and to make some hotel reservations this week.  Also I got a call today at the station for you, Xander.  Tara's coming down on the 18th."  Xander grinned at that.  "With Andrew and unless you want them to use his evil genius powers here in town they'll need a spot to crash."

"We've got a good couch now," Xander said happily.  "Tara can have my bed if she wants and Andrew can camp in the nursery if he wants."

"Sure, we can do that.  Alexx wanted to know if you wanted to do the present exchange Christmas day or not."

"It's their first, we should."

Frank nodded. "That's what she figured but she wanted to check.  She'd have come but she said you won't let her fuss over you."  Horatio and Xander both shook their head.  "The boys good?"  He looked down at them since they stayed quiet.  "Being admired hard work, boys?"

"Ray's cutting another tooth and Tim's worn out after trying to grab butts," Horatio said dryly.

"He had good taste."

"He did," Horatio agreed, looking at Xander. "Doesn't mean he needed to check for underwear.  A lot of those women nearly slapped us for it, Xander."

"Not like my hand's that small."

Horatio rolled his eyes and looked at Frank.  "Greg couldn't find a single blonde today so he pouted the whole trip.  It's what made all those women coo over them."

Frank snickered.  "The boys are good.  Some day they'll be little studs in the making, guys.  Okay, anything you think I forgot?"  Xander shook his head.  "You sure?"  He nodded.  "Good.  Then I'm gonna go home and let the wife spoil me or babble at me, depending on her mood."  He waved and slipped out the gate, closing it behind him. He ran into Eric outside.  "They're just home from the store."

"That's fine.  H told me to pick up some take out for them."  He held up the bags.  "What else is going on?"

"Not a clue.  Why?"

"He was saying something about birthdays.  The twins's is next week, right?"  Frank nodded.  "Huh."  He headed inside, closing the door behind him.  "It's me, guys."  He came up the stairs, putting down the bags so he could open the gate.  Then he slid inside and closed it again, taking the bags to the table in front of Horatio.  Who looked at the total and handed him money behind Xander's back.  "What's going on?  Doing the final planning on their birthday?"

"No, I've got that covered," Xander assured him happily. "I'm okay, really."

Eric snorted.  "Yeah, sure you are.  Suck it up, Xander.  You're keeping me from a bad date tonight."  He looked at the boys.  "Tired from shopping?"  Horatio groaned and nodded.  "Anything I should know?"

"Ray's cutting a molar."

"We can handle that too."  He walked into the kitchen, looking in the cabinets.  "You're nearly out of baby food, guys."  Xander moaned and whimpered.  "I can get them dinner anyway."  He turned, looking down at the hand patting his foot.  "Hi, Ray.  Want some nummies?"  He grinned and pulled himself up to hug his leg.  "Such a good boy.  Are you ready to walk?"  Ray held on, swaying slightly.  Eric picked him up to help him decide what he was doing for dinner.  He glanced out at Horatio and Xander.  "Your daddy looks very comfy in Horatio's lap," he said quietly, getting a giggle from the baby.  "So why the special dinner tonight, H?"

"We missed Xander's birthday a week ago.  He didn't feel like celebrating so he didn't tell us."

"I've felt miserable in the past but never that bad."  He came out to look down at him.  "Never mind, this goes back to those heathen bitches you used to know, right?"  Xander shrugged, plucking at the paper bag.  "Uh-huh.  Want me to take the boys to my place so you can have some privacy?"

"We're fine, Eric.  He's still healing from his concussion."  That got a nod and Eric went back to the kitchen, followed by the other two as well.  He looked at Xander. "See, we all wanted to help you celebrate it.  It's good to celebrate the happy moments."

"Birthdays aren't usually happy."

"That's because you had selfish parents and bad friends," he said gently.  "Real friends would've taken you out to celebrate last year and made sure you came home safe."  He stroked his cheek.  "Now, want dinner or presents first?"  Xander gave him a shy look.  "Presents it is."

"Dinner's still a bit iffy," he admitted.

"You kept down the other ones."

"Dinner's always worse."

"We'll see what we can do, Xander."  He stroked his back and grabbed a bag.  "I even had the nice ladies wrap it for you," he admitted.  Xander looked at the two presents and opened them, smiling at the picture keychain.  It had a picture of the boys in it already.  That got him hugged.  The other had a few CDs and he grinned at his choices.  "I chose right?"

"I love their first album."

"I thought I had heard it around now and then."  He stroked his back. "Put one on."  Xander slid onto his feet and padded over to put on the new comedy album.  The other one was carefully put on top of the stereo.  Horatio patted the couch and he came back, sliding in next to him.  "Now, pick which one you want for dinner."  Xander looked at the food and picked his carton, handing Horatio the one he usually had.  "You sure?"  Xander nodded, getting up to get forks and coming back with sodas for them.  He settled in again, getting comfortable against Horatio's side.  He smiled and ate a bite.  "Happy belated birthday."  He smiled.  "Now, about Christmas?"

"I'm good."

Eric came out and took Xander's food so he could look down at him and have his attention.  "You complain, you get spoiled.  If you don't quit I'll tell my mother and she'll get the whole family, including my nieces and nephews, into it."  He handed the food back and went back to playing with the boys.

Horatio looked at him.  "Yes, he will.  I've seen them do it in the past."   He smiled and patted him on the head.  "So, some new shirts?"

"I could use a few new t-shirts," he admitted quietly, taking a bite.  "Nothing over ten dollars."

Horatio patted him on the back.  "Shut up, Xander.  Quit complaining or I'm getting you something outrageous," he ordered quietly.  Xander gaped at him.  "It's time you got over the low self esteem.  You spent how much on the boys?"

"It's their first one."

"True.  Speaking of, tree?"

"I haven't found a good live tree lot."

"We'll go looking tonight."  He ate another bite.  "Do we have everything to decorate?"  Xander nodded slowly.  "Lights, tinsel, baby gate?"  That got another cautious nod. "Good."   He ate a bigger bite.  This wasn't a bad partnership, even if the alpha was a worrywart.  Even if he did want to cuddle the boy.  He was still fighting with that urge though.  He got done and Xander was smiling at the comedy CD, making him smile too.   "We're going Christmas tree shopping," he called.

"I'll be here," Eric agreed.  "Try the lot down on eighth, it was nice when I drove by the other day."

"Sure, thanks, Eric," Xander called, putting the rest of his in the fridge with the rest of the bag.  Eric gave him a look.  "I'm still fighting the headache."

"You sure you wanna do this now?"

"Have to do it now.  You're here to watch the little ones.  Otherwise they'll climb up the trees and we'll end up home with nine or ten when they break branches."  He went to put on shoes while sitting on the stairs so the boys didn't see him getting ready to go out.  Horatio smiled and headed down after him, closing the gate. "They'd scream if they thought we were going out without them."

"Most children do but they'll love being babysat."  He took the keys to Xander's car, he was not going to scratch his hummer with a tree on top, and got in to drive, letting Xander get the other side.  "Are we looking for a particular style?"

"Not a Charlie Brown tree and alive."

"Charlie Brown?"

"You didn't see the Charlie Brown Christmas special?"

"Not in a few years."

"We'll watch it this year then."

"Okay."  He backed out of the driveway, heading down to the lot Eric suggested.  It was nearly empty but there was one up the street that looked better.  Xander got out to look, sniffing one with a grimace.  He sniffed.  "What?"

"Vodka trees."

"Hmm."  He got them back into the car and went to find a better lot.  He found one down near Little Havana, pulling into their parking area and letting Xander get out before he turned off the engine.  He smiled at the boy as he headed for one tree in particular.  "That's going to be a bit tall once it's on the stand, Xander."

"No it won't.  It's going down in the playroom."  He saw the sneer.  "Wipe it, dude.  We're not together.  I'm raising triplets and he's helping me set up my tree since it's my first."  The man backed off.  He muttered something and the man blanched, letting Xander glare at him.  "Comprende?"

"Clear, sir.  What size were you looking for?"

Xander pointed.  "I like this one.  Horatio?"

He walked around it, looking for bare spots.  "It's got one flaw," he said, letting Xander see it.  He shrugged.  "You sure?"

"I can put that against the play set if I can get it done this week."

"Okay.  We'll take this one."  Xander paid for it and the guy helped them get it onto the roof of the car.  "Thank you, sir."  He got into the driver's seat again, driving them around.  "What did you say?"

"If he didn't quit I'd have the demon who was hiding in the office go rabid and eat him."

"Oh."  He nodded and they went home.  They got the tree set up, Xander letting Horatio get the trimming stuff from the other corner.  They got it set up in the corner and decorated, talking casually while they did it.  Then Horatio moved to help Xander put together what he had already built.  "I'm going to end up missing two bolts," he complained near the end.

"Would Walmart have them?"  Xander shrugged.  "Where did you get them?"

"The hardware store up the street."

"Then get two more in the morning."

"Or we can improvise."

"Not if it won't be safe, Xander."  Xander went to find something to work with, bringing it back.  "Rebar?"

"It'll work."  He used the saw to slowly cut in down to size.  Then he slid it into the necessary spots.  He put spacers and bolts on the other end, finding the welding torch canister to finish it off.   They got it fully done and Horatio leaned on the various parts.  They found one more spot where a bolt was needed and Xander used the last of the rebar to seal it into place.  It was a bit short so some cement caulk got added as well but that was fine.  It was stable and unshaky.  They had to shift it a few feet but otherwise it was sturdy.  Horatio got the ball pit together but the bottom section wouldn't blow up so he put it back into the box so it could be returned.  Then Xander opened the closet door down there, pulling out the wrapped cubes he had stored.  He put them around the free wall, waving a hand at them. "Tada."

"What're those?"  He unwrapped one, smiling at the storage/seating cubes with cushions for tops.  "I like those.  Those will be good toy boxes."  He gave him a hug and Xander beamed back, bouncing some.  "Good job.  Should we get the mighty tots?"

"Hey, Eric, let's bring them down for a few minutes," he called.

"Fine."  He carried down Greg and Tim, letting Horatio get Ray.  He paused when he saw the playset.  "That looks nice."  He put the boys down, helping Xander drag out the mats for safety and sat down on a cube, getting comfortable.  "I like this.  The tree looks great too."  Horatio and Xander both smiled.  "No, Greg."  Greg got taken away from the tree and put onto the play area.  He crawled over to the slide, he remembered those.  He slid down with a giggle, landing with a thump.  That got a bigger laugh and he headed for an inclined ramp to get back up there.  "That's a great job, Xander.  Will it hold up?"

"It should.  There's a few bolts that got welded into place.  Horatio, can you check that rope bridge part?"  He went to check and moved the boys away, tightening that bolt.  When it was done he put Tim on it, watching as he crawled across and beamed at him.  "Good job, boys."  Someone knocked.  "What!" he called.  The door opened and Calleigh came in, making Greg squeal and push Ray out of the way to go down the slide so he could crawl out to get her.  "Come see.  I got it done."

"I can see that."  She picked Greg up, carrying him back.  "And the tree too.  It's beautiful, guys."  She put Greg back onto a ramp, watching him roll down it with a giggle.  "He's a happy baby."

"He definitely is but he'll get scratched that way," Horatio complained, putting him onto the top of the slide.  He went down and thumped, giggling madly.  "Good boy, Greg."  He smiled at John.  "What brings you two here?"

"Checking on Eric to make sure he was still sane," Calleigh said happily.  "Plus to bring the naughty ones' birthday presents."  She put hers next to Eric.  "What're we doing for Ray on his?"

"He'll get one present during theirs this year," Xander told her.  "The twins will get one on his too."  That got a smile from John.  "The tree guy sneered at us because he thought we were together."

"Did you lie?" he asked.

Xander frowned at him.  "Don't start that."

"You're the alpha of the pack, Xander," he said dryly.

"Yeah, and if I used my pack alpha privileges all the members of the pack would be bending over to take it.  Eric, does that sound like fun to you?"

"You're not my type, Xander," he quipped back.  "But can you maybe get Wolfe?  He's uptight."

"The upcoming holidays have got to be bad when you have OCD," Xander reminded him.

"Good point."  He watched the boys play.  "Horatio, Ray."  Horatio caught Ray before he could fall over and hit Tim.  "Nice catch."

"Thank you.  Maybe a net between these two layers, Xander?"

"I was thinking about that but the books and Alexx said it was a risky thing that could lead to broken bones."

"Hmm.  We'll figure it out."  He put Ray down, watching as he went to maul John's ankle.  Then Tim was retrieved and Greg was gotten away from the tree again.  "All right, upstairs, kids."  He unplugged the tree and they headed upstairs, the other adults taking the kids and him making sure everything was turned off and locked behind them.  He did not trust his boys to not sneak in there some day soon.  Or the cat.

John looked at Xander.  "You feeling better?  Horatio said you had a concussion."

"I'm fine.  Food's still a bit iffy now and then but I'm okay."

"How did you get a concussion?" Calleigh asked.

"I slipped going down the stairs to work on the playset."

"He never said anything for nine days," Horatio admitted.  "Until I found out he had an infection on his back."

"I tripped.  Be happy the saw wasn't on."

"I am."  He moved his t-shirt to look at it.  "I should probably clean that with some alcohol.  Did you take your antibiotic?"

"I'm not one of the kids."

"So?  You fuss over others so we get to fuss over you.  Now, did you take it or should I call Alexx to lecture you?"

"I took it with lunch."  He saw the trio of pointed looks at the clock from Calleigh, Eric, and Horatio.  "I'm not due for another hour."

"As long as you take it," John reminded him.  "After all, if you're not okay the boys have to be farmed out to others until you're better."  He looked.  "That's not a horrible injury."  Horatio moved some of the bandage so he could see more of it.  "Never mind.  That's gross."  He helped him recover it.  "Okay, well, our good cheer is done, Eric's clearly still alive."  Eric snorted but went back to reading to Tim.   "Need more of our brilliance tonight?"

"We're good," Xander said with a smile.  "Thanks, guys.  Are you coming for dinner and cake?"

"We sure are," she agreed happily, giving him a hug.  "Feel better soon, Xander."  They escaped and headed back to his place to talk and decorate his tree.  She had a pre- decorated mini-tree at her place.

Horatio smiled at Eric, then looked at the clock.  "It's about bath time," he said quietly.  Tim squealed and bounced.  "I think someone wants a bath."

"I can do that," he agreed, pointing.  "Let's go take a bath, guys."  They crawled that way and he had to carry Ray because he was tired.  "How do we usually do the diapers before the bath?  They're trying to strip off," Eric called.

"We usually let them sit on the toilet just in case," Xander offered.  "It gets them used to the idea."

"Sure."  He stripped Ray off, letting him have it first.  Then he put him into the water, letting Tim have it.  Greg got it last and beamed at him because he went.  "Good boy!  You're going to be so easy to potty train."  He stuck him into the water, and the boys started to splash each other.  "Get clean first, guys.  Then we'll play."  He got down to help with that.  They were happy to help with the scrubbing.  Ray patted Tim's back while he was scrubbing it.  Tim tried to drown Ray while he was doing his hair by helping splash away the shampoo.  Greg got pounced by both of them and nearly driven under the water to get clean.  Fortunately he managed to save them and get them out right after Ray let out some pee into the water.  They pouted but let him get them into diapers and jammies, then into their cribs so he could sit in the rocking chair and read to them quietly.  He heard more music come on and smiled.  "Your Daddy Horatio spoiled your Daddy Xander," he teased Ray, who was closest.  He got a giggle but the boy settled back in to nap.  "Night, guys."  He turned on the night light and left, closing the door most of the way.  He started to clean the kitchen but he found Xander doing it.  "You should be resting."

"I'm good.  Horatio's taking a bath."  He grinned. "Thank you, Eric."

"Welcome, Xander."  He grinned and headed for home, going to tell his mother how sweet the little trio of terror had been for him.  She'd see it as a good sign that she was going to get more grandchildren someday soon.


John walked into Horatio's office the next day, closing the door.  "I don't want to pry."

"I know."  He put down his pen.  "What happened?"

"Something Xander said last night."  He stared at his friend.  "Horatio, you do know that most mated creatures do more than cuddle on the couch?"  He nodded, looking calm and normal.  "Then what's wrong with you two?"

"That's never been my thing, John," he said quietly.  "I'm not sure how Xander feels about it."

"He was comfy in your arms.  He liked the cuddling.  Do you want to stay with him or not?"

Horatio moaned, leaning back.  "I don't know yet.  I want to be there with him, and for the boys, and I'd probably be with him without the boys.  It's just that people are pushing."

"Hey, not trying to push, buddy."

"I know, not you."  That got a smile.  "I'm working it out in my head, John.  I know how it should be.  I've done a lot of research."  That got a nod.  "How do you know?"

"You think he's the only one who's ever been possessed?" he said quietly, giving him a look.  "Why do you think I keep trying to out macho her?"

"Good point."  He smiled.  "She'll still win."

"She usually does," he sighed, nodding at that.  "What about you two?"

"I had to talk him into telling me what he wanted for his birthday, John.  There's more issues there than us not being very experienced in that area."

"Well, if you need help, ask us.  Frank and I agree you two are cute together.  Especially when you've got the boys out with you.  You make one fussy father, Horatio Caine."

He smiled. "Thank you.  I'll consider that a compliment."  He gave him a look.  "Remember, it's supposed to be an equal partnership."

"I know.  She's still trying to take charge."

"Then let her."  John gave him a look.  "Have fun with that."

"I'm trying, man.  If you need me, I'm here."  He left, going back to his desk and thinking about how he could make Calleigh see that she was going to be his sometime soon.

Horatio went back to figuring out what he was getting Xander for Christmas.  A few t- shirts was nice but not the greatest present in the world.  He needed something more.  Something that showed he was with the pack and wanted to help protect and provide for the pack.  Or else he'd end up figuring out what to do with a guy on his back some night soon.  Which might not be so bad he decided when the thought sent a shiver up his spine.  He got back to work, trying to ignore those thoughts while he was doing his paperwork.  His boss didn't need to hear those thoughts.  He really didn't.


Horatio looked around at the first birthday party, smiling at the three entranced boys.  They were staring at all the food on the table, then at their father, who had a fork this time instead of a spoon.  "Poo?" Tim asked.

"Yes, you're going to get food, real food," Xander teased.  "It's your birthday.  You're a year old today, Tim.  You and Greggy both.  Then next month is Ray's birthday.  He'll be a year old too."  He patted him on the head and checked the oven.  "FOOD!"  People came up from downstairs, where the presents had been placed.  "When the timer goes off, the cookies come out," he instructed to Calleigh since she was closest.  "Even if they're not done."  She nodded, sitting down to get into her food.  He fed the boys, getting some happy babies.  Even Ray was happy because his other father was feeding him.  "We remembered to separate out Ray's present, right?" he asked quietly.

"We did, it's on the slide," Horatio assured him.  He fed Ray another bite of potatoes.  "Like that?"  He smiled at the happy baby.  "Good boy."  Alexx chuckled and took over feeding duties, pulling Ray next to her so she could feed him.  "Fine, I'll eat.  Xander, you have to eat too."

"I am.  I'm sneaking bites."

"How did you do it when they were younger?" Ryan asked.

"Carseats have handles and handles can be used to prop bottles."  He gave him a look.  "Maybe some year you'll have triplets."

"Don't wish that on me.  One's plenty of punishment for my OCD, thank you," he joked.

"Babies are like potato chips, you don't usually stop with one," Alexx warned.

"All the more reason for me to be single," he said firmly, smirking at her.  "Unless you want to scare off my next girlfriend too?"

"More than happy to, baby.  She was a skanky ho."  She smiled at Ray when he cheeped, feeding him a bite of turkey.  "There you go."  He gummed it happily.  "Such a good boy.  Those little teeth of yours are going to work overtime today, sweetheart."

Ryan ducked a food missile.  "Hi, Tim.  Are you enjoying your birthday dinner?"  Tim just smiled and threw another carrot at him.  "I don't think he likes those."

"There's a sauce on them that he hates.  He likes carrots," Xander promised, licking one off and handing it over, stuffing it into his mouth for him.  Tim chewed and picked up the next one, licking it off and eating it.  "See?"

"My mom said I was a picky eater," John offered with a smile.  Frank nodded.  "You talked to her too?"

"No, I was nodding that I was one too, John.  Behave," Frank complained at the wicked smirk.

"Since the boys are too young I'm sure we could find someone to take their birthday spankings for them," Xander offered with a grin for him.

"I'd like to see you try, kid," John smarted back.

"After dinner, before presents?" he offered with a bright grin.

"Boys," Horatio warned.  "No roughhousing.  You two would tear up the house worse than the toddlers do."

"It's scary, he even sounded like my dad," John taunted with a smirk for him.  "You hear that when you were little?"

"Nah. Only child.  Besides, not enough slurring."  He fed Greg another bite since his hands and mouth were empty.  "I'm coming.  Hold on."  He ate it and smiled while he chewed.  "Close enough to mouth closed at your age."  Calleigh popped him on the shoulder.  "Ow!  Be nicer to me!" he complained.

"I'm plenty nice to you," she assured him.  "Not like you're getting love or anything."

"I noticed the baby hickey," Ryan offered.  "I know they still suck in their sleep."

"Shut up, Ryan," Calleigh ordered.

He blushed.  "Sorry, I know they still suck and all that...."

"Ryan," Calleigh said more sternly.

"Wolfe, that's 'your foot in your mouth is soon going to be up your nose and out your butt'," Eric warned.  "I'd stop now."

"Sorry, I'm paid to be observant!  I thought it was Greg again!"

"Not in a few weeks," she said, glaring at him.  He shrunk down.  "Maybe we should use you as the whipping boy instead."

"I'll be a good boy if Xander doesn't spank me."

Xander grinned at him.  "Only if you ask really nicely."  He batted his big, brown eyes at him, making the others laugh and Ryan blush.  He noticed Horatio's look at him.   "What?  If he asks, I'll spank him," he defended.

"Eat, Xander.  You're going silly," Alexx ordered.

Hallie appeared.  "I heard it's your birthday," she said, hugging the twins, then Ray.  "Hi, snookums."  Ray beamed at her.  "I come bearing presents."

"Normal presents or super special presents?" Xander asked.


"Super special presents were like the cable and internet connection.  Or are they normal baby presents?"

"Well, more a family present.  Buffy figured out how to find you through the phone book."

"I don't want her here," he said firmly.  "I don't need that sort of stress, especially not right before their first christmas."

"True, and she doesn't want to visit, Xanny.  She wants to send down Tara and Andrew sooner."

"I love Tara.  She can come down whenever she wants to.  I can probably even geek out with Andrew for a few days but I don't want the brats down here.  They might hit on Eric and Ryan and drag them back to Sunnydale.  That or Anya might suck them in."

"My mother would definitely yell at that," Eric said dryly, stuffing his mouth.

"Good, then I'll tell Tara she can come down sooner," she said happily, smiling at them.  "Also I left them some squeaky toys."  She disappeared.

"You guys will love the Auntie Tara," he told Tim.  "You'll probably get along well with Andrew too," he decided.  "He'll read comics, Star Trek, and Tolkein to you guys all you want."  Horatio coughed to hide his smile.  "He will."  He fed them another bite but Frank took the fork and shifted the boys, earning a pout.  "I can do that."

"You can eat too, kid."

"Sorry."  He dug into his own dinner.  "I like the turkey this way."

"So do I.  Fried?" Alexx asked.  He nodded.  "It's good, sugar."  She got a second piece and Calleigh got up to take the cookies out of the oven for him.  Tim's head craned over to see what she was doing.  "You eat and then you can have cake, boys."  Frank nudged Tim with the fork, getting an attentive baby back staring at him.  He held up the bite of potatoes and Tim sucked it down for him, smiling at him.   "Good boys."

"Should I take them off the pan?" Calleigh asked.

"No, they're fine.  They'll get crunchy that way."  She nodded, coming back over. "I usually give them ten minutes then remove them."  She smiled at that.  "I like my cookies a bit crunchy around the edge.  I'm funny like that."  He ate another bite then sipped his water, leaning back.   Horatio gave him a look.  "What?" he asked.

"Wondering if your head still hurt."  Xander nodded.  "How long did your headaches usually last when you've had concussions?"

"Two weeks.   Usually they were to the back of my head and this one was to the side, that's the only real difference."  Ryan and Eric both scowled at him.  "What?  I got thumped up pretty bad a few times back in Sunnydale."

"What did the doctor say when you went in today?" Alexx asked.

"Not to drive until I wasn't dizzy.  My back's still looking gross so he extended my antibiotics.  He said to have Horatio open it tonight to see if he could get it clean."  He shrugged.  "It's fine.  Not as bad as it was.  If it had been anywhere else I'd have done witch hazel compresses to keep it clean.  I did on my leg."

"That stuff stings," Alexx complained.

"Yeah but it works.  The boys get the minty green alcohol.  It's got less alcohol in it."  She smiled at that.  "It does.  I'm fine."

"I'll look at your back after dinner," Alexx assured him.

"I only need to pop the scab, Alexx.  I can almost do that myself."

"Fat chance," she said, glaring at him.  "You are not a doctor."

"No but I'm a damn good field medic," he shot back.   She snorted at that, going back to feeding the babies.

"We'll go over it while everyone else takes the boys downstairs," Horatio ordered quietly.  Xander nodded.  "Thank you.  What else did he say about your head?"

"That if it usually quit hurting in two weeks he was sure this one would too."

"No x-rays?" Eric asked.

Xander shook his head.  "Why would he now?"

"Then why aren't you eating?" John asked.

"Headache," he said succinctly, taking another drink of his water.  "The same reason that means I shouldn't drive for a few more days.  The day it's gone I promise I'll pig out," he said dryly.  "Just not tonight.  I'll have leftovers later."  He finished up the food on his plate and got up to put the cookies onto the cooling rack, smiling at the begging noises.  "Everyone finish up so I can pull the cake out.  It's got to be a bit chilled with the frosting I had them use."  They looked at each other and dug in, clearing the table within a few more passes of the food.  Xander smiled as he pulled the cake out, carefully placing the candles on the top.  Horatio came over to see, smiling at the top.  "I know, I couldn't resist."

"They do like Thomas," he agreed, patting him on the back.  "How is your head really?"

"Stuffy, like cold stuffy, but I'm not sneezing and every now and then it aches.  Mostly at night."

"We'll figure it out then, Xander."  He looked around. "Ice cream?"  Xander handed him the scoop and pointed at the freezer, making him smile.  "We have ice cream as well."  He opened the freezer door.  "We have six cartons of good ice cream."  He looked at his mate, then shook his head.  Alexx came over to take over that duty while he carried the cake over, letting Xander light it.  Tim and Greg's 'oooh' was captured on film by Ryan.  "Blow it out."  He blew in Tim's ear.  "Do that."  Tim huffed.  Greg copied him.  "Do it again."  They did it again and he blew them out for them, earning pouts.  "You can stare at the tree later."  He accepted bowls from Xander, cutting the boys each a piece.   He got out of range, watching as they looked at the cake then their daddies.  Tim grabbed a handful first, stuffing it in his mouth.  He hummed and smiled, sticking his face down into it. Greg watched and ate a bite then licked his fingers and grabbed more to eat.  He heard the quiet giggle from Ray and threw some at him.  "He's getting his own piece, Greg.  Eat the cake."  Greg beamed and ate his cake, watching Ryan tape them.  He reached for the camera.

"Ignore the Uncle Ryan taping it, Greggy," Xander ordered, adding some ice cream.  The boys squealed at the cold stuff but it was good cold stuff and fun to let squish through their fingers before they licked it off.  Greg peered at Tim's cake and ice cream, noticing his ice cream was a different color.  He reached over to grab some of his but Tim scowled and slapped him.  He moved it away and went back to eating it, face down in the food.  Greg scowled and slapped him back.  Xander coughed loudly and Greg quit, turning the other way so Tim couldn't get his ice cream either.  They both got some more from a kind uncle who gave them the flavor the other had.  He dug in and beamed, even if the strawberry wasn't his usual flavor of choice.  The cake made it taste good too.  He threw some at his favorite person with a smile for him.  "Love you too, Greg."  He kissed him on the cheek.  "You eat your cake so you can have presents.  You too, Tim."  Tim reached a messy hand over to pat him on the cheek.  "I love you too," he said with a smile.  Tim beamed back and offered him another handful.  "No, you eat that.  I have mine.  You eat yours."  He got a spoon in there, feeding him a bite.  Tim chomped and sucked off his fingers, grabbing more.

Calleigh cleaned Xander's cheek off with her spoon, eating it.   "Not too bad, Xander," she teased.  "You make good cake and ice cream seasoning."

"It's all the sweets I used to eat," he said with a grin.  They laughed and watched the boys make a horrific mess.  Fortunately there was plastic under them and Ryan had vowed he was going to clean the kitchen as their birthday present.  Finally they all got done and Calleigh led the way to clean the boys up.  Then take them down to their presents.  Xander followed to see the look on their faces at all the shiny things.  Tim's 'ooooooooooh' was very cute.  Greg grunted and pointed at the tree.  "No, you can't play with the tree but the stuff under it is for you two.  Ray's is on the slide, Frank."  He nodded, putting him onto the play area.  Ray giggled and went down the slide, thumping on the bottom and beaming at everyone, who mostly clapped.

Tim and Greg pouted so Calleigh sat down in front of the pile of presents, letting them have one each.  They shook it.  Greg pounded Tim with his.  Tim scowled and leaned over to suck on his cheek.  Then he sucked on the edge of the present.  Calleigh opened it a bit for him.  He got the hint and ripped the rest of the paper, looking at the books inside, then at her.  "Yes, those are yours," she agreed.  "Those are presents."

Greg got the hint too and ripped into his, smiling at the horse.  He got it free and waved it around, nearly braining Horatio.  He beamed at his daddy when he caught it and unboxed it.  Xander took Calleigh's place, handing them each more presents.  Tim squealed and ripped into this one.  It was more books!  "We knew you wanted more books," he said with a tease to his sides.  Tim wiggled and grinned at him, hugging his book.  "Yes, someone will read to you tonight, Tim."  He handed him a soft package.  Tim squished it against the book, frowning some.  He opened it and looked at it.  Then he shook it.  It jingled.  He did it again and bopped Greg with it.  It still jingled.  He bopped Greg again, making it jingle more.  Greg stole it to bop him back then got Daddy Horatio with it with a bright smile.

"Yes, that's a soft toy," he agreed.  "Please quit hitting others, Greg."  Ray giggled when he opened his, making everyone smile.  He looked back.  "I thought you'd like that, little man."  Ray pushed on the keys, listening to them make animal sounds.  He got Greg another present before he could go steal Ray's.  "Here, open this one."  Greg got it open and patted the books with a smile, but reached for some of the lights on the tree.  "No, you can't play with the tree," he said patiently.  The uncles sitting around the room laughed.  "He's trying very hard."  Xander handed him one from his side.  "Are all Greg's over there?"

"No, I'm pulling them around from the back.  I don't think they'll care who got what present, Horatio.  All the books will be Tim's and all the stuff he can pound his brothers with will be Greg's."  That got some laughs.  He finished dragging things out, finding two small boxes.  He looked at them.  "Kitty collar with bells?" he asked, holding one up.

"I think you'll find that's yours, kid," Eric said dryly.  "I told you if you complained I'd tell my mother.  She apparently went psychic and read it from my mind."

Xander blushed and opened his, letting Tim help with the paper.  He smiled at the charm bracelet with charms for each of the boys. "Tell her I love it, Eric.  Thank you."  He put it on and Tim patted it with a smile.  "Yes, that was mine.   Here, open yours."  He got him another one.  Tim finished ripping into that one, patting the large box. "Hmm, that'll be an upstairs toy."  Horatio smiled and put it aside, handing him the small box.  "I didn't need this much stuff."

"Shut up, Xander," Frank ordered, smirking at him.  Xander gave him a sheepish look but opened it, smiling at the pass to a day spa.  "You could use it.  Take some time off one day when Horatio's off.  It's the beauty of babysitters."

"Volunteering, Frank?" Alexx teased.

"I doubt I could handle the trio of terror."  He watched as Tim crawled over, hugging John around the arm.

"Hi, squirt.  Wanna play?"  He pointed at the playset and got a wicked grin.  Greg beat him up the ramp but Tim went to crawl around it instead of going down the slide to run into John, making them all laugh at John's 'ouch'.  Greg just beamed and crawled up to do it again.  This time he moved out of the way, and Greg giggled at the end, holding up his arms.  He picked him up to hold.  "You do that very well, Greg."  Greg grabbed some of Calleigh's hair to play with, beaming at him.  "I know, it's a pretty shade of blonde, like yours is."  Greg kissed him on the forehead then wiggled until he put him down so he could go pounce Tim.  Tim fortunately escaped by going down a slide and running into Calleigh this time.  He hugged her.

"Aww.  We love you guys too."  Tim beamed and crawled behind the slide to stare at the window, patting it.  "Looks like the momma cat's back, guys."

"She can still get in that same way," Xander said dryly.  Ray crawled over and pounced him.  "Oh, my, was I pounced?" he teased, tickling him.   Ray giggled and beamed, then went back up onto the toy.

"They are very happy babies," Alexx said, smiling when Ryan put down the video camera.  "Come on, Xander, let's look at your back while someone cleans up the paper.  I'm sure Greg will be trying to eat it soon."  Xander carefully stood up with his present in hand, letting her lead him back upstairs.  Even if she did have to turn Greg around and give him a nudge back toward the fun.

"Come on, Greg, come play with my hair," Calleigh called.  He crawled back and came to play with it.  He loved her hair.  "You're such a good baby hairdresser."

"He likes the bedhair look," Eric teased.  She swatted him so Tim did too, beaming at him.  "Sure, you can help Auntie Calleigh swat me, Tim.  Wanna go down the slide again?"  He put Tim at the top, watching him look down.  He gave him a nudge, listening to him laugh all the way down.  "See, that works well."  Tim crawled back up and went to the platform that looked out the window so he could stare at the reflection of the tree on it.  He looked up when the 'eww' floated down from Horatio.  "Sounds like the antibiotics were fairly necessary."

"He fell onto the, thankfully, unrunning power saw.  It's in the middle of his back.  I'm wondering how he got direct pressure on it," Ryan told him.

"Probably a towel in the running shower," John offered.  "Pressing against the towel and using the wall as a brace."

"The shampoo ledge," Xander said as he came back down. "Otherwise, yeah."  He shrugged and winced.  "Ow."  He sat down to play with the boys and their new toys.  Eventually though there was a fight to help give them a bath and read to them that night.  Calleigh won bathing rights.  Ryan won reading rights.  The rest cleaned up the bottom level and helped hide the new toys in the seating cubes.  The adults ended up gathered in the living room hanging out.  Xander was in bed by then.  He mostly slept when the boys did.  That way he wasn't too tired.  Horatio came in to check on him once but he was fully out by then.

Horatio came back out shaking his head.  "He keeps the boy's schedule except for nap times."

"He could use the rest anyway," Alexx assured him, patting him on the arm. "Do what I told you tomorrow night when you get home too."

"I can do that."  He settled back into his seat, glancing toward the nursery.  Someone in there was cooing.  "Sleep, boys."  The cooing stopped.   He got smirked at by Frank.  "They know it's time to rest.  They're usually pretty good about it."

"They are," Alexx agreed.  "Just think, Thanksgiving is in a week and a half."  They all moaned.  "Remember, Xander's doing dinner that night.  Then Ray's birthday is the week before Christmas."  They all nodded.  "Then Christmas dinner too."

"Then we can rest until next July when we start picking up gifts for their second birthday," Ryan quipped.

"You shop that early?" Frank asked.

Ryan nodded.  "Yeah.  I used to shop for Christmas at the after-holiday sales too," he quipped.  "Saved it for the next year, already wrapped."  Everyone shook their heads.  "I'm proud, I let someone else wrap for me this year and I waited until last month to shop."

"I'm very proud of you too, Ryan," Horatio assured him.  He patted him on the back.  "Thank you, whoever got Xander the presents.  I have no idea what to get him for Christmas.  Anyone have any ideas?"

"Not a one," Alexx admitted.  The others shook their heads too.  Horatio looked toward the bedroom at the fussing sound.  "Go."  He went to check on Xander, finding him cuddling the cat and her fussing.  The cat came trotting out, making everyone smile.  He closed the bedroom door most of the way when he came out.  "He good?"

"Trying to cuddle the cat and she wasn't cooperative."  He put down some food for the cat, putting up the rest of the leftovers.  Including the cookies.  Then he came back out.  "Sorry, she will try for anything we leave out.  I looked over and found her head down in my coffee one morning."  That got a bunch of smiles.  "You think his back will be okay, Alexx?"

"I know it will.  It'll be a few days but it'll be fine, Horatio.  Just do what I showed you."  He nodded at that.  "Good."  She patted him on the knee.  "I should save Peter from my own duo of unholiness.  They've been begging for presents already."  They smiled and waved, Eric walking her out to her car since this wasn't a well-lit street.  Eric came back and the others slowly trickled out, Ryan giving Horatio something from his pocket.

Horatio looked at it then nodded.  "Thank you, Mr. Wolfe."

"Not a problem.  My uncle's girlfriend was happy to help, Horatio.  She also said if you wanted the boys blessed that way she knew who could do that."  He gave him a pat to the arm and left, Eric following.

Horatio put the information in the desk and went to curl up behind Xander.  It had become a habit for him to do so.  Nothing else ever happened but he did let the boy curl up. It helped his nightmares to have him there.  It helped his own nightmares to be there.  Xander snuffled him then flopped onto his chest, becoming his octopus persona.  It was enough to make anyone smile.  He was a good cuddle.


Xander walked the boys back into the house.  "You would not believe what Greg did this time," he called, knowing someone was there.

"Our baby Greg?" Eric said, smirking down at him.

"Yeah.  Do you remember your ex Bethany?  The blonde one if there was more than one."  Eric slowly nodded.  "She wants invited over after Greg kept grabbing her through the cart.  Nearly pinched his finger getting it through the bars of the cart to grab her beltloop so she couldn't leave.  Grabbed her by the hair first and squealed, pulling her closer to contrast with his own.  She was *very* understanding and thinks the boys are *very* cute.  I told her if she wanted to come over she'd have to ask you to bring her.  And of course, Horatio had to go hide to get away from it before anyone recognized him."  Eric snickered and came down to get the boys out of the stroller.  "A fun time was had by all.  Tim only grabbed one woman and he pulled her over by her brastrap to hug her.  She was amused because my back was turned."  He smiled sweetly.  "Horatio's hovering somewhere behind me talking to Ray about not grabbing any more necklaces.  He got three and he wasn't even in the baby jail portion of the cart."

Eric patted him on the back.  "They'll grow out of this phase.  I did."

"Not according to Calleigh," he teased.

"I don't grab anymore.  Now I hit on the hot women."  He walked the boys upstairs.  "By the way, we've got visitors coming.  The Las Vegas lab is on their way over with John driving."

"Okay.  Why?"

"To see the son of their tech, Xander," he said patiently.

"Okay."  He looked around.  "Did you clean?"  Eric nodded.  "Sure.  Do we have sodas and stuff?"

"Yeah, we're cool on that.  Close the gate."  Xander did that and he put down the boys, letting them wander. "I couldn't find the birthday pictures."

"They're still on the laptop."  He went to pull up that folder of pictures, smiling when Tim came over to help.  "Are you going to help the Daddy show you off to the Greg's former family?" he asked quietly.  Tim smiled and handed him a book.  "Sure, we can read."  He pulled him up to read to him, making him a happy tot.  Even if the new people did make him turn shy and try to hide his face in Xander's shoulder.  "Don't worry about them, Tim.  They work like Uncle Eric and Auntie Calleigh do.  I'm sure they're nice people or I'll beat 'em up if they're not," he said, smiling at his son.  Who gave him a smile for that.  "Good boy.  Now, where is Horatio?"

"Outside with the other one," John said dryly.  "What did they do?"

"Greg managed to find one of Eric's exes that he wanted to bring home."   He pointed. "That's baby Greg."  The techs standing around all smiled at the baby, getting a happy one back and him holding up a block.  "Yes, they'll play with you.  That's what they're here for, Greg.  You can go play too, Tim."

"C'mere, little man, I'll read to you," one offered.  "I'm Nick, this is Catherine, and you probably got to meet Jim Brass when he was down."

"Nah, I saw the lab's people," Brass said.  "Hi."

"Hi, I'm Xander.  Head daddy of this insanity."  They all smiled at that.  "I've got the pictures pulled up from the twins' first birthday party if you wanted it."  He handed Tim over and gave Nick a book.  "That's an instant hit."

"Hmm.  We like trains?" Nick asked, smiling at him.  "I'll get your brother after Catherine's done going mooshy over her."  Tim patted the book and looked at him.  "Sure, I'll read."  He sat down with him in his lap, reading to the little guy while Catherine stared at Greg.

Brass smiled at Horatio when he came up.  "You said you didn't mind."

"We don't mind.  We simply had to have a talk with certain little shoplifters and those who grab blondes."

"Greg did go out a lot," Nick said happily.  "What about you?  Did you pick up the pretty women today, Tim?"

"He only grabbed one by the brastrap when I wasn't looking," Xander assured him.  He looked at Horatio, getting out from behind his desk. "Your email icon came up when I logged in to find the birthday party pictures."

"That's fine."  He smiled and handed Ray to him.  "Here.  You play with that one so he doesn't grab Catherine.  Catherine, watch out, he likes to eat anything he can.  Including bugs."

"I'm sure that's just a little boy thing, Horatio," she said with a smile.

"Not always.  He tried to eat a live mouse our stray momma cat didn't get," Xander complained.  He scratched his back against the wall, getting a look. "It's a healing itch."

"Come here, Xander."  Horatio checked it, scratching around it.  "It's still a bit inflamed and is off-color," he said quietly.  "You go back when?"


Horatio gave him a look. "You're driving?"

"I don't have the headache, I'm not dizzy, and I can eat again."

"Fine."  He patted him on the back.  "Go get drinks or did you want to let them play with the boys downstairs?"

"I think they'd be ignored if we brought them downstairs," he reminded him, heading into the kitchen.  "We've got juice, water, soda, and diet soda if anyone wants some."

"I'll take a water," Brass said, going to get some for himself and Nick.  Catherine got herself a soda and came back to play with Greg.  "He does look a lot like his daddy."

"He does," he agreed happily.  "She had pictures," he explained at the curious look he got from Nick.  "I saw them when I went to claim the boys."

"She left them to you?" Catherine asked.  He nodded.  "Why?  A relative?"

"No.  I've got a small past issue with protection details.  I was on one and she had heard how I had done out there so she knew I'd protect the boys.  She also heard I was looking to move away from where I was protecting so it was all good to her."  He sipped his soda, looking at Horatio.  Then at Eric.  "Are you bringing her over?"

"She hated kids when we dated."

"She seemed to love how Greg smiled at her."

"She loves being the center of attention," Eric assured him.  "I'll bring nice girls over so they get used to nice and normal girls."  The others laughed.  "He has good taste, she's pretty."  He coughed when two people appeared at the bottom of the stairs.  "Incoming, Xander."

He looked confused.  "Is it demonic?"

"No, it's two people around your age," he said dryly.  "Not the redhead from the park but got here about the same way."  He opened the gate, smiling at them.  "Hey."

"H..hi," Tara said, looking around.  "Xander."  He ran over to give her a hug.  "Grumpy," she teased quietly.  She saw the babies and smiled, waving a bit.  "Hi, boys."

Tim stared for a minute then stood up and walked over to her, beaming up at her, clutching her leg.  "Baba!" he said happily.

"Are you thirsty?"

"I don't know," Xander admitted.  "That either means he sees that you're blonde or he's thirsty."  He grinned and made her sit down, hugging Tim.  "I'm so proud that you walked.  We should take pictures."

"Got it already," Horatio assured him. "Good job, Tim."  Tim beamed and went to sit and snuggle into Tara's shoulder, beaming at her.  Nick handed over a few books, making her smile at him and open one to read quietly to him.  He smiled and nodded at Greg, who was tipping his head to look at this new blonde.  He crawled to the couch then stood up and walked along the edge, holding on for support, until he could climb up next to her and pick up some of her hair to look at.  He put it against his.  "Yes, she's got the same hair color as you do, Greg.  That's very smart."  Greg beamed then hugged Tara and kissed her as only a baby could, leaving a big, wet hickey on her cheek.

"You two are very loving," she said, patting Greg on the back.  "Would you like read to too, Greg?"  He settled in to snuggle too.

Ray looked around then scowled.  "Dada!"

"Yes?" Horatio and Xander said, looking at him.

"Good job, Ray.  That's a new word and I'm proud of you too," he promised, giving him a kiss on the head.  "Why don't you see if someone will read to you too?"  He pointed at Catherine.  "I'm sure she knows how to read.  Greg was teasing her about her hair too.  She's pretty enough that Timmy nearly grabbed her."  Ray smiled at her and crawled over, climbing into her lap to hug her around the neck.

"You are very sweet, Ray."  She took a book from Nick, settling in to read to him.

Brass shook his head, smiling at Horatio.  "Is it usually this insane?"  Xander cackled.  "I'll take that as it's usually worse." John and Eric both nodded.  "You two help?"

"I come over for family things and sometimes help their favorite aunt babysit," John told him with a small grin.  "She's a blonde too.  That's how we knew why Greg was grabbing blondes whenever they take them out."  Catherine snickered into Ray's hair, shaking her head.  "Get comfortable, please," he ordered.  He looked at Andrew.  "You're which one?  Not Spike, right?"

Andrew cackled and shook his head.  "I've never been that cool in my life.  Not even when I helped build a Buffy robot that was voice responsive and so realistic we could use it as bait now and then."

"Then you're Andrew," he said dryly, shaking his hand.  "John Hagen, one of the detectives Horatio gives work to."

"Hi."  He waved at the others.  "I'm Andrew, I took Xander's place in the Sunnydale team's lineup.  That's Tara."  Tara blushed but gave a little wave.  Tim gave her a hug.  "He loves you."

"She can stay if she wants," Xander pointed out.  "You can even hang around, Andrew.  Just no more plans for world domination, okay?"

"Sure.  I'm off until January," he said with a wicked smirk.  "I bought them gifts."  He handed over a bag from inside his bag.  "I wasn't sure if they were old enough to appreciate Superman wrapping paper yet."

"Greg would've pointed and laughed at the panties.  He thinks underwear is silly.  He might like the cape though.  He loves to go really fast and high in the swings or on the slide."  He opened the bag and burst out laughing.  "Thank you!  I love these, man."  He gave him a hug.  "I will definitely help them use them."  Andrew beamed at the good job he had done.  He led him back to his bedroom to chat with him.  He had missed having other geeks around.

Horatio looked at the books he had put into the bookcase.  "Klingon and what?" he asked John.

John looked.  "Elven, Dwarf, and one I can't read," he admitted.  He looked at Tara.   Then he pointed toward the bedroom.  "Prince of Geekdom?"

"Andrew's very nice and sweet," she chided, frowning at him.  It made Tim scowl at him for upsetting her.  "He didn't have to help us but he did and it's made him a very special young man.  Even if he does want to rule the world."  She went back to her second story for the boys.

"Put her in a pantsuit and hand her a gun and she'd be just like Calleigh," John said happily.  He called her.  "I found your nicer twin and Timmy walked the first time to cuddle her.  Tara, yeah.  Sure."  He hung up.  "She'll be over in an hour for dinner, Horatio."

"We can feed all of you," he assured him, going back to his email with the boss.  "John, the Chief said this is not a legal lunch time for you."

"I signed out for the day.  He apparently didn't get the notice that I was liaising with the visiting techs."  He smirked at Brass.  "It's almost been boring.  Only one homicide this whole week and the person who did it was standing over them with the knife."

"Congrats.  Wish I could say the same.  We've had four."  He watched Catherine try to get Ray to move.  "Little guy, why don't you pounce Nick.  He looks lonely."  Ray got the devious look on his face and he stood up with Catherine's help, wobbling a bit.  Then he suddenly ran over and pounced Nick, driving him into the bookcase.

"Hi, Ray," Nick said, grinning at him.  "You've got a very good pounce on you."  He gave him a cuddle.  "Good job, little man."

"I'm proud, Ray.  Go get Daddy Xander, show him how well you walk."  Ray patted Nick on the head.  "Fine, you can have him.  Xander, am I cooking dinner?"

"Take the big silver pan out of the freezer and put it in the oven," he called.  "Directions are written on the foil."

"I guess that's a yes."  He went to do that, listening to the others cooing over the boys.  Calleigh came in and he smiled at her.  "Problems?"

"No.  Boredom.  Not a single gun case all week, Horatio."  She smiled at Tara.  "Hi, I'm Calleigh."

"Tara," she said quietly, shyly hiding behind Tim.

"My baba!" Tim said, scowling at her.  "Greg's!"

"Sure, I'll be Greg's blonde auntie and she can be yours, Tim."  She sat down on Greg's other side, letting him compare their two shades, making Tara smile.  "He's fascinated with blonde women.  I started him on a life-long quest to get a blonde of his own."  Catherine snickered.  "I did!"  Xander peeked out of the hallway.  "Are you hiding from me?"

"Not really.  Andrew's here.  He got the babies books in Klingon, Dwarf, Elven, and Empire Rebel code."  He disappeared again.

She looked back at Horatio.  "Didn't I complain when he switched to swearing in Klingon?"

"Yes, but the boys have to learn english before they can learn elven," Horatio said patiently, pouring her a drink.  He handed it over and went back to the computer.  "John, the Chief said standing around watching them play with the kids isn't liaising and Frank's going to pout about your perks."

"Frank can come play with them too," he reminded him.  He walked over and took the keyboard to type in his own message, sending it back signed in his own name even.  "There, that'll get him off your back and my ass."  He went to help Nick play with Ray, tickling Nick until he squealed, making Ray laugh and help him.

"Bathroom's the second door down the hallway," Horatio said, sipping his water.  Catherine and Jim both giggled at that.  "For future reference.  If you three want to take the boys down to the play area, it's the big room behind the stairs.  Just watch Greg, he wants to eat the tree."

They took the boys down there, Tim insisting Tara come by the simple expedient of refusing to let her go.

"I'll go kidnap Tripp," John said happily, heading out with a wink at Calleigh.

She looked at Horatio.  "They like Tara."

"She's very sweet and Xander said she's very kind."


"John said hand her a gun and put her in a pantsuit and she's you," he teased.

"Maybe my younger sister," she said with a grin.  "She's a much better girl than I am sometimes."  She went to check on Xander and Andrew, walking back shaking her head.  "I don't know what they're talking in but they've both got the panting Eric pervert look."

Horatio burst out laughing, nodding.  "Probably what you think they're talking about."


Tara walked back into the Magic Box the day before school started.  "We're back," she called quietly.

Willow looked at her.  "Did you suddenly decide you liked boy parts?"

"No.  Why?"  Willow waved a hand at her cheek, neck, and upper chest.  She looked in a mirror then grinned.  "That was baby Tim.  He's a happy baby and he loved me."

"I can see that."  She pouted.  "Baby?"

"One of Xander's babies.  Tim."  She pulled out a picture. "That's Tim.  He said I'm his blonde auntie and Greg, that one, can have the other blonde aunties.   He walked for the first time to come give me a hug," she said proudly.  Andrew walked in and she smiled.  "I know you'll miss the geek talks."

"Yup, but that's okay.  We can email now."  He grinned at her.  "Did she complain about the baby kisses?"  She nodded.  "That's how the boys kissed.  Even I got one from Greg."  He showed her. "See?"

Willow pouted.  "Did they nap with you too?"

"No, I got the couch, Tara got Horatio's bed, and the kids are still in cribs."  Buffy walked out.  "We're back."

"I heard.  Tara, honey, did you sneak Willow down for the night?"

"No, baby Tim did it," she said with a sweet smile.  "They're so *adorable*," she squealed, smiling at her.  She let her see the picture.  "That's Xander's babies."

"They're cute, but really tiny," she complained, handing it back.

"Tim's first steps was to pounce her as his own personal blonde auntie," Andrew said happily.

"Don't be disgusting!" Buffy complained.

"No, he did.  They have another blonde auntie from the lab down there, where Horatio works.  She's the reason Greg likes to grab blondes to compare hair colors to his."  That got a small smile from Willow.  "He's very good at pouncing too."

"We almost brought Tim home with us.  He did not want to give up Tara," Andrew told them.  He frowned and looked at her.  "Did you unpack yet?"  She nodded.  "Phew.  I hoped he hadn't snuck in.  Xander would've killed us if he had to come back here to retrieve his son."

"No, he snuck in some drooled on cookies and one of his stuffed animals."  She patted him on the cheek.  "It'll be okay.  Xander said you could teach the babies Klingon next summer."  He beamed and nodded, heading for the kitchen.  She smiled at her friends.  "He's very happy and his pack is nearly complete.  He and his mate aren't at the cuddling stage, just napping for nightmares.  He's very nice and very steady, and he made Xander accept birthday and christmas presents," she told them, sitting down.  "Horatio even got him a new DVD player and Xander only smiled and blushed."  Both women stared at her, looking horrified.  "I never realized we didn't celebrate Xander's birthday but Horatio got him some new music and he loved it.  Horatio even babied him when he got a concussion and a bad cut on his back a few days before we got there.  Made him see the doctor and everything."

"Xander? Someone fusses over Xander?" Buffy asked, looking confused.  She looked at Willow. "Why?"

"That question is why he left," Tara told her.  Buffy pouted.  "Oh, suck it up."  She looked at Willow.  "Horatio's team thought I'd do very well doing my Masters down there," she told her.  "It's very safe and the lab down there is like a big family.  Xander cooks for them and everything."

"He cooks?" Willow asked.

Andrew came out with a sandwich.  "Yeah, Xander makes some mean dinners.  He did Christmas dinner and it was great."  He ate a bite of his sandwich.  "He had to start over on the turkey when he seasoned it with the stuff for the bread pudding, but a simple rinse and it was fine.  He did great, even Tara stuffed herself while making Xander eat so she could feed the babies.  He wasn't going to let her."  He ate another bite and swallowed. "Plus, their ME is like this huge mothering person.  Alexx was very sure she'd be happy down there doing her Masters.  Xander even said she could camp out and he'd fix the attic up for her if she wanted.  Timmy would've loved that."  Tara nodded, smiling at him.  "We're going back this summer."  He finished his sandwich, going to find Giles and report to him.  "Xander's fine.  He's happy.  His pack is good even if he is still figuring out what to do with a mate.  The babies are adorable and Tara came home with baby kiss hickeys all over her neck.  Xander's a wonderful cook.  He did Christmas dinner and except one spice mixup that he had to rinse off it went well.  The babies are brilliant.  Tim took his first steps to pounce Tara.  Would not let her go," he shared with a bright grin.  "Declared she's his blonde aunt and Greg can have the others.  So it went good and we're going back this summer.  Some of the people that Xander's mate works with wanted her to finish schooling down there so she'd be safer."

"Is his mate a nice woman?" he asked quietly.

Andrew giggled, a high-pitched, full of mirth giggle.  "Horatio?  Not hardly."  He walked off smiling.  "Giles just asked if his mate is a girl."

"No, not in some of the suits Horatio wears," she agreed.

"Xander's gay?" Willow asked.

"Duh," Buffy said.  "Look at his wardrobe."

"Most gay men dress better than you do," Willow protested.  Buffy scowled.  "They do.  They can match shoes and everything."

"Not all of them," Andrew said dryly.  "That's a bad stereotype.  The same as all witches loving and communing with the fairies is."  She growled at that.  "The same sort of stereotype, Willow.  Besides, Xander's very butch.  He fixed up the house they're in.  He built them a play area.  He's such a hands-on daddy that it's not funny."  He walked off again.  "Tara, need anything to drink?  I had the last of the peanut butter."

"Some milk if there's any that's good," she called after him.  She glared at Willow, giving her that disappointed, lips pressed together look.  "I'm ashamed," she said quietly.  "You know better than to stereotype."  She got up and went to follow Andrew.  "Do you think I should?"

He grinned.  "I think you'll love it and Timmy would let you read all your assignments to him."  He handed her a glass of milk.  "I sniffed, it smelled okay."  He got his own and they headed back to the college.  "Going to the dorms," he called.  "Later, all."  He escorted her back to her door then skipped down to his, going to relax and watch his big screen tv.  Xander had told him where the good porn stores were.  So much better than anything he could find around Sunnydale.


Xander paced back and forth, growling a little bit.  All the boys were watching him, Tim sucking on Ray's thumb for him.

"Mama?" Greg asked.

Xander paused to frown at him.  "Who?"


"Um...  Which auntie is that?  Is that Auntie Alexx or Auntie Calleigh or Auntie Catherine or Auntie Tara?"  Tim beamed at that name.  "Or just some random aunt I'm not recalling at the moment?"


Xander sat down next to him, giving him a hug.  "Sure, if you can bring her back I'm all for it. " Greg beamed at him.  "I still don't know which one that is."  Eric came up the stairs after the door closed.  "Day off?"

"Guarding you.  One of the Mala Noches decided you were important to the lab."

"Then they'll die," Xander said simply.  "Who was he calling Mama?"

"I think that was Tara for Greg.  Tim called her that too."

"Well, she is kinda like the Earth Mother, I guess," Xander decided.  "If I could go kidnap her I would, boys.  We have to fix up the attic first."  Eric snickered.  "I'm not kidding."

"I know you're not, that's the funny part," he said with a smirk.  "We've still got to make sure you guys are safe."  Xander got up and led him into Horatio's room, opening the safe.  Eric blinked.  "Close that," he ordered.  "I can't see the illegal stuff, Xander."

"None of that is.  That's in another area."  He pulled out a gun and clip then closed the safe door.  "There, okay?"  He found his back holster and put it on, making sure the safety was on.  Then he went back to sitting between Greg and Tim.  Greg looked and pointed at his gun.  "No, those are bad things.  You cannot touch."  Greg scowled.  "They're not bad to me, they can hurt babies.  Not like the monsters your Uncle John told you about."  Eric came back holding out a hand.  He took the gun and put it on top of the entertainment center, well out of reach of the kids.  "Okay.  That'll work and we'll stay in today."

"Thank you."  He looked at the boys.  "Is Ray okay?  He's been sleepy all holiday."

"He also shot up three inches since the day everyone showed up.  Besides he was just up running around in circles trying to chase the cat.  He made Tim dizzy so Tim's making him take a nap."

"That works.  You'll be okay?"  Xander nodded.  "Good.  We've got more patrol cars going by here but no one sitting directly on the house."

"If they come in, they're fucked," he said dryly.  "I'm going to protect the boys like I did Sunnydale.  Nothing gets past me to get to them."

Eric nodded. "Good.  Horatio said he's hitting his house tonight to draw some of the attention off you four.  The rest of us are going to lurk somewhere else too in case it helps."  Xander nodded.  "Thanks, Xander."

"Welcome."  Eric left and Xander looked at the boys.  "Looks like it's just us tonight, boys."  They pouted.  "Tough.  You still love me, even without all the others."  He patted heads, getting a sleepy glare from Ray.  "You're fine, Ray."  He stroked over his hair, letting him curl up on Tim's thigh as a pillow so he could go back to sleep.  He smiled at Tim, who was starting to drift off and then at Greg, who was wide awake.  "We should read to you."  Greg shook his head.  "No?"  Greg slid down and went to the new play toy to play with it.  It was a little house and it had things that made noise.


Horatio smiled as the agent walked into his office.  "Agent DiNozzo, what can I do to help you today?" he asked, shaking his hand.  "None of the rest of your team?"

"No, I ditched them.  We're following up for that one officer's trial."  He handed him the warrant.  "I need to pick up most of the information you have for when we take it to court."

"Of course."  He walked him down to evidence, finding the right boxes.  "It looks like Calleigh's going back over the ballistics."  That got a nod and he carried them that way, letting Horatio lead the way back to ballistics.  "Calleigh?  NCIS is here for their case."

"He's going to need to wait.  I got a match in the system with the same gun, guys."  She smiled.  "Just you, Tony?"  He grinned and nodded.  "Well, we've got a gun match to another case, a homicide.  I pulled it to make sure.  Absolutely the same bullets.  No one's reloaded or they reloaded from the same box."

"That's going to cause a problem.   We've had him in a cell for the last three or four weeks."  Calleigh nodded.  "Well, crap.  Let me tell Gibbs."  He pulled out his cellphone.   "It's me, Gibbs.  Ballistics down in Miami just matched his gun to another case."  He smiled.  "That's what I was going to do.  Want me to ship up the other stuff and call if they need something out of it or not?"  He put it in a corner.  "That works.  I'll hang down here until they either solve it or go cold."  He hung up.  "Okay, I'm all yours."  They both smirked.  "In the metaphorical sense, of course.   Gibbs would growl if I changed teams."

"You're also going to have a problem finding a decent hotel room," Calleigh offered.  "People are starting to move in for spring break."  He smirked at that.  "You came?"

"A few times.  Loved the bikini contests."

"I'm sure you did," she teased.  "Call around and if not we'll see who has a spare room.  You're tolerable at the very least."  He smiled and went to find a phone book to do that from reception.  She looked at him.  "Should we introduce him to Xander?  The boys might love him and Greg would love his hair."

"Only if he likes children.  Which case?"

"The one from this morning."  She let him see.  "Perfect match.  Chips off the ends of the bullets show the same composition.  I'd say from the same box probably."

"So we need to see if there's a link and if he dumped his gun," he said, nodding. "All right.  Tell me when you have something.  Remember to warn him about the Mala Noches," he said quietly before leaving.  He went to email Xander, smiling at the speedy answer.  Apparently he was chatting with Andrew and Tara since he just called him Tara.  He thought it was cute Greg called her Mama too.  She would make a great one.


Xander walked into Horatio's house.  "It's me," he called.

"And you would be?" Tony asked, looking over from the back of the couch.  Xander's gun cleared his holster within a heartbeat.  "NCIS, that makes me a Fed and Horatio offered me his spare room."

Xander stared at him for a minute then put it back.  "I'm Xander."  He waved and walked into the kitchen, pulling down a box.  "Sorry, the boys wanted *this* sort of muffin and I can't remember what brand he uses."

"You have kids?"

"Three unholy terrors."

Tony smiled.  "You left them in the car?"

"They're only a year old, they're in their car seats.  They can't drive yet."  He grinned. "Tell him you can come play with the kids.  The Mala Noches on my street went for a sudden run earlier.  I don't think they're going to come back."  He left, taking the muffin mix with him.  He smiled at the boys.  "Hi, boys.  Daddy stole the muffin mix you guys like."  He drove them back home and put them back into the house, watching as they all headed for the play area.  He shook his head, putting the sealed box onto the stairs so he could follow them. "Sure, we'll do this for now."   He heard movement and looked up, flipping on the intercom he had put in.  "Unless you're already an uncle or an aunt I'm going to castrate you and use your nuts for tiny jewelry.  Your choice."  He walked out, finding a very confused Rick Stetler coming down the stairs.  "How did you get in?"

"Back door, Mr. Harris."

"Huh.  I thought I locked that."  He shrugged.  "Okay.  Just don't break the locks so I can't fix 'em."  He stared at him.  "What did you need this time?"

"What did you do to the thugs this morning?"

"I asked a nearby demon to eat them."  He went back to his play area, smiling at how Tim and Ray were struggling over something.  "Share," he ordered.  Greg pouted when Ray stole it.  "You have to share too, Ray."  Ray pouted but handed it to him.  "Thank you."  He sat down to play with them both, keeping an eye on Tim.  He was staring at the officer, then he cackled and stood up, taking a flying leap onto him, making him shriek.  "Tim, no eating the IAB officer.  He might have some sort of skin disease.  You can only eat the aunties and uncles."  He reached up to pluck him off him.  "Thank you.  Say sorry."  Tim spit.  "Not like that."  Tim spit again then cackled and pounced Greg, making him laugh and follow him back onto the play area.  "Good boy to walk, Greg.  Finally!"  He beamed at the boys, especially Greg.  "Good boy."  Greg waved and went down the slide, grinning at the officer.

"That's a lot better than your brother, Greg."  He glared at Xander.  "You can't make them apologize?"

"Tim will only get more stubborn.  I'll have him apologize in a few minutes, when he's not so happy with himself."  Ray patted him.  "Sorry, am I ignoring you?"  He held up the toy.  "That's right, that's a horsey."  He played the horse around, making him laugh and clutch it to suck on.  "Okay, you do that to the horsey.  I'm sure his ears could use cleaned.  Tim, apologize for pouncing," he called.  Tim spit again then patted Greg on the diaper.  "Yes, he'll tell Daddy Horatio to spank you if you don't."

"Tata," he said, still smiling, waving a hand.

"That was sorry.  That's as close as he's ever gotten yet," Xander said quietly.  "Why else are you here?"

"You had a demon eat them?" he asked, looking confused.

"No, I had one act like he was going to eat them.  He only eats trees."  That just got a nod.  "But he's a big sucker and scary as fuck when you don't know that they only eat trees.  Having an eight-foot seafoam blue thing suddenly standing beside your car means they had to clean the insides."  Stetler walked off, slamming the door behind him.  He shrugged.  "He'll get used to it," he told Ray, who smiled and gave him a kiss before going to the play set to play too.  Tim even shoved him down the slide when he got stuck at the top.  "Thanks, Tim, very helpful.  We'll go make muffins when you're done, boys."


Horatio smiled at Tony when he came back in.  "Settled in?"

"Yup, checked out your cable.  Met Xander, he came over to steal muffin mix.   Got told the boys were in the car.  He said the Mala Noches went for a sudden run earlier so I could come play with the kids if I wanted.  Are they good kids or grabby?"

"They're generally holy terrors," he admitted. "Three boys."  Tony whimpered.  "One's my nephew.  He's got custody while I'm in danger.   How did they go for a run?"

"I don't know."

"I'll ask him.  There's no telling what he did to them this time.  Last time he shot the gas can in one's hand and lit him on fire."

"Is he an officer?"

"No.  He was in private protection."  Tony just nodded once so he called the house.  "Xander?" he asked calmly. "What did yo do?"  He heard the cackle from Tim.  "What did he do?"  He listened, then moaned.  "Thank you. We can do that."  He hung up.   Then he shook his head.  "He's presently trying to disinfect one of them for pouncing an IAB officer who went to bother him."

"If he's not an officer...." Tony started.

"The kids are basically adopted by the whole lab.  Mr. Wolfe?"  He backtracked and came in.  "You weren't here when they were last time.  This is Tony DiNozzo, NCIS out of DC's branch."  They shook hands.  "Ask Xander what he did to the Mala Noches?"

"You know your seafoam blue neighbor?"  Horatio moaned and nodded.  "Well, he can become eight feet tall.  Apparently he asked the guy to scare the crap out of them and they drove off before they got eaten."  He grinned.  "It's just another wacky day in Miami.  Am I helping you?"

"It depends.  Calleigh said that a bullet from our case ended up on a homicide this morning."

"Hmm, not mine.  I had the DUI bastard on the causeway."  He grinned.  "Nice to meet you.  Come bug me if you need to."  He left, going back to his lab.

"I'm going to spank Xander," Horatio decided.   He called Rick.  "What did which boy do?"  He heard the bitter comments.  "That usually means he likes you, Rick."  He hung up on the swearing.  "Tim took a flying leap to pounce him," he muttered, holding his head.

"In DC we go for coffee during moments like this."

"Not a bad idea."  He considered it.  "The Chief would come hunting if I did that."  He nodded up the hall.  "He's been lurking recently."

"I'm sorry.  Our new director does that now and then.  I'm not sure she's not jonsing for Gibbs again."  Horatio gave him a horrified look. "They used to be very close partners from what we've been able to figure out."

"I'm so sorry," he said quietly, cracking him up.  "All right, so dinner tonight with the boys if you want.  I can tell the others as well.  We were going to avoid them because the Mala Noche have seen us going there for a while now and think they're a good target."

"It sounds like Xander's more than capable of handling it himself, Horatio."  That got a nod.  "All right, so, now what?"

"Now, we wait for some information or you can help Calleigh question people.  She should be ready to by now."  He nodded, going to do that.  "Yes, sir?" he asked when his boss walked in.

"Why is NCIS back?"

"They're about to go to trial and needed all the evidence we had.  Calleigh found a new gun match though."

He made a displeased noise.  "We're figuring it out?"  Horatio nodded.  "Has he met the boys?"

"He met Xander when he went to get my muffin mix from the cabinet," he admitted.  "Apparently Xander was proactive in his own protection today and scared some of the Mala Noche off their street."

"Interesting.  How?"

"I'm not fully sure yet myself, sir."

"One of those.  Okay.  You might want to watch out.  There had been a federally hidden project out there that your boy had to help stop," he said gently.  "John Hagen found it, Horatio."  Horatio slumped and nodded.  "Have fun at dinner tonight.  The boys are delightful, even if Rick Stetler does need to see his chiropractor after Tim pounced him and cackled."  He walked out, going back to his rounds.

Horatio called John.  "What hidden project out in Sunnydale?" he asked quietly.  He nodded. "Thank you."  He got into his email, opening the link.  He blinked.  "Oh, crap," he muttered.  Tony leaned in, grinning at him. "You knew?"

"Had someone check to see if he had a file.  Does he often get into that one file?"

"He was using it to get IAB off his back the first time he shot someone."

He nodded.  "We don't care, Horatio.  They were bad guys.  We would've stopped them with prejudice."  He disappeared again.

Horatio closed the window, but kept the email so he could read over it later.  They made it home at a semi-decent hour, finding Xander feeding the boys.  "Food?"

"Enough for everyone.  They wanted the biscuit stuff on top of the steak that I did for Calleigh."  He fed Tim a bite.  "Yes, you have to eat the gravy too, Tim."  He scooped it up and fed it to him again.  Then he grinned at Tony.  "Hi again."

"Hi."  He looked at the boys.  "They're cute."

"That's because they're sitting still.  Greg tried to eat the cat again, Horatio."

"Greg, no eating the cat.  She won't play with you if you eat her."   He got them plates of food, taking over feeding duties.  "You eat, Xander."  Xander dug into his dinner.  "These are Greg, Tim, and my nephew Ray."

"Hi, boys.  I'm Tony."  They all smiled at him.  "Oooooh, that's the look that usually means someone's going to do something mean."

"They give it to the Auntie Calleigh all the time, it means she gets to help with bath time so they can soak her," Xander offered, grinning at him.  "So, how's the case?"

"Good.  Fairly good.  She thinks she knows how the gun got out.  We're going to search down that lead tomorrow."  He settled in to eat.  Ray made baby bird begging noises so he fed him a bite of his biscuit.  Ray beamed and ate it.  "Good boy, Ray."

"They try so hard," Xander teased, cracking him up.  He looked at Horatio.  "How's Stetler?"

"Needed someone to pop his neck.  Did you get Timmy to apologize?"

"After he spit a few times.  He's still using tata as an apology though."  Horatio moaned around his present bite of dinner.  "Did I oversalt to you?"  Horatio shook his head, eating another bite.  "Greg has learned a new word.   We went to the park today with Frank and his wife.  Greg apparently didn't like the police officer watching us.  He spit at him.  When I told him to apologize he made the spitting noise and said 'popo sorry'.  That's all we could get him to do, Horatio."

"Have we been watching MTV?" Tony teased.

Xander nodded.  "Now and then but I think Andrew decided to try to be hip for a night and taught it to him."  He grinned and ate another bite.  "Watch out.  Tim's feeling neglected."  They both smiled at him and he put down the food, deciding to eat it instead of throw it.  "Thank you, Tim."   He finished his dinner and took back feeding duties.

"We'll work on the important apology words this weekend," Horatio promised, looking at Greg.  "It's not nice to spit at officers, Greg.  Even if you don't like them."

"Cracked Frank up.  Said it was better than the last time he heard that, from some girl with a grill in a bad sports car."  Xander shrugged and nodded at the stove.  "Get more if you're hungry, Tony.  We feed the pack well around here.  Ryan said he's getting fat."

Tony got up to get seconds, taking Horatio's plate to dish him some out too.  "Here you go, Horatio.   I think you're amazing, Xander.  I can't handle babysitting more than one.  You handle three on your own."

"After a while you get into a rhythm," he said modestly.

"You'd probably have to," Tony agreed, letting Tim have some of his biscuit since he was begging.  "You do that very well, Tim."  Tim beamed.

"He loves to be read to," Xander offered.  He heard the barely audible growl and looked at Horatio.  "Are you sure I didn't oversalt?"

"It's good, Xander."  He went back to eating.  Calleigh, John, and Ryan all came up, Ryan claiming bath time privileges.  The boys didn't seem to mind and Tony rolled up his sleeves to help.   The boys gave him the royal treatment and he came out soaking wet with bubbles in his hair.  Xander got him a spare t-shirt and a pair of running shorts, then got the boys ready for bed.  John took over for him, shoving him out into the living room.  Horatio smiled at him.  "He's being alpha today."

"I can see that but he's not my pack," Xander called.  "He's from an accessory pack we like to hang with."  John just smirked at him.  "They're my kids."

"Shut up, Xander, or maybe we'll ask Tara to give them a little sister."

"Then Greg would never let her go and Tim would smother his sister to death," he said dryly, sitting down across from Horatio.   Calleigh giggled.  "He would."

"He would.  Tim would worship her belly too.  She'd always have Tim on her.  How many baby hickeys did she go home with?"

"Ten, twelve, something like that," Xander admitted.  Tony snickered at that.  "They still kiss by sucking.  Tim loved the Auntie Tara enough to get her cheek, neck, and upper chest."

"I've liked many girls that way," he teased back.  Xander cackled and nodded he had too.  "Are you dating?"

"Not hardly.  They're not real fond of babysitters keeping them overnight, no matter what Wolfe said."

"It's only Eric they don't like," Ryan offered, heading for the kitchen.  "Anyone else getting food?"  Calleigh headed that way, helping him clean up the leftovers and the kitchen.

"Ryan, if you want to I still haven't gotten all the pine needles out of the play area," Xander offered.  "That way you can clean more stuff out of your thoughts."

"I wouldn't mind.  I'm trying to forget the skankiest of brats that I went out with last night."  He shuddered and cleaned harder, taking the broom from Calleigh to do that too.  "Thanks, Xander."

"Welcome.  Remember what I used to date, man."

"I got an email from Cordelia," Horatio said, looking at him.  Xander grinned and went back to chatting with Tony.  Horatio stomped down on that spot of jealousy that kept trying to come up.  Finally it snapped and he got up, hauling Xander up.  "Excuse us for a few minutes, guys.  Need to share something that I got today.  Plus talk about demons scaring gang members."  He walked Xander back into their bedroom, pulling him closer to kiss him.  "My mate," he growled in his ear.  "Not his."

Xander looked at him. "That means you'd have to move in, Horatio, permanently.  Plus you'd have to be here for me and them.  I'm not putting up with what I did from Anya."  He sat down on the bed and Horatio pounced him back onto it, growling while he kissed his way around Xander's throat.  He flipped them over, staring down at him.  "My pack, Horatio.  My pack and you're *my* mate.  Not the other way around."  He stared down at him, seeing when he realized it.  He got a small shift in response so he went to woo his mate, making him all too happy to have him.

John looked at the bedroom then at Tony.  "Sorry, they've been slowly working that out.  Apparently you made Horatio snap his patience."

Tony grinned.  "I make many men jealous."  He got a laugh from Calleigh.  "I have.  I've been the cause of three men proposing too."  He grinned.  "I should probably go back to Horatio's for the night."

"I'll drive you, Calleigh promised.  "Then I'll let my own jealous person take me to dinner."  John looked at her.  "You are."

"I can do that," he agreed casually.  He followed them home, locking the door behind him.  He knew Ryan wasn't going to interrupt and he'd get the boys if they tried to interrupt.  Apparently it took a Tony to make Horatio wise up and act.




Xander walked into the boys' kindergarten class.  "What's up?" he asked, sitting in front of the teacher.

"Your boys...  We don't usually let twins in the same class, Mr. Harris.  There's a reason for that."

"How does that work since you only have one kindergarten class?"

"That's why they're together.  I'm going to have to insist on some changes being made.  The boys...  They were rude, they were obnoxious, and they were speaking in twin's speak."

Xander looked at the boys.   "You were talking in what during class?"

"We were in the very back and we were bored," Tim defended.

"Elven," Greg said at the continued stare, ducking his head.  "Sorry, Daddy."

Xander sighed and looked at Ray.  "You want to add anything?"  He shook his head.  He looked at the teacher again.  "First all off, they're five.  Of course they're obnoxious.  That's the definition of children."

"I'm sure their mother..."

"Is dead," he said blandly, glaring at her.  She backed down at that.  "As for them talking in Elven, one of their favorite uncles taught them last year.  We made him work on their English skills before he could teach them that or Klingon, and now he's teaching them dwarf via audio mail."  She glared at him.  He shrugged.  "We're a lot of geeks.  I'm sure you've had us before."

"They need drugs!"

"They do not need drugs.  They're normal little boys.  Even their doctor said so.  Greg's the only hyper one and he's under good control as long as you don't make him sit down all day, don't take his soda for lunch from him, and don't take away his books.  The same as when you take Tim's books from him he will growl and possibly hit.  They're brilliant little boys.  Their daycare tested their IQ.  Greg came out at 201?" he asked him, getting a nod.  "Tim got 198 and Ray came out the lower one at 179."

"I do better next time," Ray promised.

Xander kissed him on the head.  "You did much better than I did the last time I took one, Ray.  You'll get higher next time because you're still learning.  I'm not disappointed in you and I thought we had this talk the last time we mentioned it.  I'm the only one allowed to have the low self esteem in this family.  Am I clear?"  They all nodded.  "Good boys."  He smiled at her.  "Greg's ADHD is under fairly decent control at the moment.  He does take sodas for it.  Mild caffeine is enough at the moment since he's also in baby karate and soccer with Tim and Ray."  She groaned.  "Then again, I'm a stay at home father and I thought they should've been skipped."

"We don't skip out of kindergarten."

"Is there anything you can actually teach them?  Their uncles have been reading them classical literature since they were three and Tim decided he'd had enough of Thomas the tank engine."  She glared.  "On your list of tasks they should be able to do, is there anything left?"  She pointed at the one on the wall.  "Hmm.  You guys aren't into multiplication or divides yet.  I didn't know you guys had to be able to do that to get out of kindergarten these days."  He looked at them.  "We'll figure it out, boys."  They all smiled.  He looked at the teacher. "Now, is there anything else you want to suggest that I'm going to ignore out of hand?  Greg, stay."

"Bored," he complained.

Xander looked at him.  "We're going to baby karate after this.  Your gi's are in the car."  He handed him the keys.  "Go get it and change."  They ran off to get their gi's to put on.  He looked at the teacher again.  "You've been teaching how long and can't deal with a set of triplets?"  She growled.  "Fine, then let's talk about skipping them up, lady.  It's clear you're not used to dealing with baby geniuses."   He stared her down until she called the principal in.  "Hi, Xander Harris," he said, shaking his hand.  The boys ran in and he had to adjust a belt.  "Better," he said, taking the keys back.  "We closed the car door?"

"And locked it," Tim said proudly.

"Good boys."  He kissed them all on the head.  "You guys stretch in case we're going to be late."  He looked at the principal again.  "You've got a problem with three very intelligent boys in this class.  They can do everything on her wall list but simple, single digit multiplication and division."

"I've heard.  I got their daycare reports."  Xander smiled at that.  "Why send them here?"

"Horatio didn't want to pay for private school.  He thought we could work with the boys after hours to make sure they were getting a good education from here."  He looked back at the boys.  "Stretching does not include pummeling your brother Ray, Tim," he noted.

"He said I looked like a girl on the swing," Tim complained.

Xander held his head.  "Ray!"

"He was wearing his shirt untucked and it flowed out like a dress because it's so big," he said, trying to defend himself.  Xander coughed and they quit fighting.  "It did."

"Okay, no more," the teacher demanded.  All three boys looked at her and snickered.

"I know my cubs know what respect for authority is," Xander said firmly.  They settled down and went back to stretching.  "Sorry."  He looked at the principal.  "Do we keep them here or not?"

"We have a good hands-on, magnet school in the district, Mr. Harris. They do not have a kindergarten but the boys would qualify for first grade.  Especially with their high IQ's and their reports from the daycare.  I can refer the boys there?"

"As long as it's not a stigma school as well."

"Not really.  A few students have went there instead of vocational school but it's not where we put the thugs if that's what you're suggesting."  Xander nodded that he had been.  "No, it's an excellent school.  Very small.  I'll see if they've got spots open for your boys.  They are brilliant.  However the hyperactivity?"

"Greg's the only one with ADHD and he can control it with a bit of caffeine a day."  He looked at the teacher.  "Took his soda?"  She nodded.  "Pity, give it back.  You brought the bouncy, nasty attitude on yourself with that."  She sighed and handed it over.   He looked at the principal.  "I do not like that she did that."

"I agree.  She should have talked to you about that first."

"It's not healthy for him."

"It's diet, lady, and it's what keeps him calmed down."  He patted Greg on the back while he drank.  "Better?"  Greg smiled and nodded, tossing the can into the recycling bin.   "Thank you.  Now, are we done?" he asked the two older people.  They both nodded.  "I'll gladly talk to this other school if you think it'd be better for them.  They'd love the hands- on project part, especially Greg and Tim."  He stood up.  "I've got to get them to self- defense for tots and then home to eat dinner and do homework.  Did they have any?"  She handed over their backpacks. "Thank you, ma'am.  Car, baby karate!"  The boys headed for the car once they had their jackets.  "Thank you."  He followed them, handing Ray the phone.  "Here, you can tell your uncle about the first day.  It's your turn.  Tim got the first day of daycare last year and Greg the first real day of daycare."  He got them buckled into their safety seats and got in to drive, heading to baby karate while Ray babbled at his uncle.

Even though he knew Horatio was groaning and probably had him on speaker since everyone said they were going to be lurking around to see how it had went.  Tim took the phone to add his own two cents about being bored and Greg took it to babble at a higher rate of speed about what he had done all day too.  Including the Elven.  They handed the phone to him.  "Yes, dear?" he said.  He chuckled. "Yeah, she called it twin speak too.  Apparently they haven't had too many sons of geeks.  Karate.  Why?"  He nodded. "I can do that.  Sure, Tony can have our spare room.  Thanks.  See you tonight."  He blew a kiss and hung up.  "Uncle Tony's coming back with Auntie Tara.  He escorted her out of Sunnydale for us after they had to talk to her about stopping the newest try of the Initiative."

"Does that mean Auntie Tara can give me a sister?" Tim asked.

"You'd have to ask her.  Just let me out of range first, Tim.  Because she remembers what holy terrors you three were when you were little."  They all cheered.  "Uncle Andrew's robot with his spirit will be coming sometime soon too I'm sure."  He parked at karate and got them out, letting them run inside and properly bow to the instructor.  "Teacher conference. They were speaking Elven when they got bored.  They stretched during it."  The teacher groaned.  He shrugged.  "They're the son of geeks.  What did you expect?"

The teacher got the boys into their correct postures and let them go with the rest of the class.  Even if Tim did watch the parent who pulled in on a motorcycle.  And Greg hit on the pretty blonde girl in there with them.  And Ray sulked until one of the girls tagged him good then he beat her down when it was his turn.

The End.