Enjoying the Slippery Slope, Until You See the Bottom.
Philip handed over the last child, smiling at his mother. "There, all done," he announced. He took off his vestments and walked out of the kitchen, heading to put them up before they could get grape juice on them again.
Cordy looked down at her son and smiled. "See, that wasn't so bad," she said, wiping some of the water off his forehead. "Won't Uncle Angel be surprised tonight when he gets up." She looked up and smiled at Giles and Xander. "Thanks for letting us do this here, guys. I wasn't even sure it'd go and we were having doubts about getting it done in the first place." She walked out onto the front porch to go sit in the swing.
Oz let Tigger down to crawl around, grabbing her when she immediately went for a knife someone had dropped and not picked up. Doyle grabbed the knife and tossed it in the sink.
"Oh, sorry," Giles said. "I forgot I had dropped that." He looked down at his twins, who were patting each other, then snorted as they ran into each other. "You two are not animals, please act like children."
"They are, that's baby football," Xander said, looking over at Oz, who was sitting down to hold the sleeping Miri. "Guys, let me go get the beach ball and we'll show Daddy Rupert what you've learned recently." He jogged down the hall to his office, coming back with a large ball. He rolled it next to the kids, who chased it, knocking into each other. "See, baby football." He took Miri and headed up the stairs with her to put her down for a nap, ignoring the glare he was getting from Giles.
Oz came over and grabbed the ball, waiting until he had both twin's attention before rolling it at them. They batted it back. "See, they play catch too."
Nick got down to help him play with the kids. "I enjoy your kids," he said after a few minutes, "it's better than trying to want some of my own."
"Hey, you can always babysit. We'd be thankful for the time out of the house." He rolled the ball to Nick. "Or you could just come up and play with them. They could do with soccer lessons as soon as they're old enough."
"That won't be for quite a while yet," Giles said, coming over to take the ball. "Play with it outside, children, not in here."
Oz looked up at him. "Just because you're in a bad mood doesn't mean that the twins can't have harmless fun." He took the ball back and rolled it to Tigger, who grinned and pounded on it a few times before sending it back to him. "Thank you. Yeah, you like this game, huh?"
Giles rolled his eyes and went outside.
Doyle sat down with Benjamin and turned him so he could watch. "When you get older, we'll play these games," he told his son.
Buffy sat down next to him. "That's a good game. I used to play it too. Back when Mom was home all day with me." She wiggled her fingers at her son. "Hi, you. How are we?"
"We're fine. Bit gassy since breakfast, but otherwise good." Doyle looked out the window, then at Buffy. "If ya wanted, you could go wake up grumpy and Spike," he said with a smile. "It's gonna storm soon so they should be able to make it up here."
Buffy looked outside the window and nodded. "Okay. It should be dark enough."
"There's an umbrella in the front closet," Xander told her, pointing behind him, then he caught the ball. "Oops, out of bounds. Instant handoff." He rolled the ball to Blair, who had been pouting because her sister had stolen it. "There we go," he said, ruffling her hair. She grabbed his hand to chew on.
"Wow, teething. What a flashback," Oz noted, shaking his head. "Got to do something about that this time. I can't take too many more sleepless nights."
"We finally figured it out with Miri," Xander reminded him. "I know how we did it so we'll do it with them. Ice pops are great," he told Doyle. "Frozen koolaid in a plastic tube. They can suck on the closed tube until they bite though and then they get a treat."
"Or you can spoon the pieces into their mouths and let them suck on it," Oz told him. "Which is a good dessert."
"I'll have to stop and get some on the way home," Doyle said, tucking Benjamin's shirt back down. "I'd let ya get down and play, but you can't crawl yet."
"Feel thankful," Oz told him, reaching over to pat him on the arm. "Crawling means more vigilance."
"Oh, I remember those days," Xander said fondly. "Waking up to having Tigger staring at you from beside the bed. Having to go save the toilet paper."
"Going to save the phone cord," Oz put in.
Buffy snorted. "Maybe you should have had it cut after what they did," she suggested.
"What did they do?" Doyle asked.
"They called the White House," Xander said, smiling at Tigger. "With a little help from Miri. We found out because a very nice Secret Service Agent came up here to tell us about it. We almost got stormed, but someone recognized baby babble so we got a warning instead."
Sam snapped a picture from the doorway. "This is going to come out good," she said, smiling at them. "All the future town leaders."
Miri walked in behind her auntie and gave her a hug around the legs. "I have nightmares," she said, looking up.
"About what?" Sam asked, reaching down to pick the little girl up. "What did you dream about?"
"Bad guys. They say mean things to me."
"Hmm, did this really happen or was it a dream?" Oz asked, reaching up for her. He let her sit in his lap, giving her a hug. "Was it real or not?"
"I not know," she said, yawning. "Me not nap anymore, daddies."
"Sure. How about you come out and sit with Blair and me?" Sam asked. "We were going to sit on the porch swing and watch the horses play."
Miri looked at Xander, who nodded. "Go ahead. We'll talk about it later." She nodded and pulled her thumb up to suck as she climbed out of her father's lap and took her auntie's hand.
"The Initiative?" Oz asked quietly.
"Probably. I know there's some around." He looked at Buffy, who looked really upset. "Sorry, but it had to be asked.
"No, I know that they did it. It's something that they'd do. They probably want to chip her like they did her friend's mother." She stood up and looked down at the kids. "Doyle, if he ends up special, I want him protected from them. I really don't want to have to pull a Faith and go kill them all. Doesn't mean I won't do it though," she said as she followed Sam outside to go tell them what she knew, just in case.
Oz looked over at Xander. "Do you still worry about her?"
"Faith or Buffy?" Xander asked quietly. "The answer's both by the way." He grabbed the ball from Tigger and rolled it around, watching as she tried to catch it.
Willow looked at the Warden, who was sitting across from her at the table. "I know it's unorthodox, but it's a religious ceremony. I wish to run it, but I'd be willing to let one of your officers in there with us." She held out the knife. "This and a few candles are all I need. It's a blessing ceremony. We do them every so often." Willow wouldn't admit it, but her conscious was now gone. As soon as she had been changed, it had left her. Now she'd be able to do what she should have done a few months ago, she'd free the first woman who had turned her on. And maybe if she was lucky, Faith would slay her for being an unnatural creature.
"I want a written copy of this ceremony, in English, and I'd like to know more of what it's about. Can you give me sources?"
Willow nodded, pulling up her backpack. "It's all in here," she said, holding out one of the books she had 'borrowed' from Giles a few years back. He hadn't missed the soul-restoration spell, and it did read like a blessing. Now.
He read it and nodded, marking the page and putting it in with his papers. "I'll give you my decision in a few days."
"I promise, it won't take that long," Willow said quickly. "Maybe half an hour or so. There's got to be one small cut from each of us. A few candles in specific places. A room that faces west this time."
"We'll see. I judge this all on a case by case basis, Ms. Rosenburg. I'll call you with my decision." He stood up and walked out with the book, going back to his prison.
Willow carefully rewrapped the knife and put it into her backpack so she could leave. She could wait two weeks. It'd give her enough time to plan an alternate method in case she was denied.
Oz sat down next to Xander and curled up into his side. "Big day, huh?" he asked, staring at the comedy that was on the TV.
"Very. Baptisms all around and Doyle bitching Angel out for being an ass last night."
"Wishing you had done the same to Rupert?"
"Yup." Xander sipped his soda. "How long will it take this time?"
"Pretty long. He thinks you humiliated him in front of others," Oz told him, rubbing down his thigh. "How you feelin' otherwise? I noticed your frequent trips upstairs."
"I'm mid-cycle and I'm going heavily this month," Xander told him. "It'll slow down again tomorrow."
"Tomorrow, could I nag you about something?"
"Sure. Why not do it now?"
"Because you're uber-hormonal and I'd like to not get jumped on again."
"Ah. I won't do that."
"Voc school," Oz said.
"I'm thinking about it," Xander admitted. "They didn't want me the last time I applied though."
"But now, you wouldn't be fighting for some other kid's spot. They have so many spots held for adult students, ones who are out of school." He looked up. "They've got twenty programs," he offered.
"What about Law School? If you're going, I'm going to need to work."
"I put in an application," Oz said. "Now all I have to do is take my LSAT's and wait for a letter."
"Cool." Xander reached around and gave him a hug. "I know you'll get in. You're the smart type, just what they're looking for."
"Maybe," Oz said, leaning more into the warm body. "So you saved Spike last night by feeding him?"
"Ethan and I did," Xander whispered. He looked over his shoulder at the door to the library, which was closed. He looked back down at Oz, who was smiling. "I see you understand?"
"Yup. I wouldn't want to be on the end of that tirade either."
"Which?" Giles asked as he opened the library door. "I thought I heard Ethan's name mentioned."
"Nope," Oz said. "We were talking about plans for this fall. If I go to Law School, I'll need Xander to start working again. My financial aid and your paycheck aren't going to be enough."
"I'm sure he'll find something decent by then to do." Giles walked back into the library, missing Xander mimicking his words.
Oz squeezed Xander's thigh. "As long as it's not stripping, I could probably handle it," he whispered. Xander nodded. "Thanks."
"Not like I can go back there anyway," Xander reminded him. "Not after I tried to save everybody."
"You could work in the porn store this summer," Oz offered. "There's a sales position open. All you'd have to do is man the register."
"I could do that," Xander agreed. "Minimum wage?"
"Little higher. Seven an hour." He looked up and grinned. "With a bonus since you're sleeping with the owner."
"Cool," Xander said, leaning down to get a kiss.
"Take that upstairs, boys. I don't need the distraction tonight."
Xander groaned. "He's worse than a father tonight." He shrugged and turned off the TV but Oz didn't move. "Don't want to go upstairs with me?"
"You're bleeding," Oz pointed out. "If I touch you sexually, I'm going to end up trying to bite you because of the blood."
"Shoot." Xander got comfortable again and turned back on the TV, getting the end of the commercials he hadn't been paying any attention to. He shrugged. "Next week maybe."
"Definitely," Oz promised him. He looked up. "I'm sorry I forgot your...." A hand went over his mouth. "Okay," he mumbled. "Forget it."
"Thanks." Xander got more comfortable, pulling away some so he could stretch out, but he patted his stomach, letting Oz know that he was welcome to stretch out on him.
Oz stretched out as best he could, wrapping his arms around Xander's waist. He'd get him something nice to make up for the mistake.
Oz's eyebrow went up as a semi-familiar woman walked up to his lover in the store and hugged him. He stepped away, knowing that Rupert didn't like to be seen with him in public, he was still very afraid of what people would think. Not that everyone in town didn't know, but it was Rupert's one allowed denial.
"Oh, how is your man?" she gushed, looking around. She wiggled her fingers at Oz, who waved back. "Where's the other one?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Giles said, giving her a smile. "I've not had another lover in many years."
She bit her lip for a second. "I'm sorry, the rumor is that you've been seeing that handsome young man, the one with the daughter, for a few years now."
Giles shook his head, still smiling. "We're friends and we live together, but we're not seeing each other. It's more a matter of economics."
"Oh, I guess I can see that." She smiled again. "Oh, well. I'll see you at the school board meeting tomorrow I expect." She waved at Oz again and then walked away.
Oz stepped closer. "You'd better be thankful Xander's half the store away," he said quietly. He walked around his lover, going to find something for Xander's belated birthday present.
Giles glared at his back, not knowing what he was so upset about. He smiled at Xander as he walked around a corner. "There you are. All set? Oz just walked off."
"Yeah, I saw him turn the corner." Xander looked at the cart. "That won't last us more than a few days," he told him, "and none of it's on the menu I planned."
"You planned one?" Giles asked, pushing the cart back toward the meat section. "When?"
"Last night, that's why I asked you if you wanted chicken this week."
"Oh. I'm sorry. Let's see what you've got planned and we'll arrange to have these some other time."
Xander glared at Giles as he walked away, mentally counting to one thousand before he threw a fit. He checked around, but Oz was still off somewhere else so he was on his own right now. He followed Rupert to the meat section, going to pick up what he had actually planned for them all.
Oz tapped on Xander's office door, walking in at the grunt. "I know it's late, but...."
"You didn't have to," Xander said, spinning around to look at him. "I expected that you forgot or were too busy. I figured that you'd make it up to me sometime."
"Well, now I have," Oz said, handing over the small package. " It's not real expensive, but it's something that I know you'd enjoy having once you started to work again."
Xander carefully opened the pretty paper and smiled, his whole face lighting up, as he saw the watch. "How'd you know I lost mine?" he asked, hopping up to hug Oz, staring at the name over his shoulder. "And it has an alarm?"
"Yeah, I thought it'd be kinda handy." Oz pulled back. "You like it?"
"Love it," Xander told him, giving him a kiss. "This is a great present, Oz, and something that I actually need and wanted." He grinned. "I forgive you for missing my birthday now."
Oz nodded. "Thanks. I really don't have an excuse, not a good one. I marked it in my dayplanner and on all my calendars too. I won't forget next time. I promise." He patted the side of Xander's face, letting his hand rest there. "Thanks for forgiving me," he said.
"Welcome. For this, I'd forgive you a lot of things." He gave him another kiss and sat down, taking out the instructions. "Come help me program this thing."
"Sure." Oz closed the door and sat down with him, helping him program his new present.
Giles looked over at what Xander was carefully putting away, giving it a curious look. "When did you buy a watch?"
"I got it for my birthday. Oz got it for me," Xander said, giving him a smile. "He forgot but he made it up with a great present." He smiled at Oz, who was already in the bed. "I put in an application at the store today."
"Cool. I'll have the manager approve it right away so you can start next week." Oz patted the side of the bed. "Come on, I'm cold without you two warm guys."
Xander hopped over and crawled in beside him, snuggling up to him. "Thank you. This has been an okay day because of you." He gave him a squeeze. "You nap, I'll be your warm spot."
"Cool." Oz rolled into his body, getting comfortable.
Giles finished his nightly routine and climbed in behind Oz, wrapping an arm around him. "Good night, boys."
"Night, Giles," Xander said. He kissed the tip of Oz's nose, earning a pinch. "Hey!"
"No nose kisses. You're not a cat," Oz yawned. He hid his face in Xander's neck. "Kiss Rupe's nose."
"He's too far away."
Giles rolled onto his back. "It's all right, you two can play all you'd like."
"Not playing, sleeping," Oz said, wiggling his hips back until they connected with the older man's side. "Night."
"Good night, Oz." There was a pause. "Xander, you too." He turned off his light, letting the room get dark.
Oz opened his eyes and looked up at Xander's face but not even his enhanced werewolf sight could catch a hint of emotion on it. He closed his eyes and went to sleep quickly, tired out by the emotions of the day.
Xander looked on the dresser, then got down on the floor to look under and around it. "Oz," he called. "Have you seen my watch?"
"Did you lose it already?" Giles asked.
"I always put it in the same place," Xander said, glaring at him. "I didn't lose Oz's present a week after he gave it to me."
"I'm sure it's somewhere," Oz told him, giving him a pat on the hip as he walked past. "You sure you put it back on after dishes?"
"No, but I can check there too." Xander followed Oz down the stairs and into the kitchen, going to the sink, but his watch wasn't there either. He looked around the kitchen, retracing his steps from the last time he knew he had been wearing it, when he had put it back on after doing dishes. He ended up back in the bedroom a few minutes later, staring at the trash can beside the bed for some reason. He walked over to check it, just in case, and there it was. Lying in a pile of used tissues.
"If you didn't want it," Oz said from the doorway, "all you had to do was tell me."
"No, I want it," Xander said, wiping it off. "I love this watch, Oz, I'd never throw it away."
"Hey, easy, joke," Oz told him, walking over to give him a hug. "I'm sure it was an accident. It fell off your wrist or something." He looked into the deep eyes and saw the pain in them. "I know you wouldn't have thrown it away," he said, pulling his head down to kiss him on the top of the head. "It was a funky accident of some sort." He stepped back. "Want to drive to town with me for your interview? I have to hit the bookstore to buy a book I didn't get at the beginning of the semester."
"Sure." Xander put his watch on and checked to make sure the band was on tight enough and that it'd stay closed. He grabbed his keys off the dresser, looking at the nest he had made in them for his watch. He shook his head and followed Oz out to his SUV so they could go to town.
Xander walked up onto the porch to sit next to his daughter. "Miri," he said quietly. "Did you touch Daddy's watch last night?" She shook her head. "Are you sure? I won't be mad if you tell me the truth."
"It was an accident," Oz said as he walked past them.
Miri looked at her father and shook her head. "Me like your watch but me no touchie it." She gave his arm a hug. "You mad?"
"No, sweetling, I'm not mad," Xander said, giving her a hug. "I just wanted to make sure that you hadn't touched it." He patted her on the head. "Why don't you go read?"
"Because Daddy Rupert in the library and he no let me in there."
"Oh. Okay. Why not go read the books in your room? You have lots of them."
"I read them all, Daddy. We go to bookstore too?"
"Tomorrow," he promised her. He kissed her cheek and let her go, watching as she trudged down onto the lawn. "Why don't you go play with Bump, he hasn't been ridden recently."
"Okay," she said, cheering up immediately.
Xander got up and went into the house, stopping to get himself some juice on the way to the living room.
"It was an accident," Oz said from the table. "I'm sure of it." He looked up as Xander walked over. "The kids didn't do it, we'd have noticed if Miri snuck into our room last night." Xander nodded and sat down. "I'm sure it just fell off."
"Then why did I make my usual nest for it in my keys and change?" he asked. "And I wasn't near Giles' side of the bed last night."
"Rupert wouldn't have done it and neither did I," Oz told him. "It was an accident, let it go. I'm not upset. Not unless it happens again." He flipped his book open again. "I've got to do this," he said after a few minutes of silence.
Xander stood up and walked out, heading to where he had been planning on going. The living room, for the video camera. It was a good thing no one ever went into his closet for anything anymore. He'd find out who did it quick enough. He carried it upstairs and set it up, letting it film through the frosted glass of his door. Then he lay down on the bed, after taking off his watch, and let it film. He'd find out who did it.
Three days later, Xander checked for his watch and it was missing from the top of the dresser again. He walked over to the trashcan beside Giles' side of the bed and fished it out, cleaning it off as he went to get his tape out and watch it. What he found an hour later didn't really surprise him, it only surprised him because it was so blatant. He carried the tape into the library and shut Giles' programs down and logged him off the computer while his back was turned. "I'd like to know why you keep throwing my watch away," he said calmly.
"What?" Giles looked past him. "Xander, I needed those open." He reached for the computer but his hand was slapped. "Ow! What's gotten into you?"
Xander held up the tape. "Why are you throwing my watch away, Giles? Is it because you forgot my birthday and you're jealous because Oz admitted it? Why?"
"I'm not. What's that? Another one of those horrid tapes?" He pushed Xander out of the way and restarted the computer. "At least you saved my programs."
Xander glared at him. "I have you on tape doing it," Xander told him, his voice dropping well into the icy ranges. "Why do you keep doing it?" When he didn't get an answer, he screamed the question, making Giles look at him. "Yes, hello, I am still here! Why? Give me a goddamned answer or I'm ...."
"Watch your language," Giles yelled back. "I'll not have that in front of the children."
Xander looked around. "I don't seem to see them right now, you're not off the hook here." He waved the tape in the air again. "I caught you this time. I want to know why and I want to know now!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about but I don't want you taping us without our permission."
Xander nodded. "Fine, you want to play it that way. You lose." He walked out and headed up to their room, slamming the door and locking it just in case someone decided to care about what he was doing. He pulled everything of his down and packed it in his suitcases so he could bring it down to the other room. He heard the lock jiggle and snorted. "Go away! I'm not in the mood for assholes."
"Watch the language," Oz said as he walked in, pocketing the key. "What are you doing?"
"I'm packing. You see, I can't be in the same room with an asshole who keeps doing shit to my things."
"Language," Oz warned, leaning against the door. "You're not leaving."
Xander tossed over the tape. "Rewind that by about a minute and a half, let's see what you say then." Xander grabbed his bags and pushed past Oz, going down to the other open room. He opened the door and shoved his things in, then closed the door again. He walked back to his old room and grabbed his pillow and a few spare sets of sheets, going back down to his new room. He slammed this door and locked it too, just because it made him feel better.
Oz looked at the tape in his hand and sighed, going down to watch it. A few minutes later, he was in the library. "Giles, would you like to explain what's on this tape?" he asked calmly, pulling the plug to the internet connection.
"I need that," Giles said stiffly. "What is it with you boys today?"
Oz forced him to turn around so he could look at him. "You took Xander's watch, the one I gave him for his birthday, and you threw it away. Twice. Why?"
"I didn't." The tape was put in front of his face. "I do wish you wouldn't do that," he said, pushing it away.
"Yes, but you see, you're on here. You, removing the watch from the dresser and throwing it away. Why?" Oz was trying to stay calm but it wasn't going to last much longer if this kept going. "Giles?" he asked quietly when he hadn't gotten an answer. "I should tell you that Xander's moved out again."
Giles snorted. "He's being emotional. He'll come back in a few days."
"No, he won't," Xander said from the doorway. "Any word on when my second interview is?"
"Yeah, tomorrow. You got everything you need?"
"Yeah, until I'm ready to move over to the trailer." He looked at Giles. "I can't be with a person who doesn't respect me or my things."
"Who taped whom?" Giles said coolly.
"Who stole," Xander countered. "I can't forgive that." He looked at Oz. "I'd like to continue this but I'm not up to it right now. I'm going to be in my office." He turned and walked away.
Oz slapped Giles as hard as he could. "You shouldn't do that to Xander. Just because you didn't want to get him anything doesn't mean that I didn't want to get him anything. He liked my present." He walked out.
"Drama queens today," Giles muttered as he replugged in his connection. He tried to log back on but the computer said he wasn't getting a signal. "Bloody hell, now what? Oz?"
Oz answered the phone on his way home, smiling at the voice on the other end as the speaker engaged. "Hey, Howie, how's it going at the store?"
"Well, it's okay except for your mate's absence record. Hundred percent so far."
Oz frowned. "When did he get called? I know he wants to work. He's looking forward to it."
"Yeah, well, we called two days ago and he hasn't shown up yet. I'm about to give up on him."
"No, give him tomorrow. I'll tell him myself tonight. We've had a communication breakdown at home and I'm guessing this is a casualty. Tomorrow when?"
"Noon. Until about nine."
"Cool. I'll tell him. Thanks for calling, Howie. I'll fix this." He hung up and took the turn to go home, trying to think about this problem rationally. He parked and walked into the house, finding Xander making himself a sandwich. "Hey," he said, pulling him over to the table. "I thought you wanted to work at the store?"
"I do! I'm waiting for a call back." His shoulders slumped. "I'm not getting one, am I?"
"No, you got one two days ago." He saw Xander's eyes turn cold as he looked toward the library. "Let me handle it. You have to be there tomorrow at noon until about nine. Got it?" Xander nodded. "Good. Make me a sandwich while I go chew him out?"
"Chew who out?" Giles asked as he walked in, glass in hand.
"You," Oz said. "Why didn't you tell Xander that he had a job?"
"I must have forgotten." He poured himself some water and looked at the younger men. "I'm sorry, I must have forgotten," he repeated.
"I bet," Xander snorted, going back to finishing his sandwich. "Oz, ham okay or did you want the last of the turkey?"
"I thought I ate that at lunch," Giles said, walking out.
Xander stiffened and grabbed the edge of the counter, squeezing it to try and calm himself down. "I won't hurt him," he promised Oz when he came over, "but I'm not sane at the moment."
"Okay. I'll make my own sandwich. You want this fight?"
"Yeah, I want it," Xander said, putting down the knife in his hands as he headed for the library. "Giles!" he said coldly, getting his attention. "You knew how much getting a job meant to me. Why did you keep it from me?"
"Why must you be so melodramatic?" he complained. "I simply forgot."
"Yeah, sure you did," Xander said, crossing his arms across his chest. "You conveniently forgot that I had been waiting on that call for almost a week, right?" Giles nodded. "Bullshit."
"Why do you persist in swearing?" he asked. "You know you're not supposed to be doing that."
"Gee, *dad*, but I don't think it's any of your concern. Why didn't you tell me I had a job? I could have lost it!"
"I didn't think that you needed another job peddling yourself," he said coldly. "All you can do is peddle your flesh?"
Xander laughed. "Funny, but I'm only a register guy this time. But, if I went back to stripping, I'd still be making more than you." He turned and walked out to go find Miri. "Honey," he called, walking out to where she was riding around the paddock. "Daddy has a new job starting tomorrow."
"Good job," she said, clapping. "Where?"
"At Daddy Oz's store. I'll be gone from about lunch time until after you go to bed." She pouted at him. "I know, but it's not all the time. Just a few days a week. Would that be okay?" He leaned against the rail.
"Sure. As long as you come back." She looked down at Bump, who was bending down to nibble on some grass. "You no eat, we ride," she said, pulling on the reins. He started forward slowly.
"Honey, give him a break for the rest of the day. Ride Strife or one of the others. Steel maybe. Oz hasn't been riding today."
"Going to do that now." Oz held out his arms and Miri launched herself into them. "I think Bump's pretty tired right now. Why don't you unsaddle and bridle him and we'll let him roam in the paddock all by himself, okay? You can ride in the field beside the house with me." She nodded and wiggled to get down, climbing through the slats of the fence to do as her father said. "Good girl," Oz praised. He looked at Xander, but he was gone. "Where did Daddy go?"
"To his room," Sileya said as she walked out of the barn to join them. "Is everything all right?" She reached over to pat Bump's nose. "You're tired," she said, giving him a smile. "I'll go get you some water and we'll do cool downs." She hurried back into the barn and came back with two buckets of water and a leash over her shoulder. "Miri, from now on? Don't let him get this tired. It's not good for him, okay?"
Miri nodded. "Okay. We only ride for a few minutes though." She took the leash and clipped it to his halter, leading him around and letting him get a drink each round, watching him carefully. "Daddy, call the vet vet," she called. "He not feel good."
"I will," Oz said. He looked over at Sileya, who was nodding. "Any of the others?"
"Strife's fine, I was just grooming him. I'll check while you get the vet out here." She walked back into the barn, making sure of the other horses health.
Oz walked up to the house and grabbed the first phone he came to, hitting the auto dial for their veterinarian's office.
Oz watched as Xander left for work, then turned to look at Giles. "You screwed up and you'd best fix it," he said quietly. "I'm tired of this."
"Xander's being too emotional right now. As soon as he's calmed down from his cycle, I'll talk to him and make him see reason."
Oz shook his head. "He's not in his cycle right now," he told him. "You're an ass though." He walked outside, going to check on the horses. He came running back up a few minutes later and grabbed the phone. "Bump's gotten worse," he said, tapping his foot. "Hi, this is Daniel Osbourne again. Yeah, he's gotten worse. No, he's lying down and sweating. Please? How soon?" He checked his watch. "Okay. I'll be here. What should I do?" He nodded. "I can do that." He hung up and ran back out of the house, going to help his horse.
Giles shook his head and went back to his research. "They're the boy's horses," he reminded himself. "It's up to them to take care of them."
Oz walked in and put a piece of tape over the kitchen faucet. "No more using the water to do anything except shower and the toilet," he told his family, who was eating take out tonight. Thankfully, Xander had stopped on his way home to get supper for them. "We've got a contaminated line. The vet's called the city and they're coming out tomorrow."
"What about with a filter?" Sileya asked.
"Nope, not at all until they figure it out. Bump's not sick, the water poisoned him. We've got to go out tonight and get some other water."
Xander stood up and pulled his keys out. "Come on, my truck's the best to get water in." He walked out, followed by Oz. He climbed in and started it as Oz shifted things in the back. "He'll be fine," he called.
"I know," Oz said as he got in and slammed the door. "I'm worried about the rest of us though."
"If we're not already sick then we're fine," Xander told him. He started down the driveway and onto the road. "How much water are we getting?"
"We need to go to the lumber yard. I called them before I came into the kitchen. They have big drums for sale."
"Okay. As long as it'll fit. If not, we'll have to rent a trailer."
"Yeah, we might," Oz said as he relaxed. "Why did you come home early tonight?"
"Power lines got cut by that church group. Howie sent me home."
"Good. Well, not good but a good reason to come home early."
"I know," Xander told him, reaching out to pat him on the leg. He turned onto the main road and sped up, heading to get them some clean water.
Xander slowly pulled around the house, the trailer on the back bumping over the rocks on the lawn. He stopped next to the trailer, as close as he could get to the barn, and got out to help Oz unhitch the trailer. Together, they got the first container inside the barn, and when they came back out, Sileya and Homer were working on the second one. In a few minutes, they had all five in the barn and Sileya was unloading the cases from the back of the truck. Xander tapped one of the plastic water drums like he had been taught and filled a newly scrubbed bucket with the clean water. He let Oz go feed it to Bump while he got water for the rest of the horses. He stopped to pet Strife's nose, making sure he was still all right.
Giles walked into the barn. "Did we really need all this?"
"Yeah, we did," Oz said, handing off his job to Sileya as she walked in. "I brought a bottle of water to be tested at the vet clinic this morning. It's got arsenic and lead in the water. We got the results on the way home."
"No wonder they were so sick," Sileya said quietly, helping Bump drink some of the fresh water. "Any idea why?"
"We ran new lines," Xander told her. "It must be the main line." He looked at Giles. "To answer the question, no this might not be enough if it's the city that's going to fix their lines. We might not have good water for at least a week. There should be enough bottled but not for the horses." He turned back to help Sileya, taking the sponge to hose down Bump's side. "Why did you get sick, guy?"
"He's the oldest," Sileya reminded him. "He's also had a cold recently."
"Forgot about that," Xander admitted. He toweled off the side he had just sponged off, making sure it was dry. "Yeah, you should start feeling better soon." He looked up and saw Oz watching over the door. "We've got it, come out and spell us later?"
"Sure. Yell if you need anything." He left the barn, closing the door behind him.
Xander got up to check on the other horses, especially Steel, who was fragile sometimes, and Rose, the oldest of the horses they had. He checked on the filly they were housing, smiling at the snuffled greeting. "Hi, Caliber. Yes, you're cute. You okay too?" he asked, patting the two-year old on the nose. They had gotten her because one of the town's police officers had inherited her and didn't have a place to put her at his apartment. She was a good girl but not broken in yet. He came back to Bump's side, sitting down behind him. "How we doing?"
"Better. I've given him his latest dose of medicine and he's slurping better at the water." She tipped the bucket up again, letting his head rest on her legs so he could lap at it. "See, we should be fine soon enough."
"Good. Now if only the city will fix their lines. They've got to be ancient to have lead in them."
"It may be a leak and some paint is falling in it," she reminded him.
"Yeah, maybe," he agreed, taking up the sponge to wash the horse down again, making sure he was dry as soon as he was done. "How's his fever?"
She stuck the thermometer into the horse's ear and pushed the button, showing him the reading. "Almost normal."
"Good. Let's hope that all he needs is clean water. The bills for this have got to be atrocious."
"Maybe, but isn't it worth it?" she asked.
"Very worth it, but we don't need another fight. Oh, shoot, I wonder if Oz called Caliber's owner."
"Yes, I heard him earlier. Right after the vet called the city. The vet was going to go around to the other farms and tell them too. Seems there's some people around here who have cows and another farm that breeds hunting dogs."
"As long as everyone's okay," Xander said quietly. He picked up the brush from the low wall behind him and started to work on the dry coat. It twitched under him. "That feels good, huh?" he asked, using gentle strokes.
Xander met the city employees at the back porch and sat down on the stairs, looking up at them. "Bad lines or a leak with paint?" he asked.
"Leak. It's just before the juncture to your land," the water employee, by his uniform, said. "Are your animals okay?"
"They'll be fine with some more good water. We had to import some last night. How long before it's fixed?"
"A week at the most. At least a day of that in which you won't have water."
"We can live with that as long as you fix the lead in the water. We have kids too," Xander told him quietly. "I really don't want them sick either."
"We understand, Mr. Harris, we'll have it fixed as soon as possible. It's a matter of replacing a coupling on the main line. It was fixed back in the sixties with a heavier gauge pipe that had lead paint on it. We'll have to cut into the line and take that piece out to replace it."
"Cool by us. When are you starting?"
"Tomorrow. We have the part on special order." The water employee took off his hat and rubbed across his forehead. "It was on a list of things to be replaced as soon as the city had enough money to worry about it. The part should be in tomorrow or the next day."
"Good." Xander stood up. "Can we help in any way?"
"Not really," the city councilman, who was wearing a suit, said, giving him a smile. "Besides not driving over the pit, you should be fine."
"If we have to, we can park in the field beside the house and walk over," Xander agreed. "We could give you guys food or something if you needed. Or use of the bathroom."
"We might take you up on that during breaks," the water employee said, still smiling. "I heard how good you guys were to your renovation crew and we expected you to be nice to us too, but that's real generous of you." He nodded at Giles as he came out. "It won't take us more'n a week to fix it and most of that's going to be digging and replacing time."
"Good," he said. "So you know what it is?"
"Yeah, we've had that piece on a replacement list for a year or so now. It was next in line to get fixed, after the fountain's lead pipes." The councilman held out a hand. "Thank you for bringing this to our attention and not suing us for this."
"Hey, this stuff happens," Xander told him with a shrug. "Just fix it fast. Like I said, we've got kids." He backed up onto the porch. "I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"Good bye," the water employee said, walking down to his truck, the other man following him.
"We're not suing?" Giles asked quietly.
"No, they were going to fix it, this just became more immediate because of a leak. It's the paint on top of a coupling that fixed the pipes in the sixties. They said we'd have water through most of the fixing but we might have to park in the field." He walked back into the house and grabbed a soda, going out to check on the horses before he went to work.