Xander sat down at the dining room table with Oz and their mid-morning coffee, looking at the brochures spread out around him. "Why are there so many? There weren't this many when we looked into daycare for Miri."
"We decided against a few of these right away. There's only one new one." Oz held up a brochure, showing it to Xander. "I think I want to check this one out first," he said quietly. "I can take them with me daily if I have to."
"But if I take morning classes because Miri has morning classes..."
Oz grunted. "Point. But I'll be here most of that time. You can come pick them up from the daycare as soon as you get off and pick up Miri."
"Oh." Xander took the brochure for the university's daycare program, flipping through it. "It's very education oriented."
"I know, that's what I was worried about. The twin's verbal abilities are below what Miri's was."
"Miri was pushed to use English by Giles," Xander reminded him. "I've been letting the twins learn at their own pace." He put the brochure down. "At least these guys are going to be as close to professionals as we can get."
"True. And if for some reason you needed the afternoon off, Miri could go there too. They even have hours after normal school time for parents who have afternoon classes and kids in elementary school."
"Which is a definite plus." Xander looked at the brochure again. "Can we check them out? Maybe put the kids in there for a day?"
"Yup, and they do take infants over six months old."
"Which really is a plus because most places won't take infants." He put the brochure down. "When can we go check?"
"Tomorrow. I set up an appointment for me to check it after I go register." He reached across and took Xander's hand, patting the back of it. "We'll figure it out. I promise."
"Okay." Xander smiled at him then looked away. "I could hold off school for a while if I needed to," Xander offered.
"Only as a last resort," Oz assured him. "I know you're looking forward to going back." He smiled at his lover. "I know how much school means to you, Xander, I'm not going to make you give it up to keep you at home. I'm not like him."
Xander nodded, putting his hand over Oz's. "I know, but it's strange for me not to have to fight about going back to school."
"Hey, I've never been about that. If you want to go to carpentry classes, I'm all for it." He took his hand back. "We'll work through everything and it'll be okay. We'll plan for everything that we need to."
Xander grinned. "Okay." He looked at his watch. "Um, we've got a pediatrician's appointment in twenty minutes."
"Crap. I'll call Doctor Amri's office and tell them we'll be late. Go get the kids ready."
Xander stood up and Oz watched him walk out. "Yeah, we'll figure everything out," he told himself.
"Kids, we've got to go to town. Are you ready?" Xander yelled from the living room.
Xander carried Blair into the house, letting her slide off his back as soon as they were inside. "There we go," he told her, watching as she walked away to go take a nap. "The shot was not a happy thing for her," he told Oz as he walked in with William. "And how did our little Will take it?" He grimaced. "I can't call him that. It reminds me of Willow."
"Okay. We won't call him Will," Oz agreed. He carried William over to the carrier seat on the table and strapped him in, getting out of Xander's way. "You okay?"
"Little tired," Xander admitted. "Want me to fix supper when it's time?"
"We can do it together," Oz offered. "What should we cook?"
"Um, Chinese delivery?" Xander suggested lightly.
"You're that tired?"
Xander looked down at himself, then shook his head. "I don't feel like eating though."
"Ah." Oz tipped his face up, giving him a kiss. "I'll order, you pay?"
Oz grabbed the phone as Miri ran in. "What do you want for supper?"
"Blair sick!" Miri said loudly. "She be sick and she panting!"
"I'll call the ambulance, you go get her," Xander said, taking the phone to dial it. "Oz, go get her," he said when his husband hadn't moved. "You're faster!"
Oz jogged out, heading up after Miri to get his daughter. Xander dialed the emergency number. "This is the Harris household, out on Guild road. One of our daughters is having a reaction to a shot she got earlier."
"She's not breathing really well," Oz said as he carried her in.
"She's having trouble breathing and our oldest said she threw up." He hung up and stood, letting Oz put her down in his seat. "Put her on her side in case she pukes," he ordered. He walked over and opened the back door, stopping Elizabeth before she could run out.
"We take sissy now!" she demanded.
"The ambulance will. They'll be right here and daddy will bring you while I go with her." He looked over at Oz, who was very pale. "Or I'll take you and daddy will ride with her." He waved at the ambulance as it pulled up, getting Elizabeth out of the way. "Come on, Tigger, get Miri and we'll go. Okay?" Elizabeth ran out of the room, going for her sister. Xander grabbed the diaper bag and slung it over his shoulder, watching as the paramedics came in. "She got her boosters today," he explained. "Take Oz with you and I'll drive myself and the other kids."
The paramedic nodded, helping his partner get Blair settled by bagging her to help her breathe. Oz followed them out, stopping briefly to get a kiss of reassurance from Xander. "Guys," Xander called. "Come on, we've got to go now." He unhitched William and was lifting him when Spike walked into the kitchen. "Blair's going to the hospital."
"I know. I've got the kids. Tigger's agreed that she can't help."
"We should probably take her anyway."
"She's fine," Spike said as he took his namesake. He took the diaper bag too. "Go be with her. I've got the little bits."
Xander nodded and turned, walking out to his car.
Spike looked down at Elizabeth as she came in. "You okay with not going?"
"Sissy be fine," she said, nodding. "I know so. Miri say so, they good."
"Good. Let's go sit and watch TV." He walked her into the living room, settling her on the couch beside him, Miri on his other side. "Yeah, what shall we watch? Miri, get me the remote please." She floated it over. "Thanks. That's a handy gift." He patted her on the head. "What're we watching?"
"Barney?" Tigger suggested.
"No," Miri said, pouting at her. "No silly dinosaur. Watch Sesame Street. If it not on, we have tapes of it."
"Sesame street all right with you?" Spike asked Elizabeth.
She nodded. "Me sing with them too."
Spike turned on the TV and turned it down, then watched as Tigger got up to get one of the tapes to slide in. He changed the channel, making sure the VCR would come on right away.
Xander stood up as the nurse walked out, giving her a smile because she was smiling. "She's okay?"
"Yes, sir, she's fine." She sat down so he did. "She did have a reaction to the shots she got today. It's not very common, but it is known to happen. We've called her pediatrician to tell her and she's already come in to see your daughter." She laid a hand on his arm. "She's fine, Mr. Harris. We've got her stabilized and she'll be able to go home tonight."
Xander hugged her. "Thank you," he said quietly as he pulled back. "Will we have to watch out for any other ones?"
"Yes, you will, and her pediatrician will have to give your daycare provider and the school board an excuse to not have some of her vaccinations. We've got a strong note here in your family's chart, along with which one of the twins it was." She smiled at him, then at Oz as he walked out. "Did your other daughter have problems?"
"No, she was fine," Oz said as he sat down across from Xander. "Blair was the one who got cranky after the shot, Tigger got jumpy and hyper, and anxious about her sister." He looked at Xander. "She's breathing really well," he offered. "Want to come back?"
Xander nodded, standing up. He followed Oz back there and immediately hugged his daughter as hard as he dared.
"Me fine," Blair said, patting him on the back of the head. "No more shots, ever," she said cheerfully as her doctor walked in.
"Only a few of the required ones," Doctor Amri said, her eyes crinkling at the sides. "Xander, sit, how are you feeling?"
"I'm much stronger," he said quietly, hopping up to sit on the end of the bed, rubbing his daughter's leg. "We're all okay at home, except for her."
"Spike's watching them," Oz told her. "He's an old friend." He looked at Xander, who looked embarrassed. "I think he demanded the right." He looked down at his daughter. "One more hour of this and then we can take you home. Okay?" She nodded, curling up on her side to take a nap.
Doctor Amri smiled at them. "I'm glad it worked out all right, boys. How's Miri? She wasn't happy when I talked with her earlier."
"We've had some stress in the house," Xander admitted. "She's sensitive enough to have picked up on some of it. And overheard a lot more that we didn't want her to hear."
"I was wondering where Mr. Giles was. Is he all right?"
"Don't know," Oz told her. "He left again, ran out of the house like we were going to beat him for his latest crap."
She nodded, looking every bit like the wise teacher. "I heard about some of that from Miri. Is everything okay out there?"
"Mostly," Xander agreed. "Oz and I are good, it was all Giles that was causing the stress."
She shrugged. "Sometimes that happens." She checked to make sure the curtain was closed and that no feet were under it. "She thought you might be wanting to have another one," she said quietly.
Oz shook his head. "No. Not gonna happen. Ever probably."
"Yeah, I don't want any more. I have enough to satisfy me," Xander said, patting Blair's leg again.
"That's good," she said, smiling at them. "You might want to talk to her though. She said she wants another brother." She waved at Blair and walked out.
Oz looked at Xander. "You want this one?"
"Yeah, I probably should. She seems to take these things better from me." Xander stroked his daughter's ankle some more and got kicked for it. "Okay, I'll leave you alone."
She smiled at her fathers. "Good, me nap. We get supper on way home?"
"I'll call Spike and see if Blair came back in time to cook for the kids," Oz said, walking out of the room.
"Daddy, me fine," Blair sighed, closing her eyes again. "You not have to stay."
"But I want to stay," he told her, pulling her up for a hug. "You sleep," he told her, covering her back up. "I'm gonna be right here."
"'Kay. Me get story?"
"Sure. I'll read all of you guys a story tonight."
"Fank you," she said through her thumb, going back to her nap.
Xander watched her, alternating with watching the monitors when he had to look away.
Xander walked in with Blair attached to his back again, but made it all the way to the living room before he had to drop her this time. Oz put her down on the couch and tucked her in, patting her on the head before making sure Xander was comfortable in his chair. "I'm gonna go check on the kids. It's too quiet." He started with the playroom and then headed upstairs. He came down for the camera and went back upstairs, coming back down a few minutes later. "Got him. This is the film that can get Spike, right?
Xander looked up and nodded. "Cute?"
"Very. Miri had him pinned down and was laying on his stomach, her butt across his shoulder. Tigger had him pinned by the free arm. He couldn't move. He's awake though." He looked down at Blair. "Want to have your story tonight or tomorrow?"
"'Morrow fine," she said, nodding. "Me go sleepies with Unclie Spike too?" Oz shrugged so she got up and ran up the stairs to find them.
Oz flopped down on the couch and patted his stomach. Xander curled up with him, putting his head over Oz's chest. "That was close," he noted.
"Yeah, it was," Xander sighed. "Fortunately she was behind on her shots too. Just a little younger and it could have been much worse."
"True," Oz agreed. They were quiet for a few minutes then Oz stroked through Xander's hair. "Want me to fix you a sandwich?"
"No thanks, I'm not hungry." He looked up. "That was too close, Oz, I don't like hospitals."
"Me either," Oz reminded him. "We've spent too much time in them recently." He smoothed down the hair he had made stand up. "Why don't you go take a shower and I'll be up in a minute. I need to eat something before my stomach eats the rest of me." Xander grinned faintly as he got up, going to their room. Oz cleaned up Blair's happy meal mess then went to fix himself something to eat.
Xander ran into Spike in the hallway, giving him a smile. "Thanks for feeding the kids for me," he said quietly. "They in bed?"
"Yeah, all but Miri. Her blasted cat's curled up with her in mine."
Xander chuckled. "Move the cat and she'll follow. Want me to do it?" he asked at the pissed look.
"Nah, that cat's got another thing comin', soon." He looked around. "Where's Oz?"
"Downstairs. Blair got dinner on the way home but we decided not to eat then. He's getting himself something."
"Ah. Go to bed, whelp," he said as he walked past him. "I nicked the twenty from his wallet."
"Okay," Xander said through a yawn, going in to take his shower.
Spike found Oz building the perfect sandwich and stopped to look at the contents. "Preggers are you?" he asked lightly.
"No, starving and craving. I get like this before I change." He looked out the window. "Thank God for longer summer days," he said as he took a bite. "I still have an hour."
"Your mate's up takin' a nap. Miri's gonna have to be moved. Want me to stay another night since Blair hasn't come back yet?"
"Yeah, if you don't mind."
Spike snorted. "Mind gettin' away from the poof for a few days? Not hardly." He grinned. "'Sides, maybe we can play some tag later."
"You and Xander?"
"No, git. You and me." He walked out, very happy.
Oz carried his sandwich up the stairs, going to check on Xander, who was sleeping all curled up on the bed, around his cane. Oz shrugged off the image of it being Spike in that bed and laid down behind him, taking his last bite so he could wrap his arms around his lover's body. "You be good tonight," he whispered.
"Am," Xander complained. "Always good." He rolled over, cuddling up to his Oz. "Night."
"I've got to go out in about forty minutes, but I can be the comfy pillow until then."
"'Kay, wake me up then. I'll come watch. Camera?"
"We can do without it."
"I fixed it," Spike said from the hallway. He brought in the fussy baby. "Don't know what's wrong with this one."
"Cuddle him," Oz suggested. "He likes it. That's his 'I need holding and attention' cry."
Spike hesitantly put the baby against his chest and the baby started to coo again. He looked a little panicked but held the baby tighter. "He's odd."
"Very," Oz agreed, looking past him to where Arwynn was going back to her room. "Did you bring the Miri with you?" he called out.
The cat glanced contemptuously at him then kept walking. It only took a few minutes before the sleepwalking Miri caught her and picked her up by the middle to give her a hug. "Me kitty," she sighed, walking back to her room.
Spike snickered. "At least she stays in now."
"Not always," Oz told him seriously, "which is a very good reason for the keypad lock. Thanks for fixing the camera."
"Figured you'd get home too late to do it, even with leaving at two. It's good that you have a big umbrella, mate."
"Hospitals take forever," Oz sighed, agreeing with him. He started to scratch his arm, frowning at it. "Xander, I've got to go down now." He slid out from under the pliant body, jogging down to his habitat for werewolves, his clothes going into the special werewolf-proof locker. He checked the door to make sure it was closed and locked, then walked over to where the biggest tree was, sitting down underneath it to look up at the camera. "I love you," he said as he started to feel the fur sprouting.
Up in the house Xander wiped off his cheeks. "He tells me that every time," he explained at the worried look. Xander sat down on the chair in front of the monitors, watching as his lover finished his change and started to sniff for another presence.
Xander looked up from taking down his latest molds and caught the letter Oz was tossing at him. "What's this?"
"From the film company you occasionally work for. I think they want to know if you're writing something for them." He sat down next to his lover, looking at the molds. "Stars?"
"Yeah, I created a segmented mold in class. See, I have holes along the sides to push in the little plates while the wax is still liquid. I string the wick through the plates first of course, but it works out that I can make a lot more smaller ones all at once."
"Very ingenious," Oz complimented. "Do they come out clean?"
"Mostly." Xander undid the next one, pulling it out so Oz could see the plates stuck into the wax. "I have to get in there and cut them. There's a little give but not much."
"Huh. How would you fix that if you could?"
"I'd make it a side mold that opens about a third of the way down and permanent plates."
"Can you do that?"
"I'm not sure," Xander admitted. "That's really fine metal work and I'm not sure if it'll work or not. I've got the stuff to do it, it's a matter of building a prototype."
"If you want help, I'll help you," Oz offered. "Any time that I'm not in the middle of something." He opened the letter for his lover, only spending a few minutes to watch him cut the candles out. "I would put double plates between the candles," Oz told him. "Ones with enough space for a knife to get in there and cut."
Xander stopped and looked at him, then nodded. "Yeah, that would work." He leaned over to give his lover a hug. "You're the bestest," he said happily. "What does my letter say?"
"Um," Oz said as he pulled out the letter part. "Oh, nope, they accepted your last script and they're sending you a copy of it and the tape." He held it up so Xander could read it. "I thought I was going to proofread it?"
"I thought you were too but things got too hectic so I did a grammar check. Most of it wasn't dialogue so as long as I got the point across, it was all good." He shrugged, giving his lover a grin. "No check?"
"It's coming with the script and the tape." Oz put the letter aside, steadying the candles so Xander could get in there and cut them open. "Want to work on that new mold today?"
"Yeah, I think I'd like that," Xander said, getting up and grabbing his cane so he could walk inside.
Oz put down the candle stack, rubbing the sore spot on his finger. Those plates were sharp.
Xander looked at his new mold, disgust fighting with pride for space in his expressions. "It's not pretty," he said finally.
"True, but does it work?" Oz asked. "Will it leak?"
Xander shrugged and went over to his wax boiling setup, starting another batch. "We'll find out in about twenty minutes."
Xander opened the mold and looked down at the candles inside it, almost frowning when he saw how much thicker the one side was. "We definitely need to fix that problem," he said as he cut the wicks between the candles. He pulled the first one out and looked at the forty-five degree angle it had for a top, then took out the next one, smiling because it was closer to perfect. All the rest came out like the second one, which made both of them happy. He held up the last one proudly, it was almost perfect. "I can adjust the interior plates to fix this," he said happily.
"Cool," Oz said, taking that last one to look at in the light. "Yeah, that's pretty. Will a color do that too?"
"Not if I make sure it's really well mixed in before hand."
"What about spooning in the wax when it's not fully liquid? Maybe when it's just starting to gel?"
Xander shook his head. "I'm still going to have to adjust the plates. Keep those in order, okay? I need my pliers." They were handed to him and he made some adjustments to the plates, bending parts where he needed to. "Okay. It's all setup to do it in this spot again."
Oz put one of the candles on it's side but it didn't roll away. "I think the porch is still pretty level, Xan."
"Good. Then maybe the adjustments are going to be permanent." Xander looked up and grinned. "Wanna try another batch?"
"Nope. I want to go find out why the kids are so quiet." He got up and walked into the house, coming back with William. "They were all standing around him giving him belly rubs." He sat down with the baby as the girls all ran screaming past them. "See?" He pointed at the candles. "This is what your daddy likes to do," he told their son. "One day, when you're old enough, he'll teach both of us how to do it."
Xander grinned. "I could teach you now. You're big enough."
Oz snorted, then handed William off as a truck pulled around the side of the house. He got up to go down to it, looking at the man behind the wheel. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Do you guys board horses?"
"We have one that we've boarded for a cop in town. We don't have that much room." He looked at Miri, who was looking in the trailer behind the truck. "Get away from there. You don't snoop."
"I thought you were the Anderson's," he sighed. "Do you know which farm they are?"
"Yeah, they're next door, but they're both dead. We have the last of their horses." He held a hand out. "Oz." He looked at his daughter again. "Miri, don't do that," he called.
"Oh, let her. This one ain't no trouble maker."
Oz snorted. "We had an older horse die recently by the name of Strife."
The man laughed. "Oh, you *know* trouble then." He walked back and opened the gate. "I'd like to board these two with you. I've got to go out of town for a few months and I'm not going to be home at all during that time."
Oz looked at the horses. "One's pregnant," he noted. He touched the white horse gently, making her shudder. "It's okay. I'm a nice person." He looked at the pasture. "We'll have to build another enclosure," he told Miri, who was hiding behind him to look at the horses.
"What's their names?" Miri asked. "Can we ride them too?"
"Do you ride, little lady?" the man asked.
Miri nodded. "Sileya and Mr. 'Son taught me."
"Which is why we have Mr. Anderson's horses," Oz agreed, smiling at him. He stepped back. "Xan, come look. We'll have to build a new fence."
"We only have Strife's box and that one that needs some work," Xander called as he came down the stairs. He hobbled over, stopping to look at the horses. "Wow, very pretty horses." He looked out at the field beside the house, then at the owner. "I think I could put up a fence. It shouldn't be that hard." He looked at Oz, who shrugged. "How long?"
"Just a few months. I've got to leave town on business but I won't be coming back this way for a while. I won them last night actually." He pointed at the black one. "He's not real friendly."
"That's okay, we had a Strife horse, he didn't like me for the longest time," Xander said with a shrug. He jumped as he heard barking, getting away from the dog trotting forward. "Oh, and a beagle?"
"That's the white one's familiar. She needs her to stay calm."
"It's okay with cats and kids?"
The owner shrugged. "I only got them last night. I guess, the owner said he had kids."
Oz and Xander looked at each other, then Xander shrugged. "I'll go make sure the boxes are clean. Miri, did you do the stalls this morning?"
"Oops." She ran for the barn. "I do them now."
"Good idea," Oz called after her. "Maybe we should set up a chart to remind her."
"Yeah, we probably should," Xander said, walking that way. "We take turns though." He walked in and then had to open both doors. "Miri, how did we get this place this bad? I cleaned it yesterday morning."
"Kitty," she cried, pointing.
"Oh, hell," Oz muttered. "One of the barn cats died." He looked up at the man. "I promise we'll take good care of them. Would you like to look at the barn once it's clean?"
The man shrugged. "Won't make a difference to me. I don't know a thing about horses." He unhitched his trailer and carefully turned the truck around, pointing it the other direction. "How much do I owe you for three months?"
"Um, we charge about five hundred a month per horse. That's the cost of the food and hay for the most part. We won't charge more for her being pregnant." The owner wrote out a check. "This is good?"
"Should be," he said with a smile, fiddling with his mustache. "I'll check it tomorrow though, before you go to cash it." He waved and drove off.
Oz pocketed the check and walked up into the trailer, leading the black horse down first. He watched as he walked, seeing the strutting motions. "Okay," he sighed, picking up the hooves to look at them. "Into the riding ring you go for now, until we can get the vet here." He slowly led the horse to the riding ring, making sure he could walk. He was really wobbly, they'd been in the trailer too long.
He went back to get the pregnant mare and led her out to the same place, trusting that the stallion wouldn't hurt her.
The family's veterinarian looked at the hooves and shook his head. "They were standing in dirty hay for too long. What was in the trailer?"
"Some wood chips. I cleaned them up as soon as I had them out," Oz told him from where he was leaning against the railing. "Are they okay otherwise? We're pretty good about the stalls."
"Yes, I noticed," he said, giving him a smile. "I'm betting the days that aren't done are because those are your daughter's days."
Oz nodded. "Basically. We're thinking about eliminating her from the cycle again." He nodded at the mare. "She okay too?"
"It looks it. She's pretty sturdy. Shouldn't have a problem. She also looks like she's been neglected for a while. I'm guessing her former owners lost that card game on purpose. It's what was better for the horses."
"Do you know the former owners? I'd like to get their medical records."
He didn't know why he said what he was going to say, but the words felt like they were the truth. "I've seen 'em before. Don't worry, I'll pass it on that they're being boarded here. The white one and the dog are Lovies and the black one is Stubborn. The owner had a son that was about four when they got them," he said with a smile. "You gonna move them in today?"
"Yeah, Xander's making sure the stalls are clean first. Especially Strife's." He glanced away, toward the spot where they had buried their beloved horse. "I think we'll give Stubborn that stall."
"You probably could rename them," the vet offered as he walked out of the paddock. "The new owner probably wouldn't mind."
Oz snorted. "He looked panicked when I suggested we go look at the barn."
"Ah, one of them." He sighed. "The guy didn't know a thing, did he?" Oz shook his head. "You prepared to take them on permanently if you need to?"
"Yeah, if we have to. Oh, Miri wants to know if they're broken."
"Stubborn's not real fond of it, but he can be ridden. Lovies shouldn't be for a while. Exercise her on the line if you want to. Are you expanding the paddock?"
"Yeah, down into the field beside the house," Oz said, pointing at the acre and a half field. "It should be good for them. And besides, that means that we can move the one up here a little."
"Gonna let your man do the work?"
"No, I'm going to let the new construction company in town come out and do it," Xander said as he walked out. "I don't like digging fence post holes." He waved the horses over. "It's clean. Want to go inside?" Lovies whinnied and trotted over, rubbing him with her nose. "Yes, you're very pretty," he said, giving it a pet. "Want to go into your new stall? It's got a lower ceiling than the rest, but it's very big and I'll try to fix the ceiling later this week."
"It's fine," Oz told him. "It's at least six inches above her head. It can wait a few days."
"That's what I said. Besides, we do have all those nice pieces of lumber left from the addition." He clipped the lead he had over his shoulder to her halter and opened the gate to lead her up to the barn. "Hey, slow down," he told her, struggling to keep up. "I'm not that fast."
Oz waited until Xander was out of sight to chuckle. "At least he enjoys the horses." He looked over at Stubborn. "If you hurt him," he warned, "you will not get ridden and I will let Miri groom you until you're bald." He smiled at Xander as he came out. "Stubborn and I are coming to an understanding."
"I heard," Xander said, patting him on the shoulder. "Come on, Stubborn." He blinked a few times. "Okay, not Stubborn. Warrior?" The horse neighed. "Cool. Come on, Warrior. I'll take you out later to see how rideable you are, before we let Miri jump onto your back. And if you're good, we'll take Lover out into the woods with us on a lead." He clipped the line onto the halter and Warrior followed him up to the barn without incident.
Oz looked at the vet. "Do you get other people with horses like that?"
The vet laughed. "In this town? Of course. You're just getting more of them." He patted Oz on the shoulder and walked back to his truck so he could go back to the office. "Wash them down really well today," he called back. "Their hooves aren't that bad. Make sure they've got clean bedding though."
"We will," Oz called after him, his voice cracking. He looked down at the beagle standing at his feet, watching her bounce. "Calm down or you'll be attacked my the twins for lovies," he warned. She ran up to the barn to settle in. He went back to the house to call the feed store. They'd need some more, especially with a pregnant horse. He briefly wondered if they needed special food, but dismissed it. He'd ask if they carried stuff for pregnant horses, that should be enough.
Oz looked at the cashier. "It's really good?" She nodded and gave him a smile. "Wow. Deposit, or no, we'd better cash it. I have to go pick up feed."
She punched something into her computer and her drawer opened. "Did you get another horse?"
"Two. One's pregnant. A stubborn one and a loving one." He shrugged as he took the money. "That's why I get to go get more feed." He tucked the bills into his pocket after counting them. "Has Xander cashed his latest check yet?"
"No, sir, but it's being direct deposited now. I can check and make sure it's in there if you want."
"Please. I know he went out and bought some stuff for the new horses last night, but I'm not sure where he got the money from."
She typed into her computer and wrote something down, passing the paper to him. "That's what he has in his main account."
"Cool. Thanks." He frowned at the paper, the shrugged. "I guess it's not in there yet," he sighed, going out to Xander's new SUV. He needed the room to get feed.
Xander looked up as Oz joined him on the porch, smiling at him. "This crew is really good. I showed them our last fence and the lumber that we had and they've got it half done already. All they need now is the holes."
"Good." Oz sat down across from him. "Where are your checks being sent?"
"Into a special account. Why?"
"Because I wanted to see if it had come in so we could think about the pool."
Xander grinned and handed over a paper. "That's the plans that I found online. It's nearly Olympic-sized and it's slimmer than most of the bigger pools."
Oz looked at the drawing. "Did you figure out where?"
"Yeah," he said, pointing at the naturally bare spot just inside the tree line. "A wooden building right there. I figured out the area and we'll have to cut down about seven trees, all of which can be used in the building. I also talked to the crew chief down there and he said that they do work with the local pool place and that this would cost us about four grand at the most. The most expensive is going to be running pipes from the house."
"Okay. Are you going to ask to help?"
"No. He said I couldn't because of their insurance regs." Xander shrugged. "That's okay though. By the time we can afford this, it'll be time for me to go back to school."
"You haven't spent all of your last check," Oz reminded him. "That means that you should have about twelve grand lying around in a bank somewhere."
"I have about seven," Xander told him. "I decided to invest most of my last check." He looked down at William. "We like watching the workmen. He's going to be a physical labor guy like I am."
"Which means that you two should understand each other great," Oz pointed out, much to Xander's delight. "How long before we have the new paddock?"
"About tomorrow afternoon. They're starting on the post holes this afternoon, after they made sure that we had enough lumber. Oh, I didn't tell you the good part, did I?" Oz shook his head. "I cut a check for my teacher, for helping us, and he gave me a hug!"
Oz leaned over and gave him a hug. "I'm glad you made him happy, Xander. That's always a good." He sat back down, taking William from his lover's hands. "Come on, we'll watch from the porch swing while Daddy does whatever he needs to do with the stuff he bought last night."
"I had to get another saddle. Warrior's bigger than Strife was and the girls' saddle wouldn't fit him. It was a straight trade situation."
"Okay. Do we need more hay? The guy at the feed store wanted to know."
"We've got another three bales up there, but I put in an order with the guy that we get it from last night. We should have some more, from the first cutting, in about two weeks."
"Okay. Then we'll only go through the feed store if we need to. Theirs looked a lot drier than ours does." Oz settled into the swing with a sigh. "Feed's in the back of the SUV. I'll move it later."
"We," Xander told him, getting up. He joined Oz on the swing. "Do you ever feel upset because you're more emotional now?"
Oz looked at him and licked his lips, then looked away. "Sometimes. There are days when I resent having ever changed who I was, but I don't think that who I was would have been such a good father." Xander touched his cheek so he looked at him again. "Yeah, there are days that I resent having changed because of you. It's hard sometimes, having to force myself to be emotional and praising for you and the kids. Most of the time, I don't resent it though. I like being the daddy that I am. I don't think that the kids would grow up very well never hearing praise from one of their fathers." Xander worked a hand into his and he squeezed it. "It's okay. It's an occasional thing and it's getting less frequent."
"The reason I ask is because you got this very bitter look the other night when you were praising Miri for trying to read," he said quietly. "I was wondering if all this therapy that we've been through has been hurting you or making you think about all that you gave up to be with Miri and me."
Oz squeezed his hand again. "Yeah, it has," he admitted, "but like I said, I'm happy with the daddy that I am. It's time that I took stock of my life again and part of that is looking at who I was and if I'm happier now." He let go of Xander's hand. "It's nothing to do with us, it's a stage I'm in."
"Then I'll try to be supportive," Xander told him gently. "And if you slip back into unemotional guy, I'll take up some of that slack too." He stood up but Oz pulled him back down to give him a hug.
"I've always been a tactile guy," he reminded Xander. "It was always the subtle touches that made my day. William's a lot like you, he needs the attention and affection. He's so different than our other kids that it's making me doubt a few things."
"He's yours," Xander stated firmly.
"Yeah, I know. That wasn't even on my mind," Oz said, giving him a forced smile. "I never doubted that."
Xander brushed his thumb across Oz's lips. "Don't do that. If you don't feel like smiling then don't. As long as I get touched every day, I won't worry."
Oz relaxed and leaned his head against his lover's shoulder. "I knew you'd understand, I don't know why I didn't tell you I was doing all this reevaluation." He got up to put William in his playpen, watching as he flipped over onto his stomach. "Hey," he said, smiling for real as he picked up his son to give him a hug. "That was a very nice baby flip. Want to do it again?" He put William back down, watching as he flipped onto his stomach to suck on the blanket in the bottom. "Xander, did you see?"
"Yeah, I saw," Xander said, sitting down beside him. "He had wiggled his way backwards in the bed last night." He wiggled his fingers, grinning at his son. "Yeah, you are very like me. You want to do things the hard way, don't you?"
"Am I the hard way?"
"Nope, the not-kicking-Giles-out-and-fighting-about-it was the hard way. Let's face it," he said when Oz looked at him, "no one else would have put up with that for that long without a reason like abuse."
"But it was," Oz said quietly. "It was emotional abuse." He reached over to touch Xander's cheek. "I do love you. All this angst on my part has nothing to do with you."
"That's what you said," Xander told him, his eyes twinkling. "Want to go exercise the horses?"
"Yeah, I could do that. Go get the snuggler? I take him on the first turn with Rose."
"Okay." Xander stood up with a little difficulty and walked inside to get the baby carrier.
Oz looked down at the baby cooing on his stomach. "Are you happy?" he asked, touching the baby's hand. "I'd be happy too if I knew what was going on in my head right now." He turned Rose around, taking her back to the barn. She fought him a little and he let her have her way, for now. "Ten more minutes, then we've got to go back," he told her firmly. "As soon as the new paddock's done tomorrow, you can go play in it. I promise, more room to run, Rose." She neighed and shook her head, continuing down the path they were slowly wearing into the forest, speeding up a little.
Oz slowed her back down. He didn't want to risk her stumbling, especially not with William strapped on his stomach.
Xander saddled Warrior up and clipped the longer lead onto Lover's halter, then mounted the stallion. He tied his leg in and leaned forward. "If you be good," he whispered, "I'll let you two have a few minutes in the woods. If not, you're staying inside for the rest of the day as soon as we get home. And if you try to dump me, *Warrior*, I'll let Miri come in and exercise you. You can ask Strife how long she rode him that one time." He turned the horses toward the door and let his horse walk out, leading the other one by the rope attached to the saddle. "A nice, slow walk," he told the horse, pointing him toward the path through the woods.
Once they were far enough away from the house, he unstrapped his leg and got down, leaning against a tree and checking his watch. "You got ten minutes and I'm going to be right here."
Warrior trotted off, taking Lover with him. Xander ignored the giggling that started a few minutes later, he knew what was going on and they probably wanted some privacy. Nine minutes later, the horses were back and Xander had to redo the saddle. He climbed back up and tied his leg back down, and they started off again, going for some exercise in the woods.
A hooded figure appeared in the barn that night, right in front of Warrior's stall. "Yeah, you took the hint. You okay in there?" he asked quietly. He checked around, just to make sure that the child wasn't around, but jumped when he found the figure standing behind him, one that looked like it owned the house. "You're not supposed to be in this plane," he told him angrily. "You'll draw attention to them."
Xander, God of the Overlooked, smiled at him. "Why would I draw attention? I've claimed this place in my own name and there's a permanent rip here now. I won't bring Hera down, I promise." He bowed to the black horse. "Let me give you a gift," he said formally, walking over to the white horse and bending down to put his cheek on her side. "To you, I give my job here. You shall be known as Aiko Arien Aden - beloved, enchanted, and fiery one-, or if you're female as Amaya - night rain -, God of the Overlooked for this realm." He stood up and looked at the black horse again. "There's a reason that both Strife and I have had trouble with our powers," he said lightly. "It takes a Chaos God to name another and do it right." He grinned at Strife. "See, now they're on their own home ground. Perfectly invisible." He waved and left.
Strife checked the house then shook his head and left too, before the baby could get down there.
"Strifey?" Miri called as she walked in. She stopped to look up at Warrior. "You remind me of my Strifey but you not. What are you?" He leaned down and blew air at her face. "Oh, okay. Me no tell. You hide and I'll 'tect you, just like daddies do us." She nodded once and walked out, closing the door behind her.
The black horse looked over at the white one and rolled his eyes, she knickered, sounding almost like laughter. He stomped his foot and went back to his dinner. At least this human would take good care of them while they hid.
Spike snuck out to the barn and looked at the new horses, getting a stomped warning from the new black one. "I'm not touchin' her," he complained. "Think I was gonna do somethin' *bad*." He grinned. "May I help you while you're here, as I did your nephew?"
The black horse went back to it's dinner, ignoring him.
Spike shrugged and walked over to Caliber, who liked him a lot more, petting her on the nose. "Yeah, you're a friendly bit, aren'tcha? Much better'n stuffy and stubborn over there."
She neighed and pushed her nose against his chest, rubbing on the decal of his t-shirt.