That's How Life Goes.

The whole family was gathered around for dinner a few days later and Xander smiled at everyone.  "I have some good news," he announced.  They all smiled at him.  "The last thing who wanted me is gone.  The people cheering him on are mostly gone."

"No more ruby and gold showers?" Yelina teased.

"For now.  That doesn't mean another one won't take his place," Xander said grimly.  She shivered at that.  "So, for now, we're without a higher suitor."  Don and Danny both clapped at that and Ryan smiled.  "Also, there will be work done in the yard tomorrow and the next day.  Don, there's going to be trees."  Don smiled at that. "Maybe even some older ones if they can work it out.  All probably useful trees since I asked for useful and tasty trees."  They smiled at that.  "So, poaching is allowed."

Calleigh smiled.  "Good.  I like that.  Oranges?"

"We'll have to see what he can get.  He'll tell me tomorrow."  She nodded.  "In other news, I'm down off my high since that demon was the thing hyping my skills again.  So I'm a normal level ten again."  Danny cheered at that. "I'm sorry I'm such a pain to you," he offered more quietly.

"You're not.  Adam was right.  Most guys like you have more helpers than Don and I and their top helpers don't work. We're making our own stress."  He stroked his cheek.  "Okay?"  Xander nodded.  "Good, then sit down."  Xander sat. "Anything else happen today?"  Yelina bent over, clutching her stomach.  The rest of them felt an oddness going around them.

"Not good," Frank offered.

"Very.  That's the world being shifted," Adam offered.   He and Xander went to check since they had actual experience with magic.  They found a whole different world in their front yard.  "Oh, dear.  Well, you wanted a forest."

"I was thinking more an orchard," Xander offered.  It shifted. "This is not me, right?"

"No, not you," he promised. He walked back through the house, finding the ferrets were all there.  Though there was a third one, a black one.  He took that one out to look at it.  Then he handed it to Xander, who groaned.  "Your new suitor?"  He nodded, putting him down.  "You're stranding normals with us."

"This world will provide for you while you think about my offer," he said.  "Time will not shift there for them."  He disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Xander walked outside.  "Spoke too soon, people."  Then he went to hide in bed and think.  He touched his tattoos.  Nothing.  Crap.  He was totally locked off.  He walked out and took Ryan's shirt off him, touching his tattoo, then his earring.  "They're not imbedded with magic."

"I noticed it quit itching," Ryan offered, looking back at him.  "What do we do?"

"Well, there's now an orchard in the front yard.  There's a whole world there."  Frank opened his mouth and raised a finger.  "He said no real world time would pass, Frank.  Ryan, go get the weapons?"

"Going to check the bows," he promised, going to do that while he thought and prayed.
Xander looked up.  "Damn it, whoever you are!  Horatio and Speed *need* to stay in contact with Aphrodite or they could die!"  Speed scratched at his neck.  "Is it back?"

"Enough that I feel it.  Horatio?"

"Barely."  He let Xander touch it.  "Anything?"

"You're reconnected but not fully. I can't use it to center a prayer."  He grimaced.  "Hell."  He stomped off.  "I'm going to find the magic books.  You guys eat.  It's going to be a long night."  He walked into the library and took down the book on the Greek deities and their calendars of worship.  Most importantly it told him how to do a formal prayer and establish a home temple.  Well, they had spare rooms.  Frank came in.  "She won't even know, Frank."

"How long?"

Xander looked at him. "I don't know," he said honestly.  "I can tell you I'm saving some magic up to do something spectacular instead of the usual plant growing I can do."  He nodded. "Be patient.  It's going to be at least tonight.  If we're all lucky it'll be within a month.  If not, well....."  He shrugged.  "When he's tired of asking?"

"Sure.  Let us know if we can help."

"Watch Horatio and Speed, make sure they're all right and that Yelina's all right."  He nodded, going to do that.  Xander sat down to read, shaking his head as he went over everything.  No one was going to like how this was going to turn out.


Ryan looked up when he got done.  "Can we have horses?" he asked.  "Maybe my mare and my backpack?"  Nothing. "Please?  I'm his protector.  I named him my consort in front of Ares."  The demon appeared, looking at him.   "I did."

"That was necessity."

"It was but it doesn't make it not true.  I am one who helps him.

"You are," he agreed.  "That doesn't make you his."

"Xander can name those he wants his."

"He could but he would stay here."

"Not if you had any compassion.  Those out there could die from this."

"Most won't."

"Not good enough."

The demon considered it. "I will make your life comfortable here while he considers my offer."

"He hasn't heard your offer."

"I'm powerful enough to do this and take care of his harem.  I'm powerful enough to keep him from doing magic and from talking to his Gods. I am more than powerful enough to help and control him."

"What about love?" Ryan asked.

"He will come to," he said firmly.

"Xander doesn't love easily and too many demons have hurt him. Do you know of his past on the hellmouth?"  The demon silently shook his head. "Then I would check that out first, and then move forward through his life."

"I will.  Until he has made a decision, he is staying here."

"Fine.  Can I have my mare, my tack, and my things from home?  I'm the only hunter in the group.  Oh, and we'll need arrows."

"Fine.  It will be provided, as well as bedding and food for the animals."  He disappeared and Ryan's horse stood there in her tack, with his saddlebags and his two packs, plus his sword given to him by Ares.  He touched it.  It felt like a normal sword.  He pulled it and looked at his mare.  "Let's untack you right now, love."  He undid her tack and put them down in the house, then let her loose.  "Arrows?"  They rained down around him, making him yelp when a few stuck him.  "Thanks."  Eric and Danny came through the house.  "He's being reasonable and has no idea who Xander really is.  He's doing a life review but we're still stuck for now."  They all sighed at that.  "I need to rebless my blade.  Gather the arrows for the practice room.  I pulled out the crossbow and the regular type so we can hunt if we're forced to."  He walked off, heading into the woods to stalk something.

"He's really differently like this," Eric said quietly.

"That's training and Ares' influence.  The same as Xander turns into someone else during a crisis."  Eric nodded, coming out to gather the arrows.  Speed came out.  "Settle in for the night, guys.  You know the usual rooms.  Ryan's out in the woods reblessing his blade and thinking.  Xander's studying."

"Sure.  Is this another one?"

"He said that we'll be here until I decide to go to him, until we all would probably," Xander admitted from behind him. "He told Ryan I'd come to love him eventually.  He was powerful enough to keep me from doing magic and from talking to anyone over me.  For the family at home, this will only seem like a few minutes at the most. For us, it'll be however long we're here."  Speed nodded.  "Ryan's out blessing his blade.  I've got to figure this out.  I'll get to bed sometime, but get them settled."  He went back to the study, silently blaming himself.  If he didn't have friends, if he hadn't pulled them into his life, then they would be safely at home.  Not waiting to see if they got sick or something.  He sat down to think and sulk. He was multi-talented.  He could do that much together.  He picked up the book again and sighed, going back over the ritual again.  He was no good at formal magic.


Ryan came back in for breakfast, letting the dragon have the creature he had killed.  It sniffed then dug into it.  "Outside.  No blood in the house in case there's no water."  The dragon took it out into the back yard to nibble on.  Ryan cleaned up the spot on the floor with some cleaner and papertowels.  Then he tested the water and washed his hands.  They had power since the fridge cut on.  "Thank you for making us comfortable hostages," he murmured.  He got finished and looked in the fridge, pulling out the eggs and bacon, plus some bagels.  He knew Eric preferred grain in the morning instead of protein.  He was even picky about his cereals for first thing in the morning.  He started working on breakfast, seeing Xander wandering around.  "It's not your fault."

"If they hadn't been drug into my life, they'd still be in New York and none of you would be trapped with me."

Ryan looked at him.  "You would've given up long ago," he pointed out. "Right now, we're depending on you to be strong, Xander.  You've got to be strong."

"I know."  He came in to help.  "I need to rededicate something."

"We both do, plus do a new marking probably," he agreed.  Xander nodded, hugging him.  "We'll figure it out.  Now, what other ways do we have if that doesn't work?"

Xander looked at him. "Magic and he claims he can block it. Begging and pleading?  I heard what you said to him last night."

Ryan looked at him.  "It was the truth. You're more than your hormones and your magic, Xander.  Think."  Xander nodded, going back to the study.  "Breakfast?" he called a minute later.

"Eat without me."  He picked up another book.  He needed to look up this demon.  He kept his mind saying he was trying to find out what he was capable of doing for them.  It was a weak dodge but it might help.  At least a little bit.  Horatio came in and he grunted at him.

"Come eat."

"I can't.  I've got to do this."

Horatio took the book from him and hauled him up.  "You have time to read and work on this.  For now, brief us, Xander."

"I don't know much more than I did before, Horatio.  Ryan might know more than me."

"Still.  We are a family and we will get through this as a family.  Now, come eat."  Xander nodded, letting himself be walked out.  He sat Xander down.  Then he sat down.  "Now, what do we know so far?"

"So far, not a lot," Ryan offered.  "Xander?"

"I'm looking up what sort he is.  He claims he can block my magic.  He claims no time will pass at home while we're here and we're going to be provided for, including animal litter."  He sipped his coffee.  "Right now, I'm working on two things.  I'm not sure which is going to be more effective."

"What about your tattoos?" Frank asked.  "I know they're special somehow."

"It hinges on the way he took us out of time and space," Xander told him.  "He literally removed us from a spot in time.  They may not even know we're gone and we can't feel anything."

"Even after I reblessed my sword I can't feel the connection," Ryan admitted.  "It was gifted personally.  That's one thing we're working on.  It's a way of doing it."

"It's ritual magic and it's not my strong suit, but I know what I need to do," Xander offered.

"Can't you pretend to go to him and then kill him or make him beg or something?" Frank asked.

"Frank, to him, we're a harem.  Anyone who helps me, is family with me, anyone like that, is my harem.  If I go, we all go."

Frank grimaced.  "Never mind.  Won't work."  He sipped his coffee.  "How long before we have to resort to eating deer?"

"Orchard outside the door," Horatio told him. "You could go pick breakfast, Frank."

"Sure.  Anything else I should know?"

"Deer are plentiful.  So are rabbits, and I saw a few squirrels."  He looked at Xander. "I fed the dragon the offering."

"That's fine.  I saw him crunching outside."

"I cleaned up the mess he started to make.  We have running water and electricity at the moment," Ryan offered.  "If worst comes to worse I'm sure Xander's cleaned the pool recently."  Xander nodded. "Scrubbed it clean?"

"And it's got cleaners. I changed the water yesterday."  That got some knowing looks. "I did.  I got in there to do my hair again and play."  He took another drink of the coffee in front of him.  Horatio pushed a plate over. "I can't eat.  I need to go think."  He got up and went to do that.  There had to be something in the type of demon it was.  Danny came in and took the book, slamming it down so he could haul him up.  "I need to do this."

"You're not the whole gang you had before.  Some of us went through college researching."

"You don't know a thing about demons or magic," he reminded him.  "I need to do this.  I'll eat lunch."  He sat down and found his place again, then groaned and looked up.  "I need that to make a decision!" he called.  The pages came back.  "Thank you!  Not making me happy or wanting you."  A tray of fresh fruit appeared beside him and he handed it to Danny.  "Go feed it to the harem."  He got back to work, then got up to make notes.  It had been a long time since he had to do this sort of work.  He sat down behind the desk to get to work.  Before long he had a long list of his attributes and abilities.  It was somewhere to start.  He went back to his other research, thinking about how disconnected he felt without his Gods.  He went back to the other research, drawing out the figures he would need to carve to rededicate something so he could reconnect and feel better again.  Because right now he had one hell of a headache.  He had even gotten a short nap in the chair last night.  He got up and got a soda then came back to work on this.  Speed came in and hauled him up and took him out, sending him to bed. "I'm fine," he snapped, glaring at him. "Unless you want to let this one stay for another two year stint?"  Speed glared. "It can!"

"It won't.  Go nap.  You need a nap and we need you at top performance."

"I need to figure out what to do first and then I can nap."

"You had a plan, Xander.  I know you did.  You're always capable of doing this."

"Doesn't mean I have a clue what I'm doing yet.  I'm still gathering facts of what we're doing.  Go figure out how he took us out of time.  I'm not science oriented.  I'm demon and trouble oriented."  He got free and went back to the study to find Danny in there with his list.  "Out!"  Danny got out of his way.  "This is something no one else knows what to do with.  That makes it my task.  Go help someone figure out how he got us out of time or whatever.  Go play with the dog and the dragon."  He sat down, popping open his soda and weathering the slight spray.  He sucked it off the papers and got back to work.  Don came in and closed the door.  "Out."

"Nope.  You're grumpy and it's time for a nap."

Xander looked up at him. "I had a short one last night."

"I'm sure you think you did.  You're still grumpy. You haven't eaten, and we need to help too.  We're not the sort to sit around and do nothing."  Xander gave him a look.  "Now, teach us."

"This is something I have to follow along with, Don."

"Then we can follow along too."

He looked at him.  "Can you learn magic?"

"I don't want to."

"It's probably going to take magic, plus faith.  I'm doing good right now not to lay down and throw an everlasting fit.   So you guys go be the adults and let me handle the magic and faith stuff, okay?"  Don nodded.  But he didn't move.  "Don."

"Eat and rest.  We need you on your feet."

"I will once I know what I'm doing."

"That could be in a month."

"Yeah, well, I'm not a Watcher and I don't know one I could trust to ask to be brought."  Don nodded at that. "Make sure I eat lunch. I had a short nap last night.  I've had to do more than this before."

"Eat and rest now.  Then come back to it with a clear head.  Or else we're going to knock you out and drag you to bed."  Xander sighed and shook his head.  "Please?"  Xander looked at him again.  "Xander."  Xander got up and let him take him to feed him and put him to bed for a nap.  The dog came in to help when Danny ordered him to and it was good enough for now.


Ryan looked up and prayed to Artemis before he shot the deer.  He smiled when it was killed, then looked up and said another one, feeling it happen.  He relaxed and nodded. That was a good sign.  He walked forward, putting his bow down and pulling his dagger just in case his shot was a bit off.  He found it dead so he used the knife to gut and field dress it.  He took the rope off his shoulders and strung it up around a sturdy branch, then hooked it to her back legs.  He hauled her up and made a new slit in her throat so the blood would drip out while he went to get his horse to drag her back.  He patted her side, then picked up the guts to make a prayer with it and then bury it.  He whistled, bringing his mare.  "Good girl.  You do remember."  She gave him a look.  "I know.  Come on, let's get the deer home."  He found the bottle of lysol wipes and got his hands and arms until the blood quit dripping.  Then he put his bow up properly and his knife. Then he moved his mare under the deer and let her slowly fall onto her back, tying her down with the rope.  He walked her back to the house, pausing to get some fresh fruit as well.  It would make Xander happier.

Frank came out of the house when he heard him whistling, looking at the deer.  "Doe?"

"Yeah, nice weight.  Very strong.  Already gutted.  I need to dress her out.  I also need to sharpen my knife first."  Frank smirked at that.  "You hunt?"

"Did when I was a young boy.  Walk her around to the garage."  Ryan nodded and handed over the bag of fruit, earning a smile. "Thanks, kid. I'll be out to help soon."

"Sure, Frank."  He walked his mare that way, patting her.  "Knees," he ordered, pointing down.  She knelt and he undid the rope, letting the deer fall off.  He patted her and she stood up again, letting the deer slide off her back.  "Good girl, Princess."  He undid her saddle and put it on a tree stump, using a towel he kept in it to wipe her down and take off her bridle.  Then he gave her a pat.  "Good girl, go nibble on the grass."  She walked off, going to graze.  He sat down to wipe down the tack then put it back in the garage. He came out to find Don with a whet stone and Frank.  "You hunt, Don?"

"No, but I figure I should learn.  Mac's at home so..."  He shrugged. "Wish he was here.  He'd know how to slap Xander out of it."

"He thinks it's his fault," Frank told him.

"I know that.  Doesn't mean it is."  He took the knife to sharpen for Ryan.  He knew Ryan sucked at it.  "It's been a month, he should realize we don't blame him."

"Yeah but there's a small part in all of us and he's feeling it," Frank told him.

"Something along the lines of 'if I hadn't went to Don for protection you and Danny would be in New York and Miami would be sane'," Ryan assured him.  Don snorted but finished up and handed the blade back. "Thanks.  Last time I brought one down I drug it back and the guys skinned it and put it over the fire.  This does make a nice first month anniversary present."

"I thought that was the lack of PMS," Frank said sotto-voice, looking around.

"Yes, I thank them all for that," Ryan assured him.  He grinned then smiled when Xander came out.  "Hey.  I felt a small answer when I prayed to bring down the deer."

"Good, then it's working."  He came out and looked at the deer, saying a quiet prayer over her.  "No heads in the house, guys."  He went to the garden he had worked on with some seeds from the vegetables they had in the house.  He concentrated.  Magic was incredibly difficult for him but he could feel a thread of magic that the demon couldn't control. Of course, neither could he.  It was giving him headaches to make the plants grow. Forcing the magic into a figure it wasn't meant to go to was going to make him retreat with a migraine again tonight.  He gave up a minute later then Don came over and gave him a hug.  He tried it again and watched the plants grow a few feet.  He looked at him. "You're better at this than I am."

"I'm not learning that stuff.  Maybe next life."  He gave him a gentle grin.  "Good job."

"I was struggling until you came over."

"Then listen to the wiseness.  Go rest.  We'll have dinner tonight."  Xander nodded, heading inside looking dejected.  "It wasn't me.  I made you focus differently."  Xander came out to look at him.  "You're not the same guy, Xander.  Think like the Xander you are not the Xander you were."  Xander nodded, going back inside.  He looked at the garden and glared, then watched a few things wilt.  He mentally started to swear and sighed.  Ryan came over and whispered something in his ear, letting him fix it and make it grow more.  He relaxed, then fell down from the strain and effort.  Xander walked out with a protein shake.  "I was fixing it."

"I know.  If we have to, I'll instruct you in what we need to do."  He kissed him on the head and went back inside.  He went to lay down and think.  If that's the way it had to play out, that was what he'd have to do.  He'd have to teach someone how to deal with the demonic and then teach Don magic.  He felt the touch to his foot and looked down.  "Hey, Hubert, come cuddle. Daddy's got a headache from trying to bend chaos magic into nature magic again."  He hopped up and curled up beside him, blowing warm steam on him.  "I'm surprised you're not out helping them cut up the deer."  The dragon looked at him.  "Ryan brought down a deer."  He slid off the bed and went to help, making Xander smile.  At least his pets were being taken care of while he floundered and screwed up.  He went out to the front yard, starting on another row of the fountain.  He added one of the wooden panels he had carved and cured by charring but not burning it.  Then he set another row and kept going, saying his prayers as he set each new sign of each God.  He got up to the main ones in his life, looking in appreciation at the fountain.  Of course a piece fell off.  That's how his life went.  He remixed the mortar he was using and replanted the ones he had already done.  Then he put the props to hold them up. This time he was going to work smarter.

"It won't work you know," the demon said as he appeared.

"Cut off from them, I'm not the guy you think.  Cupid's influence makes me GHS."

"I can give you that back."

"But you won't because you're not stupid," Xander said dryly.  He looked at him and hissed.  "Go away."

"I could make this so much easier on you and your harem."  He reached out but Xander got away from him.  "You don't have to flinch."

"You want to have me against my will, make me do things that are repugnant to me.   I would not have you.  You knew that, that's why you stole us instead of asking."  The demon sighed.  "Don't touch me!"  The demon backed away again.  "Go the fuck away.  I don't want you.  I will never want you."

"I can make you want me."

"You might make me horny but that's why I've got hands and a mind."  The demon sneered and popped off, making the fountain dissolve.  Xander shrieked and got mad, letting it loose like he had only done once before.  This time, the fountain rebuilt and water came up, making him fall down panting in pain at the burning going through him.  He touched the marks, making prayers, letting his fingers be scraped by the rough spots to anoint them.  He moved to the last one, Hecate's.  Normally it would've been first on his litany but this time he needed her support.  He felt the calmness fill him and nearly cried, nodding at the instructions.  He went to get his sword and take off, running away and managing at teleport with her instructions.  He really had a headache now but it wasn't his fault.  He fell down panting and looked up.  "You want me, you beat me.  Your kind go by that principle."  The demon appeared with a spear.  Xander stood up, still in pain.  He didn't care. He was going to kill this thing.  He muttered a prayer to Ares, then lunged and attacked, making the demon look impressed. He attacked and beat him back, making him use his weapon, making him fight for him.

Danny rushed out back.  "Ryan, somehow the fountain's up, Xander grabbed his katana, and disappeared while he was running?"  Ryan grabbed his horse and sword, heading off after him.  Danny came out to look, grimacing.  "That's one of the things I hated about earlier life.  Hunting.  Horses.  Beasts."  He shuddered.  "Pets are one thing, deer, horses, and cows are another."  He walked inside and got a bucket of water, then brought it out. "Here, for your hands.  You're gross."  He walked back inside.  "Horatio, Ryan brought down a deer."

"I heard."  He came out of the study.  "Where is he?"

"Chasing after Xander.  The demon came back and he went off."

"I see.  Then he went to challenge him?"

"Probably, that sounds like him recently."

"It's probably not a good idea," Horatio offered, leading him back into the library.  He let him see the book he had looking over.  "He could have arranged that."

"Could be."  He looked up and prayed that Ryan found that out.


Ryan slid off his horse and got between them.  "Xander is mine."

"He challenged me.  You're breaking that."  He looked at the immortal.  "He is young."

"So am I.  Doesn't mean I wasn't trained by Ares personally."  He faced him. "You take him, you take me."

"I can have you after I take him."

"You kill him you won't get any of us.  We'll die first."  The demon backed off.  "Without Xander, we'll all go.  Now, who were you really after?"

"That one is strong.  There are others that are better suited for me and would lovely as my harem."

"All except that you have no sexual organs and no human would be able to touch you.  Even one of us.  The burns would wear our healing talent out first."  Xander stepped forward.  "Any of them are taken.  One is mated. The other is mine."

"He has no claim."

"We're men!  We don't claim like that!" Xander said hotly, lunging again.  The demon laughed and disappeared.  "That means you lost!  You ran."  It reappeared.  "You forfeit by running," he sneered.  "Not so powerful after all, huh?"

"Xander, remember all those talks about your mouth and trouble?" Ryan said patiently.  The demon picked up his staff and lunged.  Xander shoved him aside and went back to it.  "Hey!  That's my job!"

"Not this time," Xander growled, letting himself slip.  Before he had only let it go a bit. Now, he was going to go all the way down if he had to.  He lost it and the demon gave him a horrified look, trying to send him home.  Xander stabbed him in the chest, breaking something, making him scream.  "Only one who has nothing left to lose can defeat you."  He went back to it, hacking, slashing, making chunks of demon until he bellowed and fled again.  "Send up home!" he shouted.  "Now!"  The felt the world shift and fell to his knees panting.  "I'm not a happy camper.  Head to the house."

"Hell no.  Come on."  Xander glared at him.  So Ryan slapped him.  "I feel better now.  Come on before I treat you like the damsel you pretend to be now and then."  He whistled his mare closer but she stayed away.  "Get over it.  We're going home."  He climbed up then hauled Xander up in front of him and spanking him whenever he tried to move.  "Quit!" he ordered finally.  He rode up to the yard and walked inside, bending down so he wouldn't smack his head on the doorframe.  He handed Xander to Don. "He needs a lot of attention."  He rode through the kitchen and out the other side, letting her go again.  "Sorry, girl.  Had to happen."  He walked over to the deer, then back inside to look at the fountain.  Then he looked around the house, finding a strange door.  It opened... to the house.  He looked up.  "You couldn't just put us back?" he complained. The doorway closed.  "Almost, sorry, guys."  The demon appeared and he glared at him.  "I can let him have you some more."

"I will not lose you."

"Wrong. You will not have us."   He pulled his sword again.  "Try it.  I'd rather die than go to you."  The demon pouted. "You didn't ask, you took.  We humans don't respect that, especially not us."

"Would he respect me if I put you back and wooed him?"

"No.  You've blown that shot with all of us.  Especially anyone that Xander's actually with or Xander himself."

"He is very tough."

"You nearly broke him," he snarled, lunging forward.  The demon screamed and they were all back at home.  Including his horse and her tack, plus the deer.  He looked in the doorway and found the other house still there.  "Charming."  He went to look in Xander's room, not finding him.  So he went through the door and drug him out of there by his arm, hauling him home.  Then outside with the fountain.  He knelt and pulled Xander down, saying a quiet prayer for strength.  Ares appeared, looking confused.  "Demon.  Out of time.  He's depressed."

"Ah."  He came over and made Xander look at him.  "Even if he had you blocked, you still managed it, Xander.  That is what I wanted."  He let him go, watching him, listening to him.  "How stupid are you?" he complained.  He felt the fountain.  "Have this strengthened."

"I slipped."

"I noticed.  Where were you?"

"Through the door that looks like a closet."  Ryan looked up at him.  "I reblessed my sword."  Ares held out a hand then looked at him.  "It showed skill to kill that thing."

"It did.  Why did you have to?"

"He cut us off from all of you.  She might want to check Speed and Horatio."  Ares sent a thought Aphrodite's way, making her scramble to make sure they were all right.  Then Ryan took off his shirt.  "It's still not right, even here."

Ares laid a hand over it.  "It's not.  I imbued it.  How dare he cut me off from you," he said, staring into the house. "I'll deal with him in a minute."

"I think I mortally wounded him," Xander said quietly.

"Good," Ares assured him, patting him to the head.  Then he smacked him.  "Get over it.  That was his doing, not yours!  He had you blocked and you still managed to get around the magic restriction and do this and the garden."

"That was Don."

"It wasn't all Don," Ares said firmly.  "Cupid, come fix him."  Cupid took Xander and disappeared, going to talk to him with Strife.  Ares shook his head.  "I hate low self esteem."

"Ares, the only reason he sees for so many people liking him is his hormones," Horatio said as he walked out.  "He's always been this way."

"He was better before."

"We supported him and he wasn't the one working on the issue then.  It was taken out of his hands by more experienced ones.  This time he was the experienced one and it wore on him."  He came closer.  "He built this by hand but the thing tore it down.  At least once."  Ares nodded.  "He was cut off from everything he knows but us and he wouldn't let us help him."

"It goes back to what he used to be," Ryan agreed.  Ares smacked himself on the head and disappeared.  "He'll be back later."  Xander appeared in the fountain, making him shriek at the cold water.  "Better than spanking him."  Ares reappeared, putting a hand on Ryan's marking, making him flinch and hiss through his teeth as it was reheated and reapplied with a few new marks around the edge.  "Thank you."  Ares flicked a hand at his sword too.  "Blessed be.  Want a deer?"

"I wouldn't mind whatever the big one doesn't want."  He went to talk with Frank, leaving Xander in the fountain.

Horatio started to move but Ryan shook his head. "If he wants to quit leaning on us, he's got to do it himself."  Xander's head thumped.  "Even if he does die from it this time."

"If he does, you lose him," Ares called.

They groaned and pulled him out, making sure Xander lived this time. Strife came down a few minutes later.  "You over your shit?"  Xander looked up at him and shook his head, then grabbed it.  "So, what? The favoritism of three of us ain't enough?"

"It's not like that," Ryan defended. "Strife, look at his past.  See who he used to be and how he got here."

"I was there," he sneered.

Ryan hit him on the arm. "Then you should know pushing him this way will backfire."   They stared each other down.  "He's not like he was then."

"Seems like he went back there."

"As he pointed out, Lord Strife, none of us knew a thing about the demonic or the magic he'd probably have to use," Horatio said respectfully.  "We tried and he denied us the right to help because it was going to take too long to get us up to what we needed to know.  So we worked on the other skills. Including the defense skills."

"I got that part.  Part of him was so insecure...."

"Because you're the first one who believed he could do something besides fuck up," Ryan interrupted.  "Go you.  Wonder where he is now?"  Strife looked around and groaned, summoning him back.  He didn't come.  "Go find him.  Before he becomes terminally stupid.  I'm not losing him because you're being bitchy because life forced him back into his old one, the one that nearly killed him and destroyed his soul."

"You're brave," Strife smirked.

"I'm pissed.  Big difference.  I'll apologize later."  Strife snickered.  "I will.  For many years I'm sure.  Just don't make him crash his corvette with me in it.  Last time the crash was bad enough to watch."  Ryan shook until he left, then looked at Horatio.  "What did I do?"

"You stood up for him.  Someone needed to.  You did a good job, Ryan.  If you're plagued,  you have some sick time left."

Strife grimaced and looked up then went to find Xander.  He found him playing with the dog since the dragon would only stare at him.  He sat down next to him and the dog growled. "You, hush."  The dog settled down and Strife touched his boy's head, hearing him.  Actually listening this time.  What he heard didn't please him.  He smacked him for it.  "Quit that."  Xander glared at him.  "You deserved it."

"No I didn't."

"Yeah, ya did."  He made Xander look at him and undid what the three of them had done at his insistence.  He had been wrong.  Cupid came down to restore Xander's natural balance, ending the surge he'd be doing.  "There, better?"


"Tough."  He lost control of the chin and made Xander look at him again.  Then he forced some knowledge on him, making him retch.  "That's what would've happened if you had lost."

"I did what she said."

"That was him, not Hecate," Cupid said firmly.  "I'll even go check with her if you want."  He disappeared and came back furious.  "Our bad."

Strife raised an eyebrow. "Pity to be her then."   That got an evil grin from the Love God.  Then Ares came in.  "Undo it."

"Why should I?"

"Because we didn't notice our anchor had been taken. He did that fountain by hand, Ares.  All of it by hand.  Then he rebuilt it by magic when it got destroyed again and he lost his temper.  Hecate sure as hell heard apparently.  Artemis said she got an odd feeling about praying to bring down that deer."  Ares groaned.  "He's our responsibility and we blew it when he needed us the most.  What does that say about us?"

"That you're too busy to put up with me?" Xander pointed out.

"Shut up," Ares demanded, sealing his mouth closed.  The dog growled and he glared back, making him growl harder.  He laughed.  "Good dog.  Most of you are scared when I glare."  He reached down but the dog snapped at him.  "Hmm. Fully guarding the master. Good boy."  The dog whimpered and licked Xander's face.  "He'll be fine."

"Ares, can you maybe leave him alone?  This last time nearly broke him without the physical torture. We'd like our Xander back if you could."  Don came in and squatted down, making Xander look at him.  "Next time, let us help," he ordered.  "Or else I get to nag about this one."

"Will anyway," Xander mumbled.

"The chaos flows strongly around him," Cupid complained, glaring at Strife.

"Yell at Janus!"

"Enough!" Ares said, stopping the petty bickering.  He tested the kid and removed all the magic from around him.  All but his, Cupid's, and Strife's.  Aphrodite stormed in.  "Stop."  She pouted but her eyes told him he was going to be wearing a pink chiffon skirt for *ages* for this one.  He fixed the boy's mind, taking out the memories of what had happened.  Then he sealed them shut.  That allowed them to restore their marks on his body and make him theirs again.  Which was what the boy wanted.  He wanted to belong.  Xander screamed as the marks were renewed, and a few new ones added without their permission.  And again when Ares removed those.  He made Xander look at him.  "Mine."

"Yours, Cupid's, and Strife's."

"True," he agreed.  "You called on me?"  Xander nodded.  "Are you going to again?"  Xander nodded again.  "Do you remember why?"  Xander nodded.  "How?"

"Memory things don't work on me," he said weakly, looking at him. "Never have."

"Another thing we'd have learned watching his past," Don agreed, helping Xander up.  "Come on.  Definitely time for a nap now."

"I'm not a baby," he complained, pouting.

"No, but you need taken care of.  You never let us take care of you.  That's our job, Xander."

"I'm putting you guys out."

"You're not."

"I am!"

"Prove it."

Xander stared at him. "That sigh whenever something happens.  The same one that Danny has whenever he has to help me do something or go pay the bills.  Any of that stuff?" he asked.  Don gave him a look. "I'm trying!"

"You certainly are.  We agreed long ago that we're not enough for you. That's stressing you and us, Xander.  That's not just your life stressing us.  If we were doing this for real, we wouldn't be working."

"Which you'd hate."

"You're right, which is why we put up with the stress so we can still have you.  Trust me, if I didn't want you, I could've walked away the first time I saw you.  Or later on when things started to get cuddly or even when I came across.  I could've easily walked then and I didn't because I want to be here.  Problems and all.  So get that the pointy skull of yours."  He hauled Xander off.  "Don't make Danny think up new punishments."

Strife reappeared.  "Unc, think of Xander like me, only with Cupid's nature," he said quietly.

"I already do."  He looked at him.  "The basis of his self-esteem is how good he is at what he is.  I realized that.  I didn't realize it could be broken so easily."

"Yeah, well not like people stuck around for him."

"Point."  He concentrated and decided he could fix this.  He walked into the bedroom.  "How many times did you win against my chosen warrior?"

"Not enough.  I still have to do my own hair."

"Beyond that."  Xander shrugged.  "Ryan?"  He walked to the doorway.  "How many times does he win against you?"

"With this new style he learned?  I'm still trying to learn counters.  Before?  About a third to a half.  Somewhere in there.  I got more backrubs than I had to do his hair."

Ares looked at him.  "You bet on sparring?" he asked dryly.

"No, it was motivation."

"Whatever."  He looked at Xander again.  "The priests that trained him, how long do you think it took Ryan to win consistently against them?"

"He came home proud when he did.  Maybe a few months?  Six or eight."

"And you can beat the warrior I trained about half the time."  Xander perked up at that.  "If it wasn't for you being Cupid's and that damn switch in your mind, you'd be wearing the same mark, Xander.  Now, if I thought you were worthless, would you be one of them?"  Xander shook his head.

A brunette female appeared, looking at Ares.  "It happens whenever he's got to drop too far during a fight.  It's part guilt and part realizing that he'll never be any good without it," she told him.

He looked at her.  "You're one of the reasons why his self-esteem hinges on his sex skills.  Begone, demon."


"Out, Ahn," Xander said firmly.  "Quit trying to get between me and my Gods."

"Fine," she said, staring at him, then she suddenly sneered.  "I can do that."  She waved a hand and took off the spells she and Willow had put on him, then she disappeared.

"What did she do?"

"Cleared what the evil bitches in your life did," Ares said.  "Hecate?"  She appeared.  He stared at her.  "Isn't he yours as well?"

"I'd rather he not be."

"I'd rather you not send me out to die again too," Xander offered, staring at her.  She gasped.  "You did."

"She did," Ares agreed.  He glared at her. "Leave the anchor alone," he said slowly and clearly.  "If he wants to do harmless plant magic, soak up the prayers when things grow."  He gave her another look. "He's got enough fucking going on in his life with Cupid and Strife, plus me trying to control the berserker tendencies."  She gave the boy on the bed a horrified look. "Yeah.  So let's leave the magic alone around him?  Okay?"  She disappeared in a huff.  "I'll have a rain of toads later."

"French generals coming?" Ryan joked.  Ares gave him a dirty look and he grinned.

"Keep it up, kid."  He looked down and touched Xander, recharging his marks. He stared in Xander's eyes.  "Pray to me.  Reconnect us."  Xander started a silent prayer about his darker tendencies, making him smile since it was more than long and powerful enough.  He clipped the two cords of power together, getting one relaxing young man again.  He did one to Cupid and that one was reconnected.  He did one to Strife but not that one. "Mischief," he growled.

"It's innate to him," he called down.  "Otherwise he wouldn't have this problem."  He flashed in and Xander started to glow gold, then silver, then red.  Then he went back to normal and fell asleep.  "There. Bettah?" he asked.

"Much," Ryan agreed.  "Will he be normal later?"

Strife looked at him.  "Depends, kid.  You saw the old Xander.  There's a reason why he's not book smart.  He had to live on a totally different set of wits for far too long before huntin'.  You should read people better."

"I read him just fine," Ryan assured him.  "I knew what he was doing since he was cut off.  He doesn't realize what he was doing.  Big difference."  He walked in and covered him, then kissed him on the forehead.  "Thanks, guys.  Hopefully he'll be better when he wakes up."  He looked around but only Strife was there.  "He felt abandoned."

"I know."  He sat down beside him.  "Not like he's used ta faith."  Horatio came to the door. "He's napping."

"That's fine.  Ryan, your horse was nibbling in the garden."  Ryan shook his head, going out to stop her.

Ryan leaned back in.  "Should I help him fix the fountain?"

"That's his work of faith.  He needs it."  Ryan nodded and left.

"For some, faith is a lifeline, for others a burden, and for some it's only a philosophical thing," Horatio said blandly.  "He decided he had to protect us."

"Not like you guys knew demons."

"No, but some of us could help research."

"And start down his path, Horatio."  He faded out, then came back and whispered in Xander's ear before lighting his marks up again.  The others glowed softly the boy settled into a deeper sleep.  It allowed him to take care of all those remaining problems.

"Don't you dare remove his self-control," Cupid called.  Strife grinned and disappeared.  Cupid appeared and sighed, then did his own fixing of what Strife fixed.  He knew how a GHS should be and Xander was one unique one.  One that blew his mind nightly.  He checked his hormones, then smiled and fixed the conscious block he had on them.  They started to flow again and he sighed in pleasure as the power filled him.  "Better."  He looked at Horatio.  "He gets upset, he locks them away.  It's not good for him."

"I'll remember that."  Cupid grinned at Horatio.  "We've got him."  Cupid disappeared and he came in to sit with him, stroking over his hair.  Xander blinked at him a few minutes later. "Feel better?  More like yourself?"  Xander nodded.  "Then let me explain something.  It felt like you abandoned us, Xander.  Like you wanted us to be helpless."

"You couldn't do that stuff."

"It doesn't mean we couldn't help."  Xander shook his head.  "Because we didn't know anything?"

"Because learning that stuff warps you," he said.  "You have enough horrible things in your life already."

"Yes, but I have Speed to help me when they happen.  The same as I do the rest of my family.  The same as you do in us because we've adopted you."  Xander looked up at him.  "Sometimes family is what you make instead of what you're born with.  In your case we're definitely better than your biological or the one that raised you of Willow and Buffy."  Xander snuggled into his side and Horatio went back to petting.  "I know families are strange to you but we protect you like you do us, Xander.  Sometimes you have to let us protect you."

"You do. You keep me away from the sick bastards who want to keep me."

"True, but we can also keep you away from the other sort that want to keep you.  You have to let us.  So next time, let us help research.  At the very least we could've found more information for you.  It would've helped and given more of us something to do."  Xander nodded.  "Good boy, now, let's go eat.  We managed to save the garden from Ryan's mare."  Xander got up and walked out with him.  "What are you going to do with that door?"

"Keep it I guess.  We can go wander over there and pick fruit or something."  Horatio smiled and nodded, walking him outside.  Don was drinking a beer and complaining quietly.  "I'm sorry."  He started to turn around but Horatio stopped him.

"No, sometimes families have to fight to make things better."  He walked him over.  "Now, say it again?"

"I'm sorry I didn't let you guys help, but dealing with that stuff can warp you," Xander said.

"Not like I haven't dealt with it before," Don pointed out.

"And you're feeling warped by it," Horatio reminded him.  Don nodded at that. "He was trying to protect us and next time he'll let us help more."

"I'm hoping there isn't a next time."  He put down the can.  "How many more of these are there going to be?"

"It's not like I can help it, Don."

"Not the point.   How many more of these should we expect?"

"The highest of the higher courts leave me alone. They don't deal with humans. The lowest of the low, like vampires, I usually end up fighting so they know not to come near me anyway.  They're the mildly annoying ones I end up handling without help most of the time.  The middle?  I don't know.  I have no idea how many demons are strong enough to try it again."

"Calm down," Frank ordered.  "He's not blaming you, he's asking.  If he was blaming you for where you were born kinking your hormones toward them, I'd smack him for it, kid."

"There is a feeling that it'll never end," Danny agreed.

"It will.  This time none of the other ones tried because they didn't think he was worth the energy," Ryan admitted.  "They also saw the way this one failed.  The first one did better gifting him.  Xander told that one he failed since he took instead of asking.  Hate to say this but this is only the second one, guys.  The thing that took us across planes was human and magical.  The demons that took me and him before didn't do it as more than to show off and then we got stuck because Xander did the right thing and fought back.  Then they wanted to tame him.  There's only been two major demons coming after him. The monsoon demon who started off with jewel showers and this one.  Since the monsoon demon and his supposedly adoptive family were behind him being taken by the demons who wanted to prove they were so great by besting him and making him submit to them, it could've been a lot worse."  He patted his lap and Xander shook his head.  "Now.  I can't work on your hair over there."  Xander gave him a confused look.  "What?  I'm thinking and your hair does that."  Xander walked over and sat beside him.  "No, in my lap."  Xander sighed but sat on him, letting him play and braid his hair.  "Don, he handles the everyday ones without you.  You guys, including me, never see how many times in a normal day that Xander has to take himself back."

"Donny told us about the day he retrieved him about twenty times," Danny agreed.

"Do you think having Donny there stopped them?" Xander asked.  "It gave me more backup so I could get free.  It surprises me the days that something or someone doesn't try to keep me.  At the bank, at the grocery store.  I even have proof that children are demonic since one of them tried to take me home."  Ryan snickered at that. "He heard that complaint later that night. The mother yelled at me for her son trying to haul me off like I was his teddy bear.  He had me by the wrist and she yelled at me.  I was hoping he'd lead me to his parents so I could scream at her for letting her kid out of her sight like that."

"She called in a complaint and the officers talked to the child," Speed admitted as he came over.  "SVU told the mother off for letting her son out of her sight.  Then they told her to get his hormones checked.  The kid told his mother and them that he had drug you off, not the other way around.  That you were probably humoring him but he wanted you and you'd be his.  His mother has him in therapy and on hormone reducing meds.  SVU made a note about GHS members.  They got a good laugh out of it and figured you let the kid drag  you off so you could get him back to a reasonable adult too.  What they would have done."  He sat down across from Don.  "Nothing says that you're going to be living with him for the next eight hundred years, Don.  Or that the next one isn't going to be yours to solve."

"He feels the same frustration when there's a situation we can't help," Danny admitted.  Don looked at him. "You have."

"I do."  He slumped.  "I guess it could be worse."

"Yeah, a lot worse," Danny agreed.  He stroked his back.  "Need a break?"

"NO!"  He glared at him. "No.  Xander's family and I don't abandon family, even when he won't listen to me or let me help."

"Doing that sort of research warps someone, Don.  I didn't want you to turn into the guy I used to be.  You'd look cute in my hawaiian shirts, but you'd hate it."

Don shuddered. "I'd never wear them, kid.  I have taste."  He finished his beer and tossed the can into the recycling bin at the end of the table.  "This is destressing at the end of a long, hard day.  We'd go, we'd talk while we drank, and we'd let thing settle in."

"I get that and once Ryan's done with my hair I'm going to go hide from your drinking.  That way you guys can rant about me and I don't have to hear."  He looked at Ryan, who shrugged and went back to doing his hair.  "I should go get some groceries anyway.  Oh, Horatio, if I never said it, thank you for getting my car fixed again."

"You're welcome, Xander."  He kissed him on the forehead.  "You can stay."

"I can't stand the smell of alcohol, especially beer.  It's better if I go grocery shopping."

Ryan finished off the braid and left the bottom undone.  "There.  I'm done for now. If they get that drunk or you're that upset, you can crawl in with Eric and I tonight."  Xander looked at him. "I'm not going to have more than one."  Xander shook his head and got up, heading inside to find his wallet and go shopping.  Speed followed.  Ryan looked at them.  "Having seen and smelled his mother at eight in the morning buying more beer even though she was already drunk, I don't blame that reaction any."

"How can you be that drunk that early?"

"Maybe she hadn't gone to bed yet," Eric said from his seat.  He looked at Ryan.  "Are you crawling in with me tonight?"

"Depends on you, Eric, you know that."  He got up and headed inside, coming out with a six pack.  He could hear Xander and Speed talking in their room. "You call your wife yet, Frank?"

"I did."  He smiled.  "She's confused but it's the same night."  He got up with a stretch, then went inside to get the dear meat he had cut off for himself.  "I'm heading home, guys, before she worries."  They nodded at that.  "Have a better night."  He got in and drove off.

Speed came out with Xander. "I'm going with him to the store.  Anyone need anything?"  They shook their heads.  They watched Xander walk, he wasn't his normal bouncy self but he was closer again.  He even let Speed drive the corvette, which made Horatio moan.

"He's helping him."

"Speed would've made a great father," Horatio agreed.

"As far as I know it's just us that're infertile, Horatio," Ryan said quietly, sipping his beer.  "There are ways around the ban put into place by the legislature."

"Our lives are too insane for that," Horatio told him, giving him a look.  "Are you planning on adopting?"

"Yup, some decade."  He grinned.  "That way I can help someone to be better than I am and not have OCD."  Horatio cracked a smile at that.  "Think about it.  There's enough people in the lab that you don't have to work the insane hours you do."

"The boss might like it if we cut down on the overtime," Danny agreed.  He looked at Don. "If you decided to adopt, Xander would smother that child in attention," he said.  Don nodded at that.  "We'll talk about it in a few years."

"Do what Adam did, marry women with kids," Ryan offered.

"We could."  Don looked at them. "I'm not missing that part.  I'm still dealing with the idea of two or three hundred years."

"We still die, Don, and we don't get to pick the day.  It's just harder to kill us."  Don sighed and nodded.  "So it's the same thing we had before but now we've got more time to love, play, and keep Xander from doing stupid shit or giving up some year and letting someone have him."

"He nearly did earlier.  He said only someone without anything left to lose could beat that demon."  Ryan sipped his beer.  "Then he slipped."

They all shuddered.  They'd have to make sure he knew he had reasons to keep fighting.

Don looked up at the sound of a phone.  "I haven't heard one of those in a while.  Whose is it?"

"Yours."  Don went into the house to get it, coming out shaking his head.  "Miss it?"

"No, I got it.  My newest fan got probation in his deal."  He sat down.

"Well, now you'll understand what being the center of attention that way is like," Danny said dryly.  Don glared at him.  "I doubt he's been straightened out yet."

Don put his head down, moaning as he covered it.  "Don't make me grow my hair that way, okay?"

"Not longer than your shoulders," Ryan teased.  Don glared at him so he grinned.  "Really."

"Thanks, really."  He put his head back down, shaking it.  He heard the corvette pull in and looked up.  "Fair warning, the guy who came to the picnic took probation."

"Restraining order," Speed called. "Tonight, Don."

"I hope I can."  He got up and went to fill out that paperwork, pausing to give Xander a hug.  Xander smiled and Don kissed him on the forehead.  "I've only had the one, I promise."

"I know.  Take your bike if you can move Princess's tack."  Don nodded, grinning as he went to get his bike out of the garage.  Don handed the tack to Ryan then went back to walk his bike out and take off.  It was a nice night for a ride anyway. It'd help him clear his head.

Ryan looked at the saddle, then called the stables.  "Hi, it's Ryan."  He blinked.   "She's ..."  He looked around.  "Huh.  Yeah, apparently I do. Looks just like her.  At Xander's.  Thanks.  No, tack and all, I was just riding around on her.  Thanks."  He hung up.  "He copied my horse," he said once he made sure it was hung up.  "I have a pair of horses."

Xander poked him.  "Can I have one?"

"You can," he agreed, smiling at him.  "I haven't seen the ferrets recently."

"They've been sleeping in the cage today," Horatio offered. "I had to keep the dragon from letting them loose and watching them get lost."

"I'm leaving that other door closed most of the time," Xander promised.  He went to check on his babies, finding them staring at the dog.  "Staging a coup, guys?"  He brought them out, petting them, making them happy ferrets.  And a happy dog.  He hadn't gotten to spend much time with them.  "Hi, guys."  He stroked over their heads.  "Hey, Ryan?"  He went to check, coming back with another dog and a set of ferrets.  "No second dragon?"

"Nope.  But okay."  He let those two down to play beside the daddy too, then went back to close the door and lock it this time.  "Hey, Horatio, if you want ferrets, he copied them and the dog too."

"Don'll be happy," Danny said dryly.  He finished his beer and looked at Ryan.  "Where is my boy?"

"Playing with the four ferrets and two dogs."

Speed leaned out.  "Ours are coming from the pound, guys.  Thanks anyway."  Horatio smiled and Speed went back to putting up the frozen things. He had a thought and leaned out again. "Ryan, is this one pregnant too?"  Ryan checked her then moaned and nodded.  "Might wanna move to a farm, Ryan."

"We have one of those," Xander called.  "I need someone to run it."

Everyone froze at that.  He couldn't mean....

"Xander?" Ryan called, getting up and coming inside.  "Are we talking a *farm* farm, like cows?" he asked from the doorway.

"No, like a former horse farm.  I figured it'd give you somewhere nicer to ride when she had foals.  Plus we could have a veggie garden. I need someone to take care of it and run it, plus pick us veggies."  Ryan looked at him.  "The family was desperate.  Their daughter was dying.  They needed to pay for her treatment."  Ryan groaned. "It's about a half-hour away."

"You were going to do what?  Give someone living rights as long as they upkept it, let them rent out the extra stables for money, and take half the garden?"  Xander nodded, beaming at him.  Ryan blinked.  "Got any prospects?"

"They did.  If they didn't work out, I was going to talk to the person who runs where yours go."  Ryan smiled at that.  "I heard the gate beep."

Ryan went to let his stable keeper in, going to find his horse.  He found her nibbling on a bit of the garden again, coughing.  She looked at him so he grabbed her halter, walking her off.  "Thank you.  Xander will pout if you eat his garden."  The woman who ran the stables got out and looked at them.  "Someone tried to convince me they called my horse to where they were holding us hostage."

"She's nearly the same except for her white sock's on the wrong foot," she agreed, stroking down her side.  "Pregnant too I think."  She looked over the horse's back at him.  "You seem to have this growing problem, Mr. Wolfe."

"Yeah, but Xander may have found a solution.  She's been free-ranging for the last few days."

"That's fine. I've got an empty stall tonight."  She took the tack and put it into the truck.  Then she came to help him load his horse.  This one was a bit more docile than the other one.  "So, what are you going to do with the foals?"

Xander came to the door with his army of ferrets.  "I wanted to talk to you about that."

"Sure, what's on your mind, Mr. Harris?"

"You've heard of Dimitri and Heather Tropton?"

"I have and I think it's great someone bought their farm so they could save their daughter. You?"  He nodded.  "So you wanted to do what?  Find someone to live in the house, work on it maybe?"

"They can rent out the rest of the space if they wanted to.  Or work with kids who were handicapped. We'd want half the garden and I was thinking about getting my own but you're the only space in town."

"So this would be family only?"

"Unless they decided to rent out some of the extra spaces, but they're on the other side of the city from you."

"I could stand the competition.  I had to turn away one yesterday because they had a few too many.  You might call the ASPCA about that. They seized some recently and don't have room."  Xander nodded, grinning at her.  "Other than that, I do know someone who could and run things.  I'll put you in touch with them.  Let me get the other princess back home for tonight."  Xander beamed.  "You guys have been good for me. I get a lot of riding students.  I'll tell the animal folk to call you."  She smiled and got in to drive home, stopping through to get a snack on the way.  Then she called. "I know someone who bought the Tropton farm," she said happily.  "Yeah, he's planning on setting up someone there to watch over the family's animals and take half the garden. But they could rent the rest of the stalls if they wanted or work with handicapped kids according to him.  But it's probably clean.  They kept a spotless barn and I can give you their number.  They'd be willing to lend you guys barn space."  She smiled and ate a fry.

"Nope, I've got to put up someone's new gift horse.  Yeah.  Wolfe.  Yup, with the lab.  No, one of his buddies, Harris, rides with him and was going to get his own.  Then again, Wolfe's horse is pregnant and so is this new one someone gave him.  No, he rents from me and comes out to exercise her every other day at the moment.  About the same distance for him.  Thanks."  She hung up and went to put the horse into the stall.  The two looked at each other and touched noses, then she got put into the stall up the row.  "There you go.  He call you Princess too?"  She snorted and nuzzled her.  "I know.  Let me get you a carrot, greedy."  She got her one, letting her nibble, then the other one.  Then she went to put the tack in the room once she had it marked.  It was good tack.  He was a good owner so far.


Xander got out of his car at the new farm with Ryan the next morning, letting him smile at the fresh air.  "See, a ring and woods to ride in. Plus a huge garden," he praised, smiling at the ASPCA truck that was pulling up.  "We need to find a stable hand or do you guys have one?"

"We have one we can let you pay for us for a while," the officer driving promised, getting out to shake his hand.  "Thank you, Mr. Harris."

"I like horses.  Especially Ryan's."   That got a smile and they got them into the ring, letting the horses come down.  Xander looked at one that was shaking.  "Aww, you poor thing," he cooed, getting up there to help.  "You're just a little fella too."  He stroked his head.  "Come on, baby.  There's a good pasture for you guys."  He led him down carefully, watching how he was walking.  "Did they trim him wrong?"

"Hoof infection," she admitted.  She smiled at the people coming out of the house.  "Old owners?" she asked quietly.  He nodded and waved them over.

"Seized ones?" the father asked, scratching under one's mane.

"We didn't have any room.  We've got a stable hand to send out so you won't have to worry."

"It's no worry.  They're good looking animals who need some attention."

"This one has whip cuts," Xander admitted.  He looked at Ryan.  "Get the balm out of the kit?"  He nodded, getting into the trunk to do that.  He handed over the tub of it and he smoothed some, making the colt shiver but he cooed at it and it calmed down, letting him cover the last of them.  "There, that should help and keep flies out of it.  Yes it should, baby."  He rubbed noses with the horse, smiling at him.  "Now, go play."  He walked off.  "Can we put them in the pasture?"

"Sure," the wife agreed, coming to open that gate.  "This way to grass, boys and girls."  Xander led one and a few more followed.  She smiled at how he handled it.  "You're pretty good."

"I try.  I have ferrets, two dogs, and a dragon at home."  The animal cruelty officer looked at him.  "It's not on the exotic list."  She just nodded at that. The last one was standing there and Xander whistled, then nodded. "You, this way."  He trotted that way.  "Good boy."  He patted him on the side. "Good boy."  He walked into the pasture and nibbled some grass, then wandered off to be with the others.  Xander beamed at Ryan.  "Come on, let me show you the barn."

"Sure."  The family smiled at the officer, following behind them so she could inspect the stables.  He and Ryan got some hay out of the carrier and got to work spreading it on the stable floors for them.  That way they could be brought in later.  The water buckets were rinsed but they were already clean. They counted stalls.  They'd have enough room plus for Ryan's two horses, soon to be four.  Ryan hugged him and they grinned at each other.  Ryan looked at the family.  "Did you have anyone that you used to hire to help with the stable work?"

"We and the kids did it," the father admitted.  "I know some people don't like to muck themselves."

"Me," Xander agreed.  "I can but I hate doing it."  Ryan nodded that it wasn't his favorite thing either. "Then we'll hire someone so they have a good, stable home, let them poach out of the garden, and be out here to help when we can."  Ryan smiled at that.  He grinned at the family. "My original plan was to hire a manager."

"Might be a good idea and I know a few good ones," he agreed.  "I can put them in touch with you?"

"Sure," Xander agreed, beaming.  "Not much keeps me in town but Ryan's an officer in the lab.  So's my boyfriend."  That got a smile and a nod. "We'll love the farm just like you did.  And if some day your family wants it back, we'd give that more consideration than the normal people."  That got a smile and a nod from the mother.  "Now, shoo. You've got a daughter that needs you."  They went back inside and he looked at the ASPCA officer.  "We can borrow your stable hand?"

"Sure.  We don't mind.  Which of you has horses?"  Ryan raised his hand. "How on an officer's salary?"

"Xander's a member of GHS.  They were gifted to me," he admitted. "I was playing his bodyguard and they gifted them to me since I was taking care of him."

"Ah.  Where?"

"Shelly's.  Princess is mine.  The new one I got last night looks almost exactly like her.  I didn't really notice the difference until she pointed the white foot was on the wrong foot."  She smiled at that.  "She's also with foal.  So we've got foals coming sometime soon.  Shelly can't handle that and Xander wanted somewhere for family and friends to come destress and ride."

"Sure, it's a great thing.  We may need to come see him again about some horses."  Xander nodded.  "A dragon?"

"You can stop by and see Hubert if you want.  He was another gift."

"Sure," she agreed.  "I'll do that."

"He and Princess get along great.  She gives him rides," Ryan offered.  She smiled at that. "Need more help?"

"No, we're pretty good.  Their owner won't be getting them back. We've charged him with animal cruelty."

"Then what happens if they aren't adopted out?" Xander asked quietly.

"We give the bigger animals more time and there's rescue services, Mr. Harris."

He nodded.  "I wouldn't mind that one foal.  He's pretty and seems like he'll heal fine with some loving attention."

"That's what we hope for all of them. With one pregnant one, it's a sign of hope."  Xander nodded. "We'll see what happens."  She shook their hands and went to call and say that the stables met standards and then some.  Plus the new owners agreed they could hog the stables for now.

Ryan cuddled Xander.  "I love you too, Xander.  Even if you didn't spoil me with my next life already."  Xander grinned at him and they went back to the corvette, Xander stopping to get some treats from the car and bring them back so he could feed them carrots.  Especially that one foal, who sucked up attention like Xander did.  It was a good sign.  He called Don.  "We're coming home.  You should see the ones they seized, Don.  There's a jet black colt that's just loving Xander because he covered his whip marks and is feeding him carrots."  He smiled.  "I'm sure.  Thanks."  He hung up when Xander came back with a bright grin.  "We can bring Danny and Don out later."  Xander nodded and they got in, heading back to the house.   It was a good day in this family.

The End.

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