He slammed the hood of the truck down. The oil, radiator, brake fluid, even the windshield washer fluid levels were all fine. The gas tank was full -- he'd gone out earlier that morning to fill it. They'd still be stopping at Marvin's place for gas, but it was still better to have a full tank now.
Levon glared at the truck, trying to decide if he ought to check the air pressure in the tires. The realization that if Joe caught him he'd never hear the end of it, stopped him. Turning back towards the house, he got as far as the porch then called through the screen door, "Y'all ready yet?"
And was almost ran over as Angie and Tony came barreling out carrying their knapsacks. He gave them gentle nudges towards the truck and turned back, wondering where the heck Joe was. It wasn't like they hadn't been awake since five a.m. It was now nearly eight. "Joe!"
"Yeah, yeah, keep your hooves on," came his husband's grumbling voice from inside.
Not bothering to hide the glare he was aiming through the door, Levon went in and found Joe still fiddling with a duffel bag. "What is taking you so long?" True, when he'd called the ranch this morning he'd been told he still had time. But it was a long drive to the ranch.
"Some of us, being stuck in human form, are going to need to bring clothes," Joe shot back rather testily.
"How much clothing can one man wear in one week?" The question was rhetorical -- he knew exactly how many clothes Joe could wear in seven days. A hell of a lot.
"One man and two kids," Joe corrected, finally shouldering the duffel bag and picking up another he had thrown on the floor earlier.
"The kids were packed last night." He took the bag off Joe's shoulder and put it on his own, to prevent Joe from opening it again and trying to keep packing it.
"Mostly packed," Joe muttered as he docilely followed Levon to the truck.
"If they need anything, they can borrow it or I'll send someone to town and buy it." He reached back and grabbed onto Joe's sleeve. "Will you get a move on? It ain't like you haven't known for two weeks that we'd be leaving today!" He stopped suddenly, and gave his husband a sheepish smile. "I don't mean to be snapping at you, Joe."
Joe sighed. "S'alright, cowboy. I know you're just nervous. You've been tense lately."
The tone caught Levon's attention. Thinking back, he realised he'd heard it rather more often than made him comfortable. He shouldn't have been that distracted. Well, he had good reason. But -- "Joe? Something wrong?"
"What could be wrong?" Joe answered with a smile. There was something in his eyes though that didn't totally ring true however.
Forcing himself to calm down, for at least a few seconds, Levon refocused himself on his husband. "Joe, what's wrong?" He didn't let go of Joe's arm; he could feel the tension there.
"It's nothing." When Levon just kept looking at him, he sighed. "Okay, it is something but I'll deal with it. Just... need to work some things through in my head."
"Something you don't want my help with?" In a way he understood -- though knowing Joe, it was something that eventually they'd both be dealing with, anyhow.
That earned him a half smile. "Don't think you can partner. But thanks for the offer."
Levon nodded, realising they had no time to argue the matter. He opted to trust his husband to tell him if it was something he needed to know.
"Come on," Joe said, pulling away and heading for the passenger side. "I thought you were in a hurry to leave."
Angie and Tony were already in the truck, bouncing in their seats and laughing. Feeling a little off-balance, Levon got behind the wheel. "Everybody belted in?"
A chorus of "Yes!" answered him.
"Let's get going, then," he said with a grin he didn't quite feel. His nervousness had given way to an uneasy feeling he didn't like. A hand came over and rested on his thigh. He glanced over briefly, as he put the truck into gear. Joe grinned at him and moved his hand a bit higher. "Careful, I'm driving," he said gently. The unease faded.
"Actually you're just sitting there in park," Joe pointed out.
He glanced down, then gave Joe a glare while the kids giggled. He shifted into 'drive' and turned the truck in a tight circle to get them headed towards the road.
Levon managed to keep his attention focused on driving and the conversation on the drive out. It was almost enough to keep him distracted; it was enough that he didn't drive them into a tree along the way. There were a few times he was glad the road didn't have many curves in it, however.
When he pulled onto the hidden dirt "road" that led to the ranch, he was more than ready to get out of the truck and let himself stop trying to pay attention. He was sure his hands would be shaking, if he weren't gripping the wheel.
"Hey Levon," Joe asked softly. "You okay?"
Glancing over, he grinned. "Hell no. Should I be?"
Joe grinned back. "You remember cigars?"
He shook his head. "Not even the bubblegum kind. Probably the first time in my life I forgot something."
"Lucky I packed some then isn't it?"
That made him laugh. Then the nervousness hit him all over again, as they reached the packed road that lead the last half-mile to the ranch house.
"There they are!" Angie cried out excitedly as the centaur kids came in from the sides to race the truck the rest of the way.
When they pulled up to the driveway, the kids gathered and cheered themselves for winning. Levon leapt out of the truck and was immediately surrounded. All the kids were talking at once, and though the resulting cacophony was unintelligible, Levon knew what they were telling him. He didn't even bother looking back to see if Joe, Angie and Tony were following; he headed out for the nursery as fast as he could on two legs.
The sound of footsteps behind him told him that his family was following.
Levon saw the herd gathered in a loose circle; as he drew near he heard Corriane's loud cry. From behind him, he heard Joe mutter, "Just in time."
The mares moved out of the way as he came up. Hurrying through past them, towards the center of the circle, he could see Corriane. One more step... and he stopped.
It was suddenly very quiet. Joe came up beside him, laying one hand on his back. Everyone was watching, waiting... staring as the newborn began to struggle to its feet. There was an unsteady lurch, its hands waving out for its mother's leg; grabbing on, managed to steady itself long enough to gain all four feet.
Huge, unblinking eyes turned towards them and like the rise of the wind, hushed conversations broke out throughout the herd. Then the baby's gaze seemed unerringly to meet Levon's and he found himself looking directly into his son's eyes for the first time. Corriane reached down and took the boy's hand; he gripped her finger reflexively, looking around at all the strange faces. Then Levon moved forward and went to his knees before the infant.
With a sudden smile, he gathered the boy in his arms. As if that was a prearranged signal the conversation swelled up into a cacophony of joyful noise. Levon barely registered the sound; all his attention was on the tiny face looking up at him. Bright blue eyes, the color of the summer sky met his, tiny fingers curled around his as he brought the foal close. His coat was a shiny gold, his hair pale blond. He glanced up and found his husband watching them.
Joe was smiling at him, eyes meeting his with perfect understanding. He looked back down, then, and let himself be mesmerized by his son. Corriane joined him, changed and kneeling opposite them. It wasn't long before the other members of the herd started coming forward, one at a time, and meeting the newest addition.
Angie and Tony came forward as well, awed and hesitant. Levon glanced up at the kids, and smiled, holding the foal up a bit so they could see. Angie reached out a hand to the foal, grinning when he took hold of it tightly. Tony put a hand out towards the foal's back, petting the soft hair. The boy moved his legs and Tony jumped back, startled.
Levon looked over at Corriane. "What are you going to name him?"
"Taylor," she responded softly, smiling down at her son.
"Does that make him Taylor, Jr?" Tony asked.
Levon grinned. "No, just Taylor." He felt like he might not ever be able to stop grinning. Looking back down at his son, he saw the foal smile. No, he'd not be able to stop grinning for a long time.
He did let the others take him, however, Corriane took her son and handed him to Joy, first. Levon stepped back beside Joe, and watched his herd. "Congratulations," his husband said softly.
"Thanks." He leaned over and gave Joe a kiss. He figured he probably out to restrain himself, but he felt like jumping into the air and shouting. He contented himself to another, more energetic, kiss.
Joe chuckled, cooperating enthusiastically. Then he pulled back and handed Levon something.
A chocolate cigar.
Levon took it, then stopped and gave Joe a warning frown. "You didn't."
His husband gave him an innocent look.
Sighing, Levon rolled his eyes and considered for one very serious moment forbidding any of his herd to accept Joe's gifts. If he did, he'd have to deal with Joe pouting.
He unwrapped his cigar and took a bite. At least it was very good chocolate. He gave Joe a half-hearted glare, anyhow. "You know you're gonna be helping watch the youngsters, now."
Joe shrugged. "It's worth it."
He raised an eyebrow, doubting Joe really meant that. Then again -- how often had Joe spent the day with a dozen hyper centaur kids? Maybe he was counting on the 'do as you're told' instinct, to save him from any real headaches.
"Come on, 'Dad'," Joe said, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Let's go unpack while we have the chance."
"Unpack?" Levon asked. "You really plan on wearing all those clothes you brought?" He turned, pulling Joe into an embrace.
Joe grinned. "Wouldn't have brought them otherwise."
Levon gave him another kiss. "You sure you'll be needing them all?"
"Maybe not. But better safe than sorry."
"Reckon we can get you to stop wearing 'em, now?"
"Not in mixed company."
"There's a bedroom not a hundred yards from here."
"Why do you think I'm trying to get you to help me unpack?"
"Me?" Levon gave him a look of startled innocence. "If you're so all-fired up about unpacking, go ahead. I won't stop you." He didn't let go of Joe, however. Unfortunately for the bantering, he was starting to lose the ability to think clearly enough to tease his husband back.
Joe's eyes raked over his body like a touch. "Oh yeah, you are definitely packing."
Levon wasted several seconds trying to reply, then gave it up for lost and kissed him again.
He nodded. That, he could do.
It was late that night, after a full day of being alone with Joe, then heading back out to spend time with the herd before dinner then more time alone with Joe, that Levon found himself thinking about what fatherhood meant. Joe had surprised him with the kids, not seeming to mind at all when the chocolate made them hyper. He'd cheerfully kept them moving in a dozen different directions until they'd finally worn themselves out.
His husband had the knack for it, he realised. Being a parent. Despite the tragedy that had brought them, Levon was grateful for Angie and Tony, giving Joe what might have been his only opportunity to be a father.
And now, his own unexpected fatherhood. Until last summer he had never thought he would sire any foals. Now, with Taylor born and three other mares ready to give birth, he was faced with feelings he hadn't quite anticipated. Holding Taylor was like nothing he had every experienced, feeling the connection with the foal immediately. This was his son, his progeny.
Whom he would have to hand over to Stuart, to raise. Even if the young man weren't ready this season, it would only be another year before he was ready to take the herd. Levon would have to give up his right as a father, then.
Or kill Stuart and keep the herd. And lose Joe, and his niece and nephew in the process.
Right now both options were equally unthinkable. And that was his problem. He had set aside the question of when Stuart would be ready, until it felt right. Now he knew it would never feel right. He understood how the tradition of killing the previous stallion had withstood ages of civilization -- letting go of your herd, when they were yours, was unbearable.
"Hey partner," Joe greeted him, coming out from the house. "Kids are finally asleep."
He nodded, absently.
"Levon? You okay?"
He was suddenly afraid that if he tried to tell Joe what he was thinking, Joe would assume he was losing his husband. The trouble was, he didn't see any way to avoid it. Unless he let go of them now, before he got so attached he wouldn't be able to leave. Before the others were even born; surely he could let go of one foal that he'd barely spent a few hours with....
He closed his eyes tightly.
"Levon?" Joe's tone was turning worried.
He didn't want to hurt Joe. Didn't want him to think he was losing Levon -- unless that was what he had to do. But he couldn't. He couldn't imagine letting Joe go, and not have it destroy him as surely as leaving his herd.
Unless he left right now.
"You going to talk to me, cowboy?"
He looked up at Joe. "I think I'd better leave," he whispered, barely able to say it loudly enough for even Joe, barely a handful of inches away, to hear.
"Because if I don't, I won't be able to."
Joe shook his head. "What are you talking about?"
He looked away again, wondering how he could put it into words. He could barely make sense of the feelings, strong as they were to the point they nearly overwhelmed him. "My kids... leaving them to be raised by Stuart. If I stay long enough... to even see 'em again, I don't know that I'll be able to let 'em go." He tried to force out the last word, 'ever', but it wouldn't come.
Joe looked away from him, staring out at the night. "If you feel that way, maybe you shouldn't."
Levon whipped his head up to stare at his husband. "Wha--" He could feel his heart-beating faster, and a new fear began to grab hold of him.
"I'm not going to make you leave your kids, Levon." Joe still wasn't looking at him.
"Don't do this to me, Joe," he pleaded. He'd counted on Joe to argue with him, make him realise why he had to let them go. "You're the most important thing in my entire life." As he spoke, the words came tumbling out even faster. "I need you to remind me why I can't stay." He wanted to reach out and touch Joe, but couldn't make his hand move.
And then he didn't need to, because Joe had turned and pulled him into his arms. "You sound like you think you're going to lose me."
"I won't?" He suddenly felt as if he'd missed part of the conversation.
"Of course not, you idiot! I love you!"
"Even if I stay--" he cut himself off, afraid that Joe had misunderstood what he'd meant.
But Joe responded quietly, "Even if you stay forever. It won't break us apart, Levon. I won't let go of you that easily. I'll share you before I give you up."
He pulled himself tighter into Joe's embrace, nearly shaking with relief. He knew that soon enough he'd start thinking of practicalities, and how they'd work this out, if they even could. For now, he had his husband and his herd, and was required to leave neither.
"Is this what you've been brooding about all evening?"
He nodded against Joe's shoulder.
"I thought we settled this months ago. You're not going to get rid of me -- or Angie and Tony. If you have to be here as head stallion, we'll work something out."
He looked at Joe, looked into his eyes a little wonderingly. He couldn't find it in him to doubt, couldn't hear anything in his husband's voice to make him think Joe didn't mean exactly what he was saying. And he slowly smiled. "You'd let me? You love me enough to let me do this?"
Joe looked at him seriously. "You said I was the most important thing in your life. That works both ways, cowboy."
With that, simple enough words though they seemed to be, Levon's fears vanished. The stability they left behind let him realise he had nothing to fear. "Thanks, Joe." He still didn't know how long he would have to stay, but he knew it wouldn't be long.
Would definitely not be forever.
"You through being an idiot now?"
"No. But I'm through being an idiot about this." He tried giving Joe a grin, hoping he hadn't upset him too badly. Joe grinned back, shaking his head. "Least I'm too cute to strangle."
"Just don't wanna to have to arrest myself."
Levon raised his eyebrows. "You'd arrest yourself for strangling me? Ain't that sweet."
"Yeah, I'm a bundle of sentiment."
Levon gave him a kiss. "You about ready to head inside?"
"If you want." Joe hesitated. "Or we could go for a run."
He shook his head. "Be dark too soon to get anywhere, and I wanna check on my herd before we head for bed."
He dropped his hand into his husband's, gave it a light squeeze. "You coming?"
Joe grinned. "Not yet, but I suspect I will later."
Levon rolled his eyes. "Go on, then. I'll catch up with you in a bit."
"You sure you don't want some company?"
He pulled Joe closer, letting Joe bump into him. "Always."
His husband leaned in and kissed him. "Lead on then, partner."
Hand-in-hand, they headed over to the pasture where most of the herd had gathered. Levon could see that some of the older kids were still off playing, and three of the younger mares were gone as well, looking after them. The rest were trying not to startle the newborn foal by staring at him too intently. They could hear delighted laughter rising, and Levon found himself grinning all over again. He turned and saw Joe smiling at him.
He wished he could share this feeling with him. It seemed unfair that the one of the that had always wanted kids -- though he'd denied it about as loudly as Levon had, silently, still had none of his own. Maybe, if things went right, he could.
The herd noticed their arrival and made way for them. Levon found himself being handed his son, and he took him, then turned and laid the boy in Joe's arms. Joe looked startled at first, but automatically supported the child. He and Taylor regarded each other solemnly, then Joe smiled, his eyes plainly showing his emotions.
Taylor smiled back at him, then laughed. He reached out with one hand towards Joe. Joe held very still as the boy ran a hand exploringly over his face. Then suddenly he laughed again, patting Joe, as if he approved. Levon smiled when Joe looked up at him, and winked. "He'll remember this, you know. When he's forty you can tease him about it."
Taylor squirmed to get down and Joe gently sat the foal on his feet. "Something to look forward to."
Taylor staggered a little, grabbing onto Levon's leg to steady himself before racing back to his mother. "Yeah, and he'll remember I told you that you could tease him."
"He's something, Levon." Joe's eyes were still following Taylor.
"Yeah." Levon was watching Joe. The look in his husband's face was encouraging. He took Joe's hand, again. Joe squeezed his fingers, finally tearing his eyes away from the foal to meet Levon's gaze. "You know, technically you're a dad, here, too," Levon pointed out.
Something soft and vulnerable appeared in Joe's eyes. "The thought had crossed my mind," he admitted, "but I wasn't sure with the herd..."
"Of course you are," Carla said easily, from beside them.
Levon nodded. "Up to you, how much you wanna be involved -- though there ain't much you can do to mess up a centaur youngster."
He could see from Joe's expression how much this meant to him. "Thank you," Joe said softly.
"Love you," he said, and pulled Joe in for a kiss.
Joe kissed him back with some heat. As they kissed, Levon tried to remind himself that they were outside, surrounded by the herd -- and Joe, at least, might not appreciate making love with an audience.
"Think it's time to head back to the house and up to bed?" Joe asked when he pulled back, voice husky.
Levon nodded. He made no effort to walk, though, until someone gave him a not-so-discreet nudge from behind.
Joe chuckled. "Come on, cowboy. Bit early to be corrupting your son."
Levon grinned, and followed as Joe led him back towards the house. It seemed no time until they were in their bedroom behind a closed door. Levon stopped holding himself back to the realms of politeness, and tore at his husband's clothing.
Joe laughed. "And you wonder why I bring so many clothes," he said as the buttons popped off his shirt as Levon ripped it open.
"Shouldn't be wearing 'em in the first place." He let the shirt fall to the floor and moved on to the belt at Joe's waist. He fumbled with the buckle for a moment before Joe interfered.
"Why don't you just deal with your own and I'll take care of mine?"
"Yours are more fun." But he started undressing, keeping a close eye on Joe as he did. He loved seeing his husband's body, loved seeing it revealed bit by bit.
"Enjoying the view?"
"Always. Need more of it, though," he nodded towards the underwear Joe was still wearing.
Laughing, Joe obligingly stripped off his last piece of clothing. Levon stopped in his own undressing, and looked. Up, down, and up again, eyes trailing over every well-known and well-loved feature. He grinned when his gaze met Joe's -- the amused, indulgent expression one he knew well, too. Joe let him look his fill then prodded, "You're falling behind," nodding at Levon's clothes.
"Don't mind," he said absently. He was thinking about what he wanted to be doing to that body in front of him. In fact, he was ready to start doing them, and stop planning them. He moved forward.
"Levon. Clothes. Lose them."
"Mm-hm," he reached out and put his hands on Joe's chest, splaying his fingers wide. Joe was moving, he could feel the play of his muscles. He wanted to feel more, so he began running his hands down Joe's sides.
Laughing, Joe began stripping Levon. "Gotta do everything myself," he muttered good-naturedly.
Levon paid him no attention, concentrating instead on putting his hands everywhere the muscles tensed, relaxing and clenching as Joe moved.
"One track mind..."
"Joe...." His husband had moved out of reach, so Levon turned to follow him. Then Joe was grabbing his shoulders and pushing him backwards onto the bed. "Wha--?" He looked around briefly, wondering what Joe was up to. That half-formed thought vanished as Joe crawled on top of him.
"Much better," Joe observed, before lowering his head and feasting on Levon's lips.
He had no idea what Joe meant, but it didn't matter. He could touch now, apparently, as much as he wanted without distraction. Which he did, just as Joe was touching him back.
Sometime later -- he had no idea how much later -- Levon opened his eyes. He'd dozed off in Joe's arms after exhausting them both.
"Welcome back, cowboy."
He leaned over and kissed Joe.
Joe kissed him back. "Your brain back online yet?" he asked when they parted.
"Depends. You need it for anything?" He stretched a little, enjoying the feel of their bodies pressed against each other.
"Guess not. Nothing important anyway."
Levon laughed. He lay there for several moments, staring up at Joe.
Joe grinned at him. "What?"
"Looks good on you."
His husband's grin got wider. "It does on you, too."
"Yeah...." he sighed. "We have a son." The words sounded amazing, when he said them aloud.
"It's different when it's your own flesh and blood, isn't it?"
"Is it?" he asked quietly. They'd both become step-parents for Angie and Tony, and knew what that sort of fatherhood was like. Did Joe feel the same... difference with Taylor?
"I can see it in your eyes when you look at him. Taylor."
"Then I guess it is," he agreed. He could feel something, something that for all he loved Angie and Tony and the other kids in his herd, he did not feel for any of them but Taylor. It was why he'd been so out of his mind at the thought of leaving him. He felt badly, though, that he couldn't quite see what he was feeling in Joe's eyes. Soon, he hoped. Soon.
But Joe was smiling at him. "I'm glad you got this chance, Levon."
"Three more, too." There were still three mares waiting to give birth. Levon felt his eyes glazing over, slightly. "Gods, I'm glad I have twenty two adults helping me raise kids."
"We haven't been doing too badly with Angie and Tony."
"Yeah...." Even when he left the herd, he'd have those two to raise. Until then, he had his kids, all the kids in the herd. All the adults, helping even as they looked to him to be in charge. He closed his eyes. "Can I go back to being submissive to you?"
Joe shook his head with a smile. "Don't think you could anymore."
"Not even for the night?"
"What do you need from me?"
He smiled, as lecherously as he could.
"Thought we already did that," Joe said thoughtfully.
"Is there a limit?"
"Is that what we're trying to ascertain?"
"Dunno what we're trying to ascertain. Was either of us paying that close attention?" He couldn't deny that, for everything else that had happened today - the ups and downs ranging all over the emotional scale -- nothing felt as secure and loving as being here in Joe's arms. Teasing him.
"Certainly you weren't. Not with your brain shut off."
Levon grinned. "So you were? Got any pointers you'd like to give? Comments, questions?"
Joe looked and at him and said laconically, "8.5."
Raising a eyebrow, Levon considered for a moment that he didn't want to know. "Which of us is being rated?" he finally asked.
"Last time I checked it was a team event."
"8.5, huh?" He thought back, but as usual, the details were mostly hazy. "Problem sticking the dismount?"
He looked down at himself. Naked, as he'd thought. He turned back to his husband, wondering if there were some role-playing fantasies he didn't know about.
"I got you undressed. Finally."
"You're saying you weren't up to the challenge?" he asked, giving Joe a slightly apologetic look. A cute, apologetic look, he hoped.
"There are more fun ways of upping the degree of difficulty."
Levon continued smiling at him, hoping to diffuse that look of fond exasperation into just fondness. Then he offered, "Sorry?"
Joe smiled and shook his head. "Next time get naked, then lose the brain, okay?"
"I'll try," he answered, seriously.
"When you remember." Joe grinned wider.
"Love me, anyway?"
"Yeah. I do."
"I'm naked, now," he pointed out.
He considered, then discarded, a few ways to ask his husband if they could make love again. He reached up and traced Joe's mouth, with a finger. It needed to be kissed. So he did.
"You know I'm getting the feeling that you want something."
"Mmm?" He pushed up onto his elbows and kissed those lips. When that was done, he began kissing along the jaw, working his way towards the ear. He had to lean onto one elbow and pull Joe down with the other hand, to reach.
Joe laughed. "Your brain's gone again hasn't it?"
He put his hand on Joe's back and used the leverage to pull himself up, closer. He wanted to feel Joe's body against his while he kissed him again.
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Huh?" He couldn't figure out why Joe was talking to him. But he'd heard the word 'yes', so he reckoned Joe wasn't telling him to back off. And he was certainly cooperating. So whatever Joe was babbling about, he could deal with later.
A month later Levon headed into his office to call home. He'd stayed at the ranch while Joe, Angie, and Tony had gone home three weeks before. Angie and Tony had begged to stay, naturally, wanting to witness the other births. But school was still in session and Joe had insisted they couldn't use baby centaurs as an excuse for missing. But they'd managed to make it down every weekend which kept Levon from getting homesick.
It helped that the herd kept him busy. Whether they were doing intentionally, or birthing season was always this frantic and he'd never realised it when he'd been a child, he didn't know. But it was hard to accept that nearly four weeks had passed since Taylor'd been born.
Granted, looking at the colt reminded him -- he hadn't breathed a word of it to any of the others, but he envied humans' slower aging and longer childhoods. The boy was growing so fast, it was easy sometimes to think of only the things they had so little of before the foal grew older.
Shaking off the melancholy thoughts before they could take hold, he dialed the familiar number. The phone only rang once before it was answered and an even more familiar voice said, "LaFiamma."
"Ain't you packed and leaving, yet, boy?"
"Truck's all loaded up. Just waiting for your call."
He grinned, already anticipating being with his husband, again. "Anna still hasn't given birth yet -- she says she's waiting on you three. So I wouldn't lollygag if I were you."
"Levon? You have my permission to shoot me if I ever use the word 'lollygag'."
Laughing, Levon just asked, "You wanna head on up, now? Much as I wanna talk to you, I'd rather do it in person where I can hold you at the same time." That thought lead to another, which threatened to lead to his brain shutting off.
"I know you, cowboy. If that happens, the last thing we're going to be doing is talking."
"It'll keep us out of trouble, anyhow."
"We'll be there soon."
"I'll be waiting."
"Love you." And then Joe had hung up.
Levon hung up, and looked around the office. A hundred things he could do to occupy himself while he waited. Work to be done, paperwork, mail, even some phone calls he could make.
He picked up his hat and headed outside to change, and play with his kids.
While with the foals, time sped past so it seemed like only a few minutes later when he heard the sentries' warning call of Joe's arrival. The older kids headed out at top speed to arrange themselves for the race in. Levon warred with going with them, or staying at the nursery. A tiny hand tugging at his made up his mind, though he kept a close ear out for Joe.
He was close enough he could hear the sound of the truck's engine along with the kids' shouts when Joe pulled up in front of the house. Rosa, the most recent foal born just the past Tuesday, looked over towards the commotion, brow furled in confusion. Levon bent down and picked her up, and asked, "You wanna go see?"
The foal's eyes drifted to his face but almost immediately tracked back to the truck.
He smiled. "Let's go see what they're up to." He glanced over, knowing Cerese, Rosa's mother, knew exactly where her foal was, but he had to make sure regardless. She gave him a small nod, and he headed over towards the driveway.
In his arms, Rosa kicked her legs a bit as she grew excited.
Twin shouts of "Uncle Levon!" was quickly followed by the appearance of Angie and Tony.
"Hey, you two!" He stood still as they ran up to him, stopping to stare at the filly they hadn't yet met.
Angie reached out. "This is Rosa? Named after grandma?" The baby was staring at the girl, eyes wide. "Hi," Angie said quietly to her, smiling widely.
Rosa clutched her daddy's arms, obviously not sure she trusted this newcomer. Tony, beside his sister, stood up on his tiptoes, trying to look at the foal. Levon considered changing and sitting down to hold the baby at eye-level, but he wasn't sure Joe wouldn't glare at him.
He really had to break his husband of the pesky human-morality of no nudity in front of the kids.
Fortunately, Joe came up behind Tony and lifted the boy into his arms so he could look at the foal at eye-level. Tony reached out a hand to Rosa. "Hello," he said.
Faced with three new faces, Rosa decided she wasn't nearly brave enough. She shrunk back in Levon's embrace, then turned her face to hide. Levon gave his family a smile. "Reckon she needs a little time to get used to you."
"Why don't you two go see what Taylor and Cordelia are up to?" Joe suggested before the kids' expressions could fall.
"Yeah!" Angie nodded, and took her brother's hand. Hanna and Bill happily escorted them towards the nursery, talking excitedly about the foals' latest achievements.
Joe grinned at Levon. "Hello."
"Hey." He returned the smile, and stepped forward to give his husband a kiss. Then he looked down to find Rosa, being held between them, staring up at them with her eyes wide again.
"She's beautiful," Joe said. "Rosa's gonna flip over her namesake."
"Yeah. Think we can get Mike and Teresa to drive her down to visit?" They'd invited Rosa down several times, but lately she hadn't been up to flying. Rosa, meanwhile, was watching Joe closely.
"Maybe. We'll get her down here somehow."
"Could always make Carl drive her," Levon suggested, only partially joking. "'If he weren't getting ready to take the herd up there." He watched as Rosa put a hand out, towards Joe. Joe smiled and held out a finger for her to grasp.
She did so, then she let out a tiny laugh. She held her other hand out for him in an obvious 'hold me' gesture. Levon handed her over, watching with equal delight the look of joy on his husband's face.
"Guess I've passed muster, huh?" Joe's smile seemed to be permanently part of his expression.
"You're gonna be one of her favorite dads," Levon agreed.
"Pretty much guarantee you'll be one of three." He leant down and gave the filly a kiss on the top of the head. She looked thrilled with her next circumstance, clinging to Joe's shirt and kicking, again. Joe winced as one of her hoofs connected with his side. "Careful, there," Levon told her, though he knew she wouldn't really understand. He did catch her hoof in his hand, though, and held it still. "Wanna let her down?" he asked sympathetically, as she continued wriggling enthusiastically.
"My ribs do." But Joe made no move to put her down, instead bouncing her slightly which made her giggle happily.
Levon just grinned at them both. He looked down when he felt something collide with his rear leg -- Cordelia stood there, arms flung around his leg and looking up at him happily. The infant's mother was right behind her, trying not to laugh out loud.
"They're kinda like velcro aren't they?"
"Yeah." He gave the filly a smile and asked, "Now that you've got me, what're you gonna do with me?"
Cordelia just grinned up at him and hugged his leg tighter.
He heard from behind him in the other direction, Tory and Rusty whispering and giggling. He didn't look, but smiled at Joe when his husband caught sight of whatever the kids were up to. A moment later, his other rear leg was thoroughly grabbed. He looked back -- Taylor. Joe put Rosa on the ground and she latched onto Levon's other front leg.
The older kids laughed -- as did Joe. Levon just looked at his only free leg. "Guess we need another foal."
"Should we tell Carrie to hurry up?" Tory asked, all-innocent.
"I don't know," Joe said. "What do you think Levon? Head stallion that you are, you think you can order her to get on with it?"
"I don't think I want to even try," he said, seriously. "You ever been glared at by a pregnant female?"
"Just Maria when she was pregnant with Angie."
Levon shook his head. "It's a hundred times worse, when it's your fault."
"Guess I'm lucky I'm never going to be in that position, huh?"
Levon looked sharply at Joe. Joe was looking down at the foals, an odd half smile on his face. He opened his mouth to tell him, when a commotion came up from the nursery field. Levon tried to turn and look, only stopping the reflex at the last second remembering his hangers on.
"It's time!! It's coming!" Marta shouted towards them, then she ran forward. Levon reached down and picked up Rosa; he didn't more than glance back and Tory was taking Taylor, and Cordelia was in her mother's arms.
Foals safely out from underfoot, the centaurs raced off. Levon paused only long enough for Joe to jump onto his back before following them.
"Looks like I showed up just in time," Joe shouted to him as they ran.
The herd was still gathering as they arrived -- most gathering at top speed until they hit the invisible boundary marking the nursery. Then each slammed to a halt and nearly tip-toed in. Carrie was standing near the center, Carla and Diana on either side of her. From the looks of it, the birth had not yet begun. Angie and Tony had come with the other kids and ran over when they arrived.
Rosa seemed to be the only one who wasn't particularly interested -- then again, she was the only one who had no idea what was happening. Even Cordelia had some idea, having seen Rosa born. But Cordelia was obviously more interested in being held by her mom, than watching the spectacle. Levon, for his part, was trying to appear calm, collected, and not pace -- someone, probably Taylor, had a hold of his leg once more.
Joe hadn't dismounted and leaned forward, his arms casually around Levon's waist as he looked at the activity in front of them. There was no way to know how long the wait would be, so Levon settled himself in to stand there as long as it took. He did look over his shoulder, once, to see Joe's face. His husband smiled briefly at him before going back to watching.
They stood there in silence, watching, waiting. Occasionally one of the mares would speak to Carrie, but Levon couldn't make out what they were saying. Rosa reached up and patted his chin, bored with watching nothing happen.
Joe chuckled. "I think that's foalese for 'Entertain me.'"
"Yeah. Fortunately for me, I've got just the thing." He gave the tiny filly a kiss on the head, then handed her out -- to her mother.
The mare gave Levon a wink, and began talking to her daughter happily. Levon went back to watching, and reminding himself not to start pacing, nervously.
"You have any of those chocolate cigars left I gave you?"
"No," he replied, absently. Then he gave Joe another sharp look. "You think a sugar rush is gonna help anyone relax?"
Joe grinned. "It's tradition."
"For who?" But he returned the grin. Then Carrie gave a loud cry and they turned back. The older mares effectively obscured her from the others, watching, but it was easy to track her progress by the sounds. Unobtrusively, Joe rubbed Levon's back, loosening tense muscles. He reached one hand back and felt Joe take it. He squeezed gently, then unintentionally hard when they heard the first cry.
There was quick activity, then Joy announced clearly, "It's a girl!"
"Think that's your cue, cowboy," Joe said, grinning, nudging Levon forward.
He took a hesitant step forward. When the others made way, he moved forward with more assurance. He asked himself why he was feeling so apprehensive. Unfortunately, he had no answer.
Finally, the cleared the crowd and Carrie and her new foal came into view.
Levon stopped short, surprised. Carrie gave him a smile, then turned her gaze upwards slightly, over Levon's shoulder. "Would you please name her, Joe?"
She bent down and picked the foal up -- and everyone could see the girl's dark hair and tail, contrasting sharply with her palomino coat. Carrie, herself, was sharply chestnut-red, and only her daughter's face held resemblance to her mother.
In coloration, she resembled Levon -- and Joe.
Carrie favored Joe with a suddenly-bashful smile. "She's yours, too, Joe."
Joe stared at the foal. "How- that isn't possible!"
"I asked...." she began still hesitantly, then said in a fierce rush, "I asked Zeus and he said he would; I hope you don't mind, but I wanted -- a lot of us thought you would, that is, wouldn't mind...." She took a deep breath. "You're Levon's husband, after all, it's only fair you be a real father to our children."
Joe opened his mouth but nothing came out. Slowly he slid off Levon's back and walked over to Carrie, his eyes never leaving the new foal. The filly looked at him, vivid blue eyes staring up at him. Levon recognized their shade easily. He saw it constantly, in his mate's eyes.
Hesitantly, Joe reached out a hand towards the baby.
Levon watched, then glanced over at Carrie. Meeting her gaze, he winked. When she'd asked him, so long ago, if he minded her making the request, he'd said no and encouraged her to do so. He'd kept the secret since then, occasionally with great difficulty.
Carrie handed her daughter over to Joe who took the foal almost reverently. "What's her name, Joe?" she asked.
"I... Laurie." He smiled at her. "Her name is Laurie."
Carrie smiled at him. Levon, only a little surprised, said, "After your mother."
"Yeah." He reached out and took the filly's hand, still held carefully in Joe's arms. She took it, still looking up at Joe. Levon laughed. Joe looked up at him, his eyes finally holding that wonder that Levon had wanted to share with him.
"Congratulations, love," he said, savouring the words. Savouring the expression that responded to them.
"You knew about this." It wasn't a question.
"I did," he admitted.
"You could've said something."
"Woulda spoiled the surprise," he said mildly. Then he added, before Joe could get upset, "We weren't entirely convinced it would take."
Joe smiled self deprecatingly. "I doubt I would've believed it anyway."
"You believe it, now?" Levon asked softly. The filly was still looking up at Joe, eyes wide -- as if she knew whom she was looking at.
"It's crazy, but yeah."
Levon just smiled. He watched as Joe and his daughter got acquainted -- understanding fully well the desire to spend the entire day just holding the foal and looking at her.
Eventually, Joe had to hand her back to her mother. Carrie gave Joe a knowing smile, and then took her daughter to introduce her to the herd. Levon put his hand on Joe's shoulder. Blue eyes looked up at him.
"Love you," he said simply.
Joe smiled at him. "Love you, too."
He pulled Joe close for a kiss, then grinned. "Guess we shoulda brought more of those cigars."
"Yeah." Joe's expression sobered. "Thank you."
With equal gravity, he replied, "You're welcome." Then he grinned again. "Comes in handy, don't it?"
"Knowing a god."
"Don't knock it. Who do you think got us out of paying income tax?"
"I think even Zeus would have problems with the IRS."
Levon shook his head. "Actually, it ain't his department." He held his hand out for Joe's, to tug him up onto his back once more. "It's Hermes'."
"Hermes," Joe repeated, swinging astride Levon. "God of thieves. Makes sense."
His husband's weight settled on his back felt perfect. Levon looked around the herd gathered, all enjoying the four new foals. Levon wanted to take Joe for a run, but he wanted to stay here and simply watch his herd. He sighed, but happily.
"What?" Joe asked.
"What, being out standing in your field?" Joe chuckled and dropped a kiss on his shoulder.
But Levon answered, seriously. "I've my whole family, right here. Well, a few exceptions I could think of. But you, our kids, the herd... can't think of a thing that's needed to make this complete." He paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Getting sappy again."
Joe smiled at him. "You're entitled. You've had a lot to get sappy over the last month."
"Yeah." He listened to various individuals' laughter, mares calling out to one another, youngsters running between their elders. They were going to be celebrating for some days to come, he knew. "I've been thinking... about when I'm gonna leave," he said quietly, so no one but Joe could overhear.
"Only when you're ready, cowboy."
"I know," he assured Joe. "Thing is, I realised I'll still come back. Even when I hand them over to Stuart." As he spoke, as he watched the members of the herd, he felt a calm settle over him. In the ups and downs of the last month -- of the last year -- it was a relief, and a sorely missed sensation.
"You sound like you're getting ready to do that," Joe ventured.
"Yeah, I think I am." The words seemed to settle the feeling even more. He realised, suddenly, that should he choose to he could do it now -- tell Stuart the herd was his, and he would be fine. There was no point in doing it so soon, though. But perhaps it was time to talk to the boy.
Levon glanced back at Joe, and grinned. "You doing anything later?" he asked in a casual tone.
"Nothing I can't reschedule." Joe grinned back. "Whatcha got in mind?"
"You up for a run later this afternoon?"
"Yeah. Exercising Fooler isn't the same thing."
"You just don't know how to talk to her," Levon chastised. As he spoke, he continued watching the herd -- not doing anything, not feeling moved to take part. Just watching. It occurred to him that Taylor had done this, often enough. Was it learned habit from his father? Or instinct?
"I speak four languages. Unfortunately horse isn't one of them."
"Have to teach you, then. Smart boy like you should pick it up in no time." He glanced over his shoulder. "Or we could teach you Greek. Amounts to the same thing, with Fooler."
"You think I couldn't learn it?"
"Didn't say that," he returned, seriously. Anyone who could speak four languages could learn five. Especially with the right motivation. He glanced over his shoulder, grinning. "You know it's ancient Greek? Not modern?"
"You going to dig up an ancient Greek to teach me?"
Levon gave him a dirty look. "I ain't that ancient." Joe just chuckled. After a moment, Levon said, as if absently, "Then again, maybe I'd better not teach you."
His husband raised an eyebrow.
"Not sure I want you knowing what I'm saying all the time." He gave Joe a smile. There were two times he spoke Greek around Joe: when he was complaining about the inanities of humans, spouses, and Italian cops, and when they were in bed. Or in the barn. Or the field farthest from the house.
Or the hot tub.
Levon derailed his line of thought, nearly too late.
"Then I definitely want to learn."
"Remind me to think through the consequences before I make any offers, would you?"
Joe grinned. "Sure. I'll even remind you in Greek."
Levon just rolled his eyes. Then he muttered, quietly and in Greek, how if they weren't standing in the middle of the nursery, he'd grab his husband and tickle the air out of him. Joy, standing nearby, looked over and laughed.
"What did he say?" Joe asked her, looking at Levon suspiciously.
Joy shook her head. "Oh, no. I know my place in this herd." She was grinning widely, though. "Do you think I want to get...." She trailed off, then cocked her head, thinking. Levon glared at her, then she finally asked, "Levon? What could you do?"
"Yeah, Levon, what could you do?"
Folding his arms, Levon spoke to both recalcitrants. "You really want to know what I'd do?" he pitched his voice perfectly -- knowing Joy would laugh it off, afterwards and Joe would only shake his head, now. But it was the tone of an almost-pissed-off herd stallion. Calm, quiet, and two-steps away from being deadly.
Because, really, there was nothing he could do to maintain order, if the herd decided to stop listening to him. And they all knew that. Except-- Levon cut off that thought. This was not the time for it.
Joe nudged him. "Come on cowboy. Let's go on that run before somebody else puts their hoof in their mouth."
Levon gave Joy a smile, which she returned by sticking her tongue out at him. He looked back at Joe, again, intending to tell him 'yes' -- then he stopped. Grinning, he said simply, "Can't."
"What? Wh-" He stopped and looked down at Levon's legs.
Levon looked down, as well, to a happily grinning Taylor, holding onto Levon's back leg. His expression was clear -- "Mine!"
Joe laughed. "I'm definitely going to change your name to Velcro."
"Oh yeah? Get off my back," he suggested.
"You know, in any other circumstance I'd take offense at that." Joe slid off Levon's back.
Levon just continued grinning at him, making sure Joe's eyes were on him -- until the four-legged sneaks he'd seen coming up from the other side reached Joe. There were some whispered instructions from Rusty to Rosa, but Laurie grabbed on without prodding.
"You think you're funny don't you?" Joe asked, though he couldn't help but smile when he looked down at the two foals.
"Looks like I ain't the only one going nowhere." Levon smiled.
They ended up playing with the foals, until one by one they shuffled off to their mothers' sides for naps. Laurie tried to tug at Joe's hand, intending to take her nap with him, but Carrie claimed her daughter, letting Joe free.
Joe watched them go, a contemplative smile on his face.
"You ready for that run, now?" Levon asked, sidling up to his husband once again, now that his could walk unimpeded.
"Huh? Oh. Yeah."
Amused at Joe's distraction, he said, "We can skip it if you'd rather."
Joe looked up at him. "No, it's okay," he said reaching for Levon's hand.
He took it, pulling Joe towards him a little. "What's got you so serious?" he asked gently.
He gave the hand in his a tug, and Joe jumped up onto his back. Levon began walking away from the nursery, heading for the open pastures. "Serious. You look like you've been hit by a brick wall and you haven't decided whether or not to fall over."
Joe chuckled. "I feel like that sorta."
"Need any help?" He had, after all, had nearly a year to get used to his own brick wall, even if it had only fallen a month before.
"What kind of help?"
"Dunno. Take you for a run and let you clear your head?"
"Sounds good to me."
"Hang on, then." And with that, Levon broke into a gallop.
That night Levon was in his study, doing the paperwork he'd been putting off ever since birthing season had begun. Joe had teased him about it, but neither had he offered to help when Carla had stuck her head in and reminded Joe that there was someone waiting to play with him. Angie, Hannah, and Tory had been inseparable since they'd arrived, and Tony was gleefully learning all sorts of new games from the younger kids.
With the herd keeping themselves busy, Levon found plenty of quiet to concentrate on his work. He wasn't sure he appreciated it quiet -- he'd much rather be outside, playing, talking, or even just watching over. But he couldn't let this go undone much longer, so he stayed in his office and worked.
He finally understood why there wasn't a window in the office.
He'd nearly gotten enough done that he could quit for the night without feeling guilty, when the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Levon! I'm glad I reached you."
"Joanne!" He smiled, happy to hear from her even though from the sound of her voice he knew something was wrong. "What's up?"
"Levon, I'm afraid I have some bad news. At least I think it's bad news."
The uncertainty worried him. "What happened?"
"I just found out -- Alexander was released yesterday. Served half his sentence and got out on probation."