Part 1

"This is the last one. No matter what."

Sam nods. Quinn's right. Four kids is enough- more than enough. At least for normal people anyway. He's sure that some crazy fundamentalist Christian homeschooling people think four is just a jumping off point, but for him, it's plenty.

They're in the doctor's office, waiting for the ultrasound tech to come give them the news. By this point, they're pretty familiar with the process. They've found themselves in this very room plenty of times over the past few years, but it's still hard to shake the little bit of nerves that always come with it. Everything's fine, and they've had like zero indication that there's anything to worry about it. But it's still always there.

"If it's another boy, I'm moving out." Quinn leans back against the table and lets out a little sigh. "I can't take all the testosterone."

"If you leave me alone with four kids, I will sue you."

She smiles kind of smugly. "You'll have to find me first. And I'll just leave you with three. I'll take Jake with me- he's the only one who's potty trained."

He shakes his head at her, trying to come up with a good response when the tech comes in. She's new and not one of the ones they're used to. "Hi, I'm Amy," she says happily, and she looks like she's fresh out of college. She seriously can't be more than twenty-one or twenty-two.

Quinn introduces them, and Sam just kind of stands there because there's not a whole lot to say. Amy does all the small talk stuff as she gets the machine ready. "So, are you guys hoping for a boy or a girl?"

"Either," they both say in unison, and then they look at each other and smile. Quinn's the one who explains, "Well, we already have three boys."

And it's true. They're not going to be disappointed with another boy, but they want a girl. It's the whole reason they even went for a fourth kid. He knows that sounds awful, but it's true. They had plans to stop at three, but a couple of years after Hunter was born, they decided to go for one more- just to try for a girl. So yeah, they say either because they don't want to sound like awful people, but they both know what they want.

"Well, let's see if we can get you a girl this time!" Amy's still smiling like she loves her job or something. Maybe she's new enough that she still does, who knows?

She gets the machine set up and then leans over to push Quinn's shirt up. She's got a little belly but not one that's super noticeable when it's covered. It's more obvious when it's exposed like this, but it's still pretty small. The tech squeezes out the gel, and Quinn makes a little face because she always hates the feel of that stuff. It only takes her like a second to relax, though, and then she's lifting one arm behind her head to give herself a better view of the monitor. It comes to life when Amy presses the wand down. A couple of seconds later, the outline of a baby shows up, and that automatic tug settles in his stomach. It actually looks like a baby now with a head and a body… But that's about all he can tell. This is his fourth child, and he still has trouble distinguishing stuff on ultrasounds.

Quinn smiles at him, and he gives her one back before they both turn their attention back to the monitor. Amy moves the wand around and plays with some buttons on the machine. A couple of minutes pass while she tries to get the right angle.

"This one is a stubborn little thing."

Sam's not surprised by this. Ethan and Hunter were both super camera shy in the womb, too, which is weird because now they're both camera hogs. He's antsy, though, and he keeps squinting at the monitor like he can really see something. He can't, of course, but he's still got his eyes trained there.

"Oh, here we go…" Amy moves the wand just a little bit further down Quinn's stomach and looks at the screen. "See these three lines?" She points to something that Sam can just barely see; Quinn, though, immediately perks up. "You're getting a little girl!"

It's hard to even believe the words, and Sam looks down at Quinn who turns her head with one of those huge giant smiles that he can't help but return. She's got one hand's fingertips against her bottom lips as she looks back at the screen, and Sam leans forward so that he can get a better look.

"You're sure?"

Amy nods and points at the monitor. "She's bent over, see? These are her legs and her butt and… one, two, three."

Sam can kind of make out what she's saying if he squints hard enough, but mostly he just has to run on trust. Still, he needs to make sure. "You're sure that couldn't be like… ball, penis, ball?"

Amy laughs, and Quinn's smile instantly turns into her you're a dumbass look when she glares at him. He just shrugs, though, because seriously. They need to be positive.

"I'm sure." Amy moves the wand and tries for a different view. It's not very successful, but she seems confident. "I promise you it's a girl."

A girl. They're really having a girl.

They tell the kids first, and the little ones show a lot of excitement based solely on the fact that they're copying their parents' excitement.

Hunter constantly wants to kiss Mommy's belly, and when prompted to, "Tell Sissy hi," he says a sweet hi and then grins hugely. Ethan asks again when the baby's coming, and they tell him for the thousandth time that she'll be here in August. Jake is less enthused than his brothers, but he seems a little interested in knowing that he's finally going to have a sister. To him, though, it's probably less of finally having a girl and more of another freaking baby.

Jake's done well with the situation- at least for the most part. He was an only child for a long time, so it was kind of an adjustment when the babies started happening. But Sam could relate because the same thing kind of happened to him. He was already in third grade by the time his parents started having more kids, and it took some getting used to. So he knew what was going on in Jake's head and just let him deal with it in his own way. He really wasn't too bad at all when Ethan was born, but now it's obviously starting to get a little old.

Jake's at a super weird age, though. Sam's already decided that whoever said kids get easier as they get older was smoking crack or something because seriously? His two year old might not be able to wipe his own butt, but Sam would much rather deal with Hunter all day than deal with Jake for five minutes when he's in one of his moods. The problem, though, is that knowing when those moods are gonna happen is like impossible. He can be the sweetest kid ever, and then five seconds later, he might as well be auditioning for The Omen: The Tween Years because lord. His attitude is ridiculous.

And thinking that he'd be able to bypass all the snotty preteen tones because his kid doesn't actually talk? Yeah… Dumbest assumption Sam ever made. He might not get the actual tone, but the overload of eye rolling and general looks of disdain make up for it in spades.

Yeah, it's fun…

He loves his family. More than anything. Quinn and his boys, yeah, they're basically awesome.

What he doesn't love is barely being able to afford them.

It's not like he does it alone or anything because Quinn works a ton and makes pretty decent money. Well, she makes more than him anyway. It's not something that particularly bothers him or whatever, not like he might have thought it would at some point. It actually kind of blows because she has like a billion dollars worth of education and isn't making anywhere close to the money she should with those kinds of degrees, but she still does okay. He does okay, too, and it's not like they're poor (he's been poor, he knows the difference), but they don't have a ton of extra money or anything. Sometimes it's hard to even make ends meet.

He tries not to think about it a ton because money isn't really important to him. Yeah, it's important to have, but he learned a really long time ago that there are things that matter a lot more. But still, it's not like he can just ignore it because like it or not, bills have to be paid, and there has to be enough money to cover those.

So that was one of the main concerns when they decided to get pregnant again- would they be able to afford another baby? Kids are expensive. A hell of a lot more expensive than he ever would have imagined, that's for sure. He's got two (soon to be three) in diapers and another one in braces (it's freaking ridiculous how expensive teeth are). That's just the start of it, though. They're lucky that his mom watches the babies for free, but Jake's school, God, is seriously the single biggest expense they have. It's more expensive than their house payment. It's always been expensive, but getting married changed a lot of things on their taxes and meant they no longer qualified for any kind of financial aid. It's not like they have any choice, though. There is exactly one deaf school in Cincinnati and only two in the entire state. And Jake's profoundly deaf, so it's not like they can just mainstream him into the closest public school and expect him to be alright. Even with interpreters and special accommodations, there's just no way he would be able to even keep up, much less learn anything new. Plus, Sam's just not willing to set him up for that. Yeah, maybe that's not great, but Jake's already at a point where he's becoming super self-conscious about everything, including his deafness, so it's just not worth it to put him in a position where that very thing is going to be spotlighted and exposed to a bunch of brand new asshole sixth graders.

So they just make it work.

They buy store-brand food. They don't have any extra movie channels on their cable bill. They have strict rules about turning lights off when they're not in use, and they seriously, seriously don't spoil their kids. They just cut corners wherever they can and somehow make the money stretch enough to cover the bills. It's annoying, yeah, having to constantly think about money and adding up numbers and bills trying to make everything equal out, but they get by.

It's scary, though, because he's already seen firsthand what happens when there's more bills than money, and it's not something he particularly wants to live through again. More than anything, he never wants his kids to go through it. It's hard to put a lot into savings, though, which he doesn't really like. It's going to be even harder now with another baby, but they'll just have to make it work.

That doesn't mean he doesn't worry, though…

His last client cancels, so he gets to leave work a couple of hours earlier than he planned.

His mom's at home with Ethan and Hunter, and he can hear them in the backyard the second he gets out of his car. He doesn't bother going inside, just walks around the side of the house to find them. His mom's flipping through a magazine, and the boys are running around chasing each other. They both practically tackle him the second they notice his arrival, though, but he catches them before they have a chance to actually knock him over or something. They get bored like three seconds later, of course, and go back to whatever random game of chase they're playing, and he sits down in the chair beside his mother.

"You're home early."

"Yeah, my last guy canceled. He said he had to take his dog to the vet or something."

"So you're off for the rest of the day?"

He nods and squints up at the sun. It's too hot for March, but the weather's been so bipolar lately that you can't predict one day to the next whether you'll need shorts or a coat and gloves. It's ridiculous, but at least the kids can play outside without freezing to death… This week anyway.

"At least you get a little break."

A little break, yeah. That's cool, but if he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid. That's less cool. "How were the kids?"

"Ethan's been in time out twice already."

"Why?" He wishes he could say he's surprised, but he's not. Ethan stays in trouble- no matter who's in charge.

"Same as always. Won't listen, won't follow directions…"

Sam frowns, but it's not like he's shocked. That's just Ethan. It's like it's impossible to get anything through to him. It doesn't matter how many times he goes to time out, he comes out and does the exact same thing an hour later. It's frustrating because it's almost like he doesn't even care. Quinn says it's middle child syndrome. His mom says Terrible Threes are the new Terrible Twos (Sam's more likely to believe Terrible Twelves are the new Terrible Twos, but that's a whole different story). It doesn't matter what's causing it, though- Ethan's just hardheaded and doesn't listen to anyone.

His mom kisses the boys goodbye and leaves them with Sam in the backyard. He's still in gym clothes, so he doesn't mind running around with them. The more energy they get rid of now, the easier it'll be to put them to bed later. Plus, it's a really nice day, and he likes being outside with his kids. He has to practically drag them inside for a shower before they have to leave and pick Jake up.

Quinn's voice rings in his head while he drives to the school, and he talks as much as possible to keep the kids awake because they have a tendency to fall asleep in the car. If they nap now, tiring them out will have been pointless because they'll never go to sleep later, and Quinn will be pissed at him. Ethan tells him some long, crazy story about a tiger (he's obsessed with animals and makes up "real" stories about them all the time), and Hunter kicks the back of the seat repeatedly and throws Goldfish into the floorboard one at a time.

The line of cars at school is down to the street, but it doesn't take that long to get to the middle school pickup. Jake spots them right away and says a quick goodbye to one of his friends before running to the car and sliding into the front seat. He must be in a good mood or something because he immediately reaches into his backpack and pulls out two strawberry suckers he obviously got from somewhere in school and passes them back to his brothers. Quinn's not going to be happy about the kids eating candy so close to dinner, either, but maybe no one will tell her.

Ethan shoves the sucker into his mouth and immediately starts telling Jake a story, this one about a rabbit. Jake is patient with him, paying attention and answering back a few times. Ethan and Hunter can both sign and have been doing it since they were babies- they could literally both sign before they could speak- so it's easy for him to get his story across. And Jake's nice enough to pretend to be interested. All three kids are being exceptionally good.

It's a little bit scary, to be honest. Not to mention suspicious.

The reason for so much good behavior comes out later that night.

The kids are being unusually calm and well behaved, and they're actually all getting along for the most part, which is sort of a rarity. Ethan and Hunter both tend to feed off of Jake more often than not, so when Jake is being nice and attentive, the little ones kind of just mellow out and copy him. So there's Sam thinking it's actually pretty cool that his kids are all playing together and getting along and thinking how awesome it is that Jake's paying attention to them and not telling them to leave him alone and complaining about how much they're annoying him. Those kinds of nights happen way more often than these kinds of nights.

But then it's bedtime for the babies and homework time for Jake, so Sam takes Ethan and Hunter to bed, and Quinn sticks around in the living room to help Jake. She's on her laptop working from home (something she's been doing more and more lately), but she's still right there if Jake needs something.

Bedtime rituals are pretty much always the same. Brushing teeth, trying to potty (both refuse- big shock), pajamas, and usually a book or something unless the kids are just too tired and fall asleep. The schedule's not as strict as the one he used to have Jake on, and bedtime is basically just whenever the kids are starting to droop. It was different when Jake was little- he was in school from the time he was two years old, so a strict schedule was important. Plus, Jake's a nightmare when he doesn't get enough sleep. He's gotten a little better as he's gotten older, but he's still the hardest person in the world to get up in the morning, and if he's short on sleep, he's still going to be a world-class brat.

They moved Hunter into Ethan's room about a month ago to make room for a nursery transformation, but the room's not really big enough for two side-by-side twins. They bought bunk-beds, but there's no way it's safe enough for either of the boys to sleep on top yet. So the ladder is dismantled, and both kids sleep on the bottom bed. They fit there just fine, but it does make getting them to actually sleep a little more difficult because they either spend too much time laughing and talking or they find something to fight over. Tonight's relatively easy, though- playing outside definitely helped tire them out, and they've basically been going non-stop since dinner. So after one short book, all Sam has to say is, "Sleep time," and they both settle right down. These are definitely the best kinds of nights.

When he gets back to the living room, Jake's on the floor with his homework spread out over the coffee table. Quinn's behind him on the sofa reading something from a piece of paper with a frown on her face.

"Why are you just now showing this?"

Jake signs that he forgot, and Quinn gives him a look that clearly says she doesn't believe him.

"What is it?" Sam sits down beside Quinn, and Jake glances at him and then turns back to his homework. Quinn hands him the paper, which is a note from the school requesting a conference. It's actually from the main office, not even just from his teacher. There's definitely a reason why he waited until almost bedtime to hand it over, and there's definitely a reason he gave it to Quinn. He does that a lot, goes to Quinn when he thinks he's gonna be in trouble. He also likes to play them against each other- something he's been doing pretty regularly since he first figured it out years ago. To say it's annoying would be a serious understatement.

He kicks Jake to get his attention and asks what the note's about. Jake does his best innocent act and just shrugs and says he doesn't know. It's pretty obviously a lie, but he doesn't have any proof. It still irks him, though, but he's not going to lose his temper over something he doesn't even know yet. So he just gives Jake a look and tells him to finish his homework.

Quinn just shrugs when he holds the note up to her in question. Yeah, this should be fun.

Mornings are insane.

There's the usual morning BS of just waking everybody up. The babies aren't actually that difficult to get up, but diaper changes and all that other crap take forever. He seriously doesn't know why neither one of them will go near the toilet. If Ethan isn't potty-trained by the time the new baby gets here, he's probably gonna literally lose his mind because three kids in diapers is just insane. But it's like he's scared or something, like if he actually uses the potty it might swallow him whole or something. He'll barely even sit on it, and when he does, nothing happens. He'll go in his pull-up three minutes after you let him up, though. It's crazy. He's three and a half- Jake was going by himself when he was two, so he knows it's not normal.

He's got an early client, so he gets the babies changed and puts them in front of the TV while he gets dressed. Quinn's hogging the bathroom and barely gives him enough room to brush his teeth, but he's used to that. She finally finishes doing her makeup and lets him have the bathroom all to himself while she goes to take care of the kids. He's just freaking thankful that she seems to be over the morning sickness because while it wasn't so bad with Ethan and Hunter, it's been a nightmare with this one. Everyone told her that's how they knew she was having a girl, but Quinn said she was more likely to believe she was having a demon. Luckily most of that seems to be over…

He finishes up and grabs his gym bag to head to the kitchen. Hunter's crying about something, and Ethan's tailing Quinn all over the kitchen telling her how hungry he is. Jake is literally asleep at the table, and his uniform's a mess and not at all put together. His shirt's untucked, one half of his collar is up, he has no belt, socks, or shoes, and it's very obvious that he hasn't bothered to brush his hair. So basically, a typical morning.

"Your mom just called me," Quinn's interrupted once again by Ethan saying he's hungry, and it's not surprising at all when she finally snaps, "Ethan! Go sit down," in her mom voice. It's also not surprising when Ethan joins Hunter in his crying when he finally goes to the table. Quinn rolls her eyes and looks like she's close to losing it. "Your mom called," she says again, ignoring the crying kids at the table. "She said the interstate is completely blocked off."

"Is she still coming?"

"Yeah, but it'll probably take her an hour and a half to get here with all the traffic!" She almost looks like she's about to burst into tears, which is entirely possible given the fact that she's a super emotional pregnant woman. He's not really sure what the best reaction is, but she apparently thinks he's an idiot for not answering right away. "I have a meeting this morning I can't miss!"

He has a client he can't miss, too. And his is earlier. But still, he's not dumb enough to say this. "I guess I can take them with me…" There's a daycare at the gym, and he's not actually supposed to bring his kids to it, but he'll just tell them it's an emergency if he gets questioned. Hopefully he won't get fired or anything. "Can you still take Jake to school?"

She nods, obviously in a better mood, and grabs two waffles from the toaster where they've been waiting. She hands one to Ethan and one to Jake (dry waffles only- syrup and those kids is a waiting disaster of zombie apocalypse proportions), and then she grabs a bowl and pours some cereal into it for Jake. Sam wakes him up again and gets a mean glare in response, but Jake does finally sit up when he's got breakfast. Everything goes pretty okay until Ethan starts whining that he wants cereal, too, and throws a half-eaten waffle at Quinn.

Yeah, this should be an awesome day.

Weekends should be relaxing, right? That's what they're there for?

Yeah, maybe in normal households. Not in this one… For one thing, Quinn works every Saturday, and Sam has to work, too, more often than not. On top of that, it's baseball season, and that takes up a huge part of the day on its own. It's worth it, yeah, because he's got a great team, and he gets to see his kid (who is awesome, by the way) play. But sometimes it's super tiring, especially if he has to work early in the morning and coach in the afternoon. Sundays aren't much better because they have to get up early and go to Kentucky for church. Then they have to go to his parents' house and stick around there most of the day. Yeah, he likes being around his parents, and his mom always cooks a really awesome meal, but sometimes it'd be nice to just relax at home and do nothing.

He's got a feeling that's never gonna happen.

On Wednesday, they have to go to Jake's school for the conference.

Sam tells Quinn she doesn't have to come if she's too tired or whatever, but she says she's fine, so they leave the kids with his mom for a couple of extra hours and go to the principal's office. The principal is this lady named Mrs. Marsden who's been in charge of the school for as long as Jake's been a student. Sam's met her plenty of times before because it's a small school, and all the faculty and parents are on a pretty well-known basis. Still, she's intimidating because she's extremely stern and straight-laced, and he's really honestly not sure he's ever seen her smile in the past ten years or so that he's been coming to this school.

She invites them into the office and offers them seats across from her desk. One of Jake's teachers is in the office as well, and she smiles at them. Ms. Culmner is one of the school's newer teachers, and she's only been there for two years, but so far, she's been one of the nicest teachers Jake's ever had. She's completely deaf and double-teams with a hearing teacher, and sixth grade has actually been one of the better teaching teams they've been through.

Mrs. Marsden does her whole serious thing and thanks them for coming. She asks if they want an interpreter for Ms. Culmner, but they decline because they've never had any problem communicating with her before. Mrs. Marsden nods and then gets right to it.

"Jake's been having some issues in the classroom."

It's not like Sam didn't know it was coming, but it still doesn't make it any easier to hear. He tries not to let it show, though, and just says, "Like what?"

"Well, for one thing, he doesn't seem to have any interest in actually succeeding academically."

Now that is a surprise. Jake's never been the world's greatest student, but he's always managed decent grades. He's smart, and he tries. He's never really had any problems in that aspect.

Mrs. Marsden pulls out a folder and flips it to a printout of class grades. Jake's homework column has a massive amount of blank spots.

"You can see that he's consistently missing homework assignments. He's just not doing them."

"But Jake does homework every night." Quinn sounds just as confused as Sam feels, and he glances over to see that she's studying the grades with narrowed eyebrows.

"How much time does he spend on average?"

"Maybe forty-five minutes? An hour?" Quinn looks up, and she doesn't seem any less confused.

"He's in sixth grade," Mrs. Marsden says it like they don't know. "At this age, the students consistently have two hours or more of homework every night. Jake's just not doing his."

Ms. Culmner interrupts then and tells them that Jake's lack of homework is also affecting his other grades. She points out low scores on several tests. She says he's smart but that he's not making any effort, and it seriously seems like she's right.

"But Jake's never had any issues like this before." Sam's not trying to defend Jake or anything, but he's just trying to understand what's going on. "His grades have always been fine."

"I know," Mrs. Marsden nods. "That's precisely why I'm concerned. Something is obviously going on, but we cannot allow Jake to move on to seventh grade if he can't improve his grades."

"You're going to fail him?"

"We won't have any choice. If he doesn't have the test scores to move onto the next grade, we can't allow it. It wouldn't be fair to anyone."

"He'll have the grades." Sam's serious, too. Jake's grades are going to take a major curve upward. "I'll make sure of it."

Mrs. Marsden nods again, and he can't really tell whether she believes him or whether she's just humoring him. "On top of the grades issue, he's also having some behavioral issues."

Ms. Culmner takes over, and it's really obvious that she's trying to sugarcoat things. She tells them that Jake sometimes has problems listening and following directions and that his disinterest in his schoolwork is bleeding over into his classroom behavior.

"He's disruptive," Mrs. Marsden simplifies. "He refuses to pay attention, and in a class that small, when one child is fidgeting and looking everywhere else in the room but at his teacher, it causes the other children to become distracted as well. His teachers try to correct his behavior, but he ignores them. He's been in my office three times this month."

"Why are we just now hearing about this?" Sam's honestly confused because yeah, Jake's been in trouble a few times, but he's never had any consistent issues with his in-school behavior. He's always gotten overall good reports from his teachers, so all of this is a little shocking.

"It's a relatively new development." Mrs. Marsden once again points to the grade sheet. "You can see where his grades started falling, just a couple of months ago. The behavioral issues are fairly new as well, but we'd like to put an end to them before they escalate."

"He'll stop." Sam looks up and shakes his head a little bit. "I'll… He'll stop. I'm sorry." He glances over at Quinn, and she's looking at him with the same sort of shocked face.

Mrs. Marsden just sighs a little. "He's a child. They make less than perfect decisions sometimes. Our main concern is getting him back on the right track so that he can gain the most benefit from his education."

Sam nods. "We'll take care of it." He has no idea how they'll take care of it, but he's pretty sure that's not the right response right now.

They leave a little while later, after Ms. Culmner says she'll start sending him a daily list of Jake's full homework assignments and after Mrs. Marsden tells them that they will be informed of any and all behavioral issues until the problem is under control. Sam's confusion has turned into embarrassment by the time they finally leave, and when they make it to the car, the embarrassment has turned to anger.

"What is wrong with him?"

Quinn's looking through a copy of the folder they received, and she shakes her head. "I don't know. It seems so out of nowhere."

He's in that mood where traffic is really pissing him off, so when he turns onto the main road, he digs his fingers into the steering wheel. "I don't even know what to do!"

"Well, you can't lose your temper."

He rolls his eyes because seriously? "He's failing sixth grade. He's been to the principal's office three times in a month!"

"And there's obviously a reason," Quinn says calmly. "We need to find out what that reason is."

"So we should just ignore it?" Quinn has a history of playing Good Cop when it comes to Jake (funny, because she's definitely Bad Cop when it comes to the babies), but even she can't seriously be suggesting that they just do nothing and let him get away with it.

"No, of course not." Well, at least there's a little bit of reasoning there. "But you need to calm down first."

She's right. Obviously. But still, he's so mad. Like he seriously works his ass off to send his kid to that school, and Jake just wants to waste it? It's honestly infuriating because Jake's too old for this. He's way old enough to know better.

Yeah, for real. Whoever said kids get easier as they get older was definitely smoking something.

A/N: So…. Sequel!