Xander strolled in the next morning looking somewhat rested, wearing new clothes and sunglasses.  "Turned?" Greg joked.

"I wish," he moaned, shaking his head.  "Throbbing ass headache."  He took his messages and looked through them.  "Where is the boss?" he asked, smiling weakly at their receptionist.

"His office. Did you get a summons too?  Mine was to wait for you and drag you in there."

"Yay.  Let's go."  He walked off, stopping in the lab to gather his jacket and glasses, then in Hodges's to check on him.  "I think I caught your headache."

"Drinking?" he teased.

"Hell no.  Sleep."  He took Greg's arm and walked off with him.  "Since you're to escort me and all."  He waved and headed off.

Greg knocked and walked in, playfully pulling Xander.  "One lab tech, as ordered.  Should I go hunt and tie down another one for you?"

Grissom smiled at them.  "You both look well rested.  Xander, hangover?"

"Headache from sleeping."  He shut the door and flopped down in his usual sprawl.  "Okay, we're here.  Why?  New case?"

"No, too many hours," he said plainly.  Greg flinched.  "I know you need the practice and experience.  I know we're pushing you, Greg, but you did nearly eighty hours last week and you did do eighty the week before."

Xander nudged him.  "Getting good, and pretty soon people will look around and wonder why you're not there."

"Yeah, that's my master plan," he agreed.  "Making myself indispensable."

"You are, Greg. You're also about out of overtime for the year.  Sixty to seventy a week, max, Greg."

"Yes, sir," he complained.  "You keep sending me out."

"Greg," he said patiently.

"Yes, Grissom."

"Thank you.  Xander, you're not even a field tech," he said with a small smile.  "Yet, you've almost matched his hours.  The last week has had forty-five extra hours."  Xander nodded slowly.  "It's Wednesday and you don't get overtime."

"Yeah, but I also get Ecklie going 'here, you don't get overtime, process this to spare the budget so we can afford Hodges' new computer' and 'here, you're the ballistics tech, see what's wrong with my gun'.  I felt like telling him it was the user, not the machine."

"Archie has told the sheriff that in the past," Greg offered.  "He blew his video camera."

"I remember, I also remember his suspension for it," Grissom said patiently.  "Xander, you're not supposed to be doing more than full time hours.   I know we're stretching it with Bobby being out...."

"I don't mind, Grissom, but even I need a day off now and then."

"Yes, and you're getting one once a week, which you'll take," he said firmly.  "The same as you can do no more than twenty hours a week in Trace.  That's sixty hours.  You're not allowed more than that and I'm increasing your stipend because you are doing full time instead of the part-time you're supposed to be doing.  You were only supposed to do thirty hours a week, Xander."

"Yay, you needed me.  I've always been a 'jump in' kinda guy."

"Which is wonderful and we adore you for it," Grissom told him.

"But if you get sick, we're SOL and you're going to be yelled at by a few people.  I agree, Xander.  You're not to make yourself sick.  We want to have fun with you, not bury you."

Xander looked over the top of his glasses at him.  "Greg, the hosts of hell couldn't do it and I'm used to working all hours on a demanding job, then going to school.  This is nothing.  I just needed a day off."  He looked at Grissom. "I'm bussing it for the next little while.  My car was about to go anyway."

"Fine.  There's a stop outside the building.  I heard you were moving.  Did you get that all done?"

"I only had a trunk's worth of stuff, Grissom," he complained.  "I fit very neatly into one of those almost-a-motel that you can rent an efficiency at and not have to pay bills.  It's cheaper too."  He looked at Greg.  "I've got good cable and pay per view."

"Good.  I'll remember that during the next good concert."  He punched him on the arm.  "Even if you were working in a big department and running it like Bobby does, you'd still only be doing fifty to sixty a week, Xander.  You can slow down now and enjoy the city."

"Why would I want to enjoy the strippers?  I dated one of those, she became a serial killer."  He stood up.  "Anything else, Grissom?"

"Xander," he said impatiently, staring up at him.  "You'll follow this order.  I mean it."

"Yes, sir," he sighed, walking out and heading back to his lab.  He found Nick in there.  "You find it for me?"

"Yeah," he sighed, handing it over.  "Greg did."

He looked at him.  "I didn't want to snap at you but you were kinda being a moron magnet and drawing the moron vibe to you."

Nick nodded.  "I was.  I'm sorry."

"Not an issue.  Gris just told me I'm not allowed to work that long."  He looked it over, looking down the barrel.  "Dirty, very very dirty.  Someone was a naughty triggerman."  He checked the clip.  "Reloaded?"

"No, same load it had," he offered.  "I already counted bullets and I was about to do a test fire."

"Sure.  Out."

"Going.  Page me?"  Xander gave him a look and he grinned. "Thanks, man, I left you a CD for when Hodges won't complain."  He hurried off, going back to the rest of his evidence.

Xander shook his head and put on his ear muffs.  "Firing one!" he shouted, firing.  He yelped at the misfire, dropping the gun into the funnel and waving his hand around.  Grissom came in, looking concerned.  "It backfired.  I think it fired two at once."  He waved his hand, looking it over.  "Nothing too bad.  Heated, barely creased."  He opened the tank and looked, then looked at his boss.  "A rare double fire.  Someone used this earlier and is probably in pain."

"I'll take it to DNA to get a swab," he promised, taking it carefully out of the funnel.  It discharged again and Xander ducked, but nothing ricocheted out.  "You all right?"

"Fine, but that's one gun for idiots."

"We'll get this one," he promised, taking it.  "Give me details on the bullet and why."

Nick came back.  "You all right?"

"Double fire."

"Crap," he muttered.  "But it could be good.  You okay?"  He looked at the kid's hand.  "You should get that looked at."

"I'm fine.  It's nothing unusual.  I've been burned in the past."  He peeled off his gloves and went to soak his hand for a few minutes.  "Go ahead and retrieve them.  I'll differentiate if I can."

"Sure, Xander."  He retrieved the two bullets.  "Only two slugs."

"Yeah, that's the most likely cause.  The old casing didn't come out and the new one was slotted as much as it could be."  He came over, grabbing a new set of gloves.  "Then Gris tried to pull it out of the funnel and it went off again."  He looked under the scope, tapping the one on the left.  "That's your match slug, the other one is crimped and bad."

"Thanks, Xander. Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine.  It happens to all of us.  Do I have something to match it to?"  Nick nodded, finding that bullet and handing the envelope over.  Xander slotted it next to the good bullet, then nodded, letting him see.  "Perfect match."

"Yes," he said happily.  He patted him on the arm.  "Thanks, Xander."  He hurried out to tell the detective and get him to check the ER's for anyone who had a similar burn on their hands.  They'd be in just as much pain.  It was only a hopeful thing that it had happened twice, but he could deal with that.  Any hope was better than none.

Greg strolled in and grabbed Xander by the arm, walking him out and back to the coroner's office.  "David, can you look at his hand?"

"I'm fine, it was a double fire," he complained.  The younger ME came over to look at his hand, taking the glove off him.  "See, I'm fine.  Just a bit bruised."

"It is, you should probably ice it now so it won't swell too much, Xander.  You all right?"

"I'm fine. This one didn't shoot off pieces and hit me with the slide or anything.  Tell him I'm fine."

"Actually, I think you're adorable," he offered with a grin.  "Especially when you're being so tough."

"Thanks, David, but I could never date a man as smart as you.  You'd make me feel inadequate."

"Enough horsing around," Doc Robins interrupted as he came in.  He looked at Xander's hand.  "Are you all right?"

"Fine.  It double fired."

"Ah.  I saw Bobby's hand when he did that.  Go get him some ice, Greg."

"Yes, sir."  He drug Xander back to the break room and got him some ice and a baggie, putting one inside the other so he could have a nice ice pack.  "There, now go stare at odd things to make Nick pant and happy like a puppy again."  He gave him a swat.  "No more getting hurt."

"This is nothing, Greg."

"Yay.  Remember, that's your former life, not your present one."

Xander nodded, heading back to his lab to get back to work and ice his hand.   His phone rang a few minutes later so he put it on speaker.  "Yes, dear?"

"Xander?" Mia, the DNA tech asked.

"Princess Mia, how may your humble and delicately bruised knight help you this evening?"

"I need a DNA sample to rule you out."

"I'm not bleeding anywhere."

"Still it's a formality."

"Sure.  Be right over."  He saved what he was working on and headed over there, letting her do the mouth swab she wanted.  "Ah," he said as he walked in.  She swabbed his cheeks with a smile.  "Better?" he asked.

"Much."  She looked at his hand.  "Remember, fifteen minutes on, the rest of the hour off," she said firmly.

"Yes, ma'am," he sighed, heading back to his lab. He found Brass in there.  "Captain, I adore you, but my hand is fine and I'm not that delicate. You don't need to come check on me too."

"I'm not," he offered, glancing at his hand.  "You'll be fine. It's only a bruise."  He looked at him.  "I'm the one who intervened to get your hours cut, kid.  You're worn out."

Xander frowned at him.  "I should hit you for that.  I'm used to doing more than this. I just hadn't had a day off in a month."

"So?  You're not allowed to. You don't have to.  You need to be fun and go play.  Las Vegas is the city for playing in."

Xander gave him a long stare.  "Captain, there's no one here I want to play with," he noted dryly, giving him an patient look, the one he had gotten off Grissom.  "Why would I want someone to pick me up?  Do you really like running background checks to make sure they're not going to kill you all?"

"I'm sure you can find one unevil woman in this city."

"They'd never like me so why bother," he said dryly, sitting down to look at him.  "Besides, I'm used to much longer hours.  I just got a day off every two weeks."

"Still, it's not healthy."

"So says the guy who put in ninety hours last week," he said dryly. "Who's closer to a heart attack than I'll ever be.  Shouldn't we be having a talk about pots and kettles and all that?"

"No, because if you end up like me, you'll be a miserable guy like I am.  Do you really wanna have a drinking problem?"

"No, it doesn't seem like that much fun. I got to watch both parents and an uncle with theirs."  Brass gave him a dirty look.  "Truth."  He shrugged a bit.  "It's nothing to me, Captain.  I'll slow down some year but if I lose my stamina now, I'll never get it back."

"If you don't, you're going to have to share a room with Ecklie at the hospital after your first heart attack.  See, I've been watching you, kid.  You've hardly been eating, not sleeping very well, and you're exhausted."

He shut the door and looked at him.  "Captain, Jim, when my eye was popped, I spent an overnight in the hospital.  They took it out.  We walked into my hellmouth a week later to do battle with millions of creatures.  Me, the blonde, the redhead, and about twelve others.  I went from that battle to going to LA and hopping into a battle on their grounds, then going to Cleveland to help with one there, then back to LA to join with their team for good after my friends insulted me.  All within a month.  Without stopping.  I may not be twenty- one anymore, but that doesn't mean I'm old and slow.  This is nothing to me at this moment in time.  Later, this could be hell on my body and I'll gladly slow down and teach someone as cocky and bad ass as I am."  Brass smirked at that.  "I will.  Or if you ever have a kid who wants to become a ballistic tech, I'll gladly teach them.  I like you and we'd probably get along well in here if you wanted to switch fields."

"My kid's a bit old and doesn't live on this side of the law," he admitted quietly.

"It's hard to do," Xander agreed.  "Some people can't give up things for others's welfare and comfort."

"True, and she never understood that.  Maybe that was my fault."

"No matter how much you love her, you can't make her understand, Jim."

"Point, kid.  Still, off the topic," he noted smugly, realizing what he was doing.  "Smooth, I'll give you that."

"Good, then give me the benefit of the doubt.  I do have a clue about what I can and can't do.  Besides, if I look superhuman, I'll get a better job."

"True, but you guys are in pretty good demand."


"Point, kid, but still," he said quietly.  "You worry Grissom.  Worrying Grissom means that he can't solve as many things.  Beyond that, it's odd to see Hodges stick up for someone else."

"He did?"

"He did.  So did Sanders.  So let's just try to work the lesser hours for a few weeks, okay?  Surely a young guy like you can find something to do in his off hours?  Like learn to cook?"

"Nah," he said, shaking his head. "I had too much trouble with chemistry."  Brass snorted and shook his head.  "I'll try but I'm needed here until Bobby comes back. I'm not making him come back until he's sure his mother doesn't need him."

"Which is noble, and in-line with what I heard about your past, kid, but still.  Not even I work as many hours as you did last week.  What did he have you doing?"

"Let's see.  The sheriff's gun was jammed.  He needed to clean it desperately.  Ecklie said that there was something wrong with the count of stuff we had in here so I got to do the inventory all by myself a few days ago.  All the cases, the database."

"We got that back."

"Um, no," Xander offered.  "But I do have it pinpointed.  I figured it out earlier.  I was going to ask to speak to you later."  He found the file he was working on in his backpack and handed it over.  "Someone in protective custody.  I borrowed the former backup from two months ago and compared the names on the files.  Then I googled his name.  We're in for a fight on this one, Captain."

"That's well done, Xander.  Used to research?"

"It was one of the many roles I played in my group," he admitted.  "Because of that, I can read Latin."  Brass just shook his head.  "I think if you have someone officially compare last month's backup to the current system you'll find thirty-two files missing.  Most of them his and any mention of anything related to him but three.  Those three I'm not sure how they're related or if they just got caught.  Why they decided to pick on us poor ballistics techs I'm not sure.  Maybe because the guy's a shooter.  So therefore, I leave it in your more than capable hands while you let me run the lab with an evil chuckle and the intention of making everyone here listen to decent comedy records."  He opened the door.  "There you go," he said fondly, smirking at him. "Happy collating."

"How did you do this?"

"Easy, I uploaded it into Access and sorted by name, then printed the two lists of just names and crossed out each one I came to plus the current cases.  It left me with a few."

"Ah.  Thanks, kid."  He walked out, taking the file to the sheriff, who was lurking just up the hall.  "The kid figured out which files are missing," he announced.  "He checked it against an older backup file."

"Really?  Can we pinpoint it?"

"And the cause," he said smugly.  "He's good."  He looked at him.  "The kid's an intern, not a packmule and not a superhero, Sheriff.  He got his first day off this month."

"Fine.  You think he'd be willing to help me with my gun again?"

Xander stuck his head out of the lab.  "Clean it," he said slowly and clearly.  "It's the majority of the problem.  That and a bending firing pin."

"That's probably it.  Thank you, Mr. Harris."

"I live to please but I'd better have a paycheck this week," he said happily.  "Especially since I reuploaded those files again."  He ducked back into the lab, going back to what he had been doing until Mia called him back to the DNA lab a few minutes later.  "What's up?  Not come out as human?"

"No, but I ran it and came up with a paternity warrant," she said, giving him a long stare.

"That's odd considering I'm infertile," he said dryly.  He looked at it, then glared.  "Oh, someone's so going to be dead."  He pulled out his cellphone and dialed the department on the warrant.  "Hi, I'm a ballistics tech in Vegas and I just had to do a DNA test to rule me out and there's a paternity warrant through you?" he demanded.  "What the fuck are you people playing at?  I'm fucking well infertile," he demanded.  "Yeah, you'd better fucking well straighten this out.  Really?  Name the mother.  Harris.  Xander Harris.  No, that's not me.  No, it's not.  I know quite well who I am, thank you," he spat.  "Now, either release it to us here in Vegas so I can track down the supposed mother, who I can guarantee isn't having *my* kid since I'm still infertile and I have been since I was twenty."  He listened.  "No I'm not going to calm down, you moron magnet!  Do I give a shit!" he said coldly.  "I'm still infertile.  Prove it.  I want documents and a new test done.  Well, fortunately I do.  Fine, I will.  You'd better be here by tomorrow, lady.  Or else."  He hung up and looked at her.  "Someone's trying to fuck in my life again," he said sweetly, kissing her on the cheek.  "Thank you for finding that for me."  He walked past the crowd and outside, letting out a scream of rage.

Mia looked back at them.  "I ruled him out of the DNA sample on the gun," she said weakly.  "It came up with a paternity warrant."

"Why is he infertile?" Grissom asked.  "Xander!"

"Not now, boss, I'm stressing.  Can we please borrow Mia and the lab?  Or should I find somewhere?"

"I'll allow it this time," the sheriff offered.  "I want to know what's going on," he told Brass.

"You and me both, and apparently him too."  He looked at him. "Any idea who?"

"Not a clue," he said flatly, glaring at a nearby wall.  "Whoever is playing this game with my life had better come begging for mercy soon," he said sweetly, heading back into his own lab.  He went back to work, needing to wear out the stress and energy.

Grissom looked at everyone.  "We'll handle it and let him know what's going on.  He'll tell you I'm sure."

"I didn't think he'd be a deadbeat dad," Sarah said, looking upset.

"I doubt he knew by the way he was swearing," Mia pointed out impatiently. "Considering he just let loose on a law enforcement official that way, I'd guess someone's got some explaining to do since he thinks he's infertile."

"Yeah, I'd hate to be whoever set him up," Warrick agreed.

Nick shuddered.  "I'm sure someone would save them, eventually."

"Not likely," Greg said from behind them.  "I'm not.  Hodges, you wanna save whoever put in a paternity warrant against Xander?"

"They did what?" he asked.

"Mia found it while excluding his DNA.  He said he's infertile."

"Well, someone's going to die.  At least he knows how to hide the bodies properly so we don't have to process him."  He went back to work.  He'd try to talk to Xander later.  When he was calm.  When he was ranting like you could hear through the glass door, you probably shouldn't bother the guy.  Then again, if someone had suddenly said 'look, you're a daddy' to him, he'd probably be swearing too.  He heard the phone ring and Xander switch to Latin instead, snickering at his skills in that language.

"I wondered how you said that in Latin," Greg noted, heading back to his lab.

The sheriff came out of Grissom's office, waving a paper.  "I had them fax it to us.  The paternity test was never done.  They're sending us a sample tonight."

"Fine," he agreed.  "All the better to get this over with."  Grissom watched as the sheriff's phone rang and then he grimaced at the man's fawning attitude.  "Feds?" he asked.  The sheriff nodded, holding up a finger.  He finally smiled, said thank you, and hung up.  "What?"

"They were doing a test case with some random DNA laying around the FBI lab."

"Why would they have his DNA?" Grissom asked plainly.  The sheriff looked unamused.  "There's actually a small group of federal people who want him captured and dead for daring to fight back against their torture and rebehavioring project.  He told me about it.  He told Jim about it too."

"Hell," he muttered.  "Try to keep it down, Gil."

"Of course.  How's Ecklie?"

"Not coming back until this is over with," he said firmly, going to tell him that.

Grissom stepped into Xander's work area, looking at him.  "Now they're claiming it's a random DNA sample to use as a test case."

Xander gave him a long look.  "I'm feeling suspiciously like I want to have a midnight conversation with someone, you?"

"Me as well, Xander," he assured him.  "Just stay calm and we'll figure it out.  They're sending a sample tonight.  We'll let the lab here do it."

Xander smiled sweetly, but it was ice that was coming from his eyes.  "When can I hurt them?"

"Not until you know," he offered.  "It could actually be a child."

"I doubt it.  I'm infertile. I have been since I was twenty and I got them clipped on my road trip."  He turned to look at him.  "As a matter of fact, I know all the women I slept with and none of them could have had a kid.  Two are dead, one came back about ten months later and she clearly wasn't pregnant or recently pregnant.  One I was around for six months straight while I was stranded.  There's no way."

"We'll figure it out, Xander, let the rest of us handle it."

"Grissom, if this is those federal idiots coming back, what makes you think they won't hurt whoever cops to their plans?"

"Easy, we're a bit too visible and people do pay attention to us," he said plainly.  "Got me?"  Xander nodded.  "Good.  Now calm down and please modulate your language.  I understand, but it's a bit too much, Xander."

"Yes, sir.  Sorry, sir."

"I'd swear too," he promised.  "What are you going to do if there is a child?  IVF has been done now for years."

"Then I guess I'll figure out how to be a daddy.  There's no way I'd let her stay anywhere without me."

"Sure.  We'll help you figure it out."  He left him there, calmer now.  He looked at Brass, then at Nick.  "Go pick up that sample.  I want it back here and run immediately."

"Yes, Grissom."  He went to call the number on the fax the sheriff had gotten to make sure of the flight and time.  If this had happened to him, there'd be dead people.  Especially after his mother got through with him and them.  He hoped this was a test file. Any kid of Xander's would cause problems.


Xander paced outside the DNA lab, chewing his gum very hard.  Mia finally came out and gave him a shove down the hall.  "You're not done yet?"

"Nearly but you're making me nervous.  I feel like you're going to destroy the lab."

"They'd make me pay for it and I didn't get that much for my car," Xander said bitterly.  "Go, process, I'm good."

"Go get chocolate, Xander," she ordered.

"I can't, I'll bounce more."  He stared at her until she sighed and went back inside, slamming the door.  He started to pace again but Warrick walked by and caught his arm.  "I need to be there."

"You need to let her work.  It'll take about twenty minutes."  He walked him into the breakroom, sitting him down.  "Here, have some of Greg's coffee," he said, pouring him some.  He even added some milk, Xander seemed like a milk sort.

"Blasphemy," Greg called.  "Milk in Blue Hawaiian?"

Xander did smirk at that.  "Some people like light things.  No offense, Warrick."

"None taken.  I'm sure your town was pretty racially unmixed."

"Yeah, I think there were only four African-Americans, one Caribbean-American, and she was firm on that, and two Asian students who were in as foreign exchange students."  He sipped his coffee.  "All of them hung with the popular and snotty crowd.  I'm glad you're nicer.  I nearly hugged one of the guys I had to partner with in Chem 2 because he was a down-home sorta guy and he was the color of dark chocolate.  Not the stereotype at all.  He gave me odd looks for weeks, even when I explained it to him."

Warrick nodded.  "That can be a culture shock.  I know I tutored one kid who'd never seen a black man before.  She just stared at me like I was a specimen for a few days."  He shook his head.  "It's pitiful but you can't really help it in some ways."

"Nah, you can't force migration into smaller, rural areas that are pretty closed off.  We apparently decided to not really be welcoming because you guys tasted funny to the vampires."

Warrick snickered at that.  "If I ever run into one, I'll tell him you said that."

"Okay.  Be sure to call me a Knight as well, that way you quote the appropriate source."  He took another drink then put down the cup before sprinting down the hall when he saw Mia come out.  "Well?"

She stared at him.  "Not really a match, but close.  She reads as a relative.  Do you have any brothers?"

"No.  No siblings.  A drunken uncle. A stupid drunken father.  A mother."  She shook her head.  "You're sure?"

"You want Greg to look too?"

"No, I trust your expertise.  How did they do that?"

"I don't know.  She reads as a near relative but not a direct one, Xander.  So relax."

"That means there's another Harris out there," he said grimly.

"Should we buy balloons?" Greg asked.

"No, relative but not a direct one," Mia offered.

"So, what color congratulations balloons do you want?" Greg asked Xander with a grin.

"Purple. I like purple.  Do I do something about this?"  He looked around then walked up the hall, going into Brass's office.  "She's a relative but not a direct one."

"Okay.  What are you going to do about that?"

"I don't know.  I figured you might."

"Do you have any relatives living?"  Xander shrugged. "You ever check?"

"Not really.  I don't usually care to associate."  He grimaced.  "But she's an innocent little kid."

"Then I'd write her a letter about the rest of the family maybe. That way someone can search them out."

"Sure.  That's a good idea," he agreed, heading back to do that.  He sealed it after printing it and handed it to Greg.  "Can we mail that to the address on the fax?"

"Sure.  Not a problem.  Stamps?"

"Um," he said, hunting in his wallet.  He came up with one and stuck it on there.  "Thanks, Greg."

"Not a problem.  We like this calm you more."

"Me too!"  He nodded and went to talk to Hodges.  "It's a near relative but not a direct one."

"Good!  You'd be one of those hyper fathers with kids who'd try everyone's patience."

Xander beamed.  "I know," he said smugly.  "Why do you think I had myself fixed?"

Hodges laughed at that.  "You're so bad, Xander.  Done?"

"Not even," he said dryly.  "Nick's scene included a guy selling guns.  I'm matching to the system.  Why?  Need me?"

"Just wondering if you were free for lunch."

"Sure.  I can do lunch.  Whenever you're ready to go, come get me."  He went back to his matching and notating.  This was the picky and fussy part of his job and he did enjoy it.


Brass brought the note from the front desk, handing it to him a week later.  "I'm here for you, remember that," he said quietly.  "From the redhead.  She said she's left town.  The receptionist gave her paper and a pen, then taped it closed."

Xander slit it open with a pen and looked at it, then crumped it up and tossed it aside.  "Fuck her," he growled.  He walked off, shaking his head.  "I no longer have a past before college."

"That's fine," he offered, picking it up once Xander had gone.  He read the simple note.

Thank you for doing that and saving us the agony.  I'm glad you're still on our side.  We miss you.

He walked it over to Hodges and handed it over.  "From the redhead."

"Willow," he corrected, looking at it, then tossing it out.  "He'll be fine.  He'll be sulking.  We'll help him later.  Our days off match with Greg's this time."

"Good for you guys.  You guys seem tight.  He needs it."  He walked off, going to tell Grissom.  The problems had stopped suddenly a few days earlier when Xander was mugged in the parking lot, but had gotten free and had nearly killed the person trying to mug him.  Apparently no one had thought that the kid knew how to fight and would take a weapon off an opponent to use it against them.  The proof they were wrong was still in the morgue.  He had mysteriously died in the hospital.  No one was claiming the body and nothing was going on with it.  Air embolism.  Could have happened by anyone's hand, but everyone who liked Xander enough to do that for him was accounted for.  Especially Xander since he was still filling out paperwork about the incident and had been surrounded by a few frowning cops and one of the SWAT guys who was suggesting heavily that he join the force.  Xander had to remind them all that he was technically listed as partially disabled due to his eye, therefore not eligible.  It had meant a few pouting cops that night.  But no one else had tried anything.  Xander's life had settled down to a nice, normal lab tech's existence, with too many hours worked.   Even Ecklie had cautiously said hi to him in the halls when he had passed by him a few days earlier.  He stopped, seeing a familiar face in the waiting area, hands in his trench coat pockets.  "You lost?" he asked dryly, shaking his hand when it was held out.

"Partially.  I'm on the injured list so I get to recruit.  Where's our new ballistic tech?"

"Outside having a small breakdown thanks to one of his friends," he admitted.  "Come back to the labs.  Give him a visitor pass," he ordered.  The receptionist frowned but did so.  "I promise, the next one will be as nice as Xander," he assured her.

"I doubt it," she said dryly.  "Who else would flirt with me and give me a card because I actually had a paycheck for him?"

"Point," Brass admitted after a moment's thought.  "We'll make Sanders take up his slack."  He walked Vecchio back there, finding Xander in Hodges's lab.  "Xander?"  He looked over then nodded politely and slowly.  "This is Detective Vecchio from Chicago.  He's here to talk to you about going to their department."

"Sure.  Can we borrow a bench?"

"Use the break room," he said with a shrug.  "Who's going to say anything?"

"Grissom?  The sheriff?  Ecklie?"

"I doubt it, not with the way your last month went," he said dryly.

"Go, Xander.  I remember him, he was here undercover and he was a good guy," Hodges told him.

"Thank you."  Vecchio looked at him. "I can always go play some craps if this is a bad time.  This is on the city's expense account for me."

"No, I'm good," Xander offered, leading him that way.  "I was almost hoping for a small department where I could raise dogs and be the loner guy who lived just out of town."

Vecchio looked at him.  "You don't see yourself marrying?"

"I only seem to draw evil people.  Why would I want to tax my coworkers that way?"

"Evil people?"

"My last one was a serial killer.  Then one of the guys here set me up with someone and she tried to stab me while dancing."

"Ow.  Why do you draw them?"

"Not a clue," Xander said, letting him into the break room.  He looked at Catherine. "Brass told me to bring him in here so he can talk up his department."

"Detective," she said with a nod.  "You'll fit well with him.  He's a good guy, but stress loved him this last month."

"It happens to the best of us.  My partner got me shot."

"You okay?  I've got advil in my locker," Xander offered.  "Greg's always got some herbal stuff too."

"Nah, I'm fine.  Sit, kid."

"I'm not really that young," he complained, but he did sit and put his feet up.  "So, Chicago's a big city.  Why do you need a ballistic's tech with a minor in Trace?"

"You do?"  Xander nodded.  "No one told us that."

"Pity, but yeah, I do.  I temp in with Hodges now and then too.  Catherine, is there any way he can read my evals?"

"Sure.  Let me talk Grissom out of them. I know he was doing your monthly one this week."  She got up and left them alone, heading up the hall.  Grissom handed them over when he saw her.  "You knew?"
"Jim stopped in.  He okay?"

"He's fine.  Vecchio's shoulder it looks like by the extra lump on it.  Xander's a bit high strung but calm.  No outbursts of swearing."

"Good.  I hope he makes a good impression.  Chicago's not what he wanted but they're building a quality department since most of theirs retired a few years back."

"Good.  It all here?"

"Mine, Ecklie's, Hodges's, Brass's, yours, Warrick's," he said dryly.  "The only one who doesn't have one in there is Bobby and I only have his first one."

"I didn't think there'd be a problem."

"No, it's mostly good.  Ecklie's said he was a bit high strung.   Hodges had actual praise for the kid.  Brass's was good, yours were good.  Mine's good.  Go."

"Yes, sir."  She went to bring it to them, winking at Xander.  "Hodges wrote you a few too."

"Cool.  Bobby?"

"Only the first one.  He's been gone for a bit."

"Point.  Later?"

"Sure.  You having lunch with Hodges?"

"Yeah.  Like usual.  Maybe with him and Greg."

"I'll catch you after work, we'll hit breakfast.  Later, detective.  Come back to visit sometime."  He grinned at her and she shut the door behind her, looking at Sarah as she opened her mouth.  "The detective from Chicago is here to talk to Xander.  They're using the break room."

"I wanted a water."

"I've got some in my mini fridge."  She nodded, going to grab one from there, leaving money for it even.  Catherine went to lurk and check on them now and then.

Vecchio noticed it all.  "They mother you a lot?"

"Yeah.  I've had a crappy month.  A few attacks here, one where I had to do someone in.  A mugging in the parking lot.  Someone putting in a false paternity warrant against me and the test coming up a relative but not that close. It's been a long damn month, detective."

"Ray, please," he offered, smirking at him.  He went back to reading the evaluations.  "Hodges praised you?  Real praise even.  Catherine gave you praise.  Grissom gave you praise and said you tended to jump in to help.  The sheriff said you were a good worker and didn't balk at overtime when necessary, but it was easy to abuse you into doing more than you should.  Big problems?"

"The guy I'm actually interning under is off with his mother.  She's just started cancer treatments," he said quietly.  "So Grissom and Nick have been looking over my shoulder and every now and then Ecklie comes in to do it more blatantly and make me feel like an idiot.  Grissom had to yell at me about my hours."

Vecchio looked at him.  "That's not always a bad thing unless you're overly tired."

"Now and then but the day shift guys are out sick too.  They're having fits with the sheriff over a raise.  I'm also helping Hodges when I have some free time. His day shift counterpart is out sick with a recent stroke so he's backed up now and then."

"Oooh, that's a bad thing.  He okay?"

"Yeah, we do okay together," he offered, sitting up straight.  "I'm not the staid guy that most of these guys are.  I'm a fun guy.  I like having fun.  I listen to music in my lab.  I caused Ecklie to have a minor heart attack due to it."  He grinned at the raised eyebrow.  "I was listening to Dennis Leary.  He got upset.  I switched to redneck jokes.  He got even more upset, told me to switch it.  I switched to country but Hodges complained.  Ecklie told me to listen to something that was non-discriminatory.  So I put on disney songs."  Vecchio burst out laughing.  "He got so upset the poor guy lost it in my lab and fell down gasping and holding his chest."  He clasped his hands on the table.  "What can I tell you that's not in there?"

"Let's talk about your background since no one said you could do two jobs.  You did your undergrad where?"

"UCLA.  I did a forensics track through the science department.  That's as far as I went.  I majored in ballistics, minored in trace, and I'm a very good shot as well.  I've had enough of papers to last me for a lifetime.  I have a former life that's hopefully never going to come near me again.  That's been some of the stress this last few months."  Vecchio nodded for him to go on.  "The way I usually put it is that I had to partake of some urban combat for survival reasons.  I had about eight years of that then I went to college."

"Huh."  He looked at him.  "Greg's friend said that Greg told her you know about strange stuff."  Xander groaned and put his head down.  "You do?"

"Yeah, I do.  I'm out of that life though.  It's like my former life.  I've reincarnated to a higher purpose for being so good."  He looked at him.  "Tell me you don't need me in that capacity," he pleaded.

"Now and then but I've got a Mountie for that."

"Really?  You mean there's others there who do that too?"

"Yeah, we have a few occult specialists within the city," he said smugly.  "You'll probably want to touch base with them, but otherwise you'd never be the only person."

"Oh, thank you Goddess," he said, looking up.  "Blessed be you.  I'll light that candle when my neighbor starts to toke his pipe again."  He looked at him.  "We had a vampire attack here."

"Yeah, we had one of those a few months back.  Those suck."

"And bite," Xander quipped.  "I'm from Sunnydale."

"Ah."  He nodded.  "I heard rumors from one of them that I was coming to meet with someone who had a real clue."

"Yuppers.  But I don't want to live that life anymore."

"Not an issue, kid.  Like I said, we're good on that.  You'd be on call.  What else can you do?  I see a SWAT licensing?"

"I can disarm most bombs.  I'm not the fastest but I'm good."

"Wow."  He stared at him. "You're really damn young."

"I worked construction while in Sunnydale."

"Ah."  He nodded.  "That helps I guess.  How's your range work?"

"Two points from marksman.  I'm missing an eye so I sometimes have problems with depth perception."

"That's fine.  Our guys carry guns.  Even our lab guys."  He looked in the file again.  "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

"Living with a few dogs, in a small house with a tiny yard, living off fast food and take out, working in a lab setting," he admitted. "Hopefully without a lot of insanity going on around me."

"No spouse?"

"I'm not taking that chance," he sighed.  "I really can't.  Too many things have happened.  Even if I switched to my very occasional like of men, I'd probably never consider it a long- term thing.  They'd have to be really special to get past my past."

"We've all got pasts, I used to be married."

"Really?  Is it as bad as they say?"

"Not really.  Then again, my wife couldn't cook and we lived with my Ma and the family."

"Wow, you have a family?"

"Yeah, my Ma tends to adopt lots of kids.  There's three of us naturally and then the grandkids, my Mountie, his wolf, my other partner, a few of the other detectives when they're in feeding range. It's a nice thing.  You got any family?"

"Besides the newly found relative?  Not a clue.  My parents were drunks, my uncle was a driving drunk.  My family never cooked and neither do I.  We didn't even have a stove in the house."  Vecchio gaped at that so he shrugged. "I guess they figured it wasn't worth buying and taking up space.  I found out what one was from the Home Ec teacher when I had to take it.  I can microwave, fry in a frier because I did some fast food way back when, and I can almost boil.  I managed to ruin boiled eggs the other day."

"My Ma would take you in and feed you whenever she could.  She's that sort," he promised.  "Another perk of Chicago.  You drive?"  Xander nodded.  "Wanna do field work?"

"Not unless I have to.  I am missing an eye so I'm not usually counted as being able to be in the field, unless it's a bomb situation.  I'm on call for that here as a backup."

"Hey, not an issue," he promised.  "Hell, you're more than we could have hoped for, Xander.  Can I use your name?"

"I don't mind. As long as you don't ask for skin or blood samples for a voodoo doll I'm pretty decent with most people using my name."

"Harris!" Hodges called, then smirked.  "Bobby's on line four!"

"Thanks!  Excuse me, detective."  He grabbed the phone and relaxed.  "Hey, Bobby.  How's your mom?  Oh, that's wonderful!" he said with a bright grin.  "Yeah, it's great.  You missed all the bad and odd stuff happening.  Nah, we're back to calm days," he promised.  "The lab's in perfect order but the printer.  It's ready to blow a gasket again. Nope, Archie and I fixed it once already.  No, I've been helping Hodges a lot. He's still using my laptop since they haven't replaced his computer.  So, when are you coming back?  Because the day shift guys are on a walk-out.  They wanted a raise."  He smirked.  "Guess, Bobby.  Really, man."  He chuckled and nodded.  "Sure, whenever you're ready.  No hurry right now.  We're good.  No, there's someone here from Chicago to recruit.  Sure."  He handed it over.  "The guy I'm supposed to be interning under."

"Hey," Vecchio said, listening to the voice tell him about Xander.  "So all the eval's said.  Yeah, I am."  He grinned at the kid.  "That's what I'm finding out.  No one ever mentioned he was this good.  Sure.  Yup."  Someone broke into the line.  "Xander?"  He handed it back.

"Bobby, man, I've got to get back to this.  I'll call tomorrow, okay?"  He beamed.  "Of course I'm being good.  Hodges and Greg are watching out for me.  Not that way, Bobby, he's a nice guy to me.  Leave Hodges alone.  Yes, I am.  He's good to me.  Leave him alone.  Fine, when you get back.  Laters."  He got up to hang up the phone.  "Sorry, he thought Hodges and I wouldn't get along that well."

"Not a problem.  He said you'd be great as long as you didn't have to run things."

"No, I don't wanna run things, especially not right out of my internship.  Of course, if I'm put into conflict with my boss, there might be fireworks and I can't promise it won't be them," he offered with a bright grin.  "I'm still human after all."

"You sure about that?  Ecklie's last evaluation has you sounding like you can split yourself in two."

"No, that's not really any fun.  It's weird and then you start wondering what sex with yourself would be like and your girlfriend suggests it and you get the shudders and have to go hide in the bathroom."

Vecchio looked at him.  "If you come, you're going into my precinct, Xander.  You'll fit in there.  We're in the median section.  Not the worst and not the best, some mild gang violence and some lower class neighborhoods."

"Not a problem. I handle that here.  How are housing costs and how relative are they to the paycheck?"

"Well," he offered, scratching the back of his neck.  "You'll hate the paycheck. I'll be honest.  We are one of the lower paying cities, real cities, in the US.  We can't afford a great budget.  Most of our people retired over that a few years ago.  I can guarantee it'll be more than you're making here.  But our first year techs earn about fifty.  Base, before overtime."

"Yeah, that's much more than my stipend," Xander said dryly.  "I'm only earning two a month here."  Vecchio gaped at that so he shrugged. "I got a raise.  I'm the only ballistics tech and I'm handling about sixty hours a week including my time in Trace."

"Wow.  Usually we have guys who look at the federal rate of seventy and then New York's of sixty-five plus perks and pass us by without a thought."

"I'd prefer a place where I could be myself, bad days and all," Xander pointed out.  "I'm sterile so I won't have kids to pass a great estate on to.  I'll have dogs."  He shrugged at the odd look. "I had it done.  A kid in my life is in danger.  I don't think I could handle kids. On the worst days I have a temper, which does include swearing."

"We do that at the filing cabinets," Vecchio assured him.  "You can listen to music.  The ME in our precinct does Opera.  We're one of three CSU units across the main city.  We're the least busy one.  You'd about be the only gun tech, possibly with some students from the university."

Xander nodded and shrugged.  "That's fine.  When can I come out to tour?  It's you or Montana right now.  Since they're not offering to feed me whenever you feel sorry for me, they're losing.  There's not enough takeout in Montana as far as I can tell."

Vecchio smirked.  "You got days off coming?"

"Supposedly.  I can even plan them together if I need to.  When should I ask for?"

"How about next month, near the end.  It's usually less busy then.  Come in for a long weekend.  I'll let Ma feed ya and we'll talk to everyone.  How's that?"

Xander wrote down his phone number and slid it over.  "To my cell.  What's the next to last weekend of the month?  Seeing it busy would be more informational."

"It's a madhouse."

"So's here.  I can deal with that."  Vecchio nodded at that.  "Let's say the weekend after the fifteenth?"

"I like that idea," he agreed, holding out a hand.  Xander shook it.  "Let me copy this then I'm gonna go enjoy the rest of my night.  I'll call a few days before to make sure you remember."

"Thanks, I'll probably need it," he offered with a grin. "Let's go bug Grissom so you can get copies of those to take back and brag on me a lot. That way I can fill out the leave papers right then."  Vecchio nodded and followed him into the office, interrupting Grissom's nap.  "You okay, boss?"

"Fine, Xander. It's been a long night. Are you going out for a visit?  Chicago's got a good system going, it's just underfunded."

"Yup, I am.  The weekend after the fifteenth of next month, a long weekend."

"You have leave days for these visits, it's not a problem," he assured him, finding the paper and filling it out for him.  "That would be the fifteenth through the eighteenth, correct?  Friday through Monday?  Be back Tuesday?"  Xander nodded.  "Good.  Bobby will be back in two weeks so you'll be covered there.  Detective, did you need copies?"

"Yeah, we had no idea he had more than one area.  No one said anything about the bombs or the minor or anything."

Grissom smiled. "If we could afford to keep him, I'd do so."

"Yeah, I can see why.  If he signs with us, we'll want work evaluation copies as well."

"Of course.  We've done this before, detective."

"Good, 'cause I haven't," he said dryly, grinning at Xander. "I'm just handy."

"I feel that same way about myself," he quipped, shaking his hand again.  "I'm gonna go back to work and help Hodges."

"Sure."  The boy bounced out and Vecchio shook his head. "He's got energy.  That's a good thing."

"He's also good at getting around the hours restrictions we place on him," Grissom warned but he was smiling.  "He describes himself as the guy who jumps in to help."

"We could use that.  You get him in the field yet?"

"Minor work with ballistics at a free-for-all shootout.  He shot the guy who came after us.  He's very protective of what's his and we're considered his at the moment."

"All the better.  We could use good guys like him.  He fudge anything that you've seen?"

"No and he's honest to a fault.  He will try to explain any discrepancies.  He had a ninety- eight percent match and included in the report why it was so close but not exact."  Vecchio nodded at that.  "He'll do good for your department.  Like I said, if I could keep him, I would.  He flirts with our staff and makes their week.  He gets along well with almost everyone on the staff, but Ecklie."  Vecchio snickered at that.  "Did he tell you about his music habit?"

"I did hear something about that and disney."

"Yes, well, we'd all like to forget that incident," Grissom said firmly.  "It's not in any evaluation we have."

"Ehh.  Our ME listens to opera while he works.  They'll get on fine."  He shook his hand.  "I'm off to the craps table.  I'll check on him before he's due to come up and then we'll keep in touch if he signs on."

"That's fine.  We like Xander.  We want our poor stray tech to find a good home."

"Ma'll feed him."

"Don't let him date," Grissom told him.  "Seriously.  We're still trying to figure out why the last person he went out with tried to stab him.  She's an old friend of one of my CSI's  and he said she's never been like that before."

Vecchio snorted.  "If he draws evil people that much, we might use him to catch some.  It'll let him play the field now and then."  He winked and walked out, taking his copies of the evaluations back to his hotel.  He faxed them back then called.   "It's me," he reported. "I met with the kid, he's bouncy, smart mouthed, energetic, multi-talented, doesn't mind our salary, can disarm bombs, is nearly a marksman, can work Trace, draws evil people, and we want him at our precinct.  He'll be coming up the middle of next month.  Yeah, I faxed 'em.  Look in the machine, Frannie.  Thanks.  No, I'm gonna go see a show.  Tell Ma I offered her the right to feed him and check him over too.  Thanks."  He hung up and kicked back, waiting for the call back from his boss.


Xander walked off the plane with the guy in handcuffs, handing him over to the detective waiting on him, who handed him off to the patrol guys.  "Sorry, off duty?"

"Hell yes," he said happily.  "About time too.  What'd he do?"

"Tried to hit the pregnant woman for moaning as the baby kicked.  He backhanded her, went for her stomach and I got him in the kidneys.  It stopped him fairly quickly."  He grinned at the man.  "Just think, I'm a Crime Scene guy, not a cop.  I could have been meaner."  He moaned again, leaning on his new captors as they drug him off.  "Next time, don't touch a pregnant woman!" he yelled after him.  He looked at the nice detective.  "So, where am I staying?"

"Not too bad of a hotel.  No dogs yet?"

"I need to be settled in before I do that.  They don't like change that much."  He followed him out, grabbing his bag from the claim area, then his gun from security before heading out to the parking garage.  He fell in love with the old car.  "Oh, she's beautiful," he said in awe, running a hand down her side.  "Well conformed, well tended, she's a beauty, detective."

"Thanks, she's my fifth.  I keep getting mine blown up and stuff during cases.  Like my suits, the Mountie ruins my cars."  He nodded.  "Get in.  There's no lock over there."

"That can be fixed."  He slid in, putting his bags behind his feet while he buckled up, then he closed the door.  He shifted to look at him.  "So, when do I take the tour?"

"Tonight good or do you need a nap?"

"No, I'm good.  Remember, I work nights.  I slept already and on the plane."

"Sure, kid."  He checked before backing out, heading through the gate without having to pay.  The perks of the badge.  He took the scenic way in.  "That's downtown but it's a snarl of traffic," he offered.  "We'll never get free before midnight if we take that now."

"That's fine.  It's prettier from a distance.  You can see more of the jewels."

Vecchio nodded, taking him on to his precinct.  "This is my home turf," he offered as he parked.  "The twenty-seventh.  Your area is downstairs, ours is upstairs.  Holding's in the basement."  He got out.  "Leave the bags.  Anyone touches my car, they know they're giving up a hand."  Xander grinned at that and adjusted his gun and his ID on his belt.  "Can't get it to stay on?"

"No, it keeps falling off.  Anymore I give it to the receptionist before I leave so I don't have to hunt it down."  He followed him inside, nodding politely at the man behind the old fashioned desk.  "Do we have computers?"

"Yeah, you guys do.  We have some limited ones.  Why?"

"Greg said you guys were updating."

"We are, but not that much."  He led the way into the CSU portion, weathering the glares.  "I bring you a ballistics and trace tech and you glare?" he taunted.

One older woman looked at Xander.  "You doing your internship, kid?"

"Right now, ma'am.  I'm doing it in Vegas."

"You doing school too?" she demanded.

"No, I've graduated.  I'm doing my year's worth. I'm Xander Harris," he said, shaking her hand.  "Major in ballistic and minor in trace, with a side of disarming bombs and gun play, including artillery."  She blinked at that so he gave her a smug look.  "I'm a nice boy unless you piss me off."

"So I can tell," she said, giving him a once-over.  "You cook?"

"Hell no," he snorted.  "My parents didn't even own a stove.  I microwave and I order."

She rolled her eyes.  "Vecchio, make your Ma feed him."  Someone came rushing in carrying a bag.  "'Scuse us, but work don't stop for pretty people."

"I knew I'd brighten up your day," Vecchio quipped, leading him on the short tour.  He ended up in the coroner's office.  "Technically Mort's in charge of this lab."

"Cool."  He stuck his head in.  "Are you busy or can the lowly person taking the tour to see if I want to work with you come in?"  The ME looked at him then nodded him inside.  "Hi, I'm Xander."

"Most everyone calls me Mort," he offered, looking him over, then Vecchio.  "I saw your evaluations.  Very interesting.  You're good?"

"Most of the time but every now and then I get this naughty urge that makes me wanna play comedy albums so people wet themselves laughing," he offered with a bright grin.  Mort chuckled at that and led him into the office to talk to him.  "Shouldn't the detective come with us?"

"No, he's not our personal slave detective like you guys have," he offered. "He's just one of the local ones."

"He's very nice."

"He's also got paperwork taller than he is," Vecchio admitted.  "Send him upstairs, Mort.  I'll see you when you're done, Xander."

"Sure, thanks, Detective Vecchio."  He left, going up the stairs to tell his boss what he'd heard so far.  Xander looked at him.  "So, you're overworked, understaffed, and you need someone hot, ready, and willing to jump in. I can do that.  What can you do for me, besides not making me deal with the strange crap that was my former life?"

Mort smiled at him.  "Vecchio warned us that you didn't want to handle that.  That's fine with us.  You may have to now and then but our part of town isn't really the place for that mostly.  Now and then there'll be a related homicide."  He looked the boy over.  "I talked with your interning director.  He said you've done more than most people think and you do admit when you're wrong and correct things.  Can you keep that up?"  Xander nodded. "Do you get along well with everybody?"  Xander shook his head.  "With Vecchio?"  He nodded.  "Good, he's one of our toughest detectives to deal with. I'll let you ride with him on Sunday to get a feel for the area. What can you bring to us, Xander?"  He pulled out a list and handed it over, making him smile.  "Prepared, I like that."  He looked it over, then grinned.  "I like the cartoon more than the grade summary and the range qualifications are excellent, as well as your licenses.  We're pretty standard in this area.  Homicides, breaking and enterings, gang warfare, domestics, some child abuse, some minor other category things.  Are you keeping up in trace?"

"I do about fifteen to twenty hours a week in there as well as ballistics."

"Then you're used to long hours?"

"I am, but I'd like to slow down some year.  Not this year, I'd be bored."

"Dating anyone?"

"I draw evil people to me.  If you catch me dating, do a background check immediately."

He looked at the list.  "You've had experience with serial cases?"

"Both personally and professionally.  I had to convince the LAPD that my last one was actually a serial killer.  They thought she was too nice, but she was killing my former friends over and over again."

"I see.  You did evidence collection?"

"Yup, and did observational analysis as well to be handed over.  I ended up having to go to one of my professors who worked in the department and having him bring me in while he threw a fit for not listening to me.  They caught her with her last few and she's in the pretty padded room of hell."

"Interesting.  I ran your name through the Federal system and it came up blank.  Yet you say you have a sealed record?  Why?"

"Because a long time ago, I lived in Sunnydale.  My friends and I had to drive out a covert ops group who was trying to make us be their little soldiers in training by torture and other means.  Then recently they've tried to put a paternity warrant in for a kid that's a relative of mine but not mine, and tried to rabbit virus our system.  They had confiscated my personnel records for a few weeks and refused to give them back until Detective Brass went up there with a warrant and the sheriff.  They had mine and my intern director's files actually.  They had a person in protection who was going back to his old ways but was too important to turn over.  They figured out we'd be the department to catch him since he's a triggerman.  I'm guessing they hate me now."

"Very interesting and to your advantage for the most part.  Think you could adopt me and make the IRS leave me alone?"

"I wish but they're recently decided to audit me.  Apparently they're spreading their fear campaign.  It's not working, but they're trying very hard."

"How are you at politics?"

"I suck at it but I can pretend for a few minutes each day without making myself ill from the revulsion and sliminess."

Mort chuckled. "I can see that point.  Fine, let's walk you out there so you can look over our system. It's not as nice as Vegas's labs, but we're improving."

"I noticed it's an open floor design instead of labs.  Is ballistics a lab or part of that?"

"It's got it's own lab," he promised.  "That's just for general work areas."  He led him out into the room, watching the chaos go on in the small area.  "We're working to expand."

Xander watched someone get frustrated and walked over to help him, picking up a magnifying glass. "Hair, fiber, or body fluids?" he asked.

"Hairs.  I need a DNA tag."

Xander came up with one and held it up with the tweezers.  "It's fairly old looking."

"So?"  He took it carefully and walked it into the DNA lab, letting her have it.  He came back out.  "Who're you?"

"Xander.  I'm being courted to come here after my intern year in Vegas."

"I want Vegas' labs," he said in awe.  "They're good?"

"They're very good but they still haven't given Trace a new computer after his blew up.  He's using my laptop."  He grinned.  "Since it's my personal computer, the administrator and the lab director tried to jump me about the porn on it, but I pointed out it was only on loan to Hodges until his system got fixed and it wasn't like I was actively downloading now.  But that I could start again if it'd make them get him a new system faster.  He still hasn't gotten it yet.  I'm thinking about Teletubbies porn next."  The guy looked horrified but Mort burst out laughing.

"I like you, Xander.  He's ballistics and trace.  Plus some demolitions and artillery."

"Cool.  What made this indent?" a woman asked, showing him a picture.

Xander looked then shrugged.  "Weak plastique, or maybe a kiddie rocket with a small bomb.  It's too small for a missile and they would have popped a hole through at the least."  He took it to look over.  "How big is this dent?"

"Six feet in diameter," she said.

"Kiddie rocket with some TNT or C-4," he offered, handing it back.  "Too small to be real artillery.  To big to be bullets.  Unless you've got a guy with a two foot fist who can pound in buildings?"

"Not yet," she admitted.  "Thanks.  Any idea on range?"

"My last one had about ten feet.  There's some remote controlled ones that might get better, letting the kid be on the street and controlling it.  I usually go to Radio Shack."

She nodded. "I'll head there later.  Thank you, Xander."  She went back to her notes, writing that down.

Xander looked at Mort.  "I like this.  They're not doing the friendly banter that we do back in Vegas, but it's nice."

"Chicago families yell at each other, other cities squabble," the guy he had helped said plainly.  "We yell plenty around here.  You do music?"

"Some.  I like light metal, some country, some comedy.  Disney to irk and annoy."  He grinned brightly.  "You?"

"We're pretty old school around here."

"Stones and the Beatles or NWA and Kid Rock?"

The man gaped then groaned and shook his head.  "Older.  Dean Martin, Sinatra.  Older."

"Ooh, *old* school," he said, nodding.  "Not my thing but it doesn't always put me to sleep.  Can I listen to stuff in ballistics without upsetting others?"

"Sure.  You've got a door that closes," he agreed dryly.  "Right, Mort?"

"Yes, he will," he agreed, steering Xander off.  "Do you mind opera?"

"I was only exposed to it in a music appreciation class and I napped," he admitted.  "But I liked the Bugs Bunny version."

Mort shook his head. "You'll learn to appreciate our music with exposure, I'm sure you will."  He walked him upstairs to the detective's pen, weathering the staring.  "He wants to come work for us and make your jobs easier.  Deal with it."

"He's armed," a female noted.

"I'm also a ballistics tech, licensed to carry and carry concealed, and having chocolate cravings," he quipped.  Then he grinned.  "Xander," he said, shaking her hand.  "You remind me of my wonderful guide, Detective Vecchio."

"I'm his little sister.  He's in the office if you wanted ta sit."  She looked at the ME.  "He coming in?"

"Hopefully.  I need to arrange for some ride-along time with your brother and the others as well so he learns a bit about the area and the cases we handle.  Are they in conference or chewing him a new one?"

"Chewing him a new one for handing over the prisoner on the plane."  Xander snickered.  "You?"

"He tried to hit a pregnant woman."  He pointed at the office.  "In there?"

"Sure.  I wanna see you deal with the Lieutenant."

Xander looked at Mort.  "I'll lay down suppression fire if you want to cover me."

"Go ahead, Xander.  He won't eat you yet.  You're not one of his yet."  Mort watched as the boy walked over to the door and knocked.

"What!" a cranky male voice called.

Xander opened the door and stuck his head back in.  "Mort wanted me to arrange some ride along time, Detective," he said with a grin for him.  "They're kinda neat, even if they do listen to sleepy music."  He grinned at the Lieutenant, who was scowling.  "I'm Xander Harris," he offered.  "I hurt the guy for trying to hit the pregnant woman.  Was there a problem with that, sir?"

"It's Lieutenant," Vecchio told him.  "Get in here.  Mort, when?"

"Sunday would be fine.  I'd like to see him work for a few hours tomorrow afternoon," he offered, following behind Xander.  "That way we can gauge him for ourselves.  Lieutenant, would that be a problem for him to ride along?"

"No, not in the least," he said dryly.  "He's a what tech?"

"Ballistics and trace," he offered.  "With artillery, bombs, and self-defense training thrown in now and then, sir."  He grinned at him and sat down on the couch.  "Wow, this is nice.  I'll need one of these when I move here.  I could nap on this until I found a bed."

"It's just old and worn out.  We've got plenty of that around here," Vecchio told him.  He looked at Mort.  "When?"

"Say two, Xander?"

"Sure.  I can cab over and do that so Ray has a few hours to himself." He popped his neck then looked up at his future boss. "Should I bring anything other than my glasses and my lab coat?"

"No, that should be fine.  Wear comfortable clothes.  We do allow jeans in the lab.  You won't be doing field work so you don't have to worry about a vest or anything."

"Yes, sir."

"Good boy.  I'll see you then, Xander.  You behave tonight."  He nodded at Vecchio and the Lieutenant.  "Thank you, detective. He's very good, just as you promised."  He left, going back to work.  The dead waited for no man.

Vecchio looked at him.  "Jumped in?"

"Helped find a hair."  He looked at the Lieutenant.  "Yes, I'm that cocky brat he found in Vegas," he said dryly, smirking at him.  "From just outside LA and I did my education at UCLA.  I'm a smart ass but I'm good enough to earn it."

The Lieutenant nodded.  "You licensed to carry?"

"Two points off marksman.  I have depth perception problems. I'm also licensed to carry concealed, disarm and create bombs, and to fire off artillery to make pretty pictures in the sky during fireworks."

"Why aren't you in SWAT?" he asked.

"Because I like the lab, I'm missing an eye, and I don't want to go shoot people every day, just when I'm tired of not being the only sane human in the world."  The Lieutenant gaped and he grinned.  "There are days," he offered.

"I've had those, Vecchio usually causes them. Did you hand the detective the prisoner?"

"Yes, but he said he was already on assignment and couldn't bring him in.  Since there were uniformed officers there, they took control of the prisoner who I had to hurt a lot to keep down.  You don't smack pregnant women around me," he said simply.  "I don't care if you believe she's carrying Satan and his high court, you just don't.  I tried peaceful once I had him subdued, but he continued to struggle so I administered a few careful punches as a civilian to keep him from hurting anyone else.  No air marshal on our flight."


"I get that a lot," Xander noted dryly.

The Lieutenant cracked a smirk.  "You are a smart ass."

"You bet," he agreed dryly.  "Who you'll only really have to worry about if I start to date.  By the way, Vecchio, you missed it.  I went out on a blind date with one of Nick's friends.  Someone Catherine knew as well.  She's been stalking me now for a few days because I told her I don't cook and she wants to make me her baby and feed me."

"True stalking?"

"Yup, true stalking.  Hourly phone calls, lurking in plain sight where I should be.  Delivering tasteless presents to the station, including lingerie for her, or possibly she wanted me to wear it, I'm not quite sure - still.  She dressed up as a singing strip-o-gram and came to wish me a happy Wednesday.  Brass about body slammed her for that because she did it in the entryway and some suspects nearly got away.  We finally almost got rid of her when a male patrol officer stepped up and kissed me then called me pookie bear, but she's being watched in case she retaliates.  They've decided I was right, I shouldn't date."

Vecchio shook his head.  "At least you'll have a long weekend away from that."  He looked at his boss.  "We done?  I gotta drop him off."

"Go.  I'll see you tomorrow, I'm sure.  Will you need picked up...Xander?"

"No, I know what a cab is.  I had to sell my car to afford the rent in Vegas so I've gotten very familiar with them and other means of public transportation available."  He stood up, shaking his hand.  "Nice to meet you sir, I think I'll like working here."  He followed Ray out like a puppy, bouncing happily behind him.  He saw a Mountie and stopped to stare at him for a minute.  "Vecchio mentioned you.  I'm Xander," he said, shaking his hand.

"He told me about you as well.  Here for the tour?" he asked politely.

Xander beamed and nodded.  "Yup, sure am.  I'm looking forward to it and the ride along. Gotta go, he's impatient."  He hurried after him, only stopping to pet the dog.  "Ooooh, you're such a cute little puppy," he cooed.  "How old are you?  Are you over a year old?"

"Yes, and he's a shedding and begging monster," Vecchio said, glaring at the wolf.  He only got a lupine grin before the animal trotted off.  "That's Benny and his wolf," he explained. "They're partners."

"I hope in the work sense," he said dryly.

"Us too," Vecchio admitted, taking him out to his car.  "There were those rumors about a Christmas party but we don't believe them here."  Xander broke out in giggles, leaning on his arm until he could compose himself.  "Feel better?"

"Much.  That's nearly as bad as me taunting Ecklie with my t-shirts of doomsday sayings all last week."  Vecchio gave him a look.  "I started out with 'the end is near and soon you'll have a boring life again' and moved on from there.  He really hated my bad mood t- shirt.  I'm having a bad day and you're in my way; I'm having a bad day and I like guns and you're in my way; do you want to visit the coroner tonight?  Then get out of my way.  Now," he quoted with a grin.  "One of the cops didn't like it either.  He tried to grab me and I flipped him onto his back and yelled at him.  Then again, I had been shot earlier that morning with bird shot."

"We lead a much less interesting life around here," Ray promised him, letting him back into his car.  He heard running paws and sighed.  "Yes, you can go to Ma's with me, but we've got to drop him off and let him get changed first," he told the wolf.

"I can wait," Xander offered.

"Fat chance.  Ma said so," he ordered.  "In.  You too, Diefenbaker."  The wolf got his usual spot and Xander slid into the front, buckling up again.  "You in?  Got everything?"

Xander leaned over to hug his arm.  "I still like you, even though I made him give you a grumpy mood.  Want to help me find Teletubbies porn so people will give Hodges his own computer back so I can have my laptop again?"

Vecchio looked at him.  "Huh?" he asked, fighting not to smile at that.

"Hodges' computer blew up.  I lent him my laptop from home, which I only use to find porn and play solitaire on.  The admin and Ecklie both complained about the porn.  So I pointed out it was my personal system, that I could have anything I wanted on it, and if they wanted the porn out of the office to replace his.  They ignored it so I've been putting odder and odder porn onto the thing so they finally break and give him back his computer.  This week I'm going for Teletubby porn."

Vecchio laughed quietly, shaking his head.  "Maybe you'll liven the place up again, Xander.  It can't hurt to have some mild insanity since Benny and the other Ray have calmed down."  He patted him on the cheek. "You'll do well here."  He started the car and shut his door, backing out so he could head off.  "We've got you in the Holiday Inn."

"That's cool.  They're nice places."  He looked at the sights.  "Is that the college?"

"A smaller one.  The university's about halfway across town."  He pulled into a parking area.  "Come on, let's go."  Xander nodded, getting out and grabbing his bags once he got untangled.  Dief looked at him. Then at Ray.  "Fine," Ray agreed.  "Come."  He jumped out to follow them inside, earning them a dirty look.  "He's not staying, he's Canadian.  He works with a Mountie.  He's just adopted our new ballistics tech.  Harris.  On the PD payroll?"  She nodded, typing it into her computer.  She arched an eyebrow and he glanced over. "That's just wrong."

"I got it," Xander offered.  "You guys can pay me back."  He handed over his debit card.  "I got a bonus for fixing the database."  He got a weak smile from her so he tried harder.  "Do you guys get funny conventions here?  I always wanted to observe and see if any of the mad stories I've heard are true."

"We got an S&M one last year," she offered politely.  "They were rather nice and polite, sir."  She made him a card key.  "There you.  Room 26.  If you need anything, dial 8 to get the front desk, sir."

"Thanks."  He walked off, going to his room.  Inside wasn't too bad but not the best hotel in the world.  He dropped his stuff on the bed and his key, heading into the bathroom.  "Should I change?  I don't know how to react to a real mother who cooks."

"You bring any dress clothes?"  Xander made an assenting sound over the running water.  "Put on a pair of nice pants, she'll appreciate it."  He checked the chair before sitting down, then looked at the wolf.  "What do I know?  The department said so."

Xander came out to grab his bag and look through it.  "Mine almost managed not to pay me for a month.  When the rabbit virus hit and took out our files, mine and my fellow tech's personnel files disappeared and then they kept them. They had to do some good tapdancing to make sure we got paid."  He took a folded pair of pants into the bathroom and came out tucking his shirt in.  "Good enough?"

"Yeah, you look fine.  Gonna wear the weapon?"

"Depends, how dangerous is your sister?  She was giving me that 'young and tasty' look but I don't want to turn her evil because then you'd hate me."

"Hell, she's already evil.  She won't leave Benny alone and she's a terrible nag and gossip.  Shoes?"  Xander stepped into his loafers and pocketed his wallet, his room key, and for some reason another clip.  "I promise, Ma won't shootcha this week."

"Not you, dear, but necessary at times.  I'm going on instinct."  He shrugged and followed Ray out, letting the wolf trot between them once he had closed the door.  "Come on, Diefenbaker, we'll go eat and learn more about the department, then we'll come back here and if you want you can help me order pay per view tonight."  The wolf grinned up at him and jumped into the back of the car once the door was open.  "Since I'm paying, I won't make you pay me back for that."

"New York probably would."

"Yeah, but New York has a lot bigger department," Xander noted, leaning on the roof of the car.  "It's also got federal grants out the ass at the moment. One of their guys came out to interview for an AV position on days and she said they're fully funded right now by grants.  There are grants from high-end security companies to cover their backs for their special, rich clients.  There's federal grants, there's some international grants because of the UN and the diplomats.  They've got grants out the ass.  Chicago isn't New York and I wouldn't live in New York.  It's not where I want to go.  Their labs are smaller, they've got tighter oversight.  You basically have to raise your hand to piss in the corner, and I don't like that. It's not the sorta guy I am.  Besides, think about how much strange crap they get there yearly.  They made the Ghostbuster movies about New York for a reason, Ray."  He climbed in, glancing back to check on the wolf before buckling in.  "So, am I gonna enjoy real food?  Is it like a restaurant without the waitress I have to tip?"

Ray snorted.  "More or less, but my Ma cooks better.  Stan and Benny'll be there too probably."  He started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, heading for home.  "Don't try to flirt with Frannie, she'll pop you one or latch on like some flesh-eating fish."


"Sorry.  True, but sorry.  As Benny found out.  He still can't shake her."  He turned at a set of lights, and ran into a stand-off.  "Why me?"  He called it in and looked at the kid, who was calmly getting out and leaning on the door.  "Don't get the car hit, Xander.  I'll never forgive you."

"I wouldn't do that to your car, Ray."  He took aim at one guy and hit him in the leg.  "Ray, announcement?"

"Chicago PD," he shouted.  "You're keeping me from dinner with my mother."  The guy Xander shot gave him a hurt look.  "You are!"

"Hey, I'm from Cali, we can do it the LA way," Xander called.  "I'm down with the Crypts."  Most of the guys looked at each other, then at him, looking really confused.  "Ray, who's a cop there?"

"Not any I can see."  He shrugged.  "Shoot 'em all in the leg or somethin'.  The Lieutenant will sort it out and yell tomorrow."

"Cool beans," Xander said excitedly, taking aim and hitting another one, then the third.  By the time he focused on the fourth, he was on the ground with his hands on his head, and so was the fifth.  The sixth was slower so he got him in the arm.  The others he shot gently and they all fell down screaming.  "I said I was from LA. Did you think I was kidding?"  That got a mass head shake.  "Thank you."  He looked at them, then looked at Ray.  "Seven, I'm impressed with myself."  He checked his gun, then put it up and leaned on the hood again.  "So, if your sister thinks I'm cute and she also likes Benny, does that mean he attracts evil women like I do?"

Ray considered it, then nodded as their backup roared up the street, sirens blazing.  "Late again," he called, getting back into the car.  "Xander did it."  He closed his door and Xander did the same, putting his gun on the seat between them. "Good idea.  You know the Crypts?"

"Yeah, we had a minor drinking at the same place one night.  They thought I was funny but couldn't dance worth a damn.  They also thought it was cute when my tutor said he was the only African-American guy I had ever met.  They wanted to know if I was from Idaho."  Ray handed over the gun when someone knocked on the window.  "Hi, I'm the guy in to check out the town to see if I want to be a ballistics tech for you guys.  Need my license?"  The cop whimpered and slumped, but nodded.  Xander handed it over with a polite grin.  "Here you go.  If you need to keep it, you can.  I'll be down in the CSI unit under Ray's precinct tomorrow afternoon to temp in."

"Thank you, sir.  You are Mr. Harris?"  Xander nodded, looking happy.  "Did you have something to do with a pregnant woman and a guy on a plane?"

"He hit her.  That's rude in my book. I don't like rude people."

"Oh, you'll fit right in with Detective Vecchio, sir.  Welcome to our city.  When are you starting?"

"In about eight months."

"Good.  I'll tell my sergeant that we'll be getting someone who can do this sorta work."

"I can also disarm bombs.  I'm not the fastest but I'm very good."

"Even better," he agreed happily.  "I'll make sure your license and your sidearm are down there tomorrow, sir."

"Thanks.  Ray, feed me?" he pleaded.  "Please?  I've never had real home-cooked food."

"Sure, kid.  Quit showing off."  He rolled back up the windows, backing up so he could go around again.  "At least you didn't need the spare clip."

"There were a few more but they ran when I shot the first guy," he offered.  "I think one was a Crypt, but I couldn't quite see his bandana."

"Wonderful," Ray said patiently.  "This happen a lot around you?"

"No, demons, vampires, and bad women mostly."

"Good.  I'll expect less problems tomorrow."

"Sure, Ray.  I'm sorry."

"Not an issue, Xander.  You had to do it, you're just faster than I am."

"Practice," Xander said dryly.  "Lots and lots of practice.  Should I change?"

"No, you'll clean up when you get there," he assured him.  He pulled onto his mother's street.  "See the Goat up there?"

"The pretty black GTO?"

"Yup, that's Stan Kowalski's.  He's probably got Benny.  He's my partner and Ma's adopted him too.  He's bouncy, like you are."  He pulled into the driveway, his special spot, and stopped the engine.  "Dief?"  He got a wet nose in the ear.  "Good, you're fine.  Let's go."  He got out, letting out the wolf, and watching as Xander got out and wiped his hands off.  "Just clean up, she won't care."

"It can get the food dirty from transfer," he complained.  He saw the kid and waved, grinning.  "Are they human?"

"Most of the time.  Unless you've got candy."

"Not on me."  Ray opened the door and he followed him inside, grinning shyly at the lady  who must be his mother.  "Hi, I'm Xander."  He backed up.  "Don't. I've got gunpowder on me.  I don't want to mess you up.  Let me clean up and then I'll give hugs or shake hands or kiss cheeks.  Whatever one does with real mothers."

"His didn't own a stove," Ray told her.  "Go ahead, Xander.  First door after the stairs."  Xander nodded, sliding around him.  "Sorry, Ma.  We had to stop some stupid people on the way up. He's a good shot."

"It's fine, Raymondo."  She pinched his cheek and went to hug the boy once he came out cleaner.  "There you are."  She gave him a gentle hug, sensing this one didn't understand what they were for.  "All clean?"  He beamed and nodded. "Good boy.  Come help me.  That way the children won't pounce you."  She led him into the kitchen by his wrist.  "Stanley, Benny, this is Xander."

"We've met," Benny said, shaking his hand again.  "Get checked in?"

"Yup, sure did.  I'm at the Holiday Inn."  He grinned at the other guy.  "Are you one of the cops they were muttering about?"

"Probably," he said smugly, smirking at the boy.  "Xander you said?"

"Xander Harris, ballistics and trace tech," he said, shaking his hand. "Ray came out to steal me away from my internship and my plans to go hide in Montana and have dogs."  Xander's eyes went wide when he felt someone grab him and Stanley and Benny both noticed he had to calm himself.  "Hi.  Are you a bad guy?  Usually only bad guys like me."

"I'm a bad *girl*," she corrected.

"Okay.  Then I guess you'll love me and help Ray keep me."  She giggled and nodded, giving him a squeeze before running off.  "Sorry, I don't understand kids," he said quietly.

"We see that one every day and we don't understand her either," Stanley said.  "Ma, can we help?"

"No, dear.  Sit down and make sure that one stays.  He made Ray laugh and kept him safe."

"Of course I did.  He's got a pretty car.  Plus he's very nice.  He didn't even laugh when he found out that my last date turned into a stalker."  Stanley stared at him.  "The one before that tried to stab me in the middle of a dance floor."

"Man, you really only do draw bad guys," Stanley joked.  "So, shootout?"

"Yeah, in front of Benny's block," Ray said as he joined them.  "You okay?  She was cackling that she had pounced you."

"Is she okay?  I don't want to make her go evil."

"She's a girl, they're all evil at that age."

"I heard that," a female called.

The guys noticed Xander's head popped up and he sniffed the air.  "Which sister, Ray?"

"Frannie.  The one you met earlier.  Remember, don't string her on, be firm in your desire to never date," he ordered.

"Son!" his mother snapped.

"Ma, if you knew his dating history, you'd tell him to never date too," he protested.  "One of his ex's is a serial killer."

"Okay, that's worse than my last one," Stanley offered, grinning at Xander. "She try you?"

"Tried to kill my former friends over and over.  Kept using surrogates.  I had to beg my teacher to listen when the LAPD didn't.  He went to yell at them for me and caught her the next time.  Fortunately she's singing to the padded walls in her new rooms."  He looked around.  "Can I help?  Even though I have no idea what you're doing?"

"This is called doing dishes, dear," Ma said gently.  "Did your mother never do that?"

"You don't wash plastic and paper plates," he said, shrugging a bit.  "I don't either."  Ma clucked her tongue and gave him a gentle hug around the neck.  "Thank you, but I don't want to turn you evil either."

"You won't, caro.  I'm much too old for that."

He snorted. "Old?  Not a chance, Ray's Ma.  You must have adopted him, you look Stanley's age.  If not Benny's age.  He looks younger to me."

She smiled.  "That's very sweet, but I'm almost eighty."

"And I'm one of Santa's elves," he said dryly.  "There's no way you're that old.  If you were, you'd be cranky and grumpy and hate me.  Therefore you can't be older than forty at the most."

She beamed and pinched his cheek. "You're very sweet, but you need your eyes checked, Xander."  She went back to doing dishes.  "Did your mother never cook?"

"We microwaved.  We ordered.  She made a decent sandwich I guess."  Ma stared at him and he shrugged.  "She didn't cook and it was probably better that way.  I didn't want food poisoning more often."

"How do you survive on microwave food, take out, and sandwiches?" Stanley asked.

"Free lunch.  Chinese food has veggies.  Pizza can but my father hated them.  He was a meat only kinda guy.  It was okay.  I grew up big, strong, and odd."

"That must be from the malnutrition," Benny offered.  "You could sit, Xander."

"Should I?"

"Yes, dear, you sit at the table," Ma ordered patiently.  "It's what tables are for.  Just like when you eat out."

"I sit at those but they're not in kitchens."

"Sit, caro," she ordered.  He sat, sitting up straight, with his hands clasped on the table. "Good boy."  The wolf whined.  "Yes, you're a good boy too, Diefenbaker."  She tossed down a cookie and went back to dishes.  "So, Xander, you study bullets?"

"I make the connection between guns and what bullets they shot so we know who shot who.  I also do trace, which is any substance that can't carry DNA.  Fibers, animal hair, dandruff now and then, leaves, twigs, food.  Stuff like that.  That was my minor so I'd have more range.  It made me take more science classes but I did okay once I passed Chem 1."

"Where did you go to school, dear?"


"Before that.  High school?"

"Sunnydale.  About three hours away from UCLA."  He grinned at her.  "Small town full of evil people."

"Ah."  She nodded wisely.  "Did you do good in high school?"  He laughed and shook his head.  "Not at all?"

"No, I barely graduated but I got nearly perfect on my SAT's.  I got in under the life experiences track so I could count some of my work experience and stuff for credit.  I still had to take Freshman english.  I've got a notebook of terms I hope to use in a sentence one day because I have no idea why we learned them otherwise."  Stanley burst out in giggles at that.  "I don't. Besides, poetry was boring!  Nearly as bad as Beowulf.  Fortunately we had a sci fi/fantasy lit class elective.  Even if we did have to read Tolkien in the original format instead of translated into current english."  Ray shook his head but he was smiling.  He watched raptly as Ma moved to the stove monster and started to stir stuff in pots, frowning as he tried to figure out what they were.

"Sauce, beans, which you don't have to eat, and cauliflower," Stanley said quietly.

"It's food, I can eat it," he promised.  "What's a cauliflower?"

"That white broccoli stuff," Ray told him.

"Oh, white trees.  Gotcha."  He nodded, understanding that now. "I've had that in veggie salads."

"That's raw, this is cooked, still the same stuff," Stan assured him, patting him on the arm.  "So, why the shootout, Ray?"

"Looked like a gang thing.  Xander confused them by saying he knew some Crypts in LA."  He had almost laughed at the look they gave him.  He looked at Xander, who had his head tipped just like the wolf watching her work.  He patted Xander on the back of the head.  "You need to date someone who can cook, evil or not."

"The stalker woman could.  She wanted to make me her baby so she could feed me every day.  Even had odd clothes picked out for me."  He continued to watch.  "Is that really difficult?"

"Easier than chemistry was," Stanley said dryly.

"How are you finding Las Vegas, Xander?  It must be vastly different than LA was."

"It is, it's a lot brighter there.  All the neon and stuff," he offered, looking at him.  "It's got some of the same stuff though.  The working girls, the working guys pretending to be girls.  The drugs, the gangs.  The casinos are nice.  They have these great buffet places that are kinda cheap but you can stay nearly forever to eat. I think my record's about four hours.  I brought a book and ate while I read, going back about every twenty minutes.  Then they made me pay again, which wasn't too bad.  It's bigger and more active than my hotel room."

"You're living in a hotel?" Ray asked.

"An efficiency motel, like for residents.  It's cheaper than I had and no utilities, plus cable.  My only problem is that my neighbor smokes so much weed he could make the city high.  So when the drug dogs come in, I have to change into something I keep in my locker. That way I stay unbitten and my boss understands that it's not *me* who's scenting me. I warned the guy that I work in the lab and he said it'd increase his credibility.  He's a musician.  Not too bad but they're down a drummer since he quit to go raise sheep in Utah with his woman.  She wanted to be a mormon and be polygamous from what he mumbled that night.  I pointed out that was illegal and he shrugged, said the guy was ruining his buzz anyway and was driving off his muses.  So Grissom told the dog handlers to warn him if they're coming back toward us so I can change.  He even told them where I live but they haven't busted him yet.  Said it took all the fun out of it when they wanted it."  Ma chuckled lightly at that.  "We get some weird crooks.  Last week, I got one guy who was sixteen, convinced he was a superhero, and had gadgets to prove it.  I got to go geek on him with Greg, one of the new field techs and a great DNA guy, and prove we were better heros.  It broke his spirit and he pled to a misdemeanor so he could get help.  His spandex was the wrong color for him and that's why I thought he should get help but Captain Brass said I needed a nap."

"From what I hear, he also said he'd better not see any spandex in your locker or on you either," Ray reminded him.

"Well, I told him I only had spandex shorts for jogging but that I had put them away when the stalker lady came.  I didn't want to make her follow me around even more, or anyone else.  One of the other CSI's offered to go jogging with me but he got pounced by one of the people who wanted to hunt me down and love me to death.  He's still smirking at me about her.  I didn't even date her."

"He's definitely got me beat," Stanley said smugly.  "Now they can gossip about someone else when you come back."

"Sure, I'm used to people talking behind my back.  Hodges did threaten to move with me if they didn't leave him alone the day I left.  He called to warn me that someone might beg."

Ray looked at him.  "Tell him if he's serious, we can probably use him but make sure he knows we don't pay the greatest salary.  You two are a great team and we like you working together.  You two solve very well together.  Besides, he helps you when bad things happen."

"Let's not go there," Xander said simply.

"Fine," Ray agreed.  "So, what do you listen to in the lab?"

"I'm one of those guys you can judge the mood by my music.  I do some comedy, I do some country, I do some rock, some light grunge and metal.  They told me they listen to the really old school stuff and opera here.  They said I could have whatever I wanted in the lab as long as I closed the door."

Ray nodded. "I can see them closing it on you for grunge."

"Sorry but that stuff makes me nap.  I'm a bit too lively for something that love-songy and mushy."

"True," Stanley agreed.  "I'm the same way.  You listen to country?"

"Yeah.  It's my sad music but now and then I turn it on to make Hodges come over and quit sulking in his lab."

"Are you and he...together?" Benny asked.

"No, not really.  I can appreciate about one out of every ten thousand men, but I figure the same thing'll happen to them as to the women I date so I don't plan on a permanent relationship.  I'd hate to warp anyone that badly.  I decided a few years back I'd be happy having a few dogs.  They're warm and snuggly in the winter and don't hog the sheets, nag you about what you're wearing or not wearing, and they don't whine at you to buy them things."

"Bah, those are not real women," Ma said firmly, looking at him.  "No real woman would do such, Xander."

"Then I only know fake women?" he offered.  "Women out in California are different, Ma, more shallow.  They're about the pretty.  Pretty thems, pretty things, pretty houses, pretty cars.  That's the sort of women I grew up around and knew.  Some of them didn't like me that much since I'm not the most pretty or rich, so therefore I can't buy them the most pretty things, but the ones I dated were like that."

"Those aren't real women, Xander.  You need a real woman.  You couldn't taint one of them into turning evil on you.  You'd be safer and happier, plus she'd be able to cook as well.  You need to stay here so Ray or Stanley can find you a real woman.  Then you could have dogs and real food."

"Chicago's at the top of my list, Ray's Ma.  Erm, I mean Mrs. Vecchio."

"If you stay, you may call me Ma.  If not, I'll send Ray after you to hunt you down," she said firmly.  "Stanley, go get the door, I hear a car."

"Yes, Ma."  He went to look through the window in the door. "It's the Lieutenant."

"Let him in," she ordered, pulling down an extra plate.

"Ma, I like this place, I have plans on staying as long as I don't get Ray into trouble for helping him and my tests tomorrow go okay," Xander told her.  "I'm going to try."

"You fit right in, Xander," Ray offered.  "You even made Mort laugh."

"I made him laugh harder when I told him about Ecklie's heart attack."

The Lieutenant walked in and handed Xander his license and gun.  "Did you *have* to do that?"

"Yeah, they were going to hurt his car," he defended.  "It's a beautiful car and they were in violation of the law anyway by shooting at each other in the street.  It's not like there were other cops there.  Did you want us to not stop them?"

"No," he said patiently.  "I expected you to corral them and wait for backup.  That's how we do things in Chicago, Mr. Harris."

Xander blinked his big, brown eyes up at him.  "How would I know?  I'm a lab tech."

The Lieutenant paused, then sighed and nodded. "Good point.  You probably don't know how backup works.  Therefore, Vecchio will be teaching you during your ride along on Sunday."  He smiled at Ma, who gave him a pat on the arm.  "Xander's very fast on the draw, Mrs. Vecchio.  Ray didn't have to fire once."

"I'm also nearly a marksman," Xander offered sheepishly.

"I saw.  That's a credit to a ballistic tech like you.  Then again, if you're a tech, you shouldn't be in the field."

"Yeah, but if I don't keep in practice, then the evil people who try to date me will someday win," Xander countered with a muted 'ha' at the end.

"Do I need to know about this?" the Lieutenant asked.

"I've got a stalker, one of my exes is a serial killer in a pretty padded room, another one liked to torture cheating men then tell me about it and what she planned on doing to them.  A few have tried to kill me.  A few I only got to date once and they tried to kill me."  Ma gave him a horrified look.  "That's why I'll have dogs," he said, nodding to show how serious he was.  "They won't turn evil and try to kill me and they won't steal blankets in the winter."

"Diefenbaker does," Benny assured him.  "The bigger the animal, the more they steal the covers and believe it's their bed and not yours."

"I'll get small dogs," Xander assured him. "Good little dogs who make me go jogging and things.  They make a mini greyhound, so I'll probably get something like that.  That way I have to jog to stay in shape."

Ray shook his head.  "There's easier ways, especially in the winter, Xander."

"I'm hoping to buy a small house with a yard, Ray," Xander reminded him. "I'll have my own gym put in.  Bowflexes aren't that expensive, one of those plus a weight bench and maybe a treadmill and I'll be a happy guy.  That way my dogs can get some exercise even when I can't jog."

The Lieutenant looked at him.  "You want to buy a house?"

"Yeah, I don't like motels and apartments.  There's not enough space and there's always someone complaining about something, like your music or what color you want a wall to be."

"Oh.  Well, that's a good sign that you plan on staying in your chosen city."

"Yeah, I'm making my decision fairly carefully because of that.  Besides, I hate moving.  I don't mind traveling but I hate moving. Moving sucks."

"It does," Stanley agreed.  "I've got to do that sometime soon. My place is too small."

"If you do, take Fraser with you," the Lieutenant ordered.  "That way he's got somewhere safe that has indoor plumbing, so he won't have to walk down the hall to take a shower."  He looked at Xander.  "Are you all right?"

"It's not my first," he promised.  "Really.  Plus, I only wounded."

"I saw.  That was good work, Harris."

"Thank you, sir.  Do I salute you?"

"No, kid," he said, shaking his head.  He smirked at him.  "I was warned you were a smart ass."

"Well, yeah," Xander agreed with a grin.  "Could you move a bit?  She's doing mystical things that I've never seen before."

"His mother didn't even own a stove," Ray told his boss.

"Why not?"

"She couldn't use it; I guess they decided it was a waste of money better spent on booze," Xander said with a shrug.  "Them, my uncle, most of my extended family.  Oh, if you run into a paternity warrant, she's a cousin or something.  Not mine.  The Feds tried that early last month."

"Your parents drank?" Stan asked.

"I had parents who were very unhappy with the course of their lives and how they got to the point of living in Sunnydale.  I don't remember them ever being sober.  It wasn't *too* bad.  Dad'd come in already drunk and pass out after some food.  Mom'd watch something and sleep during it.  By then I was usually in my room with whatever I was getting for dinner from the takeout menu and doing something on my own."  Ma gave him a hug.  "I'm okay.  I left once I was old enough.  If I come back, will you teach me how to cook?"

"Of course, caro," she promised, going back to the stove.  "Is there anything you won't ear, dear?"

"No, Mrs. Vecchio.  I'm not a picky eater guy.  Except for cabbage, and that's mostly the smell and the fact my mother tried it once.  That week in the hospital was very interesting."

"What was she doing to the cabbage?" Ray asked, face having that classic 'confused at the Xander' look.


"Fish?" Stanley asked, gaining that confused look.

"Yeah, fish.  Something dad and Uncle Rory caught in the river.  She boiled the fish, boiled the cabbage, put them together and I got sick.  I always thought it was the cabbage because it smelled off."

Ma gave him another hug.  "You needed to be taken away," she said, going back to her stove and the mystical art of cooking.

"How would you even consider putting those two together?" Stanley demanded.

"The neighbor was growing the cabbage in her garden.  Mom picked some when she found out they had actually caught something.  It was handy.  The sad thing was, she wasn't really drunk by that point.  She was just mildly buzzed and getting started.  The doctors said something about thorns and spines and not edible."  He shrugged.  "I don't know, I was eight."  He looked at his future boss. "Are you here for dinner too?"

"No, I've got to go back to work."

"Yes, you're staying," Ma said firmly. "Otherwise I'll make the children pout."

"I wish I could, but unfortunately I do have to go clean up the mess Xander made."

"Hey!  I shot to wound instead of kill.  That way there's a hope of them going right.  Maybe Ray's mother should go work on them and make them into good boys and girls.  She did a good job on Ray."

Ma smiled at him.  "That's sweet, but I wouldn't be allowed to spank them, which is what most of them need.  Did you make a mess?"

"Not much of one," he admitted sheepishly, ducking his head down subconsciously.  "I shot to wound instead of kill.  That way they're not a lot of work for anybody."

"He did a good job, Ma.  Very good," Ray praised.

"Hmm.  See, you can stay," she told the Lieutenant.  "There's not that much clean up or paperwork and I'm sure Xander will be doing some tomorrow."

"I fully expect to as well," Xander agreed. "Lieutenant, tell her she's fibbing.  She's not as old as she claims.  No older woman that old likes me.  They all throw things at me even when I'm being nice and helpful."

"It's my family that keeps my in better spirits, Caro.  Don't worry about it. You'll soon find a wonderful set of grandparents here in Chicago."  She pinched his cheek, making him blush.  "Hopefully they'll have a few unmarried daughters as well.  Then someone would know how to cook for you and your poor future puppies."  She went back to dish up food.

"You're laying it on a bit thick," Stan hissed.

"I'm not!" he hissed back.  "The last older woman I knew I asked if I could help her fix her porch and she agreed.  She still threw a flower pot at my head for being young and male.  They don't like me so therefore she can't be as old as she claims."  Ma kissed him on the cheek and put a plate down in front of him.  "Wow.  Food.  Real food."  He beamed at Ma.  "Thank you, Mrs. Vecchio."

"You're welcome, Xander.  Ray will bring you back tomorrow night as well.  You're much too skinny."

"Sometimes I have to crawl through pipes," he said, shrugging a bit.  "I'm the tiniest one outside of Greg."

"Greg is a pretty skinny guy," Ray agreed, taking his plate and digging in. "You might as well sit, sir."

"Fine," he agreed, taking his plate with a smile and a kiss on the cheek for Ray's mother.  It was only proper.  She smiled and fed Xander until he begged for mercy, and about cleaned out all the leftovers in the house.  Which was saying something with how she cooked.


Xander flopped back onto his bed and pulled out his cellphone, checking the time on it.  He called the office, getting Bobby.  "Hey, me," he said tiredly.  "No, I got fed by Ray's mom and she *cooks*, Bobby.  Like real food!"  He heard the chuckle.  "Fine, your mother did that too but mine didn't!"  He frowned.  "How're things going?  No problems with my last few reports or anything?"  He grinned.  "I know but I was rushing.  Tell Hodges that it'll be Teletubbies this week.  Sure."  He beamed as he was switched over.  "Miss me yet?"  He laughed at the sour comment. "Teletubbies this week. I know, that's a sick idea, but it'll make 'em relent and give you back your own computer faster. Nope, Tuesday night.  Yeah, right away.  Why?  Another problem or did my stalker go after Nick again?"  He listened to how she had demanded that they produce 'her snuggly little boo bear' to the entire station and Grissom had let Catherine handle her, hopefully inserting some reality.  Apparently Catherine now wanted to mother him too.  "Oh, man.  No.  Not Catherine.  No, I'm good.  Ray's Ma *cooked*, Hodges.  Like *real* food.  She had pots and pans and spoons and everything!  It was great!  I got to sit there and watch her and she said if I came back she'd teach me how to cook, introduce me to some older ladies who wouldn't throw flower pots at me, and who probably had daughters I couldn't taint because they were good girls with depth and reality."

He smiled at the technical question.  "Actually, it's pretty neat.  They're redesigning.  Right now they've got an open work area for common projects and a few labs for things like DNA, ballistics, and AV stuff.  I think trace was sharing, that may be why they're updating the department.  No, I go in tomorrow afternoon for a few hours so they can look me and my ways over.  I've got a ride-along with Ray on Sunday.  No, I'll probably be doing reports tomorrow.  We ended up stopping a gang fight.  No, wounds only.  I already got it back.  I was promised paperwork though, so I'm guessing I'll have a bit of it tomorrow.  No, just lonely.  Even the wolf went home with his guy.  Holiday Inn.  Not too bad. Not the Ritz, but I expected that.  Oh, Ray said if you're serious, they'd gladly take us as a team since we do so well together, but you've got to realize they're not swimming in funds.  Sure, I told him that you were telling the others that so you'd be left alone and he offered."  He grinned.  "But I'll miss you, Snape."  He beamed.  "Sure, tomorrow night.  Have fun making others cry.  I know you enjoy it.  Have fun if my stalker comes back tonight.  I give you permission to make her cry and beg."  He chuckled.  "Sure, later, Hodges.  Night."  He hung up and called the desk from the room phone.  "Can I get a ten am wake up please?  Thank you."  He hung up and set the alarm clock twenty minutes later, just in case.  Then he wiggled out of his clothes and fell asleep right there on top of the blankets.


Xander walked back into his own station and picked back up his badge with a wink.  "How was your weekend, Priscilla?"

"Not half as exciting as yours.  I got to see the fax Vecchio's boss sent Brass," she said smugly.

"Not my fault," he whined, shaking his head.  "I was a good boy all weekend long.  I even helped in their labs."  She grinned at him.  "I'm just visiting today.  I'm not here.  Shh," he said, laying a finger against his lips.  He looked down the hall then snuck back to Hodges' lab, looking around before running inside and closing the door.  He grinned at Catherine.  "I'm only visiting."

"I can tell.  Hiding from Brass?"

"No," he said, looking pitiful.  "I nearly brought you back a really cute guy.  He's a blond, a bit bouncy like me, only gave me a dumbass look twice the whole weekend.  He's really cute, kinda hides that he's a bit smart, and he's one of those mushy guys.  He's still sighing over his ex, who's a bitch.  You could do him good."  She blushed and Hodges gave him a look saying he'd be laughing later.  "I can wait while you work with her."

"I'm only waiting on him to brag and tell me he found out what that sticky substance was on that shirt."

"Are you sure you want to know?"  She nodded, giving him a stare.  "Mustard, semen, and anal secretions," he said, handing over the report.

"So, someone got kinky in the kitchen?" Xander asked.  "Mustard's not a good lube.  Any tissue?"

"A bit but burned so you couldn't get DNA, sorry."

"No, that's okay.  You're right, I'm not sure I want to know," she admitted. "I'll see you tomorrow, Xander."  She walked out, closing the door behind her.

Xander looked at him.  "Will you teach me how to act around normal people?  I realized this weekend that I have no idea how to behave around normal people or in social settings outside of a fast food place or a dance floor."

Hodges came over and kissed him on the top of the head.  "It's a good thing for you to ask and of course I will.  It's not that hard.  At least you don't chew with your mouth open most of the time."  He went back to work.  "How was Chicago?  I know Brass was saying something about antacid."

"First night there, gang fight right in the middle of the street we were driving down."

Hodges groaned and shook his head.  "You had to play field tech?"

"No, he was the only cop there.  I got to play backup.  I only wounded though.  Then we went to have dinner with his mother and did you know she really cooked, like everything there?  She thought my mother should have been taken away and social services keeping me because she couldn't cook.  Especially after I told her about the fish and cabbage thing."

"Fish and cabbage?"

"Yeah, the last time my mother tried to cook.  Well, I guess next to last.  The other was mac n'cheese though.  My father and uncle caught a fish; my mother went to steal cabbage from neighbor's garden.  Tasted gross, I ended up in the hospital later that night and for the next week.  They said something about roots and thorns and stuff."

Hodges just stared at him.  "Please tell me you're kidding?"  Xander shook his head.  "You got food poisoning?"  Xander nodded.  "Wow.  Maybe takeout was better for you."  Xander nodded at that.

"Harris!" Brass yelled.  "I know you're here!"

Xander calmly got onto the floor and hid under Hodges' desk.  "So, how was your weekend?"

"Boring.  It's been quiet in town," he offered.  "Bobby's kicked back with a book at the moment."  The door opened.  "Yes, Captain Brass?  Did you finally have something for me to do?"

"Where is he?"

"Not a clue.  He said hi and left."

"His badge is still gone from the front desk, Hodges.  Pull the other one," he said sarcastically.

"Have you talked to Greg yet?"

"Not yet," he said grimly, heading that way.  "Tell him I will be seeing him when he gets in."

"Yes, Captain."  The door closed again and Brass walked off.  Hodges got comfortable, looking down at him.  "What did you do?" he hissed.

"Two of their techs got into a brawl and I stopped it.  A few cops got into it with some suspects and I had to gather evidence.  That shooting thing."  He shrugged. "Mostly I ate a lot.  She's a really good cook.  Speaking of cooks, the next time I go back, you wanna come with me for a few days?  That way you can look around?  They're renovating and you know what a lab should look like more than me."

"I'd have to take time off."

"Hodges, you have decades of leave built up, take some of it before you turn into Ecklie, dear."

Hodges smirked at Greg as he was followed by Brass.  "He's back with Greg.  We'll see."  Greg walked in.  "Needed something?"

"Results of a stain?"

"I gave it to Catherine.  Someone used mustard as lube.  Mia said she couldn't pull DNA."

"Boy lube or girl lube?  Brass wanted to know."

"Anal secretions, can't tell otherwise," Hodges told him.  "Semen present but still burned by the mustard."

"Eww," Brass said, shaking his head.  "So, where is he?"  He leaned in the doorway.

"Probably off finding more disgusting porn so they finally give me my own computer and he can have his laptop back," Hodges said dryly.  "He was promising something about Teletubbies."

"That's...disgusting," Greg said, shuddering.  "Nearly as bad as that stain."  He caught sight of Xander and then looked at Brass. "Maybe he did just pop in and leave, Captain."

"I bet," he said dryly, heading back to the front desk.

"Have fun?" Greg asked.  Xander nodded. "Good.  Tomorrow.  Don't let him catch you today."  He walked out.

Xander peeked out, then hid again when he saw Brass coming back.  "Damn it, I was good," he whined quietly.

"I saw that, Harris.  Get out from under there," he ordered.  Xander sighed and came up.  "Thank you.  I don't want to know what you were doing down there.  You are not a cop.  Did this not occur to you!"

"Yeah, but it was only us there," he whined.  "You wanted me to let others be hurt? I helped!  Get off my ass, Cap!  I'm being good and nice and helpful!"  The captain glared at him.  "Sorry," he said, wilting a bit.  He tried a hopeful look.  "They said it wouldn't be a problem."

"I didn't.  My office.  Now."  Xander sighed and trudged that way, walking in front of him.

Nick looked out from the breakroom. "Man, he looks like a whipped puppy.  What'd he do?"

"Idiot gangbangers tried to keep me from seeing what real people did in a kitchen," Xander called back.

"Excuse me!" Brass yelled.

"Oops.  Not that?" Xander asked hopefully.  Brass glared at him.  "What?  I was good!"

Brass's eyes narrowed.  "I was talking about the brawls in the station."

"Oh, them.  I only helped pull the people apart.  I can do that.  It's not like they could have grabbed my weapon since it had it on my back again.  I was careful."

"Harris, you're going to give me an ulcer," Brass announced.  "Office, now."

"Yes, Cap."  He trudged that way again.

"Well, at least someone didn't have a boring weekend," Nick said dryly, cracking Warrick up since he was trying to nap on the couch.


Xander came back the next day and the receptionist gave him a long look.  "Xander, are you gay?" she asked bluntly.

He frowned and shook his head. "Not really.  Every once in a while I see a guy I think is cute and nice, but I don't think I could ever be fully gay.  Why?"

"There's rumors about you and Hodges and Greg being a trio."

"And the fact that Greg's dating a girl, Hodges doesn't date, and I don't date?  Or the fact that we all know *why* I don't date after my stalker kept coming back?"

"She's camouflage and you make Hodges happy and nicer.  Besides, he's already evil and mean."

He shook his head, taking his pass back.  "Not true.  You can ask Greg though."

"I did, he went to take something for his headache."

"We're just buddies, Priscilla.  Don't worry about it."  He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek before heading back to the lab.  "Hey, Bobby.  Any work?"

"No cases yesterday or today.  So, how was your date with Hodges?"

"Date?  Oh, he took me to dinner. I asked him to help me polish some social skills.  We all know I wasn't raised right."

"Good point," he agreed.  "He's hiding."

Xander shook his head, heading that way.  He stuck his head into Hodges's lab.  "Hey, pookie, should we go make fun of them?"

"Hmm.  Tenth anniversary?" he suggested, looking up at his buddy.  "How did they get this idea?"

"You helping me last night at dinner.  Though, Priscilla was told we're a trio with Greg."

Hodges gave him a blank look, then suddenly shuddered.  "Eww!  That's worse than the porn you found this time!  Out, shoo!"

Xander grinned and headed out, going to the break room.  He looked over Greg's shoulder.  "It done yet?" he asked.

"No, few minutes," he offered. "So, you and Hodges?" he teased without looking.

"According to some, me, you, and Hodges."  Catherine and Sarah both choked on their water across the room.  Greg gave him a confused look and he nodded. "Yeah."

"I'd never date you.  You'd make me turn funny.  I'd be odd if I went evil."

"Why are we discussing this?" Grissom asked as he walked in.

"There's rumors that Hodges helping me polish some social skills last night at dinner was us out on a date and it's now morphed into a trio of Hodges, Greg, and I.  So I thought I'd make sure everyone knew where my feelings stood.  Need a good morning kiss, Greg?"

"Hell no," he said, giving him a nudge and a smirk.  "I'd still turn evil and that would make me odd and bad.  I'd look horrible in the uniform they'd put me in when I went to live with your ex's in the mental ward and my hair would refuse to be interesting ever again."

"It would and we'd hate to see you that way," Xander agreed.

Grissom looked at them.  "I have the feeling that the background is a bit worse than this.  What's going on?  It usually takes more than a dinner to start these sort of rumors."

"Well, he was hiding under Hodges' desk yesterday from Captain Brass," Greg offered.  "Then he and Xander went to dinner?"

"Where he worked on my social skills.  Ray's Ma kept clucking when I didn't know how to use the kitchen table instead of a dining room table.  That and I didn't know how to get stuff out of a casserole dish."

"Why not?" Sarah asked.

"My mother did not cook," Xander told her.  "We didn't even own a stove."  She stared in awe.  He nodded.  "Seriously.  We *never* owned a stove.  I learned what one was in Home Ec and I can almost make brownies or cookies but that's because of Willow's interference."

"I think it's good that you like Hodges enough to let him help you in your weak areas, Xander," Grissom congratulated.  "You don't seem to be the sort to ask for help but that shows a lot of promise that you did.  I'm proud of you.  I'm also proud of you for wounding nine people, stopping two brawls, doing all the paperwork asked of you without whining, and then doing four hours in their lab to prove you knew your areas.  Did you like it?"

"Kinda.  They said they're renovating.  I kept getting the 'sorry it's not as good as New York' thing but I pointed out New York has grants out the butt.  Chicago can't compete with that.  They need me though and they promised I wouldn't have to deal with one strange thing.  Ray's Ma even promised to help me meet nice older ladies who I could do my good deed for the week for and they wouldn't try to hit me with flower pots, and that there were probably daughters who couldn't be turned evil by dating me.  Plus, she *cooked*.  She cooked lots of stuff.  She even said she'd help teach me if I went back."

"I'm proud of you," Grissom assured him.  "There's still nothing so check in with Bobby then help Hodges if he's got anything.  I'll want an evaluation from them but I don't think they sent it with you?"  He pulled it out of his back pocket and handed it over.  "Thank you, Xander.  Go to work once you've gotten a drink."

"Of course.  I came in here to ask Greg how we were going to combat those rumors."

"I have a girlfriend. I don't know why they included me."

Bobby walked in.  "Because you three have lunch in that little corner under the tree," he noted. "Plus, Xander grins at you and he likes you.  That was enough apparently.  They're saying he's got the opposite effect on guys, that he turns them nice because of Hodges being happy."

"It's pure BS," Hodges called from down the hall. "Your cell's going off, Bobby."

"Thanks, man."  He jogged back to get it, smiling at the tired voice on the other end.  "Hi, mom.  How are you today?  No, he's back safely, just getting some coffee.  We were up there chatting.  Anything new?"  He sat down to listen to her ramble on, grinning the whole time.  "Good!"  He nodded Xander to head next door and got a nod in return, so he reached over to shut the door.  "Mom, are you feeling okay?  You sound really tired."

Xander walked into Hodges' office and pulled him away from the wall.  "She'll be fine.  He'd tell us if she weren't."  He looked at him, then at the people in the halls.  "Get over it.  We're only friends.  Remember, I've got a stalker to deal with."  They hurried off.  "So, I did good.  Even though I did make Brass wanna drink."  He sat down to look at him.  "Anything new going on in here?"

"Not really.  No calls out in the last few hours.  They're interviewing for day shift trace now.  I'm not holding my breath."  He sat down behind the computer, canceling the screensaver. "How did you find such odd things?"

"I did a google search," Xander said proudly.  He sipped his coffee and put it in a 'safe' area, then stood up to stretch.  "Their labs are pretty nice.  I'm waiting to see how the renovation turns out.  The plans looked really interesting when I saw them. I also asked about a few odd things.  Their new Trace lab will have an independent exhaust system that links with ballistics, but it'll have a block to make sure nothing can come back through it."  Hodges looked impressed at that.  "All new computers too.  A new mass spec.  A new intern who's so flamingly a lesbian she asked me if I were a sister to the cause."  Hodges snickered at that. "Be careful, people might think I said something naughty," he teased.

"You are naughty," he taunted. "Fine, I'll arrange to come out with you when you go back to look it over.  It sounds nice and Ecklie's gotten on my last nerve.  Did you know he pulled most of your cases to do a review?"  Xander nodded.  "How did you know?"

"He told me he was going to the day before I left.  He wanted me to feel like an idiot and incompetent when I went out there to check it out, but yet he doesn't want to keep me."

"Hell, I wouldn't mind if we did keep you. You could have day shift. Then I wouldn't complain about the quality of work being done."  Greg walked in with a bag.  "Something new?"

"Something ancient," he said grimly.  "Cold case of Nick's.  He wanted to know if you and Xander could find any more of the solution that he found dried on it at first, but which seems to have disappeared."  He held up a folder.  "My analysis at that time.  Hopefully it helps."

"Anything that'll show under a UV or other lights?" Xander asked, taking it to look over.  "Why can't he shine a blacklight on it?"

"Because he thinks it's relevant but he doesn't know why, and he joked about you guys and a dark room," he said dryly.

Xander looked at Hodges.  "Incubus tonight?"

"Sounds delightful.  Just do it quietly."

Greg grinned at them.  "I'll help if I can."

"No, go back to playing with field tech stuff, Greg.  You already know how to do this," Hodges dismissed.

"Fine, spoil my fun and don't have a chaperone."

"Honey, we'd need someone other than you with some of those rumors heading around," Xander said patiently as he slipped a CD into the laptop's player.

"We can drape in here, that way the rumors start to fade," Hodges assured them both.

"Sure.  Want Mia?"

"No, we're good," Hodges assured him.  "Shoo, Greg."

"Fine, be that way then," he said with a smirk, heading out to go help Nick with the other things.

Xander looked at the ceiling.  "We don't have any hooks.  Dental floss?"

"In my locker.  We can use double sided tape."

"It's too hot, it'll unstick.  I tried that in my place and it wouldn't work."  He considered it.  "If we had some 's' hooks it'd be easier."  He looked at him.  "Do we have any in maintenance?"

"You're asking the wrong person," Hodges reminded him. "I only talk to them when they mess up my floors and over wax them."

"Point, I'll be right back and I'll bring the dark cloth from Archie too."  He went in search of a maintenance guy, finding one mopping out front.  "Hey," he said, making him jump and look around.  "Yes, you," he said patiently.  "We need some 's' hooks to hang a dark cloth in trace.  Do you guys have any?"

"S hooks?" he asked.  "Why?"

"Link into the ceiling, other loop to hold the dark cloth."

"Ceiling might not hold that."

"I'll put it on the cross-beams," he promised.  "I was in construction for a few years."

"Oh, you're him," he said with a smirk.  "Gonna go play in the dark are we?"

Xander shook his head.  "No, we're going to blacklight some suspicious stains."

"Oh.  Not as much fun as those rumors say you are."

Xander beamed. "That's pleasure, this is work.  I don't get to mix the two.  Unlike guys who wax the floors so the girls slip and their skirts flip up."  The guy winced and nodded, leading him to their offices to get those for him.  Xander signed them out and went back to the lab, stopping to get the cloth.  "Hey," he said, leaning in.  "Dark cloth?"

"Bottom cabinet, left side of the sink," Archie said, watching some tape of something.  "What're you guys doing?"


"Hmm.  We having a rave too?"

"No, something for Nick."  He grabbed the cloth and some booties since they were kept in the closet on the way past.  He walked in and put everything on the desk, then put the booties over his shoes so he could climb up onto the table.  "Hand me the hooks."  Hodges held them up and he carefully placed them at the joining spots of two panel holding lines. He shifted down to put more in.  "Fabric?"  It was handed up to him and he draped it across the hooks.  They were some fabric loops in it so he used those when one side slipped.  "There," he announced, allowing Hodges to help him down.  He took off the booties and arranged the fabric over the table.  "It drapes the wrong direction," he sighed.

"It's fine, Xander.  It works well.  Thank you."  He plugged in the light while Xander spread out the sample, bringing it over once it was glowing.  They stared at the pattern of the spots.  "Go get Nick."

"Sure."  Xander moved around the edge of the fabric, finding Grissom looking confused.  "We're blacklighting for Nick.  We need him.  Which spot is he hiding in?"

"Auxiliary one.  Were you on the table?"

"I had on sterile booties.  No decontam needed."

"Oh, good.  Thank you, Xander."

Xander nodded, heading to find Nick and Greg.  He stuck his head in after a brief knock.  "You've got gaps that show a pretty picture," he told Greg, who was alone.

"Nick's in autopsy two."

"Sure."  He headed that way while Greg made their work area safe and headed to Hodges' lab.  Xander tapped and leaned in.  "Nick, did you expect gaps in the pattern that look like multiple baseball bat strikes?"

"No, I didn't.  Are there?"  He nodded.  "Coming.  Thanks, Doc, be right back."  He hurried out, letting Xander fall behind.  He walked around the fabric and took the light, shining it across the fabric. "Why didn't I see this before?"

Xander came around and scratched up an edge of the substance.  "Let me run it.  Maybe it wasn't showing up there because it shouldn't."

"Maybe," Nick agreed. "Got a marker and a way to hang this, Hodges?"

"Hang, no.  Marker, of course."  He handed one over.  "Blue?"

"Sure.  Greg, hold the light above and out of the way."  The light moved and the lines shifted a bit.  "What is that?"

"Let me run it," Xander promised, heading over to the DNA and chem labs.  "Hey, Mia, mass spec moving?"

"Yeah, I've got one sample in there right now.  Why?"

"An old case of Nick's.  We got shiny stuff under blacklight that hadn't been there and some that seems to shift with the light.  We got a small scraped sample," he offered, holding it up.

"Ooh, just like I like," she promised, taking it from him.  "So, are you two, or three, um, going at it?"

Xander shook his head.  "No.  We're buddies, nothing more."  He went back there.  "Mia's got a sample going in the machines, she'll run it next."  He looked, then frowned.  "That looks like stripper body paint."

"How would you know?" Nick asked.

"Easy, my car blew up right after high school during a road trip.  I had to get it fixed somehow.  I met Greg there and he only realized it halfway through the interview."

Hodges looked at him.  "You did what?"

"It was only for a few months and I sucked at it," Xander assured him.  "I did better at phone sex when I did that for a few weeks."  Catherine and Ecklie both backed up to stare at him.  "They wanted to know how I knew that the glimmery stuff looked like stripper body paint."

Catherine walked in and looked.  "It does.  Does it shift with the light?"  Greg shifted the angle and she nodded. "If it is what he thinks it is, it's got little flecks of silica in it and that's why it changes.  You need to get it fully dark for at least four hours then blacklight it to see the real pattern but what you're seeing is pretty good with those gaps."

"Can we do a silica test?" Xander asked.  "See where it's not?"

"There's not really one.  We can't do the spray treatment we do with blood," Greg said.  "What about fingerprint gas?  The SuperGlue fuming technique?  That'd stick and we could take pictures of where the haze stuck."

"We'd have to test it first," Nick told him, looking at him.  "That's not a bad idea.  If we can't get this any other way, we'll do a test to see if we can.  Any other indicators?"

"Usually a petroleum base so it didn't wear off or dry out," Xander told him.  "Came in lots of colors. I used to use clear with mostly clear flakes but some blue mixed in and spotted on me."

"I used one that had pink flakes," Catherine offered. "It made my skin glow.  I only used it for special parties."

"I used it pretty much every night.  I was skinny and didn't have great definition so it hinted at it.  Like women's make up."

"That's not a bad idea," Catherine admitted.  "When did you do that?"

"Road trip.  My car exploded.  I met Greg there when his broke down.  He realized it part of the way through the interview."

Greg blushed.  "I was drinking in misery, it was the day before classes started and I was on my way home from a trip."

"Then it must have been fate that brought you here, Xander."  Catherine pinched him on the arm.  "Nice job with the draping.  How'd you get up there?"

"Sterile booties."

"Fine.  Good job."  She went out to calm Ecklie down, making him sigh and nod before stomping off.  "You'll give him another one, Xander.  Be more careful."

"Sorry, Catherine."  He waited until she was gone.  "I wasn't even trying either.  I'll have to remember that and make notes," Xander said fondly, but quietly.  Greg and Hodges both snickered at that and Nick only moaned, shaking his head.  "Remember, you'll never run a lab where I'll be your tech," he soothed, patting him on the back.

"True, I won't," he agreed.  "Thank you, Xander.  I'll remember that during the bad days."  He looked at the fabric. Then at Greg.  "Let's go start that test.  Can we leave this in here?"

"Unless I get something else, then I'll bundle it off to the side," Hodges promised.

"Thanks, guys.  I'll pop in on Mia."  They walked off, going to bother the DNA tech for results then headed to find a way to figure out the whole of the fabric's pattern.

"Petroleum based?" Hodges asked.

"Oil slid off when you sweated.  This stuff stayed on.  Like the stuff you put on baby's butts.  I guess that's how it started."

"Wow.  Interesting.  I never knew you could do that."

"Body paint in all its forms is fascinating, especially those people who can paint clothes on so well you can't tell it's not.  I knew a female dancer who'd do that now and then, and it'd be like clothes under her clothes but she'd be totally naked. It got around the total nudity ban where I was.  I've got two on the computer of her.  It was fascinating watching her draw it on."

"I saw those.  They were good," Hodges admitted, looking at the fabric.  "How do you get it off?"

"Scrubbing," Xander said dryly.  "Lots and lots of scrubbing."  That got another dry chuckle and he sat down.  "Want me to take it down?"

"No, it can be covered," he assured him, pulling down one side so it covered the fabric but it was still partially up.  They saw Ecklie standing there.  "Talking about various body decorating substances that could be on this shirt, sir."

"I heard.  Harris," he said calmly.  "When was this?"

"I was four weeks post graduation," he told him.  "From high school."

"Oh.  So long ago?  Did you list that on your internship application?"

"I listed the club and put various under it since I did about four jobs there.  I did dishes, I waited tables, I did some mild bartending by pouring beers, and I did some dancing now and then when we were short a few guys.  I sucked at it so I didn't have to do it often."

"I see.  On one of them, your job was listed as 'yes'?"

"I did so many jobs at Wolfram and Hart that I couldn't list them all.  I did security, plumbing, elevator repair a few times, bomb and biological component disarming, file clerking, vampire taunting, and just hefted and toted beyond fighting with them."  Ecklie's eyes bulged. "If you have another one, they're going to pick on me, sir."

"I'm not," he said firmly.  "Does Grissom know this?"

"I told him about that one. He never asked about the club. Greg knew.  He broke down in the same town.  I spent about two hours cheering him up by telling him stupid client stories.  He bought me a beer."

"Oh."  He pursed his lips, considering the young man.  "What's that combat record again?"

"Remember that day with the crossbow?" Hodges asked.  "That." Ecklie went pale and backed out.  "Please close the door.  We've got to discuss a case we're reviewing."

"Fine," he squeaked hurrying off, forgetting the door totally.

Xander got up to close it, giving him a look.  "At least they'll pick on you if he has one this time."

"Yeah, well, someone had to," he said dryly, smirking at him.  "Did you know you missed Greg's birthday?"

"No, I didn't.  Shit, I need to pick him up something."

"You do," Hodges agreed.  "Did they like your idea about the dogs and the house?"

"They did.  Vecchio was amused by it and that other guy thought it'd be cute.  His partner promised to take me to the pound so I wouldn't bring them all home."

"Good.  At least they liked you and wanted you to come back."

"They're pretty nice there.  When I got to do the ride-along, I got to meet the other local detectives and they were mostly being slowly driven insane.  I'll fit in well there I think, plus I'll get real food now and then."

Hodges gave him a look.  "So, any other prospects?" he taunted.


"Do you like the detective, Xander?" he asked more bluntly.

"He's a nice guy.  I can see me looking at him like a big brother maybe."  He shrugged. "He's got a really great car, an old Riv."

"That's not what I'm asking and you know it," Hodges said firmly, staring him down.  Xander shrunk in a bit and shrugged.  "You don't know?"

"He was married.  He's a nice guy and I like him.  I could find myself *liking* him," he admitted, "but he was married and he's got two insane sisters, a bunch of nieces and nephews who move around so you can't get an accurate count, and a really great mother who'd probably be disappointed in me if I did.  So I'm gonna stick to liking his car."

"If you want, you could actually talk about those things," Hodges reminded him.

"That would require a sleepover and then the rumors would get really odd," Xander pointed out, looking totally serious.  He noticed that same 'confused by the Xander' look on his buddy's face.  "All my friends were girls.  That's the only way I know how to talk about that stuff."

"We've got to start taking you out to do guy stuff," Hodges moaned, shaking his head.

Nick looked in. "Problems with that sheet being in the way?"

"No, I asked Xander if he found anyone in Chicago he could get a crush on, and he said that'd take a sleepover to tell me."

"Why?" Nick asked, sounding a bit hesitant but very confused.

"All my friends were girls," Xander reminded him.  "That's the only way I know how to do that."

Nick nodded once and looked at Hodges. "I know sports places aren't your thing.  Need a recommendation?"

"Please.  He needs to learn guy things and guy ways.  It's time we completed his education in how men do those things."

"We do those things?" Nick asked.

"Some men do," he said firmly.

"Sure, I can see that.  Um, that place near the Cowboy.  Go there. It's nice, mellow, has decent food so he'll eat.  It even does alternative sports.  It's got some soccer, some horse stuff."

"Curling?" Xander asked.  "The Mountie introduced me to it."

"What's curling?" Nick asked.  "Is that a sport?"  Girls doing their hair was a sport?  He knew some really competitive girls, but he never knew that was a sport.  He couldn't picture guys paying money to go see that, and how would you have a competition in an arena?

"It's where you slide this big weighted thingy and then a guy skates out to sweep in front of it so you can knock the other player's weight out of the special spot."

"So it's like marbles played on skates with brooms?" Hodges asked.

"Not a clue.  I know what skates are," Xander offered.  "Buffy used to skate and read skating stuff and watch skating and gymnastics and cheerleading."

"That place'll be a good start," Nick offered.  "Then you can slowly work up to real sports and beers."

"I know what beers are, Nick," Xander said dryly.

"Yeah, but it's a special guy thing when you get a bunch of guys gathered around the tv watching sports and drinking beers," Nick assured him.  "We'll have you up to speed before the superbowl this year."  He walked off shaking his head, stopping Brass in the halls.  "Did you realize Xander isn't really a guy?  He's learned everything from girls?  Hodges asked if he had met anyone cute in Chicago and he said that'd require a sleepover."

Brass shook his head.  "It doesn't surprise me," he noted.  "We can help him fix that.  Did you tell Hodges where to start?"

"Yeah, and he mentioned curling, which Hodges said was marbles on ice played with skates and brooms?  My mind kinda clouded over on that thought."

"It's an international sport, Nick.  Don't worry about it," he offered, walking past him.  He looked in on the cute pair.  "Xander, don't worry.  We'll make sure you understand guys like Nick by the time you leave.  Do you watch football?"

"Not really.  It's the same boring thing.  One guy throws a ball.  One guy catches the ball. The rest of the guys go pounce him in a show of testosterone and gay feelings."  Hodges burst out in giggles, turning to lean on a nearby filing cabinet to hold himself up.  "Tara said so," he defended.

"It's all right.  We'll explain it to you in a guy way," Brass promised.  "How about basketball?  You watch that, right?"

"Not really.  The jocks used to pick on me until I joined the swim team.  I only swam a few matches but that's mostly because my whole team turned into sea creatures.  I did the 400 crawl and the 1000 meter backstroke."

"Well, that's good," Brass agreed.  "Any other sports we can start with?"

"I watched a lot of skating, cheerleading, and gymnastics with Buffy and Dawn.  Willow watched the horse jumping stuff now and then when it was on.  Giles watched golf," he said with a grimace.  "That's a really boring game."

"It is," Brass agreed. "It's not too bad to play though.  Kinda like meditating."

"I don't meditate any more," Xander said seriously.  "I either see naked people who distract me or I see pretty colors that scare me.  I never meditate any more.  I was warned not to meditate after the last time the colors freaked me out and they followed me after I came out of it.  I had flashbacks for weeks thanks to that.  No more meditation."

"What did you want to be when you were younger, Xander?" Hodges asked, calming himself down.

"Batman."  They both stared at him.  "Or a guitar player, but mostly Batman."

"We'll work on making you understand guys like Nick," Brass promised.  "There's a few more of them in Chicago.  They seem to breed them there."

"Sure."  He nodded.  "That'd be fun.  Can we watch curling?"

"If it's on," he promised.  He grinned and walked off, going to enlist Warrick's help with that, and possibly Sarah's since she was one of the tougher women he'd ever met.  She had to like sports by her attitude.  He stopped Warrick in the hall, pulling him aside.  "Hodges and Nick are working on Xander to help him see sports are good.  Where he was always around girls, he never really got that guy vibe we did.  He thought sleepovers were needed to talk about cute people he'd seen."  Warrick groaned and shook his head.  "So, can you help now and then?  Don't be pushy, just help now and then?"

"Sure," Warrick agreed. "Is he okay?"

"Someone introduced him to curling.  He used to swim, so that's an in.  The girls used to watch girl sports and a friend of his told him how gay football really was."

"Yeah," Nick snorted as he joined in.  "They told him what?"  He looked around.  "Xander?"  Xander stuck his head out of Hodges's lab.  "You said what about football?"

"Tara explained football to me.  She said one guy threw the ball.  One guy caught the ball.  The then other guys went to pounce him in a show of testosterone, aggression, and gay feelings being pushed down again so they felt big, strong, and violent."

Nick's mouth fell open.  He slowly shook his head.  "No, Xander, that's not football.  I played football and that's not football.  I'll show you how football is supposed to be today, okay?  After work?" Xander shrugged and nodded.  "Good boy.  We'll get that one straightened out.  She was wrong but that's a very girly thing to say."

"Wasn't Tara one of the lesbians you knew?" Brass asked.  Xander beamed and nodded.  "Well, she is right about the aggression but that's just playful pouncing in some games."

"Yeah, I did that playful pouncing thing for Anya a lot but she thought it wasn't sports."

Hodges pulled Xander back into his lab and shut the door.  "It's all right, we'll teach you about guy things so you can compare and contrast with how the girls taught you.  Even though I think Tara was right on occasion.  Is she still around?  You never talk about her."

"No, she died a few years back.  She's why Willow broke."

"Oh.  I'm sorry, she sounded like a good and neat friend."  Xander grinned, nodding a bit.  "Hopefully you'll find more like her some day."

"Actually, you and Greg are a lot like her.  You've got that same patient thing going on and all that.  Plus you actually talk to me, something she did and almost no one else did.  Plus, you all like girls."

"True," Hodges agreed, letting him have that one.  Being compared favorably to a lesbian was fine in his book.  Greg might see it differently but that was fine; he needed another annoyance in his life to make him go a bit more insane.

The guys up the hall gave each other a look.  They'd have to fix that boy.  It was up to them to make sure Xander didn't head anywhere else like that.  Other guys might be upset and try to hurt him for those views.  Brass went to write Vecchio and warn him about Xander's lack of male role models, getting one back that said he had noticed that and Xander hadn't understood anything about basketball either.


Xander made his second trip back to Chicago, meeting the detective at the airport.  "Hi again," he said happily, hugging him.  "This time you came to get me?"

"Ray's in court today," Stanley offered, leading him off.  "Bags?"

"Just the one this time.  Am I back in the Holiday Inn?"

"Sure are," he agreed.  "So, how's Las Vegas?"

"Good.  The guys are trying to reprogram me as a guy since I only ever got sports from the girls who were my only friends.  I still don't get the appeal of football and that stuff."

"Some guys don't," Stanley offered.  "Ray plays basketball."

"I don't get that either.  It's the same game over and over again for an hour.  It's like replay of the same four minutes."

Stanley looked at him.  "Nah, actually it's a bit different each time you switch off the ball."

"Not really.  You bounce the ball up to the hoop, get blocked, move around them, shoot and hopefully score."  He shrugged.  "I like the cheerleaders but nothing else really.  I don't get sports."

"We'll see if Ray can show you.  He plays three-on-three most weekends."  He walked Xander out to his car, smiling as the boy petted it.  "You like?  I just waxed her."

"You missed a spot but she's a beautiful girl, Stan."  Stanley looked and he pointed.  "Small line there."  He patted the hood again.  "You're a beautiful one."

"Well, at least you got the cars thing down on the guy side," he offered, going around to drive.  Xander got in and buckled up.  "Do you drive? I know some city guys don't."

"I do, I just had to sell my car to afford rent because the feds screwed up my paycheck for a month."  He looked in the backseat. "No Dief?"

"He's at the consulate.  We'll be getting Benny for lunch."  He pulled out and headed back toward the precinct.  "Anything new happening out there?"

"Yeah, my stalker finally gave up.  She pouted at me because she managed to capture me but I wouldn't give in and put on a bib or breastfeed from her."  Stanley choked. "Sorry.  Please don't crash?  I don't need an accident this weekend.  Bobby's gone next week and I've got to run the lab once I get back."

"No, I won't crash," he promised.  "Fraser does that to us too sometimes.  He wanted to know if you wanted to take in a curling match while you were in."

"Sure.  It looked pretty interesting.  Hodges called it marbles on skates with brooms but it looked kinda neat.  I watched some on the sports channel at the sports bar Nick made me go to with Warrick's help.  I still think Tara was right, there's some gay stuff in football with all that pouncing and padding.  Those positions just scream 'bend over and take me'."

Stanley did crash this time, but it was because he slammed on his brakes. He'd insist on that later when asked on the accident report and insist it wasn't Xander's fault when he got pouted at and apologized to repeatedly.


Ray Vecchio tapped on Xander's door, nodding him to come along.  "Come on.  Stan said you've never really gotten basketball and I'm headed for the court.  You okay?"

"I'm fine.  My knee's wrenched but the brace allows me to move enough."  He grabbed his wallet and card key, following him out to his car.  "Hi, baby," he cooed, patting it on the hood.  "Are you still okay?"

"She's fine, Xander."  He got in to drive, watching as the kid got in. His brace wasn't affecting his knee that much, he'd be fine.  "What happened?"

"I was telling Stan about how Nick and the guys were trying to teach me the guy's view on sports stuff and I admitted that I thought my friend Tara was right about there being gay stuff in football with all the pouncing and the padding and patting on the butt and stuff.  Not to mention the positions they get into."

Ray looked at him.  "You took sports lessons from girls?"

"All I had around me were girls."

"Ah.  That explains that.  No, football's about aggression and violence.  Those positions allow them to get greater speeds for hurting each other.  The padding is safety equipment, like seat belts."  He started the car.  "Buckle up."  Xander did so, turning to look at him.  "Basketball is a bit different."

"It's like the same four minutes replayed for an hour, only with cheerleaders in the center," Xander told him.  "Which makes a nice, creamy filling, but it's still boring."

"Sometimes," he agreed calmly.  "Street ball is a bit more aggressive though.  Street players don't make millions of dollars for an hour's work.  They play because they love to play.  I'm going to go play with some of them and you can watch.  Maybe you'll find something you like on this type of basketball."

"Do you play it on trampolines like they did on that one show?"


Xander nodded. "I think it was on that 'all guy's channel."


"No, I think this was on late at night on Lifetime."

"That's not a guy's channel," he said calmly, making sure he wouldn't crash too.  "Most single guys block that channel from their tv actually.  Except guys like Turnbull. Did you meet him?"

"I did, and he seemed really nice.  Kinda like me, only uptight."

"Yeah, I can make that comparison," Vecchio agreed.  "Did you like curling?"

"I did.  It seemed kinda neat. It's a very calm game.  I used to swim on my school team."

"That's cool.  Watch any other sports?"

"The girls had me watch gymnastics, cheerleading, horse jumping, and skating.  Ooh, I watched the biathlon on the olympics the last time.  That's a driveby on skis.  That was kinda cool, and the luge, but that looked like sex on a sled going really fast on an ice rollercoaster."

Vecchio started to laugh and missed the light turning red.  Fortunately this crash didn't even dent his bumper and neither of them got hurt.


Xander limped into the unit, waving at Grissom when he stared.  "I'm okay.  It was a car crash.  He's fine too.  The other driver's okay too, and so's her cat."

"You don't look okay."

"I've got a hurt knee.  I'm fine."  He looked in his lab, seeing the empty table. "Did day shift come back?"

"No, no gun violence for the whole weekend, just some bludgeoning and some hit and runs," Grissom offered.  "Hodges could use some help though."

"Sure."  He walked in there, going to put on the labcoat he left over there and glove up after washing his hands.  "Hi," he offered when Hodges walked in and shut the door.  "You okay?  You look upset."

"I should be asking you that.  Are you okay?"

"Fine.  Small car crash.  Stanley, Detective Kowalski, picked me up and we had a small accident on the way in."  He looked around and blushed, then moved closer.  "Is it normal when playing basketball to rub against other people like that when you're both sweaty and panting?  Or was it just me?"

Hodges patted him on the arm.  "It wasn't just you.  Why were you playing?"

"Ray wanted to prove street basketball wasn't the same as the stuff on tv.  Which it's not, really, but it's also a lot of nudging, rubbing against the other person, shoving, and sweating on them.  I think I had more of his sweat on me than mine.  But he had fun and I finally quit blushing after about an hour.  Then we watched some curling and some cross- country horse jumping with Benny and Renfield, the Mounties."

Hodges could only shake his head and smirk.  "Good, Xander," he promised.  "So, anyone cute this time?"

"You mean besides the sweaty person who kept nudging and bumping me?"  He blushed again and shrugged.  "I don't know!  I'm confused!"  He sat down to pout at him.  "Was that normal or was he hitting on me?  Not that I'd mind if he hit on me, and I kinda didn't mind carrying more of his sweat than mine, but was it supposed to be that...close and personal and like that?"

"You'd have to ask Brass.  I don't play basketball.  Or Warrick, you could ask him," he offered. "I'm guessing he played some street ball now and then.  Want me to get him for you?  Or ask that he join us for lunch?"

"Eh, maybe.  Maybe I'll pounce the Cap later and talk to him.  He's got kids, he had to have this sorta talk with someone before.  Warrick doesn't so I'm guessing he never has.  Maybe it's just where they grew up like that?"

"I don't know, Xander.  I don't have a clue.  I had a fairly normal and middle class upbringing.  So did Greg."  He looked out the glass wall.  "Brass is heading this way."

"I'll ask him later," he mumbled, blushing again.  "Maybe."  He put on his glasses and looked at the current piece of work.  "This one?"

"No, I'm done with that one, I'm bundling it back up."

"Did you mean to leave the hairs?"

"Hairs?"  He looked again.  "I need my eyes checked."  Xander handed over his glasses.  "Thanks."  He put them on then winced and took them off, handing them back.  "Too strong for me.  Definitely hairs.  Get me an envelope please?  And the tweezers?"  Xander retrieved and took the samples across the hall when they were closed off.  "Captain?" Hodges called.  He came back to the door.   "Um, Xander had a few questions about street ball.  I have no clue but Vecchio showed him."

"Is he okay?  Grissom said he had a wreck."

"No, the detective driving him had a wreck, he's limping on his left side.  Looks like a knee brace."

"I'll talk to the kid later, when I've got some free time.  That way I can hear about how this weekend went and add it to his file.  I hear they had a pretty good case."

"Serial rapist," Xander said from behind him. "Drugged six girls at a school dance and then attacked them.  Since most everyone was out on a massive car wreck caused by a person shouting about God telling him to shoot out tires because round things were the sign of all evil in the world, I even got to do some field work," he said proudly.  "Mort was very pleased with me.  He said he'd send you an eval for my file and he'll be writing you later today, once he quit working."

"That's fine, Xander.  Anything else happen?  Get fed by Vecchio's mom again?"

"Oh, yeah.  Ray picked us up from the ER with Benny and Dief.  Took me right home and his mother *fussed* over me," he said happily.  "She must really like me, she called me a poor baby and fed me, and gave me an ice pack."  He bounced a bit, then winced and calmed himself down again.  "Sorry, wrenched knee."

"I've had those.  They do get tiresome," he offered.

Xander nodded.  "Do you think you'll have a few minutes later?  Ray taught me about street ball and I'm not real sure what was going on."

"Sure.  Actually, I'm not doing anything now and I can update your file so Grissom won't have to.  Want my office?"

"Sure.  You have good coffee."

"Usually I steal some from Greg," he admitted, walking him that way.  "So, street ball?"

"Yeah, he plays with some old friends at a park every weekend.  Three-on-three?"

"I do that now and then too.  It's fairly relaxing."

"It didn't seem really relaxing when he pulled me out to teach me."  They walked in and he closed the door, asking him to explain the sweat and bumping stuff.

Back in his lab, Hodges was howling with laughter, bringing a curious Greg and Warrick.  He looked at Warrick.  "You may get to explain street ball to Xander," he panted as he laughed.  "Vecchio tried but all he got was the blocking and the sweating stuff."

"I'm not touchin' that," Warrick said firmly.  "I know how the kid's mind works, I'm not going near that conversation."  He went to find Catherine.  "Don't you have a case you can send me on?  Before I get asked to explain aggressive street ball to Xander?"

"Who has him now?"

"Brass," he said dryly.  "I saw them walking off together."

"I'll go help Brass, you go do this mini-mart.  Give Xander something to do."  He nodded, taking the slip and heading out shaking his head. She went to help the poor captain.  She knew what Xander must be thinking. She was a woman and she understood how he had been trained by those women of his.  She tapped on the door.

"Come in," Brass called quickly.

"Warrick said you were trying to explain basketball again.  Need help?" she asked. "By the way, there was a package just delivered for you."

"Sure, let me get that.  You're sure you can help him?"

"Yeah, I'm a girl, I can translate it back into girl so he'll understand easier."

"Thanks.  Sorry, Xander.  Let her answer that last question."  He hurried out, vowing to never write Vecchio and tell him about how he had confused the poor kid into thinking he was hitting on him.  It would ruin their working relationship.  He heard his office door close and silently said thanks that they worked with a woman who had kids.  Sometimes the kid needed a mother.

"Have you seen Cat?" Sarah called at him.

"She's helping Xander understand basketball in my office," he called back.  Sarah was a woman, she'd help him understand, maybe.  She could definitely understand lesbians and how they thought.  She had in the past during some cases. Him, he just escaped, going out to sit in his car and not break down.  Though he did laugh a bit.  He couldn't see those two together.  Now he knew why Hodges had handed this one off.  Too bad he couldn't get Warrick the same way.  Maybe Nick though....


Xander sat down next to Greg at their usual table so he could put his foot up next to Hodges.  "I'm still confused," he admitted.  "Do you think he was hitting on me?"

"Not consciously," Hodges offered gently.  "You said you thought he was straight."

"Point," he sighed, looking a bit miserable at that prospect.  "I guess you're right.  Catherine explained it to me.  I think I embarrassed the poor Captain. I should apologize."

"Do something nice for him instead," Greg offered, patting him on the back.  "What happened?  All I know is that you asked Hodges some questions about street ball."

Xander looked at him. "The Cap said it was normal to get really sweaty and bump the other players during a game of street ball, but he was really nudging and pressing me hard while he was trying to teach me.  I ended up wearing more of his sweat than mine."

"This is Ray, right?" Greg asked gently.  Xander nodded.  "Okay.  Did he play that way with the other guys?  Or did you see him play with the other guys?"

"I did," he admitted.  "He was laughing and taunting and having fun then.  With me he was a lot more serious."  He frowned a bit.  "I started to think about it while I was watching curling with Renfield and Benny."

"Renfield?" Greg asked.  There went another name onto his list of names he'd never give to his kid.

"The other Mountie.  I met their boss.  She makes Sarah look like one of those cute little girls who dresses up like a kid with pigtails and who give away flowers while singing in front of the bigger casinos.  That's one tough damn woman."

"Me or someone else?" Sarah asked as she walked over.

"The Mounties' boss," he told her.  "She makes you look like a sweet, gentle, smiling, prozac happy person."

"Oooh, poor guys," she said, sitting down next to his foot.  "You okay?"

"I'm fine.  Wrenched my knee in the wreck.  He slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting someone who stalled in the middle of an intersection."  She nodded at that.  "Do you like curling?"

"I hate all sports."

"Oh."  He grimaced.  "I wanted someone to watch curling with."

"I'll try," Hodges offered.  "I can't promise I won't fall asleep though."

"Sure," he agreed, brightening up a bit.  "The place with the cheese fries has it on one of the corner screens."

"We'll go for the next game," Hodges promised. He looked at Sarah.  "Actually taking a lunch?"

"I wanted to hear about the case this weekend," she admitted, looking at Xander. "I heard a serial?"

"Serial rape.  Guy drugged a bunch of students at a school dance and attacked them in the school.  They were found a few hours later by a janitor cleaning up the mess from the dance.  Since most everyone was out helping on a scene thanks to the guy who said God told him round things were the sign of all evil, I got to go out to do some field collection.  I did very good," he reported.  "Mort only had to correct one thing, the direction I was swabbing a stain because it was stuck on already.  I got to analyze it since their trace person was out sick.  I heard rumors that it was family problems but she seemed pretty nice when I met her that first weekend.  So I did trace, then later on I got to go back to ballistics to deal with a gang initiation shooting.  Poor little old lady on the street who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and her grandson.  Stanley went to get the guy when we found out he was using a registered weapon, registered to his mother no less, and pound him into a greasy spot.  Though, from what I heard, his mother got there first when Stan told her about what had happened, even before she knew he had used her gun.  Then she kicked his ass and Stan had to save him from death.  He went to the ER, where he got 93 stitches and 3 staples.  Plus two casts and a shoulder sling.  They said taping his ribs was useless.  He's going to be solitary or the med-wing for a while in jail.  He came in pleading for mercy because Stan reminded him if he got off, he'd have to go back and live with his mother again."  Sarah grinned at that.  "Ray's comment was that his mother would have killed him, and he'd have been in little pieces had it been one of his siblings."

"Good," she praised. "Sounds like you did okay.  Did Warrick get back from his minimart yet?"

"Yup, he did.  The gun was in the system, there's already a warrant out for the guy, so they're trying to find him again.  That's why Hodges now has a full desk again."

"If we could pinpoint his location it'd be easier."

"Did you need help with that receipt?  I've never done one of those, only watched."

"Sure," he agreed.  "We'll do that first when we go back in."  He looked over as Ecklie stomped their way.  "Incoming," he hissed.

Xander looked up.  "Hi, Director Ecklie.  Hodges is going to show me how to do wetted down and blurred receipts after lunch."

"Good.  You don't know how?"

"I've only seen it done in the classroom, never done one or helped do on.  I learn better from practical experience."

"Ah."  He nodded.  "Fine.  Sidle?"  She looked up at him.  "You have that review today.  You're late."

"Oops, sorry.  I was listening to Xander talk about the cases he helped with this weekend.  He even got to do some limited field collection."

Ecklie looked at him.  "Why?"

"Because most of the field techs were at a massive car crash.  They had a guy who said God told him round things were the sign of all evil in the world so he was shooting tires as they moved to eliminate some of the sources of evil so the world could be purified and move on to greater glory and harmony in the Buddhist sense."

"I see.  Have fun?"

"Kinda.  Mort liked my suggestion for cutting out a section of floor instead of trying to scrape up a stuck-on sample.  He said it'd be easier but they couldn't.  The school would get upset."

"Interesting."  He walked Sarah off, taking her back to do that review with her, even if she didn't want it.  "They let him in the field?"

"No one else to go and he was trained in the basics," she reminded him.  She did appreciate Xander for the fact that he pissed off Ecklie more than she did.  It was fun watching him devise new ways to piss the director off. She found Grissom waiting on them.  "Ah-ha, it's one of those."  She walked in and sat down, nodding politely at him. "Xander got some field collection time."

"Good.  He did very well at that multi-shooter event I had to bring him to.  What's he doing next?"

"Hodges has a receipt he's going to work on and show Xander how to do them.  He said he's only ever seen it in classrooms."

"Excellent.  I heard he had to do Trace for most of the weekend. How was the rest of it?"

"Fine.  Serial rapist at a school dance.  Massive car crash, then he said there was a gang initiation shooting of a little old lady and her grandson, but that the suspect's mother had gotten hold of him when the cops came for her son.  Apparently he needed major medical intervention afterwards.  That and he talked about Ray."

"It's good he's already found a mentor over there," Grissom agreed. Sarah gave him a sideways look.  "I realize what you're thinking," he said quietly.  "I think Catherine talked Xander out of that idea earlier."

"Hopefully.  I don't want to see the poor guy hurt.  I don't think he could take much more of it.  It's like he's a little kid some days."

"He is.  For all that he's seen and done, he's still got some innocence and purity left.  It's what makes him work so hard to help others."

Ecklie coughed to draw their attention.  "As ...fascinating as Xander Harris is, we're here to talk about one of CSI Sidle's case."

"Sure," Sarah agreed.

Grissom nodded.  "I reviewed it, she did everything appropriately.  The evidence did suggest the first suspect and nothing hinted at the second."

"I was thinking on this last night.  I'm guessing it was planted evidence.  The only thing that pointed at the second guy was the epithelials on the sheet, which Greg thought of and found."

"Nothing else was his?"

"The semen in the condom was the husband's.  The hairs on the bed were the husband's.  The semen in the SART kit was the husband's.  Everything but those few skin cells were the husband's."

Ecklie looked at the file.  "Could you have missed something?"

"I'm human," she pointed out.  "We did process every inch of that crime scene twice, Ecklie.  I did, Grissom did with Greg.  We went back for a third review time to check a hunch of Greg's to get that sheet and there were no skin cells anywhere else on either sheet or the pillow cases or on her clothes that weren't the husbands, but in that one spot.  In his confession he stated he got lonely and jealous of what his friend had after his year of mourning was over with. He claims he had been watching her from a distance and had gotten closer to them due to his friendship with the husband, but then he snapped when he heard them having sex."

They heard feet go running past, one of them clearly limping, and Grissom groaned, getting up to open the door.  "What's going on?" he asked Greg.

"Car crashed into the front of the station, guy got out with a gun.  Shot two officers and Brass.  We're heading now."  He ran off, going to help and make sure nothing destroyed the evidence.  He paused when he saw Xander bodyslam the gunman, getting him onto his stomach and banging his head on the floor.  "Someone get him some cuffs!" he yelled.

"Oh, he'll be unconscious," Xander growled, hitting him again.  The guy moaned and went limp.  Xander flipped him over, kicking the gun aside, and got moved by one of the officers.  "Cap," he said, going over to check on him.  "You okay?"

"Not too bad," he said, looking at his grazed leg.  "Not the worst I've ever had."

"Yeah, but grazes suck monkey butts.  They ache and they're too small to really do anything about," Xander offered, taking off his outer shirt to use it to put pressure on the wound.  "That the only one?"

"I can't feel the foot you're leaning on," he offered.  Xander slowly shifted, careful of his own knee.  "I can do that, kid."

"Shut up," he said fondly.  "You're injured, you get fussed over.  I might even do like Ray's Ma did and hand you an ice pack, a true form of fussing."

"Real fussing is usually done a lot more at home and by your lover," Brass told him.  "They do things like cook, fluff pillows, get you stuff, pamper you."  Xander looked at him, looking a bit confused.  "You'll understand some day," he assured him, giving him a pat.  "Guys, I'm injured but not that bad," he told the paramedics.  "Get the others first."

"He's got an inch and a half graze on his outer thigh," Xander reported. "Good blood flow, might have some fabric detritus in it, but I can keep doing this for a while."

"Thank you, sir."  The paramedic looked at Brass.  "Yours?"

"CSI Ballistic intern Harris," he reported.

"Oh, you're *him*," he said, suddenly getting it and nodding.  He grinned at Xander.  "Just an inch and a half?"  He nodded.  "That's fine then.  We'll take him last.  These two have real gunshots."

"We can drive him if we have to," Sarah offered.

"That'd be fine, ma'am.  Need anything for his leg, Harris?"

"Um, a pad and some gauze to wrap," he said, frowning at it.  "I'm not going to be getting personal but it's got to hold the pad in place."  He took them and went to work tying a pressure bandage.  He was good at this.  He finally tied it off and helped him stand.  "Here, Sarah."

"Thanks, Xander.  Good job."  She walked Brass out to her Tahoe, getting in to drive him.  "It'll be faster, I can take your statement on the way, that way you get some pain killers sooner and he won't learn how to really fuss over someone."

"Sure," he agreed, finding her tape recorder and checking the tape in it.  "Clean one?"

"Glove box."  She reached over to grab one, letting him have it once she had opened the plastic wrapping with her teeth.  "Well, he's back and it's not boring," she quipped as she backed out, taking him to get some pain killers.  Being shot hurt, even if it was only a graze.


Hodges looked up as Xander wandered back to his lab.  "Done?"

"Break.  I'm headed for a soda, want one?"

"No, I'm good," he offered.  "You sure you're okay?"

"Just fine."  He headed for the breakroom, seeing Grissom coming his way.  "I've got one left," he offered as they passed.  "Just getting a drink."

"Fine," he agreed.  "Page me when you're done, Xander."

"Yes, sir."  He got his soda and trudged back to work, really tired at the moment.   He sat down at his desk and pulled his phone closer, dialing a number by memory.  "Hi," he said.  "Yup, it's me.  No, I'm ordering for a friend.  Put it on my card.  Um, some Moo Shoo, some Kung Pao, and some General Tso's with eggrolls.  No, not home or the office.  Send it to 1631 North Eastern, apartment 8.  Yeah, on my card.  Thanks."  He hung up and went back to work on the last gun, making his notes carefully and methodically.  His phone rang and he answered it.  "Ballistics?"  He smiled.  "I'm fine, Bobby.  You missed the guy who drove into the front of the station and then came out shooting.  No, we're all fine.  Brass has a graze.  Two officers were shot but they're out of surgery and expected to do well.  Yeah, I'm good.  One last gun to go and I'm nearly done with the day anyway.  No, just general exhaustion."  He grinned.  "I will.  Sure.  I'll call if I need advice.  You behave and tell your mother I said to feel better soon.  Sure thing."  He hung up.  "Grissom, Bobby said he might be back a day early but he's not sure," he called.  He looked at the bullets he had to match, then grimaced.  "Shit."  He got up and stuck his head out of the doorway.  "Grissom, that last gun won't match.  It's a thirty-eight. All the bullets are nine mil.  We're missing a gun.  Want me back out there to look it over?"

"I'll send Greg.  You all right?"

"Just a long day.  Sore knee.  The usual.  I'm fine.  Where did they find the thirty-eight?"

"I don't know.  What's the tag say?"

"It doesn't have one.  It was in the same box, so I'm not real sure.  Can you come look?"  He nodded, coming in to look at the gun.  "It was in the box Nick brought me.  He had compiled the box of guns and walked them in here, then put them on my table.  I was doing my first scopings on the ones pulled from the walls so I only grunted, then Nick left.  I got all the exemplars done, then started on the guns, like usual."  Grissom nodded.  "This was at the bottom of the box and it doesn't match.  It's not got a sticker so it's not the lab's.  There's no tag and I looked in the box, there's not one that just came off that I can find."

"Let me check, you sit down for a minute, Xander."  He looked in the box, then looked around at the floor.  "What about the minimart one earlier?"

"Already ran it.  It was a thirty-eight but it's boxed and sealed.  Warrick took it back right before lunch.  It had a tag."

"Okay.  Where's the box now?"

"Ask Warrick. I'm not sure."  He grabbed the phone to page him, bringing him running.  "Where's the thirty-eight from earlier?  We've got a floating one."

"Let me get the box," he said, going to find it.  He came in a few minutes later and broke the tape sealing it, opening it to see his weapon in there.  He checked the tag.  "It's the same one."  He looked at Xander.  "You okay?"

"Fine, just tired.  A bit of pain but mostly tired."  He looked at the gun. "That was in the bottom of the box Nick brought in."

"It's an evidence box, the standard to put a case in," Grissom admitted.  "Page Nick for me."

"Nick!" Xander yelled, bringing him running.  He had only been down in fingerprinting.  "You didn't bring me enough of the right sort of gun and you brought me an untagged one, man.  I've got bullets from the wall that match a nine mil and don't match anything and an extra thirty-eight auto."

"Which is untagged," Grissom said, holding it up by the trigger guard.

Nick looked at it and shrugged.  "I don't know.  Where did you find it, Xander?"

"Last gun in the box.  No spare tags.  I've got the rest sorted and stored with the exemplar in the box with them.  I've got the standard pictures of the riflings so I can check them against the others and sort into groups."  He pointed at them.  "The pile on the right is still unmatched.  It's a nine mil but not one of the ones you brought me.  Seven bullets."

"Crap," he muttered, coming in to search the floor and the box.  "Warrick?  Yours earlier?"

"We just checked it.  It's in there and sound.  Tagged and all.  Xander did it before lunch. I just unsealed it."

"We can do another test fire, compare the two rounds," Xander assured him.  "Easy enough to do.  That gun was the only one in here when I did it."  Warrick handed it over so he went to do the test fire.  "Firing one."  He fired into the water, then walked around to retrieve the bullet, handing off the gun so he could take the exemplar from the envelope in there.  He examined it and looked at Grissom.  "This is impossible.  It was the only gun in here earlier."

"I was sitting here when you sealed it in, after checking it over," Warrick agreed.  "I even verified his match as a check," he offered.  "It was that same gun. It's not now?"  Xander shook his head. "Is the other one?"  He took it to do the test fire.  "Firing one," he called. He came over to check it.  "This is mine from earlier."  He looked at Grissom.  "It's a match.  It's impossible, I watched Xander do mine, Gris."

"I know you did," he promised.  "I'm not doubting you."

"But then who switched the tag, reboxed, retaped, and where did the other gun come from?" Nick demanded.

Xander shrugged.  "It's not got a label as one of ours."  He checked the gun from the box carefully, noticing the serial number.  He moved to the computer to type it in, finding that one.  "It says it's hot but it's from an old case, back about ten years."  He printed it and put it with the gun, then ran the serial on the one that matched the exemplar.  "Here we go, from Warrick's case.  Listed as such in the computer."  He printed that and put that gun on top of it, then looked at the box.  "They were good, but not great," he said finally.  "There's an extra edge of tape, barely, on the sides."  He let Grissom look at it.  "I want to know what's going on."

"Gremlins," he said grimly.  "Okay.  Rebox, retag, I want it on my desk, sealed, signed, and report inside."  Xander nodded, going for a new box.  "I also want a statement from each of you on your actions about this.  Just in case.  It could help us later."  He yawned.  "Your exhaustion is catching, Xander."

Xander looked up at the vents overhead.  "No gas."

"That we can see, I'm tired too," Nick said, backing out into the hall.  "Hodges, do you have  the sniffer?"

"Yeah, in the second blue cabinet.  Why?"

"Everyone in ballistics is tired suddenly."  He grabbed it and brought it in there, turning it on.  It lit up and he looked at them.  "Out, now," he said calmly.  Xander boxed up that gun and sealed it, signing it and handing it to Warrick, who signed it, then they handed it to Grissom.  He walked Xander next door.  "Help him write a report about the extra gun and the gun switch earlier."

"Oooh, how?  Lab accident?"

"No, the first gun was in there by itself.  The second appeared.  Here, I want evidence from this box about the second layer of tape," Warrick ordered, handing over the old box.  "It's barely got a hanging edge.  Someone was good."

"Sure.  Then I'll send it down to fingerprints."  He sat down with the digital camera, magnifying the area.  He saw the second row and snapped it.  "You were using which tape, Xander?"

"The lab's," he said through a yawn.  "Paper?"

"Use the computer," Hodges ordered.  Xander nodded, going to do that.  He wrote out a quick and dirty report about the first case, how it was the only gun in processing at that time, how he sealed the gun, handed it back, that Warrick was in there when he handed it back.  That he found the second gun in a box from the shooting and ran it, and it matched that first gun but the gun in the box hadn't matched.  He noted that he had found the dual layers of tape and that he had called his supervisor immediately upon finding the spare gun.  He fell asleep while typing, nodding back up almost immediately but found himself looking up at one of the docs.  "I'm fine.  Just doing a report."

"We have enough for now, Xander," Hodges said gently, moving him and the chair he was in away from the desk.  "Let me spell check it for you."

"No, print it that way," Grissom ordered.  "I'll make a note on it that he was tired and fell asleep while writing it.  That this is the preliminary report.  Save it as well."  Hodges did so and printed it, handing it over.  "Thank you.  Drive Xander home."

"Sure thing, Grissom."

"I can do it," Xander offered.

"Shut up, Xander," Hodges said firmly.  "If you stand up, you'll fall over."

"Xander, were you taking anything for the pain?" the doctor asked.

Xander shook his head. "Tylenol this morning.  Some again at lunch and another pill after lunch because I was in more pain after I jumped the guy.  Why?  Am I having a funny reaction to whatever Nick found?"

"You're having a stronger reaction," Doc Robins offered.  "Not a bad one, just stronger."

"He was in there for longer," Hodges noted.  "He was also tired at lunch."

"I noticed he looked tired when he went for a soda, right before he found that spare gun," Grissom agreed. "Xander, tomorrow, day off."

"Fat chance," he said dryly.  "We still have to find the origin of that gun."

"Which Warrick and I can," he said firmly.  "I want you at home, sleeping, young man.  Don't argue with me or I'll dock your pay."

"Yes, sir," he sighed, slumping a bit. "I'm fine," he whined.

"Shut up, Xander," Doc Robins ordered, staring him down.  "I mean it."  He nodded.  "Good boy.  Now, they looked at the phone.  Who did you call earlier?"

"When I got back from getting my soda, I called the usual chinese place I use to send the captain some dinner.  That way he wouldn't have to stand up or anything."

"That's very nice of you.  Did you give out any information?"

"No, they have my card on file.  I had to give out his address, but that's in the phone book."

"It is," he agreed gently.  "He's fine, and he did say thank you.  He called a few minutes ago."  Xander nodded slowly at that.  "Dizzy?"  He nodded again.  "Then you're definitely being driven home."

"I can take a cab."

"Xander, shut up," Hodges complained.  "I'm driving you home and putting you to bed.  Deal with it."

"You live in the other direction."

"So?  You don't live that far away and you're getting me off early tonight."  Xander nodded at that then grabbed his head. "Is this a reaction?"

"Not that I know of.  Where's your tylenol stash, Xander?"

"My desk drawer.  After lunch I took from the communal stash since I'm down to two pills. I was going to pick up more tonight."

"That's what they're there for," Grissom agreed.  "Want him to go to the ER, doc?"

"No, he'll be fine.  Let's get him home and resting.  Hodges can call to wake him up later to check on him."

"Sure."  He walked over and helped Xander stand up.  "Keys?"  Xander patted his pockets.  "Need anything?"

"No, I'm good.  I can order dinner later."  He let Hodges walk him out, holding his head.  "Why am I so dizzy?"

"It's called lack of sleep, Xander.  Normal humans need six or eight hours of sleep a day.  You're going on four most nights or so you claim.  You're tired. You're going to take a nap and I'll come back later to check on you."

"I'll be fine with a nap," he promised.  "You don't have to."

"Shut up, Xander," he said firmly, walking them past reception.   Priscilla came over to take his pass.  "He's handing his in?"

"He gives it to me each night so he doesn't have to lose it again."

"Oh, that's good."  He walked him out to his car, letting Xander crawl into the front seat.  He walked around to get in and drive, then watched Xander get out of the car.  "What are you doing?"  He got out to follow him, leaving his keys in the starter.  A few feet from the car, it exploded.  "Shit!"  He moved over to flip Xander over.  "Suddenly having visions?"

"Smelled solder."  He yawned and looked up as people came running.  "I smelled recent solder.  I was going to get one of the sniffer dogs."  He yawned again.  "If this is the same federal idiot who stole my file and made it so I wouldn't get paid, I'm killing him this time," he told Ecklie.

"It can't be, he's still in jail," he said, hauling Xander up.  He got yawned at.  "Problems?"

"He was gassed in ballistics and fell asleep while typing his preliminary report," Hodges said as he stood up.  "Doc Robins wanted him to go home and rest."

"I'm not so sure he should be alone," Grissom noted.  "Ecklie, can we put a guard on his rooms?"

"I'll stay with him for a bit," Hodges offered.  "Send Greg out, he knows where he lives."  He looked around, then saw a van.  "Who's that?"

"I don't know," Grissom said after looking.  He pulled an officer aside.  "We have a suspicious vehicle on the lot," he said, glancing over at it.  The officer nodded and went to report it, getting some officers to come from a few different directions.  Someone got out and started to run off, but they were brought down by one of the dogs.  Grissom looked at Hodges.  "Good catch.  Take him back to his rooms.  I'll send Greg to check for any evidence.  How did he know?"

"He said he smelled recent solder," Ecklie told him.

"That's fine.  It's a good catch," he agreed.  "Go, Hodges.  Call a cab from someone's cell."  He nodded, walking off to do that from the front desk.  They watched as the cab came and they left, with Greg going along to help.  The rest of them got down to work trying to figure out what was going on this time.


Xander woke up to find Greg looking down at him.  "Gee, you don't look like the takeout fairy."

"I'm not.  That would be Captain Brass, who's sitting outside to smoke."  He helped him sit up, then swing around so he could get up.  "Still dizzy?"  He nodded so Greg helped him into the bathroom.  "Doc Robins said if you were still dizzy to take you to see someone, Xander."

"Yay.  I hate hospitals."  He came out a few minutes later and headed back for his bed, collapsing face first.  "Let me nap some more, I'll be fine."

"Sure."  He watched as Xander fell back asleep then went to tell the Captain he had gotten up.  "He got up, went to the bathroom, washed his hands, and came back."

"I heard.  He okay?"

"Still dizzy, refused to get seen."

"Not unusual."  He finished his cigarette and tossed it down off the balcony.  "Any word yet?"

"Nope.  I called Grissom but I got his voicemail."  He handed over his phone.  "Here, you can try."

"Thanks."  He hit the phone book and dialed from there, getting Sarah.  "He's got you marked wrong or you've got Gris's phone. Which is it?"  He listened to her ramble. "No, he's been up and went back to sleep.  Sure.  Hey, Doc.  No, he got up and went back to sleep.  Greg said he refused a trip to the ER."  He listened to the orders.  "Why?"  Then the reason hit him.  "Since when!"  He sighed and nodded.  "Sure.  We can do that.  Send the tox report to them.  Palms is fine.  Any news on Hodges's car?"  He nodded a few times.  "Thanks.  Let us know.  My phone's at home charging.  Sanders has his."  He hung up.  "We've got to take him anyway," he said, wincing as he stood up.  "His tylenol was laced."  They walked in there to get Hodges off the couch and have him help them get Xander down to the car.  He didn't want to wake up and it showed, he was snoring halfway down the stairs.


Xander stomped in the first day he was allowed back, heading right for Grissom's office.  He tapped then walked in at the grunt.  "Can I come home now?"

"Sure."  He looked at him.  "You look healthy."

"I was fine before, just tired."  Grissom stared him down but Xander crossed his arms over his chest and glared back.  "I was fine.  Even the mild poisoning didn't hurt me.  With the way I eat, my stomach repelled the poison and laughed at it.  Now, do we know why?  Or where that second gun came from?"

"The same source," he reported.  "A dirty cop was trying to cover up for someone who had him in thrall.  He left a fingerprint on the tape and was in the van when the bomb went off.  Good catch by the way."

"It was out of place.  Hodges's car always smells like gardenias and pine."

"Interesting.  How many times do you catch rides with him?"

"A few times when we're out doing stuff.  Greg's smells like his music, kinda musty but clear.  He uses an air descenter in his car and on his clothes."   He stared him down.  "Can I come back to work?"

"I wish I could," he offered. "You can go help Hodges, but Bobby's doing a reevaluation of that day's cases, just in case, on orders of Ecklie."

Xander glanced at the door. Then back at his boss.  "Can I go beat the shit outta him?"

"No, Xander," he said patiently.  "It should only take a few hours.  He decided the gas could have clouded your judgement.  It's not a mark against you."

"Bullshit!  It is so!  If one of the other techs had that shit happen to them, the review might be automatic, but since I'm an intern it *has* to go into my file.  That's part of being an intern.  Which means I've got a black mark in there and it can keep me from being hired."

"Calm down.  The incident report stated that you were gassed and poisoned while in the lab. The review was automatically done to make sure nothing had been compromised, and that your interning supervisor is writing an independent report on the matter."

"That still won't clear me of that dark mark."

"It will.  I'd hire someone with that in there.  It's explained.  You were poisoned and gassed."

"So?" he snorted.  "It won't matter to most.  Think like Ecklie, Grissom.  He'd use it out of hand to fire or not hire someone."

"That's not true.  We've had a few around here and they're still here."

"Because he can't fire them," he said grimly.  "Only supervisors or the sheriff can.  I know damn well he's pushing you to fire at least one of the techs."  Grissom nodded at that.  "This'll still make it nearly impossible for me to get hired.  It's the sort of thing that makes people have to leave the field in shame."

"It won't, Xander.  I called Chicago.  I talked to Vecchio and Mort, your future boss and your mentor, and explained everything."

"They have a hiring board too."

"Yes, but they'll be sticking up for you.  There is something we can do to help.  I need a medical release signed so we can put the toxicology and ER report in there."  Xander nodded, signing the one he handed over.  "Thank you."  He put that into the thick file in front of him, then looked down the hall as Bobby came walking up it.  "Good news?" he asked.

"Mostly.  One bullet didn't match perfectly.  The picture did, but the picture was distorted by a thin film of fog.  I'm guessing he caught the gas on it.  It had to go into the eighth pile for the unmatched ones.  Sorry, Xander."

"No, it's my fault," he sighed, shaking his head.  "Am I on suspension?"

"For what?  Being gassed and drugged?" Grissom asked.  "No."

"I mismatched and I made a lab error."

"Actually, you didn't," Bobby offered. "The picture shows the gas so you're in the clear on that, Xander.  We can forward that to them if they ask."

Xander gave him a long look.  "Bobby, consider your internship year.  If this had happened to you, what would you being doing today?"

"Working in Arkansas or the Federal lab," he said immediately. "Then again, I wouldn't have been drugged that way.  The gas wasn't around then and the AV technology wasn't there to catch anything like that."

"Ray's precinct still has three typewriters in active use by the detectives."

"We'll go to bat for you, Xander.  That's not an issue.  This wasn't a lab error due to being human.  This was a lab error due to someone trying to kill you.   Thirty more minutes and you could have died by sitting in there."  He patted him on the back. "You're okay and my eval will state that it wasn't your error, it was an error on the part of the sedative gas they used on you."

"It can still harm the case, it can still be used by the defense team by the shooter, and it can still be held against me."

"It won't be. We'll talk to them," Grissom promised.  "Go help Hodges.  Bobby's got ballistics today and you seem to need to fidget.  You can do that while you're searching in trace."

"Fine.  Thank you."  He walked out, going to the locker room to find a clean lab coat.  He slammed his locker door and sat down, holding his head.

"If your head still hurts, you shouldn't be here," Nick said firmly.

"I had a mismatch on that shooting case," Xander said quietly.  "One should have went into the unknown pile."

"I've done that.  Did you correct the error and reissue the report?"

Xander looked up at him.  "Bobby had to do a review of it thanks to the gas.  He caught it."  He stood up and put on his lab coat.  "So I'm fucked."  He walked out, heading to help Hodges.

Hodges looked at him.  "Oh, no. Out!"  Xander gave him a hurt look.  "You may not be in here when you're upset!  You're vibrating, I can see the haze around your body, you're not coming in!  Go do something for two hours and come back."

"I can't!  They're still doing that review."

"Then go do some time on the range.  Just go for two hours.  You're not allowed in here if you can't control your emotional output.  It'll cloud your judgement and make working with you hell.  Shoo!"  Xander shook his head, wandering off.  Hodges sighed and calmed himself, then went back to work. "He's got to learn to control those things," he muttered.

Xander walked into Grissom.  "Sorry."

"Why aren't you helping Hodges?"

"Because he told me I couldn't," he said bitterly.  He glared at him.  "Ya know what, maybe he's right.  I don't have enough emotional control so I'm suspending myself for the day."  He walked off, heading for the entrance and home.  His phone was ringing when he got there.  He picked it up and listened, then hung it up and walked away muttering about the idiot.  Within a few minutes someone also knocked on his door.  "Just a minute," he shouted, grabbing a beer and heading that way.  He opened it, finding Jim Brass there.  "What?  Am I under arrest now too?"

"Why would you be?" he asked calmly.

"They found a fucking mistake during Bobby's review of the stuff I did while I was being drugged."  He popped the top of the beer.  "Want one?  I suspended myself for the day."

"Yeah, Gil told me."  He walked in, heading for the boy's small kitchenette.  As usual, the only thing in there was soda, water, take out containers, and the newly bought beer.  It was still sweating from where it had been warmer.  He took the light beer out and opened it, going to sit with the kid, or actual lean against the balcony railing since that's where he was.  "You okay?"

"Hell no.  I should just quit and find something else to be now.  That'll be on my record and then I'm fucked."


"Sorry."  He took a sip of beer.  "Then I got home, and Ecklie was calling.  I picked up the phone and he was shouting so I hung up and walked away mumbling about what an idiot he was and about how it was probably him doing it."  He took another sip.  "I promise, this is my only one today."

"No, that's fine, I trust you to know your limits and not retreat into alcohol that way, kid."  He took a sip of his own and looked at the label again.  "Who bought this?"

"I did.  It was the only one left."  He gave him a sideways look.  "Why were you sent?"

"Because before you only went outside, this time you actually snapped at Gil and then left.  He's worried about you and knew I wasn't doing anything for another day."

"Yeah, well, before I had something to go back to.  Hodges wouldn't let me come work with him and I can't work while Bobby's doing the review so I had nothing better to do than walk off.  I figured it was probably better for everyone."  He took another drink. "I'm so fucked."

"You're not, really.  One thing like this won't keep the guys in Chicago from hiring you."

"They have a hiring board."

"Still.  Vecchio will explain it.  You can explain it all to him."

"All he'll see is that I fucked up.  So I'm done and my career is over before I even started, and now I should probably just leave."

"If you do that, you'll really upset Grissom.  Hodges will return to being the political bastard he was and nothing will ever get done in Trace, plus Bobby will scream at someone soon because no one will be able to fill in for him so he can go home again next month."  Xander groaned at that and Brass patted him on the back.  "I know, the instinct to run is really strong, but it won't help matters...."  He trailed off as a few cop cars came screaming into the parking lot, lights and sirens running.  "That's SWAT."

"Hmm, so it is," Xander agreed bitterly.  "Ya think?" he asked as they started coming up the stairs.  "Hey, guys."

"You're that tech," the guy in the lead said.  Xander nodded.  "You made threats against the department?"

"No, I was swearing at my boss.  He's a moron."

Brass looked at them.  "The kid had a bad few hours and Ecklie called to give him grief.  He probably said something about his parentage and lack of skills.  Did he send you?"  They all nodded.  "Go home, guys.  This is not a threat against the department.  While you're there, make a complaint about this.  Please."  He pulled out his badge and showed it off.  "I'm Captain Brass."

"Crap," one of the guys in the back muttered, relaxing slightly.

Xander looked at them, then went back to leaning on the railing.  "Can I make a threat against my boss again?"

"Not in our hearing, sir," the lead guy said.  "You guys, head home.  I'm going to stay to take an incident report."  They headed off.  "Well, at least it's a good drill," he offered.

"Made me nearly piss myself," Xander promised dryly, smirking at him.  "I can't mutter about my boss blowing himself?"

"Well, he did say something about you telling him to go blow himself up."

"I never said up," Xander assured him, taking another drink, shaking his head.  "I doubt he could inflate himself any bigger than he already did."  His cellphone rang and he checked the number, then sighed and answered it.  "Hi, Stanley."  He listened. "No, I'm not okay.  Why?"  He shook his head, finishing his beer.  "Nope.  No, I was gassed and drugged.  Won't much matter, it's still a mark on my file."  He snorted.  "My boss just sent SWAT after me because I walked off muttering about him after I hung up the phone."

Brass went in to check that, unplugging it this time.  "That should fix that problem," he said grimly, glancing around the apartment. He went back to tell the guy what had been going on, making sure he'd be filing a misconduct report on Ecklie as well. This was just too much.  "Hey, kid," he said, listening to him get more morose.  "Why don't you go take a nap?  I'll let you show me which chinese place that stuff came from later."

"Yeah, maybe I will," he offered. "I'll see you soon, Stan.  Even if I don't get hired because of this, I'll try to pop around and say hi.  Laters."  He hung up and went to lay down.  "Thank you, Cap."

"Welcome kid.  Let me close the door.   I'll call back in a few hours, okay?"  Xander nodded, hugging his pillow, so he closed the door.  He looked at the SWAT guy.  "Now you see why I got sent," he said quietly.

"I did before, Captain.  I'll be filing a report with the sheriff about this.  This isn't right and it's a misuse of funds."  He saluted and headed down the stairs, heading back to the office.  Someone was in deep because of this.

Brass watched him go, then headed down to his car once he had checked the door to make sure it was locked.  He'd be calling Grissom on the way in for *their* lunch.  Maybe he'd have him slap Hodges around for hurting the kid that way too.


Brass looked up as someone walked into his office, giving the kid a surprised look.  "What's that?  Dinner?  I said I'd come get you."

"No, this was a weapon that was just delivered to my house," he said dryly, putting it on his desk.  "The nice officer insisted it was mine, even though I told him it couldn't be mine and that I use Eastern Bloc weapons, not the slimmer American made ones.  He insisted it was mine and that Ecklie sent it."  Brass looked inside the box.  "The tape was already popped when I got it."

"Which officer?"


"I know him."  He picked up his phone, calling Grissom first, the officer's shift supervisor second, and IAD third.  "Sit, kid."

"Gladly."  He sat down, looking over as Grissom came in.  "That got delivered to me.  They insisted it was mine, even though I know it's not and all mine are at home.  He said Ecklie sent it."

"That's fine, Xander.  What is it?"

"Nine mil, auto.  Box was opened when he delivered it."  He looked over as another officer came in. "I told you it wasn't mine, but I don't blame you.  You were only following orders."  The cop nodded, coming in.  "Tell him."

"He can wait five minutes.  I want someone else to hear this," Brass offered.  "He's not in trouble but someone will be.  That's an evidence box and they don't leave the station.  Officer, sit.  There will be someone here from IAD so we can get to the bottom of who did this."

"Yes, sir," he said grimly, sitting down next to the kid.  "Who are you?"

"My shift's ballistics intern," Grissom said.  "Who's in deep trouble for walking off his shift today," he said, staring at Xander.

"It kept me from going off," he said simply.  Grissom frowned.  "You know damn well it doesn't matter if that's my fault or not, I'm still fucked because that's now on my internship record.  I may not be able to find any job because of that."

"Xander, we'll explain it."

"Yeah, well, won't much matter.  The hiring board in Chicago doesn't really want to hire anyone right now.  This is just an excuse for them."  Grissom shook his head.  "This is another level of politics, Grissom."

"It may be, but it's not your fault."

"That doesn't matter."

"He's right, Gil, it won't matter to some.  To some it might.  In the big game of politics, techs are expensive new hires.  Field CSI make half of what Xander should.  You probably make the same paycheck as the kid should.  In Chicago he'd be getting fifty a year."  The officer looked stunned at that.  "Yeah, so go back to school.  Ballistic techs are in high demand.  Or if you can do computers, they're even more wanted."  Xander nodded at that.  "They will want a spotless record.  Some people will look at why the incident happened.  Most won't.  They'll see he made a mismatch, it won't matter that he was drugged and being poisoned, it was still a mismatch.  We can help."

"I wrote a report on why," Grissom pointed out.

"Which may help," Brass assured him.  "Vecchio and Mort are the best help for him right now and they're probably going to be doing some tapdancing and pulling strings.  Did you talk to Ray yet, Xander?"

"Not yet," he admitted.  "I talked to Stanley.  He said he'd tell Ray what had happened and went down to talk to Mort for me."  He shrugged.  "I have no idea what I'm going to be doing if I don't get hired there.  I've already turned down Montana.  I can't live for long without a paycheck and I *refuse* to go Fed."  He looked over to find someone standing in the doorway.  "It's not about the gassing.  Get in here."

"Fine.  You called, Captain Brass?"  He walked in and shut the door.  "What's happened?"

"This is Xander Harris, he's a ballistics tech," he noted.  The IAD guy just nodded.  "This officer was given this gun to deliver to him.  The box was already opened when Harris got it.  He insisted it wasn't his gun but the officer did as ordered and delivered it.  Harris brought it to me because this is odd."

"Officer, who gave you the gun to deliver?" he asked.

"Director Ecklie.  He called for me specifically.  I went to his office, the box was open when I was given it. He said it was CSI Harris' gun and that it was cleared from something."

The IAD guy nodded.  "CSI Harris?"

"I only use Eastern Bloc weapons with one exception and it's a revolver.  I knew it wasn't mine.  I told him it wasn't mine."

"Repeatedly," the officer agreed.  "He did state that but Director Ecklie said it was his."

"That's fine.  Does it look like one you've processed recently?"

"No, and I didn't touch the gun," Xander assured him.  "It's a nine mil but none of the ones I processed had that sort of grip or were that model."

"Thank you.  Grissom?  Why are you here?"

"He's my ballistics intern and this is one of our boxes," he noted.  Someone knocked on the door and the sheriff walked in.  "Close it."  He closed the door without question.  "Someone sent Harris a gun in an opened evidence box.  One that wasn't his.  He had an officer deliver it."

"Who?" he asked simply.

"Ecklie," the officer told him, glancing back.  "Sir."

"Not your fault, officer.  Director Ecklie is having a bad day."

"Is that why he sent SWAT after me for muttering about him going to blow himself?" Xander asked blandly.  The sheriff looked at him, then at Brass, who nodded.

"I have a report on that," the sheriff noted calmly.  "Gil, what's going on with Ecklie?"

"I'm not sure.  I'd like to know that as well.  I'm going to take this gun and have Bobby process it."  The IAD guy nodded so he walked it off.  "Don't worry, Xander."

"I'm not.  I'm just paranoid," he said dryly, waiting until the door was closed.  He looked at Brass, who shrugged, then at the sheriff.  "I know I'm the newbie here, and that Ecklie hates me for the disney incident.  What did I do this time?"

"We're not sure," the Sheriff told him.  "You're sure that's not your gun?"

Xander pulled out his wallet and found the laminated card he carried, handing it over.  "My weapons I have here.  The artillery is still back in Cali."

He looked it over, then smiled.  "This is a very nice collection, Mr. Harris."

"Thanks, I like 'em too.  They're all locked in my safe.  It's got a fingerprint code to it and a push code."

"I've seen those," Brass offered. "Yours is really nice and well hidden."

"It makes a nice end table," Xander agreed.  "It's just taking up space otherwise.  I usually carry the second one down as my obvious carry for the job and the bottom one as a backup whenever I need it.  I didn't wear any in this time."

"Probably a wise idea," the IAD guy said, taking the list.  "This is a very well thought out list, CSI Harris."

"I'm only an intern," he said patiently.  "Not a full CSI."  He looked at the officer.  "Did he say what it was from?"

"No, just that it was yours."

"I'm guessing he knew that you didn't like the CSI guys and he wanted to get your help with this," Brass told him.

"Probably," he agreed.  "Then again, I also saw this guy tackle someone the other day and I've head he's SWAT trained."

"Licensed," Xander corrected.  "I'm missing an eye, I can't do field work.  I'm licensed to do bombs and stuff."  The officer looked impressed at that.  "I did construction," he said with a mild grin.  "That's why I can lift my safe."

The sheriff looked at him.  "You can do more than that, CSI Harris.  I've seen your evaluations.  If I had the funds, you'd be staying."

"Yeah, well, with what happened recently, I now have a mark on my record," he said grimly.

"What happened?"

"During the time he was being gassed and poisoned, he mismatched a single bullet.  They're nearly identical and the photo he was using to match captured the gas on it.  It was found during a standard review after an incident like that."

The sheriff shrugged.  "I wouldn't care.  If I had the budget, I'd keep him gladly."

"While you're at the money thing, can you please get Hodges a computer?"

"I thought he had a temporary one."

"He does, my laptop.  Which I'm putting creative porn on so the system administrator gets pissed at it enough to get him his own working system again.  He still has trouble getting onto the trace search engine.  It takes XP and I'm running 98."

"I'll see why he hasn't yet," he agreed.  "How long has this been going on?"

"Since his blew up.  Ecklie gave him one that was so old and slow it wouldn't even connect to the local intranet we use."

"I'm definitely going to be checking into that."

"Interesting porn how?" the IAD guy asked.

"Let's see, this week it was Muppets.  Mostly gay.  A few Sesame Street ones.  A few weeks back it was Teletubbies.  Before that were some gay and het ones of normal people.  Nothing damaging or bad.  Just odd."

"Well, you're certainly creative, CSI Harris," the IAD guy said, shaking his head quickly.

"Very," the sheriff agreed.

"Where did you find those?" Brass asked.  "I've been meaning to ask you, kid."

"Some guy online manipulates pictures that way.  I still like Oral Roberts kneeling between them, begging for them to do him.  That was a pretty one."

The Sheriff blushed and coughed.  "Let's remove that one.  I don't want to get sued.  Please?"

"That was actually originally on there," Xander offered. "A friend sent it to me."

"Fine, just keep it quiet," he said patiently.

"Do all you guys get to go odd in the head?" the officer asked.

"Yeah, lab guys are allowed to be themselves," Xander agreed.  "There's goth lab people, glitter lab people.  One of my in-school fellow interns came to work once wearing a full body paint costume as a psych experiment for one of her classes."  He smirked at the officer.  "And I still get to fire off guns, have my collection, and be myself."

"And he still doesn't understand sports at all," Brass quipped dryly.

"Not my fault," Xander defended, mock glaring at him.  "I'm trying to learn guy stuff."

"Were you female?" the IAD guy asked.

"No, but my only friends were girls so I basically only got their point of view on anything.  So, not only can I do a killer pedicure, I can also braid hair and talk knowledgeably about fashion and shoes."

"But he is a car guy," Brass offered. "Not the engine but the exteriors."

"That's helpful though," the sheriff offered. "It's good that you like him enough to help him adjust, Captain Brass."

"We're trying really hard," he offered.   Someone knocked on the door.  "Enter!"  Vecchio walked in.  "Injured again?"

"No, I heard.  I also got this as a fax," he said, handing it to Brass.  He looked at Xander.  "I got this for you earlier."  He handed it over with a smirk.  "They said the gas thing was reasonable and only two of the five voted against you on purely political reasons.  They were against the renovations as well.  They're more into footwork than lab work."  He watched as Xander opened the envelope with his contract in it, then smiled as he was grabbed for a hug and the kid let out a whoop of joy.  "Easy!  I'm still fragile."  He gave him a hard pat on the back.  "Sit down.  What's going on?"

"This does explain the earlier incident some," Brass offered, handing it to the IAD guy and the sheriff.  "I take it he was hired?"

"Yeah, and the fact that he told us about this first was seen as the guy being really good and honest.  The fact that his evaluation file was six inches thick with all praise helped a lot.  They really didn't want to hire a new tech this year."  He smirked at Xander.  "I reminded them it'd be another six months, which would save them money, and they said that'd be fine.  So therefore you get to come back about a weekend a month to look over everything and all that, okay?"  Xander nodded, beaming at him.  "Good kid.  I'd have brought food but Ma was at the doctor's today."

"She okay?"

"She's fine.  Just routine stuff, Xander.  Don't worry so much about Ma.  She's a tough old woman."  He looked at Brass.  "He told my mother she couldn't be as old as she claimed because she didn't hate him and throw flower pots at him."

"I heard about the flower pot incident," he noted, smirking at the kid.  "Go brag."

"I can't.  Hodges said I can't be in his lab if I'm the least bit upset or emotional."

"Bull," Vecchio snorted.  "Can we?"

"He's not in trouble," the IAD guy offered.  "Officer, we'll need to take a formal statement about how you were given that gun.  Can we do this here? I know Captain Brass is a union rep."

"If you want.  Am I in trouble?"

"No," the sheriff said, patting him on the shoulder.  "Not in the least.  You're just a pawn in this game, officer.  Jim, we're using your office."

"That's fine."  He kicked back.  "Go brag, kid."

"Yes, sir, thanks, Cap."

"Welcome.  Shoo.  Take Vecchio with you."  Vecchio tossed him something else with a wink and walked off.  "What's this?" he asked once they were gone.  "Hey, a signing bonus," he said sounding happy for him.  "I'll give it to him later, once Vecchio's gone."  He put it into his desk drawer and locked it.  "Okay.  Someone get the door."  The sheriff shut it and locked it.

Xander walked into the break room waving his contract.  "He talked them into it.  I start in six months."

Greg got up to hug him.  "I'm so happy!" he squealed, bringing Hodges running.  "Vecchio talked them into hiring him anyway."

"Congratulations," he said, patting him on the back.  "Now go get your coat and get your butt back in the lab."

"He can't yet, Grissom said so," Greg reminded him.

Vecchio walked in, shaking his head.  "What now?"

"The thing with the gun," Greg told him.  "Come on.  I'll be right back."  He walked them down the hall to Hodges' lab, shutting them in.  "Are you okay?  You nearly made me yell and scream at someone earlier."

"Stanley was yelling and screaming at someone earlier," Vecchio offered, looking at the kid.  "You okay?"

"Better.  Then again, I had that gun delivery."

"Point," he agreed.  "What is going on?"

"Ecklie hates him," Hodges noted.  "He's been trying to discredit him.  How thick was his eval file?"

"Six inches."

"Should have been eight."

"Six was enough," Xander said firmly.

"Yeah, well, it's still wrong," Greg said firmly.  "Detective, I've got to get back.  I'll expect you to treat him well while he's with you.  Otherwise we'll have to come out and rescue him by stealing him back."  He left, going back to the breakroom and their briefing.

Bobby stuck his head in.  "Hey, Xander.  Good news?"  He nodded, letting him see his contract.  "Well, salary's a bit low."

"He'll get that other two grand after a year.  They wanted to make sure he stayed."

"That's fine.  How's the lab looking?"

"Decent.  Especially if we could steal someone like Hodges to come with him."  He looked at Hodges, who only smirked at him.  "They authorized sixty a year for a trace tech.  Not the best...."

"About what I get here.  I'll come out with him in a few months to look it over, but no promises."

"Sure, Hodges.  He says good things about you and your work."  He looked at Bobby.  "Everything else meet up to your standards?"

"Yeah, it does," he offered, handing it back. "Good work.  I'll see you after lunch."

"I suspended myself for the day."

"No, you stomped off after having a go at someone," Bobby said dryly.  "Admit it, Xander, you were in a pissy mood and you went off."

"Then he went and had a beer," Hodges offered.  "I called the captain since Grissom said he sent him to talk to him."

"Fine, then I'll see you tomorrow, Xander.  On time, ready to work."  He disappeared.

"Yes, sir," Xander called.

"Good, kid," Vecchio praised.  "What was the problem this morning?"

"That review.  He was angsting and it piled up," Hodges told him. "I wouldn't let him work in here because he was visibly vibrating.  Sorry, Xander, but you do have to have emotional control in the lab.  I know you've gotten this lecture before."

Vecchio snorted.  "We yell at each other across the room and mean every word we say," he said dryly.  "A bit of heat and temper won't bother us a bit.  You guys quibble and we shout."

"He swears now and then," Hodges told him.  "He swore at Grissom this morning because he was having a fit."

"I wasn't throwing a fit, it was like everyone hated me and no one wanted me here so I left.  It's better to be alone when you're unwanted."

"I can see why that ex of yours wanted to kill your friends," Hodges said sarcastically.  "I almost want to too.  I didn't not want you, I just couldn't let you mess up something because you were too angry to concentrate."

"We have a heavy bag in the lab for those days," Vecchio offered.  He patted Xander on the back.  "You okay, kid?"  He nodded, looking up at him. "Good.  I need to find a cheap room for the night and then head back tomorrow."

Xander whispered in his ear.  "Trust me."  Vecchio smirked at that.  "Hey, I know these things."  Vecchio nodded, leaving them there.  He looked at Hodges.  "You still yelled at me and sent me away."

"Yes, but for the best reasons, so you wouldn't mess up.  That's one thing you still have to master, beyond sports and other guy things, is to control your emotions at work.  Which I guess is another guy thing," he admitted after a moment's thought.  "At least you didn't burst out in tears and stomp off like a girl."

"Gee, thanks."  He looked at his contract, then signed it and hurried out to hand it back to him.  "Here, you forgot this," he told the detective waiting on a cab.  He grinned and hugged him.  "I'll be out in a few weeks."

"Sure, kid.  Let me know and we'll arrange for stuff like your room."

"You shouldn't have to since I'm part of the department.  I'll let you help me look for an apartment though.  That way I don't live in a slum."

"That'd be a good thing.  Benny does live in a slum."  He smirked as his cab pulled up.  "You behave.  Celebrate responsibly tonight.  Call me next weekend to tell me when you're coming out so I can take Ma grocery shopping."  He walked over to greet his cab, getting into the back.  "Later, kid."  Xander waved as the cab took off.

"Your client," the cabbie asked.

"No, my new hire.  He's our new tech in Chicago."  The cabbie nodded.  "Tangiers."

"Sure thing."  He changed lanes and sped up.


Xander opened his door, letting everyone in.  "What's up?  Something else go wrong?"

"No, well, yes," Warrick admitted, sitting on the couch to look at him.  "Ecklie's gone insane and ordered you to be shot.  Most of the officers turned him in for it, but we're worried so we're going to hang out with you tonight."

"Sure," he said, shrugging a bit.  "The takeout menus are on the coffee table and the tv turns."  He flopped down on his bed, looking at him, Nick, and Greg.  "Do we think someone will try to kill me?"

"Unfortunately we do," Greg admitted.  "Get changed.  We're heading for a public place.  Most likely a club.  It'll be too crowded to try anything in there."

"Sure, what sort of club?"

"We'd let you pick but you'd put us somewhere they played country music," Greg offered dryly.

"Well, I was going to suggest the new spot that opened up near the Luxor," he said with a grin.  "Not nearly any country music, but pretty girls for you other guys."  He looked in his closet and pulled out a special bag, taking it into the bathroom to change.  He came out in a tight pair of black jeans, black sneakers, and a dark blue t-shirt that clung to his chest.  Greg gaped and he shrugged.  "I did a lot of clubbing in my younger days."  He ran his hands through his hair and grabbed his wallet and keys. "Okay, let's go."

Warrick reached over to shut Greg's mouth for him.  "Sure.  This place is good?"

"Pretty good.  It's new and not on the A-list yet but it's got some pretty people and some good drinks and it's free cover all week."

"Sounds like a plan," Nick agreed, following him out.  He made sure the door was locked and followed Xander down to Greg's car. They had decided Warrick's was smaller so they were taking Greg's.  Xander got into the back behind Greg and Greg got in to drive, with Nick sitting back there.  "So, how much was your signing bonus?"

"What's a signing bonus?"

"Oh, come on, you can tell us," Warrick offered.

"Brass has his," Greg noted.  "Vecchio handed it to him."

"What's a signing bonus?"

"You signed on, they give you money to help you move and stuff," Greg told him. "Vegas gave me five grand."

"Gave me two," Warrick offered.  "Then again, that was years ago."

"They gave me two and a half," Nick admitted. "Lab techs are always more wanted."

"Maybe they expect me to do twice the work?" Xander suggested with a small shrug.  "I don't know.  I haven't heard anything about it.  Do I split it with the department?"

"No, I'm sure Brass will give it to you when he gets a copy of the signed contract."  Warrick called Brass' office.  "Xander didn't know he had a signing bonus.  No, we were going somewhere public.  A club.  The new one near the Luxor."  Greg backed out of the parking spot and headed up the road.  "Sure, we'll be careful.  No, none of us.  Sure."  He hung up. "Greg, head back to the station.  He wants to put a car on us and a tracer on Xander."

"No one's going to kidnap me."

"We're not so sure about that," Nick reminded him.  "Ecklie's gone mental."

"Ecklie sent SWAT after me earlier for muttering about him," Xander said dryly.  "I already knew that.  One of my neighbors handed me a card for a lawyer just in case."

"Pershing," they all said together.

"He's gone against the department in the past," Warrick told him.  "A discrimination suit and other things.  He's very good and the top people hate to see him coming."

"He gave me one for a guy named Lebonowitz?"

"He's a very good criminal attorney," Greg told him.  "Yeah, he'd be a good choice for a criminal offense."  He pulled into their assigned parking lot.  "Here we are.  Go get him tagged."

"Come on," Nick said, getting out to walk him inside.  He saw the staring looks and glared back. "We're going out to celebrate."

"Wow," Catherine said, looking Xander over.  "Going out to make more women evil?"

"I figure if I spread it out a bit at a club, it won't turn someone as evil," he offered with a grin.  He tapped on Brass's door and stuck his head in. "Signing bonus?"

He waved him inside, handing him the envelope.  "Yours.  I assume you did sign it?"  Xander nodded and beamed at him, opening the envelope.  He saw the boy waver and looked.  "That's a nice one," he assured him.  "They really, really wanted you."

Nick looked.  "Ten grand.  Nice," he said in awe.  "We only gave Greg five."

"Chicago is rebuilding their reputations," Brass reminded him.  "They're also losing most of their techs in the next few years to mandatory retirement clauses."   He held up the tracking device.  "Here you go.  Put it on him somewhere."

Xander looked at it, then put it in the watch pocket no one ever thought to check.  "Am I good?  Do I get to keep this?"

"I'll keep it for tonight until Vecchio tells me that it's been sent back."  Xander carefully handed it back so he locked it into his desk drawer.  "Go, have fun.  Celebrate but be careful, kid."

"Yes, sir.  Wanna come with us?"

"I don't appreciate clubs like you young guys do.  Shoo."  Xander nodded and walked out with Nick behind him.  "That was a nice bonus," he said quietly, getting back to work.  After a few minutes he went to lock it in Catherine's office, she had a real safe and his office was too open to being invaded by others.


To part 3