Xander's first birthday came and most of the lab was gathered around for him.   He had fallen at daycare and broken his ankle so he was at the lab after the ER.  Horatio had gotten Yelina to bring his cake over and the lab shared it with him, letting them take pictures of the mess being made.

Megan pulled Horatio aside.  "Is he going to need you to be home?"

"I'm not sure if Yelina's mother is back yet," he admitted.  "Why?"

"Because there's a convention coming up that I wanted to attend with Sean, Horatio."

"Go.  I can take over your duties for a few days and stay in the office if he needs me.  It's not like he can escape with that cast."  She smiled at that and patted him on the arm, heading back to announce that she was going and taking her husband.  That Horatio would be in charge for a few days.  Xander blew kisses at her.  "Thank you, Xander," Horatio said.  "Eat your cake."  Xander stuffed another handful into his mouth.  Calleigh captured it on film.  The Chief of Detectives came in, smiling at the party going on.  "Sir."

"Horatio."  He smiled at the little boy then at him.  "What happened?"

"He fell at daycare and had to go to the ER.  It's his first birthday today."

"That's a shame."  He patted the boy on the head, pulling back a chocolatey mess on his hand.  "Well, it's normal for a year old I guess."  He pulled Horatio and Megan aside.  "I have a request."

"Ask," Horatio offered.  "I can only yell at you."

That got a look.  "SWAT is looking for a good person with leadership skills."



Horatio pointed at Xander.  "I can't take care of him and be on SWAT, sir.  CPS will never allow it.  His caregiver most days can't handle that sort of stress either.  She's an older woman."

"Okay.  What about bomb squad?  That's where the spot is, Horatio.  Let's face it, you're second-in-command here but you can move up faster over there."

"I'm already a sergeant," he pointed out.  "I'm on the list to take the exam for lieutenant next time it comes open."

"I know that.  It would still get you up there faster."

"What happens to my son if something happens?"

"Your family?"

"Yelina would take care of him," Megan agreed.  "I need him here because I'm booked for a conference, Chief."

"That's fine.  I'm asking him to think about it.  He could do a lot of good work over there.  He could also learn a lot of new skills.  Besides, they need a leader.  You seem to understand that mentality."  Horatio frowned at that.  "We're not going to have a lab leadership position open for a while, Horatio.  I'm sorry but that's the way it is."

"I know that."

"This would give you the leadership you deserve."

"I still have to think about more than just me, Chief.  I'm not leaving my son alone."

"I can understand that worry, Horatio, and if the state comes after you for being a single father on bomb squad, we'll handle it."

"I'll consider it and tell you next week."  That got a nod and he left.  Horatio glared at Megan.  "No."

"It is a good opening and you're doing the work half the time anyway, Horatio."

"So?  I'm still not leaving him alone, Megan.  That's very dangerous work and I could easily die on the job.  Most of them aren't married for a reason."

Speed coughed.  "The boss wanted you to move where?"

"Bomb squad," Megan told him.  "They need someone in leadership over there."

Speed considered it then looked at Horatio.  "You've been a bit burnt out recently," he reminded him.  "I'm not saying it's a good move, but it could be a temporary one.  Go for six months then come back."

"That would leave the lab short, Speed."

"I'm already looking at opening a new spot, Horatio," Megan pointed out. He looked at her.  "Got any good leads?"

"One out of water recovery but he's not finished with the classes yet."

"I'll look into him."  She looked around.  "Just think about it.  It's a higher pay grade because of the hazard pay.  It would push you up higher on the lieutenant's scale.  You could easily come back in six months after you've straightened them out."  He was still scowling at her.  "Xander would be fine.  He's got good people to help you, Horatio."  She patted him on the arm.  "Now, your son has made a mess and you should clean it up."  She walked out, going to make notes on what he had said.

Calleigh looked at him.  "I don't think it's a great idea but it would give you a break from the lab and the burnout we've seen, Horatio."

"Go then come back."

"If I come back, I don't have my spot," Horatio reminded them.

"Not like we won't listen to you," Speed said dryly.  "I'm out of my trainee phase.  Calleigh's a full level one and moving up.  We can handle it until she gets us a new rookie to haze."  Horatio shook his head.  "Think about not having to see another dead bloated body for a few months, H.  It could be very helpful for you."

"You'd have more standard hours," Calleigh agreed.  "Talk it over with your family."  He nodded at that and they all got to work cleaning Xander up.  Because he nearly needed a shower. "Poor little guy, with a cast and everything."  He kissed her and beamed.  "I know, you're going to use it to suck up some extra attention from the grandma."

Horatio shook his head.  "Don't encourage that behavior.  He already does it enough, guys."  Speed laughed at that, smirking at him. "Here, go pet Uncle Speed," he ordered, letting him have the baby.  Xander ran his cake and frosting smeared hands through his hair with a smile.  "Thanks, Speed."  He put the cake into the fridge and finished cleaning up the area they had tarped off for the mess.  It made it a lot easier to clean.

"Did I need chocolate?" he teased.  Yelina walked in and peeked around. "We're in the cleanup phase."

"Good.  We've got another one waiting on him at home."

"I'm sure he'll enjoy that.  Why don't you put cake in your aunt's hair, Xander."  He handed him over, getting a pout.  "I've got to help clean up the mess you made."  He helped move the table so they could get the tarp out and let it be brushed off into the trash.  "Go, H."

"I'll see you two tomorrow."  He walked out with Yelina and the baby.  "We need to talk tonight," he said quietly.

"Why?  Did something go wrong?"

"I got offered a different spot."

"In the labs?"

"In bomb squad."  She gave him a horrified look.  "They want me to move over in leadership for right now.  Those two think I'm burnt out."

"You are, a bit, but nothing a vacation can't fix."  She got onto the elevator with him.  "We'll talk about it when the boys are asleep."  That got a nod and they went home.


Three Years later.


Horatio walked back into his unit.  He nodded at Speed and Calleigh, who both nodded back.  "I'm sorry I had to come back this way."

"Us too," Speed agreed, shaking his hand.  "You okay?"

"A bit more tense," he admitted.  "Less happy."  He looked around. "Who do we have new?"

"Newbie's coming in next week since the last one left before he shot someone," he admitted, walking him upstairs.  Megan was in there cleaning up her desk.  "Megan."

"Horatio," she said, looking at him.  She gave him a hug.  "Thank you for coming back."

"I tried sooner but I was blocked."  She nodded and blew her nose again.  "Go home, Megan.  You're needed there."  She looked at him. "I've got the lab.  Just like always."   She nodded and carried her briefcase out.  He looked at Speed.  "Run it down for me?"

Speed looked at him.  "Only if you relax, H."  Horatio frowned.  "This isn't the bomb squad.  If something around he blows up you get to yell at someone for being stupid."  That got a small smirk.  "I checked.  You haven't done that in four months."

"Megan kept me from transferring back," he said quietly.

"Which was stupid of her," he agreed.  "She had everything in her control and liked it that way.  Now we're going to fix some things that got fixed wrong."  He handed over a paper from his back pocket.  "Here, fix that shit. Then we're coming for dinner tonight.  With the new guy."

"Fine," he agreed, looking it over.  He looked at Speed.  "Xander's missed you."

"He's a great kid but I couldn't just drop in."

"My door is always open to my family and my team," Horatio reminded him.  "Calleigh has."  Speed nodded, accepting that.  "Want to talk about it?"

"It's a bad anniversary."

"I've had those."  Speed stared at him so he closed the door.  "Speed, I lost my mother at seventeen to someone killing her."  He slumped and nodded.  "I know about your friend and we are friends so you can talk to me if you're feeling overwhelmed."  That got a nod.  "You're coming out tonight.  You can stay on the couch after everyone leaves.  We'll talk.   Xander will pet you again.  You'll feel better."  That got a small nod.  "Good.  What's this?"

"BS things she did."

Horatio opened it and sighed.  "It'll have to go slowly."

"Can we back the first three off?  Those are in order of relevance."

"I'll do what I can once I talk to the others."  That got a nod and Speed left.  He looked around the office, then went down to check on the lab.  He found Alexx talking to a new body.  She squealed and hugged him.  They exchanged baby pictures and he let her work.  He went back up to the main labs, finding a few new techs.  He nodded at the new DNA tech.  "Horatio Caine."

"Maxine Valera, sir."

"Horatio," he ordered gently.

She smiled.  "Thank you, Horatio.  You're taking over while Megan's out?"  He nodded.  "Have you done crime lab before?"

He smiled.  "I did until I got switched to bomb squad by Megan."

"Oh, then you're *him*!  Calleigh said the old second-in-command was coming back and a lot of the others calmed down at that."  He smiled and nodded. "Good.  Can you tell Calleigh to come get test results from me?"  He nodded and walked off again, going to meet the others.  A few hours later, at the end of shift, a meeting was called so they all traipsed in there.  "Is there a problem already?"

"Two," Horatio admitted.  He waited until everyone was in there.  "During my tour today there were two problems based on federal regulations.  I am a stickler for those who don't know or remember me.  Drinks are not permitted certain sections of the lab.  Also, we will not be copying our personal or home movies in AV."  That got some nods.  "Okay.  Now, let's get to work on what has also been brought to my attention.  I've been told that the dress code got tweaked?"  Everyone groaned and nodded.  "Does anyone have those?"  Calleigh slid down a binder and he read it over.  He pulled it out and balled it up.  That got a small cheer.  "Let's go back to comfortable, but reasonable.  We want to appear like we're professionals to the public, people.  While Speed can do that in a t-shirt, others can't.  He is the worst dressed in the lab and that's as low as we're going.  Am I clear?"  That got nods.  "Nothing obscene, nothing gross, nothing that's stained or will screw up test results by shedding.  Reasonable, decent clothing.  Jeans are more than acceptable as long as they are clean, do not have holes, and we are wearing something nicer overtop of them.  Speed, no more Nirvana t-shirts."  He shrugged at that.  "Okay, next item.  I am a single parent.  I have a son.  He's just over four years old.  Some of you may remember my son Xander."  A few of them smiled.  "I know a few of you are also parents.  If there is a conflict you *come* *to* *me*, people.  Am I clear?"

"Crystal," their fingerprint tech agreed, smiling at him.  "Good to have you back, Horatio.  How is Xander?"

He smiled.  "He's fine.  Still petting me now and then."  That got a smile from most everyone.  "He likes to pet hair.  Likes to leap at Speed to pet him especially.  Thinks he looks like him or might be an older him, I'm not sure yet.  He's not that verbal."  He looked at the rest of the list.  "Okay, third point.  Non field techs have a set shift.  That shift is eight hours.  If I need you to pull overtime I'll ask, you'll tell me if it's a problem.  Anything longer than that and the union can bounce on us until we beg for mercy."  That got some smiles.  "Also on this list are food choices in the machines?"

"Some of us with food allergies can't eat anything," Calleigh said.  "That came from the nightshift who literally can't have a dinner break since we've got a food thief and they can't get anything from the machines that won't send them to the hospital."

"I'll get with the vender.  What sort?"

"Wheat."  He moaned at that.  "Yeah, which is tough but we used to have a wider selection."

"I'd like to see the sandwich machine come back anyway," Speed offered.  "Take out the crappy coffee machine.  We got by just fine with a regular coffeemaker.  Anyone who wants special flavors can bring it in and brew it or bring in something to add to theirs."  That got a nod from everyone.  "H?"

"As long as both shifts agree, I'll get with the vendors once I find the contracts."  Calleigh slid them down.  "You're on the ball today.  What else do you have in there?"

"The new guy's dossier and a problem case that came from IAB."

"Slide them down.  I'll take them later."  She slid them down.  "All right.  Also on the list is the problem of music in the labs?  Headphones, people.  As long as they're not so loud that you can't hear when I yell at you. Your pagers or phones had better have a vibrate function.  If you miss a page, I will take it away.  If you're going to play a regular radio it gets played only loud enough for you to hear it.  Am I clear?"  That got nods.  "Anything else I should deal with today?"

"Heels?" Calleigh asked.

"Impractical for standing all day on these floors.  If you absolutely feel you must, then you're more than free to ruin your ankles and backs, but I am not going to baby you if you slip and fall, Calleigh."  She nodded at that.  "On a scene, if I see them, I'm making you change unless they're practical.  Because we spend too much time crawling around for them to be practical."

"I remember how you were before, Horatio."  That got a nod.  "He is a good person in leadership.  We can all talk to him.  He will nag though."

Horatio smiled.  "I have been known to be called a demon, someone who sucks souls, and a bastard as well.  Plus some less than pleasant names over the years by criminals.  I do hope that we don't have those coming from within the lab but if you have a problem with me, something I've done or said, you come to me.  Personally, in private, and we'll talk."  That got a mass of nods.  "Now, go home.  Shift's over.  Scene techs stay unless we're having a dinner at my house."

"I'm done for the day so I'm headed there so your demented spawn can pet my hair some more," Speed offered, standing up.  "Calleigh?"

"I've got one gun left to do."  They nodded and everyone headed out, going home.  "Welcome back."

"Thank you.  Was it the guy I wanted?"

She winked at him.  "It was.  He's cute, but stupid."  She walked off, leaving him to look over that case and the dossier.  It was the person he wanted.  He was proud of his former boss.  He went to drop everything in his office, finding the Chief up there.  "Sorry, sir, staff meeting to correct some assumptions."

"I heard.  The clothing rules?"

"Will go back to what they were unless I find a problem.  Speed's the worst dressed in the department and I will help him again."

"Thank you.  You might want to watch out for a few of the women.  Megan got mad that they were wearing trashy shirts.  The break room?"

"Depends on the contract.  I'll go over that tomorrow then call them."  The nightshift boss leaned in. "Morning."

"For me," he agreed happily.  "Welcome back, Horatio.  Please fix the break machines?"

"Speed suggested we take out the coffee machine and put back the sandwich one."

"I have a tech who would kiss you and offer to give Xander a sibling.  Especially if you quit stocking the crackers and put some chocolate back."  He walked off.  "Thanks."

"Welcome."  He looked at the boss again.  "You know I tried to come back months ago," he said quietly.

"I do, the same as I know why you weren't allowed.  So do you now."  That got a nod.  "At least you survived, Horatio."

"Barely, sir.  A few times barely."

"I understand.  I am here to tell you that your name will be on the list tomorrow."

"At the cut-off line or above?" he asked.

"Above.  You're the last one who made the line.  Stetler is right behind you."  He shook his hand. "Lieutenant."

"Thank you, sir.  I'll wear it well."  That got a smile.  "What else is going on?"

"The lab needs a head, Horatio.  This was convenient timing.  I don't like the timing but we need an overall head."  Horatio nodded once at that.  "Megan was driving people insane. Patrick will drive you insane."

"It happens."

"Good.  Then we'll work on that plan while she's gone.  Because there's only a few applicants and I'm not sure she's coming back.  It'll be stressful but you handle that well now."  He left, going back to his office.

Horatio gathered up what he needed and headed home to his son.  He smiled when he found him at home already.  "Did Auntie Yelina drop you off?" he teased.  Xander beamed and shook his head, pointing at the person coming down the stairs. "You made good time, Speed."

"Thanks.  I figured we could talk now?"

"Sure."  He pulled him back into the study.  It was quieter and Xander wouldn't have to leap to reach him.  "Where's your bike?"

"In the shop for a tune-up.  I checked out one of the hummers for the night."

"It's a good enough reason," he offered.  "What's going on?"

"It's that anniversary."  He got an understanding look. "I've been in a bad mood for weeks. My mother called the other day."

"They can do that to best of us."  Speed cracked a smile.  "What can I do to help besides let you talk to me?"

"Being a friend is about what I need," he assured him. "I'm moving on but it's slow and those old urges are hitting me again."  Horatio nodded and let Xander hold him.  "Yeah, that helps some," he agreed dryly, giving him a squeeze.

"You're sad?" Xander asked.

"I am, Xander.  I've had a bad day."  Xander 'tsk'ed just like grandma and gave him another cuddle. "Thanks, baby boy."

"I'm not a baby."

"Okay, you're not a baby anymore."  Xander went back to petting him and he smiled, relaxing.  Horatio nodded at him then left them alone.  "You're one of the best medicines to a scarred soul, little guy.  Thank you."

"Welcome.  Love you too."  He blew a kiss and went back to petting him.

Speed settled in to love the baby, recharging the love for the time being.  It helped with the hurt.  He had a new family down here who loved him.  Even if his mother was a bitch, he had them.  All the hurts were known about and they still accepted him for who he was.  T- shirts and all.  Horatio came back in with a bottle of water and he took it to drink, having to share with the baby.  "I know, you're thirsty."

"It's a good thing.  He had another of those bladder infections last month."  Speed shivered.  "It's fine now. All cleared up.  Even if he did walk around for three days cupping  himself like someone was going to kick him."  Speed smiled at that image.  "Yelina's mother shrieked at him for doing that in front of her but he told her it hurt so she relented and we sent him to the doctor's."  He sipped his water. "Feeling able to talk?"

"I don't need to now."

"When you do, I'm still here, Speed.  Even if they do name Megan or me head over the labs."

"They're what?"  Horatio nodded. "No, H.  That's just wrong!  I love Megan but she's turned into a greedy monster on the power they've already given her."

"I'm told that my name will be on the list tomorrow," he said quietly.  "That makes me eligible."

"Oh, please let him decide on you," he begged.  Horatio smiled at that.  "You think he will?"  Horatio nodded.  "Are you sure?"

"Not yet but I heard there was one person above me who's not on the list."  He sipped again.  "I put steaks in the oven."

"Thanks.  Is the new guy coming over?"

"I've called and invited him.  He said he would since he's had a day in the office today."

"I'm sure it's not always fun and games for underwater recovery but how hard is it on their off days?"

"He was playing solitaire with actual cards."  That got a laugh.  "So we'll be fine, Speed."

"Sure, Horatio.  Thanks."

"You're still welcome to the couch tonight."

"I know."  That got a smile and a nod, and Horatio went to answer the summons at the door.  He looked at the baby. "You are very good at that, Xander."  He smiled at him. "You're a good boy.  Even though I did hear that you mooned Frank the other day in the office."  He gave him a cuddle, letting him pet him some more.

"Speed, everyone else is here.  Let Xander come torment others," Calleigh called.

"Coming."  He walked out with the baby, letting him down so he could look at the new guy, then coo and pat him on the leg.

The new guy smiled at him. "I have a niece about your age, Xander."  The boy beamed.  "I'm sure you and she would get along very well if we could get you to my mother's to play sometime."

"Watch out for the petting," Calleigh told him.  "Can I help cook, Horatio?"

"You'd kill us," Speed reminded her, moving around them to put on veggies.  "Hey, Yelina?" he called.  Ray Junior snuck in and pounced.  "Hi, Ray," he said with a fond smile.  "Did you torment mommy today?"  He beamed and nodded, going to pounce his cousin.  "No Yelina?"

"She dropped him off then went home to her headache," Horatio admitted.  "Why?"

"I was going to tell her about the list coming out tomorrow."

"She made a new grade," Horatio said with a smile.  That got a smile from everyone.   Yelina was soundly liked.  "All right.  Was Frank coming or not?"

"Coming," Calleigh agreed.

Eric looked at the two boys. "Can you two swim yet?"  Xander nodded. "You can?"

"I've had him out in the ocean a few times, Eric.  The maniacal looking one is my son Xander and the other is Yelina and Ray's son Ray Junior, my nephew."

"They're both handsome and strong boys, Horatio."

"Thank you.  Boys, go find a book and make Calleigh read to you."  They ran off into the study and came out with five books between them.

"My, someone's starved for reading," she teased, taking them to the couch.  "Unless you can cook, our part comes later, Eric."  He came out to help her.  "So, do you have anything you know *really* well?"

"Cars.  Diving.  Underwater stuff."

"Good, we could use that with as many bodies as we have to pull out of the water."

"You guys talk about that in front of the kids?"

"Only in the most general and non-graphic terms," Horatio ordered.  "Not that Xander doesn't like horror movies already.  I found him down here the other night watching one of the Friday the Thirteenth ones and giggling madly."  Eric snickered at that.  "Watch out for the petting."

"My niece does the same thing.  She's always trying to make me pretty so my mother will quit pouting about me not being married."  They all laughed at that and he got up to answer the door.  "Hi, Detective."

"I'm off duty, Delko.  It's Frank off duty.  Detective, Your Highness, or Your Worship on shift."  He caught Ray Junior before he could sneak out.  "Xander!"  He ran back inside.  "Thank you!"  A cat ran after him.  "Huh.  Horatio, do you know the furry B&E bandit here?"

He looked at the cat.  "Go home, Morris," he said, scowling at it.  He ran out the door and up the street.  "He's tried to follow Xander home a few times now."  That got another round of laughs.  "Steaks, Frank?"

"I shouldn't.  Gotta watch my waistline or I'll never be able to divert the pretty girls from watching Speed at the scenes."  He closed the door after retrieving the boys again.  "Thank you."  He set them down in front of Calleigh.  "Here, be read to.  It'll make you smarter."  He walked into the kitchen.  "No Yelina?"

"Headache," Calleigh assured him.  She smiled at Eric.  "Sit.  Relax.  We're like a family around here."

"I was going to help set the table."

"You do that the boys'll send it crashing to the floor and giggle at the noise."  That got an understanding look.  "Sit down so Xander doesn't have to climb and leap like he does at Speed."  Xander was climbing up the back of the couch so Eric sat down and let Xander stroke over his hair for him.  "That's a good boy, Xander."

"I'm not a baby," he said with a pout.

"I know you're not. You're becoming a very big boy."  Xander beamed at that.  "Did we celebrate your birthday?"

"We took him to one of those pizza places," Horatio told her.  "Because I was tired that night."  Speed patted him on the back.  "I'm back now," he agreed. "It'll go smoothly again."

"It had better," Frank agreed.  "I'm tired of the zombies wandering around at crime scenes."

"Sometimes they still happen, Frank," Calleigh reminded him.

"Some cases do require an overnight," Horatio agreed.  "I usually let them break for naps if it's the time it takes for something to run."  Speed smiled at that.  "We'll work on it, guys.  I have officially transferred back."  That got nods and they all settled in to enjoy each other's company and learn about the new guy.


Megan came in a few days later, after meeting with the Chief.  "I hear congratulations are in order, Lieutenant."  He smiled and gave her a gentle nod.  "Also as new head of the lab?"

"I only believe things like that when I see them in writing."  He looked at her.  "How are you doing?"

"Not great but I'm hanging in there," she offered.  "I see you changed the dress code policy."

Horatio smiled and nodded.  "It makes them work better when they're not uncomfortable.  Of course, a few have taken it overboard and I've already had a talk with a few of them.  Here comes Calleigh."

"Horatio, Eric's leering at me," she complained.  He motioned her closer and handed her the safety pin Speed had suggested, then he pointed at the mirror.  "Oh, shoot.  I didn't know that button was slipping.  No wonder, I look like a tramp."

"No, that's Holly," Megan told her.

Calleigh finished fixing her shirt then gave her a hug.  "Are you doing okay?  Want to talk, have lunch?"

"No, I'll manage, Calleigh."  That got a smile and a shoulder squeeze then she left again.  She looked at Horatio.  "Only two to go."

He shook his head. "They're learning why that's not a good thing to wear.  I gave Eric free rein to leer today."  She smirked at that.  "One of them has already complained about it and I pointed out her skirt was north of tasteful and perhaps she should change into something more appropriate and change into the clubbing clothes when she's ready to go home for the day.  She walked off pouting.  Yes, Valera?" he asked, seeing her coming up the stairs.

"I came to see how Megan's doing, boss."  She gave her a hug.  "Are you holding up okay?  Because I make a great chocolate muffin and I'll gladly bring some over tonight if you wanted someone to talk to."

"I'm doing okay," she promised, patting her on the hand.  "You might tell the girls that Horatio never dates anyone he works with.  He never has.  Remind them why you're here."

"I think I can do that."  She winked at Horatio.  "Pity."

He smiled back.  "Yes, but if I did, I'd have to date everyone so no one got left out.  Eric might mind me taking away his playboy reputation."  She giggled and walked out.  "He would," he said at the amused look Megan was giving him.  "Whenever you're ready, Megan. I can easily give you some unpaid time off if you need it.  I know you're about out of vacation and grief leave."

"I'll think about it but I was thinking that working might help."

"It could but I don't want you to strain yourself.  I know for a fact that you'll find yourself turning to share your new case with him and he'll not be there."  She nodded, biting her bottom lip.  "I was there with my mother once, Megan.  You could talk to Speed.  He's lost a very close friend a while back."

"I'll handle it," she promised.  He slid over a card.  "A support group?  That's not really my style, Horatio."

"They're others who're grieving.  It might help, it might not, but it's an offer if you need it."  She nodded at that, putting it into her purse.  He got up and went to intercept the slutty ho coming up the stairs.  "Yes, Miss Prestons."

"You really don't date other cops or techs?"

"If I did, it could show favoritism.  Someone would get upset.  Even though we're all adults something like that would lead to problems.  So no, I do not.  Since I can't see myself dating every single officer and tech in the department I do not date any of them."  She pouted.

"You might ask Valera, Suzy.  We've had six different techs quit because Horatio wasn't going to date them.  We're here to work, not expand our social life.  No matter how much Eric does it."  She walked off pouting.  "Is that really comfortable?"


"Then I'd suggest you change and leave those sort of clothes for when you go home," he suggested.  "The same as the heels are adorable but they've got to be killing your back.  Be practical here at work.  We're not going to tell anyone, Miss Prestons.  You can change and become fashionable before you leave for the day so no one knows you turn into a geek at work."  She blushed and nodded, going to change.  "You might pass on that information?"

"Yes, Horatio."  She went to tell her fellow huntress the bad news.  She walked into the other woman's lab.  "We're never going to get him."  She pouted.  "He just called my shoes adorable.  Speed has a better chance than we do, honey.  He also suggested we change and then change back into fashionable things before we leave."

"He called them adorable?"  She nodded.  "Pity.  No wonder he's a single father," she sighed, going to the locker room with her friend.  "Did he really drive off six different techs because he wasn't going to date them?"

"Yes," Speed called as they walked past his lab.  "He did.  That's why Valera has a job and you both look like hos.  Do you mind pulling down the skirts before Eric goes into heat or something?  He's still too young to know better," he called without having to look.  They both scurried off.  Speed's word was law in the lab when Horatio wasn't in.  They had already learned that.  Their QD and forensic accounting techs had been here longer than even Megan but Horatio's word was law and the field techs came after him, then the status quo of the regular techs.  Speed smirked at his little bit of helping the problem of the day.  "Hey, Eric, you can quit gaping in horror now."

"It was in awe.  I haven't seen a skirt that short since the fashion shoot with the porn stars."  Speed gave him a look.  "I haven't.  I'm still in awe of Calleigh's slipping button too."

"She fixed that."

"I saw that.  Can I help?"

"Nope.  I'm nearly done.  Take the other envelope and consider it a pop quiz."  Eric nodded and got to work on that one.  "From now on you can't stare."

"Horatio said it was a one-shot deal."


"I don't usually date at work, Speed.  I get plenty in the clubs."

Speed stared at him.  "Do we have to have the safe sex and AIDS talk with you?" he asked patiently.  Eric shook his head quickly.  "Are you sure?"

"I am.  I know all about that stuff."

"So you know you sound like a male whore?"

"I don't charge."

"Fine, then you're a slut.  Not a whole lot of difference.  The payment's enjoyment instead of money or gifts."  Eric blushed.  "Some day soon you'll realize that you're not the cute little college boy you used to be and then what will you do?"

"Settle down," he said with an impish grin.  "Don't you club?"

"Now and then."

"Does Horatio club?"

"With a four-year-old?"

"That's why some brilliant woman invented babysitters."

"I do club but I do not do it often," Horatio said from the doorway.  "I also go places where you'd be bored, Eric.  Thank you for the invitation though."  He looked at Speed.  "Valera said they're talking about us now, Speed."

Speed snickered.  "I love your son, but I don't think I'm ready for kids yet, H."

"I was warning you of the rumors."

"That's fine.  I've been hearing you and Frank ones and you and your brother with Yelina ones from those who don't know you're related.  A few who do because they think your brother's a slut too.  Haven't heard any of you and John Hagen but I have heard that you shot Megan's husband so you could come back and that you were sleeping with Stetler but broke up recently, that's why he's hanging around and moping.  I mentioned that one to him by the way," he said with a shit-eating grin.

Horatio shook his head with a small moan.  "No wonder he was checking out your butt, Horatio," Eric teased.

"I did not need that mental picture, Eric, but thank you anyway."   He walked off, going back to his office.  "Sorry."

"The boys picking on you?" she teased.

"Speed said he heard a rumor that the reason Stetler hangs around is because we just broke up and he's moping."  She shuddered at that.  "He also said he heard that I'm in a relationship with both Yelina and Raymond."

"Eww.  I don't like your brother."

"There are days when I don't like my brother," he admitted.  She smiled at that.  "All right.  I've got leave forms for you to sign because I forged it the last time."  He handed them over to her. "I amended it for you."

"Thank you."  She signed them and handed them back. "Who did you have forge it?"

"The Questionable Documents tech," he said blandly, making her smile.  "He put it up and copied."  She nodded at that.  "Go let Alexx fuss over you.  It's been an easy day, only two bodies so she should be done."

"Sure.  Is there anything I can do?"

He pulled out six sheets of paper.  "Write grants.  I don't do them very well."  He handed them to her with a smile.  "It'll be very helpful."

"I'll do what I can."  She took them with her, reading them in the halls.  He had some big ideas for her... their lab.  She found new technology in place.  "Why is there a tv monitor up here?" she asked over the headset she found.

"So he can get a closeup on something without having to come down here with a magnifying glass," Alexx called back, smiling up at her.  "Give me a half-hour, baby, I'll be right up."

"Sure."  She settled in to look at the new equipment.  She guessed some people couldn't stand getting down with a magnifying glass next to a dead body but it was helpful.  She could hear Alexx making a verbal report and see everything she was doing.  "How do you zoom in?"

"Zoom section three, times three," he said from behind her.  "Stabbed with a what, Alexx?"

"Something with a slight curve to the blade, Horatio.  Looks like a tooth instead."

"Interesting."  He moved closer and handed her the instruction sheet from the wall.  "Beaten then stabbed?" he asked.

"Stabbed then beaten.  The whatever was probably lodged and came out during the beating.  Slow bleed out."

Megan looked at him.  "Can't stand to go down and get your nose into the body?"

"Not particularly, but this also keeps us out of her way.  She likes that."

"I sure do," Alexx agreed happily.  "It's a trial system from the CJ program at the college."

"Wow.  The criminal justice people are nice to us," Megan said.  "Did we get anything else?"

"Hernias," Speed said as he came in.  "Hey, Alexx, did you have anything for me from that one?  If not, I'm done."  She held up a few envelopes.  "Love you too."  He walked down there to collect them.  He still didn't like the morgue but he could run in for short errands.  At least this body wasn't as bad as some of the others.

Horatio smiled at her.  "The boys enjoy using it too.  Calleigh still goes down to help."

"Women have stronger stomachs," she teased.

"I've seen my share of nasty things, Megan.  If you'd ever changed a diaper when the kid's got the runs and medicine that makes it turn orange, you'd know that."  She snickered. "Worse than a bloater any day."

"I'll take your word on it."

"You're more than welcome to help me finish potty training anytime you want.  He's still got a problem with going in the water."

"I know it happens but thanks anyway."  She patted him on the arm.  "I'll get on the grants, Horatio.  I'll see you in a few days."  She looked down there. "I'll see you for lunch in a few days, Alexx."

"No, wait," she complained.  "Let me stitch this guy back up."  She got to work on that and put him away, then came to take her out to talk to her.

Horatio smiled at Speed.  "Early night?"

"Eric invited me out to watch him pick up women."

"You could do that as well if you wanted."

"Maybe.  Sometimes I'm a bit more picky."

"Being your age is supposed to be fun, Speed.  Be picky about who you sleep with, not who you have fun with."  He nodded at that advice.  "Before you turn into me."  That got a small smirk and Speed walked off with his evidence.   Horatio watched the empty room for a minute then went back to his office. All his techs were more reasonably dressed this time.  It was much better.  He unfortunately didn't get to miss the nightshift tech who came in wearing a miniskirt, but one of the girls pulled her aside and said he had called her shoes adorable so they got together to pout about him not liking girls.  He just let it go, it was fine  if they thought he was gay.  He wouldn't date any of them and he wanted his private life to stay private.


A Year and a bit later


Xander looked up as Yelina came rushing in and into Horatio's arms, sobbing heavily.  He frowned and looked around, then walked over to pat her on the leg.  "Ray Ray?"

"Not now, Xander," his father said quietly.  "Go sit and read please."  He sat Yelina down to talk to her, tensing up when why she was crying came out.  "We'll handle it, Yelina."  She looked at him.  "We are family and we will handle it."  She nodded, going back to crying on him.

Xander found the phone and did what Daddy did when he wanted to talk to someone.  He hit the buttons on the top then the big button in the middle.  He heard a familiar voice.  "Ray Ray?"  He smiled.  "Hi, Unclie Frank.  Is Ray Ray there?  No, Auntie's crying.  Please bring Ray Ray over?"

"Xander!" he snapped.

"Unclie Frank can bring Ray Ray!"

"I'm sure he's safe, Xander."  His son scowled at him.  "Fine.  Give me the phone."  He took it.  "Frank, sorry.   Did you hear about Ray disappearing?" he asked quietly.  He nodded.  "She's here."  He smiled.  "Thank you."  He hung up and scowled at his son.  "He's fine, Xander."  Xander scowled back and shook his head.  "Yes, he is."

"Ray Ray's mommy is crying.  He's not fine, she only cries when he's not fine!"  He glared at his father.  "Ray Ray would need hugs too!"

"He could probably use one," Yelina said softly.  "I think he's with my mother.  I don't know."  She came over to hug the baby.  "You're a good boy most of the time and it's good you love my boy too."  He patted her like she did him when he got booboos and she settled in to hold him.

Horatio went to answer the door when he heard the car.  "Thank you.  Xander's patting her."

"He was home alone with the door wide open," Frank said quietly.  "Is she all right?  I know Ray walked out."

"That was last night, Frank.  He never came home."  He took his nephew from the car.  "You were wanted by the Xander."  His nephew smiled and headed inside.  "I don't know what's going on, Frank."

"He's been erratic at work, Horatio.  We'll figure it out."  He gave him a clap on the arm. "I hear official congratulations are in order, Mr. Head of the Labs."  Horatio smiled at that.  "Good job.  About time he made it official as well."

"Thank you."  Frank nodded inside. "She came in sobbing.  He walked out on her last night and we have no idea what's going on."

"We'll keep an open ear out, Horatio. You know that.  The boys are six, they're not that helpless."  He looked over as Speed pulled up.  "Did Xander call you too?"

"No.  Not this time."  He looked at Horatio.  "We need to talk."


Speed motioned him closer.  "Because Eric just got a call, H."  Horatio came closer and Speed showed him the camera Eric had told him to bring over.  He showed him the picture and Horatio tensed up.  "He didn't want someone else to tell you," he said quietly.


"Alley.  We're not sure what's going on but Eric said he found drug paraphernalia," he said quietly.  Horatio nodded.   "I'm sorry."

"Me too."  He looked at Speed. "Thank you."

"Welcome.  Want me to stay or help him?  He got the call himself.  IAB called him."

"Then you stay and we'll hover over his shoulder."  He walked them inside, pulling Yelina onto the back porch.

"The blue glow?" Xander asked Frank, who looked confused.  "Some people glow blue then they go away forever and ever," he said, walking away from his cousin to look at them.  "Uncle Ray glowed blue the other day."

"Um, well," Speed offered.  "Horatio?"  He looked inside.  "He said something about glowing blue and going away forever?" he mouthed.  Then he shrugged.

Horatio came inside and squatted down in front of his son.  "What was the question?"

"Uncle Ray was glowing blue.  When Miss Adams glowed blue she had the heart thingy.  So is Uncle Ray glowing blue like that and he'll be gone forever and ever?" he asked quietly.

Horatio stared at him.  "Blue how?"

"Like around him.  Around his hair mostly," he admitted.  "Uncle Frank glows blue now and then when he gets a really bad cold but it's a lighter blue, like a baby blue, instead of the bright blue like Miss Adams or Uncle Ray was last week."

"I have no idea what you're talking about Xander."  He huffed and stomped a foot.

"Someone's been babysat by Calleigh recently," Speed joked.  Xander grinned at him.  "Does anyone else glow?"  Xander nodded.  "Who?"

"Everybody.  You glow kinda red and purply, like the others.  Uncle Frank is getting the sniffles, he's glowing baby blue again.  Auntie Yelina's glowing yellow and orange right now."

"Maybe he's seeing auras," Frank joked.

Horatio stared at his son.  "I'll see what I can find out about that, Xander, but for now, don't mention that to anyone but us, okay?"  He got a nod.  "Promise?"  Xander hugged him.  "Good boy, thank you.  Ray, would you like a hug?"

"No thank you, Uncle 'Orro."  He beamed.   "Can I have the Xander back?"

"You can in just a minute."  He looked at Xander.  "Do not tell him about his father," he said quietly.  "That is an adult job."  Xander nodded and went back to playing like nothing was going on.  He looked at the two men, then shrugged.  "I don't know, we'll have to check into it."  He walked outside to see if Yelina had heard anything about this.  "Yelina," he said, shutting the door behind him.  "Xander said something about people glowing blue and then going away forever like his teacher did last year."

"My mother thinks he's seeing auras somehow," she admitted quietly, looking at him.  "We don't know why but he told her not to take a cabdriver because he glowed blue and was going to go away.  The driver laughed and promised to be very careful getting them home.  They took him and got home but later that night he had a fatal crash.  Two months ago he was talking to her about a neighbor's dog who was glowing blue and then he died.  I don't know."

"He said Ray was glowing blue for the last week.  I told him not to tell your son."

"I have no idea how to tell him, Horatio."

"I will, Yelina.  We're family."  She nodded and let him hold her for now.

Ray Junior came out.  "Not hug the mommy like the daddy would!  He'll get mad!"

"She's sad and I'm giving her a hug, Ray.  I'm not going to steal her from your father."  He picked him up to hold, putting him on the railing so he could look at him.  "You know how sometimes something happens to people and they go away?"

"Daddy gone like Miss Adams?" he sniffled.

Horatio nodded.  "He is, Ray.  I'm sorry you lost your daddy."  Horatio gave him a hug.  "It'll be okay, Ray.  I'm there for you.  Anything you need I'm here for you."  The baby cried on him and he patted him gently on the back until his son climbed up and sat behind his cousin to hold him.  "Do not tip backwards and fall, Xander.  We don't need you in the  hospital tonight."

"I won't.  Ray Ray needs cuddles to feel better."  He went back to crooning in his ear and cuddling him, letting his friend feel loved.  He looked at his father then gave him a gentle smile.  "Uncle Speed is making pudding for dinner.  Uncle Frank said he's going home for a while.  To call if we need anything."

"I will."  Xander nodded and went back to cuddling his buddy.  Horatio pulled Yelina over so she could hug the boys.

Speed leaned out the porch doors.  "I made instant pudding, H.  It's in the fridge.  I told Eric she's here and he said Stetler's looking for her but he's not telling him.  He can wait a day to ask any nosy questions."  That got a nod of thanks.  "Guys, if you need me, call me."

"Thank you, Speed," Yelina said, coming over to give him a hug.

"That's what friends are for, Yelina.  We didn't want to make you hear it another way."  He patted her on the back then left to head home for the night.

She helped him carry the entwined boys inside then sat down with the pudding.  He was right, she did need some.


Xander looked up when someone mean came to the office door.  "He's busy, go the fuck away," he said bluntly.

"Grounded, son," Horatio said patiently.  He looked at the doorway.  "What do you want, Rick?"

"I wanted to know why there was Meth in his system."

"I don't know, Rick.  When I find out I'll tell you.  Especially since he was undercover at the time."

"That's not a good enough answer."

Xander walked over and shoved him.  "I don't like you.  I want you to leave my daddy alone!  He doesn't need this!  Uncle Ray just died a few weeks ago and he does not need you to be mean to him.  Unless you want him to be mean to you when you have someone die?"  Stetler glared at him and Xander glared back, one fierce six-and-a-half-year-old.  "Get out!  Now!  Before I let daddy shoot you!  Or I shoot you!"

"You've got a fierce son, Horatio."

"Xander, sit down," he ordered.  "We'll be talking in a minute, son."

"He's no better than potty water!"

"I don't care.  Sit."  Xander sulked all the way back to the couch.  "He is right, Rick.  Now is not the time.  We barely buried Ray, it can wait until we've all healed some.  Ask his supervisor about his undercover.  That's where he was and he didn't tell us anything.   Yelina thought he was cheating on her, not working."

"Fine.  We'll talk when your guard puppy goes home."

Xander pulled out his tiny penis and peed on his father's nemesis.  "Told you you were no better than potty water," he said when the man gave him a horrified look.  He zipped back up and went back to the couch.  "Now, go away, you stink and need flushed."

Stetler stomped off.

Horatio stared at his son.  "Come here."


"Now," he growled.  "That was impolite and you know better."  His son looked hurt and his father glared at him.  He could feel his temper coming up.  It was not a good thing.  He walked out and slammed his office door shut, locking it from the outside, then headed out to get a breath of fresh air.

Speed watched Horatio stomp out and sighed, heading up to talk to the boy.  The door was easily opened with his ID card.  "What did you do?"

"Yelled at the asshole."

"You're not supposed to call people that."

"He's potty water!"

"I don't care, Xander.  You know better."  Xander slumped and gave him a pitiful look.  "Now, what did you do?"

"I treated him like potty water and peed on him."

Speed sighed and frowned, making the boy sniffle.  "You know that's not right, Xander.   Your father's very upset with you.  You're in deep shit this time."  Xander started to cry for real.  "Now, let's go talk to him.  He'll be calmer by now."  He held out a hand and the boy came over to take it, letting himself be walked out to where Horatio was standing and staring outside.  Xander burst into harder tears and hugged his father.

Horatio looked down.  "You knew it was wrong and you still did it."

"He's hurting you!"

"I don't care, Xander.  I'm an adult, I can handle those things.  That's my job to handle those things for the both of us."

"H, lay off the kid.  It was bad but Xander's always trying to protect you from assholes like that.  He knows he was bad.  Get past the nagging part and get to the teaching him better part of this talk.  Before you have a son who has to go to Alexx to stay with her kids tonight because you're still mad at him."  They shared a look; Xander had been truly scared when Horatio got really mad the last time.  He had hidden in his closet for three hours when he saw his father mad enough to throw something.  "He knew he was wrong."

"He was grounded before he did it.  I should spank him now."  His son started to cry again.  He felt miserable.  "I'm not sure what your punishment is going to be, son, but you will be punished for that."  His son hugged him harder and it calmed him down.  "You know I'd never really hurt you."

"Not care!"

"Okay.  We'll talk about how and why I scared you before.  After I'm calm.  Please take him back to his office so I can think about his punishment?"  Speed nodded, taking the boy back there.  He felt someone come up behind him and knew who it was.  "I'm not sure why he's scared of me, Frank."

"Because you letting your temper go is rare and a scary thing.  You scared me the last time you let it go.  Xander's smaller and more helpless."

"I've never hurt him."

"I know that."  He patted him on the back.  "What did the kid do that made you so mad?"

"He defended me in front of Rick."

"Xander's done that before.  And?"

"He called him potty water," he said, cracking a small smile.  "Then he peed on him."

Frank burst out laughing.  "No better than he deserves, Horatio."

"He still needs to be punished."

"I think he's punishing himself quite well worrying about what you're going to do to him.  Have a long talk with your boy tonight, Horatio, because that is a cute picture.  Wonder if the security cameras caught it."  He walked off, leaving him to think.

Horatio shook his head, hanging it.  He smelled a very familiar aftershave coming up the halls.  "He's sorry, Chief."

"I'm not."

Horatio looked at him.  "He knows better.  He's been crying while I try to figure out how to punish him."

"It sounds like he's already being punished."  He looked at him.  "You ever think about getting your boy a mother?"

"Yes, but then I'd have to have time to date and someone I was interested in."

"Ah."  He nodded.  "That might help, yes.  Then again, half the department thinks you have one."

"Half the department is demented and needs better porn, sir."

"I know but it's cute that they think you're doing the grumpy one and the playboy."

"Sir, a few years ago there was the rumor that I was doing Stetler and he was hanging around so often because he wanted to get back together."  His boss gave him a horrified look.  "They have bad taste."

"Oh, I don't know, you and Eric would be cute," Speed said as he walked Xander back.  "Alexx and he have had a talk."


"Because she volunteered when Calleigh told her."  He looked down at the kid.  "And?"

"I'm very sorry I peed on the mean potty water man and I'll never do it again, Daddy," he said, looking very serious.  "Please don't make me go away?"

He looked at him.  "I'd never send you away."

"Alexx said if I kept being mean I'd end up being like the bad guys you send away."

"No you won't and that's why I brought him over," Speed offered.  "I don't think fear tactics work but she did swat him twice and he did call to apologize to him with her watching."

"I'm glad he apologized but Alexx and I are going to talk about that," Horatio offered.  He picked Xander up with a moan for his poor back.  "Part of being a big boy and getting older is learning how to do things the right way, son.  Calling people names, even if they're bad people or they irritate me to no end, is not a good thing to do for a big boy.  I can't do it and neither can you for the same reasons."  Xander nodded, putting his head down on his shoulder.  "Now, peeing on him was something that was extremely wrong and you knew that before you did it."

"He was picking on Auntie earlier too."

"For that I'll say something to him.  That's the thing that fathers and uncles do for children," Speed assured him.  "I'll yell at him, your daddy will yell at him, maybe we can even get the Chief to yell at him since Yelina had no idea what your Uncle was doing and she's been crying at her desk most of the day thanks to him."   The chief nodded he would.  "For things like that you come tell us."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you," Horatio agreed.  "You are still grounded.  You were grounded for acting out earlier.  You are even more grounded now, son.  You will be grounded for the next month.  There will be no fun anything.  No tapes, no movies, no sleepovers unless Ray Junior comes over.  None of it."

Xander looked at him.  "Birthday?" he whispered.

Horatio considered it.  "If you are an excellent boy, we can have the party we planned.  If you break the grounding *once* it is off."  His son gave him the most pitiful look.  "You acted so far out of bounds I shouldn't even give you that concession."  But planning the birthday party had taken the last three months and Yelina was very proud of what she had accomplished and planned.  "Am I clear?"  His son nodded and snuggled in again.  "Good.  I will expect exemplary behavior for the next month, son, including on your birthday."

"Yes, daddy," he whispered.

"Thank you."  He gave him a squeeze and let him down, getting hugged again.  "Take Speed back to my office."

"I can go."

"I don't want to tempt anyone else to yell at you."

Speed grinned at him.  "Eric won't, Calleigh let Alexx handle it, and Valera's torn between ego and anger."

The Chief looked at Horatio once they were out of hearing.  "He makes a good mother for your son."  He walked off, leaving Horatio looking stunned.

Speed put him onto the couch.  "If something like that happens, you can tell us, Xander, and we'll run interference for her too.  We like Yelina just as much as you and your father do and we'll help you stick up for her.  I haven't gotten to snark at anyone for days."  Xander gave him a shy smile and a hug.  "Better.  Now, finish your homework."

"If I can't pass a math test is that being bad?"

"No, that's because your teacher doesn't explain things very well."  He sat down with him to go over things.  "Ah.  Okay, you're counting both ends.  See, if you take five from nine," he said, holding up the fingers.  "How many do you get?"

"Four and I tried that but the teacher won't let me count on my fingers.  She said I'm stupid if I have to."

"Your teacher needs her butt chewed and it's not.  Can you imagine them in your head?"  Xander nodded.  "Okay, for this one do it that way."

"Then I'm slow."

He stroked over his hair.  "It'll get faster the more you get used to it, Xander."  He looked at the sheet then at him.  "How long is the test?"  He pointed at it.  "In how much time?"

"Thirty minutes.  She said we should've done this last year."

"H!" he called.   Horatio walked in.  "Have you heard that his teacher is calling him stupid for not being a math genius or the most fast?"

"I have and I've talked to her about it.   She thinks he needs a tutor already.  I pointed out he needed a better teacher."  He sat down to work on the math with him.  "While we're in here, you can use your fingers and memorize the answers," he whispered.  Xander smiled and did that, going a lot faster.

"During the test, look at one hand," Speed ordered. "Use the one that's holding the paper."  He nodded, trying it that way.  It was a bit slower but he was getting it right.  "Within a few months you won't need to do that, Xander.  It'll get easier the more often you do it."

"I was going to get him some educational workbooks," Horatio admitted.  "I have no idea where to get it."

"Teacher said the store on eighth helps parents," Xander said, looking at him.  "Because a lot of us need it and she said we should've gotten it last year.  Ray's still a lot faster than I am."

"Not everyone is good in math," Horatio told him.  "There's going to be other things that you'll be better in than he will be."

"Besides, fast doesn't mean right," Speed reminded him.  "Sometimes you've got to take time to get it right."  Xander nodded and got back to work.  "Can we let Alexx spank the teacher?"

"Definitely since she recommended the school," he agreed.  That got a mean smirk.  "I'm also going to talk to everyone about having too many parents."

"Sorry if I overstepped the boundaries, H.  He was crying and he needed some comfort and a bit of common sense.  I wanted to do what he did."

"I've wanted to hit him for the last few days," Horatio agreed.  "That doesn't mean it's right."


Horatio looked at his homework.  "Good job, Xander."  He patted him on the head.  "Now, what else did you bring home?"  He handed over his backpack with a grimace.  "A note?"  Xander nodded.  "Why?"

"I don't know.  I was helping Ray when he got upset because the teacher got mean about his daddy."

Horatio sighed and found the notes in there.  "Field trip?"

"To the zoo," he said, nearly cooing.  "It's the whole class."

"I can see that.  That would be acceptable."  He signed that and put it back inside.  The other note he read over it and then stood up.  "You stay here for a few minutes with Speed.  Do you mind?"

"I'm waiting on test results."


"Sure.  We like to watch the little guy, H."

"Thank you."  He walked out, going to talk to Yelina and show her the note first, making her scowl, then he went to talk to the teacher.  He walked into the school, taking off his sunglasses when he saw the headmistress.  She gave him a scared look.  "Call the teacher into your office," he ordered.  "We're going to have an official talk."  He handed over the note.  "I'm going to know exactly what my son has been going through."

"Of course, Lieutenant Caine."  She called the teacher's room.  "Lieutenant Caine is here and wanted to talk to you in my office."  She hung up. "She'll be right up, Horatio.  Is Xander all right?  And Raymond?  I know he was upset earlier."

"That's because the teacher told him his father was a bad man."  The headmistress flinched. "My son had to get him calmed down and she sent that home because he did."  He rounded on the teacher when she came in.  "Close the door."  She did that, looking calm.  "We have a few topics to talk about today.  The fact that my son and his cousin are very close.  My nephew just lost his father, it is not being a decent teacher to tell him things about his father."  She shrugged.  "It is also not being a decent teacher to yell at my son for comforting him when you made him cry.  Nor is it being a good human being for sending home a note saying I need to start aversion therapy early to weed out his, and I quote, gay tendencies.  Nor is it being a good teacher by telling him he's stupid for not living up to impossible standards."  He started to move closer, staring her down.  "I don't know where you were taught, if you were taught how to be a teacher, but you have already failed every single student in that classroom.  You are a failed human being and if you actually had children I'd be calling CPS on you for some of your extremist views and how you expect the impossible from a young child."

"Xander is behind."

"No, he's not.  By the educational standards set by the state he's actually ahead."  She snorted at that.  "He is six.  He's in first grade.  They're only supposed to be doing simple addition in first grade.  The same as he's not supposed to know the name of every county in the state or every state in the country until fourth grade."  She shrugged again.  "Headmistress?" he asked smoothly.

"That is true," she agreed.  "I believe in pushing the students some but that is beyond what any first grader should be doing."

"I'm worried about that but I'm also very worried about the emotional harm she's doing to her students," Horatio said, glancing at her, then glaring at the teacher again.  "Calling my son stupid for being right on target and a little bit ahead isn't helping him any.  Neither is emotionally destroying his cousin when he's barely starting to heal."

"Your brother was a dirty cop."

"My brother was undercover, those things happen when you go undercover.  It still doesn't mean you need to say such things to a six-year-old.  He doesn't need to know that."

"Everyone will be saying it to him.  He'll have to expect that."

"No, he doesn't.  Most people won't care."

"I'm going to agree with the parent in this case," the headmistress said regally.  "That is not how we treat our students here.  The same as this note is totally unacceptable!  He was comforting his cousin.  That does not mean he's going to be gay."

"He's got a single father who never married," she snorted.  "It's genetic."

"I did marry, she was a horrible bitch, like you, so I divorced her," Horatio said.  "Since then I've learned to be more picky."  She glared at him and he smirked back.  "Always nagging, nothing was ever good enough for her.  Even the judge called her a bitch."  She shrieked and went for him with her nails.  He put her onto the ground and pulled out his cuffs.  "*That* was stupid.  You assaulted an officer.  What will your fellow teachers think when you have to make bail."  He handcuffed the struggling woman and looked at the headmistress.  "I do hope my son's next teacher is a better human being and a better teacher.  Also, can they still go to the zoo?  He's looking forward to it.  I'd even agree to go as a chaperone because I know no one else can keep Xander and Raymond from exploring."  Yelina stomped in.  "Here, call a cruiser.  She tried to attack me when I pointed out how much of a failure she is."

"Good!"  She glared at the headmistress.  "I'll help chaperone the zoo trip if I can, but if this woman comes near my son again I will kill her and since I work with Horatio often enough I can probably figure out how to hide her body so it won't be found.  My son does not need this when he's emotionally fragile!"

"I agree.  She should not have said anything about your former husband to your son.  Nor should she have sent home a note to Horatio about Xander comforting him for it.  If you don't have her arrested I will have her fired.  We have a few good teachers who would love to fill in for the first grade."  Horatio sneered down at her.  "She will be fired.  I will put a black mark in her file."

"I'll be making a complaint to the state board," Yelina vowed.  "Horatio?"

"As long as she comes nowhere near the boys again."   He handed over his keys and she unlocked them.  "It will be fixed?"

"Within minutes."  The parents both nodded and left.  She looked at the teacher. "How stupid are you!" she yelled.  "I don't care if the boys do cuddle, you don't send home a note about weeding out their gay tendencies!"

"Or call them stupid or emotionally damage them," Yelina called.

"That was a later rant, Detective."  She glared at her coworker.  "I cannot have such attitudes in this school and you knew that when you did it.  I have no choice but to fire you.  Unless you want to be arrested?"  She shook her head and stomped off.  She called her favorite substitute.  "It's Gloria.  The first grade spot has suddenly come open permanently.  Would you like it?"  She smiled.  "Because two parents have come to complain about her treatment and she was nearly arrested.  Yes, those two parents.  She went after Horatio when he compared her to his ex-wife."  She smiled.  "No, it's been horrible.  Please.  Plus they've got the zoo trip coming up and both Lieutenant Caine and Detective Salas have agreed to chaperone if you'd like.  Well, let's see, a note sent home today about Xander comforting Raymond when she said something about his father to him.  Something quite mean as I understand it.  The note said he should start aversion therapy immediately to weed out his gay tendencies."  She grimaced.  "I know, but it is not permissible to do things like that.  Thank you."  She hung up and sighed.  They would probably be losing those two children to a different school within the year.  Probably right after the zoo trip.


Horatio walked into church the next week.  "What happened with Xander?"

"He hit someone," the nun said quietly.  "I don't know where he learned these things.  I asked him and he said Mrs. Patterson?"

Horatio growled.  "His current teacher.  I do not like that school."  He followed her to the play room.  "Xander."  His son gave him a sheepish look.  "What happened?"

"Your son struck my daughter," a mother said.  "I know he's missing having two parents...."

Horatio held up a hand.  "He's having a problem with the teachers in his school.  One of them decided he was gay because he was comforting Ray Junior when the teacher said mean things about his father to him in the middle of class."  The mother gave him a horrified look.  "She was fired but the new one apparently isn't much better."

"She said it's good to hit others when they pick on you, it teaches them it's wrong."

Horatio pulled his son up to look at him.  "Hitting unless it's in self defense or defense of someone smaller, weaker, or who can't defend themselves is wrong.  Any other type of hitting is wrong.  Am I clear?"  Xander nodded, but he looked confused.  "What?"

"She said people have fought for fun for years."

"That's a whole different matter and this isn't."

"Oh.  I'm sorry," he told the other mother.  "I'm confused."

"I can see that, Xander.  We'll forgive you this time because I know Horatio's doing the best he can."  Horatio glared at her.  "Sometimes two parents are better."

"I've done just fine until he started at that school," he told her.  "I'm not going to marry just any person to give him a mother."

"Sure, I can understand that.  You've got to have a really understanding spouse with the hours you work."

Horatio rolled his eyes.  "I have cut down for him."  He stood Xander on the table, looking him over.  "I did not put you in those pants this morning."

"The teacher put me in them."


"I played in the dirt and got dirty.  She put me in some girl's pants."

"Where are yours?"

"In her desk."

Horatio moaned and looked at the sister.  "Thank you for calling me directly."

"It's not a problem, Horatio.  Xander has been a darling child until he went there.  I do think the school is a problem."

"I know it's a problem.  I was hoping a new teacher would fix that."

"Can I still go on the zoo trip?" Xander asked pitifully.  A thought came to him.  "I'm so sorry, daddy.  I am, I really am.  Please don't take away my birthday?"  He started to sniffle.

"You haven't broken the rules at home and today's problem has been the teacher," Horatio soothed.   He gave him a hug.  "Let's go see your teacher."  Xander nodded.  "How would you like to go to the zoo with just you and Ray Junior?"  Xander gave him an awed look.  "That way we can get you out of there sooner."

"Can Uncle Speed and Auntie Calleigh and Uncle Eric come?  Maybe even Uncle Frank or Uncle John?"

"We'll see if they can.  That would mean going after work though, that wouldn't leave you boys much time."  Xander shrugged.  "Okay, I'll see if we can arrange it."  He gave him a kiss on the head.  "I'm sorry, ladies.  I'm going to go beat his teacher to death," he said, walking out with Xander.  Xander came back to get his backpack and ran after his father.

"That poor man," the mother said quietly, hugging her daughter.  "Well, it sounds like we'll get rid of a bad school at least."

"Quite possibly literally.  Horatio was on bomb squad for a while," the nun told her.

"Couldn't happen to a better place.  Where is he going?"

"St. Ives."

"Ah.  I heard bad things about their racist and purist problems.  I'll send him a list of *good* schools tonight."  That got a smile from the nun.  "I'm going to take her home.  It's only a small bruise and I can't blame Xander when he's been somewhere like that."  She carried her daughter and her jacket and backpack out to the car.  "Come on, you can come play in the office and we'll get you an ice pack for the bruise."  She nodded, letting her mother strap her into the carseat.


Horatio came in later that afternoon looking quite calm.  He walked up to the detective's desk.  "Yelina, your mother has both boys."  She gave him a horrified look.  "We are suing the school for teaching the children that beating weaker, lesser, or other races's children is wrong."  Yelina glared at him.  "Xander hit little Stephanie Dossier in after-school care."

"Did you withdraw both boys?"

"I told the headmistress Ray Junior wouldn't be going back but you have to sign paperwork.  Do watch out for the one that says you won't tell anyone about the curriculum or sue them."  He handed over that sheet.  "I took the whole packet when I saw that and gave it to Thomas.  Do have fun with her.  Frank, Xander's suggested we could do the zoo trip he'd be missing with those aunts and uncles he considers family.  Both boys, us two, you, Eric, Speed, and Calleigh.  Sometime soon?"

"Those two are going to go nuts in the zoo," Frank said dryly.  "How are you going to arrange schedules?"

"I don't know.  I was thinking a late afternoon trip."

"They close at seven," Yelina told him. "I thought about that as well.  Then again, you have that mandatory drill coming up."  Horatio smiled.  "Do it after that, Horatio."  That got a nod.  "I can arrange to take that afternoon off and Frank can arrange his however."

"I think we could handle that," Frank agreed.  He nodded at his boss when he looked over.  He came out of his office.  "Horatio just found out his kid's school is full of racists who wanted Xander to beat up on other races."

"I got a wonderful note from the last teacher suggesting aversion therapy because Xander was showing, quote, gay tendencies, for comforting Ray Junior after the teacher cut into him about Ray."

Their boss just nodded once.  "The school still standing?"

"I'm doing it legally," he said with a small, evil smirk.  The senior detective just nodded at that and went back into his office.  "So, we'll figure it out later this week.  Yelina, do have fun with the headmistress.  She's expecting you."

"Thank you, Horatio."  She got up and went to do that, Frank hurrying to keep her from destroying the woman and turning her into a case for them.  Horatio went back to his office, finding an email titled 'a list of GOOD schools' and smiled, opening it to look them over.  The one near where Yelina lived was apparently fairly decent.  He and Yelina would have to coordinate so the boys wouldn't wail about being separated.  But this would change his birthday plans for his son.


Ray Junior looked at his mother later that night from his protected position as Xander's teddybear.  "Does this mean I can go to a school where no one makes fun of me for having a mommy who's Brazilian?"

"It does," she agreed, smiling at him.  "It certainly does, Raymond."  She patted him on the head.  "Xander, can I have him back?" she asked quietly.  The sleeping boy grumbled.  "Please?  I need to take Ray home for dinner."  Xander gave him a squeeze.  She poked him on the side, smiling at him.  "Can I have my son back to cuddle him myself?"  He relented since he was half-awake, letting her have his cousin.  "Thank you, Xander."  She sat down to cuddle her son, making her mother smile at her.  "It's been a long, bad day.  I'm sure you've heard about the school."

"Horatio did say something when he dropped Xander off.  Where were you thinking instead?"

"I was going to keep him out for the next few days and take some time off so we could look at a few of them."

"Your Church has an excellent one.  They're on the 'excellence' banner and everything."

"I was going to go there but I wanted him to have a non-religious education.  It can skew things like science classes, Momma."  That got a nod.  "Besides, some nuns can be very judgmental and they might not accept Xander.  I don't want to separate the boys."  Horatio knocked then came in.  "Where were you thinking about looking for schools?"  He handed over a list, making her smile.  "This is quite a long one."

"From the mother of the girl he hit earlier."  He picked up Xander, getting complaining noises.  "Speed's coming for dinner."  Xander smiled and cuddled into his shoulder.  He handed her mother something folded.  "For this weekend?"  She smiled at that and nodded.  "Yelina, since you're taking the next four off, if we have to I'll take the next few after that off."

"Thank you, Horatio.  I hope it won't take that long."

"Me as well.  That's your copy.  We can compare so they won't wail and scream about being separated."  She smiled and nodded at that.  He kissed his son's cheek. "You're warm?"

"I'm not sure why but he's been sleepy all afternoon, Horatio.  He's been a darling child, no trouble at all.  He pulled Ray Junior to him and let him watch all the PBS he wanted while he slept.  He wouldn't even eat dinner."

"We'll check on him."  He smiled.  "Thank you."

"It's not a problem.  He's been a great little boy the last few times I've watched him.  If that continues I'd love to have him back all the time."

"He's enjoying his after-school program," he offered with a smile.  "It lets him get out onto the playground for an hour and a half."  She smiled at that.  "We're headed home, Yelina.  Have a better night."

"You as well."  She watched them walk out together.  "Xander's a hyper little boy but he's got a good mind."

"He does but he and Ray get into screaming, running battles of teasing each other."

"Momma, that's why you have a backyard," she reminded her.  That got a laugh and a nod.  "Let them do that."

"I'm worried about the man up the street."

"What man?"  She took her outside to point at his house.  "Is he watching the boys?"

"Plus some of the other children."

Yelina pulled out her celphone and called Frank. "It's me.  What do we have in the system about a man at 1328-B Lane Drive?"  She listened then growled.  "That's up the street from my mother, Frank.  She said he's been watching some of the children."  She nodded.  "Agreed."  She hung up.  "Momma, you need to gossip.  That man's been convicted of harming children in the past."  Her mother's face went hard.  "Do so tonight.  Do tell them if they hurt him they can still be charged but running him off is not a problem as long as he's not bruised, overtly threatened, or killed."  She nodded, going next door.  "I'm going to take Ray home."  She got him into the car with a smile and a kiss on his head.  "We should talk tonight, son."  She called Horatio.  "Ask Xander about the bad man up the street, Horatio.  One of those.  1328-B.  Him.  Yes.  I had Frank check on the address.   He's on the watch list.  That's what I told Momma.  Also not to hurt him or they could still be charged."  She smiled.  "That's fine.  I know that's rental property so the landlord might be able to help us.  I'm heading home with him.  She's going to gossip."  She smiled and hung up, looking at her son.  "How about some dinner?"

"Grandma gave us burgers," he said smugly.  "I got two because Xander wouldn't eat."

"Hmm.  It sounds like Xander may be really sick."  She smoothed down his hair and closed the door, going around to get in and drive off.


Horatio smiled when Speed came in.  "He's not feeling too good."

"Uncle Speed, I ache and itchy," Xander complained.

"That sounds like chicken pox and you're in the right age for it, kiddo."  He sat him up and pulled off his shirt, nodding. "Yup.  You've got clucking disease."

"Crap," Horatio moaned.  "Let me call his pediatrician."  He went to do that, shaking his head.  "Well, this'll put off the zoo trip."

"I'll call Yelina," Speed promised.  He grinned at him.  "I've had them."

"Will I have to grow feathers?"

"No, that's just where the disease started from way back when in the middle ages, Xander.  You won't grow feathers or cluck."  The boy smiled at that and snuggled into his side.  "Yelina, it's Speed.  Xander's got chicken pox.  Pretty sure.  Slimy yellowish green sores that itch.  Yup.  So that means Ray'll have them soon.  Depends on where he got exposed and how he got exposed.  Ray'll have them within two weeks, that's the incubation period.  I got them my freshman year of college," he admitted. "I ended up in the hospital for a week of it because I couldn't keep down fluids thanks to the fever."  He smiled. "That's between you and your doctor, dear."  He hung up and went back to cuddling him.  "Well, this will certainly change the dinner plans."  Xander gave him a pitiful look.  "I'm still staying."  Horatio hung up.  "Call the others in the lab, H.  Let them all know."

 Horatio sent out a mass page, only he had the code for that.  "There, now everyone knows he has chicken pox."  He called his boss.  "It's Horatio.  I need some emergency time off.  No, nothing that drastic, I'm destroying them legally.  Chicken pox."  He smiled.  "I've already warned them all and Speed called Yelina.  He's over for dinner with Xander.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "I can have two weeks but you're to bring me things here."

"Of course."  He went back to petting the boy.  "He's a good boy most of the time."

"We still have to keep his temperature down or he's got to go to the hospital."

"As I did for nearly a week," Speed agreed.  "I got them my freshman year in college.  Nearly flunked a biology class because I couldn't tell the teacher.  Guy never answered his office phone.  I ended up having a friend bring in an excuse for him and the dean so I could do makeup work and extra credit."  He went back to petting the boy, earning a smile.  "I know, it's a switch from who normally gets petted but you need it.  Want some soup?"  Xander shook his head.  "Some juice?"

"I like juice."

"I can do that," Horatio agreed, going to get him some.  Then he carried Xander up to the bathroom so he could bathe him and put medicine on the spots.  Another dose of children's tylenol by the time he was done and Xander was put into bed with a book near him in case he couldn't sleep.  "Try to rest.  It'll make it go faster.  Wake me up if you need anything.  I'll be home with you."

"Bad guys won't get caught."

"They will.  Speed will catch them for me, okay?"  Xander nodded and curled up on his side, going back to sleep.  Horatio got him some water for his bedside table as well then went back down, finding Speed cooking.  "Thanks."

"Not an issue.  I'm just happy I've had it."  The phone rang.  "Eric or his mother?" he guessed when Horatio answered it.

"Eric."  He listened.  "He's fine so far.  His back's covered and his chest.  His legs are just starting to sprout sores."  He heard Xander get up and go to the bathroom then go back to bed.  "No, I'm taking a few days off and you guys are to bring me things to do here.  Thank   you, Eric.  He'll be fine.  His fever's not too high at the moment and he's keeping down liquids.  Sure.  That would be fine."  He smiled and hung up.  "He'll bring over some good soup from his mother for him."

"She does make good soup," he agreed.  Someone pounded on the door.  "Hmm. Alexx?"

"Yelina," he said, letting her in.  "Is Ray Junior breaking out?"

"Not yet.  Where did he catch them?  I called Sister Margaret, she said they haven't had a new case but she'd send out warnings."

"It could've been at school," Horatio admitted.  "At the very least he's exposed now and the Chief said to call him when Ray breaks out."

She sighed and nodded.  "You'll be here?"

"Most likely, unless his fever spikes alarmingly.  Tell your mother to lysol the couch as well."  She nodded, going to do that.  He closed the door and locked it, going back to the kitchen.  "That looks fantastic," he offered with a smile.  "You take very good care of us, Speed."

"Not like there's much thrill in cooking for just myself, Horatio."  He handed him a plate and they went to eat at the table and talk about the recent cases and other things.  Eric came in off the porch.  "You didn't knock?"

"I figured it was locked for the night."  He handed over the small jar.  "Momma said to heat that up and give him a mug of it.  It'll help with the lethargy and the fever."  That got a smile and a nod.  "Also, plan on having him in the bath a lot."

"I will, Eric, thank you and thank her for me."

"Sure.  He in bed?"  Horatio nodded.  "Good guy."  He put down a bottle of alcohol, one of calamine lotion, and a box of gauze pads.  "You'll need them according to momma.  I'll bring you stuff to sign tomorrow night."  He smiled and headed back out, closing the screen door behind him.

"Must have a date," Speed offered, making Horatio bop him on the arm.  "He probably does."  He ate another bite of dinner.  "Garlic soup.  He's going to belch for days."

"It is good," Horatio admitted, going to put it into the refrigerator.  The phone rang so he answered it.  "Horatio."  He listened. "That would be fine, Mrs. Delko.  Sure.  Bring them over to see him in a few days."  He smiled.  "That's perfectly understandable.  We'll be here.  I'll see you then."  He hung up.  "She's going to expose the older grandchildren."

"You know, there's supposed to be a vaccine."

"It doesn't cover all of them, Speed, and you can still get it," Horatio told him.  "We checked."

"Ah.  You're a very careful parent."  He smiled at the sounds of the boy moving around.  "Go back to bed, Xander."

"I itchy."

"I know."  He came down to cuddle his father, sinking his face into his chest and going back to sleep that way.  "Awww."  He took a picture and smiled at him.  "Not like I mind.  I can't catch it again."

"I had it in sixth grade.  I got picked on for years about having it that late."

"Kids can be mean."

"Ray picked on me about having it that late.  I didn't catch it when he had it."  Speed smiled at that.  "We'll figure it out over the next few days."  That got a nod and Speed finished up dinner.  "Staying?"

"If you want."  He took Xander to hold, getting fussed at.  "It's me," he whispered.  Xander sighed and sank into his arms instead.  "Go ahead and eat, H.  You'll need it."  That got a nod and he dug in, eating faster.  He took Xander to the couch and sat down with him, letting him stretch out on top of him since he put his feet up.  "Some year soon you'll be too big to do this, kiddo."

"Not for a few more years," Horatio reminded him.  He cleared the table and put things into the dishwasher so he could run it.  Xander flinched when it started but he settled back into sleeping afterward.  He came out to sit with him.  "Did you know the Chief said you made a good mother for him?"

"We both heard him say it, H.  That's why I sent him a frog today in inter-office mail."  That got a smile.  "It was about as playground as his suggestion was."  He shrugged and shifted some.  Xander shifted with him and snored into his chest.  He snickered.  "I didn't know he snored."

"He hasn't since he was a baby," Horatio offered.  He shook his head.  "We'll survive and move on.  He should be over it by the time his birthday party comes around."  That got a smile. "If not, we'll cancel due to chicken pox and reschedule it somehow.  He's been a good boy since then."

"When I got them I swore up and down they were a curse for having sex with my girlfriend of the moment."

Horatio smiled.  "I thought for sure they were God's punishment for not passing a physical science test."  That got a grin back.  "He'll be fine in a few weeks and we'll find him a good school."

"Well, at least you'll have time to call around."  He nodded at that. "Maybe Ray won't get them."

"Yes he will.  Xander was wrapped around him at his grandmother's."  That got a grin.  "Remember when he was younger and Ray was his teddybear?  He was again today.  He was wrapped around Ray's hips so he could sit up and watch PBS but he was a little python."

"He's good at cuddling.  Some year someone's going to be a very happy spouse."  That got a smile. "They'd better be cuddly or else, but they'll be happy with him.  I'll teach him how to cook."

"I'm wondering about Boy Scouts for him."

Speed looked at him. "Give it a few more years, Horatio.  Let them solve that whole anti- gay thing first."  That got a nod.  "Besides, he could decide not to be Catholic.  You said way back when that his mother was probably Wiccan or something since she mentioned the Goddess."

"She did.  She said her parents vowed to the Goddess to kill her."  He shrugged. "I don't know.  I know he hates going to church but that's usual at his age."

Speed nodded. "It can be."  He went back to stroking down the small back when Xander shifted on his lap.  "He'll be fine and everything will be fine."

"Hopefully," Horatio agreed.


Two Years Later.


Xander saw his Uncle Speed and his heart sank.  He had that blue glow.  He looked around the park he was playing in.  He had spotted someone who glowed funny to him earlier - they glowed blood red and white.  He found him watching his uncle and rushed over there, staring at him.  "Do I know you?"

"Nope, Xander, you don't.  I do know you."

Xander studied him then decided he could at least ask.  "Uncle Speed has that blue glow."  The man nodded.  "Can I stop it this time?  Daddy and I will be really sad if we lose him."

He considered it.  "He could live if some things happened but I can't promise one way or another."

"But he'll live?"

"He *could* live."

"What do I have to do?"

"Get him to clean his gun and wear his vest, kid."

"Okay.  Anything else?"  He shook his head.  "Thank you.  What are you?"

He smiled.  "Just a man, Xander."

"You glow funny."  He saw his father looking around.  "I'll see you again sometime," he said, knowing it.  He hurried off, smiling at his daddy and pouncing him.  "Hi."

"Who was he?"

"I thought he was one of my classmate's father's," he lied.  His father stared at him.  He looked around then at him again.  "Uncle Speed is glowing blue," he said quietly.  "He glows funny and I wanted to know why."  He saw his father's face fall.  "He said Uncle Speed has to clean his gun and wear his vest, Dad.  Please?"

"I'll do what I can, Xander."  He gave him a hug.  "Is he bright blue?"

"Getting there."

"Okay."  He put him down and went to talk to Speed.  "You know how you've wanted a few days off?"

"I can finally take some?" he asked sarcastically.

"You can.  But only if you can prove you've cleaned your gun."

He sighed and walked off shaking his head.  "I'll do it tonight, H."

"Thank you, Speed."  He watched him.  "Bring your vest too, just in case."


Horatio looked at him.  "A feeling, Speed.  Just a feeling."  That got a single nod and he walked back to his bike shaking his head.


Xander was in the office when Horatio called Speed back for the kidnaping case.  He pounced him when he saw him, smiling at him.  "Hi."

"Hi, sprout.  I've got to go work on that kidnaping."

"Sure."  He followed him back.  Speed gave him a look.  "I want to see what you do."

"A lot of chemistry stuff."


"Fine.  Don't touch *anything*."  Xander nodded and put on the gloves as ordered, sitting there watching him.  Speed got to work on what they had gathered for him.

Xander watched him.  The blue glow was perfectly bright now.  "Uncle Speed, can I ask you for a favor?"

"Sure, what?"

"Daddy showed me how not to touch the gun."  Speed looked at him.  "I asked."

"That's a good and reasonable thing.  What didn't he tell you?"

"I wanted to learn how to clean it.  I don't want to be squealy and squeaky over them like Auntie Cal is, but you know how to do that and Daddy's really heavily busy.  I don't want to bother him and I was curious."

"Let me do this then we'll see if I've got some free time."  Xander nodded, leaning on the table.  "Not too close, Xander."  He pulled back some.  "Now, what I'm doing here is testing it for blood."


Speed smiled at him. "You're going to be bored."

"Daddy wants me to come into the lab some day."

"He wants you to do something that'll make you happy and live a good life, kiddo.  He doesn't have his heart set on the lab."  He got back to work.  Xander did indeed get bored but Eric came in with new information, getting an odd look for the boy being in there.  "He wanted to know what I did."

"Play with test tubes, small bottles, and all sorts of chemicals."

"Don't forget the whirry machines."

"True," Speed agreed, grinning at him.  He ran the first sample and took what Eric had to look at.  "That's DNA."

"Valera's out."

"She'll be back in a few hours.  Daddy called her before Uncle Speed came in."

"Sure," Eric agreed, going over there to leave her the sample.  He saw her coming in.  He was a brilliant little boy apparently.


Xander was with Frank when he heard the news.  He looked up and scowled.  "You never said he'd be hurt!" he whimpered.  Frank gave him a look.  "He glowed blue."  Frank looked stunned.  "The white and red glowy person in the park said he'd live if he cleaned his gun and wore his vest."

"Which he did," Frank agreed.  "That wasn't a 'he's dead' call, Xander.  That's he's injured and needs help."  He leaned closer.  "Why did you talk to him?"

"He was watching him too," he said miserably.

"Well, even injured he'll still probably live," Frank offered quietly, giving him a hug.  "We'll figure it out, Xander."  Xander nodded, crying on his shoulder.  "Shh, I've got you.  Horatio should've kept you at home today."

Calleigh came rushing over.  "Xander."  He looked up at her.  "Speed will be just fine, Xander.  I promise.  He'll be in really good care very soon."  Xander nodded, giving her a trusting look.  "Why did you have him clean his gun earlier?  He said you asked him to show you how to clean it."

"Long and involved story," Frank told her with a sigh.  "We need to talk to Horatio first."  She nodded at that.  "Come on, kiddo.  Let's go wait at the hospital.  Your father won't like it but it'll take his mind off this."  He walked him out to his car, looking at him.  "Tell me and him next time, Xander."

"The other guy said he'd be okay."

"Well, he probably will be in a few weeks."  He started the car and headed out to join the others at the hospital.  He walked the boy inside, finding everyone in the waiting room.  "Horatio?"  He looked over and groaned.  "He heard.  C'mere for a few?"  He walked them back outside and to the smoking area since it was deserted and had a bench.  "He said he talked to some guy who was glowing red and white about the blue glow around Speedle."

Horatio looked at him.  "You said that at the park."

"The guy said he'd live if he wore his vest and cleaned his gun."

"Tell me exactly what he said, Xander."

"That he could live if he wore his vest and cleaned his gun."

"Which he will."  He considered his son.  "At least you told me this time.  I was hoping it wasn't on his vacation."  Xander shrugged.  "How often do you see it and how long is it?"

"I've seen them on you a few times but they faded really fast."

"Which means your life was probably threatened," Frank said, considering it.  "When you see the blue glow how long do we have to change things?"

"Sometimes just a few days," he said weakly.  "The guy in the park knew me, daddy."

"I'm sure he did, but I'm not sure who he is.  So the next time you see him, point him out to me, all right?"  Xander nodded and gave him a tentative hug.  "It's all right, son.  I promise it's all right."  He gave him the cuddle he needed.  "Speed will be fine."

"Can he come sleep in the study while he heals?"

"We'll see if you can fuss over him."  He looked at Frank, mouthing a simple 'thank you'.

"Thought you should know, just in case, Horatio.  It's strange but he had Speed clean his gun today."

"I asked him to show me how to clean it."  Xander looked at him.  "I was a bit sneaky but I hope it was okay?"

"It was fine, Xander.  Just fine.  It still jammed but I'll be finding out why."  He called Calleigh.  "What is wrong with Speed's gun?"  He listened then nodded once.  "Thank you."  He hung up.  "His ammo was damp.  The bottom of his clip was molded."  Frank moaned.  "That's why he misfired.  The gunpowder got wet."  He gave Xander another cuddle.  "You did the right thing," he promised.  "Next time tell me that day."

"It didn't get any brighter while I saw him."

"Okay.  That's good, Xander.  Come on, we'll go wait inside so you can give him a hug as soon as he's in a room."  They headed inside, finding Rick Stetler already there.  "His ammo was damp.  I checked."  The man looked stunned.  "Calleigh said there was indication of mold.  Probably all the rain we've had recently or being on the boat for the case today."

"I see.  So it wasn't faulty gun maintenance this time."

"I had him show me how to clean it today," Xander said, glaring at him.  "You will not be mean to Uncle Speed like you were to Daddy and Auntie Yelina.  Just because you want to sleep with Daddy instead of Auntie doesn't mean you get to be mean to him," he finished with a sneer.

"How did you know I'm seeing your aunt?"

"Ray and I talk all the time, dumbass.  How did you think?"  Everyone stared at him. "Besides, we both walked in on you two groping on the couch.  By the way, that probably wasn't a happy noise, you squeeze the milk spot too hard."  Rick walked out blushing bright red.  "Good!  You're not good enough for my auntie!  Go find a hooker!"

"Xander," Horatio warned.

"He's not!"

"Grounded, son, and possibly for quite a while," he assured him.  "You should not act out like that."

"He's not good enough for Auntie Yelina and she did make pained noises.  Ray won't tell on him and his mommy refused to say anything so I had to."

"Next time say it to me, son, and let me handle it," he said quietly.

"Then you'd get in trouble for hitting him," Xander said smartly, grinning at him.  "Besides, he's nasty and gross.  He shaved his chest and his tummy.  Plus he wears pink undies."

Horatio sucked in a breath and walked his son off to talk to him about tact and not saying certain things in public.

"Probably traumatized the poor kid," Eric complained. "I'd have puked on him at that age."

"Me too," Frank agreed.  "Might even turn him off dating for life."

Horatio looked over and glared at him.  "Not funny, Frank.  Eric, take him back and work on finding the kid."

"As soon as we get an update.  Calleigh's on it," he reminded him when Horatio glared at him.  "They said we'd get one within an hour."

"Fine.  As soon as you know something go."  Eric nodded, going to bug the nurses again.  He looked at his son.  "Not cute."

"I thought the hooker part was.  Uncle Speed would've been proud."

Horatio sucked in a breath and let it out slowly.  "He is an adult.  You are eight.  You may not talk about such things."

"But that guy's the one who told Ray all he'd ever have were hookers, probably diseased ones because he was never going to be a good cop."

"I'll be talking with Ray myself tonight then."

"He won't tell you.  He thinks it'll upset his mom."

"While it might, me shooting Rick for telling him that would cheer her up."  Xander leaned closer and whispered to him about what he had heard and saw.  "Thank you, son.  As soon as this case is done we'll be going home and I'll be talking to him."  Xander nodded and gave him a hug.  "You are still grounded, son."

"Yes, dad."  He went back to waiting, staring at the nurses who gave him a horrified look.  "What?  He's my favorite uncle."  He plopped down and crossed his arms, looking just like his father in a stubborn mood.

"Any news?" Horatio asked.

"They've extracted the bullet and they're working on cleaning him up now, Lieutenant.  Are you sure such a young boy should be here?"

"He's eight.  Speed is his favorite uncle and he's getting spoiling rights."  That got a smile.  "Besides, they were together today."  He went to sit with his son, giving him a one-armed hug.  "He'll be fine. They got the bullet out."

"The guy didn't say he'd be hurt anyway."

"We'll talk to him the next time he pops up, son."

"Yes, Daddy."  He was already planning on what to yell at him.


Speed woke up and found a young lump of blur on his stomach.  "Xander."

"Hi, Uncle Speed."  He gave him a careful hug.  "You're going to come home with us so I can fuss over you and read you things.  I even yelled at the potty water man for you."  That got a faint, sleepy smile.  "I told him all about how he should have a hooker because he wasn't worthy of Auntie Yelina and how he had made her make the wrong sort of squeaky noises when he was groping on the couch and how his pink undies were ugly."

Speed laughed, holding his shoulder.  "Ow.  Oh, man."  He pulled Xander up to kiss him on the head.  "You're more than worthy to be my boy."

"Yelina almost wishes he was at the moment," Horatio said from the chair beside his bed. "We finally got Ray to tell her about the things he was told by him and she went to kill him herself while her son played cheerleader."  Speed smiled.  "When you cleaned your gun you forgot to check the bullets, Speed."

"They looked fine."

"They had mold, Uncle Speed."

"No wonder they didn't fire."  Horatio hummed and nodded.  "Am I going to live?"

"If you don't I'm going to curse God and destroy him," Xander assured him, sounding very sure that he could and that was that to him.  Speed and his father both looked at him.  "You don't take the good guys.  The bad guys win.  Then he's out of a job.  Unless he's so mean that he's going to make people pray for more good guys to come back and then he's a mean god and I'd never pray to him."  He went back to hugging his uncle.  "You'll come home to our study and I'll fuss and coo and even make cookies for you."

"I could use a cookie," he agreed, patting him on the back.  "It'll be fine, Xander.  I'll be all right."

"You had better."

Horatio nodded.  "I'll agree on that point."  The others he'd be talking with his son about later.  Like his mouth, some things needed straightened out apparently.  Speed gave him a smile.  "You can have the couch in the study, Speed.  It pulls out."

"I remember."  He shifted and winced.  "I hate hospitals.  When can I go home?"

"A few days.  Then you'll be off work until after you go through physical therapy," Horatio said quietly.  "We nearly lost you."

"Did it bounce off my vest?"

"Clipped the edge."  He squeezed his hand.  "Xander wanted to see you and we've got to get back to the office but I'll be back here tonight."

"Sure. Bring me cookies?"

"The mean nurses said you can only have liquids today so I'll try to sneak you a soda," Xander promised, kissing him on the cheek.  "Get better, Uncle Speed."  He wiggled off the bed and headed out so his father could say goodbye.

"I'll have a talk with him about his vendetta against God if you die."

"Everyone should have someone that they'd swear at God for losing," Speed said dryly.  Horatio nodded and patted him on the head.  "Don't be too hard on him for that.  For saying Stetler's good enough for a hooker since most of them wouldn't touch him...."  Horatio walked out shaking his head.  He pushed the button on the bed, bringing a nurse.  "Can I go home and have real food now?"

"No, Mr. Speedle.  You can't."  She came in to check him over.  "Someone untucked you."

"Xander doesn't like to be tucked in either.  He probably did it."  He smiled.  "It's fine."  She nodded and quit fussing. "How long am I looking at?"

"The doctor will be in tonight and he'll have all that."

"Sure.  Thanks."  She nodded and checked his vitals, making a note on the chart before leaving.  He found the remote and turned on the tv.  The nurse gave him an odd look. "I need noise.  It's too quiet."

"I'll make a note not to turn your tv off on you."  She went to do that.

He settled in to watch the cooking shows.  At least something was on at the moment.


Speed was walked into the house by Horatio, but it was Xander who put him onto the regular couch with pillows, juice, and some of his father's forensic journals and a few other books that were his favorite.  "Harry Potter?"

"I'm doing good with book one," he said with a grin. "Besides, who said magic isn't real?  They could be real somewhere and just hiding.  They're probably swearing that someone exposed them."  He went to get him some of the cookies he had baked last night with Eric's help, bringing out the plate.  "Here you go, cookies Uncle Eric and I made."

"They're great looking, Xander. Thank you."  He nibbled one, smiling at him.  "Tollhouse. A classic recipe."

"Yup, we didn't make tube cookies, we made real cookies that you had to mix and stuff."

"I was very proud you managed it, son," Horatio agreed.  "Eric only supervised and kept him from eating all the chocolate chips."

Speed smiled. "I usually sneak batter."  He finished that one and Xander curled up in his lap with the Harry Potter book, opening it to read to him.

Horatio watched, smiling at the comfy scene of his son and friend.  He went to the office to get something done and check in with the office.  Xander would tell him if something needed to be done.  He found an email from Yelina about Stetler and read it, shaking his head.  He called her. "I had to make Ray tell me, Yelina.  He only told Xander and said Ray didn't want you to be unhappy."  He smiled.  "Well, he did mention his pink underwear were ugly and he squeezed you wrong because you were in pain, not feeling pleasure.  He did it in the middle of the waiting area in the hospital.  Yes, we had a long talk about his mouth this time," he assured her.

"Especially when he said Rick should go for hookers instead because he thought Speed would like that.  He's on the couch reading to Speed.  No, he's still grounded.  He told me it kept me out of trouble for hitting him."  He grinned.  "Exactly.  If that's who you want I can't complain but if he hurts you or Ray I want to know immediately so I can kill him," he reminded her.  "No, that's your choice.  He's not one I'd pick for you but that's the whole point, isn't it?"  He smiled.  "He and Eric made real cookies last night so he's reading him book one of Harry Potter and feeding him cookies and juice.  Yes, high spoil mode.  Alexx will have to work hard to nudge him out of the way so she can spoil him some."  He smirked.  "Exactly.  Let me know if you need anything.  I'm home today and tomorrow to make sure Speed's okay.  Of course."  He hung up. "Xander, your Aunt would like to talk to you about your mouth as well sometime tonight," he called.

"Yes, Daddy.  She can come help us make dinner."

"I think she wanted you to call later so she got over her urge to spank you."  He got up and found his son bright red. "It'll calm down sometime soon.   You cannot pick on him about dating her unless he's bad to her.  Understood?"

"He said mean things to her.  He's not good enough for my aunt."

"While I agree, that's not for us to determine.  That's up to Yelina, son."

"Yes, daddy," he sighed.  He shook his head and snuggled back in to keep going. He rolled his eyes when his father took a picture.  His father was so mushy sometimes.


Speed looked up later that night when Horatio came down the stairs.  "I'm fine."

"I was coming to get a drink, but you are.  I know you'd complain if you weren't."  He smiled at him, getting some juice and coming back to the study.  "Are you enjoying being totally spoiled?"

"Alexx has nothing on your boy, Horatio," he agreed quietly.  "I'm so totally spoiled I'm almost looking forward to rehab."

Horatio smiled at that.  "You're one of the more important people in his life."

"I realized that earlier when he slipped and called me daddy."  Horatio looked stunned at that.  "Your boy thinks it's a bit deeper than friendship and we never told him but he's okay with it.  He adores the idea.  I told him it wasn't."

"Did he add a 'yet' at the end?"

Speed nodded.  "He did.  So he's making some sneaky schemes to get us to date."

Horatio sipped his juice.  People had been saying they were together for years now.  Ever since Speed's third week in the lab.  "I've, um, never been with a man," he admitted. "But I can see what he does and why he does."

Speed looked at him.  "You know..."

"I know about your friend who died, Speed."  He sat down next to him on the bed.  "My son has good taste."

"The best," he agreed with a small smirk.  "The question becomes is it like his thing thinking that Harry Potter's cursing somewhere in London or Scotland about the books or not?"

Horatio considered it then looked at him.  "I don't know."

"That's better than a flat no."

Horatio gave him a hug.  "We'll have to see what happens, Speed.  I'd have to take it slow."

"I know."  He gave him a kiss.  "Go to bed, Horatio.  It's late."  Horatio nodded and took his juice upstairs to drink and think, plus read for a while.  Speed settled down into his bed, thinking as well.  The boy did have taste.  Horatio was the one everyone in the lab wanted.  He was also strong, smart, and could keep up with him. They were incredibly close friends though and he didn't want to ruin that.  Horatio came back down and tucked him in then kissed him again.  "Our friendship?"

"We'd still be friends, Speed."  He went back upstairs.  He had known he'd be brooding and thinking bad thoughts.  Speed was that way.

Speed smiled and fell asleep that way.  Even if he did have odd dreams about another Xander and magic.  Strange nature magic, not even Harry Potter magic.  He was almost disappointed, Xander would look great on a broom and in robes.


Xander stalked his target around the office, watching what he did and said.  He and Ray had agreed, the asshole needed to leave his mother alone.  He nearly made it to his office with the snake but one of the patrol guys grabbed him and carried him off, handing him to Eric.  "What?" he said defensively.  "He deserves it!  He says mean things to Ray!"

Eric handed over the snake and the officer left, walking off shaking his head.  He looked down at the boy.  "If he's saying mean things to Ray Junior, you tell your father or his mother.  You don't put snakes in his office, Xander."

"It wasn't poisonous."

"I don't care."

Xander pouted.  "We tried telling her and Daddy, nothing happened."

"I'm sure it will soon."

"Before he's hurt more?"

Eric sighed.  "I don't know," he admitted.  "Would you like me to talk to your father for you?"

Xander gave him a look.  "I told him."

"I know."  He saw Speed walk in, his arm still in his sling.  "Let's talk to Speed."

"Sure," he said flatly, heading that way.  "He's still saying mean things to Ray Junior."

Speed blinked at that.  "Okay.  Can we prove it to his mom?"  Xander nodded, handing over the tape.  "What were you going to do with this?"

"Give it to Uncle Frank so he could have him dumped in the water so Uncle Eric would have something to dive after again."


"He also had a snake and was stalking Stetler to put it in his office," Eric said with a small grin.  "One of the patrol guys caught him most of the way there."

"Hey, better than I can do."  He went to find his tape player and listen to it, then he paged both parents to the office and put it on an external speaker, letting them hear it while he waited outside the office.  When they opened the door, he looked at both of them.  "Her son is very upset.  Your son wants to kill him for hurting his cousin.  I think it may be time to do something.  Even if it's love and he's your soulmate, Yelina, it's time for something to be done.  Especially since you don't cover bruises very well."  Horatio stared at her.  "Now, Xander was going to put a snake in his office and give Frank that tape."

"He's sneaky," she complained.

He smacked her on the forehead with the palm of his hand.  "That's because you didn't listen to your son and he's protecting him, Yelina."  She gave him a horrified look.  "Ray went to Xander for help.  I'm pretty sure Xander taped it since that's one of the ones from the house that Horatio leaves him audio messages on."  She slumped.  "Your son is in pain.  Your nephew is going to commit homicide one way or another.  Even if he gets Frank to do it for him."

"I'll handle it," Horatio promised.

"Without yelling at the boys?" Speed asked.

"Probably.  Why?"

Speed looked at him.  "I'd pop you one too but the kid would get mad at me."  He walked off shaking his head.  "Xander, why don't you come stay with me tonight, kiddo?" he called.  "Let the adults have the time to talk."

"Okay.  If Daddy said I could."

"I don't think it'd be a big problem."

"He's still grounded from the incident in the hospital," Horatio called after him.  "He'll be going home tonight, Speed."

Xander looked at his father.  "If you make Ray Junior cry some more I'm going to have to get mean, Daddy."  He gave his father the same look Horatio gave suspects, then turned and stomped off.

Horatio muttered something and Yelina looked at him.  "He's very strong willed and protective."

"He is."  He looked at her.  "Are you still doubting he's bad for your son?"

"He'll straighten out.  I'll talk to him."

"No, I'll talk to him."  He took the tape down to AV.  "Cooper, please copy this for me?"

"Sure, boss.  Xander called to see how to set up a tape recorder for something at school.  Did it work?"

"It did."  He took the copy of the tape and walked off, going to barge into Rick's office.  His secretary started to get up.  "Don't bother," he ordered coldly.  He walked in there, finding Rick's boss in there.  "Unless you want me to hit you for what's on this tape, you should let him leave, Rick."  He went pale.  Horatio put the tape in front of him.  "My son is *very* protective of Ray Junior," he said quietly.  "He has heard every single word you've said to my nephew.  If you *ever* say such things to him again I will not stop at your badge or your life.  Am I clear?" he said coldly.  That got a single nod.  "Good.  If Yelina wants you that's her decision but I will not let you harm an innocent little boy."

"Your son is a holy fucking terror."

"Only to those who hurt his family," he said bluntly.  Rick rocked back.  "He has heard *everything*, Rick.  Which means I've heard most of it."  That got a slow nod. "I would not continue.  After all, I still have the original and I'm sure it's not the only copy."  He walked out, slamming the door behind him.

Rick pulled out a tape recorder to listen to it, then he moaned.  "Sorry, sir.  I wasn't exactly feeling pleasant and got into it with Detective Salas's son."

"I don't like you dating her anyway, Stetler.  You've shown animosity toward her in the past.  This smacks of revenge."  His boss looked at him.  "The tape?"  Rick shook his head. "Now.  Or I go to Caine and make it official."  It was handed over. "Thank you."  He listened to it then glared at him.  "You are bordering on abuse, Stetler.  Break it off with her or else I will have to investigate."  He took the tape with him and went to find Xander.  He found him in his father's office and his father nowhere around.  "We should talk, young man."

"Who're you?" he asked, staring at him.  "I'm not allowed to talk to people I don't know without another adult around.   So if you want to talk to me, get my father or Uncle Frank."

"Fine.  I can do that."  He paged Frank Tripp.  He was a good temporary guardian for the boy.  A fine officer.  Frank walked in and paused at the sight of him.  "Horatio just made some allegations of abuse toward Ray Caine Junior."

Frank coughed then nodded.  "We're all wary of the relationship, Captain."

"As I am.  I was down there warning him.  Horatio gave me the chance to leave but I didn't take it.  I want to know what he said to the boy.  I've ordered him to break it off because of his issues with the boy's father."

"You, um, might wanna look at Yelina's chin, Captain."

"I will.  Now, I'd like to talk to Xander and he wisely stated he's not allowed to talk to any strangers without an adult present.  He mentioned you or his father and you're calmer and a bit removed from the situation."

"Why not ask Ray?" Xander asked.

"Because his mother won't let me near him, son," the Captain said patiently.

Xander looked at him.  Then at Frank.  "Can I tell him?"

"I should ask your dad and her."

"I told them, they ignored it.  That's why I was going to give you that tape we made and then put the snake in his office."  That got a smile.  "That way you could drop him in the ocean and Uncle Eric would have a chance to go diving again."

"That bad?"

Xander sighed and opened his backpack, then pulled something out, handing it to him.  "I asked Cooper how to tape stuff for a school project.  Daddy had no idea until I was caught with the snake.  I nearly made it."

"He's not scared of snakes," Frank offered, looking at the tape.  "That the original?"  Xander nodded. "How long is it?"

"Twenty minutes."  Frank found the tape recorder and listened to it, then came back and let the Captain listen.  "Am I in trouble?" he asked quietly.

Frank shook his head.  "Only if your dad's not being reasonable.  Yelina wanted someone to cuddle when things got bad and she went for the wrong guy.  Sometimes that happens to people, Xander.  It's up to family to stand by you when it does.  That way you have help getting away from them."  Xander nodded, understanding that.  He saw the Captain letting Yelina listen and watched her glare up at the office.  He closed the door.  "I would hide from your aunt if I were you."  Xander and his backpack both went under the couch.  She stormed in.  "He left a few minutes ago, Yelina.  You okay?"

"My son...."

"Was apparently crying.  I saw him with tear tracks and I thought he fell," Frank said firmly, no longer leaning against the front of the desk.  "Also, you don't cover the bruise very well."  He ran a finger over it.  "Your foundation's too light and thin."  She stomped off again.  He sighed.  "This is going to end up with a lot of yelling."

"Can I run away for the night?"

"Your father would throw a fit to end all fits if you did that."

"Maybe but I'm protecting Ray and he didn't listen."

Frank looked down at him.  "It's not that he didn't listen, it's that he was letting her handle it, Xander.  Big difference there.  Sorta like how tact and social niceness escapes you but your daddy learned it."

Xander came out from under the couch, looking at him.  "Fine.  Whatever.  I'm still not letting my cousin be harmed by the simian crossbreed."  He walked out with his backpack, sneaking down to the bus stop.  He had his lunch money in his pocket since he hadn't gotten to eat today.  Plus his allowance.  He got onto the bus, looking at the driver.  "How do I get to Fairfax Drive?"

"What part?"

"Fifteen hundreds, sir."

"This bus can transfer you to another line that'll go there.  Put in fifty cents, kid."  Xander did that and sat down politely.  "You're allowed out alone?"

"I was coming home from school.  My dad works in there and now I'm going home."

"That's a good first step," he agreed, closing the door and heading off again.  When he got to the transfer point he pointed.  "Sit there and wait for the B bus.  Pay him twenty-five cents and give him this," he said, handing over a transfer stub.  The boy nodded and did that.  "Good boy.  It should be about ten minutes.  Don't talk to anyone."

"Yes, sir."  He sat down, his backpack at his feet.  He watched the bus pull away.  It was kind of scary here.  He had no clue where he was.  He looked around, seeing a patrol car passing by.  He kept himself from waving.  If he drew attention to himself they'd tell his father and he might figure out where he was going.  He did get into his backpack and put his borrowed taser in his hand.  Just in case someone bad came up to him.  An older lady sat down and gave the weapon a look.  "Heading to Grandma's.  My first time on the bus by myself."

"You're a very big boy, young man."  She smiled. "Go ahead and put it away.  I'll watch out for you.  Which bus are you taking?"

"The driver said B?"

"That's usually the one with the blue stripe."

Xander nodded and pulled his backpack up, putting the taser inside but keeping his hand on it.  He dropped the slip and had to pick it up, sitting up to find someone standing there.  He stared back, just blinking.  The guy smirked at him.  "My daddy's a cop," he said firmly.

"That's fine, kid. I won't hurt you."  He sat down on the other end of the bench.  "Got a knife?"  Xander pulled out the taser with a smirk.  "That's nice."

"My uncle's."  He put it back into his bag, keeping it in his hand.  The bus he wanted came and he got on, handing over the slip and putting in a quarter.  The driver looked at him.  "The other driver said so."

"Where are you going?"

"Fairfax Drive."

"What part, kid?" he asked patiently.

"Fifteen hundreds."

"That's fine.  I'll make sure you get off in the right spot.  Sit in front."  Xander sat down where he could easily see him, zipping up the compartment with his taser in it.  The others got on and he drove off.  Kids these days were doing things way too young on their own.  He pulled up to a stop twenty minutes later.  "Which block?"

"The next one.  She's in the white house please."

"Sure.  I can let you off across the street."  He let someone else off and went that way, letting the boy ring the bell.  He smiled at him for that courtesy.  "Good job."  Xander smiled and took his backpack with him, crossing the street in front of him like he did the bus for school.  He was well trained and polite at least.  He saw him knock on a door and an older Cuban woman answer so it was fine.  He went on, heading on his route.  He still thought he was too young.  You never knew who was on the bus these days.

"Xander?" Eric's mother asked.

He nodded.  "My father's an asshole.  He won't listen to Ray Junior and I and someone's making him cry by being mean to him and Auntie Yelina so I'm taking a night off.  If I went to Uncle Speed's he'd find me immediately.  Here he'll have a chance to calm down and think."

She let him inside. "How did you get here?"

"Bus."  He grinned.  "I didn't even have to use Uncle Ray's taser."

She crossed herself and ushered the boy into the kitchen, going to check him over and feed him some milk and cookies while they talked.  Some children did run away and she was thankful he wasn't hurt.


Horatio found Frank looking around in his office.  "Lose an earring backing?" he asked dryly.

"Looking for your son.  He walked off and no one saw where he went."  He stood up.  "I have no idea where he is, Horatio."

Horatio stormed off, going to talk to the guards.  One of them remembered seeing him at the bus stop, so his next stop was dispatch.  "Has anyone reported seeing my son?"  They all gave him odd looks.  "Xander ran off after a fight.  He was on the bus.  The guards saw him get on."

One of them put out a call.  "We have a missing child.  Xander Caine walked out of the station and got onto the bus that runs here.  Please report if you see him."

"He's smart, he'll head to someone he knows," Rick said from behind him.  "Your son's still a blight."  Horatio turned and punched him, then rubbed his knuckles as he turned back around to wait.  "I'll have you suspended for that," he sneered.

"Your boss heard you telling Ray what a horrible man he'd become.  The boys have been taping you for days, Rick."  He stomped off.  "Personally I'm looking forward to Yelina hurting him."  They all smiled at him for that.  "My son's being protective."

Frank walked in.  "I called Speed.  He just got home and Xander wasn't there.  He checked your house, he's not there either."

"The bus doesn't run by our house," Horatio reminded him.  "Who, that he knows, does it run by?"

"Yelina's calling home.  Her son hung up on her after spitting and she said it sounded like he was swearing."

"Go get Ray so I can talk to him?"

"Of course."  He went to do that, stopping her. "Let me get your boy.  That way his uncle can undo the damage of you two not listening to the boys."  He walked off, going to do that. "Figure out where Xander went!"

She stomped off, going back to the CSI labs.  "Everyone is to call home and make sure Xander didn't run away to their place," she ordered.

Calleigh looked at her.  "Why did he run away?   He's not prone to it."

"He's upset that we were handling something more delicately than he thought it should be."

Eric looked at her, then nodded once.  "Can I kill him?"

"No."  She stomped off.

Eric looked at Calleigh. "I'll call Speed.  You call Horatio's house and then the comic shop he goes to."  She nodded, going to do that.  He called Speed. "Buddy, is Xander there?"  He listened to him complain.  "No, like ran away, Speed."  He nodded.  "That's an idea.  I'll call the church they go to."  He called out there.  They all had the number for the after- school program in their phones in case something happened to Horatio.  "This is CSI Delko, is Xander Caine out there?  No, stomped off.  Thank you.  If so, please call his father.  Thank you."  He hung up and watched Horatio storm back in. "They're checking the church and calling his school, H."

"He's not there.  He wouldn't go there.  He'd go somewhere he'd get coddled."

"Alexx is here," Calleigh pointed out.  "He's not at your house or the comic shop he likes.  How did he get out?"

"Bus," Horatio said grimly.

Eric thought then called a number.  "Is Xander there?"  He smirked.  "No, keep him for a few if he shows up but call me."  He hung up.  "He's not with Valera."

"We'll find him, Horatio," Calleigh reminded him.  "He's a smart little boy who hides very well.  Plus he's got Ray's taser on him."  Horatio looked startled. "You didn't know that?  He's got it in his backpack.  He knows how to call you, dispatch, and 911 if something happens.  He's found a safe little hole to get comfort in."

"Dispatch knows to call me if anyone sees him."  His phone rang.  "Horatio."  He listened, then he nodded once.  "What was he doing there?"   He frowned.  "Thank you."  He looked at them.  "Get me a map of the bus system?"  Eric went to find one for him.  "Okay, he was spotted at this bus stop," he said, pointing at it.  "The bus from here is this one and it would've dropped him off."  He looked at the other three routes that hit there.  "Who's on those routes?"

Eric looked, then frowned.  "My house.  I called home and only got my machine.  He doesn't have a key to my place like he does yours and Speed's.  I checked with him."

"I live out that way," Calleigh offered, pointing at her block.  "He wasn't there when I tried."  She called home again, getting her machine.  Nothing.  She shook her head as she hung up.

Horatio studied the map, then went to call the school to see which kids in Xander's class lived out that way and have them check.

Eric looked. "I know someone in mounted patrol and they do that park," he said, pointing at a large one.  "The bike cops are out of the same precinct and they'd do the few malls in that same area."  He went to call there.

Calleigh looked. She had no idea who lived out that way.


Eric was wrung out when he walked outside and saw his sister.  "Please tell me you have Xander?" he begged.

"Momma does."  Eric sighed and paged Horatio, who came striding out very forcefully.  "Your son came to our mother," she told him.  "The bus dropped him off right across the street."  She patted him on the hand.  "He believes you don't give a damn about him and this way you wouldn't find him immediately so you would have time to calm down.  That's what he told her.  Poppi sent me."

Horatio groaned.  "Need a ride home, Marisol?"

"Sure."  She waved at her brother.  "Momma said to come to dinner, Eric."

"I'll be there soon.  I'll follow."  He paged the rest of the team with that information then called Dispatch.  "Call off the search for Caine's son.  We found him with my mother," Eric offered.  "No, I didn't think he knew where she lived," he admitted.  "He's smarter than I gave him credit for."  He smiled.  "Complaining like an old wife probably."  He chuckled. "Thanks."  He hung up and called Speed.  "He's with my parents."  Then he hung up and headed for home.

Horatio walked through the door and Eric's father pointed toward the kitchen.  "He's been telling her what's been going on.  You've got a bright son, Horatio.  A bit scary really.  Taping conversations, making plots to have someone commit murder for him.  Plans to get you to date."

Horatio groaned, walking into the kitchen.  His son saw him and hopped up, backing away from him.  "If you take off I will paddle you," he vowed quietly.  Eric's mother pointed at the backyard so he walked his son out there.  He started by spanking him three times then sat down on the old swing to talk to him.  "What were you thinking?"

"You don't give a damn," he sniffled.

"If I didn't, you'd be in an orphanage, Xander."  He stared his son down.  "I was working on getting him away from Ray."

"You could've made him go away and you didn't.  He kept hurting Ray because you didn't give a damn!  Some kid you don't even know comes before Ray and me."

Horatio took a breath.  "They do not."

"They do so!"

"Xander, they do not," he said firmly.  "I was working on getting him away from Ray.  I couldn't just arrest him for it."

"I asked the teacher, she said that's neglect and verbal abuse.  He could have been arrested for that.  She was going to talk to Auntie Yelina today."

"She did.  She called her."  He moved some of his son's hair around but he ducked away from him.  He pulled him back and made him face him.  "It was wrong to take this outside the family in the lab.  I was handling it."

"No you weren't."

"I was, Xander."

"If you were, he would be at home right now.  He's with his grandmother and she's not getting him back tonight."  Horatio looked stunned.  "You decided to let him hurt him, it's not going to go on!  I'm going to protect Ray even if you don't!" he shouted.  He got free of him.  "Get off me!"

"Quit!"  He made him stand still, staring at him.  "There's a few reasons why I couldn't simply arrest Rick for doing that, Xander.  That's why we were working on it quietly."

"I told you a few days ago.  It wasn't enough.  He hit him!  He hit her!  He's a bad man and if I see him I'm going to get him myself!"

"Calm yourself."

"NO!"  He got free again, glaring at his father.  "No, I'm going to protect Ray even if you and his mommy won't."  Horatio sighed and sat down again.  "I don't care how upset you get, dad.  He didn't need it from his teacher and he doesn't need it from that asshole either."

"Language!" Speed snapped as he walked out.  "You know better and you're a guest here, Xander."  Xander wilted.  "Now, come here and tell me, in a reasonable tone of voice, what the hell is going on."  Xander looked at him.  "Explain it to me.  Your father can listen and maybe he'll figure out where he missed a clue."

Xander trudged over there.  "You know Auntie Yelina was dating Rick Stetler, right?"

"Yeah, and it made me gag with the thought.  And?"

"He's been saying mean stuff to Ray about his daddy and about how he'd never be anything.  How he should just give up now.  I told them when you got hurt."

Speed nodded at that.  "Okay, that's been two weeks.  What happened since then?"

"Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  So we taped it and so she'd have to listen this time since she didn't want to before.  Daddy made Ray Junior tell her and she didn't do anything.  Now he's really hurt and Daddy gives more of a damn about some unknown person than he does us."

"He doesn't," Speed said, staring down at him.  "I know damn well he doesn't."  Xander snorted.  "What did he do?"

"Talked to his boss."




"I warned him a few days ago, when I heard," Horatio admitted quietly.  "Thank you, Speed."  It was a clear dismissal.

Speed stared at him.  "Fat chance, Horatio.  Unless you want to try to find him later tonight?"  Horatio shuddered at that.  He looked at Xander, picking him up to put him onto the small garden wall so they were roughly the same height.  "Okay.  First.  Yes, your father did give a damn.  He was working on it slowly.  Ray Junior knows he's better than that piece of crap his mother's dating.  Period.  End of sentence."  Xander shook his head.  "He should."

"He made him cry."

"Then we'll talk to Ray and make sure he knows that."

"His grandma's not giving him back until his momma sends Rick away."

"That's between that family.  We'll do what we can to help Ray.  Did he say stuff to you?"  Xander nodded.  "Did you tell your father that?"

"That's the first I've heard of it," Horatio admitted, coming over.  Xander moved away from him.  "I'm not going to hit you again."

"Bet me," he said dryly, glaring at him.  "You still didn't stop him."

"He did the best he could, Xander.  He's still human," Speed reminded him.  Xander looked at him.  "He is.  Humans all have flaws and sometimes can't do everything to help everyone.  It's a hard lesson to learn but even we can't solve every crime and make every bad guy go away."

"Even when it's family?"

"Even when it's family," Speed agreed.  "Now, as for the next point.  You hatched plots?"  Xander nodded.  "Why?"

"Because no one listened to us because we're kids."

"Uh-huh.  Well, I won't fault that one," he admitted.  "Even cops won't listen to kids before they do adults."  He patted him on the face.  "Third.  You so screwed up by running today."

"He doesn't care!"

"He does care.  He had half the cops in the city looking for you," Speed said firmly.  "Eric went nuts and called me four different times to see if you came to me."

"I came here because it'd give him more time to fix stuff and calm down."

"Well, you made him frantic.  Not a good plan."  Xander shrugged and rubbed his butt. "Good!   You riding the bus alone at your age was dangerous."

"I had the taser with me."

"I don't care," Speed assured him.  "It's still dangerous. Adults are stronger and could have hurt you before you could've gotten to it."  Xander went pale at that.  "You're in deep for that part, I can already promise you that.  As for the taping and stuff, it was a reasonable thing when the adults weren't listening.  It was helpful, but you could've come to me."

"You're busy getting better."

"So?  Don't I talk to you most every night?"

"I did tell you," he said quietly, looking so hurt.  "You said daddy could fix it and he didn't."  He hopped down and walked off, going to the other side of the yard to watch the neighbor's dogs play in their yard.

Speed sighed and looked at Horatio, who looked tortured.  "Now, your side is?"  Horatio looked at him.  "Spill it."

"I was working on it.   I threatened him before.   I took the tape down there to threaten him today."

"I was shot nearly two weeks ago, H.  A single threat in that amount of time?"


"Then the kid's got a point.  You cared more about the victims than your own family."  Horatio glared at him.  "Truth, boss."  He stepped closer. "Your son was in pain.  Your nephew was in pain.  You were wrapped up in everyone else's pain but theirs.  You've got to find that spot of balance before he turns out like your brother."  Horatio slumped and nodded, going to talk to his son.  He sat down on the swing to watch, moving it slowly.  Eric leaned out.  "They're talking."

"He spank him for this stunt?"

"For the running away part.  He had some valid issues."

"I heard."  He came out.  "Your arm doing okay?"

"It's fine.  The stitches are all out.  I start PT in a few days for it."  They both watched as Xander stomped off again.  "With me," he ordered when he headed back inside.  Xander came back to give him a hug.  "Now, wanna tell me what the sticky point was this time?"

"I told him we'd argue at home," Horatio told him.  "Where we're not taking over someone else's yard."

Speed looked at him. "If you blame this on him I will hurt you myself," he mouthed.  Horatio glared at him.  "How about this.  My place is neutral.  I owe Xander dinner for all the cookies and stuff he fed me and how he read to me while I was on your couch when I got out.  You two can come argue at my place and I'll make dinner.  That way he feels safe and you're in a neutral environment."  Horatio looked stunned.  "That way both sides are on neutral and emotionally uncharged ground."

"I could agree to that," Xander said tiredly.

Horatio stared at him. "Fine.  Get in the hummer, Xander."  Xander went to pick up his backpack.  "Eric, thank your mother?"

"Sure, H."  He went inside.

Horatio looked at him.  "You can't jump into this."

"I can because you'll ruin your relationship with him," he said bluntly.  "Your son broke his ankle and didn't really cry.  He was just now crying."  He pointed at the wet spot on his shirt.  "You both need a neutral place to work this out before you scream at him and he runs away again.  Because I have no clue where he'd go this next time. This time I was sure it was family when I heard.  Next time?"  He looked at him.  "Now, try for a neutral topic in the car.  Meet me there.  He's got a key to my place in case there's an emergency and he can't go home for some reason."  Horatio walked off.  Speed sighed and shook his head, heading inside.  "Thank you for watching him for us."  He kissed Eric's mother on the cheek.  "I'm going to finish mediating and possibly smack Horatio on the head with a hot frying pan."

"The boy did run."

"The boy had his reasons," Speed assured her.  He walked out to his bike, starting it and heading home.

Eric's mother frowned at her son.  "Is what he said true?"

"Horatio was working on the issue with Stetler, Momma.  It was going slowly.  That's what upset Xander.  That and his father wasn't listening to him.  Which is why he ran away."

She nodded.  "Many children do."

"I'm glad he came to you guys.  I had no idea he knew where you lived or I would've called sooner."

"He needed time to calm down," his father advised.  "He came in looking like someone kicked his dog."

"Well..."  He shrugged.  "We think Stetler said something to him too.  If he did, I'm going to kill him."  He walked back to his room. "When's dinner?"

"Another hour," his mother said patiently, getting up to get back to the normal things.  Her son was a bottomless pit.


Xander sat down on Speed's couch when he got kicked out of the kitchen.  "He said I had to let you explain your BS reasons for not giving a damn about us anymore."

Horatio looked at his son.  "Do not swear at me."  Xander gave him an evil look and he knew why suspects tended to flinch when he gave it to them.  "We can talk without you swearing."  He stared at him until he looked away.  "Xander."  His son looked at him again.  "You had it wrong.  I do care."

"You didn't listen."

"I did listen and I was working on it."

"Two weeks later?" he snorted.  "Gee, dad, and Ray's supposed to do what?  Slit his wrists while you worked on it?"  He groaned at that.   "He's a mean man and he should be shot."

"I was working on it.  She had spoken to him too."

"Yeah, I heard that one.  He sneered at us both about that."  Horatio swallowed.  "Do you even have any idea what it's like to be told you're worthless?"

"I do," he admitted.  "I've been told that in the past."

"Did you listen?"

"I was your age," he told him, looking at him.  Xander slumped at that, crossing his arms but getting more comfortable.  "I was working on it.  Why didn't Ray come over?"

"His mother wouldn't let him."

"I'll talk with her again.  I don't mind you protecting Ray.  I do mind you doing it this way. I do mind you going behind my back to make plans to hurt him for Ray.  I also mind you running away when things got hard, Xander.  That was why you got spanked, because you did something so stupid you could've died from it."

"I had the taser."

"Which you shouldn't have," he reminded him.  "Can you even use it?"  Xander nodded.  "How did you learn?"

"Uncle Ray showed me.  I took it out of his desk.  Ray Junior knew."

"Is there another reason you needed it?  Beyond him?"

"Some of the bullies at school have been pushing me and someone keeps coming to Grandma Salas' house looking for you."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I did.  You told me to ignore the bullies who tried to mash my face into the school and that she'd handle it if it was something serious."

"That is an adult's job," he agreed.

"Yeah, well, she's in her sixties, Dad.  Not like she can beat him if he comes into the house.  Or when he followed me to school one day."  Horatio stared at him.  "I told you."

"I don't remember that."

"You gave me another talk about strangers."

"Oh."  He ran a hand through his hair and looked at his son.  "I'm trying."

"Not a whole lot from where I'm sitting."

"I'm doing the best I can, son.  There's only one of me."

"Dad, do you realize you missed my school play?"  Horatio stiffened at that. "Uncle Speed was there. Auntie Calleigh was there.  You were in the office doing paperwork.  You also missed open house.  I know exactly where I fall against your job anymore.  Unfortunately I'm not young and cute like I used to be."  He went back into the kitchen to get something to nibble but Speed sent him back out after a few minutes break.

"I did not do those things on purpose, Xander."

"Then buy a desk calendar."

His father glared at him.  "You don't have to be smart about it.  I'm apologizing."

"It's worthless if it'll happen again.  Isn't that what you told me?"

"Have you ever known me to not keep my word?"

Xander nodded. "You didn't come to open house.  You promised you would."  He sipped his water.  "Uncle Speed came instead."

"You did?"

"You didn't."  He gave him a look. "Eric and I flipped a coin and then I handcuffed him to his locker so I could go."  He went back to chopping stuff.  "He had some pretty decent artwork this year, Horatio."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You were working on that child murder," Speed admitted. "You were focused and didn't realize you hadn't eaten dinner.  As a possible solution I would offer getting someone else into the lab.  I'm going to be out for months and that would give you an extra hand so you're not doing so many hours.  When I come back I can take over some of the paperwork for you while I'm stuck in the lab."  He gave him a look and then went back to cooking.  "Calm down, Xander."

Horatio looked at his son, seeing how tense he was.  He moved closer but his son glared at him again.  "It was not intentional."

"Still happened," he said into his water glass before taking a drink.

Horatio took the glass and made his son look at him.  "I was not aware I was doing it.  It will not keep happening unless it is a matter of life and death."

"You mean like you not wearing your vest?" Xander asked.

Horatio sighed.  "That's a matter of circumstance.  Sometimes I don't have it when I need it."

"Then put it in the hummer."

"I would but then I need it at work," he offered.

"Maybe you should change jobs, dad.  That way you're not in danger like Uncle Speed was."

Horatio looked at his son.  "No one is going to hurt me, Xander."

"Two of the kids in the seventh grade said you were going to die when their daddies shot you."

Horatio slumped and shook his head.  "It won't happen."

"It did to Uncle Speed."

Horatio looked at him.  "That was a rare occurrence, son.  It is not the common, average day for us."

"I realize that.  It doesn't mean the bad guys don't want to get you back for figuring out that they're bad guys and putting them away.  Or else I wouldn't have spent a week at Grandma Salas' last year after you got a phone call."

"Why did you not talk to me about these things?"

"Because you don't listen to me or talk to me.  I'm not cute anymore."

"You're still cute and young, Xander."

"Maybe you should have another baby, Dad.  That way you can hold and coddle someone again."

"I can do that to Speed and you both if I wanted."

"No you can't."

"I can so."  He pulled him closer to hug him. "I'm sorry."

"Seeing is believing, Dad."  He got free and went back into the kitchen but Speed made him come right back out.  "Fine."

"Now is not the time to hide and retreat, Xander.  Now's the time to work out an agreement on how things should be," Speed told him.  "Lay it all out for him.  Tell him what you need for him to change and let him talk to you about them.  That way you know what's got to happen and what doesn't."  Horatio took him out onto the porch so his son couldn't escape this time, sitting down with him to work on the problems they were having.  Speed looked up. "Don't usually believe in you but can you maybe kick him in the ass?  And no, I don't mean the kid this time."  He went back to browning the meat and garlic, adding the onions to it.  Xander slunk back in and gave him a hug.  "Done talking?"

"I needed a break."

"It happens.  Make some more water and bring him some.  Tell him dinner's in an hour."  Xander nodded, making ice water for them both, then bringing the glasses out.  His father took his and they went back to talking but Xander was across the porch again.  His father made him come closer and sit with him.  Horatio did good with people in pain.  He put the meat into the oven and got to work on some vegetables.  Then he went to sit and read for a bit.  Xander hadn't gotten to finish the first Harry Potter book and he wanted to see how it ended.  Even if it was a bit simplistic it was well written and a good read for an easy night.  He kept an eye on the family on his porch and the kitchen, getting up now and then to stir stuff.  When it was nearly time he whistled and handed Xander plates.  "Set the table."

"Sure."  He went to do that.  His father got the glasses and silverware.  "What're we having?"


"Cool.  I had twinkies for lunch."

"Why didn't you eat?" Horatio asked.

"More money for the comic shop."

Horatio rolled his eyes and sighed.  That was for a later discussion.  For now, he had to go back to being a better father.


Horatio walked into Speed's bedroom later that night, having tucked the sleeping boy onto the couch, his usual napping spot if they talked into the night.  "You probably shouldn't have gotten between us."

"You'd rather be out right now driving around the city hunting him?"

"No," he admitted, sitting on the foot of the bed.  "I had it, Speed."

"No, you didn't."  He gave him a look.  "Was Xander listening to you at Eric's mother's house?"  Horatio shuddered.  "He nearly ran out again, right?"  Horatio nodded, looking down.  "So I gave you the space you needed to do that calmly and rationally but also gave him someone he could retreat to for some calmness.  Because you're not.  Not at the moment and especially not earlier."

"He ran from me."

"Do we know why?"

"Do I do the same thing to others?"

"I see you most every day," Speed reminded him.  "It says something when the patrol guys give him a birthday card and know not to get him one with puppies."  He slumped and nodded.  "You're doing the best you can.  It was okay until recently.  It's just recently that it sucked ass and you got caught up in the cases.  It would've been fine if it wasn't for that shit with the asshole."

"True."  He shifted closer and Speed held up the covers but he shook his head.  "I can't, not with him out there."

"Horatio, he's walked in on us cuddling twice now."  He got a horrified look.  "You were asleep once.  The other you were playing with my neck.  He gave me this gentle, pleased smile and disappeared to play on the back porch with the radio on.  You complained that the radio was too loud if I remember right."

"Crap," he muttered.

Speed smiled and pulled him in for a kiss.  "If he wonders he'll ask.  Right now he's happy that you're happy and now he's content as well."  He took another kiss. "But you could use some stress relief.  You're nearly vibrating."

"What did you have in mind?"

"Take off your clothes, let me get a towel.  I'll do your back?"  Horatio smiled and nodded, closing the door with a glance at his son before stripping down and laying on top of the towel Speed put down.  Warm, slick hands came down to work over his back, slowly kneading all the tension away.  "Are you taking tomorrow off?"

"The Chief suspended me for three days for hitting Rick."

"What did he get?"

"He got told he was lucky Yelina wasn't pressing abuse charges for her and her son and if he ever went near her again he was going to lose his badge.  I asked that he include Xander in that since I found out he had said things to him too.  The chief was livid.  He likes Xander."

"Everyone who knows Xander likes Xander but one patrol guy."

"I don't want him near Xander anyway.  He's wrong somehow."

"He is.  So, anything else get discussed?"

"I'm going to be putting up an opening for a trainee."

"Thank you."

"I should have earlier."

"Yup, but life gets in the way sometimes.  The same as sometimes cases get in the way of life.  He knows it has to happen now and then.  What about getting a secretary?"

"I asked, the Chief said he'd cut my budget by twenty percent if I tried."

"Then bring some home for after hours."

"I'm hoping the new tech will cure most of the problems.  How's your shoulder?"

"A bit sore but I haven't done anything all day."  They both heard Xander moving around but he went into the bathroom and shut the door.  Speed checked the clock a few minutes later and sighed, getting up to talk to him.  He found him asleep on the toilet and checked his forehead. "Not good, kiddo."  That woke Xander and got a startled reaction.  "It's all right. You fell asleep in here.  Clean up and go back to bed, okay?"  Xander nodded and he left him alone.  The boy wouldn't let anyone in the bathroom with him, hadn't since he had finished potty training.  He tucked him back in and kissed him on the head. "You're a bit warm, want some tylenol?"

"I'm okay," Xander said quietly.  "Sorry I got you up."

"I was still up and talking to your dad about the new guy he's going to hire."  That got a grin.  "Go to sleep, Xander."  He kissed him on the forehead again then went back to his room, closing the door again. "He's a bit warm.  He was sitting down when he fell asleep."

"I'll make sure he's okay in the morning," he promised.  Speed laid down next to him.  "I wiped off my back so we could sleep."

"I'm all for a cuddle."  He could feel that Horatio put back on his boxers.  A frail cover in case the kid came in but definitely not stopping any nefarious plans he had.  He cuddled in and stroked a hand over his lover's cock, making him hiss and arch into him.  He grinned.  "Mine?"

"Cuddle away," he moaned.  Speed let out a small cackle and went to play with him.  They'd gotten this far before but Horatio had kept them at this level.  He started to move down but Horatio stopped him.  "I want to."


"A prude about being blown?" Speed teased.  Horatio blushed but nodded.  "You've dated some very fussy women, Horatio."

"It's what my mother taught me, Speed."

"Sure.  We can leave that off until you're ready to think about it."

"Haven't yet."

"Maybe we'll talk out it in a few weeks."  Horatio smiled and nodded. "Did you tell everyone you were suspended?"

"I told Frank, he can tell everyone tomorrow."  They both heard Xander get up and run to the bathroom this time.  "Sounds like the flu."

"Yes it does," he sighed, getting up to pour the kid some cold water while Horatio went to baby him.


Speed looked up as the Chief walked in looking confused.  "I'm the secretary for the moment.  No, you can't cut our budget or else Xander will kill you and let Eric dive after you."  He got back to work.

"Why can't Horatio do these?"

"They don't allow laptops on Xander's ward."

"Excuse me?  He's in the hospital?"

"He started to throw up last night, wouldn't stop, and ended up puking blood," Speed agreed.  "He's at Mercy on 2 South."  That got a shudder. "He'll be fine. They're making sure it's not an ulcer or something."  He called everyone on a conference call.  "It's me.  We all know Xander's in the hospital, right?  Horatio's with him and using his suspension to deal with him puking blood?"

"He okay?" Eric asked.

"Should be fine.  They ruled out an ulcer by four this morning.  They're thinking he's got the flu and ruptured something when he couldn't quit heaving.  Yelina, you might want to watch Ray."

"I will," she agreed.  "Where is he so they can visit tonight?"

"2 south, Mercy.  Horatio's not allowed to use his cell or laptop while Xander's in there so I'm doing secretarial duties.  You guys need shit, I'm in the office temporarily.  Also, Horatio's going to beg for a newbie to take some of the burden."

"I said he could," the Chief reminded him.  "I won't let him have a secretary but I will let him have a new tech.  It'll be cheaper than the overtime this department has."

"To cut out our overtime we'd need two, not one," Speed told him.  He pulled out a basket and put it onto the table. "This is this week's paperwork.  This is why they thought Xander might have an ulcer this morning."  He looked horrified.  "Most of it's sign and pass on crap but it has to be proofread.  The same as each report does."  That got a groan.  "Plus some of the more serious arrest files as well.  I can only stand this shit for so long, Chief.  So please, two techs and a secretary part time?"

"One tech and a part timer," he relented, walking off shaking his head.

"So you guys pass word around, all right?" Speed ordered.  "I'm going to relieve Horatio for dinner.  We'll play nicely and he'll quit growling for a while."  He hung up and got back to work on the backlog of paperwork.  With cases the way they had been no one had time to do these things.  Some of these reports were months old.  A while later Calleigh brought in another stack. "Gee, thanks, really," he said dryly.

"Now I'm caught up.  Eric's doing his.  Frank told Alexx and she's already over there loving on Xander.  Did they get it worked out?"

"Took a few hours but yeah," he admitted, looking at her.  "This crap got in the way for part of it.  Some of it was Xander wanting and needing him to move sooner than what was going on.  I'm hoping the new tech will help the hours some, especially when I get back."

"We can only hope."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "Get better sooner and pass that onto Xander.  I'll see him tomorrow since I'm coming in late."  She walked out again.

Eric carried in a larger stack and put it down with a groan.  "Mine, Cooper's, and Valera's backlog.  Just sign.  We already proofread."

"The last time we did that the DA read it in open court and the judge laughed because the report sounded like Xander had written it in first grade."  He got back to work.  "We'll have a part-time secretary soon."

"Good!  Maybe she'll type reports?"

"Doubt it.  She'll be doing these things and filing, Eric."

"Fine.  Maybe it'll be someone nice for Horatio to see?"  Speed gave him the look of death and he caught a clue.  "Really?"

"It's new, no you can't have details, and if you mention it to *anyone* he'll kill us both.  I don't want to make the kid mourn me."

"Sure," he agreed, nodding. "I get that."  He walked off smiling and happier.  It looked like Xander had a super fussy, scruffy, grumpy mommy now.  It'd be good for him.  Even if Speed did teach him how to ride his bike.


Xander looked over as someone came into his hospital room, raising an eyebrow.  "Dad's in the bathroom.  Who're you?"

"I'm one of the guys who he's thinking about hiring to fill in while Speedle's on leave but I was told to bring all the folders so you two could go over them," he offered.  Horatio came out of the bathroom. "Lieutenant.  I was told to bring you personnel folders."  He handed them over.  "Plus to introduce myself.  The others will be coming in to guard the two of you now and then so you can conduct informal interviews and not have to leave his side.  I've got the door tonight."  He nodded and walked out to stand guard.

"Why do I rate a guard?" Xander asked.

"I do not know," he admitted, opening the door.  "Which threat is it this time?"

"Um, sir, you hadn't heard that there's a hit out on you?" he asked quietly.  "Your former teammates on bomb squad had to go undo the one on your porch."  Horatio moaned.  "So we'll be guarding you.  That way you can talk to us, see if you can stand us, and talk to us when your son's asleep.  That way you don't have to leave his side.  The Chief also told Speedle he was a bad secretary who made bad coffee so he had to pick someone to do the paperwork for him since he's on leave."

"Thank you...."

"Wolfe."  He shook his hand.  "Masters in Chemistry with an emphasis in Trace, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Wolfe."  He went back to sit beside his son.  "He's bending over backwards."

"He knows he's in trouble for not stopping the man twat."  His father looked at him.  "I could use more creative names."

"Please don't, son."  He got to reading his dossier.  It had a lot of qualifications he wanted and needed.  The other folders were less promising.  "Has anyone else applied, Mr. Wolfe?"

"Not that I'm aware of, sir.  I only know one other person who could inside the department.  I've called and told him but he's out with a broken leg so I'm not sure if he's sent you a letter of interest or not."

"Thank you."  He went back to reading his folder.

"Can I see?"

"No.  Not personnel folders."  He looked at his son.  "You can interrogate him if you want."  That got an evil smile.  Which meant his son was starting to feel better.  "Hopefully we'll get you out of here soon."

"Hopefully," he agreed. He snuggled down into the bed, looking pathetic when the nurse came in.  "Must I have the shot?"

"Yes," she said patiently.  "Now flip over like a good boy."

"He hasn't thrown up in two hours," Horatio told her.

"Good!  He still has to have it so we make sure of it."

"But it makes me pee and I really don't need that," Xander complained.  "Please?  Just tell the doctor I haven't been throwing up?"  She sighed and went to do that. She came back with the shot.  "Damn it."

"Tough.  You get two more too."

"That seems excessive."

"They're vitamin shots, Lieutenant," the nurse said patiently.  "He's out of whack."

"You eat a good breakfast and dinner.  How are you that incomplete?"

"I don't know," Xander admitted.  The nurse gave him a look so he sighed and flipped over, yelping when she stuck him.  "Can't you be gentler!  Aren't I in enough pain?"

"Sorry, has to get into the muscle, Xander," she said patiently, finishing the injection then opening an alcohol swab to clean the area.  "There we go."  She capped the needle and helped him onto his back.  "Have you had anything to drink?"

"It ran right through him," Horatio offered quietly.  "Those things really do make him want to pee a lot."

"They do to some people.  Let's feel lucky the doctor didn't order a catheter."  He shuddered.  "Okay, let's try some juice for dinner.  Apple or orange, Xander?"

"Orange."  She nodded, going to get him some.  She brought back a small cup.  "Can I have more than that?"

"If you keep it down."  She handed it over and he gulped it, and they waited.  Half an hour later he was throwing it back up again.  "So much for that."

"He managed to keep down water," Horatio told her, stroking back Xander's hair and helping hold him up.  "It's all right, we'll figure it out."

"It's the stupid shot," he complained between heaves.

The nurse sighed and went to make notes. "No blood this time," she told the shift supervisor.

"Good.  Why does he have a guard?"

"I don't know.  Officer?"  He looked over.  "Why the guard?"

"Death threat and easier hiring of an additional tech," he said.

"Okay.  Thank you."  She looked at the man coming up the hall with the covered thermos. "He can't have that."

"He's never thrown it up in the past, woman."  Speed walked in and helped tuck Xander back into bed, kissing him on the forehead.  "I've got some of Grandma Delko's chicken soup."  Xander whimpered.  "Without anything in it."  That got a smile from Horatio.  "So you can have a few small sips, see if you can hold it down, okay?"  Xander nodded, taking the thermos cup of it.  He drank it slowly and they waited.  An hour later he got another one.  The nurse came in.  "He's keeping this down."

"He didn't keep down orange juice."

"Ow!  That stuff hurts when you throw it back up."

"He wanted that over apple juice."

"I'm glad it wasn't grapefruit then."  Xander grinned and finished that soup.  Speed settled onto the bed with book one.  "Let's see, we were in chapter nine, right?"  Xander nodded so he got down to reading to him.   He marked their spot when Xander fell asleep, kissing him on the forehead again while the nurse checked him over.  "He still puking blood?" he asked quietly.

"A little bit at the end but he bit his tongue," Horatio admitted.  "I couldn't tell if it was from that source or not."

"We'll have to see," the nurse told him.  "Now, death threat?"  Horatio shrugged.  "That's fine.  At least he's a polite guard."  She walked out.

Horatio handed over the personnel folder.  "That is who is guarding us.  All the candidates for the new spot are our guards."

"Makes it easier on you.  I coopted one of the receptionist pool to proofread so all you have to do is sign stuff.  Plus there's a new requisition on the desk as well."  He handed it over and Horatio whimpered.  "I know it'll blow the budget but that one broke."

"I've got a grant request in," he admitted, putting it into his bag.  "If we get it we can replace two of the hummers and update the others."  That got a smile.  Xander blinked up at him.  "Want to talk to the new guy?"

"Sure," Speed agreed.  "I'm training him, right?"  Horatio smiled.  "Ooooh, I'm feeling a sudden rush of power."

"You three are all training him, but they sent me people who were better in Trace, Speed."

"Sure.  Yo, Wolfe!" he called.  He came in.  "First, relax."  He relaxed, no longer at parade rest.  "Good.  Do you have any affiliations that will make your life a living hell in the lab?  Stalkers, reporters, anything like that?"

He coughed and nodded slightly. "There is a reporter who knows me and might try to use me.  I'm going to try to be careful with her."

"Which?" Horatio asked.


"Ah, the blonde bitch," Speed agreed.  "Sleep with her?"

"That's a bit personal."

"Wolfe, the lab is a family," Speed told him.  "Not only do we do things together, we all get to pick on your current girl or boyfriend and we get to nag Eric about how many he has."

"Once upon a time we did.  It was over a long time ago."

"Do you clean your gun?" Xander asked.

"Every day.  I'm a bit OCD."

Horatio looked at him.  "That's more than a bit but that's not usually a bad thing in this line of work.  We work very long hours.  Do you have anything that can make you run home at a moment's notice, like I do?"  He pointed at his son at the curious look.

"No, Lieutenant.  I'm single, no kids, nothing like that.  I have a cat.  They thought it'd be good therapy.  He's going to be bald soon when I shave him."  Xander smiled at that.  "He sheds."

"All creatures shed.  Daddy complains about hairs on his suit too," Xander told him.  "Since I'm in there often how do you feel about teaching me stuff?"

"Personally I don't think you're old enough to be in the lab itself yet, Xander.  Teaching you things is fine but you're probably about the right age for the next troublesome growth spurt.  We don't want an accident with the chemicals so I'd keep you in one of the lesser labs to teach you things until you were at least thirteen and had some chemistry training.  That way you can't get hurt.  Not being a parent I don't have more than growth charts and developmental classes to go on so unless you're a chemistry whiz I'd let you watch in fingerprints, AV, QD, or any of those labs."

"Which is about where I stand on the issue," Horatio admitted, looking at Speed.

"He followed me in and followed orders when I had him in Trace."

"Good.  In a few years he can intern if he wants."  He looked at him. "Do you have any other specialities?"

"I can about name the formula for most cleaning products.  I'm good with weather and water patterns.  I'm good at doing hands and knees searching.  The cat makes me search out cat fur that way.  Would Xander like a cat?"

"No," Horatio said, shaking his head.  "A dog some year but no cats."  That got a pout from his son.  "Have more soup, son."  He looked at Ryan again.  "How do you deal with people?"

"Now and then not very well.  I do tend to take things personally as well."

"Then this job will rip you apart emotionally now and then," Speed told him.  That got a nod.  "At least you're realistic."

"I try."

Horatio nodded.  "That's better than some.  You're on my second interview pile.  Now, this death threat?"

"Not a clue, sir.  No one told me more than there was one and there had been a bomb on your back porch."

"Interesting.  Who told you that?"

"My shift supervisor.  I'm not sure who told him but I do know Kerns isn't in there but she's coming in next.  He just called.  She'll be taking over for me in an hour."  That got a nod.  "I'll go back to my post."

"Thank you, Officer Wolfe."

"Welcome, sir."  He went back to his post.  He nodded at the woman coming in. "He's in there with his son and Speedle.  Am I on dinner or relieved?"

"Dinner.  One hour.  Go."  He switched out and she leaned in, handing over her folder.  "Sorry, heard late, Lieutenant.  Speedle.  Sir."  She went back to her post.  She watched the nurses come in to give him a shot, shaking her head at the whining.  Kids were troublesome.

Xander leaned out.  "Dad said to come in when Officer Wolfe gets back."

"Sure, kid."  He looked around and snuck out.  She gave him a look and stopped him, putting him back inside the room.  "Not allowed to wander around the hospital."  She heard Speedle laugh.  She shook her head when Ryan came back ten minutes early.  "You've got ten minutes."

"I'm back.  Go ahead."  She went inside.  He listened to her ask if she was being interviewed with the child present and Speed's answer of 'he's the future boss'.  It was kind of cute.  She didn't do too great.  He looked around then texted his buddy when she came out and was standing there.  "Texting Rogers," he said at her curious look.  "He wanted into the lab too."

"I thought he was a ballistics person."

"He can do trace and other things.  We all can."

"Oh."  She shrugged. "Have fun tonight."  She walked off shaking her head. Maybe she'd rather be a detective.  It seemed a lot easier than working in a lab with Caine's son hanging around and twelve hour days.

Ryan's phone rang and he looked at it.  "Crap."

"Answer it," Speed called.

"Wolfe, I'm on shift," he said quietly.  He listened then nodded.  The nurse gave him a dirty look.  "Rogers, we're interviewing now.  Caine's son is on 2 south, at Mercy.  No, puking blood by the rumors.  He's interviewing now.  Get your hopping butt down here."  He hung up.  "Sorry."

"No cellphones.  They mess up monitors, Officer."

"Yes, ma'am, sorry.  Won't happen again."  He turned it off and slid it back into his pocket.  Speed opened the door.  "Rogers will hop down here, Speedle."

"That's fine.  We're trying to talk the Chief into giving us two so we don't have more twelve hour days unless they're necessary.  I'd like to have two days off in the same week sometimes."  He looked at him. "You know it's long hours, that it's a stressful job, and that you'll hate yourself sometime?  That you'll have to arrest kids who did stupid shit, that sometimes you'll feel more sorry for the murderer than the victim?  That you still have to detach and your temper cannot come out, ever?"

"The last one will be harder," he admitted quietly.  "I'm more prone to righteous anger than anything else."  That got a nod.  "The others are hard but I've had to do that before.  Arresting a wife who was defending herself because her husband pressed counter-charges.  Arresting people who defended themselves and someone ended up dead.  I had to arrest one woman who killed the man raping her," he said very quietly, looking at him.  "On the way in I told her exactly which public defender she should ask for and if she could afford them to go to Jenris instead.  That she might even take her case at a lesser rate if she had to because that was a bad situation."  That got a nod and a smile.  "I don't like having to do it but the law speaks and I've got to follow it.  Even when I want to beat someone for it."

"Good.  We sometimes manage to help in those situations.  Did you take her to the ER?"

"Yup.  Called my boss personally to tell him what was going on and that she needed medical attention so I was going to put her into custody and take her there first.  He agreed and called one of the DA's about it by the time we got in there.  She ended up getting a deal for probation but her lawyer got her off on self defense, as was right."  That got a nod.  "Kept it out of the media as well."

"Good.  I'm liking you more and more, even though your OCD will drive us all nuts."  That got a sheepish smile.  "You know you're going to be in mud, blood, and gross shit, right?"

"It happens and then I shower, a lot."

"Okay.  The other guy?"

"Rogers.  He's hopping right now.  Broke his leg and foot in an accident.  Not his fault, someone slammed into his cruiser."

"Ow.  I heard about that wreck while I was in the hospital."  He heard Xander getting sick and went to help.

Wolfe settled in for a long wait, nodding at his friend.  "Knock first.  The kid's getting sick again."

"Sure."  He tapped then leaned in.  "I can wait, Lieutenant."

"Thank you.  Sit."  He sat down and waited patiently, even getting up to move something off Xander's bed so they could tuck him back in. "It's not the soup."

"No, that was the juice they want him to drink," Speed told him.  The nurse came in.  "He's keeping down the soup but anytime he drinks the juice he gets sick."

"Hmm.  What about water?"  Xander moaned and held his stomach.  "How thin is that soup?"

"It's chicken soup without anything in it and it's a bit heavier," he offered.  "He was just throwing up water and juice."

"For the next hour let's try just plain water okay?"  They nodded.  "Then we'll try an hour with just the soup if he can't keep that down."  They nodded again.  "Good."  She walked off to make more notes.  One of the nurses looked over her shoulder.  "He's not keeping down the juice or the water.  He's keeping down the soup."

"Probably made by a grandmother," she offered.  They heard someone getting loud in there then it got quieter and Wolfe snickered a bit.  "The kid?"  He shook his head.  "Interviewing?"

"He's passionate about his desires."

"Ah."  They went back to work.  They didn't have a full floor at the moment, it was nice.  They did have parents come out of a room fighting and Wolfe glared until they quit fighting in the halls and slunk off.  When they came back later and the father had a gun, he arrested them both on the spot, much to their daughter's amusement since she clapped and cheered him on.  The officer interviewing at that time walked them out and took them in when she went.


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