Horatio walked into work four days later, looking around. "He's out of the hospital. Speed's babying him today from our couch." He looked around. "Where's Wolfe?"
"Getting a stain out of his shirt," Eric admitted. "He scared Calleigh and she splashed tea on him."
"Okay. So we've all met Mr. Wolfe?" They all nodded. "Good. He's our new trainee. Eric, he is a bit OCD. Go easy on him."
"Yes, H. Did he and Speed get along?"
"Not terribly well but well enough. I've also got an idea of who I'm hiring for the next open spot we're allowed." That got a smile from Calleigh. "That way we can all work decent hours. The new secretary?"
"Cried at the pile of reports she had to proofread for you," Calleigh offered. "But she got through the whole stack and yesterday's meager offerings too." Horatio smiled at that. Ryan came out drying his shirt. "There you are."
"Better. He quit throwing up, finally. He's letting Speed baby him." He smiled at him. "Welcome to the lab."
"Thank you for this chance, Lieutenant. Who am I working with today?"
"Eric." Eric nodded and took him back to see if he was proficient in the labs. "Play nicely," he called after him. Eric's swagger said he was going to haze the rookie. Eric gave him a smug look. "Speed wasn't that mean to you your first week, Eric."
"He made me go through an unflushed toilet by hand, H. Yes he was." He smiled sweetly at Wolfe.
"I got hazed as a rookie on patrol," he sighed. "I can stand it here and I'll punch you if you get too bad. How about that?"
"Try it," Eric snorted but he was still smirking. Wolfe smiled back. "Fine, we'll work it out." They got to work on an open case.
Calleigh looked at Horatio. "I don't know who's worse today. Eric didn't get any in the last week and you're tired." She walked back to her lab.
Horatio went to his office to sign things. He had a whole stack on his desk with a sign on top saying they were ready to be signed. His secretary leaned in a few hours later. "Come here." She walked in. "Your name?"
"Marisa, Lieutenant. I can see why you needed me. I did write down some words to have one of the techs make sure they were spelled correctly. I did also hand back two of Delko's reports because he misspelled his own name a few times." That got a small smile. "Those are all proofed for you. The DA is groaning at the backlog when she came in yesterday to see why she didn't have a report for a case yet. She said your son was interfering with the running of the lab and I let Calleigh answer that allegation for you. The Chief would like a call when you have a moment, and he did say not to use the speaker phone. I don't make coffee and I couldn't find the correct filing cabinets."
"Only some of these get filed. Some get delivered," he admitted. "I can manage my own coffee. It lets me get down there to make sure people are doing what they're supposed to." She smiled at that. "It's not usually this bad."
"I figured it was backed up due to Speedle being shot. He made the chain of command very clear to me, Lieutenant. He also said I had the honor of helping keep some of the females off you since a few new ones are trying?" He let out a soft moan. "My girlfriend would be proud of me if I did."
She smiled and nodded. "Of course. Your phone messages are under your phone. Detective Salas wanted to know how your son was when I walked past her. Frank was nibbling on a breadstick and muttering. He didn't look happy with a case. Eric warned me about those. Is the new guy single?" she hissed. "I know someone who would like him."
"As far as I know. You can ask him." She smiled at that. "Give me ten more minutes then I'll have things for you to deliver."
"I don't drive, sir. I take the bus."
"They're in the building. The DA can pick up their own." He got back to signing what he needed, handing over that stack. "To Evidence. That's down on the first floor..." She headed out with that stack. He got to work on the reports, skimming them. He signed off on them and they went into a pile for the DA at reception. She could call over there and let them know they had a stack to pick up. The rest he went through more slowly while she delivered. One was making his head hurt so he looked at his phone messages and called the Chief first, leaning back to listen to him. "You wanted to speak to me, Chief?" He smiled and nodded. "He's better. He hasn't thrown up in ten hours so they sent him home this morning. Speedle is. Doing the same as my son did when he got out of the hospital." He smiled.
"Actually, he sat on his lap and read to him, sir, so Speed's doing it back to him. They're finishing book one of Harry Potter and moving onto book two if he's that awake. Why?" He listened then nodded slowly. "No, they tested him for poisons and chemicals. No, they did it, I didn't have the lab run it." He rolled his eyes. "I'm quite sure, sir. Why?" He blinked. "Why would they want to do that?" He shook his head. "No, actually I was hoping for the other grant so I can replace the one broken hummer, add one so we can spare the older models, and then update the rest. One needs an engine overhaul again. One needs totally replaced. It's been in three accidents. No, people running into it. Eric calls it the trouble magnet one. No, not mine, sir." He covered his face and listened to him complain. "That's why I was going for that other grant, sir. Exactly. So we wouldn't have to and if I had anything left I'd use it to up my budget so I could hire a second trainee." She came back and he waved her off, getting a nod and she closed his door. "Thank you for the secretary. She's efficient." Someone tapped and leaned in. "No, Eric."
"Have to. Calleigh and I are going out on a case with the rookie." That got a nod. Eric closed the door behind him.
"Sorry, Eric telling me there's a case. No, I don't want a redesign. An updating but not a total revamp. Why?" He shrugged. "While that's nice, why? It's functional right now. It's not too grungy and personally I'm happy with the lab as it is. We just need some upgrades and the corners scrubbed. You knew it was going to happen some day, sir. We haven't had one to the hummers since my second year here and we haven't updated the lab since the year I took over." He smirked. "Exactly. It needs to be done. I'm doing that right now. Marisa?" She leaned in. "Can you write grants?"
"Haven't but I can check a book out of the library and learn."
"Please. I've got three I've got to write." She nodded, going to look up titles and see if they had one in the CSI reference section. "She's finding a book. I don't want a lab revamp, sir. Just an update. As Las Vegas proved, that much glass can be dangerous. Their tech is still healing from the explosion out there, sir. Yes, I do know the cause. Faulty equipment met a sample and they exploded." He rubbed his forehead. "I'd rather they updated equipment, not the structure. If it's that much then they can replace the non-working hummer and the badly damaged one, sir. It should come out about the same." He smirked. "It should. Especially if we upgrade the computers in the back at the same time." Marisa came back in with two messages. He wrote a response on one and she left the other while she went to call them back. "Yes, I'm quite sure, Chief. Because it's comfortable now. Even if it is a bit dingy in places. That's more the cleaning crew." Ryan walked in with something then backed out. "Aren't you on the scene?"
"We were heading out and the hummer broke down in the parking lot. That's why Eric made me bring you that." He left again.
"Sir, one of the hummers just quit in the parking lot," he sighed. "I'm sure we can go back to using personal vehicles as well. I'm sure Speed would enjoy taking his bike to some scenes." That got a moan of complaint. "Now, sir, unfortunately I've got to do that. Tell them the revamp of the equipment is welcome. The building itself is not. Tell them to replace the hummers instead. Thank you anyway." He hung up and went to see what happened. Auto detail was there. "What happened this time?"
"Engine blew, Lieutenant. We see more of this one than we do the others for anything but gas."
"I'm trying to get that one retired. Can you use the other broken one to fix this one?"
"Can. It'll take us a few weeks."
"As soon as you can please." He walked off shaking his head. He took the tylenol packet from Marisa's hand. "Thank you." He walked in and took it with his water and got back to work signing and calling people back. One of them was a pleasure. "Mac." He put him on speaker. "What's going on?"
"Our new cold case unit came across two with your name on them. They said one was a bit personal so I thought I'd call to tell you they were looking at the death of Xander's mother." Xander had gone insane when he had went up there for their last crossover case and even Mac had smiled at the ball of energy his son had turned into. "They want to talk to you about it, Horatio. There's something strange going on."
"I'm just back today after being out with Xander. He was vomiting blood and in the hospital."
"I heard. Calleigh called me back the first time for you."
"She never told me."
"I told her it wasn't critical and to leave me as a note on your desk. I figured you had paperwork backlogged."
"With Speed having been shot, I came in to a four foot stack of reports that had been backlogged," he admitted. Mac whimpered in sympathy. "Thankfully they got me a part- time secretary and she proofed them all for me. All I had to do was skim, sign, and hand off."
"I need one of those."
Horatio smiled. "Speed told the Chief he was my secretary and the Chief told him he'd look bad in a skirt and made crap coffee." Mac snickered. "Do they need us to come up?"
"Maybe for a weekend or so," he agreed. "Again, nothing critical but something strange was going on and they're not sure what. If you want I can take it over as a favor."
"If you want, Mac. I know you've got plenty on your plate."
"Don't remind me, please. Let me grab that and we'll talk in a few days. Tell him I said to feel better and Stella would hug him if he was closer."
"He ran from her last time, Mac. Said she was a scary woman and I wasn't allowed to date her." Mac laughed at that and hung up. He smiled and hung up on his end. Then he went back to the paperwork. One was still giving him a headache. He answered the phone. "Horatio." He listened to her tell him who it was. "Thank you. Always put him through or transfer him to my cell." He took the transferred call. "Horatio." He listened then nodded. "That's acceptable, Monsignor. No, he's at home on the couch with an injured tech. He'll be fine." He smiled. "Thank you for your concern. We're not sure. They know it wasn't an ulcer." He frowned. "Why was he behind in English?" He nodded at that. "I remember seeing it that morning. No, there was some family stress at that point. No, it was solved. You can assure his teacher we handled that issue and it won't happen again. How is Ray Junior doing?" He smiled at the compliments of everything but his temper. "His father had one of those too. I can hopefully be there after school with her. If cases are willing, Monsignor. Thank you." He hung up and took his water with him, going to find Yelina. "Busy?"
"Only slightly. Why?" She smiled at him. "How is he?"
"Better. He's home now. Speed's finishing Harry Potter book one." That got a smile. "He started reading it to Speed when he got out. The Monsignor wanted to talk to us this afternoon about the boys."
"What did Ray do this time?"
"Nothing much. They're both a bit behind at the moment. Xander's last english paper is on the table if I remember right. He said your son was behind in science for about the same reason. He said it was nothing bad but he did mention that Ray's temper was a bit hot today. I assured him that the situation Xander asked his teacher about was handled." She groaned and put her head down, shaking it. "They were trying to protect each other, Yelina."
"They were," she agreed, sitting up again. "He'll never do it again."
"Good because next time I'll let my new tech have his missing person's case." She nodded at that. "Now, I told him cases willing so come get me when it's time?" She nodded and smiled. "Thank you. Also, Cold Case up there reopened his mother's homicide so I've got to head up to talk to them some weekend soon. Mac Taylor said he'd take it for me for now and then check with me again."
"Sure. Want me to watch Xander that weekend?"
"He adored New York," he said with a gentle smile. "He ran them over with questions. Though he did say I couldn't date Stella, his second in command, because she was scary." She smiled at that. "Just a head's up. What was the other message about?"
"I found his baby book in the closet."
"Bring it over tonight. He should be ready to play sedately by then." That got a nod and he went back to his office, pausing at Frank's desk. "Which case?"
"Speed's last one for me." He held it up. "Haven't heard anything and I'm stumped."
"I'll see who has it right now." He made note of the name and went to check on the listing of who had what. It appeared none of Speed's cases had been reassigned so he broke them up and left notes for his people. It'd be good for Ryan to help. Then he went back to his paperwork of doom.
Horatio looked at Speed when he came down from tucking Xander in. "I had to reassign your open cases."
"Damn it," he muttered.
"It's not like I'm sending you to bomb squad, Speed."
"That's good at least. I look crappy in all black." He sat down next to him. "Is that Xander's baby book?"
"It is." He let him see it. "I got him when he was a few weeks old." That got a smile and Speed went through the album. "They've reopened his mother's case."
"I don't know. Cold Case took it. Mac was checking into it for me." He let Speed cuddle, looking at the pictures. "Ray was such an asshole back then," he said quietly. "He thought Yelina was going to do everything for Ray Junior and still work. He fled the hospital while she was in labor so I got to help her through it. Xander woke up and cried when Ray did. The nurses thought it was cute." Speed smiled at that. "Yelina learned how to change diapers on Xander since we had him two months before Ray Junior was born. Shopping for him got her nursery decorated at the same time. It was happier even if I did want to swat my brother for pouting about not having the firstborn of the generation."
Speed squeezed his thigh. "Sometimes it's better to remember the nicer things and sometimes it's better to remember them how they really were," he soothed. "Hagen had to break Ray of being an asshole to the techs on scenes. He pulled attitude with Eric his first day in and Eric pointed out he must miss being single and not getting laid, unlike him." Horatio snickered at that. "He pouted the rest of the day."
"He did," Horatio sighed, shaking his head. "I didn't know what Eric has said."
"Dead club girl. That's how they got onto that subject." He turned the page, smiling at the first birthday pictures. "I remember that day. Took me two days to get the cake out of my hair." That got a smile. "You're back and happy, Horatio."
"I'm hoping them reopening the case doesn't mean they've got something on her parents. They could challenge me for custody."
"Not hardly." Horatio looked at him. "I'll lie like hell if I have to," he said quietly. "You're not losing him if they do show up." Horatio smiled and gave him a hug. "Thanks, needed that." Xander peeked around the back of the couch. "C'mere. Can't sleep?" He shook his head and got on his other side. "These are your baby pictures."
"Do you two want another one?"
"Please God no," Horatio moaned. "You were more than enough for us, Xander."
"Dad, you liked me a lot more when I was littler."
"I thought you two got that straightened out," Speed said, looking at him.
"Babies have a special appeal." That got a nod. "Besides, he got more days off then and I'd make a good big brother. I do to Ray Junior."
"You make an excellent big brother but it's not in my plans at the moment, Xander." He pulled him into his lap and gave him a cuddle. Speed went back to the beginning of the book. "That was right before your christening."
"Is that why I'm wearing a dress?" Horatio nodded. "Oh." He pointed at one. "Who's that?"
"That was my old boss," Horatio told him. "He's the man who trained me to be a CSI."
"Wow." He kept going, smiling at some of them. "I was a mess."
"That was back during your petting days," Speed told him. "You spread cake and frosting into my hair. Took me two days to get it out." Xander gave him a wicked grin. "That was also the day your father was told he was going to bomb squad. We about killed Megan for that. She nearly had a mutiny on her hands." Horatio looked at him. "We kept it from you but Calleigh and I were planning on going to 'blue flu' status. You were the only one keeping the unit running. She had most of it but not the admin stuff. You did that even then. Even on the days when you had to bring Xander in on your back." Xander looked at him. "When he first came in and you couldn't go to Grandma Salas' house, he'd bring you in on his back, using one of those backpack carriers. My first day with you there you were practicing your stealth maneuvers. He had a blanket over the carrier and you snuck out and petted me in the lab."
"You jumped and shrieked," Horatio said with a grin. "He hadn't even seen the carrier, Xander."
"I scared you?"
"I didn't think your father was petting me and your hands are a lot smaller." That got a grin. "When you started to walk you were a holy terror. You used to sneak into DNA to watch the machines run. Scared the crap out of that tech a few times. You pinched Calleigh a lot. Petted me every chance you got. You used to leap onto my back to pet me if you were being sneaky." Xander gave him a hug. "You were cute but hell on the nerves because you and Ray Junior both used to sneak around. We'd lock you two in the break room and as soon as someone went in to get something you'd sneak out."
"I remember the time Ray lost Junior and he made it outside. Seeing him with the snake and listening to Megan shriek at that was very fun." Xander giggled. "He did. You'd do something and Ray would pout until he could do the same thing. That day his father had off but he brought Ray Junior in to see his mother anyway. He lost him outside. Ray Junior picked up a snake and somehow got into the building and the elevator. He got off in the labs and walked up to the office, Megan was still the boss then," he said, poking Xander on the stomach. "She saw him and shrieked. So I had to go save her from the garden snake by taking Ray down to his mother's row and letting him show it to her. Poor Frank had to save the snake from your cousin and aunt but she went out and beat your Uncle Ray black and blue for losing track of her son." He smoothed down his hair. "Ray never lost track of him again."
Xander smiled. "She's a scary lady. I'm sure he was terrified she'd take that heavy mask off the wall and beat him with it."
"Probably," Speed agreed.
"Are you sure you don't want another one?"
"Maybe some year," Horatio offered. "Not right now. I don't want to share you with anyone but Speed." Xander hugged him. "Thank you, son. Now, why can't you sleep?"
"Mrs. Abernathy's screaming at her daughter again about being a failure."
Horatio sighed and went to listen from the back porch. Then he called CPS to tip them off. By the time he got back inside Speed had Xander down and was waiting for him in bed with only a smile on. Horatio smiled back and stripped down to join him. It was time they moved onto a higher step in their relationship.
Horatio looked at Mac as he walked into the unit. "Xander couldn't come. Speed's watching him for me."
"That's fine. I figured it'd be stressful for him. He okay?"
"His stomach's better but he and Ray Junior ganged up on some bullies so he's grounded." That got an understanding nod. "Not that it didn't help, but it was the wrong thing to do. I'm proud he didn't go for a weapon, just made fun of them until one cried and then Ray beat him." He followed him to his office, smiling and nodding at those he knew. "New trainee?"
"Level one," he admitted. He closed the door. "Aiden got so stuck she thought about tampering with evidence." Horatio nodded that he understood that. "Okay, I've got her case and what I'm finding is really upsetting."
"We thought so at the time." He sat across from him. "Did we find new blood samples or something?"
"No. Someone over there started with googling names." That got a slow nod. "When they did that with his mother's name, they came up with a personal webpage of this person," he said, handing it over.
Horatio stared at the picture. "That's her," he said, looking at him.
"No, that is Willow Rosenburg of Sunnydale, California. She's seventeen at the moment." Horatio handed it back looking confused. "On her webpage was this picture," he said, handing it over. "A Xander Harris, who is her best friend."
Horatio looked at that one. It was his son. "How?"
"I have no idea, Horatio." He looked at him. "Her webpage has an 'about me' section and she said she's the only children of psychologists. They're both only children back three generations. She said she's known Xander since the first day of school. She describes his parents as 'mean and icky' and left it there," he admitted. "If she's right, the mother wasn't a cousin."
"She's the spitting image."
"I saw the autopsy photos and found the paperwork where she had the baby. They found that but never told you. That's the same name she checked in under and it's the same year and day but different year on her forms." He handed those over.
Horatio slowly read through them, then handed them back with the pictures. "Are we thinking something extremely strange?"
"I'm not a big believer that those sort of things happen, Horatio."
"Neither am I but Xander said people who are going to die glow bright blue to him." Mac looked stunned. "He's pegged a few. He pegged my brother when he died and asked if the blue glow meant he was gone away forever as he put it back then. He pegged Speed when he got shot. That's why he went into protective overdrive and made him clean his gun. He was trying to prevent him from dying." Stella walked in and gave him a hug. "Hi, Stella."
"I heard you were up. What's going on?"
"They reopened Xander's mother's homicide case," Mac offered.
"Oh. Anything good?"
"No," Horatio said. "Just some strange things. Mac, she did say that her parents had vowed to the Goddess that they were going to kill her."
"I'm sure they did." He looked at Stella. "Close the door. Do you mind?"
"No, three heads are better than one," he admitted. "Before you ask, the ball of energy is with Speed this weekend. He's grounded for taking on some bullies with his cousin. He made them cry and Ray Junior beat them." She smiled at that. "I'm proud he didn't use the taser he got out of my brother's things." She nodded at that. "If you saw that what would you think?"
She looked over what they had, then at him. "She was ripped apart by the ME's report. No cutting marks of any kind and the injuries were consistent with tears. She obviously knew something was going to happen by the letter."
"When she came up to me she said she knew she was going to die, said it was her parents, and said she'd only be in town for three days." He crossed his feet. "That was the third day."
"So she knew," Stella admitted. "Did you confirm his paternity with later blood work?" Horatio nodded. "DNA?"
"I wanted to make sure he didn't have a family so I had Valera run it quietly for me. Is hers in anywhere?"
"With her parents I'd say the California database for the AMBER program. Or the anti- kidnaping kits."
Horatio called Valera. "It's Horatio. You know how you ran Xander's mother's scan once?" He smiled. "Do we still have it saved? Run it in all the databases out of California, including kidnaping please? Because Mac Taylor thinks he found a relative. Thank you. I'll be here. Whenever you have a free moment." He hung up and looked at him. "It'll be a while. It's been a bad few months down there."
"Is Speed okay?"
"Starting rehab for his shoulder," he admitted. "We got a new trainee to take sone of the stress off us since Xander said I loved the victims more than him." Mac snorted at that. "He had a point, I had been working some extreme hours. To an almost ten-year-old it probably seemed that way."
"Maybe." Horatio's phone rang. "That was fast."
"Horatio," he answered, listening to Eric babble. "Shit." He sighed. "Did he not get there in time? That's fine, Eric. No, he can't blame himself for that. He's still human and I didn't want him in the office. What do you mean Calleigh nearly got shot on the scene yesterday?" He blinked. "Really? Is she all right?" He nodded. "Okay. I'll be back in two days. The paperwork can wait that long. Have him take Xander home. It's not his fault." He smiled. "Xander, it is not your fault you couldn't stop him. I promise you it's not. Of course we will when I get home. We're working on that now. I know, go cuddle Speed and get some love. I'll be home soon." He smiled. "I'll tell Don Flack to write you. Danny too," he agreed, making the two techs with him smile. "Sure. You behave. Love you too, son." He hung up and looked at Mac. "One of the officers was showing up that way to him and got hit by a truck."
"It happens to them," he agreed. "I got hit last month on a scene."
"Showed up to him how?" Stella asked.
"Xander said people who're about to die glow bright blue to him," Horatio said honestly.
"Well, nothing human could've torn apart a body that way without help, Horatio. We don't know people strong enough to rip a body apart at the joints."
"We don't," he agreed quietly. "But I don't want to consider this being demonic. Even if the priest who blessed him said evil touched his mother." Mac looked at him. "Father Patrick."
"I remember him," Stella admitted. "He always did have a good feel for evil things."
Horatio nodded. "He did." He looked at Mac. "If this is the same thing what do I do?"
"I have no idea, Horatio." Horatio's phone rang and he listened then nodded and hung up. "Was it?"
"It matched her reference sample in CODIS. She read off her full name and address for me."
"Why was she in CODIS?" Stella asked.
"Apparently she's part of a small group of defenders out there. That's how it's listed in the system. The department out there had her listed. So...."
"So, maybe we are looking at otherworldly things?" Mac suggested. "If so I'll bury the case again, Horatio."
Horatio sighed and stood up. "I know someone I should go talk to about this if that is the case. I'll see you two in an hour. Thank you, Mac." That got a nod. "You as well, Stella."
"I'll tell those two to write your ball of energy," Mac promised. "Come back for dinner?"
"If I can." He smiled as he walked out, heading down to parts of the city he didn't like to remember seeing. The first place he tried was closed but the second was open. He walked into the palm reader's shop, coughing to get the woman's attention. "Is Madam Artilla still here?"
"In the back. You need the special services?"
"I need to ask a question I think she'll have the answer to," he admitted. "Tell her it's Xander Caine's father if she asks."
She nodded, going to talk to the old lady. She came out with her. "Him, Madam."
"Madam Artilla. Horatio Caine." He shook her hand. "They're reopened his mother's death and some things have come up. May we speak?"
"We may, Horatio. Follow me." She led him back to a fairly plain office. "What has come to your attention?"
"The cold case unit started with a goggle search and found someone who looked just like his mother living in present day Sunnydale as a seventeen-year-old," he said quietly. "She was nineteen when she died ten years ago."
"Interesting. Also true."
She sighed and put her feet up. "It is a strong thing when one prays to the Goddess to save a special soul, Horatio. There was and will be a battle against evil so bad that the world would have ended. Many of them out there actually. Her last one she saw her friend fall. She prayed to the Goddess to spare him since he should not have been there. He had been injured in a prior battle. He was a normal man who helped. He loved to jump in and help, withstood untold punishments for being normal, both from those he helped and not." He slumped at that. That was definitely like his son. "She prayed that the Goddess spare him when she saw him fall. She knew it would mean her own life. So he got given another chance."
"So that is my son?"
"No, now he's your son," she corrected.
"Does he know?"
"No. Nor should he ever before you ask." Horatio nodded at that wisdom. "Does that answer all your questions?"
"He sees dying people glowing blue."
"Some do see auras. Some do not," she agreed. "He will probably not be the strong Catholic boy you are," she admitted. "Some of us can tell which way you follow." He nodded his head at that. "Let him discover it. It will be up to him this time. He has no reason to jump into the old fights. He should have no memory of his last life. A dream now and then may slip through but nothing else. He is your son now and your pleasure to raise correctly."
"I do try."
She smiled. "Raising a child is always an iffy proposition."
He looked at her. "He is also a bit violent."
"He's a boy, Horatio. They're like that." He tipped his head in acknowledgment. "Almost nothing now leads back to what he used to be. The only carryover is his physical appearance and that of who his mother was."
"What if he decides to go toward a nature religion?"
"Then that feels comfortable to him. I would not press him to do so. If he's satisfied with your faith then that's fine."
"Thank you." He stood up. "Should we contact her?"
"Do you want the world to end in a paradox?"
"Not really," he admitted, shaking her hand. "What about the seeing auras?"
"He probably has enough sense not to shout it out." He nodded. "Then it is like an extra investigative gift for him. Some people go into the police because they have such gifts. Others do as I do, Lieutenant."
"Someone watches over him?"
"Some do watch him as an oddity. Only once has he ever approached one and it was a messenger for the Powers That Be. I believe the one he asked about is your spouse?"
"Much the same for you," she pointed out with a small smirk. "Keep him from talking to her."
"I will. Thank you." He left, going to walk in the park for a while. He called his son. "It's me." He smiled at the babbling going on. "Xander, I need to ask for a very important favor. I don't want you to search out your mother's family. Because there's something very wrong going on there and I don't want them near you at this point in time. I'm not sure yet, son. Exactly. I figured you did. No, she's not related." He sighed and rubbed his head. "Son. Please? Just trust me this once?" He smiled. "Thank you." He hung up and thought some more, running into Mac later that night waiting on a bench for him. "You're right," he admitted as he sat beside him.
"How right was I?"
"His mother's seventeen right now. I went to visit the only seer I know has a gift." He looked around then at him. "He was sent back to live a life of his own choice."
"Apparently he jumped in to save lives without being asked. She didn't outright say it but she said the only thing left from his old life was his physical appearance. Apparently she prayed to save him when he fell during a horrible battle."
"I didn't want to know those things happened in this day and age."
"She said they happen out there. Thankfully not here or in Miami." That got a nod. "She did say not to tell him."
"Then I'll bury the case again."
"Thank you, Mac."
"It's not a problem, Horatio. Every year we both get cases that can't be explained any other way." He patted him on the back. "Ready for dinner?"
"Sure. My treat?"
"We'll go dutch." He stood up and pulled Horatio with him, heading out of the park. "Danny wrote him an email earlier and Don was writing one when I walked past his desk." That got a smile. "How's he doing?"
"He quit sulking earlier. He and Speed were making shortbread cookies." That got a smile. "Speed's teaching him how to cook for me."
"It's a good skill to have. My mother tried but it took Claire to teach me to do anything harder than boiling things." That got a smile. "Come on, we'll hit one of the better barbeque places."
"Sure." He smiled as they got into a cab and headed that way.
Xander called his father, and Horatio was more than happy to talk to him since he was in his hotel room. "Xander." He frowned. "What?" He listened to him babble about what had happened. How he had seen John Hagen's unusual glow and not connected it. He hadn't run upstairs to get someone fast enough. "The fact you didn't know what the black glow meant and only figured it out when John went into Ballistics to kill himself isn't your fault. I'm very sure, Xander. You're only ten. You can't know everything. I'm four times your age and I don't know everything." He smiled. "I'm sorry he's gone. Is Calleigh all right?" His son told him what Eric and Speed had done for her, nodding. "Good. I like that. Sure, you and Speed can stay over with her or she can come to the house and have the pull-out couch while Eric gets the normal one and Ryan can sleep in the chair. Whatever they work out. Remember, it was not your fault.
"So? Son, even if you seen some lesser glows like that before you didn't know what it meant. You couldn't know what it meant." He smiled as Speed took the phone. "Make sure you and Eric both remind him that he didn't know so it's not his fault he couldn't act fast enough, Speed. That's more than fine. Bring her over, feed her ice cream, put her in the study if you want or in Xander's bed and he can have the study with Eric, however you guys work it out. Bring Ryan over too if he wants." He smiled and nodded. "More than reasonable. I promise, it'll be fine. He didn't know. Did anyone else hear him say anything about it?" He smiled at the 'only Frank' response. "That's fine. Frank knew when you got shot. Remember?" He nodded. "That's fine, Speed. Remind him it's not his fault and give him all the love he can stand tonight. I'll be home tomorrow night and talk to her then. Remind her she's got tomorrow off and she can call too or wait until tomorrow night, Speed. Love you too, and him. Of course. Be careful tonight." He hung up and frowned. Something about that situation made no sense. Why was Hagen depressed?
Xander looked up as his father walked into the house late Sunday. "What's going on?"
"Her family threatened to kill her, Xander." He put down his bag and his coat, coming over to sit down and talk to him. "They're not nice people."
"I found her webpage, dad."
"I want you to ignore it. Can you do that?"
"If she's family...."
He covered his son's mouth. "This has to do with why you can see auras, son. There's bad people who would kill you if they saw you." Xander slumped and nodded. "It's not that she didn't love you but she was being hunted when she brought you to me. I don't want them to get anywhere near you."
"You had Valera run the test."
"I did. I wanted to make sure you were related to them so I knew who to watch out for." Xander nodded and gave him a hug. "I know it's hard but you don't need them or the stress that would bring. Can we agree on that?"
"Sure. Until I'm older." He kissed his father on the cheek. "Can we throw Eric a party for his next birthday? He's moping about getting old."
"If he wants," he agreed, smiling at him. "Speed's is first so why don't we plan on throwing him a surprise one."
"He said we can't."
"He didn't tell me that." Xander pointed at the note on the table. "I'm the boss, I can ignore his orders." Xander giggled. "Now, shouldn't you be in bed?"
"I should ask you the same thing," he teased, heading up to his room with his cookies and milk.
Horatio walked upstairs, finding Speed snuggled in and asleep already. He stripped down and climbed in behind him, cuddling up to his back. Speed rolled over to hold him and it was nice. It was comforting. He kissed him and Speed blinked at him. "Sleep, I've got you."
"No birthday party," he mumbled.
"Tough, suck it up," he whispered back. He smiled at the growl and got another kiss. "Sleep, Speed. You'll need it tomorrow." He got wound up in the arms and legs, letting him hold him however he wanted. In the morning he hid the letter he had written Xander Saturday night so he could have it when he was older.
"Dad, can I borrow the bike?" Xander asked.
"It's not mine, son," Horatio said patiently.
"Wrong father, Dad. Mom, can I borrow the bike?" Speed burst out laughing. He frowned at him, pouting slightly. "Not like I can ask to borrow the hummer."
"It's a police vehicle, son."
"I know that, Dad, that's why I didn't ask to bring it on my date."
Speed looked at Horatio, still smiling. "Did you hear that joke? I barely teach him how to ride and he wants to take my beloved bike on a date, Horatio."
"I did. No, Son."
"Dad, it is an approved date night. I'm going even if I have to hike there and then have sex at his house." They both stared at him. "Unless you two want me to date creepy old guys with cars?"
"You can have your own car when you can afford it," Horatio reminded him.
"Which is wonderful but I only get twelve dollars a week in allowance plus lunch money and you two won't let me have an after-school job because you can't guarantee I'll be able to get there. So unless we want me to take up with someone, say, Eric's age who has a car can we maybe work something out?"
"You're too young to have sex," he said firmly.
Xander snickered. "Pull the other one, I make A's in science," he said blandly. He looked at his father. "The choice is yours. I can always go hit on Ryan again." They both shuddered at that. Ryan was seventeen years older than Xander was. "So, can I have money for a cab so we can go do more than sex? Maybe stuff like a movie and burgers?"
Horatio looked at him. "I still say you're too young to date."
"Dad!" he whined. "Not like I haven't had sex. Not like I don't play secretary for you two. Hell, I even fended off Grandma Speedle the other day so you didn't have to talk to her, Mom."
"What did she want?"
"Me to come up for a visit."
"And you said?" Horatio asked.
"That it's school time and I can't just take off like that," he said dryly. "Then I mentioned my boyfriend and she threw down the phone and ran off crying. So, can I either bum money or a set of keys?"
"Why can't you two come out here and watch cable?" Speed asked.
"Because that's lame." He gave him a look. "Would you have done that with your dates at my age?"
"No," he admitted, looking at Horatio. "He's got a point."
"Then give him the bike's keys and money for movies and gas."
"The bike's as important to me as he is to both of us," he complained.
"This is majorly unfair, guys. Ray Junior has a car."
"He has his mother's old crappy thing," Speed corrected. "It doesn't go over forty miles an hour."
"We had Eric come over to help us overhaul the engine. It goes about one forty now on the straight strip down by South Beach. We dragged it last weekend and I drive better than he does." They both gave him a horrified look. "I do." He shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest. "The choices are: a, I can go have sex at his house after hiking across the city, b, I can borrow a set of keys and thirty bucks, or c, we have to talk about me getting a car and I just bum money tonight. Which topic would we prefer because if I'm walking I've got to leave in about twenty minutes."
"You can be grounded son," Horatio said patiently.
His son looked at him. "Then you two would have to listen to me have sex with myself tonight and I can promise I'll be as noisy as humanly possible because I'm getting some tonight or I'm going to go grumpier than Eric when he had that UTI and couldn't get it up for a month without pain." They both gave him horrified looks. "I'm usually a reasonable slut, guys. Really. I play safely, there's no grandkids coming, I like boys. What more could you two want?"
"Less smart mouth," Horatio said.
"He gets it from your brother," Speed told him dryly, smirking at him.
"I think he learned it off a different source," Horatio said, staring back.
"Oh, just fuck on the floor already! Damn it it's been weeks!" He walked out, shaking his head. On the way he called Ray Junior. "Can I borrow your car and not have sex in it this time?" He grinned. "I know you're grounded. Well, ask your mom if I can have your keys. Because the guys didn't tell her I was drag racing with you?" He beamed. "Because I won't tell her about you and Kelly in the back room at the church, Ray." Ray immediately asked his mother if he could borrow the car. "Killer. I'll be there in twenty. Hiking my unhappy ass. They're unreasonable. I can't have a car until I can afford a car but I can't have an after-school job until I'm out of school. No, I promised I'd have more sex than they ever had and noisier than they did on their anniversary when they drove us out of the house," he admitted. "Tell your mom I'm cutting through the cemetery and I'll be there in twenty. Thanks, man. I owe you." He hung up and broke into a jog. He always jogged through the cemetery. He did not like them, they made him uneasy. Someone popped up from one of the graves and pounced him, fangs and funny face out. He shoved them off and kicked at them, then for some reason grabbed a branch and staked him. "Whoa," he said when he turned to dust. "Way too many horror movies." He carefully backed away then broke into a harder run to Ray's house. He ran in the back door panting, leaning down. Yelina looked at him. "Human bodies can't turn to dust, right?"
"No," she said slowly. "They never have that I've seen if they're fresh. Why?"
"Some guy popped out at me in the cemetery on my way across and for some reason I picked up a branch to hit him with it. He ran into it with his chest then he turned to dust. I'm majorly freaked right now."
Ray handed over the keys and a twenty. "For forgetting that."
"Sure." He nodded because he had a lot more blackmail material. He looked at Yelina. "That's not normal, right?"
"No, Xander, it's not. Should we call your fathers to pick you up?"
"Do you want to see me that grumpy?" She shook her head. "Then I'll tell them later when I get home at an unreasonable hour. I'll drop his car off sometime more reasonable." He headed out before she could call his parents on him and started the old sedan. He revved the engine and she came to the window, looking horrified. He beeped and waved, then backed out.
"What is under that hood?" she demanded.
Ray looked at her. "No comment." She glared so he repeated it in Portugese, Spanish, and Russian until she walked off to call Horatio and Speed. "Tell the Uncles I said hi." He dug in again. His mother didn't need the rest of her dinner and she clearly hadn't made enough for both of them. Parents should give up food if their children were starving. It was the way of the wild world of animals. So said Animal Planet.
Yelina glared toward the kitchen when she saw her plate be lifted. "Horatio. Yes, he's already gotten Ray's car and his allowance for the week." She rolled her eyes. "I don't know what's wrong with the boys. They're sixteen and I quit understanding them at fourteen. No, there was a reason I called. He said he was cutting across the cemetery when someone lunged out at him. No, he fought them off, didn't even look bruised. He was out of breath and he said the body turned to dust." It got very quiet on the other end. "No, he left before I could call but he did say he would talk to you about it later after I assured him most bodies don't. We might want to, yes. Thank you, Horatio. Now, what was he blackmailing my son over this time?" She smiled at his remark of 'his current girlfriend'. "Is that the one the nuns said was very cute and caught them mid-grope during choir practice?" Her son peered down the hall at her, giving her an odd look. "The nun told me, son."
"Mom, that was months ago, I've had two serious girls since then," he pointed out. He went back to inhaling the rest of dinner, but at least he also filled the dishwasher and started it before he went to hide in his room. His mother had scary woman ESP sometimes.
Yelina smiled at Horatio's assertion Speed knew what it was but he wasn't telling on him. So it wasn't that bad. "That's fine. Talk with him later and then get him to tell me what they put into the engine of my former car? Because it revved like an F-1 racer, Horatio. I know Ray drag raced it last week. One of the patrol officers told me. He was? Hmm. Interesting. No, they never told me Xander had been in the car and driving it."
"Only half the races we won," Ray called. "I got the cash since it was my car."
She glared toward his room. "How much did you make, son? Your uncles want to know."
"Six hundred. It's mostly in the college fund. All but two that went for gas, treats, and bribing Xander to not tell you."
She sighed and repeated that to Horatio, who snickered and said he'd handle his son. "Maybe you should consider letting Xander have an after-school job so he quits stealing Ray's car. I know you're against it because it'll take time from his schoolwork and he's having a bad year but a car is a great motivator and one good and sure way to ground a teenager since taking their cellphones only makes them pout and do dangerous things since we can't track them down. Fast food?" She smiled at his assertion Xander didn't need a job. "Horatio, he's sixteen. Remember when you were sixteen? Ray did tell me about you and your girlfriend of the moment." She could hear him blush, she swore she could. "Would you rather have him doing it somewhere you can keep track of? That way you can put a GPS chip on him to track him. I know I do." She smiled and hung up when he demanded the code to it. That was one way to get Xander his own car so Ray could have his back and she didn't have to listen to him talk about his girlfriends, the slutty things he dated. Her son needed better taste. He really did. She walked into her son's room. "Who is Xander on a date with?"
"Bob?" she asked. "He's dating a boy?" Ray looked over and nodded, then paused his game. "I suppose that's fine. Are you dating boys?"
"I let one suck me but no." She blushed at that. "I tried it, it wasn't as good so I'm back to my ladies." He grinned. "Why?"
"Wondering," she sighed. "What grade is Bob in?"
"I don't know. I never asked him. I know he's pretty cool and a decent guy. He's an artist."
"As in graffiti?"
"As in editorial comics, graffiti, and some other stuff," he admitted.
"For his school paper?" He shrugged. "How old is Bob, son?" He shrugged again. "Give me a range?" He shrugged again. "You don't know?"
"Not a clue, mom. Sorry. I met him for maybe ten minutes. He was wearing shades and a hat. Couldn't tell you." He got back to his game, concentrating on it. "He's a nice guy. He made Xander laugh and giggle, plus bat at his arm and kiss him in public." She sighed and went to call Horatio again. "Teach my boy to blackmail me," he said smugly, making his character shoot someone. "Finally! I never kill that guy."
Speed was waiting up when Xander walked in. "Take the long way home?"
"Not like I wanted to go back through the cemetery again," he said dryly.
"Why did he turn to dust?"
"That's one of those strange things that it's best you not dabble in." Xander stared at him, weight canted off to the side, arms crossed over his chest. "Your father does that impatient look so much better."
"So, vampires are real and I know Wiccans who can do the deed. Anything else real that I should know about?"
"No more cutting through the cemetery, it'd dangerous."
"Duh. Been jumped there twice." Speed glared at him. "I handled it!"
"Bob?" he asked dryly.
"He's a nice guy."
"How old is Bob?"
"No comment," he said in Spanish, then he grinned and went up to his room. Where his other father was reading. "Am I cuddling you tonight?"
"You can if you want," he offered, holding up a hand. Xander sighed and sat at the foot of his bed, making his father put his arm down and the journal too. "Yes, vampires are real. Yes, we were shielding you from that knowledge. He was probably one of twelve in the city. We'll be talking if you need to about staking him. I want a name, address, and age on Bob. Tonight."
"He's a freshman in college," he sighed. "He does editorial cartoons, limited social commentary graffiti, and other illustration work in the parks now and then for spare cash. He's a nice guy. He treats me well. He kisses great and gropes better."
"Have you two had sex yet?"
"Not into it until at least dating a month, dad. You did beat that into me already. We haven't gotten beyond blow jobs, touching, and rubbing really nicely."
"I tried for marriage."
"Eww plus not legal."
"Fine." He sat up, looking at his son. "Freshman in college?" Xander nodded. "Which one?"
"Uh-huh." He hummed. "An art student?"
"I'm not letting you take one good thing in my life away from me. Bite me, Dad. He's nice even if he is slightly older."
Horatio stared his son down. "In this state if he's over nineteen I can have him charged with statutory, son," he said quietly. "I'd rather have you date Ryan."
"Ryan said he was incredibly flattered but until he quit working at the lab it wouldn't happen."
Horatio sighed. "How old is Bob? No more games. I will be meeting him and if I don't like him you will not see him."
Speed walked in. "There's only three Bob's who're freshmen at MU, Horatio. One's twenty-one. One's on the football team and nineteen, and one's forty-three." He handed them over. "That one's in the art department and on the paper's board." He stared at Xander. "Wanna comment now?"
"No," he said, glaring at him. "He's good to me."
"I don't care if he is. If he's the older one you're in trouble and so is he," Horatio said. Xander hopped up and stomped out but Speed drug him back. "Xander, it's not healthy for you to date someone so much older," he said gently. "It can hurt you greatly."
"He's not into that! Damn it, I dumped my last one because he liked handcuffs!"
Speed stared at him. "I have no idea who you've been seeing, do I?" Xander shook his head, his lips pressed together. "Does Ray Junior?"
"Because I'm gay and his stated objectives are to not know about that. It upsets his many girlfriends."
Horatio sighed and looked at his son, then at his lover. Then back at his son. "Speed, go ask Eric."
"I tried. He hung up on me with a girl giggling in the background."
"If Eric can date girls who're eighteen why can't I date an older man?"
"For the same reason that's pathetic and you're not eighteen yet," Horatio told him. "I've told Eric time and again it's time to stop dating college girls. He doesn't listen."
"Maybe that's because he's *happy*, dad. You're not the world's morality monitor."
"I am yours," he said firmly. His son huffed and crossed his arms, leaning against his closet door.
"Kiddo, one of the big worries is that a guy his age has access to things you shouldn't be exposed to yet," Speed said quietly. "Is he giving you alcohol or drugs?"
"With Uncle Ray's example?" he asked bitterly. "Ray and I are two of the straightest kids ever on that spectrum. One of the guys in his dorm offered me a joint and I said my uncle had been a tweaker, he just nodded and left it there. Not like I'm going to go out like that."
"That's good to know but there are other worries, Xander. Including that someone that much older could be looking for someone to start an abusive relationship with."
"No, I dumped him," he said dryly.
Horatio sighed, shaking his head. "We should talk about this, son, but you still have chemistry tomorrow and I don't like your grade this semester."
"That's because I'm not into making the drugs like the teacher is, Dad. Jump off my chem grade."
"You know, I noticed the new shirt the other day," Speed said suddenly. "Did Bob buy you that?"
"I saved up," Xander defended.
"Uh-huh. For a new, hip t-shirt from the place by Miami College that we can't even get into with a warrant?" Xander nodded. "You don't make that much in allowance, son."
Xander shrugged and looked down. "I've been doing some freelancing on the side."
"Excuse me?" Horatio asked. "Freelancing what?"
"Mostly helping ink tattoos," he said, glaring at him. His father glared back. "I'm good at it." He shrugged and looked at Speed. "Plus I got asked to model for one of the art classes. Before you ask, I'm already done with that and I've only got one private time left. Since she's seventeen you can't really say shit about it." They both appeared horrified. "Did you think Ray Junior got the new engine working at Wendy's?" he asked. "Some of the drag racing profits might've went into the last payment," he admitted, thinking about it, "but maybe not. I think he put it into the bank." He shrugged. "Anyway, I did okay up there. It's kinda chilly in the sculpting room but it's nice. Some of them came out really good."
"You've been... modeling?" Horatio asked. Xander nodded. "How clothed were you?"
"Uh-huh. So you could probably afford a car?" Speed suggested. Xander shrugged. "The truth?"
"Not anything decent that I won't have to fix up and not if I want to pay insurance. See, if I could get a job I could get something that won't break down on me and afford insurance and gas."
"How much do you have saved, Xander?"
"A few grand."
"From modeling?" Speed asked. "I did a semester of doing nude modeling for art classes. They paid sixty bucks a session."
"Inflation," Xander said slowly and clearly. "Before you ask, they thought I was eighteen." He grinned. "Plus some of my pictures sold and some of the freelance tattoo I'm learning and tips from that."
"I don't like you dealing with tattoos, son. It's dangerous and you're exposed to untested blood," Horatio told him.
"I always make sure everything's clean and I wear gloves. I'm doing pretty good."
"Have you been keeping a catalog?" Speed asked. Xander turned and got into the closet, handing it over. He looked at the clothes then at him. "Aren't those my old leather pants?"
"I don't let my boyfriends buy me anything that expensive. The one time I did he wanted to do freaky shit and I wouldn't have sat for days." His father pulled him onto the bed while Speed went through his closet. "Hey, search warrant!"
"Not in this house, son. I can consent to having your room searched since you're a minor," Horatio said patiently. Speed came up with a small gear box and a plastic bag that was tied off, plus a small lock box. He put them onto the bed then went through the stuff on the shelf, coming down with another two boxes.
"Those are my pictures, put them back," Xander said coldly. Speed glared at him. "Now please." They got put back. "Thank you." He stood up. "Snoop the fuck away. I'm going to sleep on the couch so I can withstand the offer to make LSD with her." He headed down to the couch.
Speed opened the plastic bag and winced. "We need to teach him how to take care of his toys." He put those carefully aside and got into the lock box. It had a combination and it was easy enough to break into. That held the cash, a few bucks over two grand, as promised. Plus Xander's fake ID. "He only made himself eighteen. So he's clearly not going to the bars." He put it back and got into the other box. That held his tattooing gun, needles, and things. He looked at it. "It's sealed and clean, H."
"I still don't like him doing it." He closed the box and pushed them aside then got into his portfolio. Some of it was very pretty work. He pointed at one, tapping it. "Son, you did a Mala Noche tattoo?" he called.
"Not talking about those."
"You are. They've got a hit out on this family and the lab," Speed yelled.
"You'll wake the neighbors again."
The two lovers shared a look and went down there to talk to him. By the time they got down there Xander had disappeared. His wallet and keys were gone too. So was his cellphone off the charger. Horatio and Speed got into the hummer to go find him. Before he did something stupid.
Xander tapped on Eric's door, getting an unhappy person. "Can I bum your couch? My parents are assholes who believe I'm too young to do anything like make my own decisions. Again."
"I've got someone in."
"If I go to Ryan's I'll creep during the night."
"Point." He let him in. "Go use the spare room, Xander." He nodded his thanks and went that way. "You're telling them where you are."
"I left a message on the house's machine on the way over." He closed the door and got down to his boxers to sleep.
Eric went back to his date, giving her a smile. "A coworker's son. He's sixteen."
"He sounded cute." She ran a hand up his chest. "He's at the right age for strife and whining."
"He's gay before you even suggest it," he said dryly, staring at her. "And I'm still a cop." She pouted. "Tough. Go away." She huffed and walked off because he wouldn't bring Xander in as a toy for them to play with. He went to get a beer, hearing Xander already asleep and snoring. "Must've been a good date with Bob." Someone knocked on the door so he went to let the worried parents in. "He's already asleep. You should come back in the morning."
"Did you know any of this?" Speed demanded quietly. Eric nodded. "You never told us?"
"Hell no," he snorted. "I told him I wouldn't unless it's something harmful. Doing some nude modeling for art students isn't that bad. Neither is his art hobby." He sipped his beer, looking at Horatio. "Your boy's got a good eye. Maybe you should lay off him about Bob."
"I vetted him when Xander wanted an opinion. Then Ray Junior joined us for about ten with his ho of the moment." He finished his beer. "He's a decent enough guy. I did a background. One prior for graffiti and one for cashing a bad check a few years back. Nothing too horrible. He's helping refine Xander's drawing skills. Also, have we talked to his chem teacher about her LSD experiments yet? Ray mentioned it to me but Vice hasn't done anything."
"I will be tomorrow," Horatio told him. Eric nodded, then shrugged and headed back to his room. He looked at Speed, who turned and stomped out. "Send him home tomorrow, Eric. We'll be working from there."
"Sure. Lock the door." Horatio did and Eric shook his head. "They worry about the straight one when the bad boy of the two goes wild? Someone really should pay attention to the pimp in the family."
Xander was dropped off the next morning and stared at the house, huffing before going inside. "What?" he demanded.
"Eggs or toast?" Speed asked from the kitchen.
"Not hungry. That's the wrong kid. Sorta like how you two think I'm the bad boy of the two of us. I'm the straighter one, thank you." He went up to his room then came back down. "My photos?"
"On the table," Speed said, pointing. "We kept them in order but you never showed us." He looked at his son. "Your father's in the study."
"I figured he was doing the morning email." Speed handed over a plate. "I'm not hungry, Speed."
"I don't care, I'm not eating alone." He sat down at the table and pointed. "Sit, eat, we'll talk about how good you are." Xander scowled at him. "Why didn't you tell us you were doing so well in art?"
"You saw the grades, went to the art show, this is news to you?"
"Your stuff in the school art show was a lot different than your personal stuff."
"That's private. That's why I don't show it."
"Would you let me look at the second box? I stopped halfway through the first."
"Okay." He ate another bite, looking at him.
"This is some sort of reverse psychology, isn't it?"
"No, you are old enough to have some private things. Some artists feel very shy about their work. I'm not going to *make* you show me or brag about it. Or about the award we found in there."
"You got into all four of them?"
"No, I started with the oldest box in the back, Xander. Most artists have a progression to their work and I wanted to start with the earliest stuff, see how you've grown."
"Oh." He nibbled on a piece of toast then pushed his plate away. Speed gave him a look. "Feed it to Dad."
"He already ate."
"I'm still not hungry."
"Did Eric feed you or are you that upset?" They knew Xander got an upset stomach when he was upset. They'd have many bouts of holding him while he vomited over the years.
"Neither. I'm out of my growth spurts. I'm not the bottomless pit Ray is."
"Ray is," he agreed, nodding some. "Truth, who won the races?"
"I did. I drive better so he let me enter the higher yield and faster output races."
"When did you start that?"
"The day I took the hummer for a spin when I was fifteen."
"Oh." He nodded. "I remember grounding you for that."
"I remember dad letting the Chief ball me out for it."
"True, I remember that too." He ate another bite. "Try to eat anyway. I doubt Bob let you eat last night."
"You called him!"
"Damn straight I did," Horatio called from the office.
"Great, now I'll never get laid again."
"There's more important things in life, Xander," Speed said patiently.
"Not at my age."
"Cars, sex, and rock 'n' roll isn't all there is to life."
"Again, wrong cousin."
Speed looked at him. "Is there something we should know about Ray Junior?"
"He's not on drugs."
"I know that. The same as I know he changes girlfriends more often than underwear, when he wears any, and we all heard he got frisky during choir practice." Xander smirked at him. "Huh. More than once?" Xander just stared at him, still smirking. "I know, you won't nark on him unless it's something little so you can borrow his car." He finished his breakfast. "Eat." Xander nibbled on a piece of bacon, shaking his head. "Thank you. You made me think I lost my touch."
"I'm fine. Even if you two are nosy bastards when you don't need to be."
"We wouldn't be if you'd tell us stuff," Speed offered. "And if you followed orders we wouldn't be going behind your back to arrest your chemistry teacher today." Xander gave him a horrified look. "Your whole class will be taking a test and your yearly grade will be based on that."
Xander moaned and hung his head. "They're going to blame me. I'm going to get my ass kicked for this, Mom."
Speed reached over to tap him on the head. "Ray's in deep shit for not turning her in."
"He's not in Advanced Chem." Speed gave him a look. "He's not."
"His report card last semester said he was."
"No..... Ray hasn't had a science class since last year. He's in gym this year instead." Speed went into the office and came back out shaking his head. "Um, not to sound too harsh, but I think I know better than you two do. Let me see." The copy they had was looked at and he giggled. "He switched ones with Candy. Her mom doesn't believe that she'll do anything with her brains and college is only for finding a decent husband who'll be able to support you. She's in Advanced Chem with me and she's going biomed if she has her way." He handed it back. "They've been switching report cards now for two years, Mom."
Speed groaned and went to tell Horatio that, getting one out of him as well. He came back out. "Okay. Your grades were tanked because you refused?"
"Yeah, and now I'm going to get a rep as a nark and I'll never get invited anywhere ever again."
"Not true. Ray will." He grinned and sat down. "Horatio said so." He looked at him. "Eat." Xander sighed but nibbled his way through the eggs. "Thank you!" He stared at his son. "We'd love to share your love of art with you, Xander."
"Which is all right with us, but art can hide a lot of stuff."
"Or it could be getting it out of me."
"True, so how about you keep some private and brag about the rest?"
"Dad hated my tattooing."
"What about some of the pictures? The few I looked at were fantastic. I wanted to blow up the one of the bridge and the tree." Xander looked confused so he got into the box and found it, sliding it over. "That one."
"That's one of my earliest works," he said, looking at him. "I was wandering around and found it."
"It's a beautiful composition. You caught it at the best angle and the sparkle on the water doesn't overpower the black and white film. Why black and white?"
"Because that's kinda life. I've got other stuff in color."
"Can I see some of those?"
"Maybe. If you don't show the bastard in the office who believes I'm an infant."
"He really doesn't."
"I'm able to find myself a decent boyfriend. Even if he is older."
"By state law we can have him arrested and there's still a lot of worries about you dating someone so much older, Xander. A lot of guys do things like that so they can control someone else." Xander snickered. "I know, no one's ever going to be able to control you. We certainly can't now and then." He patted his hand again. "While they're busting the school and the others are taking their test cold, we promised you wouldn't study for it but I wanted to take you out to get some mats for some of the pictures I want around the house, maybe get a few blown up if you'd let us, and get some albums for the rest. Because that box isn't good for the photos."
"I can't afford the good stuff on my allowance."
"Which is probably why you took the job tattooing." Xander nodded. "I looked at your portfolio. You've got a good hand."
"Most of the time I'm cleaning up what they bring in or doing stock stuff that you copy off and paste onto their skin so you can follow the lines. I've only done a few very unique ones." He got into one of the newer boxes. "This one wasn't what I thought it should be but that's what she wanted. Then there's these four I did on one girl who gave me free will and fifty bucks every five inches. She wanted something unique." He let him see them.
"Horatio, come see." He came out of the office, looking at the tattoos. "These four are all original works. The other was the victim's vision but not his taste."
"It's beautifully done but I'm still wary of you dealing with blood."
"Like you don't at work? I take the same precautions you do, dad."
"Then I like it better." He looked at the other pictures on the table. "I like that one," he said, tapping the one with the bridge and the tree. "Can we hang that here?"
"I wanted to blow it up if he'd let me," Speed offered. He looked at Xander. "Up to you, kiddo."
"I, um... Sure," he decided. "It'll be like a gallery showing."
"Where else has some of your work? Besides the one in the church," Horatio asked.
Xander looked at him. "Why are you suddenly interested?"
"Because you're finally telling me you like art instead of letting me think it's an interesting hobby and you're chronicling my nephew, the escapades of a wannabe pimp."
"No, I've done that too." They both gaped at him. He shrugged. "She paid me a hundred bucks to tape it and take stills, guys. Not like I can pass it up while saving for a car."
"That's a reasonable excuse," Speed said, frowning a bit. "Okay. Whatever. We'll get into that with Ray because he's a slut." Xander snickered. "Or are some of his girls paying him for it?"
"I'm not real sure if one of his girls is doing it for him or not. She's a nympho, classic textbook version, and she goes to him then goes to others then back and forth. She's a nice girl but she's seriously addicted and likes pain." He looked at them. "You really want to see the stuff I don't consider that personal?" They both nodded. "You guys didn't like my art stuff before."
"I didn't like the tattooing," Horatio corrected. "I don't mind normal art. That's why I made you help with the church's community center mural." He went back into the office. "Eric said if you're letting us copy stuff he wanted the ones you took of him."
"He's the only one."
"I'll tell him you said that. Should I tell Ryan anything?"
"I've caught him a few times but no." He looked at Speed again. "You'd take me to break the bank at the art and photo shop?"
"Not break the bank but something reasonable so you could mat a few, blow up some, and put the rest into better books."
"That's going to break the bank, Mom."
Speed sighed. "Why?"
"Because the rest of the stuff is at Auntie Yelina's. I don't keep anything too personal here and she never cleans her storeroom."
"Oh." He nodded. "We can pop by there and you can put them somewhere safer since she found mice." He looked horrified. "We'll deal. A new copy can be made." Xander nodded, swallowing some. "Should we take the hummer?"
"We can't take the bike and I still don't have one." His cell rang and he looked at it. "I should probably get that."
"Go." Xander jogged over and answered it quietly, taking it onto the porch, then he nodded and hung up, typing something into his phone. He came back. "Ray asking for an answer?"
"Someone asking me to do their portrait tattoo," he admitted. He shrugged. "It's an honor." He looked at him. "We should go so I have time to sort things out."
"Okay. Horatio, we're going to pick up the rest of his photos and then go to the photo store."
"I'm coming. I'll drive." He came out, sliding into his jacket. He looked at Xander. "You can shower and change."
"I can't. I've got nearly a case of paper over there with photos." That got a nod and they went out to gather them. Fortunately he had the keys. "We're here to pick up the stuff I'm storing in the closet," he called.
"Good for you," Ray called back.
"Nephew," Horatio said, heading that way.
"Don't yell at him, he's helping her hide that she's got brains from a mother who hates smart girls and thinks they should all be put down." Horatio gave him a look and opened his nephew's door, then blushed and closed it. "Hi, Tiff."
"Hi, Amber. Ray, they wanted me to put my photos somewhere better since you've got mice."
"Only two pics got nibbled and I killed it." He came out in boxers to dig into the closet with Xander's help, handing over those things, then going into his room to get the rest. Those he handed to Speed, along with the blank paper and the software bundle Xander kept at his place. "There, go play." He slammed his bedroom door.
"Nephew, we still need to talk," Horatio called. "Since I know you're skipping today." Ray moaned. "Now."
"Can't I make her squeal first?"
"No, Raymond. Now."
"Crap." He opened the door and looked at his uncle. "Mom knows about her. She knows I'm skipping today too so I don't get blamed for the bust or caught in it. I quit science last year because I didn't wanna be in her drug ring. Xan stuck it out but I couldn't be in the same room. Yes I know you'll blame me instead of him. That way he doesn't tank his grades. Yes I heard about the test and I asked to take it as well since I can actually pass it since I've been using his books. You know I've had multiple girlfriends. I'm always careful. I'm never having children and I'm actually saving up for a vasectomy at eighteen when I can legally do that. No, you can't talk to her, yes, she's over the age of consent, and hey, it's not Bob."
"You don't like Bob?"
"I like Bob just fine, Xander. I don't like that he's an older guy." He shrugged. "Tastes may vary. Like how you like strawberries and I don't." He closed the door. "I'll be over for dinner tonight. Mom said so, Uncle H. Have a good day at the photo shop, guys." He threw the lock and the girl in there with him giggled. "Sorry, overprotective uncles," he excused.
Xander and Speed carted the boxes out to the hummer and then Xander worked on sorting some out to show him.
Speed held up one candid one of Ryan, in color and from the side, while he was working a scene. "When was this?"
"Last summer when I was gophering around the office. The scene in the park. That's probably the worst one of that bunch."
"Actually, it's kinda artistic. It captured him when he was concentrating very hard." He saw another one and peeked but Xander closed the box, glaring at him. "Sorry, can I?"
"No," he squeaked.
"Not like I don't know, Xander. Please?" He sighed and handed over the rest of them from that scene. "You take better crime scene photos than I do. If I had known that I would've let you do it last summer for me." He flipped through them, finding a few more very candid ones of Ryan bending down. He gave his son a look, holding one up, getting a sheepish look. "You wish."
"You heard that?"
"The nice old lady at the end of the cul-de-sac heard you, Xander. She called the cops on you." He found one that literally screamed Ryan to him and held it up. "I like this one." Xander blushed shyly. "Hey, H?" He came out of the house and looked at the picture, drawing in a breath. "Isn't that great? That's just so Ryan."
"It is," he agreed. "Can I see Eric's?"
"He said only he can."
"That's fine. I'll go to his place later tonight to see them." He patted his son on the head and went back to listening to his cellphone. "Looks like last summer because you lost that t-shirt in the car crash, Ryan." Xander moaned and bent forward, hiding his face on Speed's shoulder. "It's a very good shot of you while you were working. It is. Speed and I agree it's a great shot." He patted Xander on the head. "He wants to see that one and any other good shots of him since he only has bad pictures of him."
"Sure," he said weakly. Horatio smiled. "Can we please quit embarrassing me now?"
"Sure. Calleigh said she found about ten sheets of blotter in her desk. Where's the rest?"
"Ask Amber. I don't deal with that. I refused, that's why I'm flunking Advanced Chem."
Horatio went back inside to get Ray's girlfriend and talk to her about that. He found him mid-grope of her crotch and coughed. "Amber, where's the rest of the blotter?"
"You're involved in that?" Ray asked, looking down at her.
"Unlike Xander, I *need* the grade to get into college, Ray."
"Are you making it?" he asked patiently.
"No. I'm taking one of Xander's pictures and printing out sheets for her. She's doing a paper study right now," she admitted.
"So where's the stored product?" Horatio asked. "They only found ten sheets in her desk."
"Have you checked under her desk? She's got a little floor safe in there. That and in her trunk somewhere. That's all I know. She likes the heavy mix with the stationary grade paper, Captain." He nodded, repeating that on the way out. "I know how you feel, Ray, but I needed that good grade. I was kinda hoping you'd help me study tonight even though we're not supposed to."
"We'll see. What picture?"
"The lone tree on the hill he uses for his tattoo stuff."
"He'll kill you."
"I changed and colored it and he changed his image when he found out."
"I wondered why he was making new cards." He shrugged and dove back in. "No more?"
"Not unless I can't pass any other way."
"Sleep with the sub in History, Amber. He'd give you all A's like he does Tiff."
"Cool." She kissed him and flipped them over. "You need a bigger bed."
"My mother said I can't so I wouldn't have sex at home."
"Wanna use her bed?"
He looked up at her. "Do you really want to be carved into little, bitty chunks?" She giggled and shook her head, getting back into the mood and the swing of things.
Horatio walked back out. "You changed your card?" Xander sighed and pulled out the new one. "I liked the tree better but this one's prettier."
"Thank you." He let Speed see it. "So, can we go to the photo shop?" They nodded and let him bundle everything but those two pictures of Ryan back up. Xander got into the back and Speed got in to drive so Horatio could talk to him. "More ranting?"
"No, but I do think we should talk about what other jobs you're doing after school. Since you apparently have one part time already."
Xander shrugged. "A guy's gotta have pocket change, Dad. Does this mean I can get a car?"
Xander nodded at that and he waved at Eric when they drove past him. "He doesn't look happy."
"He had to kick the girl out this morning because she wanted you too," Speed said dryly, nodding at him. Eric nodded and they pulled into the photo shop together. Ryan pulled in a few minutes later. "What ones did you want from Xander?"
"He took most of a roll of film of me one day in the park."
Xander got into the back by going over the seats and started to sort photos again, giving Eric a small stack. "The better ones. The others turned out less than great." Eric shrugged so he gave them to him and one of Calleigh that he especially liked. Her in ballistics looking at a new gun with this half-smile on her face and her hair pulled back.
"I want to put that one in the house and can we have that one?" Speed said, plucking one of Eric's out of his hand. "On the family wall?"
"Make a copy," he snorted. "Momma would love that one too."
Ryan leaned in. "Where's mine?" Xander handed over those two. "The others?"
Xander looked at him. "Those are the best. Unless you want the three really goofy ones." Ryan shrugged so he got into another box and handed them over. "I want copies of all those. Eric's too."
"Sure." He smiled at them and Speed laughed at the one of him sleeping at his desk. "I do kinda look like a little kid in that one," he agreed. Eric looked and laughed too, nodding. The others he was blown away by. "Xander, are you going to major in art?"
"It'll stay an expensive hobby."
"How expensive?" Horatio asked.
"Um, dad, do you think I only made two grand since last year?"
He let out a soft moan. "What camera are you using?"
"My new one I bought." He pulled out the bag with his camera and lenses, letting him hold it. "You break it you buy me a new one."
"I will." He looked at it. It was better than they used. "Pawn shop?" he asked hopefully.
"Internet. New cards came from the pawn shop. Film comes from here for the other one." He got back to his sorting, handing Speed a box. "Any of those can be blown up. The rest are being stored."
"Okay. We'll see when we go inside. How many do you have?"
"About six thousand," he admitted sheepishly. "Sorry."
"That's all right. We'll get safe boxes to store the ones you don't want to put into albums and look at. We'll get some albums, and these we'll see what we want to blow up and mat for around the house." He walked him inside. "How many will we need albums or portfolio pages for?" The man behind the counter smiled at Xander. "Yeah, we caught his art addiction. He's damn good."
"I know. I judged some of his work at the city wide show last month." He handed over an envelope. "The rest of your credit since you wanted that instead of cash."
"More like need. I've got these that can be blown up or matted that way. I've got three hundred I want in albums and the rest to store in safe boxes because they don't like the acid free boxes I'm using now."
"We can do that. Sort out what you want blown up and matted. Can you mat?"
"I've seen Bob do it."
"I'll get you the book on how to do it properly, Xander." He went into the back to do that, coming out with some boxes for him and a few new portfolios. "These do?"
"They're all in that size," Xander admitted. "I've been using Ray Junior's computer again."
"Eehh, you use what you have."
Speed went through the box and handed the ones he adored over. "Those need to be blown up to put onto the wall." Horatio added a few more. "I've got another view of that one, Horatio." He looked then left it and added one of Eric's, one of Ryan's, and the one of Calleigh. "Any of Yelina and Ray?"
"They won't let me."
"We'll make them sit down to do one then, huh?" Speed said with a smirk. "What about us?"
"It's at home." Eric brought in the boxes from the back of his hummer that he had been storing and the ones from the house. "Wow. You're prepared."
"About time, Xander." He patted him on the back of the head. "Can I get a copy of that one?" he asked, pointing at one. The guy nodded, making a note of it. "Thanks. I'll have others for you to copy and mat for me later." He grinned. "My mother will coo in happiness."
Xander dug out three of them, letting him see them. "Those are my favorite ones."
"You snuck in to get us while we were sleeping?" Horatio asked. Xander nodded. "Well...." Speed glared at him. "Fine. They'll be in the bedroom but fine." Xander hugged him. "Anything for the living room?" Xander dug into another box and came out with one of Speed in the lab and Horatio at a scene, hands on his hips, looking into the distance, his sunglasses on. Plus one of Speed squatting down at a scene, camera in hand. "I like those." He added them to the pile and looked at the other boxes. "We weren't supposed to know about the ones at Eric's?"
"Not really. Some of them are a bit more risque and if Auntie Yelina found them she'd scream as she burned them." He pulled out one of Ryan sleeping in the break room, making Eric moan at the composition of it. "See?"
"I do." He gave his son a hug and Ryan came in to look at it, giving him a gentle smile and a light head shove but the took it with him. "We do get a copy of at least one of them, Ryan."
"Of course." He handed over his favorite, the one that Speed had liked first. "That one good?"
"That one's excellent," the art store owner offered. "I wish you had shown ones like this in the show. You would've placed higher than the sniper series you did, Xander." He shrugged. "Speaking of, someone wanted to know if you were willing to sell?"
"I wasn't fond of them, that's why I let them be shown. The most private things not even these guys will ever see if I have my way." That got a smile and he went to call someone, then came back to see what size they wanted and how they wanted them framed or mounted. Eric went with regular frames. Ryan had one really good one blown up slightly and professionally mounted. The rest got the usual frames. Horatio and Speed looked at the frames for the ones they wanted copies of but the few that were getting blown up were given better ones for wall mounting. Xander sorted the other boxes into things for the portfolios and things for the new boxes, getting an understanding look. He used the last twenty bucks of his credit to get some new film because he needed it. They went home to slide things where they needed to go and Xander read over the mounting book but his parents had decided to have them done by the guy at the store so it was a professional job.
Horatio stared at his son as he worked. "You've shown in the All City?" Xander looked at him and nodded. "I was there, I don't remember seeing your stuff." They had went because Xander had wanted to go. It had been a good exhibit and Xander had been bouncy and happy.
"I was in the second part, the real life category." He went back to work. "I don't think I have more than film of the whole show, sorry."
"You took film of it?"
"Of the judging so I'd have the criticisms to go over later. That way I wouldn't have to be there. I took it through a small camera I planted." He went to find the tape, coming down with the DVD. "Here you go." He went back to arranging them in time order. That way he could see the progression. A few more he set aside as things that could be shown and he wouldn't care. Horatio looked at him. "For the next show. Speaking of, I think I've got some on my camera right now that I'm not totally thrilled with." He checked his watch. "I've got to do her tattoo after school too." He went to shower and change clothes, then headed out with a wave and an, "I'll be back in a few hours, I'm doing a castle with black turrets," and a slamming door.
"We have no idea what the boys do," Speed admitted. He found Xander's stuff on the DVD and motioned him over with a waved hand. "Come see." He froze on each picture. "He took them like he was doing a sniper shot," he said in awe.
"He did. They're well composed." They moved slowly to each one and watched how it progressed. Xander had excellent taste in who he shot. One had a corner of another person in it. "Probably couldn't cut it because it'd be off size." At the end of his they rewound it and listened to the criticism of their son, including that he had included another person. They moved forward and found another picture in there that had to be his. Speed zoomed in on the name tag and smiled at the simple card that they had been shown earlier. He went back to the wider view. It was a beautiful portrait of an older homeless lady looking at a house with kids playing. They both held in a small sniffle. At the end was the awards ceremony. Xander got one for that one and a smaller one for the sniper series. That was something to brag about. Xander came bouncing in just after dinner and got back to work on the portfolios so they had the table back. Horatio came over to hug him. "They were very well done, son. I'm proud. Especially of the single one." Xander frowned at him. "The homeless woman."
"I thought you were talking about the flower." Horatio looked confused so he got up to find it on the DVD, letting them see it in pause. "That one was mine too. The art teacher wanted me to do it." He went back to his task, setting some more aside. "Can I borrow the computer to go over what's on the camera later?"
"Sure," Speed agreed. "Hurry up or put it aside until later. Dinner's in twenty or less." Xander carefully moved things out of the way and onto the couch. "Thank you. How did the tattoo go?"
"Very well. It'll be beautiful once I finish coloring it in. She couldn't stand more than the outline today. The guy I'm training under thought it was great work and he took some stills of it in outline then we'll do color." He beamed. "She's very happy with it so far. As long as I don't screw up the coloring part it'll be okay."
"Good!" He gave him a kiss on the forehead. "Go clean up." Xander nodded, going to do that. "I want to see pictures when it's done."
"It's going on my portfolio of tattoos," he called from the bathroom behind the kitchen.
"They were good work," Horatio agreed, coming in to set the table. They had both decided to nibble while he ate. That way they could still talk to him while he ate. He found the 'show' stack and put them carefully aside as well. "I moved the ones you were putting aside to the tv." Xander put them onto the couch, just farther away, then took his camera into the study to plug in and look. Horatio followed once the table was set. "That one's nice," he said, pointing at one of the thumbnails. Xander enlarged it. "It's an odd view but it's nice."
"Not really. It's almost an Alice in Wonderland view of that subject." He printed that one anyway and went on. It went into the show stack too. A few more got copied off and he loaded the rest onto a DVD of stored images. Horatio looked at him. "The ones I print out go onto a different one. It's in the bank." He shrugged and Horatio reached over to download them onto his computer. "You sure?"
"I am." He kissed him on the head. "Anything on film?"
"Yeah but I've got to finish the roll first. I think there's another good shot of Ryan in there actually and maybe one of Alexx too." He shrugged and went to blow the rest of it on the sunset and the ocean. "I'll do them in school tomorrow after the chem test." He sat down to look at the food then at his father. "You still think I eat like Ray."
"Ray apparently needs the energy," he said dryly. "Did you talk to Bob?"
"Tried, he hung up on me." He got to work on eating quickly.
"Chew and slow down," Horatio ordered. "Whatever you don't get done tonight you can do this weekend since you'll be home."
Horatio looked at him. "We'll talk about jobs and cars this weekend but I want you home."
"Ray and I were going to go to the new art thing at the museum."
"We can all go."
"It's for teenagers."
"What better way to let us understand," Speed ordered. "Unless you're embarrassed to have us there?" Xander slowly shook his head. "Then we'll go as a family, work wiling." He grinned and added more vegetables. "Eat."
"Do you have anything in that one?" Horatio asked.
Xander snickered. "It's by nationally known artists, Dad. Of course not." Speed gave him a look. "I'm not."
"You're not but you could be if you wanted to do that instead of being a lab geek," Speed offered.
"I could go work for a gun company too, doesn't mean I will."
"Point." He pointed at the plate. "I'm tired of nagging. Don't make me tell Alexx."
Xander finished his dinner and went to work on the sofa for now. Speed went to look up the exhibit, coming out with something printed that he gave to Xander. Xander looked at it then at him. "What?"
"You can put something into the exhibit if you wanted, Xander."
Xander blinked at him. "But it'd travel."
"It would," he agreed. He kissed him on the head. "How about that one of the gridlock in front of the mall? That's pretty much your hormones talking." Xander gave him a shy grin and put that one aside, leaving a spot for it. That and two others were saved spots in the portfolio until he could get them copied. "We have got to arrange the walls again," Speed pointed out.
"I'm no good at interior design, sorry. Not quite that gay," Xander quipped. "I can ask Bob if he's talking to me again."
"I think we can manage this without Bob," Horatio said, getting up to help Speed arrange the pictures on the walls. A few got put onto the bookcases in the study since they spent a lot of time there. The family wall got shifted around to make more room. The team pictures got moved into the study so the candid ones could be put up there instead. Yelina walked in. "Hi."
"My son is a whore."
"He doesn't get paid," Xander said while he worked. She took one from him. "Hey!" He took it back. "You'll wrinkle it!" She sighed and walked off. "Meany!" He made sure it was crease free and put it into the album once he had wiped the skin traces off it. He was wearing special gloves to do this. Horatio came over to look. "Like rare books, skin oils can damage photo paper. Especially the printer version since that's all I had." He put in another one then had to switch portfolios. That one got put down undone just in case he had to go in and anchor any that were slipping. Speed got a pair of gloves and helped him, getting a smile. "Can you check them for slippage?"
"Sure." He sat down to do that so he could look at them all. One did slip and a piece of the putty that they had picked up earlier was put onto a corner. "Should I zip it?"
"Let me see it first," Horatio ordered, sitting down with Yelina to look through it. "Is this the older stuff?"
"Yup, sale of black and white film." Speed looked at him and Xander gave a pointed look at Yelina, getting an understanding smile. The rest of them got done faster and then the boxes got filled and marked with dates. The others weren't bad but since his dad had sprung for the really good ones he'd gladly use them, even if it was mediocre work by his standards. Speed checked the others for slipping pictures, having to putty a few more into place. Horatio took them when he was done.
Yelina came over and gave him a hug. "I'm impressed, Xander."
"Thank you. Dad said I had to catch you and Ray unaware to get ones of you too."
"Whenever you want, dear." She patted him on the head. "Why isn't Ray in chemistry?"
"Because we knew she was making drugs last year. That's why he dropped it suddenly." She sighed. "You know damn well we're not going there. That's why I'm flunking; I didn't want to help."
"The test tomorrow should solve that," she promised, kissing him on the head. Ryan walked in with a large box. "What's that?"
"Things we had blown up, matted, and put into frames for the walls," Speed offered. "You picked it up?"
"I got greedy for mine," he complained. "Eric got a copy of Calleigh's for her. She squealed and danced around." He smiled at Xander. "You have a very good eye." He gave him a gentle hug. "Can we see the rest?" The boy turned shy and shrugged. "Can I look?" Horatio pointed at the stack of portfolios. "In order?"
"Oldest is on the bottom, Ryan." He came over to help Speed hang up the new things, taking the graphic ones upstairs.
Ryan looked over. "This one of me in the break room, Xander...."
"Is staying in there."
"Fine." He went back to it, smiling at some of the choices he had made. They were all very unique and like the boy. "How did my neighbor's tattoo go today?"
"I did the outline and it came out fine. The colors might be a bit tricky but she couldn't sit there anymore so I'll do those soon."
"Sure." He went backward through the stack, smiling at the older ones. "I like the black and white look. Maybe you should do some more in them." The boy blushed again. "What? Hiding some?"
"A few of the more risque ones. I did some with strippers." He found them and let him see them.
"I like those. They're good shots."
"They didn't turn out as good as I had hoped. The really good ones they confiscated for promo photos. They didn't like us taking pictures in the club."
"Should've asked permission."
"I did but then the boss got drunk and rescinded it."
He nodded. "That can happen." He put down the last one and gave him a hug. "You are incredibly gifted. No matter how bad you think you are. Even the crappy ones are pretty decent and above anything I can do, and I do it for a living. Got it?" Xander nodded, staring at him. "Good boy." He kissed him on the head again then went to look at the family wall. "Switch mine and Eric's." Speed did that. "It's a bit more balanced and shows the progression through time better."
"The Lifestyles of Teenagers show is this weekend," Horatio told him. "He's going to try to submit to it."
"Good! I like that," he agreed happily. He grinned at the boy and went back to work. "Talked them into a car yet?"
"No," he moaned. "Dad said this weekend."
"That way you know your Chem grade and you're not worried about the test," Speed ordered.
"Thanks for reminding me."
"No studying. They wanted to know what you really knew."
"Most of the kids in there can't remember a single chemical without studying," he complained. "We'll blow the curve."
"Then they deserve it for helping her make drugs and not studying," Speed ordered.
"I'm not sure I can, Speed."
Speed looked at him. "What project were you working on last time?"
"Making my own batch of photo developer."
"What's in it?" Xander rattled it off. "And those are made of?" Xander broke it down by solution. "You won't have a problem."
"Just because I can recite it doesn't mean I can write it."
"You can ask for a verbal test maybe," Ryan offered. Xander relaxed at that. "Tell them you're better at doing it verbally than at writing it. It'd be a lot less easy to cheat too."
"I guess." Horatio gave his son a look so he forced himself to quit worrying before he saw supper from the wrong side. "We're missing one?"
"Two," Ryan admitted. "They're not done yet." That got a nod and Yelina came over to look, smiling at the family wall. "Isn't he amazing?"
"Much better than my son the slut."
"He's Eric, the next generation." Speed snickered at that, nodding he had pegged it.
"I'd rather have him married."
"Well, when he slips up, you can make him," he assured her with a smile.
"He's saving up to get snipped," Xander told him. She glared at him. "Not my choice and they're reversible these days if he finds someone he likes."
"My son will die if he does," she promised. She shook her hair back. "When did you want to do ours, Xander?"
"I tend to catch you unaware and take them when you don't know," he offered. She smiled at that. "I've got one of Frank somewhere but I can't find it."
"I found a box in my closet. It may be in there." He went out to her car to get it. She looked at Horatio and Speed. "Maybe he should do this instead of going into the lab."
"That's his choice to make," Horatio agreed. Xander came back in with one and a box. "Frank's?"
"Yup." They slid it into a spare frame they had picked up and Horatio smiled at the one of Frank doing something at his desk. Probably playing a game by what it looked like but you couldn't quite tell. "Space Invaders," he explained. He went up to his room to put the stuff into his closet and under his bed, then looked around. "Did I leave my tattoo stuff there?" he called.
"Yes," Speed called back. He walked in and shut the door. "Risque stuff?" Xander sighed and pulled out one, making him blink. "Did you do that tattoo on her ...." Xander grinned and nodded. "Didn't that hurt?"
"Yup. It was Eric's girlfriend too so he was in the background complaining that she wanted a labia tattoo." Speed shuddered. "Then the guy teaching me put in a new hoodie ring and she went home to be very delicate with it for a few weeks." He pulled out another one. "That's one I helped learn on. I only did some of the coloring because the guy doing it was in mental agony."
"I can see why!" He walked them downstairs, showing Horatio. "He helped color the ball one."
Horatio winced. "I was hoping that wasn't where it looked like it was."
"Yeah, but he only got to help color. The other was Eric's girlfriend and Eric saw him working."
"We really should ask about the tattooing thing more often."
Ryan glanced at them. "I've met her. She was showing it off at a club I was at one night. He did good work. Must've hurt though."
"Hmm," Horatio agreed, handing the photos back with a shudder. Speed took them back upstairs.
"Does Xander have any tattoos?"
"No," he admitted. "Unless it's hidden under his bikini trunks, no." Ryan smiled at that. "I haven't changed his diapers since he was three so there's been no reason for me to look there."
"Hey, Xander?" Ryan called. "Do you have any?"
Speed burst out laughing a minute later and came out. "It's a hidden message one and it's very tiny, on his left hip. They must've used an extra small needle for that one."
"Yes, they did, and it hurt like hell," Xander agreed. "Night all!"
"No studying," Speed reminded him.
"I'm not. I'm going to sleep so I can face my doom tomorrow."
Speed came down the stairs shaking his head. "He does excellent work."
"He does," Horatio agreed. "Some of the pictures are stunning." He looked at his and Speed's favorite, which they had gotten blown up bigger than the rest. It was one of his early ones and it was lonely looking but you could also see that it didn't have to be that way because it was a springtime picture. So it gave you hope at the same time. They smiled at each other. "Good night, Yelina and Ryan."
"Night, boss. The other two should be done later this week." He left.
"We'll talk this weekend about Raymond?" They both nodded so she left as well. It was time she asked her son what he liked to do - besides have sex and drag race his car.
Those two sat on the couch to stare at the pictures, just cuddling tonight. The phone rang and Horatio answered it. "Horatio Caine." He listened. "Do we know this person?" He smiled. "Thank you. Can you weed out which are his and which are Xander's?"
"If that's about Terror, I'm going to kill him," Xander called. "I'll make sure you can't find the body."
"Thanks, kid," Speed called back. "Go to sleep."
Horatio listened and smiled. "Thank you. We'll have a talk with him later." He hung up. "Xander embeds his photos with a small image on the right bottom corner." Speed got a magnifying glass and looked at it then smirked. "Is it the same as his tattoo?"
"No, it's his logo." He let him see. "His tattoo is pretty scrollwork, one of the ones with the message hidden in the swirls. Like the pictures that're one thing and then another." He winked and went back to the couch to cuddle once his mate got done.
Xander walked into school the next morning and heard someone brag that his stuff was being judged for the teenager show. Xander coughed as he walked over. "That's fine. We're submitting evidence of how you stole a few too, Terror." He smiled at the horrified look. "By the way, I embed an image into mine. We can prove what I took." He walked off again, heading to his locker then the photo lab. "Hey," he said, winking at the teacher in there. "We do realize Terror plagiarizes?"
"I hadn't. How can you tell?"
"Anything after May of last year I embedded an image into the corner." He gave her a magnifying glass and let her see. "That's why I do so much printing off the computer and I take the negs to the shop I like so he can do it for me." She gave him a stunned look. "Yeah. Since I heard he's trying to submit some of my work for me, I'm going to kick his ass."
"I'm going to do a review. Since May?"
"Anything after the picture of the shoes." She nodded and took his current roll of film to let the machine develop them. "Thank you." She nodded again and he went to homeroom, finding him in there throwing a fit. "Then prove it's your work. Produce negatives or digital files."
"You can't," he sneered.
"I can. I keep every single image I snap on disc. Separated out into things that got printed and things that didn't. My dad has them." He sat down and looked at the teacher coming in. "Since I was kept home yesterday, do we know when I'm taking the chem test?"
"This afternoon, after school."
"Crap. I've got stuff I promised to do. I'm working on someone's tattoo tonight, Teach."
"We'll see. Do you have a study hall?"
"Chem since we're probably not having it. I saw the tape on the door." The photo teacher leaned in. "Did they come out crappy?"
"No! The strip came out beautifully, Xander. Terror, can you please come with me?" He stomped off. "Sorry. Small case of plagiarism." She followed, taking him down there to go over each of the photos with him. She had wondered if he and Xander had shot together a few times. She would have to get the boy to speak up more often since it kept happening.
Xander walked into the house after school, smirking happily. "Terror got expelled for plagiarizing nearly everything in his portfolio. The tattoo was done and the one spot I screwed up because she flinched was able to be corrected. She said she liked it better anyway and she didn't blame me for making her flinch." He showed off the new pictures he had done, making them smile. "I have added another two hundred to the car fund. Why does everyone look upset?"
"How did the chemistry test go?" Speed asked.
"Very well. I did it both ways and they taped my verbal one. Why?" he asked cautiously.
"Because you're three hours late," Horatio reminded him from behind his journal.
"I went to finish the tattoo."
"You didn't call."
"I did call, I called your office because I didn't realize we were off today too."
"Oh, we're off for a while," Speed said bitterly.
"Because of something I did?"
"No, because someone decided to bomb the station," he sighed. "Got the foyer. It's structurally unsound at the moment." Xander dropped his bag, looking horrified. "Pick it up if it's got the ink stuff." Xander did that, checking that case to make sure it hadn't broken open. "Thank you. So we've got a bit of paid leave coming."
"Gee, if only it was summer." Horatio smiled at that. "What about the hummer?"
"They took it back from Horatio to give it an overhaul and update too. He's pouting."
"No wonder I didn't see it." He kissed his father on the forehead. "You like riding behind him anyway, Dad. You could use the vacation too." He went to put things up, finding his lockbox with the money on his bed. "Did we get in there to count it?"
"Yup," Speed called. "That way we could look at some online listings." Xander came down and hugged him. "No dragging with yours, Xander."
"Not even when I need extra cash?"
"No, son," Horatio ordered calmly. "Too many young men die of that stupidity every year."
"Sure." He gave him another hug. "Do you want to hear the other reason I'm late so you can make excuses now or should I wait until they file charges?" They both stared at him, the journal being slapped onto the table. "Madison's boyfriend is in the ER. Ray found him forcing himself on her and called me to help. Ray probably could use the ER, he still doesn't fight that well. I waded in and beat the shit out of him for hurting Maddy and then not letting Ray win. I drove them home in his car, so it's outside, and I told Suzie what had happened and where he was, plus who he was. She called someone about a restraining order against him. Madison was sobbing in her bedroom because she thought he loved her so Ray and I sat down to give her some facts of life and then got Suzie to give her a realistic talk about how she came to be. She's traumatized but now she knows why no one in the family takes medicine when we need it. So I'd expect cops later if he presses charges."
"If he does, we'll support you. That's a righteous beating," Speed promised. Horatio looked at him. "You'd have killed him."
"I would have."
"I kept myself from killing him. When Ray called she was screaming 'no get off me' in the background. That was before the tattoo and after the test by the way." He sat down and looked at them. "And I could really use dinner tonight, mom. Please?"
"Going," he agreed, smiling as he went to warm up Xander's food for him.
"Is he living?" Horatio asked quietly. Xander nodded. "What did you do to him?"
"Broke his jaw, nose, both his hands, and then I mashed his penis with my Doc Martin's." He grinned sweetly. "Then I kicked him in the ribs for hurting Ray when he deserved the beating. Since she was dating Terror...."
"The same one who got expelled?" Horatio asked. He nodded. "How did they meet?"
"Ray Junior at the mall. He even told her he was an asshole, didn't matter. She's got bad taste so far. This is the second guy we've had to beat the crap out of for trying to force her." He shrugged. "I'm about to wade in and set her up with some nice women."
"It might help if she swung that way," Speed agreed, bringing him something to eat and a fork. He went to make a delicate call and check. "Hey, Eric, it's Speedle. Has anyone gotten an assault victim case this afternoon? Probably at the ER. Named Terror?" He nodded at that, listening to how the CSI refused to take it since it had been Ryan. "Did he pass it on? To who?" He nodded at that. "Thanks." He hung up and called her. "I'm not butting in but I wanted to know what went on between the kid and Terror. I heard his side, I want the other kid's side." He listened the nodded once. "Is he going to be able to press charges? We will, we just wanted to know if we needed to call the attorney tonight or not." He smiled. "Thank you. No, not pushing. Just let me know if they do so we can bring him down, okay? Thank you." He hung up. "Ryan got it originally so he had to hand it to Melina, who said he deserved it and the DA doesn't want to press charges but his mother's whining about it. Even after hearing why. She's trying to blame Madison." Horatio went into the study to talk to Suzie and her. He looked at Xander. "I'm proud, even if you do get probation for kicking his ass." That got a small smile. "But never again, right?"
"Not unless I need to." He finished his dinner and went to do his chores, including taking out the trash. He waved when Ryan pulled in. "I heard they gave it to you. I don't want favors."
"Good. I heard Speed called." He looked at him. "He did what?"
"Ray found him pressuring her into doing it in an alley so he called me for backup. When I got the call she was screaming 'no get off me' in the background. I came out to help since Ray isn't the best fighter in the world and got him for Maddy then once in the ribs for Ray. Then we took her home to talk with her and her mom."
"That's fine. We'll probably need a statement from you." Xander nodded, handing one over. "Who wrote it on official letterhead?"
"Frank. I ran into him while I was coloring the tattoo and he made me give him one just in case." Ryan smiled at that. "You missed it. They totally overreacted to the news of me having Bob."
"Do I know Bob?"
"Eric met him for me."
"Ah." He walked him inside. "Frank apparently took a statement earlier. The only thing they might be able to use to force the DA to press charges is the fact he might lose his tiny, steroid shrunken penis due to the injuries from him stomping in them."
"I ground it into the ground," Xander admitted. "I didn't mean for him to lose it."
"He'll never rape again," Speed offered. "Madison okay?" he asked Horatio.
"She's fine. They're having a long talk about Suzie's past and what happened to send her there. She's mad at the boys for beating him that badly and Suzie showed her why it was wrong of him to do that with the scars on her arms. Madison was getting sick when I hung up. So she'll be fine."
"So what's this I hear about him having a new boyfriend?" Ryan asked.
"Bob. He's a forty-three-year-old freshman at MU in the art department. He's a nice guy according to Eric," Horatio admitted. "I still made myself very clear about my desire to castrate him for touching my sixteen-year-old son and how he had better not be hurting him in any manner." He looked at his son. "I'd rather you dated Ryan. At least I know he's a decent man." He went back to his journal.
"Eric vetted him before we got serious," Xander complained.
Ryan looked at him. Then he clapped Xander on the back. "You need some better taste. I'm too old for you and he definitely was."
"Sometimes older guys make more sense to me. I hung out with you guys too often. All I understand are Ray and you guys." He shrugged. "It's not like he's like my first boyfriend, who wanted to get into some really kinky shit, or the last one who believed in handcuffs a bit too much for my pleasure. I'm wondering why leather daddies love me." He headed into the kitchen to get something to nibble.
"Define really kinky shit?" Speed asked after sharing a look with Horatio. Xander gave him a look, then went back to digging in the fridge. "Bottom crsiper drawer, Xander. I got you some strawberries."
"Thanks, Mom." He came out and kissed him on the cheek then hissed a web address in his ear. "That's his stuff." He looked at Ryan and grinned. "Want some of my strawberries?" Speed went into the office.
"That's okay," he offered with a smile. He handed over the two pictures that hadn't been done. "Those are yours I believe."
Horatio smiled at them. They had come out very well and they went up into their spots. "Thank you for picking them up, Ryan."
"Not a problem, Horatio. How did the tattoo come out?"
Xander sucked the juice off his current strawberry and nodded at the table. "She flinched a bit so some of the coloring's not the most even but she liked it and didn't blame me for making her flinch."
Ryan looked at the picture, then smiled at him. "It's a good job."
"Thank you." He nibbled on a new one, sucking the juice off with a blissful look on his face while Speed came out white as a sheet. "See, and I know what bad boyfriends are like," he said dryly.
"Son, he had a snuff film on there."
"Huh. Definitely not my thing. He was talking about hooks and things." He shrugged and sat down, turning on the tv. "They're talking about the arrest again."
"As they should with as much product as we found," Ryan agreed, coming over to watch it with him while Horatio went to look at the film and call someone. Speed gave Xander a hug around the neck then went to help hm. "They really do worry," he said quietly.
"I'm fine, Ryan." He gave him a look. "I dropped him when he got freaky on me and the last one when he liked handcuffs."
"What about the guy in-between them?"
"He was nice but kinda pathetic. He was goody-goody nice as Ray put it. Soft, simpering, wanted to be Martha nice." Ryan smirked at that. "He was and that's great but not my thing. Every now and then I want a guy who'll shove me into the wall and take me there while we knock pictures off the wall. The same as there's a place for cuddling during sex and after sex definitely." He shrugged again and gave him a small grin. "That's one of the reasons I don't date guys my own age. They don't understand me. They give me looks like I'm strange and dangerous. Which, totally wrong cousin, but still." He ate another strawberry, sucking gently on it. Horatio came out to give him a hug. "Did he put something of me up?"
"A poem about you and how you were still an unsoiled dove."
Xander coughed. "Not hardly," he said dryly. He shrugged at his father's look. "I'm a bit more experienced than you think, Dad. Really. Careful but I do know a bit more than you think."
"We should talk about that."
"Did you want details, dad?"
"If you're comfortable giving them to us."
"Does Eric?" Ryan asked. Xander gave him a look. "I know I know some about the nice one."
"You did get more details than you probably should have."
"I needed it in that one instance," he reminded him.
"I know." He gave him a one-armed hug then went back to his strawberries. "He might, Dad. I think he tunes out any sex related stories unless we're complaining about having problems or asking for advice. Or at least he does mine. I know he and Ray ended up with the same woman at least once so they compared and Ray decided it was creepy, which was probably Eric's objective to get Ray out of his dating pool."
"I'm going to have to talk to that boy," he complained, going back into the study.
"Ray or Eric?" Ryan called after him.
"Talking to Ray won't really do much good," Xander told him, sucking off another strawberry and watching the weather. It was important to his stuff that he not shoot during high humidity. Ryan nudged him with a shoulder, getting a grin. "I need to do something for class later this weekend."
"What's the subject?"
"Do the cemetery."
"I did that the last time and she turned me in for being depressed."
Ryan smiled. "We'll figure out something."
"We wanted him home this weekend," Speed called.
"Assignment for art class."
"Then we'll go to the park and see if you can do it there," Horatio offered. "Yelina wanted us to have a picnic with her and Ray."
"Is he bringing his harem?" Xander teased.
"His mother would freak if she saw how massive his harem is," Ryan told him. Xander nodded. "How many is he stringing along?"
"He's got one main girlfriend, a few he's got for mutual stress relief, his nympho buddy, and his girlfriend likes it when he goes to gather more for her to watch him with. He and Minerva's LunchBox are fast friends." He winked and went back to his treat.
Ryan forced himself to quit watching Xander suck and lick at the soft flesh of the strawberries and watch the news with him. His phone rang. "Wolfe," he answered, listening to them. "Did they decide to charge him?" He smiled. "Thanks. No, he's the reason Ray Junior's so bruised too. He tried to protect his half-sister first. Then Xander waded in to protect them both. Thank you." He hung up. "You're off the hook but the DA is watching you to see if you ever screw up that way again and she'll press charges at that time."
"I only do it when someone needs me to. We had to threaten and shove her last boyfriend too. Nothing harder than a black eye but he got the point about trying to make her drink." He ate another one. Speed came out to take the strawberries away from him. "Hey!"
"Have the rest later. Come see this stuff he put up." Xander sighed and went with him, waving at Ryan. Speed came back out, looking at him. "You knew about his others?"
"About why he left the first guy, that he was into painfully kinky S&M stuff that Xander didn't like. I knew about the second guy and why they broke up. This last one doesn't really surprise me. Why?"
"We've just decided if you wanted to step up at least we know you'd be decent," he said quietly. "Up to you but we won't drive you two apart." He went back into the study. "What happened with your second one?"
"He snapped one night. Went from sweet, simpering, and nice to raging drunk one night. I had to call Ryan for a ride home since I didn't have one."
"Did he hurt you?"
"Black eye. You were out of town that weekend at the conference. He tried to call me once the next day and I told him off so he left me alone." He gave them looks. "I extracted myself from there and didn't go back."
"Why didn't you tell us?" Horatio asked quietly.
"It was a dead issue."
Horatio sighed. "What if he comes back, Xander?"
"Then he'll be a sorry damn bastard when I kill his ass," Xander said, staring at him. "I can take care of myself most of the time, dads."
"We know," Speed agreed. "Sometimes we need to check to be reminded of that fact. Especially with the other shocks we've had in the last few days." He petted him. "Now and then I still think about the first day I met you and how all you did was this every time you saw me for the next four years." That got a grin from his son. "So... Why do you like older guys?"
Xander shrugged. "They're not childish. They understand me. They think I'm deep and soulful for being artistic and think I'm a bit odd because I like guns?" He grinned. "They're better lovers than guys my age, who're generally pretty lame and think a blow is the height of being a good lover, and most of them drool or bite still." Horatio gave him a look. "Yes, I dabbled in guys my age, Dad. It sucked. Badly. They all did." He grimaced then shuddered. "I almost needed stitches after one guy bit me by accident."
"I remember you being unable to move one day," Speed said, thinking back. "You said it was an accident in gym class. Soccer ball to the nuts you said."
"It was more like bad teeth to the base of my cock, but yeah. Speaking of, would it be okay if I got a PA?" Horatio shook his head slowly. "Shoot."
"No, son," Speed agreed.
"Should I point out you have three holes, Mom?"
"No, because one of mine infected recently and I had to remove it," Speed told him. "Suspect to the balls."
"It happens," Xander agreed. He stretched then looked at them. "Did we get the test results for the exam yet?" Horatio smirked and nodded. "Can I have mine?"
"Not until Monday morning."
"Crap," Xander muttered, standing up. "Did I pass?"
"No comment," both parents said in unison.
"So you're going to make me worry for dating Bob?" They both smiled and nodded. "You do realize this means someone's going to be holding my hair most of the weekend?"
Horatio sighed and looked at Speed. "Should we?"
"It's better than him getting sick with worry," he admitted. "He still deserves it for the forty-three-year-old guy he was dating."
"Mom!" Xander whined. "At least he was *good* to me! Even if there are... Never mind." Horatio looked at him and he gave him the same steady look back. "I'm not sharing that."
"Naked pictures?" Speed guessed.
"Trade you for the results," Horatio offered.
"If you bust him some very good pieces of art will be lost to the world and I'd hate that."
Horatio sighed and considered it. "What if we make sure he can't do it again?"
"Okay. Some of it I don't mind if it doesn't get out, ever, but it's great work, guys. He's a great sculptor and painter."
"Are we talking things that some perverts would love to own?"
"No comment?" he hazarded. His father shook his head for the attempt. "He wasn't going to hurt me and me being with him meant he couldn't work on the pictures of the twin boys groping or the statue of the two teenagers groping. They're asexual. Can't tell if they're male or female."
"Which means they're underaged," Speed finished. Xander shrugged. "You were going to tell us when?"
"If I found out he was doing something wrong," he said firmly. "I had no proof, only a hint of something the other night when I borrowed Ray Junior's car. I saw the statue and praised it so he showed me the picture he's working on. He said it's his boys."
"I want to see them," Horatio said quietly but firmly.
"You'd be involved," Ryan said from the doorway. "Eric and I can go and it'd be like friends checking on his boyfriend for the dad. I can easily brag on how good Xander is and show him a few of his photos." Xander grinned at that. "I can."
"You can. He's been bugging me to see more than the commercial stuff." He got up and went to pull something out from under his laptop, handing over the key to Ryan. "It's in Ray Junior's room."
"We can do that." He walked him out. "We're going."
"Take a camera," Speed ordered. "We want to know what's going on." Xander nodded, grabbing the spy camera out of the bag in Horatio's office. He clipped it onto the necklace he wore and they headed out together. "You think?" Speed asked his mate.
"I do, but he doesn't know for sure. He would've told us if he did more than have a subtle worry. Xander is like that and he hates people who prey on children." Speed nodded that was true, sliding down to sit on Horatio's lap so he could look at the computer too. He logged into the camera, smiling at the complaining Yelina was doing that Xander still had things hidden at her house. He showed her one and she shut up, just sitting down. Ryan took it and looked comically at it. Then at Xander. Both boys giggled and Xander took it back. "Wish I could see that." Ryan took the box and looked through it then showed one to his camera, making both fathers stare in awe. "Our son's been doing playboy?"
"Maybe," Horatio admitted. "I wonder if he's been making money for that."
"Possibly," Speed admitted. "It's still artistic and not smutty." They watched Yelina hop up and start to complain so Xander got the other things out of the footlocker, but Ryan just took the footlocker and brought it out to the hummer. Xander carried the other three himself and put it into the back with a laptop neither of them knew anything about. "Huh," he said.
"Indeed." He gave Speed's neck a kiss. "We'll see later on. Then we'll tie our son down and renegotiate his responsibilities, rights, and allowance."
"Twelve dollars is too low," Speed agreed.
"We'll see what we can do," Horatio promised.
"A bit high in my opinion."
"Ray Junior gets that much a week," Speed reminded him.
"Yelina spoils him."
Speed shifted to look at him. "Horatio, our boy's more than either of us expected. He's a gifted artist. He's doing good in classes. Hell, he passed the test cold, H. He has the chance of going into the lab to follow Calleigh or going into a good art career. He's a great boy, even if he is dating someone over twice his age. And apparently has been for a while," he said at his lover's grimace. "He's a good boy, Horatio. Hell, I'd like to know how much he made last year."
"We can look up his tax information," he suggested.
"We don't have to snoop with Xander, H. He's not going to do bad things. Except his boyfriends and drag racing apparently."
"It is," he agreed, stealing a kiss. "Then again, so is the job and the life we live. You know that better than most with the amount of time you've spent with a gun pointed at your head." Horatio grimaced but nodded. "Now, most kids his age are getting about that much. He's got an after school job too. Are we going to let him get a car?"
"As long as it's not used to have sex in, not used in a porno shoot, and not used for drag racing," he sighed, looking at him. "How do you do that?"
Speed grinned. "You know he's ready for it." Horatio nodded, giving him a cuddle, but looking at the camera again. Speed turned back around. "Huh, Bob's pictures made him look older than he does in person. Is that a rug?"
"Weave," Horatio admitted. "Hair extensions woven into his natural hair to make them thicker."
"I like your hair, do not even consider it. They can't match your shade of red."
"Yes, dear." He gave him a squeeze and Ryan was telling him that they had sent him over to see if he was suitable to date their son. "He's good."
"He is," Speed agreed. "Glad our son likes him like that." Horatio growled in his ear. "Everyone should have someone who thinks that they're so hot they're a fire hazard. It's good for the ego."
"Some already have too much," he said dryly, seeing Eric walking in as well. Xander walked Bob out to the hummer to get the box he wanted, letting him see it out there. Bob heaped praise for the artistic merit and looked at a few others he selected to show him. "Hmm. Very impressive."
"It is," Speed agreed. "We might need more portfolios." Horatio groaned. "He said it'd break the bank, that's why he was using cheaper stuff." They went back inside and Bob put one of Xander's up on his wall, earning a smile from Eric for it since he was in it. They walked around to let Bob tell them about what he was doing and listening to Xander ask him to see the new statue again, that they'd appreciate it and not be mean. They went to look, and they saw Eric stiffen slightly but he didn't say anything. Ryan noted the artistic composition and the transgendered and non-gendered aspects of the figures. Bob beamed at him and said that it was good he understood he wasn't doing children, as some claimed. Then he led them out and promised he'd see Xander in a few days, his father willing, and would he please pose again. Xander smirked and said he hadn't gotten to see the others yet so no, not until then. He led him back up into his private space to let him see the two statues and the painting. All nudes. Horatio growled very loudly and Speed patted the hands around his waist. "We'll get him, Horatio."
"Yes, we will be," he vowed. "We're recording this?" Speed checked then nodded. "Thank you." He saw one and squeezed him harder.
"I'm not your teddy bear, H."
"Sorry." He eased off some. "Is that Ray?"
"It is," he sighed. "Idiot."
Horatio chuckled. "He can be, but then again he's sixteen now." Xander told Bob he didn't think that he'd done anything with the picture he'd asked to borrow of Ray and his girlfriend but apparently he had been wrong. Bob just beamed and said she was left faceless because all young men searched for love. Then he led him back out, promising he'd call for lunch soon. He waved and beamed as they walked off. Xander's camera caught him closing the door then they both apparently drove back home. Horatio went to get the footlockers with the boys' help. "I'm going to kill him, you realize this?" he asked his son. Who just sighed and nodded. "Perhaps we should not date for a while?"
"Causal sex is so tawdry," he complained. "Much more the junior thug's style than my own smooth one, Dad."
"I did like the one of Ray Junior," Speed noted dryly. He came out to look and Eric gaped at some of the pictures. "He was hiding them under Ray's bed."
"Oh." He picked up one. "Isn't this my girlfriend?"
"Yeah, she wanted to give you a few. I wrote out a short contract using a legal document making program that said I kept all negatives and photos she didn't want, with the authority to show them at my discretion. She signed it." He shrugged. "It's standard according to most art teachers I talked to." He handed over one and Eric drooled. "Expect some from her soon." His fathers looked at him. "It made me good money!"
"How much did you make last year, son?" Horatio asked patiently.
"Son," Speed warned. "I don't think we need to snoop and ask the IRS, but...."
"I know." He looked at his father. "About ten grand." Horatio just nodded once. "I'm going to offer to do some of the graduation photos this year. The teacher said it was acceptable."
"That's fine, son." He gave him a short hug. "I'd like to see those too."
Eric looked at him. "You didn't seem like the playful nudity sort, H," he joked. He looked at Xander. "How did your naked statues and pictures turn out?"
"He captured his face very well. The one where he deaged him to about twelve was wonderfully done and nearly correct," Speed admitted. "Then it morphs into the him of now on the other side of the statue. They're very artistic."
"It's still naked kids," Ryan complained.
"Which is why we'll talk with someone tomorrow morning," Horatio assured him. He patted his son on the back. "We'll renegotiate your allowance and things after we see the show tomorrow." Xander beamed at that. "Plus talk about a car for you." Xander squealed and hugged him then Ryan, giving him a short kiss before hugging Speed and heading up to his room.
"I'm still much too old for him," Ryan complained quietly, shaking his head.
"Apparently not," Speed said dryly.
"Better you than the one who hit him, the one who tried to hurt him sexually, or the one who liked bondage too much," Horatio agreed. "Especially better than this one." He went back to the study then came back to get into the other pictures. Before Xander could complain. One he bagged because it had biological samples on it. "We need to talk to the nephew."
"Already did, dad. I spanked him for that. There should be a reprint in there." He came down to get the spare laptop and a few other pictures. "For the submission tomorrow." He went back up to his room to do some manipulation work. Speed came up an hour later to give him a hug, staring in shock at the screen in front of him. "Like it?"
"Love it," he assured him, giving him an extra squeeze. "Get to sleep sometime tonight, Xander." He kissed him on the head. "Love you. Great work. Horatio?" He came in to look then smiled and kissed him on the head too. "Doesn't that progression and the intermixing of the more innocent things like skinnydipping interspersed with the dancing pictures, and then the stripper and the sex ones really speak the confusion of being a teenager?"
"It does," he agreed quietly. "I do like that, Xander." He gave him another kiss on the head. "Go to bed soon. Remember to save that." Xander smiled and printed it out, having to bind the two pages together with some tape on the back, but it went onto a cardboard mat so it was fine. "Good job." They left him alone to get into bed and be happy with himself. They weren't going to listen if he did. They wanted to celebrate having a son who had some sense and taste.
"As you well know, this is the lab," Eric said, finishing the tour. "This is the main lobby area. You're going to be getting your trainers today. All three of you are going to be expected to keep up with the rest of us. I don't care if you can't but let us know if that becomes a problem. Any questions?" The guy behind Xander and Ray Junior raised his hand. "Yes, Paul?"
"How long are we a trainee for?"
"Until we think you're trained enough then we'll give you three chances to test into a level one by solving your own case. I will be honest, the other two have a head start. One's uncle is in the lab and the other's got two parents in here. They've both been raised here."
"I heard," he admitted. "So I won't be judged on their timetable?" Eric shook his head. "Good. Thank you."
"Welcome, but you've still got the harder mentor to live up to." He led them up to the main lab area. "Interns in the lab!" he called. Speed and Horatio came out to greet them. "No Calleigh?"
"In her lab finishing something," Horatio admitted. "Welcome to the felony lab, gentlemen. I do hope you enjoy your tenure here and you can live up to expectations." He smiled as Ryan jogged out. "Late, Mr. Wolfe?" he teased.
"Unavoidable, Captain," he taunted back with a smirk. "Alexx had me." He looked at them. "Hi. Ray."
"Sure. Just don't make me OCD. Mom would whine." He nodded politely at his uncle. "Mom wanted dinner tonight. She just now figured out that you and Marisol had an arrangement and you weren't cheating on Uncle Speed."
"Of course she did," he agreed. He patted him on the back. "Xander."
"I know my way to ballistics," he agreed, grinning. "Laters. Yes, we can even have dinner at my place, but only if Mom cooks." He smirked and walked off. "Have fun, Paul, Speed's the picky bastard in the lab." He walked into ballistics and pulled on a lab coat. Then he squealed and they hugged each other. "I'm here! Finally! No more tormenting rich kids on patrol and having their cars towed for doing ten miles over the speed limit to make the department money and piss them off." She laughed and let him help her with the current weapon. "Ryan has Ray Junior."
"Figured he would. Speed's too close. How is the junior slut?"
"Not a junior one anymore, but still Eric the next generation. His mother's whining about grandkids."
"Maybe he should tell her that he did get fixed after all?"
"Maybe," Xander agreed. "Or that he did it because there's two already around. They refused to acknowledge it though and told him to leave them alone. One filed a restraining order so he can't see the kid. Thought it was bad he became a cop." She giggled. "Are you coming to the art show tomorrow night with the dads?"
"Sure am," she agreed happily, smiling when Horatio came in to hug his son. "Mushy," she teased.
"I'm allowed." He kissed the back of Xander's head. "I'm impressed and proud, son. I always am. You still have to learn things and pass your test." Xander gave him a 'duh' look. "I have how many great nieces?"
"Two. The mothers won't let him see them."
"Pity. That won't stop me." He smirked and walked out to talk to Ray Junior and give him the same treatment. "Great-nieces?" he asked quietly.
"One of each. One looks a lot like Maddy too, Uncle H." He grinned at him. "Her mom filed a restraining order so I can't see them. Maddy watches over them for me."
"I like that," he agreed, patting him on the back. "I'm proud, Ray. Never doubt that I'm proud, even when you mess up. All rookies do it."
"I'll do my best to own up to mistakes."
Ryan nodded. "You won't be following my path, young man."
"Yes, Ryan. Going to Xander's showing tomorrow?"
"I am. Eric is. I'm assuming your whole family is." Horatio nodded. "Then we'll go as his posse like we did to the show at the college."
"Hopefully without the leather this time," Ray complained. "I chafed last time. My girlfriends were not pleased."
His uncle patted him on the back. "Settle down or I'm buying you a foreign bride, Raymond." He walked off, content with his lab once again. He looked at Eric, who had just recently been forced to marry someone by his family. He didn't look happy. "It takes work to make a happy relationship, Eric."
"She's talking babies and I don't like kids, Horatio."
"So let her tell your mother that."
"I can't. Momma wants a few grandkids to carry on the family name. I told her I'm not doing it but she's not listening."
"It happens, Eric. You'll figure it out." He patted him on the arm and walked off.
"Well, I did tell mom if she forced someone to marry me I'd get myself fixed," he said, going to look up a doctor to snip his tubes for him. Ray walked in and gave him a card then left again, earning a smile. He loved his younger clone. He was a good boy. A testament to his skills as a favored uncle. And hey, Xander was a kick ass CSI already. They had done good raising the kids in the lab.
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