Horatio looked up as his on-site tech support ladies walked in with a tube.  "Blueprints?" he asked.

"Yeah, we're either going to expand the lab for the design building or we'll have to get another one for the design office.  If we do that, we might be putting in sealed apartments as well."  Tiff sat down, letting him have them.  "Since I'm more the engineer I had some input, Stephni only had input in the power structure."

Horatio slid the plans out, spreading them across his desk to look at them.  The first was all right.  It'd look a bit odd.  The second...much nicer.  The third made him smile.  "I like the third option," he admitted.  "Then you could keep the old lab for backup space or sell it to fund the cost of the new building."  He rolled them back up and put them back into the tube.  "When you get it done, invite us in to look around, ladies."  They both smiled and nodded.  "Now, when are you going to be finished tinkering with my hummer?  I know you said you had to put in one last thing a few days ago."

Stephni pulled it out of her pocket and held up the small glass case.  "The Pedex drive we have to install.  We needed to hardwire the programs in so they can't be magnetically erased.  So we're going to do that then we can let you test the baby."  He smiled and nodded.  "Keys?"  He handed them to Tiff.  "Thanks, Red."  They walked out together, going to dig into his hummer to play.  They liked the hummer.  Tiff really liked the hummer.  She had been working when Horatio had to go to a scene so she closed the back door and let him drive while she worked in the back.  They removed the panel they needed and got to work installing the harddrive into the system.  Then Tiff cracked her knuckles and started the boot-up process.  Things started to come online within seconds.  They got out their sample kit and got into the various scanners, including the handheld one to make sure they all came up.  One processor wasn't working so they got in there to fix the wires someone had put in backward.

Tiff gave her sister a sheepish look. "Sorry, tired."

"It happens when you're in heat."  She smacked her on the head.  "Find anyone good yet?"


"Then play with the nice men, dear, and don't worry about it.  You can always find one later."  She nodded, getting in there to help arrange things.  Then they tried that processor again.  It came on line, it didn't register any new samples.  They broke into the processor itself, finding the problem.  Someone had removed a board from it.  They found a spare one and put it in, then soldered everything back in place.  When they were done they rebooted the whole system and let it run again.  This time everything came online and it was all good.  Everything registered the correct answers.  Everything was sensitive but shielded in case the road got a bit bumpy or there were large magnets around.  They smiled and shook each other's hands, then turned to find two officers staring at them.  "We're updating the equipment as a test," Stephni told them.

"We heard, ladies.  You two nearly done?"   They nodded.  "Good.  Can you move the hummer?"

"It's Caine's hummer."

"We know but this isn't his spot."

Stephni called up to the office.  "You're parked in someone else's spot?"  She giggled. "That's fine.  We can do that and not steal it to make it even more mean to you."  She hung up and climbed over the seats to started it and move it to a different spot.  Then she parked, turned off the engine and watched as her sister flipped that last switch that set it to standby when the engine was off.  "We done?"

"We're done.  He's ready for a field test."  They got out and locked the poor baby back up, making sure all the panels were back in place, the handheld scanner was back in its charging cradle, and everything was fine.  Then they grinned at each other and headed inside to get Horatio and make him test it out.  "Oh, Red," Tiff called.  "We're done."  She found him inside with Stetler, who gave them both looks.  "Eww, not my species," she noted dryly.  She looked at Horatio.  "All fixed, Red.  All it needs is a good field test."

He nodded, smiling a bit.  "I'll be out to do that very shortly."

"Thank you.  Bring samples.  We went through the standard sample kit so bring something exotic if you've got it."  They headed down to the tester lab to make sure the laptop in there was reading the hummer's updates as well.  "Huh.  Even prints automatically.  She got in there to fix that option.  "Better."  She gathered up the reports to glance through them.  They were all formatted correctly, had what they should have, so she shredded them.  Speed gave them a look. "The hummer updates back to here and then printed automatically."

"A few might've been mine," he admitted.

"No, I checked.  Unless you were using something out of the standard sample kit?"  He came in to reprint all his last few, finding them still in the system.  Then he grabbed them and headed out.  "Sorry, studly."

"Not an issue, ladies.  Does it print there just in case?"

"No, but it does have a pull out projection screen so you can compare if you need to," Stephni offered.  Speed walked backward back into the lab.  "That way it'll project onto the side window if you needed on-site multiple reports to be read.  The AV system does the same."

"It projects onto the side window?"  They both nodded.  "I wanna see that."

"Bring something exotic."  They finished up what they were doing and shooed him out, closing the door behind him.  It was only a fingerprint to get in so it wouldn't waste any time.  They walked down there, finding Horatio coming out about the same time through another door.  "Are you sneaking out?" Tiff teased.

"Indeed.  You do realize he is human?"

"No he's not.  He's a slug.  I may date humans.  I may date sentient dragons.  I will not date slugs."  Horatio snickered at that.  "Did you bring us pretty samples?"

"I did."  Speed walked out with a small shoebox of slides and bottles.  "More than I found."

"I've done these already," he admitted, "that way we can test them against what we have upstairs and then against the regular machines in Trace."

"That's logical.  Okay, ladies, let's see what I can do."  They unlocked the back door and showed him where everything was, including the projection system.  He hummed at that one but it was nice.  The side rear window was a good monitor for it and being slightly off- center while trying to read meant that you didn't get a clear view.  Which meant others couldn't read what you were working on, like press people.  They got through his samples, making him smile at them.  Then the other samples.  One misidentified and Speed looked at it, using the handheld scanner.  That one said it was something else.  He went to run it inside and came out shaking his head.  "Is this one wrong?"

"No, Eric switched bottles and mislabeled.  He's fixed it."  He ran that sample and they put it through the system.   "Now, can I do what I did upstairs and correlate various substances found together?"  They pulled out a keyboard to show them both how to do that on this system, making him smile.  "That's what I thought it was but that last ingredient didn't make any sense."

"Tourists probably dropped some," Tiff offered.  "I'm not an expert in types of beach sand."  She called up a geological survey site on the monitor and entered that composition into it, letting the search engine come up with what beach it was.  "See?"

"Off to the side of the one I was thinking," Speed said, kissing Tiff, then Stephni.  "I love you two."  He walked off much happier, smirking even, because now he had a suspect and a place to look for the murder scene.

Horatio smiled at both of them.  "I think you've made his case.  How do I clear it off without endangering the whole system?"  They showed him and he did it, then they put everything back in its place.  It was all compact, he had more than enough room in the back for materials. It was the same size as the last processor units really.  Only it did a whole lot more.  "Thank you, ladies."  He kissed them both on the cheek, then took his keys back so he could lock it up again.   "Any more fixing that needs to be done?"

"Wellllllll," Tiff offered, grinning wickedly at him.  "I did replace your old radio with something better and I did put back in the presets and the CD you had in there.  The last time I had it at the lab I also tuned your engine up because it was horrible.  I resisted the urge to put in one of my chemical engines.  Barely."  He smiled at that.  "But I did tinker to give you better fuel efficiency and a stronger engine for chases."  She walked around to pop the hood, letting him see.  "You now have the Scary Hummer of Doom, Red."  She gave him a hug and skipped off.  "I'm going to submit your suggestions to the planning committee."

"I'm back to working on the bike's new weapons specs," Stephni offered, smiling and patted him on the cheek.  "Hug?"  He gave her a strong hug.  "Mmm.  Thank you."  She kissed him on the cheek and walked off.  "We'll be back in a week.  Call if you need us sooner."  She hopped into Tiff's Corolla and off they went with a loud blast of music that made some officers jump.

Horatio put down his hood and watched Speed come out with a set of keys.  "They upgraded my engine and stereo."

"Music and speed are gifts from the Gods according to Tiff," he reminded him.  "Can I take yours?"  Horatio gave him a look.  "Just to try it out?"

"No, Speed."

"Fine.  Make me take a *normal* hummer."  He went to do that.

Horatio got into his hummer, taking it out onto the street to try it out.  He felt the shift going on and it was nice.  He noticed that he was already speeding and slowed down again.   "Very nice," he decided.  It still handled well at the higher speeds.  They must have done something to the power steering as well.  He drove back to the lab and parked it, getting out and locking it up again.  The patrol supervisor gave him a look.  He smiled.  "Upgraded the engine for me as well," he offered.

"I heard an officer note you were doing over a hundred without lights and sirens."

"It's very easy to do."  He walked inside, going to make his notes on the new hummer.  He was still keeping careful and meticulous notes in case someone wanted them or something happened.  He saw Speed go walking past looking amused.  "Speed?" he called.

Speed came back, grinning at him.  "Wolfe just pounced my guy into a pile of dog crap."  He walked off still grinning.

"I really do need to do something to give him a normal happy mood," he reminded himself, making a note of that.  He decided to find Eric.  He had some exes he could send to Speed to make him normal again.  After all, most of them had only been good for sex in the past.  He had even indulged Speed's needs before.  "Eric?" he asked as he walked into the lab he was working in.

"I've already called Bethany, she'll go pounce him tonight, H."

"We are talking about Speed?"

"Well, I was talking about Wolfe, but I can send someone to pounce Speed too."  He found his phone and called a number with a grin.  "Hey, Bev, it's Eric.  Yes, that Eric."  He chuckled.  "No, but I was wondering if I could set you up with someone nice.  One of my coworkers.  Speed.  Yeah, dark haired guy.  Him, yeah."  He snickered.  "No, he's pouting and in an odd mood.  I think some fun would be good for him.  He's been sucking up some classes for continuing ed and hasn't gotten to go out to have fun recently.  Up to you, Bev.  Thanks, babe.  Sure, let me know what I owe you?"  He smirked.  "Doable.  Let me know when."  He hung up and got back to work.  "She thinks he's hot."

"Thank you."  He walked off much happier now that his staff was going to be happier in the morning.  Even if he did end up with one on his doorstep as well.  Because Eric was very sharing sometimes.


Charlie opened his email, smiling at the simple message in it.  He wrote back a response about coming to dinner and forwarded it to his brother.  It was a friend of his but he liked Ian.  It'd be good to have the hunter back again.

Don opened his email when it beeped, looking at the source of the message.  Charlie hadn't  put a header on it so he opened it carefully, looking at the message.  He grinned and called him.  "Hey, when are you getting in?"  He blinked.  "Charlie's message."  He sat up.  "You didn't send it to him?"  He checked the forwarded header.  "No, it's your email, Ian."  He nodded once.  "Well, we're having a good thing out here.  No, I'm helping out some guys who run DragonTech.  A small problem with Paladin....  Okay, I won't say that name over the open lines.  Why?"  He just nodded.  "Sure, see you when you get in."  He hung up and wrote a note back to Charlie that it hadn't been Ian who sent it, but someone in his account.  The obvious problem with Paladin went unsaid.  Then he sent it and printed the email, taking it to their computer nerd.  "Can you trace where the forwarded one came from?  It's still in my email."

She let him log her in and traced it back, letting him log into Charlie's email as well.  She finally looked at him.  "It came from the internal server, Agent Epps."

"So, someone hacked into his account?" he asked, starting to frown.

"Perhaps, or maybe they had the information already."  She shrugged.  "Either is possible with that subject."  She pointed at one word.  "They've got some people they've trained even among us."

"Thanks."  He walked off, going to call his brother.  "Come here if you don't have class.  Now.  Because someone hacked into Ian's email account to send that.  Exactly.  So come here."  He hung up and went back to get some coffee.  "Charlie's on his way in."

"Why?" David asked.  "A problem?"

"Remember Ian?"

"Yeah, nice guy some of the time, but a bit spooky and uptight.  Why?"

"Someone hacked into his email account saying he was coming this way.  We think it's the same people who tried to break into the lab the other night."

"Okay.  Why would they want Charlie?"  Don led him back to his desk, pulling up Ryan's information folder.  He found it encoded and groaned.  "Why did he do that?"

"Are you sure *he* did that?" Charlie asked, looking over the edge of the cubicle divider, dropping his bag inside.  "Ryan sent it to me in plain english."  He handed over a disc.  "I hitched a ride."

"Thanks."  He ran the new file, letting his teammate see it.  "That's who those guys were."

"Interesting," he said, tipping the monitor so he could read it easier.  "So they're us."

"Their our corporate branch of government."

"They're not very nice either.  The guy who I complained about smelling like cloves and mint?  He was with them," Charlie told them.  David gave him an odd look.  "Back in college."

"He used to call up about once a week from his undergrad complaining about this guy who was always trying to talk to him, always smelled like cloves and mint.  Always pressuring him to look at a special project."

"Yeah and he's on campus with one of my students, who had I a short talk with earlier.  They've already turned him down."  He grinned.  "He was not happy."

"Well, Ian said he was coming back this way on a hunt," Don admitted.  "He also said not to say their name over open lines."

"It happens, Don," Charlie reminded him.  Colby and Megan came over.  "Hi, guys."

"Hi, Charlie.  What's wrong?  We didn't have anything to pick your brain about today."

"Yeah we do," Don assured her.  He moved so they could see the monitor.  "They hacked into Ian Edgerton's email to tell Charlie he's coming back this way."

"Interesting," Megan said.

Colby frowned.  "I remember these guys.  They brought out some experimental and very thin body armor to my unit.  No one was going to test it for them.  Not even with the threat of the brig."

Don nodded.  "Makes sense to me.  You guys were in a warzone. That's nowhere to test stuff like that."

"The problem is, it probably worked at least partially," Charlie offered.  "They don't make money if their test subjects die from their devices," he reminded him.

"Good point but still too risky for us."  He went back to his reading.  "So what do they want?"  Charlie raised his hand.  "Uh-huh."

"Have since I started college," Charlie admitted.  "I talked one of my students away from them earlier.  Same guy who used to try to recruit me."

"Plus they're the major push behind the raids at DragonTech at least a quarter of the time," Don told his team.  "Since Charlie's got access to their stuff too...."

"So, what're we doing about this?" Megan asked.  "He can't hide."

"Actually I don't want to hide."

"Charlie, if they want you, they'll take you," David assured him.

"I'm sure they will, but it doesn't mean I'll cooperate with them.  They don't have a hold over me."

"Yeah they do," Don said grimly.  "Dad, Amita, Larry."  Charlie glared at him.  "Truth.  If they're desperate enough to try to take you, they'll use a lever and we're the levers in your life.  Now, how much have they been poking around at the college?"

Charlie shrugged.  "This is the first time I've seen them but they went after Larry when he was younger.  I asked, he said he turned them down when he was in his Masters.  They never came after Amita."

"I didn't figure they would," Megan agreed.  "She's great and all, but if they're going after geniuses...."

"Penfield," Charlie agreed.  "He gets a grant from them every year to irritate the crap out of me.  That's what got him here for the lectures he did."  He looked at his brother.  "Do you think they'd try a push for me?"

"If they do, you're going to go get a tan," Don shot back. "With guards."  Charlie gaped.  "Can you think of anyone safer?  Even you said that one guy was like a bear over his cubs."

"True.  Plus the lab," he admitted.  "I guess I could.  I don't consider it necessary yet."

"Me either but if it does I'll drug you and put you on that plane myself, Charlie."

"Yes, Don.  I'll go if it's that serious."  He smiled at Don's boss when he came over.  "Hi."

"I didn't think Don had a case that bad at the moment.  Or are you in for lunch?"

"No, I'm in because Don's paranoid.  There's a company that used to want to recruit me on campus.  They're kinda pushy."

"Instant worried big brother," the boss agreed, looking at the monitor.  Then he looked at Don.  "It's a good instinct.  Nurture it."  He clapped him on the back.  "If you do have to send him off, I don't want to know where.  Neither does your team.  Am I clear?"  Don nodded.  He walked off, going to take an antacid.  He needed one.  He did not want to hear that company's name.  Bad things happened to agents who tangled with them.  He came out.   "Epps, what caused the current panic?"

"They hacked into Edgerton's email to tell me he was coming this way," Charlie called.  "Plus they were on campus talking to a student of mine."

"Have a good vacation, Charlie."  He went back to his office.

"I'm thinking that was an order," Don admitted.  Everyone else nodded.  "Okay."  He looked at his brother, then smiled.  "We'll send you stuff."

"Gee, thanks.  Can't I take a few books?"

"You can bum down there, Charlie."  He walked him off, taking him home.  "Megan, can you follow us?"

"Sure."  She jogged to catch up, taking her car to follow them home.  This was not good.  This was very not good.  She parked behind Don in their driveway and walked inside after the boys.  "Hi, Alan."

"Hi, Megan.  Boys, what's going on?  Don's fretting."

"Paladin Resources is coming after him, Dad.  He's going on a sudden vacation."

"They're the government's corporate arm," Megan told him when he looked confused.

"The clove and mint guy, dad," Charlie said, going upstairs.  "Hacked into the servers to tell us Ian was coming."

"Yeah, he just called me to say he was going to be in tonight."   He looked at Don.  "Bad?" he asked quietly.

"They like geniuses to help them make weapons," he said, shrugging a bit.  "They're funding his arch nemesis."

"I don't have a nemesis.  He's a confused young man with anger issues at his inferiority complex," Charlie called from his bedroom.

"Yeah, that guy," Don agreed with a smirk.  "They hacked into Ian's FBI account to tell Charlie he was coming."

"Do we need to protect him too?" Megan asked.

"No, I think we can handle that," Don assured her.  He pulled out his phone and made a call.  "Stephni?  Don Epps."  He frowned.  "Do you have the office bugged?  Oh, I didn't know his chip did that.  Good to know.  Thanks.  Yeah, both of them probably.  Thanks, dear."  He hung up.  "Charlie, you'll have a nice suite in the lab," he called.  "Hurry up."

"Coming."  He came down the stairs with two bags.  "When am I going?"

"When we go pick up Ian from the airport."   He looked at Megan, who sighed and called.

"Colby said he's already tracked his flight, he lands in a half hour.  He's already told him to stay put.  That you're coming."

"And then they're going."  He walked Charlie off.  "Get hugs."  Charlie hugged his father and Megan, then let himself be drug out to the car and to the airport with Megan following them.

"Why do I feel like Don switched agencies?" Alan complained, going back to his plans.


Don walked up to where Ian was, nodding him to follow.  "Got your bags?"

"Of course.  Hey, Charlie.  Hey, Megan."

"Hey, Ian."  She smiled and swatted him on the arm.  "Write more often."

"I'll try.  Where are we going?"  Charlie whispered and he looked at him.  "How do you know them?"

"Teaching friends."  He grinned.  "They're pretty nice."

"They're also very used to this issue," Don assured him.  He took them to the private air terminal, letting them check in over there.  It was done quickly and they were sent off within a half-hour.  He sighed and looked at Megan.  "Want his boss or Larry?"

"I'll take Larry and Amita.  Have fun with his boss."  They nodded, heading back to the college but going to different areas.  "Larry?"  He smiled at her when she leaned around his office door.  "Don't, dear.  Charlie said the guy who smells like cloves and mint came back?"  He sat up suddenly, staring at her.  "He's on vacation.  With Ian since ....."

"I heard," he interrupted.  "You don't say their name, they show up.  I did that once, they came and offered me my own lab in Arlington with a very nice stipend as long as I never published."  She nodded.  "I'll tell Amita.  She's got to know about them."

"I hope so."  She gave him a look.  "Alan knows.  He got to pack a few things."

"So he's probably got his research from home at least," he offered. "Our boss?"


He grinned. "Good luck with that.  Would... um, would you like to have dinner tonight?"

"Love to."  She grinned and walked off.  "Call me when you're done."

"Sure."  He leaned back again, very happy for the most part.  The small sadness would be fine.  It wasn't like they couldn't talk securely over Teacher, even if they did have to hide him forever.


Don looked at the pro-tem Chair of the department.  "Hi."

"Agent Epps," she said, staring at him.  "You don't look happy.  Are we going to have a raid?  Have there been threats?"

"Only to Charlie."  She sighed.  "Paladin Resources," he said quietly.

She stared at him.  "He's safe?"  He nodded.  "Fully safe?"

"With the other people he teaches for," he said quietly.

"Then he's very, very safe.  I'll trust them.  Tell him to email me."

"I'm doing his official notification."

"Yeah, but I want to see what they've got on Teacher."  She gave him a look.  "How long?"

"I don't know.  They hacked into someone else's email account."

"No, Agent Epps, they probably already had the master list."  He nodded at that.  "Go take a break.  Long break.  They're in the building."

"I heard.  Which is why he's on vacation."

"Then I'll expect him to come back with something fabulous for me."  She made shooing motions.  "Go, play in the sun."  He nodded, sliding back on his sunglasses and walking off.  She got up and went to check on Larry and Amita.  "Are you two okay?"

"We heard," Larry assured her.  "Megan told me."  She nodded.  "Where are they?"

"Trying to get Broxter."

"Pity but he's just like them," he offered.  He shrugged and they looked at Amita.  "I'll explain it to her."  She nodded.  "But I am going to do that by cutting short my office hours."

"I have a late class," Amita complained.

"Yes you do," their head agreed, walking off.  "Be safe, children."

"Of course."  He looked at her, then nodded at the door.  She nodded, going to close it.  He pulled her down to write out what was going on.  She gave him an odd look but read.  Then she gave him a really funny look.  "They like geniuses."

"But that'd be validation."

"No, that'd be suicide.  They don't let you go once they have you."  He wrote something else and she frowned, shaking her head.  "Ah.  They missed you."  He pulled down a book and handed it over, nodding at it.  She got into the brochure in the center, staring at it then at him.  He nodded.  "Them," he agreed quietly.

"He's safe?"

"Don and Megan got him out of town when they knew."

"Good!"  Someone tapped on the door and she handed back the book, moving to shred the top few sheets of paper.  "We're good."  The student came in, smiling at them.  "Sorry, going over something for Professor Epps."

"I understand.  Is he not here?  His office door is locked."

"He had to go out of town suddenly to consult on something for the NSA," Larry lied.  "He'll be back in a few weeks we hope.  Something about an algorithm that we created for them."  She smiled.  "Can we help?"

"Who's running our test next week?  I needed to ask a pretty simple question because I'm lost."

Amita led her over to the couch to go over it with her.  "That's where it is," she told her, circling it.  She wrote it out for her, showing where it should go.  She nodded, giving her a hug and leaving again.  "We do need to know."

"We do."  He typed that in an email.  Their boss groaned from up the hall, they could hear it.  "Have fun with that, Amita."

"Gee, thanks.  Doesn't he have a grad assistant?"

"Charlie?  No," he snorted.  "They'd never keep up with him.  He tried that once.  They quit math completely after having dealt with him for a semester."  She smiled and went to her office.  He leaned back again.  At least he wouldn't be asked to cover any of them.


Ryan looked at the message that popped up on his cellphone.  "I hate it when they send me cryptic messages," he complained.  Eric looked over at him.  "The lab."  He walked it over to Speed.  "Apparently we're getting company?"  He let him see.

Speed called Horatio.  "H, me.  Wolfe got the charming text message of 'incoming' from Tiff.   You might, yeah.   Thanks."  He hung up.  "He'll handle it."  Ryan nodded, getting back to work.

Horatio hung up and looked around the foyer he was in.  "I was wondering why I got called to a sudden meeting," he admitted.  The guard snickered.  "I did."

"They're on their way down now, Lieutenant."  The elevators opened and Tiff and Stephni walked out together talking to Amanda.  "See?"

"They certainly are."  He smiled at them.  "We needed another conference?"

"In a few.  This is a different matter."  Amanda looked at her guard.  "Send someone to meet the plane.  You have two people coming this way.  They're going in the silver suite.  Protect them."  He nodded, going to do that.  "Sorry, Paladin was making another move."
"But you're here for totally different reasons," Tiff offered.

"Sort of," Stephni admitted.

"Mr. Wolfe?"

"No," all three agreed.

"Different geek this time," Stephni assured him.  That got a nod.  She took his arm and they walked off together. "We would like to do something very nice for the department but your boss like Paladin."

"He likes us," he offered.  "He's more the expedient sort."

"That's a good thing."  She smiled at him.  "We wanted to donate a few Teacher systems to continuing education."

"Including to a few who have kids who're sick or in so much trouble they won't be able to do anything but be home schooled soon," Tiff offered.

"My nephew isn't that bad, yet," he assured them.

"Your nephew's a thug wannabe, Horatio.  We weren't talking about him," Amanda assured him.  He gave her a look.  "He is.  Speaking of, Miffy and he have met, did you know that?"

"He mentioned meeting her."  He smirked at them.  "He'll pout for those six months."

"First crushes can be like that.  She's told him she's going on a long tour of Europe during that time," Stephni assured him.  "I introduced the two.  We found him out with his thug buddies.   She was not impressed with them or him but she said he probably had some potential since he was related to you."  He smirked at that.  "Then she strolled off inviting him to the mall with her and I."

"He told me about that.  You two confused him greatly."

"It kept him from helping them hold up a convenience store that night, Horatio," Stephni said with a happy grin.  "Didn't think you'd want that added to his school resume."

"No, he shouldn't be hanging out with those sort again."  He looked at her.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  We don't mind if you get him hooked in, if the momma dragon guarding him lets you, but we do think he's going to need a firm hand on the paddle soon."

"He's a teenager."

"No, he's got impulse control issues.  His brain does not engage before he acts," Tiff assured him.  "That's normal and it can be fixed.  You'd just have to get around the momma dragon guarding him.  And for us to say she's a dragon says something."

He chuckled and nodded.  "I've tried a number of times."

Amanda smiled at him.  "Adopt him for a week, Horatio.  Bring him with you to these things.  Let him see that there's much more to the world if he's a good boy."

"He tried to tell Muffin that girls liked bad boys.  She quipped back that was true, until they dumped them because they didn't want to visit them in jail.  Then she noted that being a bad boy and being a thug were two different things and he had already crossed over.  So she got him a new t-shirt."

Horatio nodded. "I'll talk with the boy tonight."

"Good.  Tell him Miffy's allowed to the mall tomorrow night if he's not grounded," Tiff offered.  "The boy's got promise.  He can drool over my girl."  They settled in an empty office.  "Okay, Red.  We've got sixteen computers that can be used in the department."

"They're what we sent to Scotland to fix that hacking problem," Stephni added.

"So they have to remotely log into Teacher but can only download a few classes at a time," Amanda offered.  "We'd like to set up a lab, or a few labs, to help the officers with continuing education things.  We've also set up a few teachers and an agreement with the local university down here."

"You're moving a lot of resources down here," he noted.

"When I have to retire for show, we'll move the headquarters down here as long as the city stays stable," Amanda offered. "Then I'll move to a lab position and Salette will take over."  He nodded, understanding why.  "Plus in the next few years, Nick's going to retire and come down here to take up a new Masters.  He'll say he did his undergrad through us, which he has."

"Which will get out more notice of the system through the right channels," Horatio agreed.  "A long term marketing and information plan."  They all smirked at that.  "Ryan and Greg?"

"Will be part of that.  At that time they'll both be begged to come out and talk about the doctorate programs and how they loved using it.  They're some of our favorite test subjects."

"Also, we should tell you that if Ryan's in danger, his new GPS chip has an audio feature.  If certain words are heard it links him back to our security system so they can check on him.  Or certain sounds.  Before you ask, we upgraded them both at the same time and Greg's too.  The same as we did Charlie's."

Horatio sat up straighter.  "That's who's coming down?"  They all nodded.  "Paladin?"  They nodded again.  "Why?"

"One sent a message to him saying his friend was coming from his friend's FBI email account," Amanda told him.  "Both him and his friend are coming down on vacation.  I've already told his boss what's going on.  With Charlie's security clearance, what he's done for the NSA and the FBI, plus others, and with the information on how his email account had been used, it was fairly easy to get him assigned as Charlie's guard for a while."

"They'll be down in about an hour," Tiff told him. "They'll be here."

"Which shouldn't impact Ryan or anyone but if they show up please warn us too," Amanda finished.

"Of course."  He frowned.  "Are you sure they won't be going after Ryan?"

"They don't know he works with the lab, Horatio.  Besides, they need different sorts of geeks at the moment," Tiff assured him.

"Ryan and Greg's real draw is that they know us," Amanda reminded him.  "They don't want them to work on projects.  They want them to spy for them in the labs."

Horatio nodded.  "I'll warn him anyway."

"Thanks," Stephni said, giving him a hug.  "You look like you need one," she teased.  "How's the hummer?"

"Very nice.  The high speed chase I got in the other day was very nice."  He smiled at them, making them all grin back.  "Thank you for the new engine, ladies, and the new radio.  Even if Speed has tried to steal mine a few times."

"We'll help spank him," Tiff promised with a wink.

"Yeah, wouldn't mind that," Stephni agreed.

Amanda sighed and shook her head.  "Ladies."

"Tough," Stephni said, sticking her tongue out at her.  "We know you like Mac."

"He's a nice man but not my sort.  He's much too uptight to accept the truth."  She looked at Horatio.  "Though I could pounce Sheldon.  He's a *very* nice young man."  She smirked at his amused look.  "He is."

"He is," he agreed.  "Very sensible as well."  His phone went off.  "Hold on.  Horatio," he answered.  He listened to Speed.  "Is everyone all right?"  He nodded.  "That's fine.  Go ahead.  Thank you for letting me know."  He hung up.  "Someone tried to run over the people processing a scene.  Ryan had to fire on the car.  So they did get the person doing it.  Now they've got to link him back to the original scene somehow."  They all gave him a hug.  "Thank you for warning me, ladies, and I'll talk to my boss for you?"  Amanda smiled.  "I'll talk with him in a few hours."  He got up and walked out, leaving his visitor's pass there.  Just in case.  He found his boss at the lab.  "Can we talk?"

"You don't need to check with your team?"

"Speed called me right after dispatch.  He assured me they're fine and Ryan Wolfe only twisted his ankle."  He looked around.  "The people who have the testing equipment," he said quietly, "are thinking about making a donation of their updated teaching system to the department.  That way they could do some continuing education and those who wanted higher degrees could go for them that way."  He looked interested.  "It would be in a lab environment.  They're offering sixteen systems.  They did say it would be open to spouses and their children as well.  They're not as fully done as the ones Speedle and Wolfe have, theirs are the old system and they're keeping theirs, but this new one would let officers log into the system from a lab and take individual classes at their own pace and at their leisure.  To do that, they're worried quite a lot about someone from Paladin Resources coming in."

"I know that name."

"As do I," Horatio agreed. "They're behind a good number of assaults on their lab."  His boss groaned. "Including the recent one in LA that got a few agents doing the assault dead.  They're apparently big in weapons designing and are jealous."

"I understand."  He looked at him.  "Can I call them?"

"I said I'd talk to you first and then let them know."

"It'd be a boon for the department.  Does this mean they're closer to offering it at large?"

"To more school systems.  They're also moving more resources down here.  Their future leader, the heir, is down here in this lab and doesn't want to move back to the old one when she takes over in however many years."

"Ah."  He smiled.  "Which means that they like us because we protect them when idiots try to break into their labs."  Horatio nodded.  "That's actually pretty reasonable.  Let me have their number."  Horatio wrote out the one for Tiff and put her name on it.  "Tiff?"

"She's our on-site support tech.  The blonde."

"I've seen her.  She's a pretty girl."

"She's the sister of the head of the company, Chief."

"A pretty girl is always underestimated in the labs," he agreed.  "That's how Calleigh gets her way so often."  He walked off happier.  "Check on your team.  Tell me if it relates or if it was an attack on your team."

"Yes, sir."  He went to do that, pulling Speed and Ryan into his office first.  "Charlie's on his way down.  Paladin was very close to where he was and he's a hunting trophy they think.  He'll be in the lab."

"Sure, we can help with that," Speed promised. "Including helping the poor guy to our places now and then for some fun."  That got a grin from Ryan.  "Anything else?"

"They sent him an email from a friend's email saying that friend was coming to town."

"Even better," Ryan said grimly.  "Me?"

"No, not you."

"Good."  He sighed and smiled at Speed.  "I'm relaxed again.  Alexx has seen my ankle.  She said to sit down for an hour so I'm going to do that in Trace?"  Speed nodded, letting him go.

Horatio looked at his second-in-command.  "You should also be aware, but not tell him, that his chips had a security upgrade that will call their system if certain sounds were heard.  That way they can monitor it and see if he's in trouble or not."

"Thanks for the warning.  Was it the gunshot?"  Horatio nodded.  "That's a good security upgrade."  He walked off, going to help Eric in Layout.

Horatio went to check on the evidence.  "Was it related?"

"Still working on that, H," Eric assured him.  "It's that or an attack on us personally."

"Let me know as soon as you have something.  Where's Calleigh?"

"Her day off," Speed snorted.  "She got to miss all the fun."  Horatio gave him a look.  "She did.  Including the guns in the guy's trunk."  He grinned and nodded at the box in the corner.  "I'm saving them for her."

Horatio went to look, then at him.  "Arms dealer?"

"Not sure, H."


"He's still unconscious.  The patrol guys who went with him are to call as soon as he groans.  Then we'll go interrogate him."  That got a nod and Horatio went to make note of that.  He'd be going instead.  He was the one who got the best results in interrogation.


Charlie looked around after they had landed.  "It's not that much different from LA," he decided.

"Only you can't travel an hour and get snow during the winter, or to a desert," Ian said, walking down behind him.  "Come on.  I'm leading.  You know better."

"I know."  He followed him inside, picking up his bags with a grin for the handler.  "Thank you."  Once inside they were met with a security force at the security gate.  "Hi, guys.  Hey, Paul, I didn't know you moved down here."

"I wanted the ocean."  He walked them off.  "We have a bulletproof car waiting," he reported.  "There's been a suite prepared for you in the building.  You're more than welcome to look over our arrangements and security system, Agent Edgerton.  We're pretty tight."

"I've heard you guys have had to be."  He got Charlie into the car, looking around.  Then he got in.  "So, was it just him or both of us?"

"I think they were going to take both of you," Paul, the guard, offered.  "We're not sure why."

"Because some girl somewhere is in lust thinking that we're together," Charlie said dryly.  "I found it in one of the bulletin boards on Teacher on the plane's computer.  They saw him the last time he was in and thought Don and I shared him."

"Which would make me a close lever," Ian said, looking at him.  "Huh?"

"Teacher is the system they've got for education."

"Got that part.  Name implies it," he noted dryly.  "Why you?"

The guard driving snickered.  "Inside Teacher are a good lot of instructors but some of the younger females on it have picked out some of the teachers as a sub-course of study.  All the cute male teachers are on it."

"Charlie's cute so the girls pant over him teaching them, get decent grades or flunk out so they can try again, and they moon over him," Ian finished.  That got a lot of nods, even from Charlie.  "Congrats."

"Thanks.  My three classes on the system are very well attended.  Mostly very well passed too.  Amanda clued me in when my very first class had a forty percent flunk rate.  It's now pass it once or wait a year to retake and pass it then or no retakes."  Ian nodded at that wisdom.  "Sandburg does the same with his."

"Blair Sandburg?" Ian asked.

"Yeah, he's in the system too.  His classes are very popular for the same reason.  Then again, he has incredible storytelling abilities.  Even Dad liked the one I got him into."

"I worked with Ellison once and met the little hippie freak.  Always talking."  He shook his head.  "The babble rang for hours after I left.  Took me nearly forever to clear him out of my head so I guess he's an effective teacher if his classwork sticks the same way."  Charlie grinned and nodded.  "Why do they want you?"

"I'm a new teacher to the system.  They've wanted me since my undergrad.  They've got Penfield."


"I'm sure they appear to be," Charlie admitted.  "I warned one of my students away from them earlier today."  He yawned.  "Am I on sabbatical?"

"Yup, and your boss wanted an email about your vacation," Paul admitted.  "Don sent that.  Just a general one.  All he had to say was 'Paladin' and she hissed and nodded.  The same as Larry did."

"Larry got propositioned a few times too," Charlie admitted.  "They tried us together back when we were studying together."  He looked at Ian.  "It'll be okay.  They're very protective and I've got a new GPS chip in my bellybutton."

"That's an interesting place for it," he said.

"Yup, because no one thinks to look there for one.  It works though.  Works for Wolfe and Sanders too."  Paul nodded.  "Is there something else?"

"We put in a life-signs chip as well, Charlie, plus it's got a coded call feature to the security system if certain words are said around you.  Like Paladin or the sound of gunshots."

"Good to know.  Doesn't that mess with what Greg and Ryan do though?"

"Yes, but we listen for a minute or so to make sure it's a threat instead of them at work.  The same as we do for you."  That got a nod.   "It's still a pretty quick turn around.  They also want you because you've got a good clearance and can work on outside projects for their minions as well."

"I forgot about that."  He looked at Ian.  "You should've seen Don's face when he found out I have NSA clearance."

Ian smiled.  "I'm sure it was very amusing.  Looked like a goldfish?"

"A lot."  That got a snicker.  "So, the lab?"

"The lab," Paul agreed.  "Welcome to downtown Miami.  We have told our local contacts within the department, Agent Edgerton.  Just in case you need backup.  This is his cellphone and office number, plus our test subject locally's numbers."  He handed them over.  "They're both with the lab."

"I've heard how Caine eats agents for lunch."

"Probably because they come in like Don does, like he's God," Charlie offered dryly.  "I know it's irritated a few people."

"We can be like that.  It comes with the higher power."  He tucked them into his shirt pocket.  "Anything going on down here that we have to be aware of?"

"Well, there's a problem with Wolfe.  One of his cousins was found to have committed homicide when she was younger.  She's tried to shoot him for turning her in.  She's hiding and they're working on it.  She's a former reporter."

"I saw that DVD," Charlie said, grimacing.  "Eww."

"Very but that was her desire," Paul reminded him.  "I'm sure your brother had a lot of fun turning that over to whoever and letting them correlate."

"I've already got the correlations done.  Don's checking with some people in the LAPD to see if they realized it.  He did that yesterday I think."  Ian looked at him.  "Cult stuff."


"Virgin sacrificing," Paul told him.  "In all manners of the word.  They're taking all her innocence away, including letting her kill an unworthy member."

"Very interesting.  Any my way?"

"So far only links to Miami and LA."

"One was in Chicago for a while.  Don wrote the people who deal with the lab out there."

"Good.  Saves us the trouble."  They pulled past a building.  "That's the crime lab.  Why are we going this way?" he asked.

"Picking up Wolfe.  Someone put a death threat in his locker this morning.  He's coming out for a few hours."  They paused and Ryan limped out, getting into the back on Charlie's other side.  "You okay?" the driver asked.

"Someone tried to run our scene over.  I rolled wrong but I got the car so it had to stop."

"Good job," Ian offered.  "Agent Ian Edgerton," he said, holding out a hand.

"CSI Ryan Wolfe," he said with a grin, shaking it.  "Hi, Charlie.  What's up?"  The car started to move again.  "Horatio warned us about Paladin."

"They were on campus.  They hacked Ian's email to tell me he was coming to LA soon."

"Ahhhhh.   Those assholes again," he sighed.  "Yeah, I got a proposal letter from them.  I scanned it to Tiff then shredded it once I had a copy just in case they came back.  I'm sure they're doing it on automatic.  I get one a month with an embedded magnet tag to help them trace me," he told the worried looking agent.  "I was one of the first people on Teacher and I've been known to gopher around the lab."

"So you're wanted by them to work?"

"To turn on the lab and wear a camera for them."

"Which wouldn't work in the lab anyway," Paul assured him.  "We'd know anyway, Ryan.  You'd get nervous and sweat it into shocking you."

"True. Then again I'm not a high priority.  They like Greg more.  They always offer him more money to turn."  He looked over.  "He's a self-proclaimed DNA God."

"You guys have the same sort of chips, right?"  Ryan nodded.  "Good.  I like that.   Your bosses know?"

"Both our bosses and the head of the lab in New York because he's a friend of both our bosses."  He grinned at Charlie.  "I'm going to pick up my degree from Cambridge.  Greg and I both are going to that one.  Wanna attend?"

"If I can get away," he agreed.  "I love that campus.  There's a seminar about a week after graduation too if I remember right."  Ryan beamed and nodded.  "Hey, a real vacation," he said happily.  "Sure, if I'm not busy, I'll come."  Ryan punched him on the arm with a grin.  "Can't anyone down here?"

"They're seeing.  Greg might bring Hodges if he can.  We're not sure if they can go or not yet.  If there's enough we might be able to get a group discount."

"Give me the dates," Charlie offered.  "I've promised to hood one of my students if I'm back in time.  Plus I heard Greg was walking his Masters with us."

"Sure."  He found it in his phone and showed it to him, letting him write it down.  "Maybe Don could come too.  I'm sure he could use the vacation."

"Usually," he agreed dryly, smirking at him.  "How many are trying to come from Miami?"

"Horatio and Speed.  Alexx.  Maybe Calleigh, she's not sure yet."  That got a nod.  "Then we've got Greg and Hodges, maybe Bobby and Archie, two of his friends who're techs.  Their team isn't quite as tight as we are sometimes.  At least not about Greg.  He had to find a lawyer for that inquest stuff."

"What happened?"

"Mob rage picking on someone," Ryan told him.  "He had to break it up to save the victim's life.  One of them came toward him with a rock and he couldn't stop the Denali in time.  So he's being sued even though the inquest ruled it reasonable.  Which was pretty unfair.  He only had two seconds to stop the Denali."

"That should have cleared him," Ian said, looking confused.

"It's politics," Ryan reminded him.  "Greg said one of the guys on the jury was very anti- police."

"Ah.  That happens I guess."  He looked at the building they were pulling into the garage of.  "This is nice."

"This is the lab," Ryan said, grinning at him.  They parked and he got them out and inside.  "Hi, guys, we're home," he called as he walked in.

"Good, your locker has a foul smell from the gloves, pookie," Stepni called back.

"I'll fix that in a few," he said, kissing her on the cheek.  "You know Charlie."

"Hi, curly."  She gave him a hug.  "Hi, Agent Edgerton.  I'm Stephni.  I'm in weapons design.  Let's go up to your suite.  Ryan, dear, you've got to talk to security about your death threat and the new letter."  He sighed but headed that way.  "C'mon, boys."  She led them to the elevator, only pausing to get their visitor passes.  "Always have these."  She handed them over, using her pass to get onto the elevator.  She got them to the living floor and headed for a silver door.  "Here we are.  It's coded to the passes."  They both used it and the door popped open.  She let them go in first, Ian checking everything.  "We have a caf in the basement, along with the arcade.  Watch out for Studly.  He's a nudist," she told Ian.  "He's also frustrated so he's been working on Mrs. Pacman for hours.  Yes, he's like that in the lab too.  He shaves so nothing gets into anything he's working on."  She pointed.  "Those are bedrooms.  They're very comfy and I made sure the sheets were changed, Charlie.  If you've got a wireless connection we've got a secured link in here.  It'll code the address so that no one can trace it back.  Also, all the phone lines are secure, Agent Edgerton."

"Ian, please."

"Ian then," she said with a grin.  "So you can call your boss without worry.  He put you on as guarding Charlie since he's under threat and has such a high security clearance."

"That works," he agreed.  "Go drop your kit, Charlie."  He went to do that, taking Ian's into his bedroom.  "Okay, how is the rest of the security done?"

"Mostly, biometics and scanners for the ID.  Even Ryan leaves his here.  He can get in through the garage with his fingerprints but the rest takes a pass."

"Any weak spots?"

"The roof.  We go up and tan.  So if they land a copter it'd be easier to get in.  By the way, any bugs they put on you were shielded.  No signals get in or out unless we want them to.  Only cellphone ones."

"Good to know."  Charlie came back.  "Any other areas we should be aware of?"

"Your passes won't get you in anywhere you shouldn't be," she assured him.  "Charlie's pass is rated a bit higher than yours.  We've worked with him so he can get into the Teacher section on the first floor.  C'mon, I'll show you two the caf and stuff."  She led them out and showed them the sensors for the passes.  They were generally camouflaged so they weren't ugly eyesores.  They took the elevator down to the basement, finding Ryan waiting on them.  "You're done already?"

"Yup.  Not that bad.  The threat was noted to Horatio, again, and we think it's Erica.  Somehow."  He pointed at a naked back. "That's Studly.  Yes, that's his name."

"Okay," Ian said dryly.   "I'll try not to stare."  Studly looked over his shoulder. "I'm not really used to nudists."

"Most of them can't compare to me anyway," he said with a smug look.  He went back to his game.  "Damn it!"

Ryan walked over and worked on his shoulders.  "Calm down.  The more upset you are the worse it'll be."  Studly sighed and let it go for now.  "Good boy.  Now, what're you working on?"  He mumbled something.  "Why? I thought you had that done."

"It didn't hold up in repeated testing."

"Is it a single use dose?" he offered.  Studly groaned and walked off.  "Happy lab times."  He went back to the group, leading them into the caf.  "In here is the food.  It's good food.  Very good food.  Better than college food good food."  He grinned at Charlie.  "It's also a very clean kitchen.  The cook has worse OCD than I do.  So everything's *very* clean and sanitized."  He led them through the line, getting them dinner.  "Hey, Susan, Amber, Rebecca, these are Ian and Charlie.  Charlie's from the LA office, Ian's guarding him."

All three ladies waved and Ian got an extra roll, but Charlie got an extra big slice of cake with a wink from Amber.  "Thanks," he said with a smile.  He led them over to a table with the ladies he knew.  "Hi, ladies.  Can we join you?  Or are you doing something evil we shouldn't hear?"

"Well, we were plotting a takeover of the known universe, but you can join us.  We'll put it on hold until after we've had chocolate," Tiff teased.  They made room for the guys.  "You guys settled in?"

"We picked our rooms, stored our bags," Charlie admitted.  "Is there a blackboard around here?"

"We'll have three sent up for you, Charlie," Stephni promised.  He grinned at that.  "We know how you are when you get ideas.  Want white boards?"

"I like the smell of chalk."

"Then we'll find some for you," she teased, poking him in the side.   "Plus some chalk, even in pretty colors."

"Thanks."  He grinned at her.  "Just the known universe?  Larry would be upset with you," he teased back.

"I know but we can only rule so much before it's overwhelming."  The sisters all nodded.

"We'd have to add in more family to take over the rest," another agreed.

"Then I guess he'll forgive you," Ian offered.  "Larry's a bit odd but he'll probably only pout."

"A lot," Stephni giggled, smiling at him.  "You'll fit in just fine, Ian."

"I have it on good authority Speed and I are going to try to free them for a night of fun at our places," Ryan offered.  Ian looked at him.  "It'll be perfectly safe.  I live in a very nice, secure building.  Speed lives in an okay spot."

"We'll see," Ian told him.  "Let's make sure they won't follow."

"Their office is down on Grant Street," Tiff told him.  She ate a bite of her cake, then stole a bite of Charlie's.  "She gave you the stuff with raspberries.  No fair.  Amber!" she called.

"Eat what you have," she called back.  "Don't make me tell your mother."

"Yes, pseudo-mom," they all called, making a few others in the caf with them laugh.  Stephni and Tiff both finished off their cake and went to get more, with ice cream, but they were nice enough to bring back an extra dish for Charlie.

"Because you're too skinny," Tiff told him.

Ryan looked at them.  "Thank you for not doing that to me.  I'd never fit into my vest and uniform if I ate here all the time."  He finished up his dinner and put his plate aside.  "So, now what?"

"Now, we settle in, they go to bed later on after making sure everyone knows they're fine," Tiff reminded him.  "You go back to work before Horatio accuses us of kidnaping you again."  Ryan sighed and nodded, getting up and heading off.  She smiled at them.  "He is very lovable."

"He seems like it," Ian said, eating a bite of dinner.  "Is this deer?"  They all nodded.  "I like your caf better than the one at Quantico."  He dug in again.  "Thanks, ladies.  I'm sure we'll be just fine with you."

"The only thing you have to worry about is if you hear an alarm.  Then the doors of the suite will lock.  Stay wherever you are unless it's in a hallway," Stephni told him.  They both nodded.  "Like the drill we had out at the main lab, Charlie."

"Yes, dear.  Where's the safe rooms?"

"Anything with a green light."  That got a nod from both of them.  "Okay.  Do you guys know how to get back upstairs?"  Ian nodded.  "Good.  We're going to go back to work.  Let you two settle in, watch the really good cable.  There's a pay-per-view budget for the suite.  Don't go over three movies a day," she teased.  "Be good boys and we'll see you at dinner."  They nodded so the ladies left, going back to their projects.

Ian watched Charlie finish up.  "They're very nice."

"They are but Amita got very jealous when we went to a family picnic," he said with a grin.  "Plus some of them like to play with my hair."  He finished up and his cake and ice cream.  They took their plates up to the drop off window, and the ones left on the table.

"What are you doing!" Amber called, coming out to swat them with a towel.  "There's no such thing as a genius who cleans!  Now, shoo!  Go be brilliant!"  Charlie gave her a sheepish smile but left with Ian behind him.  She sighed and went to clean up the mess the ladies had made, noticing Ryan's spot was already cleaned.  "I do like that boy.  Should have adopted him a few years ago."

Charlie got them back into their suite and went to the phone to call his family.  "We're fine.  No, we've had something to eat, we're in a totally secure room.  This is a secure line, Don.  I promise.  We're good.  Do you have the number down here?  Yeah, they know.  They've already told Horatio.  Ian has their numbers, Ryan came part-way in with us and made sure we had numbers if we needed them. Speed and he have both said that we can come over for a night out if we're clear.  Of course he's here."  He handed over the phone to Ian.  "He wants to threaten you."

"Of course he does.  He's being a big brother," he agreed, putting it up against his ear.  "He's fine, Epps.  The ladies took good care of us.  We're in a nice suite.  We've got cable, he's got the internet.  Neither this or that can be traced.  He's getting chalkboards soon.  They even promised him pretty colors of chalk."  He heard the laugh and smiled.  "So yeah, we're fine, Epps.  I promise we are."  He rolled his eyes.  "We know.  Yeah, we're fine.  Then call them to make sure of that.  I can protect your little brother very well.  You know that.  Now, quit fussing and make sure your end isn't tapped."  He hung up.  "He's went from good agent to fussy pain in the ass.  Usually it takes a pregnancy to do that."

"If he was, Dad would scream," Charlie teased.  Ian choked.  "He would."

"Is someone here working on that?"

"You never know," he admitted, going to check out his room and the music selection again.  He found one he liked and got to work on his notes.  Someone tapped and drug in a few chalkboards, putting them against unused walls.  He got up to put his last step on the first board, noticing he had pink, purple, lime green, and white chalk.  He grinned at the guys.  "Thanks."  He got back to work, staring at his formula.  Then he did the next logical step.

Ian sat down to watch a movie.  He'd seen Charlie in math mode before.  Fortunately there were headphones so he wouldn't interrupt the music going on.


Ryan walked into Horatio's office.  "They think the threat in my locker was Erica and the letter I got was just off their standard form letter for some reason."

Horatio stared at him.  "Letter, Mr. Wolfe?"

"I get a standard offer about once a month from the bastards.  Usually I scan a copy over to the lab and then I shred it."

"Should I worry?"

"Only about Erica.  We know where Paladin's people are.  They're on Grant Street."  He shrugged and got back to work.  "Speed, I told Charlie we might be able to spring him for a night," he said quietly since they were alone in the lab.  "His guard said it might be okay, depending on what's going on."

"Sure.  How was dinner?"  He pointed at the spot on his t-shirt.

"I tried to clean it off.  We had deer."  He went back to work on the spot.  Speed handed him his labcoat so he put it on and they got back to work together since it wasn't going to transfer off him.  It was only a stain now.

"There's a caf?" Speed asked.

"In the basement.  Along with the arcade."

"Wow.  They do take good care of their people."

"Yup.  Studly was frustrated so he was down there when we got in.  He was playing Mrs. Pacman and growling.  I helped and he went back to work."  Speed snickered.  "I didn't want to scare the poor agent."

"Probably a good idea."

"The lunch ladies all cooed over Charlie and gave him a big slice of cake."  He opened his first sample and got to work on it.  "Anyway," he sighed.  "They're settled in.  Charlie's getting blackboards so he can work.  They've got shielded communications.  It should be fine."

"Decent.  I'm sure his brother's not going to worry as much."

"I hope so," Eric said as he walked in. "What's going on?"

"One of the teachers in Teacher got threatened," Speed told him.

"I guess that happens.  Jealous rival?"

"Something like that," Ryan agreed.  Eric gave him a look.  "Not of him, the people who're against the lab itself."

"Oh.  They think he's a weak link?"

"Yeah but his brother's FBI and he's got a pretty good security clearance.  So he's got a guard and he's fine."

"Even better.  They seem like very fierce protectors of what's theirs.  After all, they smother Wolfe to death," he said at Speed's smirk.  "Any word on the bike?"

"She's got to install it, do the in-lab testing to make sure it won't blow during a real run, then we'll take it onto a track," Ryan offered.

"So, probably a month?" Speed suggested.  Ryan nodded.  "That's cool."  He looked at a report, frowning.  "I'm not so sure the hit and run wasn't about you specifically, Wolfe."  He handed that sheet over.

He looked at the hair sample that had come up 'Erica Sykes'.  He tapped his fingers on the table a few times.  "I'll work on the original case then."  They nodded and Speed took his sample from him, letting him have the things from the original scene.  "How would she know I'd be there?"

"That's only one question," Speed warned.  "Including 'did she pay him' and 'does he know where she is'."

"Has he woken up?"

"Nope," Eric sighed.  "We're still waiting."  He put on his lab coat and gloves, getting to work with Ryan.  Just in case someone had to take over that too because Sykes had set it up.


Horatio found his nephew and sister-in-law together at her desk.  "Yelina, may we speak?"

"Sure."  She smiled at her son.  "Wait on me."  She walked off with Horatio.  "Is there a problem?"

"Not really.  I was offered a suggestion."  He looked at her.  "You know the people doing our test lab?"  She grimaced but nodded. "They have an educational system as well.  They're going to be offering it to the department in general.  They wanted to know if Ray Junior would like to participate in the study," he said quietly, smiling at her.  "I can tell you Speed and Ryan Wolfe are both on it already and they do enjoy it a great deal."

She considered it.  "I'm not sure if he'd like that or not.  How expensive is it?"

"They're testing a new update," he admitted.  She nodded. "They've got family that's very big in education.  The programs are designed to be self-paced for geniuses."  He smiled again.  "Mr. Wolfe's recently gotten another degree from his time on it."

"Interesting.  Is it fun?"

"For the most part.  Speed's always on his."

"I'd like to look it over.  Just the standard subjects?"

"That and more.  Even a cooking class."  She smiled at that, chuckling some.  "It would give him something to do that would keep him out of trouble."

"He was in it again?"

"He was seen hanging out with the wrong sort again," he offered gently.  "I was told it was a pre-warning in this case.  I do know that same day he got invited to the mall by the daughter of one of our tech support people."

She rolled her eyes.  "He told me.  He's too young."

"He's not, Yelina.  Ray is at the proper age to start showing interest in females."  He gave her a look.  "Another good reason for him and I to have a few more discussions?"  She nodded, then shook her head.  "Of course you'll have yours as well."

"Thank you.  Want him this weekend?"

"I wouldn't mind.  I'm off this weekend."  She smiled and they walked back.  "Ray."  His nephew looked at him.  "How would you like to spend this weekend with me?"

"Is mom on-call?" he asked.

"No, but I know the girl who invited you to the mall."  Ray moaned, covering his face with his hands.  "Her mother's our on-site tech support for the test lab, Ray."  He looked at him, looking a bit happier.  "She's also working on their educational test system and she wanted to know if you'd like to play on it with her."

"Is it fun or boring?"

"It depends on what you take," he admitted.  "Speed and Ryan Wolfe are both on it.  They both like it.  It's self-paced.  It's very comprehensive.  It could also get you out of a few classes later on."  Ray shrugged.  "Then I'll let her bring one over this weekend.  That way you two can talk about it."  He ruffled his hair.  "Are you two heading home?"

"We are," Yelina agreed. "Would you like to come for dinner, Horatio?"

"I've still got to wrap up the lab for the day," he admitted.  "With the attack earlier it's going to be a longer night than usual."  Ray nodded that he understood.  He smiled at him.  "So, will you come camp out this weekend?"

"Sure.  It'll give Mom time to do girly things that mystify anyone without a vagina."  His mother gave him an odd look.  "Mom, I have had sex ed twice now," he pointed out.  He looked at his uncle.  "I'm assuming but that subject was going to come up?"  Horatio nodded.  "That's fine, I've got questions I couldn't ask the teacher."  His uncle smiled at him.  "Good.  Then I'm all set as long as Uncle Horatio doesn't make me eat gross stuff, like bean sprouts or meat loaf."

"No, I'm not planning on either of those," Horatio promised, patting him on the back.  He smiled at Yellina, who walked off, leaving them alone.  He moved closer.  "Those friends of yours?" he asked quietly.

"She narked?"

"Her mother told me, Ray.  She didn't say a word to her mother or me."  Ray sighed but nodded, sitting down again.  "I don't think you need that sort of danger in your life, nephew.  Especially since one got arrested for holding up the mini-mart."  Ray nodded again.  "Good.  Thank you.  We can talk about that as well if you want.  Remember, you are my nephew and I'm here if you need to ask questions."

"Do you think her daughter's nice?"

"I do like Miffy," he admitted with a smile.  "She's a very good girl.  Got her head on straight.  She's also very beautiful and a fit match for you."  He smoothed down a piece of hair for him.  "She's a very nice girl, Ray.  If you like her, I won't complain."  He smiled and nodded at that.  "All right?"

"Sure.  We'll talk this weekend, Uncle Horatio.  Cases willing."

"Speed's on this weekend.  Unless someone attacks again, I'm all yours."  He smiled and walked off, heading back to the lab.  "Boys?" he asked from the doorway.

"We found Erica's skin and hair samples in the car, H," Speed told him.  "Ryan's trying to see if there's any relation to the original crime."  That got a nod.  "I wish we had tape.  I don't think he was aiming for Wolfe."

"Can we reconstruct?"

"We can," Eric agreed.  "I'm working on that while Wolfe's got his samples running and being gathered."  He showed him the monitor.  "Okay, we were approximately here.  The car came this way," he said, starting the simulation going.  "It wasn't aiming for Wolfe.  It was aiming for Speed, H."

Speed looked over.  "Really?"  He came over to watch it replay.  "Huh, it was. Then why did Wolfe dive out of the way?"

"The car swerved at the end," Ryan reminded them as he came back in with reports.  "I thought it was coming for me so I moved to a better stance and fired.  It turns out he was swinging wide, like a semi-truck turns.  You swing out then in."  He came over to look.  "I was by the body's waist, Eric."  He adjusted that figure and it made more sense.  The car did come very close to his position.  "So it wasn't against me?"

"We're not sure yet," Horatio warned him.  "You three still need to be careful tonight.  Did anyone call Calleigh?"  They all gave him sheepish looks.  "I'll visit her for dinner."  He went back to his office to finish up what he knew and the reports up there.  He called Calleigh, not getting an answer.  "She's probably in a movie."  He hung up and went back to work.  If someone came after Calleigh, she'd shoot them then call him.  She was like that.


Horatio knocked on Calleigh's door that night, looking at her.  "Boxing?" he asked, nodding at her new black eye.

"Sale."  She let him inside.  "Someone got me with an elbow while I was bent down to look at something."

"She under arrest?"

"She apologized very well when she saw my badge," she assured him.  "Offered to drive me to the ER too."  She smiled at him.  "What's up?"

"Well, first of all, a head's up.  The other lab we work with is protecting two someones."

"I heard from Ryan."

"Good.  Did he tell you who?"

"No, he texted about that same message.  I figure if I need to know I'll be given more details."  He smiled and nodded.  "The other thing?  Want some water?"

"No, I'm fine."  He smiled a bit sadly at her.  "Earlier a car crashed a scene the three boys were on.  We think they were going after Speed...."

"But that's not a certainty," she finished.  He nodded once.  "The driver?"

"Still unconscious for some reason," he admitted.  "The doctors aren't sure why.  They said he should be awake by now."  He glanced around then back at her.  "We know Erica Sykes is somehow involved.  Her skin cells and hair were found in the car."

"Then why go after Speed?  He doesn't even look like Ryan."

"Unless she's made it the whole lab," he offered.  "Or she found out that Speed knows what's on the tape as well."

"Oh.  Well, that could be," she admitted.  "That means you, Speed, and Ryan are in trouble."  He nodded.  "Sure, I'll be alert and wary on my way in tomorrow.  You know very well no one's getting in here tonight.  I didn't even order dinner," she teased.  He smiled again.  "Anything else I should worry about?"

"Ray's hanging out with a rougher crowd.  One of them got arrested for holding up a mini-mart the other day," he admitted.  "We've had a talk.  He was diverted that day.  This weekend we're going to be at my house, he'll be over."

"We'll keep an ear out, Horatio.  You know that."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "Go home and sleep.  You look tired."

He nodded. "Thank you, Calleigh.  Be very careful."  He walked out, heading down to his hummer.   The alarm system was on but he had a flat.  He checked the back gate, it was still locked.  He called the autopool people and waited for them to come tow the hummer.  "This one has sensitive test equipment," he told the driver.  "No one gets near it."  They nodded and hooked his hummer up, taking it off.  He sighed and got into the cab that was pulling up, giving it his address.  On the way he texted Tiff the announcement of the flat tire.  It was possible he had driven over a nail or a piece of glass.  He hadn't seen a visible puncture on it.