Poker Buddies.

Eric watched Ryan walk in the next morning, frowning at how he was walking.  He walked down the hall and forced him into a lab.  "Are you trying to embarrass me?" he hissed.


"You're walking funny."

"Yeah, I slept on a bed that gave me a backache."  He shrugged.  "It does that now and then."

"Which means everyone will know where you slept."

Ryan looked at him, then shrugged. "They'll think I fell asleep while I was hanging out with Xander, which I did.  They all know we hang out, Eric."  He walked out, heading to get his stuff from his locker.  Speed looked at his watch then at him.  He shrugged and pointed at Eric.  "Him.  I was here on time."

"Bed back again?"

"Yeah.  I slept funny but it was comfortable."

"It usually is whenever you do that.  Done it a few times myself.  See if you can pop it before you log in."

"Sure."   He went to stretch in the locker room, sighing in pleasure when his back did pop.  "Better."  He walked back out there, going to get back to work. He got one smile from Natalia.  "I fell asleep playing with Xander."

"We figured you did.  You've fallen asleep on the couch plenty of times there."  She shrugged.  "Eric's worried over nothing."

"I hope so."  He took his results from her, sighing in displeasure.  "Valera couldn't match it?"

"Nope.  Sorry.  She tried really hard."

"I know she did.  Pity but we'll figure it out another way."  He walked back to where his case was stored, digging it back out.  Calleigh looked at him. "What?"

"You look like you're in a good mood."

"I am.  I played with Xander most of the night and camped over."  She smiled at that.  "Why?"

"Eric's pouting."

"Yeah, already gotten that this morning."  He smiled.  "Handled.  Trust me."  She nodded.  He got down to work this into the evidence he had.  He had been hoping for a DNA match to anything but it hadn't happened.  It wasn't going to be a happy morning much longer.  Frank leaned in.  "Still working, Frank."

"That's fine.  What crawled up his ass today?"

"I camped over at Xander's."

"Ah.  Yeah, the kid'll make you grin stupidly sometimes."  He glanced around then at him.  "You two okay?"  Ryan looked over and nodded.  "You sure?"

"I'm very sure.  Nothing's changed for us."

"Good.  Now can you get him to stop worrying about his age?"

"I can.  Xander's working on something and it'll be okay."  He nodded and left.  He called Xander. "Hey, me.  You were talking about wrinkles, the same as Eric is.  Yeah, that's what I was thinking too.  Thanks."  He hung up and got back to work. He was missing something somewhere.


Xander walked into the shop he needed, nodding at one of the Wiccans in there.  She gave him a dirty look. "He was knowingly selling me stuff to kill me and others.  Hell yes they arrested him."  He walked over to her.  "I wanted to pay for some work for some people."

"What sort?  Herbal?"

"Illusion.  Long lasting.  Us but with things like wrinkles."  She sat up at that.  "Making us look like we're aging some."

"That's....  Actually not that hard."  She stared at him.  "I probably couldn't do everything.  You might have to streak your hair."

"I can do that.  That's not a problem."

"Sit, tell me more."  He sat and talked to her about how he was still looking too young, how  he needed to look a bit older for some things.  She nodded and agreed that was true.  He told her it was something that came with being a GHS member and it got them more attention.  How they needed it sometimes.  She nodded more slowly at that.  He outlined who he needed them for, him and Eric, and later possibly someone else.  How he wanted them to be done.   She nodded at that, patting him on the hand.  They worked out how to do it and she said she'd get to work after he paid her.  He walked out and she went to find the book she needed.  It wasn't a hard spell.  It was the exact nature of what he wanted.  A few wrinkles, a laugh line now and then.  Nothing further.  She could easily do it though she wondered why he needed one a year.


Xander came home two weeks later with two small boxes. He called Eric.  "Come over tonight."  He hung up and set everything in the kitchen.  Then he got himself a drink.  Eric came in a few minutes later.  "Off today?"

"Yeah.  Why?"  Xander pointed at the boxes.  "What are they?"

"Put on the first one, give it ten minutes to settle in, then look in the mirror."  He smiled at him.   "Problems being solved," he said at his confused look.  Eric took out the ring.  "First finger.  I had Marisol help me pick out the style."  He smiled at that and put it on, then headed to look immediately.  He stared, watching the slight change happen.  Eric stared, then felt his own face.  He came out looking tired.  Like he hadn't slept in a day.  The few laugh lines he had were highlighted.  The line in his forehead was a bit deeper.  Xander looked at him.  "That'll last for a year.  Next year, on this date, you put on the next one.  It's a bit more progressive.  I've got a set for me to start wearing in a few years.  She went over how she placed them with me and we'll be seeing if I can make them myself."

"I..."  He smiled and hugged him.  "I love you."  He grinned.  "You can have Ryan for another night if you want."

Xander patted him on the face.  "They're saying one of mine is going to go off next life so I'll take Ryan then."  He laughed and skipped off, going to show the others.  The other immortals were going to be happy about this.  Xander settled in to sip his drink, putting their things in a more hidden spot.  Then he sat down with the book.  She had taught him how to apply it.  Now he had to figure out if he could craft it like it would be needed.  If not, he could hire her to do the others.  Horatio had knowingly backed Don's age down by a few years in his profile.  Danny's as well.  His, well, there was no hiding he had died young and pretty.


Speed looked at Eric, then stared at him.  "Long night?  You've got deeper ....  He managed it?"

"He hired someone."  He smiled and hugged him.   "Good enough for a year?"

"More than, Eric."  He patted him on the face.  "Now, go tell Ray.  He's worried about the gray hairs not coming in."  Eric went to talk to Ray, making Speed grin at that.  Then he looked over at Ryan, who was shrugging at him.  He nodded and he came over.  "Eric looks really tired today."

"I don't know why, he slept last night."

"Maybe it's something Xander just did for him."

Ryan beamed.  "Then I won't worry too much."  He punched him on the arm.  "Can I get a second pair of eyes?  I'm missing something."

"Sure."  They walked over and went over his case together.  Even Speed was stumped by this.  Then again...   He pulled out the samples from the blood pools and sent it back for other reasons.  That could help.  It could definitely help. "What did Xander do?"

"He's been looking at long-term illusions," he said quietly. "Something to add a few wrinkles a year."

"Ah.  No wonder he looked so tired.  It was so sudden."  Ryan nodded.  "So we're good?"

"We're fine.  I have years before I need one hopefully. This gives Eric more time."

"Good."   He smiled. "Not that he'd leave the area."

"No, he hasn't in a while.  He's been taking business classes at night."

"Who has?" Cooper asked when he came in.

"Eric.  We're all helping Xander with his money now and then," he covered. "What's up?"

"I found a murder on a traffic camera and no one's seen the body yet."  Speed and Ryan followed. "I sent it to Mac's AV tech but he said he hadn't seen her yet."  He replayed it for them.  Then he looked at them.  "I have no idea what was going on."

"Me either.  Where was that?  We'll start looking that way," Speed offered.  It was handed over.  "Were you just scanning?"

"No, Traffic caught it on the daily printout of people to send tickets to.  They caught the scene with the gun so they sent me the film and had me look it over.  That's what's so mystifying.  That's not a greatly busy intersection but still."

"Point.  I'll check, Cooper. Thanks."  He headed to call Traffic to see if there was a car there at the moment.  That was the first place to start. It had been towed so he headed to the impound yard to look at it.  "Awww.  Someone moved the body for us."  He called Alexx.  "Got a strange one.  Come get me at the impound yard. And her.  Thanks."  He hung up and got to work on her.  There was something seriously off about this case.


Horatio came down to the lab, looking confused.  "We caught one off a traffic camera?"  Speed nodded.  "Then someone moved the body and towed the car?"   Speed nodded again.  "Any ideas?"

"On who moved it? Yeah, one of our psychos.  He's also the one who called in the obstruction.  He wasn't involved and they're debating whether to charge him or not since he's with the PD.  The other?  He wasn't facing the camera.  Tyler's looking for a single scene with his face.  We almost have his plate.  He's doing it that way since that's the evidence we have."

"Interesting.  Any idea why?"

"Not yet.  Her purse was in the car and all there.  Everyone I talked to said she was a nice, sweet, normal girl without any bad habits.  Every once in a while they went out to do a girl's from the office night out.  She usually had one and cabbed home.  She was personable, people liked her to as their therapist when they were having boyfriend problems.  Nothing unusual there."

"Interesting.  Keep me informed."

"Anything on the other one?"

"Heading now."

"Need help?"

"No."  He looked at him and Speed quirked up an eyebrow.  "I need to do this, Speed."

"Go, be safe.  Or else."

"I know."  He went off, calling Xander to let his brother go free so he could meet him. This was something they had to do together.


Horatio watched his nephew and his father face off for the first time.  They were all wrong, Ray Junior punched him in the nose.  "That's for mom," he said, then he kicked him in the nuts.  "That's for me and the hell you put us through."

Horatio moved closer. "Ray."

"Don't tell me we have to leave."

"You should.  It's not safe."

"Then let him and Mom go.  No one hates me and if Mom goes to Brazil, she's returning home."

"Point, but where would you live?"

"Your spare room?" he asked hopefully.  "Or Xander's?"

"We'll see what happens, Ray," he sighed, giving him a hug.  "I don't want you to go either."  He looked at his nephew.  Then at his brother.

"It would be safer if he came with us," he reminded him, getting up with a groan of pain.  "Well, you taught my son how to hit properly, I'm proud, brother."  He looked at his son.  "Those are the only free ones you're getting."

"You ever hit me again and I'm going to cut you into bait chunks," Ray assured him.  He looked at his father.  "Please?"

"Junior, it would be safer," his father said.  "There's going to be people who want Horatio now too."

Ray looked at him.  "In case it had escaped your rotted mind, I'm not exactly helpless.  I've got people who would protect me.  Xander would give up his life to protect me.  Being with you means we're a bigger target together."

"Your mother would throw a fit," he said simply.  Ray wobbled at that.  "You know she would, son."  He gave him a cold look, one he had clearly learned off his uncle.  "If you hate it that much and we can't make it happen, I'll send you back to them."  Ray looked at Horatio, who nodded.  "Now, your stuff?"

"In the bag.  Uncle Horatio told me to pack, that there was a major problem, so I shoved everything together.  I even did laundry because I was expecting the need to be evacuated for a few weeks."  He looked at his uncle.  "I'm going to be lodging an official protest at this point.  I don't like this idea."

"I understand, Ray.  Did you remember to pack clothes with the electronics?"

"The electronics are with the school books in my backpack.  The clothes are in the duffel.  Including some of Mom's."  Horatio smiled at that.  "Along with another one of her stuff.  I knew you weren't going to give her time to pack."  He shook his head. "Must I?"

"You should.  If it's not going well, you're more than welcome to come back up here, Ray.  You know your Uncle and I will miss you horribly."  Ray hugged him again.  "You behave in Brazil.  Remember you can email me."

"I will.  Take the time to grieve, Uncle Horatio.  Rant at Xander if Speed won't let you."  He looked up.  "This is seriously unfair to you."  He grinned and got the things from the back of the cab, hefting them to the plane with his father's help.  His father even paid the cabbie, it was nice.  He got his backpack and gave him a nod. "Thanks."

"Welcome."  He checked the trunk and closed it, then waved something.  "Kid."  He came back to get the small card case, getting a shrug.  "Not a clue.  I haven't used it all day.  No one reported it missing.  Figured it was yours."

Ray looked inside and smiled.  "It is. Thanks."  He nodded and drove off.  He walked over to his uncle, showing him the filled card holder.  Horatio smiled at what was in there.  "Xander must know."

"He does.  I'm sure he knew it was coming."  He kissed him on the forehead.  "Behave and email me.  Let me know if you need me."  He nodded and stuffed that into his pocket, getting onto the plane.  Horatio called Yelina to get her to the airport.  It was time.  He watched as the reunion was made and Ray Junior protested, loudly.  She was happier though.  He waved and they left.  He finally turned around and found Xander behind him.  "You knew?"

"Of course I knew.  Not like I can send things that far across the city, Horatio."  He gave him a hug.  "Relax.  I'm here for you."  Horatio relaxed, letting it out now.  Speed would soothe him later, Xander was there to let him grieve now.  "He'll be back."

"He won't be.  It's not safe."

"It's not any more safe for him down there," he reminded him quietly.  "It'll happen, Horatio."  Horatio pulled back and nodded.  "We'll see him again soon.  I doubt your brother could put up with the rampaging hormones he'll have within the next few years.  You know his mom's not able."

"True.  Ray does know some."

"Some and being there are two different things.  By the way, I gave him the refilled Armani one you were going to get for your birthday."  Horatio smiled at that.   "Come on.  Need a ride back?"

"I drove."

"I cabbed.  Want me to drive?"

"No, it'll look odd if I don't.  Come on.  I'll bring you back and then head home early."

"You should."  He patted him on the hand.  "How is Eric's thing going?"

"It's good.  Marisol said it's cute."  He smiled at that and got into the hummer awkwardly.  Horatio smiled at him.  "You'll get more practice."

"Only if I decide I want to work with you guys and after some college.  Do we see that?"  Horatio shuddered and shook his head.  "Me either."  They headed off, Horatio lightened by that bit of small banter.  Xander was good at stress relief.  He kept up inane chatter on the way back, to letting Horatio have time to think too hard yet.  When they parked he walked him inside and upstairs, nodding at Speed. "He found me out by myself."

"You know better," Speed reminded him.  "What if you had been taken?"

"I was at the airport to check on possible vacation spots."  He shrugged.  "I would've went to Bora Bora or Brazil this year instead of next?"

Speed caught the hint and nodded.  "Probably.  H, your phone's went off about six times in the last few minutes."  Horatio went to deal with that.  "Thanks."

"I got to give him a small survival pack. He'll be back," he noted quietly.  "You know he will."

"He will."  He patted him on the head and went up to the office. "Danny, Xander's in.  H found him looking at vacation destinations for next year."

Danny came out of the lab he was working in.  "Maybe instead of the convention since you can't go this year.  They don't want anyone to try to top last year's," he said at the beginning pout.  "Adam already told you that."

"Yes, Danny," he sighed, walking off pouting.  He ran into Don.  "Are you going to go to the convention without me?"

"No, I was thinking about using the Hershey gift certificate I got then.  Already booked and everything.  You're probably going to Vegas again.   Right?"  Xander shook his head.  "Are you banned?"

"I don't want to make more trouble for them."

"I know."  He gave him a hug.  "We'll figure out where you're going instead of the convention.  You can drag Danny with you and everything.  How about that?"  Xander let out a small smile.  "Good boy.  Now go home."

"Horatio found me looking at travel destinations."

"Out alone, huh?  Drove?"

"Cabbed.  Figured I didn't want to leave the corvette in short term parking while I talked to the travel agent I use out there."  He shrugged and headed off, going to catch a cab home. He had the funny feeling and looked up then headed back inside right before someone shot at him.  He looked at the horrified guard.  "I lived somewhere dangerous.  I have bad shit radar."  He walked him upstairs while the others ran out to find the shooter.  He got put at Don's desk since there were no windows nearby, giving him a shrug.  "Someone tried to cap my ass."

"Wonderful. Who?"

"Sniper, sir.  They've found his nest but not him," the guard reported.  "They're still looking."

"Even better."  He nodded at that.  "Why?"  He looked at Xander, who shrugged. "Got a clue?"

"Sunnydale?  Someone who wants me and is in denial?  I don't know, pick one."

"Point."  He went to talk to the guys, seeing what he could find.  What he did made him chilled.  They had pictures of Xander in the house.  He sent copies of the scene to Mac, who sent back a 'go to a hotel, Don.  That's military'.  Don went back inside.  "We're going to a hotel, Xander."

"Already made reservations under my second identity.  It's secure, nice, and has a pool."  He stood up.  "Now?"

"In a while.  Let's give us time to figure this out."  Xander nodded, sitting down again.  He saw the look at Yelina's desk then heard he small sigh.  "What?  She'd know?"

"I hope not.  She'll worry more about her son."  They shared a look.  "It'll be fine."

"I'm sure it will be."  He moved the kid and sat at his desk, letting Xander sit beside him on the floor, like he liked to do.  Horatio came back.  "I already sent it to Mac, he thinks it was Military."  He looked at him.  "Xander said Sunnydale stuff?"

Xander tugged on his coat.  "Remember the tape I didn't give Mac but he found out about?"  He nodded then moaned.  "That's my guess."

"Or it could be something to do with my last case," Horatio offered.

"There were some links there, yes."

"Okay. If you say so.  Tonight, we're going to a hotel.  Already made the arrangements."  Horatio nodded.  "Under my second identity."  That got a brighter smile.  "So we'll be fine.  Go home, Horatio. It's been a long day."

"Once you two are settled in.  Did you want Ryan and Eric or anyone to go with you?"

"If they do you know very well someone will say we're all having a big orgy there," he said dryly, making Horatio snicker in laughter.  "We'll be fine with just Danny and Don plus hotel security."  Horatio nodded, heading to check on the progress since Ryan was in fierce bitch mode according to the patrol officer who had called him.  He walked out and clapped him on the shoulder. "I have it, Ryan.  Go guard Xander."  Ryan nodded, heading inside.  "What do we have?"

"We have a nest and a missing person," one of the dog handlers offered.  "No scent of him, Lieutenant.  We found tracks from a BMX bike."

"Wonderful."  He nodded.  "All right then.  We'll evacuate him within the next few hours."  That got a nod and they kept searching.  The look on Horatio's face was the 'someone's going to pay' look.  They all knew that look.  He went back inside.  "It looks like he's gotten away," he said quietly to Don.  Don just sighed and packed things for the night.  "I think it might be better if you went to the other spot."

"Major problem.  He had pictures from the house, Horatio."  Ryan stiffened at that.  "They were on top.  He doesn't often go out naked in public these days."  That got a nod and they got Xander up and hustled him down to the hummers, watching as Don drove him off with Ryan.  Ryan came back alone.  Danny would head in his own car later on.

Horatio called Mac to handle this one since it was military related then he went to watch and think.  Or not think since Speed kept interrupting him before he could brood.  His mate did know him very well.


Don looked over as Xander answered the door.  "You know better than that."  Xander said something quietly to someone and got a nod, and a case, then paid the guy.  The guy walked off and he walked back inside.  "What's that?"

"An emergency kit I had stored in town."   He sat down to open it, then looked at his boyfriend's horrified look.  "Sometimes it's necessary.  The military's too stubborn to leave me alone permanently, Don."  He glanced at the closed curtains then got up and set a heater on it, coming back to sit down again and look over the rest of it.  Don looked at the heater, then at him.  "To confuse any heat readings he might be taking.  That's why I chose this place."  He found what he wanted and handed it over.  "For Horatio.  It's the audio file of what went down and who we had."  He put that box back and pulled back his hair with a band he had in there, then put on an earring, becoming someone blonde, tanned, and a bit different looking.  "How did I do with my first attempt?"

"Good.  You don't really look like yourself.  Maybe a cousin."  Someone knocked and he got up to let Danny in.  "Hey."

"I heard."  He looked at the person on the couch then at Don.  Don flicked his ear, getting a nod.  Danny walked over to look at him.  "You can still see some dark hair in back," he said quietly.  Xander braided it and it quit that.  "Too far out?"  Xander nodded.  "Okay, remember that."  He looked him over again, then nodded.  "Looks good to me.  What is that?"

"An emergency kit."  He let him have it.  "Mostly for you guys," he admitted.

"There's a gun in here."

"Plus a mini crossbow and a few other things," he agreed, shrugging.  He took out the hard-sided case and opened it.  "Plus one of these."  He put the sword together and let him test it.  "It's even sharp."

"I can tell that."  He put it back into the case and looked at the rest of the bag.  "Your passport?"

"In this name," he agreed. "I need to put a picture in."  They stared.  "I do."  He shrugged. "I can do that with the thing in there."  He pulled out the small kit in there, using the digital camera on it to take his picture. It would scale it back to the right size and print it out, already glued on the back.  He looked at it then nodded and stuck it onto the passport, pressing it down.  "There."  He put that back and looked at them. "What?"

"Where did you get that?" Don asked.

"I refuse to answer that on the grounds you'll kick my ass."

"Not good enough," Don offered.  "That's probably illegal."

"More immoral.  It's not illegal to have a picture camera and printer together yet."  He shrugged.  "It's only the size that makes it immoral.  As for where?  In the city.  I'll tell Horatio because it might become useful for him sometime soon.  Ryan doesn't know either before you call him."  He took the bag back and Don took the camera setup to look over.  He took it back when he was done, putting it back inside.  He grinned. "It even looks just like a polaroid when folded up."

"I noticed that."  He took the bag to look through again, coming up with other stuff he wasn't sure about.  He lifted up something and hit the extend switch, turning on the taser.  "Huh."  He put that back and pulled out a small canister.  "Sleeping gas?"  Xander nodded.  "Are you trying to be James Bond?"

"No."  He pouted.  "Just good and survive."

"You are.  How many more of these are around?" Danny asked.

"Two, three.  This is the one with the picture."  He shrugged.  "I was going to give the other stuff to Steve."

"Sure," he sighed, then shook his head.  "You know we've got to tell Eric, right?"

"Tell Richard. He's the one who put me in touch with them."

"We're telling Eric," Don assured him. "And Horatio.  And probably Mac."

"Mac would have to report it."

"No he wouldn't."

"Yes he would.  He's got good guy syndrome," Xander reminded him.

"Point."  He went to call Eric, bringing him to their location.  Eric gave Xander a stare too.  He flicked his ear.  "It's his first attempt."

"Looks good."  He came in and Xander showed him the camera by taking his picture.  Eric gaped at the picture that came out.  "How?"

"Richard pointed me at them."

"I should confiscate that."

"I was sending it to Steve."

"That's not a bad idea," Eric admitted.  He sighed.   "What did you do?"

"He's got some emergency packs around the city," Danny offered dryly.  He handed it over. "Complete with take-apart sword."

Eric looked at that then the other stuff, then at Xander.  "This I didn't expect from you."

"It's handy.  Remember, I've got more issues than you do."

"Point.  Who fired at you earlier?"

"Personally?  I think someone from the military about Sunnydale."


"They had a covert ops group in there that we ended up breaking down for them."  Eric sat down and stared at him.  "They were torturing others."

"Uh-huh."  He just nodded at that and sighed, shaking his head.  "At least you're trying to protect others."

"I figured that would come in handy."

"It will.  Also for those who make fake IDs, Xander."

"Who do you think I got it off of, Eric?  Richard pointed me at them."

"Fine.  We'll go over that with Horatio later," he sighed, shaking his head.  "Let me see the one you did."  Xander tossed it over.  It was a good job.  The picture was stuck well.   "The new licenses are embedded.  How are they getting past that?"

"Blank sheets of cards and digital cameras. Just like the DMV does."

Eric moaned. "I need to know who they are."

"If I tell you, you'll bust them and they'll know it was from me."

"They won't, Xander."

"They will, Eric.  I'm the one who suggested the camera.  There's only twelve of them in existence that I know of."

"Oh."  He nodded at that.  "We'll see what H says then."  Xander nodded at that.  "You'll tell him?"

"I had every intention of telling him.  He could find a way around that if he needed to and sometimes he knows people who need the product."

"Good point.  Plus Steve would."  That got a nod.  "Good thinking.  Bad timing to show us, but good thinking."  He smiled.

"Push the ring back in place, the wrinkles aren't meshing," Danny ordered.

"I had to take it off to clean toxic goo off me earlier. I just put it back on."  He wiggled it and everything matched up again. "Better?"  They nodded.  "Thanks, guys."  He looked in the kit again.  "Where's the other ones?"



"In case I needed to run from something like this or another attacker, Eric.  I know very well they can't protect me all the time and that one guy never showed up."  They all groaned.  "So therefore, I made some contingency plans.  I'm not the airhead everything thinks I am."   Someone tapped on the door and he went to check then let in the security guard.  "What's up?"

"Checking on your party, sir.  There was a man downstairs trying to find you."  He smiled.  "Thank you for that tip."

"Welcome.  Do I look okay as a blond?"

"The color makes a difference, you look like a whole new person.  He went away when the desk person couldn't find you in the system."

"Thank you, Bob."

"Welcome, sir."  He took another tip and left.

Xander came over and dug into the little pocket inside the bag and came out with a different earring, putting that in.  Now he was a redhead.  They all looked amused.  "What?"

"You look like Horatio's younger gay brother."

"Thanks.  I'll tell him you said that when I see him later.  We should go."  They nodded and packed everything together, letting Xander lead the way.  Since he had the plans and all. They ended up at a restaurant in Chinatown and in the back room, where Xander took off his earring with a sigh of pleasure.  "Thanks, guys.  So, not playing tonight but I've got to pick up and run I think."  They pouted.  "Sorry.  Someone tried to shoot me earlier.  I'm much too pretty to die this week."  One of the guys went to get the two bags from the back and handed it to him.  "Thanks, boys.  See you guys in a few weeks.  Email me if we're moving areas."  He put on the earring and walked out with a wink for the waiter who usually got him his tea.  He slid into the car and looked at them.  "What?"

"What was that?" Don asked.

"Where I go to play poker on Thursday afternoons?"  He shrugged. "Are we barging in on Horatio?"

"We probably should," Eric admitted.  "Anything else you should pick up?"

"Not with you guys with me."  They all glared at him. "Truth. Sorry."  He shrugged.  "Let me go do that.  Don't touch my poker winnings."  He took a bundle of cash from one bag and headed out in a cab, going to see his other contacts.  He'd meet them at Horatio's house.  Though he didn't pick up *everything*.  The guys who owed him money were told and they'd come up with it soon enough so he could store that instead of what he had withdrawn from his hiding spots.  He landed on Horatio's doorstep a few hours later with two large bags and a backpack, tapping gently.  Speed let him in with a glare.  "Let me guess, Eric ranted?" he asked as he walked in.

"A lot.  He's at home.  Don and Danny are at a different hotel."

"That's fine.  I swore up and down I'd tell Horatio about what I had hidden so Don would quit nagging.  Think he's up for a laugh?"

"Probably could use one," he admitted.  "Horatio?"  He came out of the study.  He pointed at Xander.  "The idiot arrived."

"He is not," Horatio reminded him.  "Xander?"  Xander gave him a sweet smile.  "That doesn't work on me."

"Yay.  I promised Don I would tell you.  I figured if they needed busted you could do it without using me so I wouldn't get in trouble with the poker buddies and you probably knew someone who could use the help now and then."

"Hold on, your *poker* buddies did this?" Speed asked.  "Who are you playing poker with, Xander?"

"Well, one of the heads of a street gang.  A few dealers I think.  Someone named Senor Cruz?  And a few others.  Depends on which game we're talking about."  Horatio smirked at him.  "What?  Bad things?"

"Bad people, Xander.  Come talk to me.  Bring the things.  Don was amused at your poker stash."

"Yeah well, I told a few of them I wanted the money they owed me soon too.  That way I can refill those spots.  I only hit the one poker stash. The rest of this is stuff I found because of them."  He walked the stuff he was carrying into the office and started to unpack, unwrapping things from clothes.  "Sorry, had to have clothes in there."

"That's fine."  He took the small camera setup Don had shown him earlier.  "Where does this hook up?"

"USB port in the back of the base to the computer in the backpack."  He pulled it out and handed it over, then hooked up a small printer with a black case attached to the paper side.  Then he got more stuff.

"Whoa, that's a sniper rifle."  Speed came in to get it and looked it over.  "Nice taste."

"Thank you."  He beamed.  He went back to unpacking, putting the money beside him, the clothes in another pile.  "I know I have another one," he said, repacking the money and clothes into the first bag and undoing the second one to start working on that one.  "Ah!"  He found it and handed that box over as well.  Then he got everything reloaded back into that bag.  Horatio gave him a look so he sighed and pulled out the stack of blank documents in the bottom.  "I'm sending those to Steve."

"I'm sure you are," he agreed.  He flipped through the blank birth certificates.  Then the stack of black passports.  Then he looked at him. "Interesting.  What else can you do?"

"Those can be loaded into the printer to be printed."  He hooked up the camera to the computer, then looked at Speed.  He pointed it at him and typed, then it flashed and he downloaded something.  A minute later the printer hummed and out popped a full, warm, new Florida license.  He handed it to Horatio, who stared at it.  "He needed a new one. After the storm, I'm never going to be without an ID again."  Speed stared.  "What?" he whined.  "I'm making plans for the next time I get kidnaped and helping Steve."

"Owning that is probably illegal."

"It's not on the lists," he defended.  Speed groaned. "It's not."

"No, it's probably not," he admitted, using his computer to log into work and search the new license.  It was in the database.  "That part is however."

"They put it together for me, Horatio."  He logged off and went to get them both something to drink, bringing it back.  Xander had repacked everything. "I'll send it to Steve in the morning."

"I want to know who you play poker with and where, what days, all of it," Horatio ordered calmly.

"As long as they can't trace it back to me.  I didn't know a few were drug dealers until a few weeks back.  Then one started to talk about his son Clavo's trade."

"I understand.  I can do that," he promised. "As long as you cooperate."

"Sure."  He shrugged.  "Ryan picked me up one day and started to vent on me.  I didn't know why.  He said one was a gang leader."

"How did you get into this circle of players?" Horatio asked.

"Manny introduced me."

"Manny Two Shoes?"  Xander beamed and smiled.  "He was in your original high stakes circle?"  Xander nodded.  "Why did he introduce you?"

"He wanted to see if anyone could beat me or figure out how I was cheating.   He was trying to get out of the half a million he still owes me."

"I see.  How many people owe you money, Xander?"

"A lot."  He shifted, curling up so he could hug his knees.  "They're going to be paying me this week.  Why?"

"I'd like to know who," he offered.

"The General, as the other guys call him, Senor Cruz to me, said he knew I knew you."

"All right, here's what we're going to do, Xander.  You're still going on a trip.  Alone probably.  That way you keep your cover.  I want to know everything about your poker buddies.  When you come back, after we've gotten the sniper, then we'll see if I need you to wear a wire."

"They pat me down all the time."

"I know they do.  It'll be fine."  Xander nodded.  "Good boy.  Where would you like a vacation?"

"Brazil?" he asked pitifully.

Horatio gave him a hug.  "I can't do that without endangering them.  Anywhere else?"


"With your reputation, it's not a bad idea and I have some contacts in Interpol," he agreed with a smile.  He got to work making the arrangements, including telling his boyfriends so they'd take care of the animals.  Then they got to work on who he played poker with on what days.  Xander ended up making a call to say he wouldn't be at the next game to someone, telling them about the sniper and how it was thought he was military so he was taking a sudden vacation to Monaco, to have the rest of his poker debts gathered back at the usual spots.  That he had taken the one from Fu's place.  Then he hung up and got to work on everything else.  They even drove Xander to the airport with Mac's assistance.  That way they could talk about how it was wrong to horde illegal document making machines.  He seemed to listen to Mac now and then but Horatio couldn't berate him for it this time.  Mac even stopped to get the poker money Xander had picked up.  Xander did as promised and sent the box of document making things to Steve with instructions to call him if he didn't understand.  UPS drops were wonderful.  Then Xander got onto the flight.

Mac went back to Horatio's, giving him an odd look.  "How much did we send him off with?  Those two bags were stuffed."

"Danny and Don gave up counting after a hundred bundles of hundreds," Speed offered, handing him a beer.  "You'll need it.  Did he send the stuff to Steve?"

"What was it?"

"Things to help people like him when they had to change lives," Horatio said dryly, coming out of the office, showing him the new license.  "In the database and all."  He handed it to Speed, who just smiled at that. "No losing it to speeding tickets, Tim."

"Yes, dear."  He grinned and sat down, letting Mac sit down and stare at them.  "He's been unknowingly playing poker with the Miami's Underground."

"Charming.  How did he get introduced?"

"Manny Two Shoes."

"The hustler?"  They both nodded.  "Why?"

"He owes Xander about a half a million at the moment," Horatio said blandly.  Mac moaned and drank his beer, going to get a second one.  "Exactly. He wanted to see if anyone could beat him.  He's on his way to Monaco."

"Well, they'll be as happy as Vegas I'm sure."  He sat down again.  "So, what did we find out?"

"A lot," Horatio offered.  "But it can't come from him."

"Agreed.  I wouldn't make them go after the kid.  He might make them his willing subjects."  He shrugged and Horatio handed over the information, then he stared at him.  "You're kidding?"

"Nope," Horatio said with a smile.

"Who did he get the blank documents from?"

"Second page, Mac."  Mac looked and smirked. "That's a military contact.  Not an immie I've heard of either.  It went to Steve?" They both nodded.  "At least it's being used for good purposes.  Did he use his passport?"  They shook their heads.  "Joy."  He went over the information.  "I could use some of this."

"I want the Cruz family gone," Horatio agreed.  "Shall we work together?"

"I would enjoy that," he agreed happily.  That got smiles from Speed too.  "Anything else we can use?"

"Yes. He said Richard sent him to the document makers.  Did he send the laptop and everything to Steve?" Horatio asked.  Mac nodded.  "That had a small camera setup that made the pictures.  It's a digital one and it comes out pre-glued according to him.  That's how he did his new passport."

"Interesting new technology. I wonder if anyone knows."

"He said there's only twelve and it was kinda his idea, his words," Speed offered.  "So they'd know."

"Still needs to be passed back."

"It does," Horatio agreed.  "Not quite yet though."

"Agreed.  Once we get a working one."  That got nods.  "Have you checked for bugs recently?"

"I have," Horatio agreed.  "Today in fact."  He pointed at the kitchen.  "They're already frozen in a chunk of ice.  I'm going to be talking with Rick in the morning."

"Sure.  Let me know if I can help with that too."  They got down to planning how to do this.  It would help them bring down some very bad people and they wouldn't have to mention Xander at all.  Once they got one of them, and they could get at least one without implicating the kid, they could get more and bring down some major players. The best thing was they could use Xander's sudden need for a vacation as an excuse.  Someone had to be watching him.  Not even them.  They could've gotten it from the guy hunting him when they found him.  Hopefully the next day.


Steve Ellison opened the package that had been overnighted to his office, looking at the note first.  "If you need to know how to use this, let me know, Xander.  Remember to fold the bigger things in half by width?"  He took out the backpack and started to unload the gear.  The camera got an odd look.  The printer thing got another one.  Then he saw the stack of passports and moaned.  He knew what this was for.  He put it back together and went to hide it somewhere safer than his office since the people he was working for were being investigated by the FBI for fraud and embezzlement. Fortunately his brother knew what he was and he knew he was doing necessary things.  Even if he didn't like it.  And his brother's partner was even more able to hide things for him.  Blair had some extraordinary contacts within Cascade.  By the time he got back he was happy again.  It was safely put away.  The agent looking over the books he had reported gave him an odd look. "Personal gift from someone I help do private investments for.  He only knows my work address and I didn't want to leave it here since it was expensive."

"Sure.  Anything we can use?  We know there's an issue in Miami and your secretary said it came from there."

"No.  It was a new computer.  He's a member of GHS."  That got a shudder.  "Since he's got problems dealing with money I do his finances for him.  He's a friend of a friend."  He sat down to go over what the forensic accountant had found.  No one had found out he was the whistleblower yet.  His father's reputation was as 'anything for the profit' and they all assumed he was like that as well.


Xander stepped off the plane in Monaco and looked at the Custom's agent.  "English?"  He shrugged.  "I speak French and Russian poorly."  A line was pointed at so he hefted his bags that way.  "English, French, or Russian?"

"Francais?" he suggested.

Xander nodded and handed over his passport.  The guy looked at him then the picture.  "Hairdye," he said in French.  "Necessary.  I'm taking a sudden vacation because someone was stalking me."  That got a nod and they went over the bags.  They found his backup camera and laptop but they looked normal to him.  They were mostly normal.  He nodded and let them search the money bags he had carried onto the private flight, weathering the horrified looks.  "I'm in a circle of high stakes poker games in Miami."

The officer nodded and told him how to get to the cabs.  He nodded and got a trolley, heading out with everything.  He knew they'd be alerting the locals but he wasn't going to do anything wrong.  He nodded at the officer outside.  "Which casino is best to stay at?"  He gave him a recommendation and Xander smiled.  "Thank you."  He headed out, getting into a cab, the money bags first.  He paid the driver and repeated that, finding out that it had a baccarat tournament going on.  He checked in and went to see if he could enter.  They had his file from Vegas so it was all good.  He paid his entrance and went to get some of the cash from the bag, coming down to cash in and sit down to play.  Fortunately it had only started the day before so he could join the last heat of beginning levels.  It was going to be a fun trip, even if he lost.


Horatio looked at his email a week later, seeing the pout from Xander.  "They're debating if he should be allowed to play his last hand at baccarat over.  The other guy claimed he was cheating.  They're going over all his games in detail now.  If so and he wins he won the tournament.  If not, he came in second."  Danny groaned at that.  "We sent him to a good spot for it."  He handed over the file.  "I'm still not sure that test won't be challenged."

"Let them.  It's based on sound science.  Mac's had to do it before."

"Good point."  He smiled.  "I'm not debating it, simply warning. He confessed once you faced him down, Danny."  Danny relaxed and nodded at that.  "Do you still want to stay?"


"Of course. I'm going to call Greg today, and then possibly Grissom.  I would love to have Greg but I have my doubts about his ability to handle it down here.  That should handle the last open spot."  Danny smiled and went back to work.  He called Greg.  "I know it's early."  He smiled and leaned back, listening to him babble.  "Well, you're my second choice and I wanted to explain why and see if I could help you out there, Greg.  Yes, but you'd also be far away from all your coping mechanisms out here.  It would create a lot of stress.  Plus most of the department here knows about the group.  There have been officers who have hinted that they know about me as well."  He nodded at that sound reasoning.  Greg had complained about being outed to his whole team there, having the ones here know and know how to deal with it wasn't thrilling him.

"I know that, Greg, but I'm still worried that you'd end up surging down here since you wouldn't have the time or the energy for the first few months to go find a coping mechanism.  That's what I'm offering, yes.  I think you're doing great out there with him and with Danny wanting to stay, you'd be under Mac.  Mac's lenient but he's also a former Marine and he's got a set of fairly firm guidelines, Greg.  I'm not sure it would suit you best either.  No, he and Danny have some personality conflicts now and then."  He smiled. "I know.  They'll probably end up switching back and forth.  I know they do know.  Xander was up there....  Yes, Don and Danny both worked with that team when Xander first took Don in as his protector.  Mac may have known another, I'm not sure.  Which again, would lead to more stress," he agreed when Greg pointed that out.  "If I knew you were coming to my team and only my team, I would love to have you, Greg."

He smiled at his assertion he wanted to come down. "If you can set it up beforehand, my next opening is yours.  No, Sheldon's going back into the field as well.  They've finally found an ME for their team.  Yes, I'm sure, Greg.  The next opening if you want it.  Let me know, make sure you've got coping mechanisms in place before you come down. That way you can't get seriously overloaded and surge on a scene.  Greg, even I've done that," he said quietly.  "I have one, Greg.  He was there and got me settled down.  Thank you.  I think you have the makings of a great CSI.  That's the other reason I wanted to talk to Grissom for you. I don't think it's fair you're living up to the standards set by someone who's OCD.  Yes, I do realize that.  Ryan is as well.  If you want, I could do that.  Of course, Greg.  I want you to find a keeper or a coping mechanism before you come down when the next job spot opens, Greg.  You'll need it.  The first two months are always harder while you get adjusted to the new team and everything.  Of course. Thank you, Greg.  I'll call him immediately.  Of course.  Have a better night, Greg.  Probably within a year.  They're talking about promoting Calleigh over one of the lesser labs."  He smiled. "I wouldn't mind.  You know that.  Of course, Greg.  Have a better day."

He hung up.  Then he decided to wake up Grissom.  "Gil, Horatio Caine in Miami.  Actually he did, but with what's going on down here I don't think the position would do the best for him and his goals.  However, he did make some observations that I think you do need to hear.  Gil, you put him with someone with OCD.  Yes, he does.  Have you see Warrick's kit recently?"  He smirked.  "Exactly.  Greg's not like that.  It's a conflict that's keeping him from learning as he should.  Perhaps that's a point to consider.  You have an excellent team out there, but Warrick and he are having some personality conflicts in this role, even if they can work together usually.  Yes, but Greg's from a whole different sort of culture, Gil.  Yes, Warrick's meticulous to the point of OCD.  Greg's not.  He'll never be that sort of tech.  He'll be a tech like Eric and Speed.  One who has some fun on the job to keep things light.  He'll never be the sort to volunteer for the extra fifty hours a week someone like Warrick put in.  Greg's going to be exactly like he was in the lab while he's in the field.  He mentioned you and he had some clashes there as well.  Who worked best with him?"

He nodded.  "Then maybe it's time to see if he can train and then correct anything he does wrong.  No, truthfully, one of Mac's team wants to switch to mine and I'm not sure being on Mac's team would help Greg any.  Mac has superhuman expectations as well."  Don leaned in and he held up a hand.  "No, I think if you butted into that private matter again you're going to lose Greg, Gil.  He's said that bothered him.  You're not his keeper to be watching over him that way.  I believe he called it creepy with the way you kept questioning him.  He said he felt like a test subject.  Well, unless you intend to offer to become his keeper...."  He smirked. "He didn't think so either. Yes, he did.  I told him I'd call you about these things and he agreed since he knew they had to be addressed for him to continue on your team.  If not, he's got offers to interview in a few other cities already.  He told me Houston and Los Angeles were both trying to recruit him."

He chuckled. "I know you hate it when other labs poach, Gil.  The same as I do.  The same as I think Greg's got a good handle on himself out there.  Did you ever think perhaps he was hyperactive before he was a member, Gil?  It's been known to happen.  Xander's the same way. The only difference between Greg and Xander is level.  Xander's uncomfortable with studying.  His ADHD is much stronger than Greg's.  Greg's down to just being bouncy.  He assured me it had nothing to do with his hormones.  Did you ask?"  He nodded. "That's what he thought you'd say.  Well, Gil, obviously he doesn't feel he can.  Especially since he thinks you'll use it in whatever experiment you're using him as part of."   He smirked at Don when he came back.  "Exactly.  So you've about lost one already, Gil.  It's up to you to fix it.  He said he's perfectly happy with your team most of the time, all but those two matters.  Perhaps someone who tolerates him better?  No, I wouldn't let Sarah train him, Gil.  Think about the personalities.  I know that's not your strong suit but who did Greg get along with best in the labs?"

He nodded. "Then let Nick train him.  It's time he learned that he can teach as well as do.  It would also keep him out of trouble for a while.  It would give you the time to repair your professional relationship.  Gil, he was ready to move that week when I interviewed him.  He said he'll come in tonight and he's expecting you to open an honest and professional dialogue about this conversation.  How would you, Gil?  You're still not his keeper.  I know but that's how he feels.  Then I'd ask him tonight. Greg opened up very easily to me. He would if he was asked.  Even Hodges has spotted the problems according to him."   He smirked at the hurt tone in his voice.

"Exactly.  So I would step back and consider the actual person.  He's not his hormones. He has those under complete control.  He's hyper because he's hyper. If it was his hormones, he'd be confused and hyper, not just hyper.  Gil, again, I was at the convention for a few reasons," he said blandly.  As a mentor to a few other GHS members and their keepers especially.  You're driving Greg away.  He'll leave after tonight if you don't.  Well, he does have other offers, Gil. I'm sure he could stay with Xander if he had to until he found one.  Not that I think it would take that long.  Yes, I'm sure.  He and Xander are very close.  Gil, Ryan Wolfe is OCD and even he called Warrick OCD.  Said he was the God of OCD techs everywhere."  He nodded.

"True.  So think about it.  Yes, that is my suggestion.   You have a few hours until graveyard starts.  Take it and think about Greg.  You will lose him.  He seems like he'd make a great tech with the proper person teaching him.  Whose decision was it to out him to the team, Gil?  He briefed them.  Everyone probably assumed he knew one.  Who was it that told them he was one?  That's just one of the hurts, Gil.  You could have ruined his career with that.  I know they see him differently.  He knows they see him differently.  He bluntly stated he'd be down to surf if things didn't go well tonight during your talk.  He'll be there when he's due and he expects you to come to him and talk to him, Gil.  If not, I'll watch out for him while he's surfing and make sure his new lab knows how to mentor him best.  I know there's a few good ones in LA's felony lab."  He smiled. "I'll talk to him tomorrow I'm sure.  He's a very nice young man, Gil.  I look forward to seeing him in the field.  Have a better day, Gil, and think long and hard about this talk. He said he's expecting it.  I will.  Have a better night."  He hung up and looked at Don.  "What's going on?"

"Where's Yelina?"


"Crap.  Frank's gonna pout for months."  Horatio cracked a smile.  "Can you talk to Frank?  He's starting to wonder."

"I will.  Send him back here and thank you for watching out for him."

"All I did was feed your brother, Horatio.  He stayed in that other spot the whole time he was there.  I only ran into him the once."  He shrugged and left, going to see Frank.  "Hey, Frank, Horatio knows what's going on with Yelina.  He said he couldn't tell me but I told him you were ready to sulk so he said to go talk to him yourself."

"Thanks, Don."   He looked at the empty desk, then at him.  "Is she coming back?"  He shrugged and shook his head.  "I didn't think so," he sighed, heading off.  He found Horatio in his office. "What happened?"

"Close the door."  Frank did that.  "My brother's alive, Frank.  His death was part of the operation," he said quietly.  Frank sat down, staring at him.  "I sent them to safety.  The letter she's sending should make it to the chief sometime soon.  I gave him a hint that she had to leave for safety reasons."

"Your nephew?"

"Went with them.  He said he might be back if he couldn't stand it down there with them."

"He's only fourteen."

"His first act was to hit his father in the nose for her and then kick him in the balls for himself, Frank," he said with a small smirk.  "Xander gave him a way to get back here if he needs to."

"Sure.  So she's not coming back?"

"Probably not."

"Damn it."

"Then again, the chief said you're not getting a replacement either."

"Oh, charming."  They shared a look.  "Any other cheery news?"

"The new trainee will be going to Mac's lab and it's one from one of the smaller misdemeanor labs up there."

"So, Danny's staying?"

"He is.  Also, they're making sure Xander isn't cheating.  If he's not, they'll let him replay his last hand of the baccarat tournament and he'll win. If not, he said he'd accept second.  He knows he's not cheating."

"I know he's not cheating but the boy's playing with dangerous people over there."

Horatio smirked.  "He was playing with The General down here, Frank."  Frank gave him a look.  "Seriously.  Manny Two Shoes introduced him."

"You're shitting me," he said fondly.  Horatio shook his head, smirking more now.  "Do we have a plan?"

"We do.  It's already in motion.  After all, a few people were watching Xander when he went to clean out his poker stashes."

"Oooh, that's going to be good.  Anyone good in that group?"  Horatio handed over the briefing sheet he had shown Mac.  "Oh, man," he said happily, smiling. "Can I help?"

"Of course, Frank.  You know you're my preferred backup."

"Yeah, I know."  He handed it back. "Let me know, Horatio."  That got a nod.  "Should we pack Yelina's things?"

"We should.  I will tonight."  That got a nod and he went back to his desk.  Horatio considered the upcoming actions he was doing on this case.  Then he smiled.  It was time to put another play into action.  He made the call and got up to go with the officers.  Xander really shouldn't be playing with men like that anyway.  They might hurt him and then Danny and Don would lose their tempers and Ryan would prove why he wore the marks he did. After the only time he'd seen Ryan's temper while he was fighting he had made sure he never saw it again.  Because the game didn't have three berserkers, it had four.


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