Notes: the whole Imaginings list went off on doing a Childhood story where the baby could remember everything, possibly still talk, and have their own personalities evident.  So, well..., those are bad words.  Just read.  Set after Speed died and long before Marisol became more than an acquaintance that took Eric's attention from work.  First seasons of Ryan.

A Fresh Start.

Xander Harris looked at the trio of women in front of him.  "So *why* am I being deputized?"

"Because you've made this wish before and you're stubborn enough to see it through," the one in the center said patiently.  "We fixed yours.  We gave you Anya."

"Okay, first of all, Anya isn't a cure to the 'I wish someone gave a damn about me' wish.  She's a cure to the 'sex nice' wish but even then you figure out too much of a good thing hurts.  She's not the cure to this one's problem either before you offer to remove her to do it.  Then again, at the moment we're fighting so you can have her if you want her greediness."  He grimaced.  "I'll have to do what?"

"All you have to do is find a way to prove to this one client that someone gives a damn about him," the one on the left said patiently.  "We need a bit of demented thinking in this case since he's closed himself off, doesn't believe in us, and desperately needs it before he follows the others that have left him."

Xander slumped.  "Fine.  What do I do?"

The one in the middle put a necklace around his throat.  "Do not take this off."  She handed him something.  "We of the nice wish granters still use wands, mostly as pointers and something to play with."

"No sparkly ball gown?" he asked dryly.

"No, no sparkly ball gown this time," she agreed, smiling happily.  "Here's your information file on him."  She handed it over.  "Have fun.  Please get him by tomorrow night.  Have fun with it."  They faded out.  This would get Anya back for annoying them and taking their calls!

Xander sat down to read the folder, shaking his head.  "And I thought my love life sucked," he said quietly.   A thought came to him and he smiled, testing out the powers.  Invisibility worked.  He could easily go spy on the ladies changing rooms with this.  Teleporting worked too because he found himself there without trying very hard, though the invisibility started to fade.  So he pulled himself together and went to watch his target.  This one he could do, maybe.


Horatio frowned, looking up at the man who suddenly appeared in his office the next afternoon.  "Who are you and how did you get in here?"

"Reach for the gun, sparky, and I'm turning you into a puppy, which would technically fix the problem you're having."  He floated up, sitting in midair, making him gape for a moment.  He nodded.  "Thou madest a wish," he said grimly.  "I got sent to help you with that because you're depressing the happy fairies everywhere."

"I'm what?  No I didn't."

"Yeah, you did, and better me than them.  After all, I made the same wish and I got my girlfriend, the nympho, moneygrubbing ho."   He shrugged.   "At least I'll be nicer to you than they were to me.  So, you've got a choice.  Would you like to be someone's puppy or something else?"

"I did not make a wish, whoever you are."

"You did.  You yelled it out to us, them.  And they deputized me.  So I'm a temporary wish fairy."

"Is that like scab labor?" he asked, trying hard not to smile.

"Actually, kind of," he admitted, nodding and beaming.  "So, I'll let you choose.  Do you want to be a puppy or stay human to fix your wish?"

"What wish?"

Xander stood up and walked over, running a hand over his forehead to show him.  He had seen the others doing that.  "Oops, sorry, changing areas.  I'm still nineteen," he said at the grimace.  "Had to try out the invisibility somehow."  He rolled his mind back to the wish he had been shown by the trio.  "Ah, there."  He showed it to him.

Horatio groaned, grabbing his forehead.  "It was rhetorical."

Xander leaned down next to his ear.  "They're demons, they hear everything.  Remember, when I made that wish, I got a former one of them who turned nympho and who wants all my money.  I'm nicer, feel lucky.  So, to fur or not to fur, that is the question?"

"Not ne....."

"Wish granted, Horatio Caine."  He flicked his wand, then frowned and concentrated, doing it again.  "Ah-ha!  I have done it!"  He sat down, picking up the baby from the floor.  "Sorry, kiddo.  Let's see.  We need a short-term excuse."  He wrote one out, then added a bit of magic to it so it'd be believed.  "Now, we've got to find you a daddy."  The baby started to cry so he stuck the wand tip in his mouth.  "Don't even think about it.  It'll only be for a few weeks, Horatio."   He wrote out another note and took it with the baby, disappearing to his second target, who was also depressed.   They were in Miami, how could they be depressed!  Way too many bikinis for that much depression to be around logically - at least to his mind.  He found his second target sulking at home and smirked, putting the baby down and the note, then tapping on the door and waiting until he felt like answering it.  It took a few too.  He made himself invisible, made the baby and note visible when they turned with him, and watched as the guy blinked at the suddenly appearing baby.

"Who are you?"  He looked around the hall.  No one was there.  Everyone else was at work apparently.  He picked up the baby and note, bringing them into his couch.  "Hi, what's your name?"  He sat down with him, reading the note.  "Huh."  He reached for his phone but a quick zap of power made him decide not to turn in the 'mother' this time.  Even if his mind was arguing with it.  Another zap of power meant that he was much happier.  He smiled at the baby.  "Wow, you have very red hair, baby boy."  He smoothed the messy, thick hair down.  "Your note said your name is Horatio and I only have to take care of you for a few weeks."  Xander backed some of the power off him, making him shake his head.  "Way too much beer this afternoon, sorry, kid.  Didn't mean to sound like the happiness patrol."  He looked at the note again, then at him.  "I wonder if your mommy knew H.  Or are you H's kid maybe?"  The baby kicked up a fuss at that.  "Sorry!  Okay!"  He cuddled and shushed him.  "Maybe she just knew him."  He got the baby calmed down, just holding him for now.

Horatio huffed mentally, irritated when his mind wouldn't make his mouth form words.  He was going to find that guy and beat the shit out of him.  How dare he make him an infant!  Then he realized he could still think on his normal level.  He was the same age mentally but not physically. //Maybe I can make my body talk soon so I can clue Eric in.  That way he doesn't do anything embarrassing in front of me,// he thought.  He worked all his limbs.  They all worked.  He yawned.  This was taking a lot out of him and Eric did give nice hugs.  No, he was a man, he did not do these things.  Even though the hug felt really warm and caring, and Eric was drifting off too.  So maybe it was the wish freak making them sleepy?  //That must be it,// he decided as he drifted off.

Eric looked at the baby in his arms, smiling at the first snore.  "You're adorable.  I should bring you home to Mama.  She'll know what to do with you."  He frowned suddenly.  "No, they'll fuss over you and if a simple question made you cry that way they'll definitely make you cry tonight.  What do I do?"  He considered it then nodded.   With a little help from Xander he decided to go pick up some bottles, diapers, and some juice.  He had nothing in his apartment but protein shakes.  They probably weren't on the infant approved eating list with the way his oldest sister had screamed when his oldest nephew had wanted a taste of one a few years back.  He grabbed his wallet and keys, heading down to the local store, smiling at the woman in there.  "Babysitting for a few days," he lied.  She cooed and took the baby to hold and look at while he found the necessities.  Then he came back and put everything down, paying for it.  "There, that should hold us at least for tonight."

The woman behind the counter snorted and shook her head.  "Not hardly!  You can't survive on that!"

"I've got some food for me."

She swatted him and went to call his mother, speaking rapid Spanish before hanging up.  "She'll bring you food, poppi," she said, patting his cheek and handing the baby back.  "There, you go home with the cute one, bambino.  We'll see you later when Eric decides he's hungry too."  Eric smirked but walked the baby out, taking him home with the things.  She looked up and shook her head.  "I can feel you."

Xander appeared, shrugging.  "Sorry, newly deputized for that one wish.  Can you make sure he doesn't totally go off the deep end?"

"He's a good choice.   That boy needs someone to love and protect."  She handed him a tootsie pop.  "There you go.  Now, you go rest.  You look ashy."

"Thank you, ma'am."  He grinned sweetly and disappeared once he had the lollipop open.

She said a prayer that this wouldn't hurt Eric more.  He didn't need more pain.  Then again, having someone to give a damn about would help him.  Make him realize he wasn't alone.


Horatio worked all night making his mouth form more sounds than 'ba', 'ga', and 'goo'.  His jaw was sore.  His throat hurt.  He *really* didn't want to use the diaper but he found out he couldn't help himself.  He had no control over that and he screamed in frustration, waking Eric up around two.  He felt sorry for it but Eric joked and said it was typical.  He still didn't like it but it was a later problem to work on.  He really needed to get the ability to communicate back.  So the first thing he said to Eric the next morning was, "Mama."

Eric chuckled and smiled down at him.  "Not the first time I've heard that, Horatio.  Trust me, one of my nieces called me that for nearly four months.  You wanna get up?"  Horatio nodded.  "Good boy."  He picked him up and brought him into the bathroom with him but Horatio did *not* want to take a shower with him.  "Fine, I'll take one, you sit there in the sink until I'm done and then you can have one."

//I'm not thrilled with that idea either, but I feel gross,// Horatio thought. //At least it won't be showering with Eric.  I'll never live this down.//   Eric came out of the shower with a towel around his hips and Horatio closed his eyes, letting Eric have his body to clean.  He was going to need a drink after this.

"Such a good boy, but most babies play in the water," Eric teased.   Horatio gave him a look.  He stared into his eyes.  "Huh.  You're not as young as I think, are you?"

//No, I'm not,// Horatio thought.  He shook his head.  He had managed to learn body control last night.  It was a small victory over this situation. //Come on, Eric.  You're a good CSI.  Catch the clue.//

Eric grinned.  "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were communicating with me," he teased.  Horatio patted him on the cheek, then poked him, smirking at him.  He sat back on his heels.  "You are."  The baby nodded.  "Oh, shit.   Are you possessed?"   Horatio gave him that same look he gave him when he did something stupid, or tried to.  "Um, H?" he asked hesitantly.  The baby nodded.  "How?"  Horatio flailed, as close as he could come to a shrug.  "Okay.  Well, if you can understand me for real, I'm never going to tell anyone about this.  As far as anyone's concerned, you're the little one I'm taking time off to babysit."

He finished the bath quickly and got him diapered and dressed without looking too much.  Though...  "Is that a birthmark?"  The baby huffed and nodded.  "Okay."  He brought him out to the kitchen, making his own shake while Horatio got a bottle of juice.  He stared at the baby.  "Okay, let's play yes/no.  Did you do this to yourself?"  He got another dumbass look.  "I'll take that as a no.  So someone did that to you."  He started a list.  "Okay, I only know a little bit about this stuff.  Religious stuff?"  Horatio shook his head, dropping the bottle when he was done with it.  "Okay," Eric said, still thinking.  "Wish?"  The baby nodded.  "What did you wish for?"

Horatio thought about how to tell him then held up his arms. "Mama?" he said finally.

Eric grinned.  "Feeling lonely too, H?"  He gave him a cuddle.  "So do I now and then.  Ever since Speed died, it hasn't been the same."  He let him go, grinning at him.  "I'll make you a deal.  I'll be a good daddy figure for however long this lasts, but we will never, ever talk about what happens again."  Horatio nodded fast at that.  He grinned again.  "Good!  Now, yes or no, are we covered on your absence?"  Horatio moaned.  "Okay, I'll call in.  I'm surprised Calleigh hasn't called me back yet."  He found his phone and called in.  "Cal, Eric.  How's the lab?"  He listened to her say that Horatio had left a note on his desk saying he had to handle 'family things' for a few weeks, that it was an emergency.  "Well, that sucks," he said dryly.  He listened to her beg for help.  "Well, I'm kinda committed to babysitting for someone for the next week or so," he said grimly, looking at Horatio, who flailed again.  "Is that a shrug?" he asked, flattening down the hair again.

"Your hair was never this unruly before.  Talking to the baby, Calleigh."  He grinned.  "Actually, it's someone that H knows, she named the baby after him.  Sure, if I can get my Mom to babysit for me."  He hung up and looked at him.  "You think you could handle a day with my mother?"  Horatio gave him a horrified look.  "It'll be fine.  They'll all fuss over you."  He called his mother.  "Momma, it's Eric.  I'm getting called into work and I agreed to babysit for a friend all week.  Yeah, that's why I took it off," he agreed, holding his head.  "Because Horatio had a family emergency, Mama.  He had to leave suddenly.  He only got to leave a note on his desk for us.  Yeah, that's what I need.  He's about six or seven months.  About ready to crawl."  Horatio suddenly beamed and he grinned back.  "No, he's had a bottle this morning.  Thanks, Mama.  Yeah, I'll keep it short today."  He hung up and looked at him.  "You can work on that today.  That and talking.  Though I wouldn't in front of my mother."

He picked him up and looked around. "Good thing the sisters use my closets to store the old stuff that they might need again."  He grabbed the old carseat, going to put it and the baby into his Lexus.  He looked at him.  "Comfy?"  Horatio nodded.  "Good."  He walked around to get in and drive, heading to his mother's house.  He knew they were going to be fed there.  That she didn't care if she added another baby to the daycare she ran for the family.  She was like that and she loved babies.  She'd think this would make him want his own more.  He drove over and parked, nodding at the neighbors.  "I'm babysitting for a friend and got called in suddenly," he called at the curious look.  He got Horatio out and walked him to the door, holding him facing outward.  His mother opened it and stared then cooed and took the baby to cuddle.  "Thanks, Mama.  Calleigh said Horatio had a family emergency."  She tugged his hand until he followed her inside and shut the door.  "This is baby Horatio.  He's had a bath, some juice, and we've had a long talk already."

"He's adorable," she said, beaming at the baby.  "Come on.  Your nieces are here."  She took them into the kitchen, putting the baby into the highchair.  Horatio stared at her.  She patted him on the head.  "You do have fussy hair, dear."  She smoothed it back down.  "Your mother must've taken you to a barber already with how your hair's parted."  She got him some cereal and sat down to feed him.  "Eric, there's breakfast," she ordered, pointing.  He brought her some and him some.  "Now, why are you babysitting?"

"She had to go out of town to help with a family issue," he said, looking at her.  "Something that she couldn't take the baby to."

"Ah, so you're a good friend?"  He nodded, stuffing his mouth before he had to make up a lie.  He could not lie to his mother worth a damn.  "Well, he is an adorable bambino."  She fed Horatio another bite, beaming at him.  "Such a good boy."  One of the girls in there with them squealed and pounded her tray so Eric fed her a bite of his toast, making her happy.  "You can share Grandma," she ordered.

"She does, she's used to being the baby," Eric reminded her.  "Not that *that'll* last too much longer."  She beamed at him.  "I know, I saw the peanut butter and tortilla chip sandwich, Mama.  So, can you watch him for me during the day today and maybe tomorrow?"  She nodded.  "Thanks."  He finished up, kissed her on the cheek, then hugged Horatio.  "I'll be back as soon as I can, Horatio.  Watch out for the blonde niece.  She's a bit mean."  His mother swatted him but he grinned.  "She is.  She yanks hair."  He gave Horatio another hug and whispered in his ear, getting a smile.  Then he left, going to work.

Mrs. Delko beamed at the babies and finished their breakfast, putting them down to play on the living room rug.  "Watch Nina, Horatio.  That'll help you crawl faster."

Horatio looked at the little blonde girl, who crawled over to him and started to play with his hair.  He tried to crawl again.  He was sweaty by the time he got it, but then he got away from them.  They reminded him of how Marisol fussed over her brother.  He looked at Mrs. Delko, who frowned and tested his forehead for a fever.  He shook her hand off and crawled off again.  His nephew had gotten into all sorts of hiding places.  He could too, before the babies overpowered him.  He heard a squeal and used his superior, adult brains to find a hiding space Nina couldn't get to his hair in.

Mrs. Delko came looking for him an hour later.  "Horatio?" she called.  "Where did you go, bambino?  Come on out, let's change your di-di."

//No, not necessary, thank you anyway, Mrs. Delko,// he thought.  Even though he was a bit damp.  He was not coming out.

She started to search, finding him finally under the dresser.  "There you are!"  She got him out and smiled at him.   "You're very good at that, Horatio. Come on, let's check your little butt."  She carried him to the nursery, changing his diaper for him then putting him back down.  He looked at her.  "The others are napping or watching tv if you'd like to."  He headed for the back door.  "Ah, you're not a tv baby."  She opened the drapes, letting him see the backyard.  "There you go.  You watch.  We've had squirrels recently.  Plus an alligator.  I think it came for Eric but he wasn't here.  They do seem to like him in his diving suit.  Or maybe it's a princess changed over.  He could use a nice girl, don't you think?"  She patted him on the head and went to make them a snack.  "Maybe my bambino will bring you around so the good girls know he'll be a good poppi of his own."  She handed him a bowl of cheerios.  "There, you nibble on those.  Let me feed the others."  She brought out snacks for the others, then came back to sit and talk with Horatio.

"My son," she sighed, giving him a cuddle.  "He needs someone like your mama to love.   He needs a good girl who gives him that tingly feeling that his poppi gives me."  She smoothed down his hair.  "Your momma needed to have your hair less fussy.  Baby hair is supposed to be messy."  She unparted it, combing it with her fingernails.  "There, now you look more like a baby."  She smiled.  "So, does my bambino like your momma, is she a good girl?"  Horatio looked at her and nodded, making her beam.  "That's good then!  We like our baby having good girls around him who like him.  We should meet her."  She gave him a cuddle, then pointed.  "Look, alligator, Horatio.  Girls, the gator is back," she called.  They ran over to look, one of them winding her fingers in Horatio's hair while they watched it eat the squirrel that had been playing back there.

"Meany!" one of the girls yelled, starting to open the door.  "Don't eat the furry things!  Furry things are nice!" she yelled, then slammed the door when the alligator snapped in their direction.  "He's mean, Grandma!"

"He is," she agreed patiently, "but that's how alligators live, dear.  They have to eat to live, just like you do."  That one sat down, stealing Horatio to cuddle and pout with.  "I know, but I'm sure we'll get more furry things soon.  After all, the neighborhood kitty has evaded  him so far."  Horatio looked at her and she smiled.  "I know, I should turn him in.  I'm sure someone else has."  The girls wandered off at the sound of laughter from the tv.  "Do you want to go watch with them, Horatio?"  Horatio shook his head, giving her a look.  "You are very brilliant.  Are you a changeling?" she teased.  He shook his head again, making her laugh.  "You're adorable!"  She gave him a squeeze and let him go.  "I hear Nina crawling."  Horatio took off crawling, going to hide again.  "Make sure I can find you, young man."  She got up to start lunch.  The babies were growing and active today, they'd need good food.


Eric walked into the lab, grinning at Calleigh.  "Sorry, I'm taking the time off to babysit for someone."

"Is it a special someone?" she teased.

"You can come meet little Horatio tonight," he teased back.  "Looks a lot like him too.  His hair's a bit more strawberry blonde but I'm sure it'll darken."  She let out a small grin at that.  "He's probably hiding from my nieces right now."

"Eric, I hide from your nieces," she teased.  "So do you."

"Yeah, for a good reason.  Nina's mean and yanks hair.  Where did you need me?"

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'll have H give me that vacation day some other time."  He signed in and made a note that he should be on vacation but had to come in for the day.   Then he went to help her with her current case.  H had sucky timing in making his wish, though he wouldn't tell him that.  It would be mean.  It was a fundamental urge to be loved and of course Horatio deserved it.  He deserved it more than most.  With that thought, he tripped over his shoelaces, making him groan.  "I'm okay," he said at the curious looks.  He got up and looked around then went back on his walk to DNA.  "I know, I'm not supposed to be here.  Calleigh called."

"That's fine, Eric.  I know the Chief came to talk to her."

"I'll see if she needs more help for dealing with him."  He took the results with a smile.  "Thanks."

"Welcome.  I'm surprised you didn't come in wearing your wet suit," she teased.

He looked at her.  "I was going to spend a quiet week at home then go diving.  I got talked into babysitting for a friend who named her kid after H.  He's hiding from my nieces right now."  He went to the lab, handing them over.  "Yours."

"Thank you.  How is the baby?"

"He's good.  He babbled a lot working his way up to speaking this morning. He's crawling by now I'm sure."  She gave him an odd look.  "He was trying to last night and managed it this morning."

She walked over and closed the door then came back to look at him.  "You are an awful liar, Eric Delko."

He sighed and moaned, shaking his head.  "H made a wish.  He's a baby," he moaned.  She giggled.  He looked at her.  "Come over and bring dinner tonight."

She stopped laughing and looked at him.  "Excuse me?"  A male body appeared, giving her a look.  "Who're you?"

"I have the feeling he's the reason I'm raising H."

"I gave him the opportunity to be a dog," he offered with a sweet, boyish grin.  "I got deputized, he got handed to me.  Not my fault, people.  Really."  He pulled his wand.

"No tutu?" she asked, smiling at him.

"Doesn't go with the toolbelt, sorry," he quipped, taking her memories.  He looked at Eric.  "Yes, I tripped you, stupid.  It should be evident why."  He disappeared again.

Eric looked at her, watching her blink.  "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine.  Did he try to take the confession from me?"  Eric nodded.  "He sucks at that."

"Apparently this is his first job.  Though, H as a puppy would be cute too."  She smacked him on the arm.  "Dinner?"

"Dinner's good," she agreed.  "Does he know you were going to tell me?"

"No but we have an agreement.  I'm not going to tell you a thing about anything that happens."

"Might be good.  He'll never be able to look at you again."

"I know."  They got back to work and finally she had to walk outside to get some air so she could cackle and coo in private.  It only made him grin and Horatio would deal with it, he did everything else so far.


Eric leaned into the house.  "Hi, Mama.  Where is Horatio hiding?"  He walked in and saw his father holding the boy.  "You okay?"

"He fell asleep behind the stove," he said quietly, handing him over.  "Why are you babysitting?"

"His mother had to go out of town to do something with her family.  She didn't feel comfortable bringing her son so I'm babysitting.  It's my good deed for the year," he quipped.  He kissed his mother on the cheek.  "Was he okay today?"

"He was a perfect little boy, Eric.  Absolutely adorable and let me talk to him whenever I found him."  She pinched his cheek.  "You're staying for dinner."

"Calleigh's coming over tonight."  Horatio raised his head to look at him.  "She is."  He grinned at him.  "It'll be okay."   He patted him on the back.  "I'll take dinner to go," he teased his mother, who sighed but went to pack it and things for Horatio to eat.  "Thanks, mama.  We should be okay tomorrow."  She waved at the baby, getting one back.  "Thanks, guys."  He walked him out to the car, letting his mother put the food in next to him.  "Did Nina pull his hair all day?"

"That's why he hid," she teased, tickling Horatio's belly.  He wiggled and tried to stop her but she was a grandmother.  She was good at tickling.  "There you go.  Much too serious, bambino."  She smiled and kissed her son, waving as they left. "Such a nice little boy."

Eric looked back at Horatio once he was driving down a main street.  "Your wish fairy showed up."  Horatio moaned.  "Yup, so she does know.  She's a bit freaked."


"Good job.  Nearly talking fully, H."  He grinned.  "Did you manage to hide most of the day?"  The baby nodded.  "That'll work.  I ended up wearing a hat the last time."  He pulled into his parking spot and got out, carrying the baby and food upstairs.  He had to drop the food to open the door but that was okay.   He got them inside, putting Horatio down on the couch.  "Here, sit.  Want tv?"  Horatio nodded so he handed him the remote once it was on.  "Try to do that.  If you can't I'll be back once I put stuff up."  He went to do that, looking out to find Horatio having to chew on the remote to get the button pushed. "Go up four more for the news or two more for Discovery."  Horatio settled on that one and ended up on his side watching it.  "Still tired?  Go ahead and nap, H."  He kept puttering in the kitchen, smiling when he saw the baby was asleep.  He heard someone coming and snuck over to the door, letting Calleigh in.  She let out a quiet coo, coming over to see him.  "I know, he's cute.  He'll be really embarrassed, Cal."

"Sorry, I can't resist.  He's adorable."  Horatio blinked at her the snorted and closed his eyes again.  "You are."  She sat down, giving him a cuddle.  "There, I need this and so do you."

"He hid from my nieces all day."

"Eric, we *all* hide from your nieces.  Even Wolfe figured out he needed to hide from your nieces and single sister."

"Not like he's worthy," he said dryly, heading back into the kitchen.  "Mama cooked."

"Just a little bit please."  She looked at Horatio.  "I promise I won't mention this ever again but you are an adorable baby, Horatio Caine," she said quietly, nuzzling noses with him.  "I'm playing with you so I don't have to have one."

He patted her on the cheek, smiling sweetly.  "Should."

"I know, and I will some year, just not right now."  She gave him a squeeze then let him wiggle back onto the couch.  "Sorry."

He shook his head, going back to watching 'how it's made' on tv.   When he was bigger again he'd swat her or do something to make her blush for cuddling him.  Though he did duck when she tried to play with his hair, scowling at her.  She just smiled and did it anyway, even when he huffed.


His third night, Horatio had enough of his diapers.  He looked around the playpen then at Eric.  "Bath'oom?" he asked.  Eric groaned but got up and brought him in there, letting him lean on the toilet.  He looked.  It was almost as tall as he was at the moment. //This was a lot easier when I was taller and could stand up,// he complained mentally.  Eric came back, frowning at him.  "Sit?"

"Oh, yeah, guess you can't pee standing up at that height."  He took off the diaper and put him onto the toilet, then left again.  He came back after he heard Horatio shifting around.  "Done?"  Horatio nodded.  "Need cleaned?"  Horatio shook his head quickly.  "H?"  He came in.  "It's the same as if you were in a hospital bed, H.  Even if I'm not that pretty of a nurse."  He cleaned him up, put on a clean diaper, and put him back into the playpen.  "Now, need anything else?"  Horatio shook his head so he grinned.  "Thanks.  Throw stuff at me if I get annoying when I snore."  He laid back down, covering himself back up.  "Cold?"


"Okay.  Let me know."  He closed his eyes, flipping in the other direction so he wouldn't have to watch Horatio have to figure out what to do with his miniature body.  He was getting back to it.  Though, payday was going to be tight this time. They'd talk about that tomorrow.

Horatio laid there thinking.   //Three days down.  I wonder how long I have to do this.  To whoever is listening, I'm content and I feel loved,// he mentally yelled.  Nothing happened.   //Damn.// He shifted, glancing at Eric.  He didn't want to wake him up.  Calleigh needed him to come in again tomorrow.  This had come at a bad time. //Not that there's a good time for this, but I'm sure we could've handled this better at another time.  Especially with some planning.  With some warning I could have set up a caretaker.  Though, that probably would've beaten the purpose.//   He yawned. //I had better get to sleep.  There's another day with Mrs. Delko tomorrow.  The heathen hair pullers will undoubtedly be there.  I wonder if Eric knows how lonely his mother is.  Maybe I'll tell him when I get big again.  Though, if I keep thinking about this I'll start feeling like I'm in one of those movies.  Speed would've loved this situation,// he sighed mentally. //He would've laughed for weeks about this.  He would've given me all the baths he could too, just to have some reason to pick on me.  I doubt he'd be like Calleigh, playing with my hair.  What is it with the red hair?  Why is that a magnet for fingers?  I never get this when I'm older.  If I did, I wouldn't be lonely.//

Eric got up and leaned over the playpen.  "You're thinking too hard, H.  Sleep.  Remember, you've got to go to Mama's tomorrow."  He tucked him back in.  Horatio reached up to play with his hair.  "Natural redheads are very rare, especially sweet ones who don't throw tantrums."  Horatio scowled so he smirked.  "If you went out with me more often you'd find that big girls like to play with your hair too.  You never get out of the office to find anyone though."  He patted him on the head.  "Sleep.  I can guarantee Nina will be there again."  Horatio moaned as he flipped onto his side.  "Yeah.  I know.  Sleep.  You need to sleep, H."  He patted him on the back and let him drift off that way.  "Good boy."  He went back to bed.  This was making him think too.  He was kinda lonely.  It was nice to have someone to take care of.  Someone there to come home to, to talk to when he needed to.  Though, a baby Horatio was not in his plans for that.  This was not what he had planned for his future.  He hoped the wish fairy guy could reverse it.  If not, H was going to be *pissed*!


After a week, Horatio looked up, letting out a little growl.  Eric was in the bathroom so he was alone. //I've had enough!// he mentally yelled. //Change me back.//

Xander appeared, looking at him.  "The whole point was to give you what you wished for," he said slowly and clearly.  "Would you rather be a puppy now?"  Horatio scowled and he scowled back.  "My girlfriend does that better."

Eric came out drying his hair with a towel.  "I'm sorry you're dating a shrew, whatever- your-name-is."

"Me too, but I made a wish too, for someone to love me."  He glared at Horatio.  "I could've made you a dog.  Let you be fixed.  Now, I'm on my lunch break and I run the crew so I have to get back.  We'll talk *after* I'm done."  He disappeared again.

Eric sat down beside Horatio, picking him up to hold.  "You know, none of us are alone, H.  We've got each other.  We've got Cal.  I've got my family, even if they are nagging pains in my butt now and then because I'm still single."  Horatio looked at him.  "Really.  Part of you feeling so alone is because you don't do anything to change it."

"Missed it," he said quietly.

Eric gave him a gentle squeeze.  "You didn't miss anything except the wild partying, H.  That stuff I go out and do."

Horatio looked at him then snorted.  "You lonely too."

"Yeah, I am, but that's mostly because I can't settle down," he said dryly.  "You're the sort to find someone and settle in for the long haul.  I'm not ready for that yet."  He nuzzled the top of his head.   "You have a lot of people who want to mess up your hair, H.  Including Mari."  Horatio shook his head slowly.  "No?"


"Okay.  Who did you date last?"  Horatio looked at him.  "C'mon.  Not like we're doing to talk about this again.  Unless you go back to the 'can't get out of the office' mentality you've had since Speed.....  Oh, really?" he asked, looking at him.  Horatio hid his face in Eric's arm.  "Huh.  I never even thought about that.  I knew Speed was dating someone but not that you two were together.  You never even gave a hint."  He shrugged.  "What do you think about Wolfe?"

Horatio gave him an odd look.  "No!"

"No?  He's cute.  He's young.  He could use a good spank or lay now and then to get his head out of his ass," he admitted.

Horatio gave him another of those 'dumbass' looks.  "No."

"Okay.  Well, think about it.  Or maybe Tripp?"


"Point."  He considered it.  "We'll see if I can find you someone."  Horatio shook his head as hard as he could.  "I have good taste."  He got another of those 'dumbass' looks.  "I do when I pick for others.  Though, they broke the mold when they made Speed."  Horatio nodded, snuggling into his arms.  "I miss him too, H," he said quietly.  "I thought I was going to follow him that night."  He nuzzled his head again.  "I wanted him back *so* bad!  All I wanted was him back.  Then I realized that I wanted him back so I could kick his ass," he admitted.  "Then give him a hug once he was in traction."  Horatio laughed at that.  "Exactly.  I'm sure you wanted to spank him for that."  Horatio nodded.  "Why don't we talk about this?"

Horatio looked at him. //Because we're men and we don't do things like that,// he thought.  He shrugged so he'd have an answer. //I was too wrapped up in my grief to see yours.  You were too wrapped up in all the crap you've got going on to see mine or Calleigh's.  He was the lube that lubricated our relationships and made you go have fun.  Maybe I'll help you with that if I ever get back to myself.//   He snuggled in again.  "Sucks."

"It does," he agreed.  "We should go play in the park."  Horatio shook his head quickly.  "H, it's not everyone that gets the chance you're getting.  Enjoy it!"

"Hated play."

Eric made him stand on his lap.  "You're going to play even if I have to make you play. Am I clear?"  Horatio pouted.  He smirked.  "I don't cave at that look.  C'mon."  He got up and carried Horatio down to the car, taking him to the park his nieces and nephews played at.  Then he put him on the slide and gave him a gentle push.  He jogged over to catch him, grinning.  "See, *fun*.  You've been missing fun.  You should have fun."  He made him do it again then walked him over to the swings, sitting Horatio into his lap to swing with him.  Horatio looked back at him.  "Want the baby swing?"  He got a quick head shake and looked around.  "It's fine, H.  No one here knows you," he said quietly.  "You don't have to worry about how things look.  No one's going to say anything.  If some pervert does I get to kick their ass.  Got it?"  Horatio nodded, relaxing slowly.  He smiled at him.  "Should I call Madison over to play?" he whispered.  Horatio stiffened and looked at him.  "We figured out she was family but not which side is the father."

"Not mine."

"Okay.  Want to play with her?  You can commiserate over having people want to play with your hair."  Horatio shook his head, hiding his face when someone came over with a little girl.  "Hi.  What's your name, beautiful?  His is Horatio."

She smiled at him.  "Missy."

"Hi, Missy.  The slide's a bit sticky down the center.  It looks like someone had their frog on there."  She giggled and ran over to check it out with her mommy.  The mother gave him an odd look.  "I'm a cop," he called over.  She smiled and relaxed, playing with her daughter.  "Want to play with Missy, Horatio?"

"No," he said quietly.

"Okay.  We'll swing if you want to."  Horatio nodded more firmly, relaxing into his arms.  Eric went a bit higher, making him clutch his arms.  "Relax, I've got you.  It's all okay, H."  He let them go just a bit higher and faster, making Horatio smile at the silliness of it.  He even cooed unconsciously at the fun he was having.  Eric suddenly stopped and Horatio giggled.  "See, I knew you could do that again."  He walked him over to the crawl/play/climb play area, letting Horatio crawl off to play.  "Go pounce the pretty brunette girl," he teased.  Horatio snorted but Eric looked at the girl.  "He doesn't think he wants to play," he told the little brunette girl.  She obligingly came over to pounce him.  Horatio was forced to play but it was okay.  He was having fun.  Even if he was wondering *why* he was playing with a toddler.  The little girl giggled and played with his hair, earning a scowl but she laughed and kissed him before crawling off to pounce her mother once she could get to her.  Eric grinned at the mother, picking up Horatio and making him wave.  "Thank you for letting her play with him."  He looked at Horatio.  "Want chinese for dinner?" he asked as they walked off.

"Roast," Horatio said quietly.

"What roast?"


"I did?"  Horatio nodded.  "Shit."  Horatio laughed and they headed back to the house.  It hadn't caught fire but it was nearly crispy.  So they got chinese and settled in to watch stupid movies all night.  After all, only Eric could work the DVD remote - he who worked the remote got to pick the movie.


Xander watched over the baby, frowning at what he was seeing.  Maybe he should have made him a puppy.   Or maybe he should do something a bit different.  He frowned at the boy, then around at the people in the park.  Horatio was the only baby not playing.  He didn't want to play.  It was like the life was sucked out of him as soon as he got some back.  He found the curse on him and snickered.  "An ex-wife.  My own baby's doing."  He looked up.  "Anyanka?" he called sweetly.  She appeared, looking very confused. "You pissed off the trio of nice wish demons.  They deputized me."  He pointed at him.  "You do realize you cursed one of the defenders of the realm, right?"

"Shouldn't you be invisible?" Eric asked, looking at him.

"Now and then, yeah."  He sat down.  "Did I say that really loud?"

"No, I think we're the only ones who heard you."  He looked at Horatio, then at the woman who appeared.  "I've seen you before.  Thank you for making it so I can't have kids."

"It's always better for the world."

"Anya, dear," Xander said patiently, pulling her down to glare into her eyes.  "Do you realize that sometimes the world has other defenders?  Other than the girl system?"  She nodded.  "You're making them less effective.  Of course he goes out whoring around, he's the guy who tells families why their relative died.  He has to look at death and destruction every day."


He patted her on the cheek.  "Remove it or no orgasms for two months, and yes, I can hold out that long."  She gaped.  He stared her down.  "I mean it.  After all, not like I *need* it and I will make it so you can't do it yourself by tossing out alllll your toys.  Plus lock you out of allllll the bank accounts again."  She swallowed, turning pale.  "Am I clear?" he asked quietly.  "These people do the job so we don't have to.  Unless you want to tell relatives how and why their family member died?  Having to get up close and personal with the dead bodies, probing wounds and things?"

She pouted.  "I could get a dispensation for that."

He raised his wand.  "Remember, I'm new at this," he said bluntly.  She went white and wobbled, eventually sitting down.  "Am I clear?"

"Crystal," she muttered, waving a hand.  "There, it's done with."  She pouted at him.  "Does that mean I can have orgasms tonight?"

"When his wish is fulfilled."

"Fine."  She pouted but disappeared.

Xander looked at them.  "Well, that's the majority of them.  Someone also pissed off a witch.  You probably shouldn't do that.   You get turned into things, trust me, I know from experience.  Willow?" he called in a sing-song manner.  She appeared, looking very confused, but cooed at the baby.  "Yes, he's adorable, but I got deputized by Anya's pissed off coworkers to work on this one since she had originally cursed him to a good level of depression.  The big one pissed off one of you."

She looked at him then nodded.  "I've got something to cure that.  But you're adorable!" she cooed, taking the baby to cuddle.  "You're so very cute!  And a fellow redhead too!"  She nuzzled noses with him.  "You're going to be so smart.  All redheads are geniuses.  Yes we are," she assured him.  "So you're going to be one and your daddy will love you forever and ever otherwise I'll send Anya back to curse him too."  Xander sighed and took the baby.  "Right, sorry, babies are cute," she said with a grin for Eric.  "You're very lucky.   Be right back."  She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a steaming mug. "Here, it's in the tea."  She took the baby back to play with.  "You drink it, not stare at it."

"Tastes worse cold," Xander assured him.  Eric gulped it and shuddered.  "Ah, there.  Good."  Willow looked at him.  "I got deputized by the nice wish fairies."


"Anya was taking their calls."

"Oh.  Sorry, Xander.  Kinda freaky to see you with the wand."

He looked at her.  "You remember when I got turned into a newt?" he asked with a bright grin.  She went pale and handed back the baby, disappearing.  "My best friend since the first day of school," he explained.  "Which is why you nearly ended up being a puppy."  Horatio shivered.  "Exactly.  Now, go play.  There's a higher lesson here you've got to relearn. Do not make me block the higher thought functions from you."  Horatio snuggled into Eric's arms.  "Good.  Now, *go play*," he said more firmly.

"How much longer?  People are starting to ask questions," Eric asked.

"Until he learns it.  Don't worry about his job.  I've got his boss dancing on a leash at the moment."

"Why?" a male voice said from behind him.

Xander looked at him.  "Because sometimes it helps others, Mr. Wolfe."  The guy stiffened.  He looked at him.  "At least Anya never cursed you."  He stood up and dusted off.  He patted Horatio on the head.  "Go play," he said quietly, staring at Eric.  Who nodded, taking Horatio off to make him play.  Xander spotted his wand and picked it up, looking at the new guy.  "You'll do fine.  Relax.  Even your asshole tendencies aren't as bad as some's."  He patted him on the shoulder.  "Horatio should be back soon.  It'll go back to normal.  You'll get to stress less."  He looked around then faded out.

"Fucking wish fairies," Ryan muttered.  Eric gave him a look.  "Yeah, I ran into one a few years back."  He came over to play.  "Okay, what can I do to help?  It's my day off and I promised to come babysit for you so you could go work."

"Thanks, Wolfe.  Um, here, have little H play."

Ryan smiled at the baby.  "Did your mommy name you after Horatio?"

"Yup," Eric agreed.  He obviously hadn't caught the clue.  Ryan looked at him.  He had caught the clue but he was going to be discreet.  "Sure, you do that.  The diaper bag was with my stuff."

"I've got it.  Go."  Eric nodded, heading off.  Ryan looked at him.  "Let's make sure the stuff's together then we'll go have fun somewhere not quite so babyish, Horatio."  He picked up the diaper bag, taking it with him to his car.  There was a nice street fair and those you had to have fun at.  If the wish fairy said they had to have fun, it was harder not to at these things.  He paid the small cover charge and got them inside, letting Horatio stare at everything.  He put him into the baby ball pit, making him nearly drown for a moment but two girls came over to play with him.   Ryan smiled, watching as Horatio laughed and played with the girls, unable to do anything but play with the happy babies.  Ryan got him out and got him some lunch, letting him nibble and suck on the soft pretzel for a while, looking at all the people walking around.  When they were done he walked him off, letting him play on the inflatable slide.  They had a few babies who wanted to go down so they got them down together.  He caught Horatio, smiling at him.  "Want to go again?"  He got a smile.  "So much better than the park, right?  No one wants to play with your hair."  He let him go down the slide again, going to catch him.  Horatio laughed.  "Good boy!"  He walked him on, taking him to the next ride, which was one of those that spun around.  He looked at him then at the ride operator, pointing at the baby.  He got a nod.  "You sure it's safe?"

"Hold him *real* tight.  I can't get it to go that fast at these events.  It's only half speed, sir."

Ryan nodded and got in line, getting their turn on the spin after next.  He climbed into the seat, letting the operator lock the bar over their lap.  He held Horatio facing out, one arm around his stomach, the other over his chest.  It started off and Horatio stiffened.  "Relax," he teased.  "I've got you."  The ride sped up and they spun around, making him laugh.  "See, it's fun, little one."  They spun the other direction and Horatio gasped but gripped his little fingers into Ryan's arm.  "I've got you.  You'll be okay," Ryan promised quietly, letting him watch.  At the end he looked down.  "Want to go again?"  Horatio shook his head.  "Okay."  He got out, walking him off to get something to drink.  There were only a couple of other rides.  He got them onto the other safe one, then looked at him, taking him back to the slide.  Horatio enjoyed it and it was fun.  When he saw the first yawn he took him back to the car, putting him back in his seat.  "Come on, we'll let you nap on my couch, little guy.  Uncle Eric will be back soon."  He got in and drove the baby back to his house, letting him nap on the couch while he put on some quiet classical music and fixed some dinner.  He even made extra in case Eric wanted to stay over.  Eric finally called.  "Wolfe."  He smiled.  "We're at my place, the little guy is napping, and I'm making dinner so come on over."  He hung up.  He glanced at Horatio but he was still sleeping.  He went to answer the door.  "Take off your shoes."

"Sure.  I know you've got this thing against dirt."  He took off his shoes, looking at the living room.  He snuck in there.  "Awww."

"There was a church street fair. We had a lot of fun.  No one played with his hair.  We went on the slide, the ball pits, the crawler.  He had a pretzel for a snack then some lemonade.  I'm making baked chicken with teriyaki sauce."

"Sure, I could eat."  He sat down beside Horatio, getting a sleepy grunt.  "You rest."  He stroked over his hair, making him go back to sleep.  He looked at Ryan, watching him putter in the kitchen.  "Can I help?"

"No, I'm good.  It's nearly done."  He brought out plates a few minutes later then went back into the kitchen.  "Water, cranberry juice, or instant iced tea?"

"Water's good.  Thanks, Ryan."  He settled in to eat, smiling when Horatio sniffed then raised his head.  He let him have a piece of chicken to gum, getting a smile.  "Did you have fun?"

Ryan came back with glasses of ice water.  "He was a bit scared on the crawler but it was okay," he promised, sitting down to eat.  "There's a smaller thigh in there if he wants it."

"Thanks.  He'll be fine with this.  He doesn't eat that much."  He fed him another piece and smiled, digging in again.  "You took him on one of those spinning rides?"

"The operator said he had it running at half-speed.  He sat on my lap and watched the world spin around."

"I guess it's okay as long as his neck wasn't hurt."  Ryan shook his head.  "Do you babysit a lot?"

"Now and then."  He grinned and ate another bite, carefully salting the next section.  "It's fun watching kids for a day."

"He's not too bad.  Now and then I get scowled at or something."  Horatio made a noise so he grinned at him.  "You do."

"So?" Horatio asked.

"Point."  He handed him another piece of chicken, getting a smile.  "Are you ready for Momma's tomorrow?"

"That's mean," Ryan teased.  Eric gave him a heated look.  "Your niece who pulls hair must torment him.  He kept guarding his head earlier."

"Nina does like to play with his hair but my mother loves having a little boy around the house again."

"Talks," Horatio agreed.

"That's right, you and she have a lot of talks."  He smoothed down his hair.  "I know Momma's lonely during the day."  Horatio nodded, nibbling on the chicken.  "All the daughters are out of the house.  I'm out of the house.  If I ever marry she'll have to like to go over often to talk to my mother.  Or give her grandsons."  He ate another bite. "This is good, Wolfe."

"Thanks.  I took cooking classes as part of my therapy for the OCD."

"If it helps, I'll cover now and then for new ones."

"I'm not as bad as I used to be."

"Good.  It's good that it's better now.  You'd drive us nuts otherwise."

Ryan nodded.  "It was driving me nuts."  He stuffed his mouth.  "No comments please."

"None needed."

Horatio scowled.  "Boys!"

"Sorry, H," they said together.

"That was freaky," Ryan said a minute later.

Eric nodded.  "I've had that feeling a few times recently," he admitted.  Horatio poked him.  "So, did you have fun?"  Horatio smiled and nodded. "Good.  Fun helps a lot of things."

"Fun is the basis for a lot of things," Ryan corrected.  "Including making you feel happier and content."  Horatio looked at him so he smiled back.   "It does."  Horatio looked stunned.  "It'll be okay.  It's a good first step.  Or don't you remembering telling the woman last week how to start healing?"

Horatio blinked then looked at them.  "Damn it!"

"If I was really your father, I'd spank," Eric said patiently.  Horatio scowled at him.  He grinned back.  "I still can."

"Fired too," Horatio shot back.

"Then you'd only have Calleigh and Wolfe here."

Horatio settled in to sulk.  At least until Ryan put down his plate and picked him up to cuddle him.  He looked at him, giving him one of those 'wtf' looks.  "You need it."  He went back to cuddling him.  Ryan ignored the huffing noises and head shaking but Horatio did calm down.  "You can't just live for the victims.  If you do, he'll have to keep coming back, then what'll happen?"

"He said he nearly turned H into a puppy," Eric said helpfully.

"Then we would've played for *days*."

"We probably would have," Eric agreed. He smiled at Horatio.  "You still look tired."

"He's getting a bit heavier too."  Horatio slowly regrew as they watched, making the clothes rip.  "Oops.  Um, Eric, bathroom's in the back, can you get him a towel?"

"Sure."  He went to do that, bringing it back and putting it over the sleeping Horatio's lap.  "You okay?"

"I'm fine."  He let Eric put his plate down for him.  "Hey, H," Ryan said quietly.

"Don't.  He needs the sleep," Eric said quietly.  Ryan nodded, shifting some but Horatio kept sleeping.  "See you tomorrow or the next day," Eric whispered, sneaking out so he could head home and clean up the baby mess.  He was a bit sad.  Having Horatio there had given him a reason to come home.  It had been nice to have someone to talk to.  He sat down to sulk but his phone rang.  "Delko."  He listened to the 'then go call a friend, dumbass' short speech before the other end hung up.   He hung up his phone, shaking his head.  "I hate wish fairies.  I'm never making a wish again."   He frowned when someone knocked on his door, getting up with a moan to answer it.  "Calleigh?"

"I came to see the little guy.  I had a crappy day with a daughter who killed her abusive daddy."

He let her inside.  "He's back to himself but sleeping on Wolfe's lap."   He gave her the hug she wanted.  "Want to watch a movie with me?  That way we're not alone?"

"I could do that."  They settled in, him letting her pick the movie.  She curled up against his side and it was nice.  He could like this.  Not that they could get together for real, it could only be fun between them.  They'd drive each other nuts if they started a real relationship.  He kissed her on the temple.

"I will spank you, Eric," she assured him, making him smile.  "I'm a good girl."

"You definitely are."  He grinned down at him.  "We'd never work together."

"No, we'd drive each other nuts," she agreed.

"Doesn't mean we can't have fun."

"Fun is nice."

"Fun is very nice," he agreed with a smile.  He kissed her again, making her shift but take control.  "Sure, you can be on top."

"Of course I am."

He laughed, giving her a hug.  It was good to have fun.


Horatio woke up, blinking at the unfamiliar house.  "Where am I this time?"

"Right now, you're comfortable enough to have finally slept for six hours straight," Ryan said gently, stroking his back.  "Welcome back to adulthood, Horatio."

Horatio frowned at him.  "I fell asleep on you."

"You did."

"I'm sorry, I...."  He got up, grabbing the towel.  "I should head home."

"If you move off that couch I'm going to spank."  Ryan got up, smiling at him.  "You're in no shape to drive. You're still tired.  You need time to process.  You can go over in the morning.  For now, let's get you set up on the couch."

"Um, Ryan...."

"Argue with me and I will yell," Ryan warned.  He stared him down.  "You need to sleep and you haven't been."  He got him pillows and a blanket, handing them over, then went back into his bedroom, coming out with some sweats.  "These should fit you tonight."  He grinned.  "Sleep, Horatio. You need to sleep.  You have to process and you have to sleep."  He walked back into his bedroom, then came out to get the plates and clean up quickly, then go to bed while Horatio made up the couch after slipping into the sweat pants.  "Night, H."

"Good night, Ryan.  I'm sorry I napped on yo."

Ryan grinned.  "I could make an Eric-joke here but I'm nicer."  Horatio smiled as Ryan shut the door, shaking his head.  Then Ryan leaned his head against it, moaning at his stupidity.  He climbed into his bed, covering himself up fully.  His apartment stayed a bit cool most of the time.  It was perfect to sleep in.  He heard Horatio moving around to visit the bathroom, smiling at his sigh of pleasure at being able to pee standing up again.  "Diapers would've bothered me too," he muttered, flipping over and letting himself drift on his thoughts.

Horatio walked back out to the couch, finding his wish fairy out there.  "I should kill you," he murmured.

"If I have to do it again because you become stupid, we can talk about it."  Horatio glared, his hands going to his hips.  "Good look for you, but I liked the relaxed version better," Xander said simply, disappearing again.  "Have a good think, Horatio."

Horatio growled but laid down, getting comfortable.  It was a comfortable couch.  He did have a lot to think about.  He yawned, slowly drifting off trying to identify what scent Ryan used around the house to mask the scent of the bleach he could smell.  It was ... homey.


Ryan looked over as he cooked, smiling when he heard the sniff.  "Morning," he said quietly.  Horatio sat up, looking at him.  "I'm making fried eggs, want some?"  Horatio nodded, getting up and heading to the bathroom.  Ryan went back to cooking, ignoring any noises coming from in there and his own thoughts that the slightly scruffy Horatio looked good.  He put in more toast, handing over the first plate when Horatio came out.  "Juice in the fridge."

"Thank you, Mr. Wolfe."

Ryan looked at him.  "Horatio, you slept on my lap last night, you can use my first name and I won't be insulted."  Horatio blushed so he punched him on the arm.  "Sit, eat.  Don't make me fuss."

"Thank you, Ryan."  He sat down, digging in.  "I was wondering about the incense you use."

"I make it.  It covers the bleach when it annoys me."  He finished his own eggs, sitting down to nibble on his breakfast.  "I'll give you a ride home on my way in.  I'm sure the boss'll be okay with me being a bit late this morning."

"I would appreciate that," he agreed, smiling at him.  "Thank you."

"Welcome."  He ate a bite, looking around then back at him.  "Eat.  Don't make me nag."

"I haven't been nagged in a while."

"I know."  Horatio looked at him.  He gave him a look back.  "I am a CSI."

"You are. You'll be a very good one.  You knew I was seeing someone?"

"Yeah, Speed told me."  He stuffed his mouth at the stunned stupid look he got.  He got up and found a photo, bringing it back.  "I heard a lot, Horatio."  He sat down, going back to eating.  "Eat, Horatio," he said gently.

"He knew you?"

"He did."

Horatio looked at him.  "You looked...close."

"Half brothers can be."

"He never told me."

"He was going to tell you after my first month," Ryan said quietly.  "That way no one got the wrong idea."

Horatio sighed, nodding.  "He was right to do so."  He gave him a weak smile. "Thank you for taking me to the street fair.  It was fun."

"I needed an excuse to go," he lied, looking down as he ate his last bite.  "Finish up.  The second boss'll be very pissed if I'm too late."

"I think I have some sway with her," he said lightly, digging in again.  He definitely had a lot to think about.  "Which side?"

"Father.  I didn't know until I joined the department and they did the mandatory DNA imputing.  IAB asked me why I lied on my application about not having relatives in the department.  It shocked the hell out of me, but I took my first weekend off to track him down.  He took four hours to get a word out after I showed him copies of the test results.  Then he burst out swearing for another half-hour, then he had it rerun."  Horatio smiled.  "So Sunday we got together for lunch and to talk, trying to figure out where.  He's the one who figured out which side it was. My next weekend off he drove up and we hung out that weekend too.  It was nice.  We found out we liked some of the same movies.  My OCD drove him insane all weekend and the next time he saw me he handed me this very nice card for a therapist who dealt with OCD cases."  Horatio smiled at that.   "He helped me a lot when I was thinking about going back for my masters.  He also smacked me around a few times when I got confused.  Helped me study for the one test I did sucky on.  I teased him mercilessly that I got a C because of him.  His answer was that if he could distract you and make you have fun, then he could make me have bad grades but still learn it."

"He did distract me often.  That's how you knew about the street fair?"  Ryan nodded.  "What exactly did he tell you?"

"He complained about you a few times."  Ryan grinned.  "He complained about your suits a few more, about you being too noble, you always wearing yourself out for the victims and not saving anything for yourself.  A few times he said he felt selfish for thinking that way."  Horatio looked down, nodding at that.  "He was always going on about taking you on vacation so you had to spend that energy on yourself and have some fun."  Horatio looked at him.  "You were going to go this summer.  He was talking about some spa in Georgia."

"We were going to go in July."

"You're still going to go in July," Ryan said quietly.  "He made the reservations.  All you have to do is confirm and go, Horatio."   Horatio shook his head.  "You could use it, boss.  He was right about a few things.  You give so much and don't leave anything for yourself.  Even you have a bottom of the well and need to give the rain time to recharge it."  Horatio frowned.  "Really.  He said you could tell when you got frustrated.  It was clear you were past that when your wish fairy showed up," he said gently.  "Go to the spa, finish mourning him.  That's what he'd want."

"He'd be yelling at me to get my head out of my ass," Horatio said quietly.

"And did many times," Ryan agreed happily.  Horatio scowled so he grinned.  "I got that when he broke Erica and I up.  I think that was his favorite phrase now and then."  Horatio cracked another smile.  "I heard a lot about how you frustrated him.  He'd come here, rant and rave for dinner, then go home with the assertion he was going to screw you into the bed until you finally slept and did something for yourself.  He borrowed a lot of candles to make you do things to make yourself happy and recharge."

"I used to wonder where he got all them."

"I used to make them when I was younger," Ryan said self-consciously.  "I'd, um, appreciate the others not knowing."

"Not a problem.  I can keep your secret if you keep mine."

Ryan gave him a smug look.  "You have no idea what he told me."

"I'd rather not know.  I might never come out of the house."

"Nothing that bad."  He patted him on the hand.  "Eat.  Before I have to start channeling Alexx and nag."

"That's all right, I can do without nagging."  He dug in, eating the rest of his breakfast.  Things had just gotten stranger than they already were.  "Did he tell you about our rides?"

"No.  He mentioned one once and blushed.  I teased him now and then about taking you on one.  You were going to ride up to the spa on his bike."

"I didn't know that."

"That was his plan."

"Ah.  Speed did have some very naughty ideas."  He got up, putting his plate in the sink.  "Can I do dishes?"

"Nope.  I'd have to come home and clean them again later.  Sorry."

"It's all right.  I've done some research on OCD since you joined the lab."  He patted him on the back.  "I'll make sure Calleigh doesn't yell at you for being late."

"Thanks, Horatio."  He got to work cleaning the dishes, then got him out to his car, taking him home.  Ryan handed over his keys.  "I need that back."

"Speed gave you his emergency key."

"Yup."  He grinned.  "Have a good think.  Remember to eat."

"I will.  Thank you, Ryan."  He got out, heading inside while Ryan went to work.  Things were going to change now that he had a few new facts.  There was no way his life wasn't changed by this.  Though, he would still be beating his wish fairy if he ever saw him again.


Horatio came back from the spa a few months later, finding Ryan at home cooking.  "That smells good."

"You're more than welcome to eat with me."   He let him inside, closing the door behind him.  "Shoes off."  Horatio toed out of his shoes.  "How was the spa?"  He went back into the kitchen.

"It was good.   I... well, I got a lot of thinking done and I realized that some of what you said was true."

"Good."  He smiled at him.  "It's lasagna with pepperoni and sausage."

"That sounds good."   He came in to wash his hands.  "How was the lab this weekend?"

"Okay.  Calm.  Nothing unusual or tragic happened."  He took the lasagna out of the oven, letting it cool on top of the stove.  "Want a veggie?"

"No thank you, I had vegetables all weekend."  Ryan smiled at that.  "Can I help?"

"Nope, I'm good.  Well, unless you want some wine.  I'm off tomorrow so I was going to have a glass."

"I can go along with that."  He found the wine chilling in the fridge and opened it for them, finding the proper glasses and pouring them some.  "There we go.  Are we eating in the living room?"

"I got frustrated with having a dining table.  It made the little ritual things worse so I always eat in the living room."  He cut out pieces, plating them and handing one over.  He took his glass and walked them out there, letting Horatio pick out his seat.  He sat down in his usual chair, digging in.  "I did good," he decided, taking a sip of wine.

"You did a very good job," Horatio agreed, digging in.  "This is excellent."  He looked at him.  "What else did you and Speed conspire about?"

Ryan smiled.  "Mostly to get me someone good to date and to make Eric quit being a slut, his words.  He thought he needed to settle with someone, anyone, for a few months and it'd help his scatterbrained days."  Horatio snickered, nodding.  "He kept a lot of names and numbers for Eric.  He had a small jar of them in his locker."

"I wondered what that was."  Horatio ate another bite, watching Ryan cut everything precisely then eat a bite then take a drink, then put down his fork.  A small OCD ritual.  "How are you handling your first few months in the lab?" he asked, then ate another bite.

"A bit sucky here and there.  I'm in a big shadow.  Before you say it, if they knew I'd be in a bigger shadow that had a guilt and pity border.  Then I'd have to scream at someone and leave.  I like Miami too much for that."

"I can understand that.  I won't tell the others, but you might want to clue in Alexx."

"She gossips too much.  No matter how much I like the woman she'll make it worse, Horatio."

"I'll respect that."  He finished his dinner and shifted to face him.  "We should talk more."

"Just because I was nearly your brother-in-law doesn't mean you're obligated."

"I'm not, Ryan."  He gave him a gentle smile.  "I've discovered I know almost nothing about you.  I do about the others."

Ryan licked his fork.  "Before you got younger you couldn't have cared less, Horatio," he said bluntly, staring him down.  "Did it change because of that or because of the revelation after it?"

"I'm not sure."

"You should discover that first.   I'm not against being friends with you but I don't want it because of Speed.  If you want to get to know me, do it because you want to get to know *me*."

Horatio nodded. "That's reasonable.  I should still know you better as my CSI."

"You probably should."  He put down his plate and glass of wine.  "What did you want to know?"

"I don't know yet.  The others I learned over the years I've known them.  The ...situation that brought you into the lab made that harder."  He stared back.  "I know the others on a level deep enough to be family."

"You didn't want to because your grief was clouding it, Horatio," he said more gently.  "I understand that.  It's nice you let me in at all.  I can accept being like Rudolph."

"You're not."

"I am.  I have been.  I probably will be for a few more years."

"We can work on that."  Ryan's phone rang.

"Wolfe."  He listened.  "Uh-huh.  He's here, Eric.  Need us?"  He nodded. "Okay.  Let me know if you need us.  Sure, I'm here.  Half a glass of wine, Eric, I don't get drunk routinely."  He rolled his eyes.  "Fine.  Later."  He hung up.  "His nephew is out doing bad things, that's what the kid's mother said.  He wanted one of us to investigate if there was a scene."

"The same as we would if your relatives did and you asked," Horatio agreed. "What is his nephew doing?"

"He's not sure yet."

"Young boys often do stupid things."

"Don't remind me."

Horatio smiled. "Finish dinner, Ryan.  We can talk while you eat."

"I always wait an hour before finishing dinner, Horatio."

"I noticed you took a break right after lunch. I thought it was an extra-long bathroom break."

"Usually I did finish up in there.  That way no one said anything."  He shifted, getting comfortable.  "So, what did you want to know?"

"Are your parents still here in the city?  I've met the others' families."

"They are but we don't talk all that much.  They don't really understand me and me telling them about Speed didn't make them any happier.  We do the usual holiday things but not much else."

"Any children or nieces and nephews?"

"I'm an only child, Horatio, and I'm still having problems with personal relationships."


"The OCD issues."

"Is there some way to ease those?"

"Someone very understanding," he said dryly.  "It'll never fully go away.  Even if I go through other rounds of desensitization and behavior therapy for each and every set of rituals they can still come back under stress.  Then I get angry at myself.  Then at the people around me for provoking them.  So I try to keep the stress down."

"Yet, you're in one of the most stressful jobs in the department," Horatio said gently.

"Yeah, but I can handle most of it.  I wanted to be there.  It's not always the sort of stress we get on the job.  Personal stress is worse.  Eric's made me come home and clean the house many nights but only two cases so far."

"What should I watch out for at work?"

"I don't have many lab ones.  I have food ones.  I have gun ones.  I have cleaning ones in the bedroom.  I used to have some walking ones, needing to hit certain spots, but I got rid of those when I was a teenager.  I made myself break that one because it was getting in the way of schoolwork."


"The same way.  I had my best friend block me from doing it no matter how much I fought with him.  It pretty much ruined our friendship because he couldn't accept me any more, but I managed to break that one."

"I may have noticed that one coming back," Horatio said gently.  "When you walk past reception you always touch one spot on the wall."  Ryan frowned but Horatio nodded.  "You do."

"I'll have to watch it tomorrow.  Thank you."  His frown cleared up and he checked his watch, but looked at him again.

"Eat, Ryan," Horatio ordered.  Ryan shook his head.  "I'll have seconds with you."

"I'm okay with it, really."

Horatio smiled. "I could eat again anyway.  Like I said, I ate vegetables all weekend."

Ryan smiled.  "We can do that."  He checked his watch, then got up to get Horatio some more.  "Want some more wine?"

"Please."  He walked their glasses in there, letting him have them both.  "Yours is on the right," he said when Ryan hesitated.  He didn't add any more to his.  "If Eric needs us, one glass won't matter, Ryan.  By the time we get there we'll have worked it out of our systems."

"I don't need more.  I hardly ever drink."  He put the cork back in and put it back into the fridge.  "I should buy the smaller bottles but the stuff I like doesn't come in them."  He handed Horatio his plate and they went back there, him checking his watch.  He ate his first bite and took a drink of wine.  "Anyway," he said.  "What else did you want to know?"

"What happened when you were drunk?" Horatio asked, eating a bite of dinner.

Ryan's fork paused then he ate that bite and took his drink of wine.  "I was seventeen, Horatio.  What do you think happened?"

"Was it you that hurt them or someone else?"

"Someone at the party dropped blotter with their tequila.  I saw it happen.  The alcohol made it stick a lot longer and seem a lot more surreal."  He ate another bite and took another drink.  "Where am I touching on the wall?"

"The blue/green spot just past reception."

"I'll definitely have to watch that."  He ate another bite and checked his watch.  Then he looked at Horatio.  "What?"

"I was here then.  I don't remember hearing of anywhere like that."

"The fourteenth got it.  Non-homicide, vice."

"Ah.  No wonder."  He finished his dinner and put the plate down.  "I can help you do dishes if you want."

Ryan smiled.  "No you can't."

"All right.  I won't offer."  He stood up.  "I was thinking about getting everyone over for a cookout this upcoming Sunday afternoon.  It's the time of the month when we're going to be in a typical lull.  Would eating off my grill in my backyard bother you?"

"No.  I've done that before actually," he admitted.  "What happened to that blue lounger anyway?  I started to sit in it and Speed said it was broken."  Horatio blushed.   "Ah.  Never mind.  I don't need those details."  Horatio smiled and patted him on the shoulder.  "Have a good night, Horatio.  I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bright and early."  He walked off, going home.

Ryan finished his dinner then got up to clean up the kitchen and make his lunch for the next few days.  It had been a nice dinner.  Even if almost being Horatio's brother-in-law was a bit freaky.


The next morning Horatio stopped Ryan when he walked in.  He turned him around and pointed at the spot, making Ryan moan.  "There, Ryan," he said gently.  "Any idea why?"

"Saying hello to the building," he said quietly, looking at him.  He glanced around then at him.  "If I do it won't reject me."

"It won't anyway."  He walked him into the lab, to where Eric was working.  "Eric, Ryan, I've noticed a few things."

"Is this about his new ritual thingy with the block on the wall by reception?" Eric asked, looking up from his microscope.

"It is," he agreed.  "And I think you know why."

Eric nodded.  "You're right.  I did some research on OCD when I found out Ryan was.  Not that it usually shows in the lab, except for that bathroom break thing he has.  I heard a lot of OCD cases have bathroom rituals."

"Not me.  Some cleaning ones, some food ones, no bathroom ones."

Eric shrugged.  "Okay.  So you're doing what?"

"Finishing lunch."

"Oh.  Okay."  He looked at Horatio again.   "The other one would be stress related?"  Ryan nodded.  Eric looked at him.  "We'll work on it, Wolfe.  We have been unfair to you.  Alexx chewed me a new one last night when I took my nephew to have a talk with her."

"What did he do?" Ryan asked, looking a bit concerned.

"Drunk off his ass and groping," Eric said blandly, giving him a look.

"I've seen a lot of that over the years," Horatio admitted.  Eric grinned at him.  "To help solve this I'm going to call a team lunch next Sunday afternoon at my place.  A cookout."

"Should I make anything?"

Horatio shrugged.  "Bring some dip, Eric."

"Sure, I can do that.  Just the four techs or us and Alexx?"

"Just the four of us for right now," Horatio ordered.  Eric and Ryan both nodded.  "Good.  Now, you two work out your issues.  Before you drive me insane."  He walked off, going to tell Calleigh about the lunch.  "Ma'am," he said in greeting.

"Good morning," she said happily, smiling at him.  "How was your night?"

"Very good.  I had dinner with Mr. Wolfe."

"I've seen his lunch and he looks like he cooks good."

"He does.  This upcoming Sunday I am doing a cookout for us four in my backyard."

"Can I bring anything?"

"Eric said he'll bring dip."

"I'll get with him and Ryan then so we don't bring the same thing."

"Good."  He smiled.  "Are we coming up with anything on our case?"

"Not yet," she admitted.  "Still searching."

"Let me know when you do."

"Is Alexx coming?"

"Just the four of us this time."  She nodded, getting back to work.  He patted her on the shoulder.  "Thank you, Calleigh."

"For?"  She looked at him.  "I know how hard it is to come in when there's a shadow, Horatio.  I have to come out under the one all you boys cast."

He nodded.  "You do it very well."  He walked off, going back to his office. He was having unfamiliar thoughts and it was bothering him.  He needed to straighten that out before he did something dumb.


Ryan knocked on Horatio's door, giving him a look when he answered it.  "I'm having strange thoughts," he said quietly.

"I've had a few of those," he admitted, letting him into the house.  "I was starting to wonder if it was my wish fairy again."

Ryan looked around then back outside, pointing at his car.  "Go ask the female out there.  She came over once."

Horatio glared at the woman, who pouted.  "Did you do this?"

"No," she pouted.  "It's not fair!  I never get any work from this city."

"Go to Cuba, I'm sure you can find a lot of work down there," Ryan offered.

"No thanks.  Cuban food gives me heartburn."  She pouted worse.  "Are you *sure* there's nothing here that I can fix for you?"

"You're over....." Ryan started.

"Women scorned."

"Neither of us are women.  Go ask Calleigh," Horatio ordered.  She sighed, heading off.  He looked at Ryan.  "How did you know she was there?"

"I have funny feelings when people touch my things.  I need to wash my car now."  He wandered out, going to do that.

Horatio followed, dragging him away.  "There's a vacuum in the garage, Ryan, but it's loud."

"No, I need to clean that," Ryan complained.  Horatio drug him into the kitchen, letting him see the cleaning products.  "Thanks, boss."  He grabbed what he needed and headed back outside to scrub his car down.  Horatio brought out a bucket of water, settling in to help him.  When he was finally done, Horatio watched him take a few deep breaths and look around.  "Ryan, inside," he ordered quietly.  "It's clean.  She hasn't come back."  Ryan shook his head but Horatio stopped him from wringing out the sponge.  "It's clean," he said, staring him down.  "Fully clean.  She didn't taint it again.  It's clean."  Ryan let go of the sponge, nodding a bit.  "Good.  Now, let's get this back inside and have a drink?"

"Sure, I could use some water," Ryan admitted quietly.  "Thanks, Horatio."

"It needed to be done," he agreed.  "I wouldn't want that sitting around my house or car either."  They gathered up the supplies and headed back into the house, letting Horatio put them where they were supposed to go.  When he was done, he poured them some water from the filter pitcher, then walked it out to the living room.  Ryan was looking at his hands so he sat next to him, handing him the glass.  "It's clean," he repeated quietly.

"I'm not so sure it is."

"Anything that's left won't be dirt, Ryan.  It'd be something that would need a priest; neither of us are one so there's nothing else we can do at this moment."   Ryan looked at him.  "Really.  I'm surprised that Eric hasn't had one over to bless his house."

"He has.  He didn't want you to know," Ryan admitted, taking a sip of water.  "Your water pitcher does better than mine," he complained, looking at the glass.

"I just changed my filter this week and I don't bleach my glasses," Horatio teased. Ryan shrugged but nodded that he did do that.  "It could be some sort of build up."

"I've seen it happen on the floors," he admitted, taking another sip.  He made himself relax, looking at him.  "Thank you for helping me clean."

"It wasn't a hardship, Ryan.  Relax."  He nodded, taking another drink.  "What sort of funny dreams have you had?"

"Ones about that big set of stones at the end of your garden," he admitted, starting to blush but he tried to hide it behind his glass.  Horatio smiled at that image.  "Not happy ones, boss, sweaty ones."

"I've had that thought once recently.  Then I thought you might be bothered by the dirt out there."

"Dirt doesn't bother me except in carpets and the car."

"I have problems with vacuuming," Horatio offered.  "I never get around to it when it needs it."

"That's because you never make it home except to sleep."

"That does happen now and then."

Ryan looked at him.  "When was the last time you watched a tv show?"

"This last weekend.  There was nothing on.  It almost made me wish for paperwork."

Ryan patted him on the arm.  "It's still strange thoughts."

"They are," he agreed, sighing a bit.

"I'm not trying to take his spot, Horatio.  I don't want his spot, I don't want to be in his shadow."

"No, you're definitely not," Horatio agreed.  He looked at him.  "Speed would let the dishes sit for a week if he was reading or doing something that interested him."

"I nearly bought you guys a dishwasher for his last birthday," Ryan admitted, making Horatio laugh.  "Did he really get away with wearing wrinkly, stained t-shirts to scenes?"

"Now and then in his early days.  I eventually put my foot down and made him dress better."

Ryan looked at him.  "Why?"

"Because I got tired of the comments about slobs picking up things on scenes.  One officer quipped that I was hiring hobos.  Then Speed went off on his limited imagination since his shirt was clearly not that old and he was clearly not anywhere near any train tracks.  There were too many of those."

"I iron."

"I let the dry cleaners iron for me.  It's easier."

"But expensive."

"True.  Though I do look better than most of the department," Horatio teased.

"Quite.  I hear a lot of remarks about your suits and trying to make us all look poor."

Horatio shook his head, relaxing.  "I don't do it to make you all look poor and underdressed.  It's who I am."

"Uh-huh.  I also hear a lot about you being uptight and that's why you wear suits.  Though, it does get some people to watch you walk away."

"I try very hard to ignore them."

"Then I wouldn't lean over the table in trace anymore.  There's a few who've watched a lot recently."

"I'm still ignoring them."

"That's a good policy.  I can't ignore people that way."

Horatio patted him on the arm.  "You can and you do while you work."

"No, I don't.  I have a small part of my mind that pays attention to who's around me and who's watching me."  He finished his water and Horatio put it on the table, making him fidget.   "Can I ...."

"No, Ryan.  My house, only I get to do the dishes."


Horatio gave him a gentle pat on the wrist.  "It won't bite you."

"It will bite me.  Us."

"It won't.  Quit staring at the glass."  Ryan looked at him so Horatio finished his water and put his glass beside Ryan's.  "See, now they can bite each other if they suddenly grow teeth."

Ryan groaned, leaning forward but Horatio stopped him.  "Horatio..."

"No, Ryan.  It stays there."  He stroked over his shoulder.  "Let the glasses mate if they want to."  Ryan shivered so he smiled.  "If they suddenly come to life maybe I'll get some nice juice glasses or champagne flutes."  Ryan snickered, shaking his head.  "See?"  The phone rang.  "That has to be Eric.  Only he has such bad timing."  He picked it up.  "Yes, Eric?"  He listened to him babble.  "Eric, sleep with her.  I doubt she wants to marry you for real.  Offer to give her sex."  He listened while Eric put his moves on her, then hung up at the first kiss.  "Some woman was promising him a ring for having sex with her."

"Well, if he doesn't make it to work tomorrow, we can always check flights to Las Vegas," Ryan quipped.  He suddenly got up and brought the glasses into the kitchen to wash them.

Horatio checked his watch.  "It took you nearly eight minutes."

"I'm proud of myself," Ryan assured him.  "Usually it takes two."  He did all the other dishes too until Horatio walked him out and made him sit down again.  "Sorry."

"No, don't be," Horatio said gently.  "It's something we have to work on."  Ryan gave him a look.  "You'll drive all of us nuts if we don't help you work on it, Ryan."

"It takes a long time to work out those kinks, Horatio."

"Not really.  I was told it was like aversion therapy."

"Longer term than that.  They can do ones that're based on fears that way.  Like my touching the wall.  Did I do that today?"

"I wasn't watching."

"I don't think I did."  He frowned, looking at the kitchen.  "There's still....."  Horatio gave him a hug.  "You do that very well."

"So I've been told."  His phone rang again.  "Eric," he moaned.

Ryan picked up the phone.  "Yes, Eric?"  He listened to the splutter.  "Eric, accept the ring, we'll throw you a huge ass party, or tell her how you want four kids so your mom will be proud, man.  Then say you can work on it during the honeymoon."  He got hung up on and grinned at Horatio.  "He groaned and hung up."

"I'll talk to him tomorrow, if he makes it in."  He went back to hugging Ryan so he couldn't do the last few dishes.  Ryan gave him an odd look.  "You cannot do more dishes."

"Are you sure?"

"I am.  Or make the bed."

"No, that's an at home ritual.  I only do it on beds I find worthy, which means I've cleaned all the sheets my way, they're all perfectly ironed, all that stuff.  The comforter is nicely fluffed."

"You have a comforter in Miami?"

"I like to sleep in a cold house."

"Ah."  Horatio nodded.  "You should live in New York."

"I did a summer in Connecticut with an aunt as a teenager.  That's how I learned I like cold houses to sleep in."  He grinned at him.  "She would nag me about everything I did."

"Did you have OCD before her?"

"Yeah, that came from my parents really.  It slowly grew into the problem it can be now and then.  By the way, I'm sorry that one day I called off."

"What were you doing?"

"Laundry.  I couldn't get this little stain out.  I had a nosebleed during the night and the blood wouldn't come out."  Horatio gave him a squeeze.  The phone rang again so Ryan answered it.  "Yes, Eric?"  He listened.  "Put her on, Eric.  Ma'am, no, I'm one of his coworkers.  You do know that his mother is Cuban, has been pushing for multiple babies, and he's got three very nosy sisters, right?  Because if you give him a ring tonight and do more than sleep with him, they'll fuss and it'll take most of the PD to save you from them.  Exactly.  So if you want to have him tonight.....  That's up to him.  Ask Eric if he wants to get married for real.  Or better yet, ask him after you sleep with him.  That way you know if he has any kinks or anything you can't stand.  It's always a good idea to make sure you're compatible with who you're going to marry.  Sure, I'm sure he'd enjoy that.  You have a good night too.  Ryan.  Sure."

He grinned and looked at Horatio then listened to her suggest that to Eric, who agreed.  "See?  If you can stand him in the morning, he can bring you to meet his mother and then fly out.  That way she can't complain forever about not meeting you before the wedding and she makes a really great breakfast from what he's bragged about.  Good.  Have fun, be safe.  Do protect my coworker, ma'am.  Lisa then.  Have a good night, Lisa.  Have him call Horatio by eight if he's not coming in.  Sure.  Look forward to meeting you in person too.  Night."  He hung up shaking his head, making sure the phone was hung up by pushing on it a few times.  Horatio made him quit by grabbing his hand, smiling but shaking his head.  "Hey, that solves all the problems and if Eric still wants to get away from her in the morning, his mother can help."

"A good Cuban son would listen to his mother.  She's starting to get desperate for more grandchildren."

"If she doesn't like Lisa, she'll make no bones about using her as fish bait.  The one I nearly married got that from my mother, who drove her off with questions about cleaning things."

"Did you have a relapse?"

"No, I walked off apologizing to my girlfriend.  My mother was trying to see if she could put up with my cleaning.  Are you sure...."  He started to get up but Horatio pulled him back down.  "It's only a few things.  I'm more than happy to help."

"I know you are, but you may not do my dishes.  Unless we're suddenly *together*...."

Ryan looked at him.  "Talk about awkward," he offered with a grin.

"It would be."  He relaxed and Ryan escaped so he followed and pulled him away from the sink, taking him outside.  "It's only four forks and a saucer, Ryan.  It can be done in the morning."

"It shouldn't be."

"It can be."

"Want help buying a dishwasher?"

"No, I'm fine without one.  I enjoy doing the dishes, but not compulsively."  He made him sit down and went to get them something new to drink, turning around when he heard the sink's faucet come on.  "Ryan."

"I know, but it is a compulsion.  Bad things will happen if you leave dishes in the sink."   He finished them quickly and dried them, letting Horatio pull him back outside, smiling and relaxing now that the dishes were done.  It was strange but that was who he was. "So, about this dinner...."

"You can't do dishes then either, Ryan."

"I will.  I'll even offer."

"We use paper plates."

"Oh.  Okay."

Horatio looked at him, cracking a smile. "You know, you could try that at home."

"I did.  Then I got worried about the amount of trash I was putting out.  I decided doing dishes the second I was done with them was better for everyone."

"We'll still work on that one, Ryan.  That way you don't get chained to a sink someday."

Ryan looked at him.  "I used to work in a restaurant during one summer in college."

Horatio let out a small moan.  "Is that where that urge started?"

"Yup.  Because it was nasty in that kitchen.  It was a higher profile place too.  Commercial kitchens are nasty and gross."

"I've seen.  At least we didn't have a recent case in one."

"I heard through the grapevine Las Vegas had one that involved a meat grinder."


"Sorry."  He sipped his water, but Horatio patted him gently on the back.  "I'm not a baby that needs burped."

"I'm trying for interaction that's not sexual and isn't going to upset you."

"If I belch, we'll both be upset."  Horatio laughed at that.  "Seriously, I used to out burp some frat brothers in the dorms."

"You lived in the dorms?"

"Yeah, I wanted away from my mother."  Horatio smiled and nodded.  "You?"

"I was on my own by then.  I lived off campus.  It was nicer."

"More expensive in my case.  Plus the dorms had food.  I could microwave anything I needed to because the caf was under the boy's dorm."  Horatio shuddered.  "Yeah.  Exactly.  Which was why I microwaved a lot of meals in my room.  I was pretty good too."

"So you can cook?"

"I can cook pretty well," he agreed happily.   "I did a lot of watching that summer I worked in the kitchen."  Horatio smiled at that.  "I'm not chef quality but I can cook well enough to feed myself."

"That's a skill more of us should possess."

"It's easier not to cook.  Especially after twelve hours in the lab."

"It can be.  Do you make ahead?"

"Leftovers rock," he said dryly, making Horatio laugh and nod.  "That lasagna lasted me for almost the whole week.  It works better that way."

"I can see how it would."  He stroked over his back, getting a shy look.  "I know it's odd but I did take a long look at who was around me since my problem was that I felt alone."  Ryan hugged him.  "Thank you, Ryan."

"Welcome.  Hugs are free and without strings."  Horatio hummed and kissed him.  "That's not a hug," he noted, staring at him.  "Are you *sure*?" he asked gently.  Horatio nodded.  "Not because of..."

Horatio covered his mouth.  "While it's strange to me, I can't compare the two of you.  If only because Speed was a slob now and then and hated to do the dishes."   Ryan grinned at that.  "I want you for you, Ryan, not for the relationship you two had."  He kissed him again and it was nice.  It was comfortable.  At least until someone coughed as they came in through the gate.  "Alexx," he said, frowning at her.  "Is there a problem?"

"A few."  She came up to stare at Ryan.  "Are you trying to take other spots as well?"

"That's not fair, Alexx," Horatio said firmly, staring at her.  "He's here because I invited him here."  She nodded tersely.  "My relationships are not your business, even if Speed did tell you every detail."

Ryan sighed and looked at her, then pulled out his wallet, holding up a picture.  She took it and stared at him in anger, nearly shaking.  "Tim was my half-brother," he said quietly.  "I found out when I had the bloodwork drawn for the academy.  It shocked both of us."  He sighed and looked at Horatio then at her.  "I had to make sure this wasn't the same thing, that he wanted me and all my many quirks, Alexx."  He took the picture back and put it back.  "He's also the one who encouraged me to take the classes I'd need to get into the lab.  He was going to mentor me into it," he finished quietly, staring at her.  "I put in my application four months before he got shot.  He was going to ask Horatio about putting me on at the next budget meeting.  Horatio didn't know until the issue that made him disappear for a few weeks.  I told him then."

"You lied to us."

"No, I never got asked if I knew Tim."  He ducked her slap and stood up to face her.  "I never said I didn't know him.  No one asked if I knew him.  The only one who asked anything about any of my training was Calleigh and we talked about a seminar she had taught at the college that I took.  I almost turned down the job because of the problems this would cause everyone.  But you guys needed someone and I'm qualified and he would've nagged me if I hadn't taken it.  He did plenty of it while he was alive.  That's why I didn't put in my application sooner.  I got nagged for three months because I was being wishy-washy about it.  Tim finally sealed the envelope for me and handed it back.  Then he went to mess up my kitchen so I'd have to clean it again.  He's one of the few things that kept me in Miami over the years.  After all, patrol officers who piss off their CO by being strange or having OCD don't get the good backup or the good assignments."  She stepped back.  "The original plan was that I was going to get out of my rookie phase and then Speed was going to tell all of you.  That way I didn't get the comparisons I got from everyone.  I'm sorry as hell I'm not Tim.  I wish I was more like him sometimes.  He had everything a lot easier most of the time."

"You don't know anything," she said bitterly.

"Really?  Because we talked about why he left home."  She gaped and he nodded.  "Yeah, we talked about it all getting to know each other.  Half the times he was late to see you he was with me.  He's the one who helped me get over some of the more annoying and dangerous OCD habits I had.  They annoyed him."  She huffed and stomped off.  "I'm sorry," he called after her.

"You can't help the fact that he didn't tell her," Horatio said quietly, pulling him back down to sit next to him.  "The only comparison I can make between you two are some personality traits.  How you care so much, how strong you are in your protection of people who need it.  Those things.  Though I can see why Speed was driven insane by some of the OCD mannerisms."

Ryan grimaced.  "I try, Horatio."

"I know, Ryan.  I did some research into the cause of them and it's not a problem.  I understand how they come to be.  I won't get nosy about particular ones if you don't want me to, but I do know that they're formed for very personal reasons and some fears."  Ryan nodded, looking at him.  "She'll be fine.  It's not like he couldn't have told her over the last few years."  He stroked his arm.

"Maybe I should go home for the night."

"You don't have to."

"I know."  He gave him a small grin.  "I want to hide from Eric and Calleigh once she tells them.  They'll try to come here first.  You can get them calmed down.  Eric would kick my ass and then let her have me."

"Possibly true," he admitted quietly.  "Do you want to take tomorrow off?"

"It won't get any better in two days, Horatio.  We'll have a screaming match somewhere and then move on or not.  If not, I'll move to non-felony maybe."  He shrugged.  "That way they can't say things and you can't get in trouble if we do keep doing...this."  Horatio smiled at that.  "Especially with IAB riding in your jockeys with you."  That got a brighter smile.  "We'll figure it out."

"We will."  He gave him another kiss. "Be careful while you hide, Ryan."

"You too."  He got up and headed out, heading for his house by the back streets.  He made it home and inside fairly easily, and he had good locks for a reason.  It would be fine for the night.


Eric glared at Ryan and Horatio the next morning.  "Just like that you move on?" he sneered.

Horatio stepped closer.  "It's not just like that, Eric.  You know that.  Your anger is making you say things you'll regret later."

"He could have told us, H!"

"Why?  So I got compared even more to him?" Ryan asked.  "He was going to mentor me and then tell everyone once I got out of my trainee phase, Eric."  Eric glared at him again.  "You know what, I don't care.  You didn't like me before this.  You still don't.  I don't care.  I'm here to work, not make friends."  He walked off, heading to his locker.  He came back with his kit.  "Where's the first scene, Horatio?"

"There's a drowning but I need Eric to go on it," Horatio told him.

"I can't...."

"I know, Eric.  I want you to calm down and think.  You go do the drowning.  I'll put him with Calleigh."

"She called off," Eric said grimly, heading off.

Ryan sighed, shaking his head.  "I can work one by myself, Horatio.  It's not a problem."

"Fine. Frank's got the next one."  Ryan nodded, walking off while calling him to get the address.   Horatio went to call Calleigh.  "Talk to me," he ordered quietly.  He listened then nodded.  "He wasn't going to tell us at all, Calleigh.  For the same reason as he didn't want to come in when Speed died," he told her.  "The same comparisons.  They were going to let Speed mentor him and then tell us after he got to level one."  He listened to her complain.  "Do you blame him?" he asked finally.  She went quiet and finally said a soft 'no'.  "Then you know why he did it.  Now, I believe you were on today, Calleigh?"  He got an answer he liked and hung up, getting back to work.  He would deal with the fallout later.  It had been Ryan's decision, even if Alexx had forced it on him.


Ryan looked up from cooking later that night, going to answer his door.  "Eric."  He walked away.  "Shoes off."


"Because I don't feel like calling off tomorrow due to vacuuming," he said coolly.  "Humor me, it's my house."  Eric took off his shoes, closing the door behind himself.  Ryan went back to stirring his pot. "I'm making soup, want some?"

"You can cook?"

"I worked one summer before college in a restaurant doing dishes.  I learned a lot watching them," he said quietly, adding in the next ingredient.  "I always make too much, that way I have leftovers."

"No, I'm fine."  He stared at him.  "You never told us."

Ryan looked at him.  "Why would I have?  I was already in his shadow."  He went back to stirring.  He almost added that Tim would've been pissed but it would only piss Eric off more.  He didn't need to go to the ER tonight.  "Are you sure you don't want any?  It's kosher chicken and garlic soup."

"You keep a kosher kitchen?" he asked, looking confused.

"It helps with the OCD.  The organization makes sense to me."

"Oh."  He shook his head.  "I'm not hungry.  Angry."

"I wasn't going to tell you at all but Alexx decided to yell at me last night for being at Horatio's house."


"We were having dinner," he said quietly, finishing up his preparation.  He let it simmer, doing the dishes he had used so they couldn't mock him from the sink.  Eric glared at him.  "What?" he demanded.

"No one does dishes like that."

"I do.  Every single time I cook."  He went back to it, then dried them and put them away.


"OCD, yeah, I know.  That's why they call it obsessive-compulsive disorder."  He grimaced but went back to what he had been doing.  He pulled down a bowl.  "You sure?  It'll be ready in about twenty minutes."

"No, I'm not hungry," he said, glaring at him. "You sound like my mother."

"Sorry."  He shrugged.  "Why else are you over tonight, Delko?"

"You have no right..."

Ryan glared at him.  "To what?  Grieve for him since he was my half-brother?  I know exactly why he was going to not share this secret with anyone until after I had reached level one."  Eric looked stunned.  "We weren't going to tell any of you.  I was going to come in and he was going to mentor me, like he did through college.   Unfortunately Alexx decided to ride me last night about being with Horatio so I shared.  It was my mistake, believe me."  He got out a clean spoon to stir the soup, calming himself down.  "Anything else?" he asked finally.

"We don't...."

"Yeah, you do.  From day one.  Which I accepted as being you guys grieving for your friend and me having sucky timing.  I knew I shouldn't have let him talk me into putting in my application yet," he muttered, going back to his stirring. It was comforting.

"It'll never boil."

"It's simmering just fine," Ryan retorted.  "I'm a very good cook, Eric.  I do know how to make soups."

"Fine.  Whatever.  We have to talk."

"No, we don't," Ryan said, looking at him.  "This is just another reason for you to ride me for not being him.  You're the reason I almost switched to non-felony two months ago when they had an opening.  This'll probably be the reason I go for the next opening over there.  Now, anything else?"  Eric stormed out, grabbing his shoes on the way.  He winced at the slamming door.  Then he calmed himself and went to lock it so he could go back to the good rituals, the ones that calmed him down.  He heard the phone ring and looked.  "What?" he answered quietly.  "Making soup.  Not tonight, Horatio.  Saturday?"  He smiled.  "That'll be better.  I have Sunday off.  Sure, I'll see you then.  Chicken and garlic.  Want me to bring you some tomorrow?"  He beamed.  "I can do that.  Thank you.  Eric," he admitted at the pointed question about who had upset him.  "I don't know.  Right now I'm going to hide with a book and some music.  It's safer.  Yeah, well, he's pissed.  She's pissed.  Alexx is pissed.  I'd rather not be a target when one of them gets someone in patrol pissed at me so they come after me too.  I'll see you tomorrow and maybe a horror movie on Saturday?  A light one?  I like that one," he admitted, smiling.  "Sure, we'll watch it Saturday.  Should I plan on making anything to bring over?"  He laughed.  "That's fine.  See you tomorrow."  He hung up and went to dish out some of his soup, settling in to eat and drink, like usual.


Eric looked around the next morning. "Wolfe already transfer?" he asked bitterly.

"He's out on his scene, Eric.  This has been just as hard for him as it has been for you."

"No it hasn't!"

"He was related to him, you and he were best friends," Horatio said firmly, staring him down.  Eric snorted and stomped off.  Horatio took a deep breath.  He wasn't going to diminish anyone's grief.  It wasn't his right.  He saw Calleigh coming in and nodded at her. "Eric's in Chem."

"He still mad?"


She sighed.  "I can't say as I'm not.  Why didn't Speed tell us?"

He looked at her.  "That should be obvious if you think about it, Calleigh.  For the same reason you two don't get along with him very well now," he said quietly, walking off.  She could be stunned or not, he was tired of this drama.  Maybe being a toddler was easier. At least then he didn't have to deal with the tempers around here.  He saw Ryan come in and smiled at him.  "Was it a homicide?"

"Suicide according to Alexx.  Assisted she thinks.  So I'm going to start with the family and caregivers."  That got a nod.  "I left your soup in the fridge with your name on the bag," he said quietly.

"Thank you, Ryan.  Let me know if you need help."

"I will."  He walked off to log in evidence, then get to work on the information he had.  He'd get the autopsy results later on, if Alexx wasn't still pissed with him, and then he'd figure out where to start questioning.  The woman had a large family around her.  Any of them could have helped her over.  He heard someone slam a door and sighed, getting back to work.  He wasn't going to listen to anything in the other labs or what people were saying.  He was used to being on the shit list for the precinct.  Pissing off your commanding officer could put you there quicker than anything and being OCD had pissed off all his.  He heard a cough and looked over.  "What?" he asked, going back to work.

"Is it true?" Valera asked.

"Is what true?"

"You knew Speed?"

"Yup.  We were buddies."  He looked at her.  "Which is why I didn't tell any of you."  She nodded, getting that.  "I don't care, Valera.  I honestly don't care what they're saying at the moment."  She smiled sadly but nodded, going back to her lab.  He heard another door slam and kept his attention where it needed to be until Alexx paged him.  When she didn't do it within a few hours he went down there.  "Are you done with the post on my suicide?" he asked politely.

"No, one came in before her," she said coldly.

"That's fine.  Page me please?"

"Don't I usually?" she spat.

"Yeah, just making sure."  He walked off, going to get a drink before working on an older case.  He was stuck until he got results from Alexx.   Fortunately he had an older one he could work on for the moment.  He found where he had left off in his review, getting back into it.

"Ryan, want to eat lunch?" Calleigh called a few hours later.

"No thanks.  I think I've found a new clue on a cold case."

"Don't you have an open one?" she asked.

"Alexx hasn't done the post yet."  He looked at her.  "It's looking like an assisted suicide so I can't do anything until she tells me what was wrong with her and if it was or not.  So I went back to a cold case."  He went back to work.  "Thanks for asking."

"I... I wanted to talk."

"I know."  He glanced at her.  "What did you want to know?"

"How long did you know?"

"The DNA profile they do when we enter the academy."

"Oh.  They found him?"

"Yup.  IAB was very upset that I hadn't told them I had relatives in the PD.  Accused me of lying until they realized I didn't know.  I went to introduce myself my first weekend off.  Before you ask, my OCD pissed him off too."

"It can now and then," she admitted.  "Have you went through anything to lessen it?"

He nodded, grinning at her.  "I've lessened about half of the dangerous ones.  The rest are comforting ones to me.  I might go over them some day but not right now."  He saw Eric glaring at him and shook his head.  "He's going to scream at you too."

"He won't.  He's upset.  He and Speed were very close."

"I heard."  She gaped.  "We were tight too, Calleigh.  We talked all the time.  He mentored me through college and explained things when I got lost.  He even helped me study for the one test I flunked with a C."  She giggled at that.  "We agreed early on that if I came here you guys would not know until I was at least a level one so I couldn't be compared to him."  He got back to work, finding the piece of evidence he wanted and finding the fiber sample.  He turned to run it in the machine and when he turned around she was gone.  He mentally shrugged and got back to work.  His conclusions with the prior evidence made a lot of sense so he brought the reports to the detective.  "Yelina?"  She gave him a thin smile.  "I got handed this cold case and since I haven't gotten autopsy results back yet from this morning I went over the new evidence that had come in since the last review.  I think I have a suspect for you."  She nodded, letting him present the forms.  "With the statements in the file and the prior evidence you didn't have enough to go after him, right?"  She nodded firmly.  "Well, we know he was here and this sample is only from there and the trace on it is only native to there," he said quietly, looking at her.  "Is that enough to bring him back in?"

"It is," she agreed, looking at him.  "Thank you, Wolfe."

"Welcome, detective.  If you want me to go over new evidence or collect new evidence just let me know."  He walked off, heading to the morgue.  It was nearly four.  "Alexx?" he called from the doorway.  She glared at him.  "Anything on the post yet?"

"I haven't gotten to her yet."

Ryan looked around the empty room then at her.  "When do you think you will?  I'm asking to see if I should open another cold case up or not."  She glared at him for real this time.  He walked inside and looked at her.  "You have something you don't like about me, you say it to me.  Don't take it out on the victims.  If he didn't tell you I'm sure he had a good reason."  He turned and walked out again, going to log out for the day.  He hadn't taken lunch yet, he could now.  He saw the curious looks.  "Going to lunch."

"Everyone else went hours ago," Eric sneered.

"Well, some of us were working, Delko," he shot back, glaring at him.  "Sorry to burst that thought."  He went into the break room to get his lunch, then headed outside.  He knew there was a small grove off to the side of the office in some trees that butted up to the building.  He'd had many lunches there over the years.  He put his jacket down then sat down, opening his lunch.  He found the note on the top, smiling at it.  "Thanks," he whispered, putting it back into the bag.  He dug into his food, eating slowly and carefully, like always.  He heard voices so he paused.  They went on so he went back to it.  When he was halfway done he did his usual pause for digestion.  His head went back against the tree and he enjoyed the fresh air for a while.  His watch beeped so he checked the time.  He put everything back up and went back inside, going back to work.  His food went into his locker because he wasn't going to be able to finish the rest of it.  That was fine with his ritual, as long as he hadn't finished it earlier and did it by the rituals he had established he wouldn't have a problem with that.

He grabbed his lab coat and went back to work, finding Eric in his lab.  "Anything new on mine?" he asked.  Eric ignored him.  "Fine, whatever.  Give me my case please?"  Eric still ignored him.  He grabbed it and went to work in Trace.  There was some backlogged in there he could work on while he went over his case from that morning.  He knew it wasn't a natural death.  It didn't look like a real suicide to him.  The person hadn't been that sick according to the family.  Not quite in that final stage yet.  Though he supposed being bedridden was bad enough to make him want to end any and all suffering.  He would have to be gentle with the family and the caregivers.  He finally got the page from Alexx, heading down there.  "What was the cause of death?" he asked as he walked in.  She handed over the file and walked off.  "Is Tox in here too?"  She nodded.  "Thank you."  He walked off reading it, frowning.  He would've went back to ask a question but he didn't want to interrupt her bad mood.  So he went to stare at it.  Horatio leaned into his lab.  "Question, is this a bad thing?" he asked, letting him see it.

"Ask Alexx."

"She nearly threw it at me," he said, looking at him.  "I had to ask for it twice."  Horatio just nodded and walked off.  "Don't," he called.  Horatio looked at him. "Please."  He went back to work, then decided to let the detective know, going to find him.  He found Tripp at his desk.  "I've finally got the autopsy results from Alexx."

"Is it assisted?"

"Yeah.  She wasn't on oxygen but there was an air embolism."  He let him see the report, seeing his confusion.  "Don't ask me," he said at the confused look he got.  "The family said she had just become bedridden.  The cancer was progressing but the victim was still lucid and able to interact.  I'm not sure if the caregiver or a family member did it."

"What did you do to piss her off?" he asked bluntly.

Ryan looked at him. "You're probably the only one who hasn't heard," he said bitterly.

"No, I heard about your half-brother."

"That's what's pissing her off.  He never told her."

"Oh.  Well, she did kinda adopt him."

Ryan shrugged.  "That was his thing, Detective, not mine.  I'm sure he had his reasons."  He took it back.  "Want to start with the caregiver so we can ask some more pointed questions about her health or her doctor?"

"Her doctor tomorrow, Wolfe.  Go home."

"It's not time for that yet," he admitted, letting him keep the file.  "I've got some samples that need to be run in Trace.  Please let me know if you find anything?"  That got a nod so Ryan walked off, going back to work.  He found Eric in there.  "Get out," he ordered.  "My lab.  You've already run me out of one."   Eric gave him a snort and a look.  "Fine, I'm working in here.  I don't care about your sensitive temper."  He got to work, having to move around Eric.  At one point he had to nudge him out of the way.  He got shoved back.  He glared.  "You're in the way of me doing work for the people we're supposed to be helping.  Take your temper out on me outside of work, Delko.  This is pitiful."  He got back to work, shaking his head.  He got the current sample cleared up and got to work on the next one.

"That's mine."

"It was laying in my pile, I can run it for you," he noted calmly, getting to work on it.

"I can run it."

"Again, it was next in my stack."

"Wolfe," he warned.

Ryan handed it over.  "Fine.  I don't care.  It's not worth it."  He got the next one.  He ran that one, ignoring when Eric took his from the pile.  "If you need the overtime that much, go for it."  He got back to work, ignoring him until he got in his way again.  "Wanna move so I can get to the stuff in the drawer in front of you please?"


Ryan took a deep breath then walked over and moved him, getting into the drawer for what he needed.  Then he got back to work on the sample.  "Thank you for your cooperation."

"You didn't have to shove...."  Horatio walked in already glaring.  "H...."

"Stop it, Eric.  We are not going to have this argument brought into the lab.  Am I clear, boys?"

"I'm trying," Ryan assured him.  "He wouldn't let me get what I needed."

"You could've used the one on the table," Eric protested.

Ryan looked at him.  "With the way you decided I wasn't good enough to touch your samples?  Sure I could."  He got back to work, handing Horatio a few reports.  "Those are from yours and Calleigh's last case."

"Thank you."  He looked it over.  "This river mud?"

"I had it broken down.  It's stapled to the back.  Along with a geographical index."  Horatio looked then nodded.  "I'm nearly done in here."

"Go home, Ryan."

"No.  This is my job and I'm not done for the day yet," he said firmly.  "If he wants to work in here with me, that's his thing, Horatio."  He finished his latest sample, looking at the result.  He frowned, looking at the slide.  "That's not right."  Eric gave him another look.  "Horatio?"  He came over to look.  "It's sand but it's reading as basalt and silica.  Not with those colors that I know of."

"It's possible the colors aren't showing faithfully on that slide.  Why put it on there?"

"So I could look at it under the microscope."  He did that, letting him see it on the screen.  "It's the wrong shape for basalt."

"It's old basalt," Eric said quietly.  "Worn down."

"It's still the wrong shape and there's too many angles for it to be worn down from erosion," Ryan countered, putting the pointer next to one grain.  "See?"

Eric looked then shook his head.  "I still say it's erosion."

"Where did we find it?" Horatio asked.

"The chem lab at the college by the label," Ryan admitted.  "Maybe it was a pressure application? Like what they do with diamonds and someone was testing other minerals?"

"It's possible.  The victim was engaged in high pressure geologic research.  I wasn't told in what area," Horatio admitted.  "Bag that for me please, Mr. Wolfe."  Ryan did that, signing and sealing it as was proper.  He took that report and the sample, heading off to talk to the detective on the case.  He found Frank kicked back.  "We have an anomaly, Frank."

"Would that be Wolfe's temper or that he said please?" he asked.  Horatio groaned.  "Who?"

"Eric.  Alexx."

"I got her last report.  Want to translate this for me please?"  He let him see it.  "Wolfe didn't know either."

Horatio looked it over then paged her, making her come to them.  "Would you please translate this for the detective, Alexx?  It's in technical terms neither of us understand."  She snorted and handed over another copy.  "Thank you."  He looked at it.  "She wasn't ready to be bedridden?"

"No. Her medicine was too high.  Someone was forcing her along."

Frank looked at her.  "So why couldn't you tell Wolfe that?"

"That boy...."

Horatio glared at her.  "Is here for the same reason the rest of us are," he said quietly.  She stomped off again.  He sighed.  "Sorry."

"I'm not.  He's going to have a rough time."

"Rougher, Frank.  Rougher.  This is why he didn't tell us."  He looked at him.  "Let me know?"

"Sure.  Now, what's this new anomaly?"

"Wolfe found it.  The sample of debris we found in his hand."  He let him see the report.  "The problem is that it's the wrong color and too angular to be erosion related. He was thinking perhaps something in his research?  Like high pressure applications?"

"I don't know.  We could ask someone."

"We probably should."

"Sure, right after we talk to this one's doctor in the morning."  Horatio smiled at that.  "How's he handling it?"

"Eric had to be moved so he could get something.  Ryan's holding in his temper so far.   He's already told me he's thinking about switching down to non-felony."

"That might be easier but hell on his career."

"True."   He went to talk to him, finding him in the locker room.  "Done?"

"Getting something for my back," Ryan admitted, taking a few pills before putting the bottle back.  "Sorry about the late lunch but I was working on that cold case."

"I heard."  He patted him on the shoulder.  "It was a good lead, Ryan."  Ryan gave him a weak smile.  "Dinner?"

"Tomorrow.  Tonight I want a hot bath and some white noise," he said quietly, glancing around.  "What am I making again?"

"Whatever you want to bring over.  I can come up with something complimentary."

"I'll do dessert?"

"That'll be fine," he agreed, giving him a smile.  "Weather the ride, Ryan."

"I have been," he agreed.  "I can keep going."  He grimaced.  "I've got to go back to work, see if Eric wants me to run his samples now since he's ready to go out tonight on a date."  He walked off, putting back on his labcoat.

"I thought you went home," Calleigh said.

"Just taking something for some back pain," he said lightly.  "I've still got samples on the table."  He went back into Trace, finding the samples still in Eric's pile and him not around.  He finished the last few he had then looked around again.  Eric was clearly gone for the day.  He looked over the samples, seeing what he could run easily.

Maxine leaned in.  "Some of us are going out for drinks, want to come?" she asked.

"No thanks, Valera.   I'm in the mood for a hot bath and a good book with some white noise."

"You sure?  You look like you could use a drink."

He looked at her.  "I don't drink that often.  But thanks anyway.  It's a nice offer."  He grinned.  "Do you know if Eric left?"

"Nope.  He's down with Alexx."

"Then I'll leave his samples alone.  He threw a hissy earlier," he said, putting them back together into a pile.  He went to work cleaning the lab for the next shift.  "Have a good night."

"You sure?"

"Yup.  I'm sure.  I'm not in the mood for alcohol tonight."

"Okay.  Your loss.  Calleigh and I are going."

He grinned again.  "No thanks."  She nodded, going to tell Calleigh that her plan had failed.  Calleigh came to the door.  "I don't really drink, Calleigh, but thank you anyway."

"You've had beers with me before."

"Yeah, one or two.  I'm not in the mood for alcohol tonight though, so thank you anyway."

"You sure?"

"Yup.  Thanks.  I've got leftovers and a good book waiting on me."

"That sounds lonely."

He looked at her.  "No, that sounds like relaxation and something I can do while I'm in the tub."  She shrugged and walked off.  "Thank you for asking," he called after her.   He put Eric's samples into a plastic bin and put them aside so he could finish cleaning the table.  Eric stomped back in.  "I moved them to the other counter so I could clean."  He finished up, then wiped the table down with the wipes.  Once he was done he took off his gloves and went to clock out, heading out to his car.  Which had a flat tire.  "Cheap," he muttered, going to check his spare.  It was flat too.  He noticed his rear tire on the other side was flat too and sighed, calling a cab.  He got what he needed out of the car, then locked it for the night.  He could deal with his autoclub tomorrow.  Calling them tonight would lead to a long wait thanks to the rush hour accidents.  He saw a patrol officer look his way.  "I'm not spending four hours waiting on a few spares.  I'll buy them tomorrow," he told him.

"All cars have to be removed from the lot every night," he said firmly.  "Even employee ones."

"You know what?  It doesn't say that anywhere.  I've read the handbook and memorized it," he shot back, finally losing his temper.  The guy backed off.  "So, since *someone* popped my tires for me, it's staying until I can reasonably bring my auto club out here with spares.  Anything else?  Write me up."   The officer huffed off.  Ryan finally got his cab and headed home, going to take a hot bath.  He paid him, then he realized he had left his lunch in his locker.  He fought with himself, but headed out on a bus, going to get it so he could clean it.  He walked into the back door, heading for the locker room.  He found Eric still in the lab when he walked past him but he didn't really care at the moment.  If he wanted to blow off his date, that was his thing.  He found his locker had a note on it, reading it.  That went into his lunch bag too then he closed and locked his locker, making sure it stayed locked before he walked out.

"Forget your wallet?" Eric said when he walked past him again.

"Lunch.  Night."


Ryan paused then took a deep breath, turning to look at him.  "Not tonight, Eric.  I'm tired, you're tired, and I don't care tonight.  Anything else or can I go home?"

"Go."  He watched him walk out the front door.  "What got to him?"  He went to snoop in the locker room.  Nothing new there.  He went outside, finding Ryan's car still there and booted.  He stopped the officer outside.  "Who got Wolfe's car?"

"He didn't remove it, per regulations, sir."

"Regulations don't have anything to do with this," he told him.

"Supe said so."

"Uh-huh."  He went to talk to him, finding him kicked back in his office.  "Why was Wolfe's car booted?"

"He left it in the lot."

"With two flat tires," Eric agreed.  The supervisor shrugged.  "There's no regulation that lets you do that."

"Then maybe he should leave, huh?" he asked.  "Go where his regs exist."

"What'd he do to you guys?" he snorted.

"He's wrong and strange."

"He's OCD."

"Which is a mental issue and he shouldn't be on the force with mental issues."

"You mean like your bias?" Eric shot back.  The man glared.  "Get over it.  It makes him a better officer.  That's why he's moving up and away from patrol.  Now, fix it before I have to tell Caine.  Your choice, man."  He walked off, going to call Horatio anyway.  He needed to know that this was going on.  He called Ryan after a moment's thought.  "Did you see your car was booted?" he asked quietly.  Ryan told him exactly why it happened, making him gape.  "You knew?"  He listened to the rundown of the other problems he'd had. "Then why do you stay?"  Ryan hung up on him.  "Huh."  He shook his head.  "I'll apologize for that in the morning," he decided.  "He's right, I'm tired."  He went to clean up so he could head out for the night.  He had a lot to think about.


Ryan came in the next morning to find his car had been towed.  "That's fine," he muttered.  He went to call the impound lot, finding it wasn't there.  He went down to the CSI garage, finding it in a corner down there.  It now had a broken windshield.  "Uh- huh."  He cleaned the rest of his things out of it, going to put it into his locker.  He found another note on his locker, slamming the door closed on his way out.  He handed it to Horatio.  "The second one.  Same shit, different day."  He walked off, going to get back to work.  His kit was safely in the lab at the moment.  It wouldn't have been touched.  He ran into Eric, who gave him a look.  "Go away," he warned.  "I don't care.  It's already not a good day."  Eric gaped.  "I mean it."  Eric got out of his way.  "Thank you."  He put on his jacket and gloves, getting to work on what he had backed up on his present case.  Frank had left some statements for him to go over.  That would lead to some research later, but that was fine.  He still had samples backed up.  "Am I doing the pile you left or not?" he asked.

"Not.  I can do my own."

"Fine.  Need the saline?"

"Please."  Eric took it and watched him get to work on what night shift had left.  "How's your current case?"

"Assisted suicide.  Someone was pushing her further along than she was.  Frank's already questioned her doctor and caregiver.  There was a note her blood went back to tox for a deeper breakdown.  So I'm waiting."

"What bit you this morning?" Eric asked.

"My car."

"I saw it had been booted."

"No, now it's down in the garage with a broken windshield.  Nothing new.  My insurance company loves the department."  He got to work on his next one.  Horatio walked in.  "Anything from tox?"

"Not yet, Ryan.  How many of these have you gotten?"

"That's the second since I came to the lab.  Overall, probably about sixty, seventy?"  He shrugged, looking at him.  "They're ignorant and don't choose to learn any better," he said quietly.

"He said his car windshield was smashed, H," Eric said.

"I saw that, that's why it's in the garage."

"That's my fourth car since I joined the department, guys.  That's pretty mild," Ryan said bitterly.  "Again, ignorant people who choose not to learn anything.  Some bordering on stupid and unable to learn but mostly ignorant people who choose not to.  They're in every department.  All I can do is weather them and hope that someday they do learn."

"You could report them," Horatio noted.

Ryan looked at him.  "My second note was from an officer in Internal Affairs.  What are they going to do about it?" he asked.  Horatio looked a bit flabbergasted, then closed his mouth and nodded.  "It won't get any better.   You learn to live with it, Horatio.  Or at least I have.  By the way, I cleaned out my car earlier.  That's why I'm four minutes late."

"That's fine, Ryan.  Would you mind if I have a talk with someone?"

"Go ahead, but it'll frustrate you."  He shrugged and moved onto his next sample.  "Do you like bavarian creme?"  Horatio smiled and nodded.  "Good.  I've got a new recipe I'm dying to try out."  He grinned and got back to work.

Eric looked confused.  "You feed Horatio dessert?"

"Yeah, I do like to cook and I can't eat all that I cook or I'd be rotund, Delko," Ryan noted patiently.  "I'm known for feeding those around me."

"Did you feed Speed?"

"All the time.  He loved my lasagna."

Eric frowned.  "He fed me some of that I think.  It had sausage?"

"That was a trial.  Not my best idea," he admitted.  "I put pepperoni in it now."

"I've definitely had that.  It was good."

"Thank you."  He glanced at him but went back to work anyway.  "I'm fine, Horatio.  Really."

"I was going to offer to mediate."

Ryan looked at him.  "Right now, I don't care what anyone thinks about me," he said honestly.  "There's only three people whose opinions matter to me, Horatio."  That got a small nod.  "If people don't like me, yay.  I'm kinda used to it.  People get freaked out by the OCD stuff.  I don't care."  He looked down at his sample, frowning at it.  "Eric, isn't that saline in that bottle?"

"I thought so."  He tested it.  "Um, nope.  Mislabeled."

Ryan leaned on the table, looking around.  "Okay.  Someone fucked with my lab.  I've had enough."  He gathered the other bottles to test, finding which ones had been tampered with, and then he went to see if there were fingerprints.

Eric looked at Horatio.  "He's pissed."

"For many reasons, Eric."  He stared at him, getting a sheepish look.  "Are you over your fit?"

"I... I guess I am.  I wanted to know this stuff.  We were friends."

"Just because you're friends doesn't mean you have the right to know everything, Eric. *I* didn't know."  Eric blinked at that.  "I know very well he told you somewhat about us."  Eric nodded.  "So, I think there was a reason, and I think we've all seen why.  He saw it when he came in," he said quietly.  "I will expect it to be mended."

"I'm trying.  He's not letting me apologize."

"Why should he?"  Horatio walked off.  He found Ryan running a fingerprint.  "They didn't use gloves?"

"I found a piece of burned skin on one.  Since the saline had been replaced with an acid, I'm not really surprised.  They probably burned themselves."  The computer beeped so he printed it off and handed it over.  "I only found two prints and the other one was the same guy."  He handed over the bottles and went to make new ones.  After he tested the original containers.  Just in case someone got that smart.  He ended up moving Eric out of his way again, but more politely this time.

"Calm down," Eric ordered quietly.

Ryan looked at him.  "I am calm, Delko."  Eric flinched.  "I'm very, very calm.  Pissed, but calm.  Don't worry, when I'm not calm, you'll know.  I mess up my hair."  He got back to work.  Then he took a new piece off his sample and started to run it.  The interrupted one got noted on the sample but there wasn't anything he could do about that.  If someone asked, they knew who had switched the bottles.

"How can you tell when you've got your hair too short?" he asked.

"I bounce."

"Oh, okay."  He just nodded at that and backed off.  He was bouncing a bit now.  He wasn't sure if he wasn't really calm or if that was also a symptom of anger, but he wasn't going to risk it.  "I'm sorry about yesterday."

Ryan looked at him.  "No you're not."  Eric glared at him.  "If you were, you'd go back to where we were before Alexx told you."

"You should have."


"Because....  It's what friends do?"

"When were we friends?" he asked bluntly.  Eric gaped.  "You don't like me, Eric.  You've made that clear a few times."

"It's been...."

"Comparing me to him and I'm coming up short.  I know.  I have known.  Unlike people who switch acid compounds for saline solution I'm not stupid."  He got back to making sure everything else was in place.  "It looks like we need some new lifting sheets.  The top one in here has gum and what looks like spit."

"Want us to run DNA?" Eric asked.

"I came up with two fingerprints and a piece of burned flesh.  It's probably the same guy."  He handed over the collection sheets in the drawer.  "Can you get another box please?  Those were the last in here."

"Sure."  He bagged those and went to get more.  On the way past Horatio he handed them over.  "In the drawer."

"Thank you, Eric.  We'll be having a word with the young man responsible."  He walked the bag into DNA.  "More evidence that someone was in Trace trying to mess things up," he noted, laying it down behind the last sample.  He laid a copy of the fingerprint reports on top of it.  "Please make sure it's him?"

"Of course.  What did they do?"

"Switched compounds, put a mild acid into the saline bottle."

"Crap," she muttered.  "Is Ryan huffing?"

He smiled.  "Not far past it," he admitted.  "Page me when you have something."

"Of course."  She got to work on her next one, moving a bit faster now.   Someone needed their butts chewed and she wanted front row seats.  Calleigh would too so she popped over to tell her when she got to a point she could leave things running.


Horatio smiled when Ryan walked in with a covered 9x13 glass pan.  "What is that?"  Ryan lifted a corner, making him moan.  "Home made eclairs?"

"Yeah, I got a good dough recipe so I thought I'd try it out," he said with a grin.  He handed it over and took off his shoes, following him into the kitchen.  No dishes in the sink.  The table was set.  There was juice in the pitcher.  "What're we having and can I help?"

Horatio smiled.  "Go browse the bookshelves, Ryan."

"Sure.  I can let you cook."  He went to do that, finding a few books he recognized but he wouldn't say anything.  He had new copies of the ones he liked.  He did touch one.  "I wasn't sure he'd like it," he admitted when he felt someone walk up behind him.  "It looks like he read it."

"He did," Eric agreed.  "Then he raved for weeks."  Ryan frowned at him.  "I butted in when I heard you were coming over."

"That's fine. I made enough mini eclairs to go around."  He grinned and went back to looking it over.  "He liked it?"

"He did.  He thought it was odd, the writing style was a bit off-putting he said, but he liked the storyline.  Called it good downtime reading in the hammock."  Ryan beamed at that, going on.  "Did you trade books?"

"Now and then.  I've still got the last one at the house."

"Which one did he trade you, Ryan?" Horatio asked.

"Some Irish epic novel that's kinda depressing, H.  I've finished it if you want it back."

"No, you can have it," he said with a small smile.  He nodded at Eric.

"Listen, Wolfe, we were unfair.  I know that and I'm sorry we were unfair when we found out about you two being related.  The other stuff... it was mostly grief on my part."  Ryan looked at him and nodded.  "I know it's been rough but I'd like to help you if I could."

"Sure.  I could use the mentor.  Tim said pretty often that my mouth and my brain worked faster than the rest of me."

"That certainly explains that reporter," he agreed dryly.

"She's an ex."

"I'm sorry.  Do you need a restraining order?"

Ryan grinned.  "It wasn't that bad of a relationship, Eric.  No grounds."  He went back to browsing the movies.  "I can't believe you've got a Disney movie, Horatio."

"Speed's," he admitted, grinning at the boys. "Most of those were his.  He's the one who gave me the DVD player.  He claimed it would make me come home more often."

"It can," Eric agreed.  He looked at him.  "My mother wants you back."

"While being a toddler was easier, it was frustrating, Eric.  I couldn't get my body to work the way it should.  I was too short to do the things I knew I should be able to do.  I couldn't bathe myself.   I loved sitting listening to your mother talk about everything but I don't want to go back there ever again."

Ryan grinned.  "You were cute."

"I was.  It was still frustrating, Ryan," he said, giving him a look.  "Especially since everyone wanted to play with my hair."

"Every other female," Eric told Ryan.  "In the park, in the store, Momma.  My nieces.  One of my sisters.  They all liked to play with his hair."  Ryan chuckled.  "Really.  He ended up hiding from one of my nieces who was mobile and thought his hair was the best plaything ever."

"Did they ever catch the alligator in her yard?"

"Yeah, I called it in," Eric admitted.  "What did it eat?"

"The squirrel."

"It happens."

"Better that than a child," Ryan agreed.

"True," Eric agreed, smiling at him.  "You'd like my mother.  She'd fuss over you for ages.  Try to set you up with a nice girl......"  Ryan shuddered.  "No?"

"Um...  Kinda why Alexx got mad in the first place, Eric," he admitted after glancing at Horatio.  Eric blinked, then frowned.  "I guess you knew before?"

"H?" Eric called.

"I made sure it wasn't because of that, Eric.  That's one of the reasons I went to the spa.  I have the feeling Tim's somewhere giggling at us."

"Probably, or throwing popcorn like he did at Cinderella," Ryan admitted.  Horatio snickered at that and Eric moaned, shaking his head.  "He said he wanted to see the ending after babysitting one of the terrible trio of nieces, Eric."

"I remember.  Then a song got stuck in his head for a week."  He shook his head, going into the kitchen.  "Can I help?"

"No, Eric.  If Ryan can't do dishes you can't help."

"Fine."  He came back out.  "You have a thing about dishes?"

"I worked in a restaurant kitchen, Eric.  I saw what happens when you don't do dishes.  Dishes have to be done immediately when they're dirty."

"Okay," he said slowly.  "Why do you have the break in eating?"

"The last time I stuffed myself I ended up in the ER.  So now I take an hour break to digest and get more room so I don't end up back there."

"Ah.  Okay," he said a bit faster.  "Anything else I should know?"

"Vacuuming," he admitted.  "Sheets but only when I've went through the entire washing/drying/ironing process.  Otherwise I need to make the bed but not as desperately."

"Good to know.  Is that why you have a gravel walkway to your door?"  Ryan nodded, smiling just a hint of a smile.  "That makes sense.  You'll know when you track something in."

"I also wear small tread shoes so I can't track any in."

"Even better.  What about sand or bringing something in from work?"

"I have a mat in my car to wipe my feet off when I get in.  That way I can't track anything home."

"Oh.  I guess that works."

"Most of the time.  Now and then I come home with spatter or something on my clothes and those get taken off at the door then I go shower and change before treating them and washing them."

"Do you have a washer?" Horatio asked.

"No, I use public ones.  No room at my present place.  If I did, I'd have a really good, industrial sized one."  Eric grinned at that.  "They work better."

"I'm sure they do.  How do you stand public washers?"

"The place I go washes down the washers every week with bleach.  I get there right after that."

"That makes sense," Horatio agreed.  "Any other rituals, Ryan?"

"No.  The way I eat I guess.  I always take a sip of whatever I'm drinking after each bite to wash it down and help it digest faster."

"Ulcer?" Eric guessed.

"Bleeding ulcer back in high school," Ryan agreed.  "The stress of chess club."  Eric snickered.  "Seriously.  There was a lot of politics in there.  They were all very politically divided, especially in the geeks that were also D&D geeks versus those who were computer geeks and those who were simply the minor smart geeks.  We were more outcast but graciously allowed to play chess with the team."

"You should've role played," Eric told him.

"I tried it but they were all stoners.  They didn't like the smart geeks either.  We did things like research weapons."  That got a smile.  Ryan shrugged.  "It was all a political mess and being a smart geek with no extra skills meant I was pretty outcast.  So no, I take that hour break for a good reason.  The surgeon suggested it and it's grown into a ritual."

"That works," Horatio agreed, bringing out a plate to the table.  He went back to get a few pots and a pan of meat in sauce, bringing it out too.  "Ryan, you don't eat kosher because you need to, right?"

"No, it's a good organization system for my kitchen," he admitted, coming over.  Horatio turned him around and gave him a nudge.  "I can help carry."

"I can do it. You can do dessert."  Ryan shrugged but nodded and went back to looking at the art on the walls.  "Eric, juice or water?"

"Either's fine, H."   He looked at the table then at his friend.  "You didn't have to cook that much."

"I haven't cooked in months, Eric.  I was in the mood for it.  I can always have leftovers tomorrow."  Ryan smiled at that.  "As he does."

"I do.  It means I eat the days I'm tired," Ryan agreed.  "Plus lunch."

"Did you get lunch today?" Eric asked.  "I noticed the day before you didn't take your usual post-lunch break."

"No, I gave up on lunch.  I had lunch today but it was a burger on the run."  Eric gave him a look.  "There's only a few places I trust the kitchens of," he admitted.  "I drove through one of them on the way to question the doctor again.  By the way, Horatio, the caregiver was hurrying it but we're still having a tough time getting a confession.  The DA said it was circumstantial at best."

"You'll get it, Ryan.  Check for others they've done this to."

"Frank's doing that tonight," he admitted.  He came over, looking at the table.  "Is Alexx or Calleigh coming?"

"Calleigh said she might pop by," Horatio admitted.

"Sure.  A team dinner's fine," Ryan admitted, smiling at him.  "How did your rant go?"

"Loudly," Horatio admitted.  "It helped a bit.  The Chief and the head of Internal Affairs were not happy and I gave a very nice lecture on what OCD actually is and how it's one of the few mental disorders that can make someone a better officer."  He stroked his cheek with a smile.  "With the backup of two other OCD officers who have had the same problems," he said quietly.

"That's fine.  As long as they don't jump me when I'm eating in the little grove I'm fine with it.  Anymore I see them like Klan members.  They exist and I have to endure them breathing the same air I do."

"One of them said the same thing," Horatio admitted.  "He's also on suspension for his threatening letters to your locker.  The supervisor who had your car booted and the tires slashed has said he will be paying for the repairs."  Ryan grinned at that.  "So we'll see how it goes from here on out."

"Hopefully you got some of them to a lesser state of ignorance or at least tolerance," he agreed happily, giving him a hug.  Eric coughed and turned around.  "Sorry, Eric."

"Not a problem.  I tend not to watch others make out unless it's being taped."  He shrugged and sat down in his usual spot, letting Ryan get next to Horatio.  He had learned that lesson from Speed.  "Should I call Cal?"

"If you want," Horatio agreed, sitting down.  He poured Ryan some juice, then let Eric have it.  "We have orange glazed chicken breast, boneless, and roasted potatoes that have been mashed with sharp cheddar cheese, asparagus, and a plate of flat bread because I know that Eric enjoys that more than rolls."  Ryan beamed at him.  "It'll go very well with your eclairs."  He took a gentle kiss then winked.  "Dig in, boys."  They dug in, ignoring how Ryan ate and drank.  It wasn't that strange.  Calleigh came over twenty minutes later and sat down to dig in.  Horatio smiled as he handed over the potatoes. "Ma'am, sharp cheddar potatoes?"

"I adore you, Horatio.  You know what a girl needs."  She took a good portion, smiling at Ryan.  "Hi."

"Hi."  He took another sip.  She frowned at him.  "Former ulcer."

"Oh!  No wonder you take that break!  That's probably really good for your digestion.  I should try that on the bad days."  Eric nodded, his mouth was full.  "Ryan, I'm sorry I reacted that way.  It was a big shock and it made me think about some things.  I realized I've been....well, mean and spiteful is the nicest way I can put it."

"You were bitchy," Eric told her.

"I was trying to stay polite, Eric," she countered, glaring at him.  "Don't make me tell your mother you used that language in front of a lady."

"I'll get swatted again," he agreed, grinning at her.  "She still wants the baby Horatio back."

"He was adorable," she cooed, pinching his cheek, making him groan.  "But I'm sorry, Ryan.  It wasn't fair of me to react that way to you in the beginning.  I should have let you prove yourself without the big ol' friend measuring stick."

"It's all right, Calleigh.  That was grief.  At least for the first few months.  You got better."

"Thanks."  She kicked him under the table.  "Why did Alexx huff that you were crawling into Speed's other spots?"  Horatio coughed and gave Ryan's hand a squeeze.   She blushed bright red and squeaked.  "Really?"  Horatio nodded.  "Wow."

"I heard about what you asked," Ryan teased.  The blush went further down her neck.  "I'm not going to give in to that desire either, dear."  He stuffed his mouth.

"Did you really ask for pictures?" Eric asked.  Horatio choked.  "Not of you."

Ryan nodded.  "Tim said she did."

She shrugged.  "I'm a single girl.  I've got to have something to think about on those lonely, hot nights.  No offense, Eric, but you're not my type for fantasies."

"You're way too nice for one of my ladies anyway, Cal," Eric assured her happily.

"Tim once told me I was supposed to ask what happened to Denise," Ryan said, looking at Eric, who was choking.

"He told you?" he demanded.

Ryan beamed and nodded.  "Eight or nine months ago," he agreed happily.  "About a week after you had to file the restraining order.  He said it was the Delko charm at work.  He also told me that someday you'd give up the crime lab in an attempt to become the first Cuban Hugh Hefner.  He was going to start getting you lounging pajamas for the present holidays.  Actually, I think his last one to you is in my hall closet.  He said something about snooping ballistics techs."

Horatio smiled.  "She did come here to snoop."

"I never could figure out where he hid the presents from me," she said. "Just his?"

"His, Horatio's, and I think I have one for Alexx.  Yours was going to be ordered this year," he said quietly, looking at her.  "He was going to send off for it in late November."  She smiled at that.  "I can show you the catalog if you want."

"No, that's okay.  It was probably another beer or wine of the month thing.  Like last year."

"Actually, ice cream cake of the month," Ryan admitted, grinning at her giggle.  "I couldn't figure out how to get them to you without you guys knowing."

"We'll come get them tomorrow," Eric said, grinning at him.  "Lounging pajamas?"

"Yeah, that's where Heff started."

Eric shook his head.  "He used to joke that I'd be the guy running the next 'girls gone wild' industry during spring breaks."  He ate another bite of chicken.  "You did a good job, H."

"Thank you, Eric."  He smiled at Ryan.  "How big was mine?  He said he was torn?"

"It's in a huge box but it rattles."

"I'll get it tomorrow after work," he promised with a smile.

"Dinner?" Ryan offered.

"I would like that."  He stroked his cheek again.  "Eat.  You're not halfway through."  Ryan beamed and dug in again. They all took a break when Ryan did, having some coffee and heading onto the porch.  They could let the first round digest and then have seconds.  It was probably better for you anyway.


Ryan walked into the morgue, putting down the small package in front of Alexx.  "I never knew how to give this to you before.  Tim left it in my closet for the holidays," he said quietly.  "I figured if I sent it anonymously you'd have tracked me down or had Horatio do it for you."  She stared at him.  "So I guess that's yours.  He bought it around October."  He walked out, heading up to his work area.  Horatio gave him a slip and he went out on the call.

Alexx looked at the box, sniffling as she unwrapped it.  She knew Ryan had wrapped it.  Speed was horrible at wrapping presents.  It was a nice thought.  Inside was a small broach, making her smile and touch it.  It had a stone for each of her children, including him.  "Oh, Speedy," she whispered, sniffling and trying not to cry.  Horatio came in a few minutes later so she bundled it up.  "Horatio...."

He gave her a hug.  "We all had one but Calleigh.  He was going to get her an ice cream cake subscription."  She nodded, crying on his shoulder.  "Shh.  He couldn't figure out how to give it to you and not get traced."

She looked at him.  "I've been unfair."

He nodded.  "We all were."  He stroked her cheek, wiping off the tears.  "You two have to work that out.  He could use the love, Alexx.  Right now, he's out on a scene."

"It's his day off."

"Eric never answered."  She nodded, going to get the broach, letting him see it.  He smiled at that, nodding a bit.  "It suits you."

"It does.  He was a thoughtful boy.  Why didn't he clean his gun?"

"I don't know.  It wasn't as dirty as last time.  Maybe he was cleaning it," he admitted.  "Just not often enough."

She nodded.  "Maybe."  She stroked over the pin again, looking at him.  "What did you get?"

He smiled.  "He got me a new pocket knife in an extra-large box.  The spa trip was supposed to be my birthday present."  She nodded at that, putting on the broach.  "Now, do you think you two can work it out?  Ryan's got enough problems with patrol right now.  They think his OCD is like being schizophrenic.  They've been trying to drive him off again."

"That poor boy."  She wiped at the damp spot she had created.  "I'll work on it, Horatio."

He nodded.  "Thank you."

"Does Ryan clean his gun?"

"That's one of his OCD rituals.  He does it every night before bed.  That way nothing bad can happen and it can't jam."  She nodded, swallowing.  "I'm not sure when it started, he wouldn't tell me."

"Probably when Speed's did the first time."  She stroked his cheek.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  Now, you have a body in a partially built addition."  She nodded, gathering her things and heading out.  He went to follow.  It was his people at a scene. It was a good start to a fresh start for them all.

The End.