Started November 10, 2009

Xander walked into the police station.  "Someone called and said they wanted to talk to me about someone I knew," he told the detective.  He waved at Richard, who shrugged at him.

"You two know each other?" the female detective asked.

"Yeah, he's another writer," Richard said.  "Kid, who's your last girlfriend?"

"Full girlfriend or date?"


"Um...."  He flipped through his phone's appointments.  "Angela."  The detective held up a picture.  "Yeah, her.  Why?"

"She's dead," she said bluntly.   "There's all sorts of evidence that you date strange people.  A lot of whom end up in jail."

"Oh, that problem.  Yeah, I'm a bad and evil girl magnet.  We only went out a few times but she wasn't up to my usual standards of evil.  I haven't seen her since Thursday.  I'll tell you what I can."

"Please."  She pointed at an interrogation room.

Xander shrugged and walked that way.  He sat down, looking at her.  "What can I help you with?"

"First, you're an author?"  He nodded, grinning some.  "True crime?"

"Sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal.  I'm Alexian Harris."

"Okay."  She sat down.  "Why don't you tell me about her?  How did you meet?"

"It was a set up from one of the women my agent knows.   If I remember right."  He got back into his phone, looking it up.  "Here we are.  First date and I was a bit late I think. I  was on the phone with Paula."  He let her see it.  "I have a horrible focus so I have to keep some notes now and then."

"That's helpful though."  She looked through it for all the other entries with her name.  "Three dates?"

"Four dates.  She showed up one night to have sex."

"Okay."  She made that note.  "What day was that?"

"After the second date, a few days before the third.  I can ask Tara.  She's like my sister."

"You don't always know what day it is?" she asked.  She stared at him.

He leaned his arms on the table.  "I'm one of those writers that has very strong muses.  Tara lives with me because she makes sure I eat.  She has to pull me out of things very often.  Paula and my editor hate me for it most of the time because I'm backlogged.  I'm over three years ahead of the publishing schedule right now.  Which was why she wanted me to have a new girlfriend."  He grinned.  "I haven't done anything but write for quite a while."

"Okay.  So you met, did dinner?"  Xander nodded.  "What after dinner?"

"Where were we?  Angelo's?"  She looked then nodded.  "Let's see.  I had pasta that was a bit overdone with a fairly weak cream sauce.  Not up to their usual.  Then we went....  If I remember right I took her out to a club, shook booty for a bit, then drove her home.  I went home, took a shower, fell into bed, got up two hours later, wrote a smut scene in the paranormal series, then went back to bed until about ten the next day when Tara's cat got me up by pouncing.  She likes me to clean her litterbox instead of her mommy."  He gave a small semi-shrug.

"Okay," she said.  "What about your last date?  Last Thursday?"  She looked.  "It says you were at Angelo's again?"

"She lived right around there.  About a block from the restaurant.  She was a bit later than I was because she had to run home and change.  A meeting earlier had gone long.  She was wearing a slinky seeming black dress, black hose, black two inch heels.  Top had a square neckline and cap sleeves.  Looked like they were trying to get back to Hepburn's style but didn't want to copy exactly.  She had her hair feathered back in front to the left side, the back pulled back in a small bun-like thing that didn't have a cage or obvious method of holding it up.  Probably with one of those easy-twist things.  We ate, I had steak, she had fish of some sort.  We ended up at Club Fire because she said she wanted to go and I could get us in.  We shook booty, had some hallway sex, she was tired afterward so I took her home and went home to sleep."

"So you haven't seen her since you dropped her off?"

"No, not that I know of.  Check the call log.  I had the home phone turned off because I never hear it but I have my cell and Tara has her cell.  That way we have phones but we're not tied at home."

"I can understand that."  She got into his call log.  "It says you have a voicemail from her?"

"I do?"  She played it and he shrugged.  "Huh.  Okay, I guess I missed her call.  Sorry.  I've been working on book twelve of the paranormal series."

"Okay.  Let me go copy this all down?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"You're very calm," she said.  "Do you often get questioned by police?"

"No, but I have had many ex-girlfriends and dates arrested by the ones that used to follow me around in LA.  One of their people used to stalk me on dates and pick them up after seeing who I was dating.  She had me send the file to a friend in Brooklyn homicide.  Beyond that, I think it's great you guys actually do stuff."  She glared.  "My original town got shut down by Feds for having the most dirty cops ever."

"I think I heard about that."

"They tried to arrest a friend for someone siccing a lifelike robot on her and her having to kill it to protect herself.  We never saw them unless they were looking to pin blame on others or you were jaywalking."

"I guess that can happen.  I'll be right back."  She gathered up the file and left.

Richard looked at her.  "Was he helpful?"

"He was very creepy."

"He writes fantasy stuff.  He's a geek."

"He didn't remember what day it is?"

"Yeah, he's had a phenomenon called hundred page days.  It's also called hypergraphia."  She groaned.  "Tara literally has to pull him out of his writing to make him eat most days."

"He knew more dirty cops than good ones?"

"Doesn't surprise me since the FBI gutted his town for all the dirty cops who tried to blow the agents up, paramedics, hospital, fire department that tried to burn them out for investigating some cults.  The whole town was shut down and his original agent and editor had him move to LA."

"Which detective in Brooklyn has his original record of dating?"

"Wyans I think.  Something like that."  He walked in there, shutting the door.  "Level with me, kid."



"She wasn't up to my usual standard of bad girl, she was more a sorority bad girl than not.  She wasn't up to my usual standard in bed.  She hated oral sex, which I thought was really strange.  She was very pretty but very concerned with being seen in the right spots.  Paula's best friend knew her and set us up.  She wasn't loud, she wasn't that into the sex.  I doubt we would've kept going out.  She was too preppy for me.   She wanted to be seen more than anything."

"So, press ho?"

"Could be but I don't get paps like you do.  Now and then I get one when I'm coming out of the club but otherwise nothing much."

"I've seen a few of those."  He stared at him.  "Anything else odd?  She know you from before?"

Xander shook his head.  "No, definitely not that.  She's like what Buffy would think would be a good girl for me to date."

"Okay.  Anything else you haven't shared?"

"The guys on the poker circuit said that she was boring."

A male detective came in.  "You play poker?"

"Now and then I grab a hand of kitten poker."

"You know people who play poker for kittens?" the detective asked.

"Yeah, don't you?"  The detective walked out so Xander shrugged.  "They're great sources of information.  I don't play as much as I used to by LA.  Or back in Sunnydale."

"Sorry, I only play normal, high stakes poker."

Xander nodded.  "I don't make enough to do that yet.  And I'm not sure if the rules are the same."

"Maybe not," he decided.  He crossed his arms over his chest.  "Any other suddenly disappearing former dates?"

"One Vice got for being a madam who beat her people but I only had dinner with her that once because she disgusted me.  I haven't been dating all that much."

"I can introduce you to a socialite or three who might be evil," Richard offered dryly.

"They'd be high maintenance and expect me to make more than I do.  I'm not paying for clothes for anyone ever again.  Not after the way Anya used me."

"I know that feeling very well," Richard sighed.  "No others?"

"No.  A few I've gotten down and funky with in the clubs but no.  It's harder to find them here than it was in LA.  I'm used to their version of clubbing.  Up here, that intensity is mistaken for scary."

"It can be, yeah.  Let me talk to them."

"Sure.  If Tara calls, because she should be soon, let her know?"

"I can do that."  He walked out, closing the door behind himself.

"Kitten poker?" the female detective demanded quietly.

"Yeah.  They're not normal but he does use them to get information now and then."

"What do they use the cats for?" she asked.  "Since you seem to know something about that circuit."

"I never asked, never been to a game, and it'd probably make me crap myself if I did.  Xander's not the average geek.  Not by any means.  He's got a better judge of character than a lot of detectives I've met.  The kid's also good in self defense because he used to help in his very filthy town to ease a huge death rate."

She walked in there, holding up a photo.  "Do you know her, Mr. Harris?"

He took it to look at.  "That's my agent, Paula.  I know she's not dead.  I talked to her this morning."

"Are you sure that's her?"

Richard came in to look.  "Yeah, that's Paula.  We share her."  He handed it back.  Then he dug out another picture.  "Date or otherwise?"

Xander stared at her face.  "Neither.  I saw her at the club a few times but she sneered. Too much rich bitch to put it bluntly without anything to back it up.  Fake bling if I remember right and knock-off dresses."

"How do you know women's fashion?" Richard asked.

"Buffy and Willow made me shop with them all too often.  All I had were female friends for *years*.  Then there was Anya."

"Is she alive?" the detective asked.

Xander stared at her.  "The last I knew she was about to take her full vows as a nun.  So, yes."  She backed down at that.  "Was she killed ritually?  I may be able to tell you which one or I may have contacts who could."  She put down a picture.  He stared.  "Ancient Mayan or Aztec rituals."  He pushed it back.  "And they did half of them upside down.  Your cutter's a lefty with the way the chest cavity opened from the bottom up.  Because those depended on the proper positioning in the rising sun."

"How do you know this?" Richard asked.

"Book seven, paranormal series.  Serial killer, LA two years ago.  Books by another very good author who did a hell of a lot more research than I did for mine."

"Did they catch that serial killer?" she asked.  "And did you date that one?"

"Funny, but no.  He wasn't one of the few guys I slept with," he quipped.  "And no, I wouldn't do you either.  You're way too soft for me."  She flinched back at that.  "Other than that, no, he wasn't caught.  The detective who used to follow me on dates had his case and ended up losing him when he ran to Mexico.  She was complaining one night after she arrested one of my partners.  I kindly bought her a drink since that one had been people trafficking for sex and organ harvesting.  She spilled that complaint then."  She shuddered.

"I remember her tracking you during that one convention," Richard admitted.  "With that one you caught at the club."

"Yeah, her.  Same one."  He smiled.  "She's a really nice lady.  Very sweet.  Loved her bunches and sent her cards every year for her birthday and Christmas."

"Is she still alive?" the female detective asked.

"No, she got shot in the line of duty about four months ago.  I found out when I sent her a birthday card."

"Oh.  Um, sorry."

"It's okay.  You're not used to geeks so I forgive you for being uptight, repressed, and snotty to me.  Now, do we have any other questions?  Or can I go back to writing elf smut?"  She handed over his phone.  "Thank you."  He looked at Richard.  "If you ask me, since she's trying to connect another one to that one, I'd see who has the flint knives since it looked like it was done with one instead of something like granite or obsidian.  Obsidian would've been sharper."  He left, sliding his phone into his pocket.

"That's not a bad idea," Richard admitted.  "What would one need for an Aztec ritual beyond an altar, the rising sun, and a victim?"

"Do you actually like that kid?" she asked him.

"You put his guard up.  Usually he's a nice, goofy, twenty-year-old guy.  He's a happy, bouncy, ADD case with hypergraphia in the extreme.  He's a caffeine junkie, a chocolate junkie, and he gives our shared agent a flower each time she pays him.  He's also the guy that you can trust to water your plants, be there if you're having a crisis, and to save your life on occasion.  He got someone who was trying to attack me once and acted like nothing had happened because that's how his former town was.  They tried to arrest him once for acting out a pickpocketing scene that was caught on camera with no one else there."

"He has a record."

"No, he has the former dirty as hell town's ideas of what to pin on the kid.  His friends have the same sort of thing.  The FBI cleared all of them."  He walked out to get into the federal report on Sunnydale, letting her read it.  "He's the one that turned the cult in because he was on the protection patrol."

She read, grimacing.  "How did they get away with that?"  She kept going, shaking her head.  "There's no way that wasn't caught."

"The town's former mayor had everyone cowed because he had too many contacts that used to make people disappear.  The kid was protecting that town from tenth grade until they shut it down with some female friends."

"This Tara?"

"Was the girlfriend of one of them.  From what he told me, his ex Anya and her ex were found cheating together.  They protected each other from the horrible ex's."

"Uh-huh."  She kept going, grimacing at it.  "How trained is he in weapons?"

"According to some sources?  Not very.  According to others?  Anything from swords to handguns through some artillery and bombs."  She gave him a horrified look.  He did a search, coming up with something.  "Their sort of geek in that town," he said bluntly.

She read over where a giant robot had been used to try to stop agents from raiding files.  "No way."


"Anything else you know about him?"

"He has a sealed federal file that starts with 'don't feed him chocolate, and if he's dating suspect that the being is dangerous and presumed deadly'.  That's the first sentence of it that was read to me."

"He bi?"

"Yeah.  He lost an agent due to that."

She slumped, looking at him.  "So he might be able to find out who this person is?"

"If I know the kid, he's already asking around for me.  I would trust him to babysit as long as he wasn't writing.  Because I know nothing short of a long range sniper would ever get near my daughter if he was babysitting her.  I'm going to use him to threaten her first real boyfriend."

"Which source is right about his skills?"

"I never asked."

"You aren't worried about him in the least?"

"No.  I'm not an evil doer that he has to deal with.  By the way, Tara's one of those Wicca followers.  Also a part-time librarian.  She's the motherly, Earth Goddess sort.  So no, she couldn't have done it either."

"How many times have you met her?"

"I've run into her a few times.  I run into the kid at conventions and at the office when we're both in to see our agent.  I've run into her at the library a few times doing research.  She's the stuttering, shy sort."

"So he's not really connected, just a sign post or they're picking the ones he casts off?"

"If he's right and it's that same serial killer, he was acting long before the kid moved to LA."  He looked at her.  "It's not him and I told you it's not him."

"Kitten poker?  That can't be that normal."

"No one said that the guys who play are normal.  That doesn't mean he's not.  Though, he's not normal.  He's a super geek in many ways.  If you need to know about some types of ancient weapons, ask him if he can get you a copy."

"He has some?"

"Yeah.  Tara told me a funny story about her cat knocking over the mace he was using as part of a story and nearly getting him on the leg with it."  He stood up.  "Also, supposedly he's a field medic for their team since the hospital out there had at least a thirty percent death rate for patients."

"How in the hell?' she asked.

"They were selling parts."  He walked off to call the kid.  "Okay, give on that serial killer."  He wrote down what he knew and had just heard.  "Any idea...."  He made another few notes.  "What do they do with the kittens?"  He shuddered.  "Eww.  Thanks, kid."  He hung up and walked back there.  "His name, his MO, his file number from LA, it's in the federal system."  He looked at her.  "And the ones he knows eats them."  He walked off to get some coffee and forget he had ever asked that last question.

She shuddered.  "That's disgusting."  She looked up the serial killer.  It did look like him.  So maybe the kid was just goofy and creepy instead of dangerous to others.  She hoped.  She'd keep him on her mental watch list in case something happened.  Including getting that file over.  "Someone get his LA file from Brooklyn Homicide?" she asked her helpers.

"It's on its way.  They wanted to know who he dated this time," one of them quipped.  "Kitten poker?"

"Castle said they eat them."

"Eww."  He went to get something to take his mind off that.  The file would do just fine he hoped.  It was certainly good for a laugh when it got there.  She took it when they were giggling, staring at it.  "Yeah, I don't think it was him," he laughed.

"No, clearly not."

Castle looked.  "They're missing three."  He sipped his coffee, smirking at her.  "Including the two here."  He sat down with his coffee.

"How does he do this?" she demanded.

"I don't know but Paula handed us the file at one time to give us ideas if we got stuck on evil female characters."  He took a sip, smirking at their reactions.

The kid walked in with a grunt of displeasure, handing someone to him.  "Asshole tried to hurt Miss Kitty and Tara.  He's very sorry and going to beg for prison sex."  He walked off shaking his head.

Castle handed the guy over with a smile.  "There, an easy arrest.  You tried to hurt the woman's cat?"

"They're evil and so are witches!" the guy shouted.

"They don't exist, your fruitcake," one of the detectives told him, walking him down to book him.  He did indeed confess when he offered to get Xander back up there.  Apparently the kid was scary sometimes.

Castle just smirked at the chaos Xander had caused without trying.  Though, now he had an idea on where he had been stuck.  He took out some paper and snatched a pen, writing it down.  "Maybe the muses are those puppies his former landlord saw," he muttered.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing."  He waved a hand, finishing that idea and putting it in his pocket.  "Sorry, sudden idea."

"I'm sure it happens," she told him.


Xander came out of the shop Tara liked to hang out in, finding someone there staring at him.  "What?" he asked the detective.

"You shop at places like this?"

"Tara's aunt works here.  I was dropping her off."

"That's fine.  Thank you for that information, Mr. Harris."

"Not a problem."  He shrugged.  "I'm used to being helpful."  He walked over to his car and got in, heading back to the apartment to write.

The detective went in to talk to this Tara person.  It was an unknown and she hated it when coincidences happened on her cases.  If she had to keep running into him, she wanted to know what to expect.  She saw a shy, blonde girl that sounded like what Castle described.  "Tara?" she asked, pulling out her badge.  The girl nodded slowly.  "I have a few questions to ask you about someone your roommate was dating who ended up dead."

"Which one?" she asked.  "The evil wannabe or the last really evil one I had to banish because she wanted him?"


"She wanted to move up the rank of succuba."

"The evil wannabe probably."  She pulled a picture out of the file, letting her see it, getting a nod and the picture back.  "What do you remember about her?"

"I only met her twice.  I know she was an accountant in a firm that Xander's agent works with sometimes.  She wasn't like Xander's other girlfriends.  She didn't want to stay over.  She didn't want him to be cuddly and cute with her.  She hated it when he accidentally cuddled.  Sex lasted less then an hour," she said, starting to blush.  "I didn't really talk to her but my cat hated her.  Miss Kitty hissed and ran.  She's usually a very good judge of character and adores Xander."

"So nothing really that might lead to someone who would want to kill her?"

She shook her head, moving her ponytail back over her shoulder.  "Not really.  She liked going out to be seen from what Xander complained about.  She seemed a bit shallow to me too if that helps."

"Like if she had been prettier she'd have been a trophy wife?" Aunt Marge suggested.

Tara nodded, smiling back at her.  "Exactly but she got started too late."  She looked at the detective again.  "I wish I could help more."

"Do you know anything about anyone buying supplies for Aztec or Mayan rites?" she asked.

"There's only a few places in the city where you can get some things," Marge told her.  "Depending on what you need.  What specifically are you looking for, Detective?"

"We have one that may lead back to a multi-state serial killer who a friend of hers said was using Aztec rites."

"Huh.  Was she a mummy?" Tara asked.

The detective stared at her for a second then shook her head.  "No.  Not that I know of."  She opened that folder and held up a picture.

Tara grimaced.  "Definitely against the will of the Goddess but ....  Aunt Marge?"  She came over.  "That's a thicker blade."

"It does look like it, honey.  So probably not something you can get a razor sharp edge off of.  Obsidian will naturally flake to sharp edge."

Tara nodded.  "I have an atheme in obsidian for rituals."  She smiled at her aunt.  "Xander got it for me.  It's white veined obsidian."

"That sounds pretty."  She considered it.  "Granite might not be amiss but they did have bronze back then and I think something like an iron mixture but I'm not real sure.  I think we have a book on it though."  She went to the book section, pulling down one.  "Yes we do."  She walked it back, letting the detective look it over.  "That's on the ancient calendar of rituals.  Basically their timing and what each one was for.  I've seen others who used it for history papers and the like if it'll help."

"It might," she agreed, looking inside.  "How much?"

"That's twenty-five but I'll give the PD a discount this time, say forty percent?" she offered.

"Thank you."  The detective bought it and left with a receipt.  She could get reimbursed for it.

Tara looked at her aunt.  Then she sighed.  "Let me see if anyone in town knows."

"You stay out of it.  Our department around here is usually good.  Not like the idiots you had back in Sunnydale, Tara.  They will suspect you if you give out information like that."

"Xander said she already asked him."

Marge rolled her eyes, looking up at the ceiling.  "That don't surprise me."  She went to call around to see if she could slip a shop's name to the detective as well.  Not like that one knew anything about alternative ways.  She had that 'every one of you is freaks' look to her.


Xander knocked on a door, holding up a list.  "The places in this city where you can go to get specific, authentic or remakes, of Aztec artwork.  The second list is where you can go to get the granite the knife was made of.  At that width, I'd guess it was probably homemade."  He handed it over.  "And do not let her sneer at Tara or her aunt again.  Tara said she didn't but with the way she was avoiding the subject apparently your buddy wasn't all that tolerant today.  Only polite."  He walked off.

Richard looked at the list.  "Thanks, kid.  Got any other ideas?"

"Yeah, he hit a flight to Houston, then he's going to drive across the border later tomorrow.  I'm told he did twins earlier right before his flight.  You might want to check for hair deposits on them since he's not wearing robes."  He jogged down the stairs.

"That's good to know."  He grabbed things and headed out, calling her on the way.  "Some of the sources of information that said you weren't exactly more than polite earlier have come through with some information."  He started his car, backing out of his parking spot.  "No, they said you were politely tolerant.  Well, he's on a flight to Houston, there's a set of twin bodies somewhere.  He's going to cross the border in a car tomorrow sometime.  I have a list of shops for you.  Would that help?  On my way."  He hung up and drove to the station, going over the list at the stop lights.  It was thorough.  On the back was a name and a phone number.  "Huh."  Underneath it was written 'shaman'.   "That might be a lot of help."  He got there as fast as he could and walked in, handing over the list.  "On the back is a name and number.  I'm not sure if it's from earlier or related.  I can call and ask."

"One of your 'people'?" she asked dryly.

"You gave off bad vibes to his sister by not taking them seriously."

"How can you take them seriously?"

"The same way I take fundamentalists seriously."  He sat down.  "It's the same sort of strong belief.   In their case it's a bi-deity system with a female and male head.  They're usually peaceful, decent people who mostly want to be left alone."

"I don't care.  They're still strange."

"You see less deaths and other problems from them than you do from other sects and religions."

"I don't care, they're still a bit weird.  Tara told me earlier that Xander's last girlfriend wasn't liked by her cat, and her cat was a good judge of character."

"Most cats are," he pointed out.  "They know who's friendly, who's mean, who's going to hurt them.  Dogs too."

She grimaced.  "They're not that bright, Castle."  She looked over the list.  "What's the second part?"

"Xander thinks the blade was probably hand-made and granite.  I don't know how he got that.  I didn't ask.  It could be from the width of the cuts."

"We did find granite flakes in the wound," she sighed.  "Can he hack?"


"Good!"  She looked at him.  "You don't usually seem to associate with weird people."

"Weird for anyone artistic is relative, Beckett.   We get ideas at strange times of the day and night.  We let our inner voices guide us or our brushes, whatever we're using.  Some of us have literal muses that are real and some of us have very hyper ones that aren't.  It says something that the kid's had a strong enough one to get his first piece accepted at seventeen."

"Oh."  She frowned.  "Really?"  He nodded.  "So he's twenty now?"

"Yes, he is.  He used to work construction too if it ever comes up."  He stared at her, making her sigh.  "Will any of those have what we need to look for?"

"The book they found me has three of the six rites in it.  The others aren't listed."

"We can ask an anthropologist," he suggested.  "Though they might know more about the killer if he's one of them.  Also, I read the book that has Aztec rites in it.  Not a bad read for being urban fantasy.  Well researched too.  None of this shows up there."

"So it's not a fan thing," she said.  He shook his head.  "Let's see what the stores might've contributed.  Espisito."  His head popped up.  "Aztec shops."  He came over to get the list.

"The number on the back?" he asked when he spotted it.

"I'm not sure if it's an earlier note or not," Castle told him.  "Harris found it for me.  Also that he's on a flight to Houston after doing a double homicide.  Oh, and he said to look for body sloughing.  That he's not wearing ceremonial robes."  He looked at her.  She was calling dispatch so they'd notify them when the bodies were found.

"When did he leave?" she asked, getting into another number.

"He didn't say, just that he had done those two and left immediately for the airport."

"So probably within the last six hours."  She talked to the security person at the airport.  Then she looked up a number and called Border Patrol to alert them.  That she'd hopefully have a name for them later but to be careful.  She hung up and accepted something from a uniformed officer walking past.  "What's this?" she asked him.

"It got delivered for you, Detective."

She opened it, looking at the things inside.  "Pictures.  Why?"  She found the detailed note and sighed.  "From the LA cases."  She pulled them out to compare.  They had a lot of similarities.  The note said that they were sending ME reports directly to the NY ME.  It also listed case numbers.  "They had it down to three suspects."

"Good," Castle agreed.

"Bingo," Espisito called, waving a paper.  "Thank you.  Yes, I will be within a half hour.  Thank you, sir."  He hung up.  "I found the people who had sold an altar bowl like we found."

"Good.  Let's go," she said, packing things up and following him down to the car.  Castle beamed but followed.  "Let's hope we catch him before he makes it to Mexico."

"If not, we'll know when he pops up," Castle told her.  "Or we tell the US Marshals since it's an inter-state crime.  They can go get him for you."

"That might work too," she decided.  She could compare in the car.  "Did this guy sell anything else?"

"He said he couldn't be sure without photographs."  He backed out of his spot and pulled out.  "He also said he has a security camera in the store and wondered how long it would be before someone showed up asking since he saw it in the papers."

"Then why didn't he come forward?" she asked.

"Because their sort is still afraid of persecution," Castle reminded her.  "And of people thinking that they're quacks."  She glared back at him.  "Last summer, the city had three New Age believers murdered in the park.  It's still unsolved and half the detectives didn't want to work it because of who the victims were.  Like priests in other religions, they know they get little respect from those who don't understand."

"New York is very tolerant," she reminded him.

"Yes, but the police department isn't.  Not when it's about a case of kids who the very Baptist officers couldn't understand and wouldn't understand.  I had one tell me I should include that story in a book because then *maybe* someone might solve it."

"If it's been that long, it's cold," Espisito pointed out.

"No, they never searched any leads or talked to anyone," Castle corrected.  "I know that for a fact because I talked to the detective in charge about possibly getting some information as a side story in the latest book.  He said they had no leads because no one had talked to the significant others or anyone else.  He had to finally take the case from someone when they ignored it for a month straight."

She groaned.  "So one biased officer and they all distrust us?"

"No, he's right, this isn't the only one," Espisito pointed out.  He made a right turn.  "There's been others that have been ignored if the detectives didn't like the victims.  Including prostitutes being murdered that never get solved.  Or runaways."

She nodded.  "I realize that but it's not all of us."

"No, but it's enough of you who're vocal," Castle said.   "You get a lot of the same thing up until a few years back with gay-themed crimes.  Gay bashings got very little investigative work done on them.  Domestic abuse calls to gay couples still get barely any of the response the ones to het couples get."  She slumped down some.  "It's not everyone but it's some and they're well seen."

"So the rest of us being nicely polite," Espisito said.  "It could help."

"I was polite earlier," Beckett told Castle.

"He said you were politely tolerant.  Which means you probably had that look on your face like you wanted to say something and wouldn't."

"Probably," she sighed.  "I don't understand that."

"That's fine.  No one's asking you to.  But would you have treated a socialite the same way?"

"I'd hope I would."

"Then it's not a problem.  It's a problem when people totally discount them."

"I may not always believe that they're sane or sober but I'll listen at the very least," she told him.

"Good."  He smiled as they pulled up in front of the shop.  "Little kids buying stuff, that's a good sign of a healthy local business."  They got out and went inside.  The detectives questioned while Castle looked around.  He held up something.  "What's this used for?"

The shopkeeper looked over.  "Grinding duties."

"Corn or chocolate?"

"That one, chocolate beans."  He smiled.  "It's hard to get the raw thing up here but sometimes you need it."  He found a few other things he had sold, finding the receipts he kept.  One was a credit card statement in a woman's name.  The rest were cash.  He also got them the surveillance tapes for those days.

"Have you sold anything like these today?" she asked.  "We think he may have killed today."

He shook his head.  "No, today I've only had sparklers for the celebrations later, Detective."

"Where else might he go if he needed something fast?" Castle asked.  He handed over the list.  "That was given to me by someone in the nature studies areas."

The man smiled.  "Those Wicca girls can be a bit wild but generally nice.  Most of them bake too."  He looked it over.  "Micah's shop is not on here."  He wrote that address down.  "I do not like him; he sells anything to anyone.   Last year he had something that looked like relics."  He wrote down another one.  "That one is a procurer that has been haunting down here."  He stared at Beckett.  "If you could pass it on?"

"Of course," she agreed.  "For prostitution, drugs, couriers, what is he procuring for?"

"Parts."  He handed it over.  "Extras that people think they don't need."

"I hate those sort," she told him.  "I will be looking into him."  He beamed and handed her a lollipop.  "Thank you for your help."  He nodded and she carried everything out.  Castle got the car door for her.  She slid in and put them between her and Espisito since Castle got the back seat.   "How many more do you think we'll have?" she asked.

"Let's hit that one store," Castle said.  "He might have tapes."  They drove over there.  That one was dingy.  There was no sign of life in the shop.  It was open, the sign said so.  They got out and locked the car, heading over there.  Castle nearly shivered.  "Something's not happy," he muttered.

"Shut up."  She walked in with her hand on her gun.  Even she could feel that something was wrong.  "Hello?" she called.  "NYPD."  She heard a movement but it was a rat.  She kicked at it and it ran off.  She checked, nothing.

Castle stared at the wall.  "Beckett."

"What?"  She turned to look at him so he pointed.  She looked and gagged, shaking her head.  "That's not good.  Get an ME.  I think we found a new kill site."

Castle stared.  "This isn't the same."  He looked around, pointing.  "Video camera."  Espisito went to look for the tape while he looked around.  "Footprints, a back door."  She followed the bloody footprints out the back door and to the small building behind them.  She opened it and turned green.  "Twins?" he guessed, staring at the mutilated bodies.

"Yeah, I think so," she admitted.  She called in that update to the dispatch office so they knew to bring more CSI and body bags. She closed the door, going back out front to wait in the fresh air.  Espisito came out with a bagged tape.  "Bodies in the back building."

"Bad?" he asked.

"They'll need hipwaders," Castle said, looking a bit pale himself.  "I didn't see a camera though."

"If so, the CSU guys can find it," Espisito said.  He put the tape with the other evidence in their car and made sure it stayed locked.  He had seen some gruesome things but that had to be bad with the way those two looked.

Beckett nodded at the CSU person pulling in.  "Got three."

"I heard."  He followed her in, staring at the head.  "Did you find the rest of him?"

"Not yet."  She led him out back.  "I opened it."

"That's fine.  I'll make sure I can rule out your prints, Detective."  He stared at the bodies, carefully moving inside.  "This.... this is nasty," he decided.

"We've had someone using Aztec rituals."

"Clearly.  There's no heart."  He looked around.  "Anywhere that I can see.  Do we think the killer took it?"

"I don't know.  We heard a rumor he hopped a flight to Houston immediately.  Though, a shopkeeper did just tell us about a procurer being down here."

"Maybe," he decided.  He came out to alert the rest of his team.  He nodded at Castle, getting a small wave back.  "Aztec rituals?"

"No clue, he came from LA," he said.  "We got told about it by Harris after the first one."

"Alexian Harris?" he asked, looking at him.  Castle gave a small smirk and nodded.  "I liked his books so far."

"He said something new is coming out in each series within a year."

"More dwarf jokes?"

"Probably, yeah."  He smiled.  "He's a nice kid."

"Good.  See if you can get me an autographed copy of something?  Any of them?"

"Sure, I can do that."

"You know him?" Beckett asked the CSU.

"Yeah, he's not bad.  The Tral story is really funny."

"I'm told he does finally get a priestess, but she dies and he'll get another one by the end of his arc but there's other books in the series.  Including Helda's."

"That's one finely described warrior woman," he said.  "And former inn worker."  He went back once he had his case and protective gear on.  "Thanks."

"Welcome."  He smiled at Beckett.

"Dwarf jokes?"

"Yeah, dwarf jokes about being the right height."

"I don't want to know," she said, walking off shaking her head.  "Try to set him up with normal people before we run into him again."

"I'll try but unless I set him up with an ex, I don't know many evil women."

"Try for normal ones."

"He might warp them.  I heard he did to one of his former girlfriends, who was a cheerleader."

"That doesn't surprise me.  He gave me a headache with the kitten poker issue."

Castle snickered at the watching officer's strange look his way.  "It's an underground thing."

"Harris is from LA?" he asked casually.

"Near there.  About three hours away.  The town's been shut down.  Why?  Know about him?" he asked dryly.

"I think my mother's heard of him."  He sighed.  "Did anyone come with him?"

"Tara.  Willow's former girlfriend.  Very nice, shy, Wicca girl?"

"Yup, heard about her too."

"He's writing and laying low unless there's issues," he said quietly.

"Even better!"  He grimaced.  "He's a magnet, you know that right?"

"Yeah, I've seen it in action."

"At least you're warned then."  He went to put up more tape for the crime scene guys.  A hunter in the city wasn't good news but his people were peaceful.  They wouldn't bother them by the information he knew.

Castle looked at the detectives.  "What if that procurer is helping with this?  I don't remember what Aztecs did with the hearts."

"I think the book said they were burned," Beckett admitted, rubbing her forehead.  "I've seen stranger things.  Why do you think that?"

"Have any of the cases shown any organs outside the bodies?"

"No, and a few were missing more than one organ," she admitted, considering it.  "That makes a scary bit of sense."

"It does," he agreed.  "I couldn't even write something this twisted."  She looked at the name the first shopkeeper had given her, calling back to the office to check the LA case files for the three suspects.  He saw he stiffen.  "Related?" he guessed.

"Same person.  Captain, please alert the airline's people.  He's heading to Houston.  Also Border Patrol since he's said to be heading to Mexico tomorrow.  Thank you."  She hung up and slammed the car door, making Espisito wince.  "Sorry, I hate people like this."

"Why use fancy rituals?" Espisito asked.

"Because this way he could cover up things," Castle said.  He glanced inside then at him.  "We never would've questioned the lack of organs if we hadn't heard from that first shopkeeper.  Or we hadn't until then."

"So they're selling them on the black market?" she guessed.

"A kidney can go for ten thousand on the black market," Castle told her.  "I know someone who needed one and did the research while they were on the waiting list.  A heart would go for closer to a hundred thousand because kidneys can come from a living donor.  Using the ritual covered their tracks further.  Plus they may be a sadist and might have enjoyed it."  He saw a familiar car go past but didn't react to it.  The kids kept going.  Beckett noticed and glared.  "There's an herb shop up the street," he said with a point.  "She's been talking about planting new ones.  He found her these pole supports that had built in growing trays.  Fairly shallow but I'm told she's got kitchen herbs and things for her cat."

"I saw those in a decorating magazine in the doctor's office last week," Espisito said.  "Yearly physical," he said at Beckett's strange look his way.  "They looked nice for things like small herb plants."

"She's got a small balcony full of plants from what our mutual agent said," Castle said, smiling some.  "In orange terracotta like she wanted.  He spoiled her rotten when he renovated."

"He renovated?" Beckett asked.

"He hired this time since they were on the other coast," he admitted.  "He managed a bit of the work at the end, like some of the painting and fastening her growing racks down.  She graduated about a week before they moved out here.  Sold his old place within two days of putting it on the market for nearly double what he paid for it because the original owners were on the run.  Their condo even had grass and a small fountain from what our agent said when she visited."

"Interesting.  Where are they now?" she asked.

"Lower Lexington.  About two blocks from the artistic, fashionable area.  It's an ancient building.  He said his super complained that he painted the hallways because they needed it."

She rolled her eyes.  "That's not a good neighborhood."

"Would you want to mess with them?" Espisito asked quietly.  "Even if she's a shy, earth mother type who walks like a victim I doubt they'd try it more than once and he'd probably destroy them."

"If they hurt her, definitely," Castle agreed.   "Otherwise he'd threaten and show his ass."  He smirked.  "Or he'd ask for a favor from his former life."

"I don't need to know," Beckett decided.  "I hope I never run into him professionally ever again."

"Vice did, as I found out earlier.  He got caught in a John-net operation.  Told her bluntly he didn't care if she was a cop, that he didn't want to have sex with her, he just needed someone to look at while he wrote a physical description.  Paid her three hundred bucks for it.  Took him about twenty minutes.  They couldn't arrest him because he hadn't hired her for sex."

"That's strange," Espisito complained.

"He was stuck on how to describe someone physically and it's not like he could base it on Tara.  There's no law about hiring art models or about staring at someone in their underwear.  She suggested he hit a strip club and he pointed out he didn't want to write any sores into it or any drunken behavior since she was supposedly a holy warrioress."

Beckett shook her head quickly.  "They let her do it?"

"She asked her commander and apparently he said that modeling wasn't against the law. He talked to the kid, who told him why.  Kid bought her dinner, paid for the motel room for an hour, and left her there when he was finished with it."  He shrugged.  "I'm told she said he was classy about it, didn't do more than seem geeky.  Didn't seem threatening.  She still had her wire on from earlier, which he agreed to and helped her put it back on."

She walked off rubbing her forehead.  She was going to hate hearing that name sometime soon.  Maybe his mother and daughter could help him return to normal.  Quickly.  Before her brain started to bleed from the strange things.


Paula hung up with someone, resisting the urge to thump her head on the desk.  She got up and got herself a drink from the mini-fridge in the corner, sitting down to sip the water slowly, keeping herself calm for a few more minutes.  She finally came up with a plan of action to solve the dilemma Xander kept giving her.  She called Tara.  She was a girl, she probably knew how to shop.  Then again she wore long, unfashionable skirts.

"Tara,  Paula.  I need pictures of everything Xander has in his closet.  Because the last reporter I had him talk to remarked on his less than professional clothes and his babbling response of he needed to be comfortable or he'd get nervous, babble, and make her find a tape recorder that could slow down," she finished, taking another sip of her water.

"This way I know where to send him to enhance his wardrobe."  She listened to her quiet remarks on how Xander hated to shop thanks to Buffy and Willow.  "Well, tough, dear.  He's going to have to do some.  He has to be presentable.  Remember, he's in the public eye and if he looks too much like a grungy construction worker they'll remark on it."  She smiled at her assurance she'd tell him to go shop.

"No, I believe I can find him some help from a personal shopper but I need a photo set of everything in his closet.  Yes, the decent and the ugly," she agreed.  She finished her water and tossed out the bottle.  "Thank you, Tara.  Who?"  She nodded once.  "That may help, yes.  Thank you for that suggestion."  She hung up and looked in Xander's biography file, finding that number.  "Good morning, this is Xander's agent, Paula.  No, nothing tragic but I'm about to strangle the boy.  Is Cordelia there please?  I think she might have some insight."

Whoever had answered called her a few times until she took the phone.  "Miss Chase, Paula.  Yes, his agent.  Because he went to an interview wearing some very unprofessional clothes.  The reporter remarked on it and told me about it."  She smiled.  "I'll make him buy you airfare," she said bluntly.  She laughed.  "That may be the most help, yes.  Professional enough, at least one suit.  He'll be meeting fans sometime soon so it has to be comfortable enough for his tastes yet professional enough that people like him in it.  Thank you.  Let me know when you can come out in the next few days."  She hung up and rubbed her eyes.  She called her favorite personal shopper to set up an appointment for the young one.

Between him and Cordelia, they could bully Xander into real clothes.

She'd tell Xander the day before so he couldn't forget.


Xander trudged into the shop he had been sent to.  Guys like him didn't shop at Nordstrom's.  They shopped at Sears.  Maybe JC Penny's.  He followed his agent's directions and found the personal shopper office.  "Hi, my agent is forcing me to shop and want to commit suicide by suit.  She made me an appointment.  My last name is Harris."

The receptionist smiled at him.  "It's not as bad as it was ten years ago."

"Bet me.  Suits are for strangling yourself or court."  She giggled, looking him up.  She paged his shopper, letting him sit down on the very comfortable couch.  It was a cozy place to await his doom.  A few minutes later a young man in a trendy suit, stylish haircut, and loud tie walked in and smiled at him.  He grimaced back.

"Just because I have a personal sense of style doesn't mean I'll force it on you, Mr. Harris," he assured him with a smile.  He sat across from him, opening the file his client had sent him.  "Your agent sent you to buy at least a suit."

"She handed me my advance on my next book and told me I had better shop it all away because being comfortable embarrassed her."

"Some people are picky," the guy agreed.

"I write fantasy and sci-fi stuff.  They're not that picky."

"Probably true but there's also business dinners and those things."

"I guess."  He grimaced.  "I don't have many of those either."


"Evil girls only want me *out* of the clothes, not in them."  His phone rang.  "Sorry."  He answered.  "Please tell me this is an emergency before the personal shopper guy puts me in a strangling suit?" he begged.  "Cordy?  Nordstrom, why?"  He winced.  "That figures.  Please.  The personal shopper area.  How long?"  He beamed.  "Thank you."  He hung up.  "My very fashionable ex-girlfriend.  It's nothing against you but suits just aren't the guy I am."

"Not everyone is," he assured him.  "Did you work before you started to write?"

"And during it.  Construction, some dead end jobs to make the bills.  I really liked construction."

"Okay, so you're very casual.  I'll stay away from the traditional things.  I know it's summer so we'll focus on that and you can come back here and get your file to help you pick out some winter things, like sweaters, so she can't complain."  Xander beamed at that.  He could see the allure of this young one.  "Now, what is your budget?"

"She gave me my advance, which is about five grand?  I've got more if I have to.  I know suits are sucky and expensive."

"Some aren't always that expensive.  There's some very good choices in the more casual suits that're now under a thousand.  Some that're even under four hundred."  The boy cheered up a bit at that.  "Where was the last place you shopped?"

"Salvation Army.  I do a lot of bargain shopping because my stuff has to be able to be moved in, expendable if it can't be cleaned, and it's got to be loose enough so I can defend myself if necessary."

"Okay.  I can work with those restrictions."  A young brunette woman walked up to them.  "Is this the one we're waiting on?"

"It is."  He got up to give her a hug.  "Save me?" he begged.

She smirked.  "She paid my airfare to come help you, Xander."  She patted him on the head once he had fallen back down and groaned.  "I know she told me professional looking yet he'll want casual.  I know he's to get at least one suit."

He nodded.  "That's what I was told as well.  She also had someone take pictures of what's in his closets."

She snorted, waving a hand.  "We already know.  I even know the two girls who traumatized him so much by making him help them shop."  She hauled Xander up.  "I've got a good idea of where to start."  He smiled and walked out with them.  "What are you thinking for suits?"


"A bit too preppy.  He's very much the ugly shirt guy and baggy jeans."

"Hmm.  He still has some that could work.  The suit jackets are all coming down to the hip area so he won't have to worry about the length issues.  That can make you look shorter and fatter," he told the boy when he got glanced at.  Xander pointed.  "No, much too stiff," he assured him.

Cordelia smiled.  "I was thinking Canali or Varvastos Star USA's lines."

"That's very casual," he agreed.  "Yet formal enough for suits."  Xander moaned and walked over to a shirt, hugging it.  He smiled.  "I think we can start here."

She looked up at the sign then sighed.  "Yes, Tommy Bahama has many ugly print shirts he'll like.  All in silk.  Xander, put that back, you'll look bad in it."  He pouted, holding it out.  "No puppy eyes, mister, or I'm paddling you right here."  She put that shirt back and walked him over to another section.  "Camp shirts are like dress shirts, only these are in silk, they're lightweight, and they look nice."  She looked at him.  "Silk is stronger than cotton and dry cleaners are amazing at stains."

"They're expensive," he pointed out.  "A hundred-twenty-eight for a shirt?"

"That won't tear easily even if you're mugged," she said, staring at him.  "And see, it does come in prints.  That 'Bahama Forest' one is nice enough.  Subtle prints.  They can be paired with pants or shorts."

"I get to wear shorts?" he asked.

"It'll be really hot, Xander, and they do make professional looking shorts.  Even in this line.  Still silk too."  She pointed.  "See?"  He beamed at her, giving her a hug.  "You wrinkle me, you're redressing me," she assured him, cracking up their helper.  "He knows better."  She got Xander what he needed, letting their helper hold things for now.  The shorts got looked over.  "Twill, not jeans.  Paula said professional."

"They have colored jeans.  Or at least black ones.  I'll look good."

"Sure."  He got those in his size.  "You're trying it on.  You've gained some muscle."

"Yes, Cordy.  I expected that."  She smirked at him, pinching him hard.  "Ow!  Wench!  Keep it up, watch me put you in as a tavern worker," he said, staring at her.  She just smirked.  "I can."

"I'll still have the temple to my magnificence," she said bluntly.  "Twill.  Tiki bay camp shirts.  Key grip shorts instead of the shore things shorts."  He pulled them out in his size.  "The double pleated look more like dress pants, get them.  Don't you dare reach for those ugly plaid or printed shorts either."

"Yes, Cordy."  She sent him in to try things on, having to come out to get things in a bigger size.  "I'm getting fat."

"You've gained abs," she said, looking him over.  "That's not fat.  That's 'the scenes aren't going so I'm doing situps'."  She left him in there, going back to look over a few more things.

"Shirts are still too tight," Xander called.  "I can't move my arms very well."  She sighed and got him a bigger size, bringing it in to him.  He beamed and that was better.  She corrected some and went to get the 'big' instead of the 'regular' of those that were too sloppy looking.  She came back to make him try those on.  Then she let their personal helper put those into his basket.  "Which suit place first?"

"John Varvastos Star I think," he decided.  "They have a wonderfully semi-expensive cashmere jacket that could go over the pleated pants and those shirts.  Plus their suits are a bit less expensive.  Canali are running around fifteen hundred."  She nodded at that.  "We're near shoes, is there anything you can see him in?"

She looked at Xander.  "Practical.  He has to have boots for some things."  She walked him over there.  "Xander, heel."

"We can pay for those upstairs?" he asked, following.


Xander looked at the shoes.  "I've had whole years worth of clothes that didn't cost that much," he complained.

"That's a good line," Cordelia said.  "A few different practical boots for when you want them, some slip ons, and an oxford style.  Bed Stu," she read.  "I'll have to remember that.  Pick."

He grimaced at her.  "They're expensive."

"So?"  She shrugged.  "They'll last you for years if you treat them well."

"Fine.  You'd better be right.  For practical, I like the Declaration boots.  They've got the toe stitching and don't look as fancy.  The short romeo boot is a bit ...dressy for my tastes."

"Slip on?" she asked.  "Or tie up?"

"I like the rockafella slip on," he admitted.  "Or the royce.  I think that one might come up too high and bother my ankle though."

"We can try them on to make sure," their helper said.  "What size do you normally wear?"  Xander pointed.  He sat down to try them on, nodding he liked his choices.  Cordelia added them to the basket their helper was pulling.  "That's good.  Let's go to the other side of the floor."  He smiled and walked them off, taking them over there.  "Varvastos does also do some less formal shirts, Mr. Harris.  Including a henly and a few things like cardigans. Which are fully zipping hoodies without the hood," he told him.

"Willow used to wear them."  He pointed. "That's the other one she wanted, right?"

"Yes, but their suits are a lot more expensive and I think they're cut about the same as these are.  They do have some nice dress shirts and ties so we can pause to pick up a few for your suits later on, once we know what color you're getting."  He led them to the line he wanted them to see.  "These are fairly slim."

"He's too bulky for that look," Cordelia said, pointing at another.  "As much as I hate it, Xander does have good upper body muscles."

He grinned at her.  "Jealous?"

"Not hardly.  Girls shouldn't look like construction workers.  Even if we can use swords," she shot back with an evil look.  He grinned.  "Yes, Angel's teaching me," she sighed, turning around again.  Their shopper was trying hard not to laugh.  "He can use a battle axe or a sword.  It shows in his arms."

"I'm sure it does."  He looked over his current baggy shirt.  Then he picked up a larger size.  "We can have them fitted down easier than adding more material.  Try that on," he told Xander.  Who trudged closer.  "It's cashmere, not itchy, Mr. Harris."  He nodded, trying that on.  "I think this line will suit you very well."  He checked the fit, nodding some.  "Let's see about suits.  The chester or the soho?"

"They have vests," Xander said.

"The vests can be worn over regular pants," Cordelia told him.  "Thereby dressing it up."  She held them up.  "Chester.  It's not patterned so it'll be fashionable longer."  He got it in Xander's size, making him go try it on.  "That cashmere jacket is a handy wardrobe basic," she decided, adding it to the basket.

"He was worried about his budget," he told her quietly.

She snorted, shaking her head.  "He has more."

"I'd like to not be broke," Xander said as he came out.  "This?"

"That looks good," Cordelia admitted.  "Jacket's a bit tight across the shoulders though."  She came over to shift it on his shoulders.  "That's a good thing for dates, Xander."

"If you say so."

"I do.  After all, I'm Queen C, I know all."

"But when birthdays are?" he guessed.

"That I have a calendar for."  She looked at him.  "I decided to bring yours out in person.  It's in my bag."  She looked at their helper.  "It shouldn't run more than a hundred over."

"No, probably not."  He got a fitter over to look it over, and they made Xander get the next size up so they could properly tailor it.   He seemed happier with the baggy pants but tough.  He should want to show off that ass.  He had clearly worked hard for it.  They got him sorted out and Xander did indeed pay the extra hundred-fifty-nine dollars.  It was a good sale.  Miss Chase got the bags, and her bag from upstairs, and they left together.  He smiled, filing his notes for now.  He also called his client back to tell her how it had went.  She was out so he had to leave a message.


Xander walked into his book signing in a nice, modest camp shirt and nice pair of shorts, taking off his sunglasses.  "Hi, guys," he told the bookstore staff, grinning at them.  "I'm here to sign things."

"Mr. Harris?" one asked.  He nodded.  She looked him over.  "You'll be comfortable for hours.  Good choice.  So many authors come in wearing a suit and tie."

"Not my thing no matter how often my agent tries," he assured her, making her laugh.   "Where do you want me?"  She pointed at a table and he walked over, getting a small pillow for the very hard wooden chair.  She changed it with his help to one of the reading chairs.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  Thank you for being on time."

"I'd hopefully call if I was running too late."  Paula was let in.  "Hey, lady."

"What are you wearing?" she asked.

"Silk."  He smirked.  "Cordelia liked this outfit."  He stood up to let her see.  "Comfortable, professional.  I'm told that it's acceptable in offices.  It's not one of the print ones, I'll do that later this summer."  She grimaced.  "It's comfy.  It's silk."

"Fine.  That'll do.  If I send you on an interview, wear pants, Xander."

"It's ninety plus humidity outside, Paula.  I'm not going to make myself miserable and bring down my fans."  He sat down again.  "Speaking of, I didn't see too many.  Or hear that radio ad."  She groaned, going to check on that.  He shrugged at the workers, who all smiled.  "First critical success."

"It's reasonable."  They opened the front doors.  No one rushed in.  Xander looked at his back cover, grimacing at the blurb about him.  It sounded really bland and normal.  Like his cover story was supposed to.  He called a few places.  "Hi, it's Harris.  Yes, that Harris."  He smiled.  "I'm doing a book signing today at Wonder Books."  He looked up.  "That's right, right?"  She nodded, smiling at him and leaving him alone.  "Paula swore it was on the website and the radio, but I never heard it.  Noonish.  Thanks, man."  He hung up on them.  They were Andrew's east coast friends and counteragents to the geek trio.

"Remember, you're pimping the paranormal book," Paula told him.

He looked at her.  "If they come up with another book, I'm not going to refuse to sign it, Paula.  The fans are paying my bills.  I'm not going to be ungrateful."

"I can agree with that but we want them to buy the paranormal book because it's on the best seller's list.  That makes both of us more money."

"Which I adore but I'm pretty sure we'll get some for Tral instead."

"Probably," she sighed.  "I don't mind that, Xander.  I really don't, but we're pushing this one today."

"Of course we are.  I get that."  She smiled and relaxed.   "But as long as it's mine I'm just happy they're buying."

"I can agree to that."  She heard a squeal and got out of the way, going back to the magazine section.  It was nearby in case something happened.

Xander beamed at her.  "My first fan signing's first person!  Hi!"

"Alexian Harris."  She beamed.  "I love Tral!"

"Cool!"  He picked up a pen.  "What's your name?"  He grinned at her.

"Misty.  Only one 'y'."

He signed it and winked at her.  "Six months for book two."

"Excellent."  She looked at the new one.  "You write paranormal hunting stuff?"

"Yeah.  That one just came out about a month and a half ago."  He smiled.  "It's not bad.  I've had a lot of people who liked it."

"Which do you like better?"

"You know, I don't really think about it or I'll get stuck.  I like the jokes in Tral but for action that series is better."

"Huh."  She picked it up to look at the blurb on the inside cover.  "Maybe when it's in paperback.  That way it's cheaper."  She bounced off.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  I love my fans."  He grinned at Paula.

"It's a complaint we hear a lot," she promised.  "I've already had the person that didn't get the radio spots set up fired."

"Ow.  I'm sorry for them."

"I'm not.  She screwed up and there's plenty that won't.  I'll schedule another one or get you into another author's.  I think there's a multi-author signing soon."  She checked on that, sighing in pleasure when that was set up.   She looked over Xander's outfit.  "Did Tara like that?"

"Yup.  So did her kitty since she tried to steal the bags as a napping spot."  The worker shelving books giggled at that.  He grinned.  "She loves the hanging organizer in my closet as a napping spot too.  I open my closet and there's a kitty stuffed in it, tail up, snoring."

The worker walked off giggling.  A few more people came in but none came for him.  "Don't you dare pull out your laptop," Paula warned.  "There's no way we could pull you out of writing."

"Yes, Paula.  Who crapped in your cheerios today and can I go beat them up for you?"

She smirked at him.  "I'd let you but I already made him miserable."


"No print shirts."

"Remember, I write sci-fi and fantasy, Paula.  I'm not Castle.  My fans don't expect a suit.  They expect elf ears and klingon foreheads."

"Still, no print shirts."


"Thank you.  You do look comfortable in it."

"It's not bad.  Not itchy."

"The suit?"

"It's in alterations."

"Uh-huh.  Check on it on the way home, Xander."

"I will," he sighed.  "Or really Tara will.  She said she would."

"Good.  I like that she has sense."  She looked him over again.  "The shorts don't look too bad.  That line has some atrociously printed shorts."

"Which I liked but I'd never wear silk just for every day things," he quipped back.  "You paid for Cordelia to come out?"

"We have a small fund to help writers with their professional image.  That did."

He grinned.  "Thanks."

"Welcome.  You did pay the personal shopper but that was only sixty bucks."  He stared her down.  "You needed it and it'll help later on when we get winter.  Remember, we have seasons here."

"Yay," he said flatly.  "Tara will be overjoyed and Miss Kitty will go storm spastic all winter long."  She smirked and nodded.  Someone came over and he smiled.  "Hi."

"Hi."  She picked up the book to look at it.  "Newly out?"

"This one, yes.  It's climbing on the best seller's list but I'm still working on getting a good fanbase."  He smiled.  She smiled back.  "I've got three other, more traditional, fantasy novels around here somewhere."

"Interesting."  She went to look those up.

Xander caught his agent staring and looked at her, getting waved off in response to his pointed look.  He went to find a book of his own, buying it and coming back.  The ladies were very nice.  More of his fans trooped in.  He looked over.  "This multi-author thing.  Who's going to be there?"

"A few better known authors."  She smiled.  "You'll do fine."

"I'm more worried about having to sit next to authors who have nothing to do with my genre."

She considered it.  "They are mostly true life and action writers," she admitted.

"Which might make my fans feel very odd."

"Maybe.  I'll figure it out, Xander."  He nodded so she told her assistant to figure that out for her.  She canceled him at that event and got him scheduled for one with science fiction writers.  That was closer to his fanbase and less screaming hordes from higher liked authors.  Some of them were more mean to their fans but Xander would look sweet in comparison.  She hoped.  He seemed a bit squealy about his fans.  Still.  She'd have to get Tara to work on him about that.


Xander walked into the next event.  "My agent Paula told me to show up for the second wave?" he asked the person watching the authors.

He turned to look at him.  "Who're you?"

"Alexian Harris."

"Oh, him.  Dwarf jokes."

"And a hunting series, and space vampires, and the more traditional quest."  He smiled, handing over the orders from Paula.

The man looked it over.  "I see she did want you to do a second wave starting."  He pointed.  "There you go.  They just left."

"Thanks.  Books?"

"They should be in the back.  Let me get them."

Xander walked over, smiling at the people.  "Hey, Misty," he said, spotting her.  He sat down.  The other publisher got his box of prepared books and a name sign.  He put it up and a few came over.  Xander held up a finger and went to get the other ones to put together.  That got a few more fans over.  He smiled at the first one.  "That way people know I'm not a one trick pony."  She laughed.  "What's your name?"


"Hi."  He took her book to sign.  "Make it out to you?"

"Yes please, Mr. Harris."

"Alexian is fine, Cynthia.  I look around for Mr. Harris when I'm called that."  He signed it with a flourish and handed it back with a smile.  "There you go."  She bounced off.  "Hi," he told the next one.  She let him sign it.  "Who am I signing it to?"

"Mrs. Harris?" she suggested.

He looked up.  "Not yet, but I'm single," he quipped.  "Though only bad girls like me."  She giggled and took her book, walking off clutching it to her chest.

"It took me years to get someone making that request," the author next to him said.

Xander grinned.  "I only date bad girls.  They never wait."  The other author smirked back.  "Hi, I read your stuff when I was in high school, sir."

"That's good to know."  They shook hands and got back to signing things.  Xander's fans did start a second wave of fans coming in so the other authors were happy enough to sign more things.  They had a lot more fans than Xander did but that was reasonable since he hadn't been doing it as long as they had.  One came over to look at his books, making Xander nearly hyperventilate since it was an author he adored.  The guy winked and let him sign a copy for him then he bought it and left the event.  The fans all cooed at that and he was a happy boy.  One who'd get ice cream later that night.  Well, maybe not since someone came in with a shotgun and threatened a cashier.  Xander looked up from signing, sighing in displeasure.  "Guys, shift left," he ordered quietly.  A few looked and helped their friends.  He pointed at one and she got moved.  He pulled out something and threw it at the guy, getting his attention so he could shoot him with the paintball gun.  "Idiot!  Don't threaten our fans!  They're nice people.  It's stupid to want to rob a store in the middle of a big crowd."  The man huffed off.  He put his paintball gun back in his holster and smiled.  "I hate that sort of stupid people.  One tried to mug me the other day.  I'm sure the officers were very nice when they got him off the top of the pole he climbed to get away from me beating him for it."  He smiled.  "What's your name?"

"Um, Helen?"

"Hi, Helen.  I'm sorry he was so dumb and threatened to do violence in front of you guys.  One 'l' or two?"


He smiled as he signed it, making her happy again.  One of the other authors looked down at him but Xander shrugged.  "Paintball is legal."  That got a snicker from the other end of the table.  He grinned down at them.  "It's a side effect of dating bad girls."  The rest cracked up at that.  He winked at the next girl in line, signing her book.  The next one didn't have a book.  "No book?"

"Can you sign my chest, Alexian?"

"Wow, my first body part signing," he said with a teasing grin.  "Sure."  He picked up a marker instead.  "Where do you want it?"  She pointed.  "Just my name?  I have no idea about the etiquette of signing bodies."

"Please."  He signed and she beamed, kissing him before bouncing off.

Xander grinned.  "Wow.  That was really cool."  The others in the lines giggled at that but he didn't get any more propositions.  Paula showed up at the end of the event but he was clearing his line.  The others were going home.  He got finished his last few and a few came over to look at his books.  They got him to sign them and it was nice.  Paula waited until they were all gone to look at him.  "I got to sign my first body part."

"Wonderful."  She smiled at him.  "You're a nice guy, Xander."

"Thank you.  I do try.  Did they tell you about the robber guy?"

"No," she said.  "What did you do?"

"Paintball?"  She swatted him.  "It's legal!"

"Yes it is," she sighed, cracking up the workers.

"Here, let me help," Xander told one, helping move the tables back into their usual spots.  They all smiled at him for that kindness.  Then he walked out with Paula.  "We did good today."

"We did do good today.  It was very...nice of you to wait for all your fans to finish up too."

"Of course I appreciate my fans, Paula.  I would be handling an apocalypse and doing construction otherwise."  He grinned.  "I'm not going to snub them for being the last few in line."

"Alexian Harris?" one young woman asked.

"Yes I am."  He smiled at her.  "What can I do for you?"

"Sign please?" she asked, holding up a clipboard.

Xander looked at it.  "Why are you delivering legal papers?  It doesn't say from who."  She handed him the envelope.  He looked at it and signed the clipboard.  "Thank you."  She nodded and walked off.  He opened it then snorted and handed it to her.  "I have no idea who that is."

"I'll handle it, Xander.  Don't worry about it.  We have people on staff for these things."  He nodded at that, helping her into a cab.  Then he went down to his car.  She swore all the way back to her office to deal with it.  She hated it when people took credit for things that weren't theirs.  There's no way this guy was legit.  She looked him up, he had another complaint in the system.  And Xander had another one coming it looked like.  That one was more iffy but clearly not the same thing.  She got their legal department to start work on it.  That one had went to the other company so she called them to warn them as well.  They were smaller and didn't have a legal department.


Xander walked into the meeting room two days later, shaking hands with someone.  "Didn't you get that straightened out with my original agent?" he asked, shocking Paula.

"You still used our concepts, Harris."

"No, I didn't."

"This lead character is clearly based off...."

"My ex-girlfriend's father?  Yes," he said, interrupting them.  "If yours was, I'm not surprised.  Though I'm sure there's plenty like him in the world."

"Who was that?" he asked.

"I was dating Cordelia Chase at the time.  Her father Patrick is the basis for that character.  In fact, I didn't know about your card game until *after* that got published.  I was a bit busy that year and the year before so I didn't have enough time to game."  He stared him down.  "You guys tried this crap with Chuck and got told to drop it then because it wasn't really true.  I don't care if your franchise is falling."

"They're in clans."

"Of course.  Clans make hunting easier.  Hunting alone can get you killed."

"You seem to know something about that but you don't look too goth," he sneered.

"No, I did know a few of them in Sunnydale though."  The man flinched.  Xander stared him down.  "Yeah, I know about the various clans, families, family clans, and individuals and how they work," he said bluntly.  "I still didn't know a thing about your stuff until *after* that was published and it never caught your attention through two other short stories."

"I, um..."  He looked at his lawyer, who shrugged.  "Prove it."

"Prove it how?  You want me to ask someone about when they introduced me to the card game?"

"Well...  The tv show?"

"There was a tv show?"

"It was fairly popular," he defended.

"Not like I had control of the tv in the house.  My family didn't exactly settle down to watch shows together.  They got to complain too much while drunk."  The man flinched back at that.  "So no, I have no clue what you're thinking.  Plenty of others write vampires in clans too."

"Your clans do bear a marked resemblance."


"The clan with seers?"

"Each clan has a seer if they can," he corrected.  "Yes, there's a *family clan* of them that others want to work for them.  The same as the ones with magic will be eventually.  It's not the same sort of clans.  Not the same sort of structure.  No royalty, no psychos.  No street thugs because I know more about them from watching someone play multiple ones.  These are more made family and mates.  Which is a lot like a lot of others out there."

"We still say you're too close," the lawyer stated.

"That's fine, you can say that all you want, it doesn't mean it's true.  The same as it wasn't before."

"The various clans do relate back somewhat to ours."

"No, they're more grouped by skill base than personality or bloodline."  He stared him down.  The man backed away from him by a few steps.  "Yes, power calls to power.  Same as energy calls to energy in physics.  I'm told that's what bonds cells and atoms together."  Paula gave him an odd look.  "Isn't it?"

"That's a simplistic way of putting it."

"Not like I took physics, Paula."  He looked at them again.  "Prove one character or any group is based off yours."

"The biggest space ship?"

"They built it.  And no, they're not the most powerful clan.  If you guys had read the short stuff you'd know that Majera is the strongest family grouping."  He smirked.  "In both power, wealth, and scary people."

"Where was that?"

"This book has mention of them, the engineer was trained by their ship," Paula said.  Xander nodded.  "Also his third short story?"

"Second in the series, third overall," he agreed, sitting down. "Is about the meeting of the various groups and ships.  A celebration of the Majera's crew all being bonded finally."  Paula pulled it out of her bag and handed it down.

"How did you get this description of the beast they're eating?"

"It's an eight foot rabbit with gazelle horns," Xander said.  Which wasn't fully true.  It was a demonic eight foot rabbit with poisonous gazelle horns.  Vampires apparently really loved to eat them.  "They're stupid but dangerous, therefore hunted as a delicacy since they're so rare now."  He looked at Paula.  "Wouldn't the emo vampires be closer to their concepts?"

"Probably but they've got a huge fanbase and you don't so you're easier," she said.

He hummed but nodded, understanding that reason.  He glared when they looked at him.  "Like I said, not based on your concepts.  Sorry."

"How many people in your former town played our games?"

"Four that I know of.  Sunnydale wasn't really a gaming town."  The non-lawyer swallowed at that name.  The other stared at him in horror.  "What?"

"You know others who with the clan concept?"

"Personally?  You mean like one who was dating an Aurelius?  Or like making their own clans?"

The lawyer swallowed and nodded.  "You know someone who was dating in that family?"

"Yeah, tiny, blonde girl named Buffy."  That got a flinch.  "By the way, I'm her friend Xander."

"Then you're right, it's not based on our things.  We're sorry to have annoyed you," the lawyer said, handing back the papers and leaving with his client.

Xander looked at the closed door then at Paula.  "I didn't think most vamps sucked blood like lawyers.  Lawyers are usually more like leeches.  That's really strange."

"He was?" she asked.

"Or he knew since he got the hint that I hunted," he said quietly.  He stood up.  "Shall we get ice cream to celebrate this nice admission of it wasn't us?"

"Sure," she decided.  "I can find some nice fat free ice cream."

"Paula, splurge.  It's not like you're going to get fat from a single scoop of ice cream with toppings.  Don't make me tie you down and make you eat real ice cream.  You might turn evil like some of my dates."

She snorted but let him lead the way to the nearest ice cream shop.  "I need to keep my shape, Xander."

"You look decent in that, but a bit frosty and maybe a bit toward accountant or librarian."

"I do not."

"You look kinda uptight, Paula.  Love you for pulling out the scary clothes though."  He grinned.  He walked her inside.  "She wants a scoop of real ice cream no matter what she says," he told the cashier.

"I don't need the extra calories."

"Do an extra ten minutes on the treadmill, Paula.  Enjoy the day for once."  He ordered his own and the guy got Paula her scoop of ice cream, without toppings.  Xander had gotten extra so he put some on top of hers, earning a dirty look.  "If one scoop of ice cream is going to make you fat, then you're not eating right," he assured her.  "At least you're not trying for so skinny you look like a biology skeleton with skin."  He ate a bite, staring at her.  "Enjoy, Paula.  You probably haven't let yourself enjoy simple things for a while.  Since the divorce I heard rumors about."

"I do enjoy things, Xander.  I shop for stress relief."

"That's a thing, Paula, not a simple pleasure.  A simple pleasure is a warm blanket on a chilly night or being able to relax and put your feet up with a cup of cocoa."  He looked at her.  "You're going to have a heart attack or a stroke and then we'll all lose you if you don't relax sometimes."

"I do just fine," she said firmly.

He stared at her.  "Then turn off your phone's alarm."  He ate another bite while she huffed.  "You need to relax sometimes."

"I have spa treatments for those times."

"Wonderful.  When was your last one?"  She glared at him now.  "I ask because before we went in, you looked like you were having a blood pressure spike.  I could see the vein in your neck, Paula.  That's not normal," he said quietly.  "Those of us who like you for being more than our editor would hate it if you died on us."

"Us?" she asked.

"I think I can even speak for your ex on that point," he admitted.  He ate another bite.  "He was giving your back worried looks the other day when we ran into him out for coffee."

"I think he was more worried about who you'll date next," she quipped.

"I don't think so.  His partner maybe."  She snorted but dug in.  He smiled, eating his own ice cream.  He passed something over at the end.  "Tara sent that since it's been nearly a year since you took me on.  She decided it's an anniversary we should celebrate."  He got up and threw out his trash.  "Have a more easy afternoon, Paula."  He left.

She was still mad he was butting into her personal life but she supposed it was sweet of him in some ways.  But she could take care of herself.  She was a strong, modern woman.  She opened the card.  It had a small gift certificate for a pedicure.  She smiled.  Tara was more subtle even if the card did mention that Paula had looked stressed.  She put it into her purse and finished her guilty treat, going to find her ex husband to nag him some more for his newest book.  She found him at home.  "Rick."

He looked at her.  "You look better today."

She gave him an odd look.  "What?"

"Last week you looked like you were a caffeine zombie and barely alive, outside of the flushing from the high blood pressure."  He let her in, closing the door behind her.  "How did it go?"

"They decided it wasn't what they thought and apparently knew about his past."  She looked at him.  "He nagged me!"

"Good.  You needed it.  I was about to have Mother kidnap you to a spa."  He sipped his coffee.

"You were going to what?"

He put her in front of the mirror.  "That redness and this point where your vein is jumping is a bad thing," he told her bluntly.  "It means your blood pressure is so high it can burst a vein."  He let her go and went to sit down.  "It's good that you relaxed some from the other night."

She sighed, looking at him.  "I'm fine."

"Good.  See someone about your blood pressure before I have to find a new agent and a new ex."

"Evil bastard," she sneered.

He nodded.  "Now and then."  He smirked.  "Isn't that why we dated?"  She huffed out.  He grinned.  Someone was going to get yelled at but that was fine.  She needed the release.


Xander knocked on the door later that night.  "She yelled at me for telling her to indulge and making her relax.  Tara knocked her out for a nap, which apparently she desperately needed.  She's still huffy and threatening so she's yours."  He handed her over, making Castle groan at her weight.  "Sorry, construction meant building arm muscles.  She should sleep the rest of the night."  He left, going back home.  He was her ex, he could handle her.  Xander wasn't going to allow any woman to be that pissed at him when he didn't do anything wrong.

Castle put her on the couch and took off her shoes, then covered her with the blanket his mother handed him.  "Thanks," he said quietly.

"The poor girl clearly needs it," she said, going up to her room.

He looked down at her.  "I need whatever Tara used for the next time I can't sleep," he decided.  He went to his office.  For some reason whenever he ran into Harris he got ideas.  Not always good ones but definite ideas.  He'd have to figure that out some day.  Paula moaned so he went out to calm her back down.  She smiled in her sleep and lost that pinched look she had worn recently.  It was better for her.  Even if she would beat them both to death for it.


Paula walked into the office area after her shower and changing.  "I'm going to beat you both."

He looked up, saving by force of habit.  "You look better today."  She glared.  "You do.  I called your assistant to tell her you were resting and feeling a bit ill yesterday so she could reschedule anything, but you do look a lot better."

She sat down.  "I'm fine."

He looked at her.  "Then use my mother's blood pressure machine, Paula."  He dug it out and handed it over.  "You know what it should be."  She grimaced but used it.  "It goes on your wrist."  He got back to writing.  "I want to know why Harris always sets off ideas."

"Anything good?' she asked.

"Many."  He looked up at the beep, seeing her look.  He looked at the reading.  "They put you on emergency medicine for that," he said quietly.  "We don't want to lose you."

"That's what he said."  She handed it back.  "You two are still neanderthals about women."

"No, we both appreciate strong women, but sometimes being so strong means that you're ignoring yourself because it makes you feel weak," he corrected.

"All three of you are conspiring?" she asked.

"No.  Tara did ask what sort of thing you did at the spa."  He smiled.  "I scaled it back from your usual because I didn't want her to spend a whole paycheck on it."

"It's sweet of her," she decided.  "You and Xander are both on thin ice."

"Neither of us want to deal with you dying," he said bluntly.  "The kid might do something drastic and have someone call you back."

"There's other agents," she said dryly.

"I'm fairly certain that's not why he'd do it."  She gave him a dirty look.  "I do read people better than you do."


He shrugged, going back to writing.   "The kid likes you as a person, not as an agent."

"If you say so."

He looked up at her.  "Would he nag someone he only liked as an agent?  Have Tara knock you out and carry you here?"

"He did?"

"Yes.  He handed you over from his arms."

"I didn't realize that."

"He didn't do anything inappropriate.  He treated you like he would Tara."

"Which is nice I suppose.  Still, it was butting in."  He stared at her.  "You might have rights to that, he doesn't."

"Uh-huh.  He gives a damn about you.  It's probably a special thing to have happen."  He got back to writing.  "Should I tell your assistant to make you a doctor's appointment?"

She huffed.  "I'm fine."

"I'm sure.  Your blood pressure was what again?"

She got up and stomped off.  He called her assistant anyway so the young woman could make her a nice appointment.  That way she could schedule it in and tell Paula the day it happened.


Tara walked up to the desk, clearing her throat quietly.  "Can I ask you a question?" she asked the man sitting there.

"Sure, Tara.  What's wrong?"  She glanced around.  "I'll be right back," he told the detective, walking out with her.  "What happened?"

She sighed, looking over at him.  "He hasn't written in weeks."

"Okay.  Any idea why?  Is he blocked again?"

She shook her head.  "No.  Not really.  I know it's apocalypse season so it's normal for his mind to know he'll need more time away from the keyboard, but I'm worried."  She looked down again.

He considered it.  "What did Paula snap at him about?"  She looked up at him.  He grimaced.  "She was complaining that he gave enough of a damn to try to help her out."

"Oh, no.  She hurt him because of that?"

"I don't know.  I'll talk to her later for you.  For now, how is he doing?"

"My cat's nearly bald from all the petting."  He smiled.  "He's joined a gym, Mr. Castle.  Before he'd get a bit stuck and work out in the living room or in his room, but he's joined an actual gym and is nearly too muscled to fit into the clothes she made him buy."

"Is this depression maybe?"

"I don't know.  I've never seen him depressed.  Upset, pissed, ready to kill someone, in overprotective mode, and even when he's got that 'someone's got to do it and if I die then so be it' mode.  I don't know what to do.  He won't even eat cookies."

"That's probably him being depressed.  Want me to talk to him?"

"If she did it, can I beat her?  I mean I'm not mean or anything but maybe a foam bat?"

"I think she's confused and doesn't know why anyone cares sometimes.  We had that problem before."  She gave him a gentle smile.  "Where are you two?"  She wrote their address out for him.  "I'll be there later, after I've helped out around here."  She nodded and gave him an impulsive hug before she trotted off.  He tucked the address into his pocket before walking inside.  He grabbed his phone and walked out.  He had to have a fit on someone.  "Do not make me pull out that belt you used to threaten to beat me with after I found out I had groupies," he said bluntly when she answered.  "Because you're being an evil bitch and you should want to date the kid instead of blocking him."  He hung up and went back inside.  "Sorry."

"She wasn't your usual sort of groupie," Beckett said dryly, looking up at him.

"I'm not sure what Tara reads."  She stiffened.  "Relax, it's not a problem.  An issue but not a real problem."

"I can handle things," she pointed out.  He stared at her.  "If you have to go, go."

"Yeah, I probably should.  You sure?"

"Of course.  Go.  Shoo."  She got back to her report.  He got up and grabbed his jacket, heading out to their place.  He looked up.  The porch was closed off so Tara was probably at work.  He walked up, noticing how the kid had done some work.  The outside looked like it was about to fall in but the inside had painted walls, cleaned hallways.  Doorways that didn't look like they'd fall in.  He found the right apartment and knocked.  Xander opened the door.  He stared at him.  "You do look like hell."  He noticed the cat staring at him.  "Hi, Miss Kitty."  Xander let him in and he looked around.  "Those look different than I expected."  He looked around the rest of the living room.  "Nicely renovated."

"Thank you.  Did I forget something like a signing?"

"No."  He looked at him.  "I'm here because I heard rumors."  He stared the kid down.  The kid sat down.  "Including one that you're back in the gym?"

"Yup.  It's apocalypse season and I slacked off most of the year."

"I doubt that, kid."  He sat down, looking him over.

"I didn't think you swung my way."

"I don't."  He looked into his face.  "Want the name of a good shrink?"

"Nope.  Why would I?"



"Don't even try it, kid."  He leaned back.  The cat walked up to sniff him.  "Hi.  Alexis would pet you to death because she wants a pet."  He let her sniff his hand before petting her ears.  "You're a good friend to them, Miss Kitty."

"Tara talked to you?"  He got up.  "Want a soda or some instant coffee?"

"I'm good."  Xander got him a bottle of water, earning a smile.  "Thanks.  So, want to talk about it?"

"No, not really.  I'm waiting on the call from LA."


"Bad shit.  It's a late apocalypse season this year."  He shrugged a bit.  He turned off the tv.  "The crappy daytime cable is starting to get to me.  That's another good reason for the gym."

"Usually you can't be pulled away from your laptop.  Is it broken?"

"No.  Like I said, I'm waiting on a call."

Richard stared at him.  "And she had nothing to do with it?"


"You're not that dumb, Xander."

"No, but...."  He shrugged.  "Right now it's not an issue.  The world ending could be."

"Uh-huh."  The cat hopped up next to him, letting him stroke her back.  "How long has it been since you wrote anything?"

"Don't know.  What did the rumors say?"

"Probably at least a month."

Xander considered it.  "Maybe.  I don't know.  I'm so far ahead they're not going to complain."

"It doesn't mean they won't worry."

"So who narked?"

"No one on your team, or mine.  Just rumors I heard."

Xander stared at him.  "Uh-huh," he said dryly, sipping his own water.  "It's cool.  Really.  I'll start writing again soon.  Once the problem in LA is done with."

"Writing isn't something that you can drop for a long time, kid.  The muscles get underused and you start sounding crappy.  I did that a few times."

He nodded.  "I know."

"Are you blocked?"

"No, it's just preparing for an apocalypse."

"Did you write during the last one?"

"I didn't have time between patrols and problems."

"Should I ask your editor that question?"  Xander glared at him.  He stared back.  "There's lots of people who're worried about you.  Enough to tell me."

"I'm fine," he assured him quietly, taking a drink.

"Why is it that whenever I'm around you I usually get hit with ideas and today I'm not?"

"That I don't know," Xander admitted.  "I thought I only screwed up prophecies and probabilities."

"No, usually your overactive muses hit mine pretty hard."  Xander let out a small smile at that fact.  "So far I haven't gotten a single hit."

"Maybe they'll hit you later, when you're at home."

"Probably not.  Really, I could use it because I'm in the middle of a scene and nothing's going on."

Xander looked at him.  "Kill off someone?"

"I can't, it's a seduction scene.  Otherwise I might have.  I did plenty of that during both divorces.  It was very stress relieving even if it didn't make it into any of the books."

"I don't want to kill anyone off right now."

"You could write out what's bothering you in other ways.  It's not like it's going to be seen if you don't want it to."

Xander shrugged.  "Maybe after the upcoming apocalypse."

"How bad is it going to be and will it be local?"

"Nope, and no clue."  He finished his water, tossing the bottle out.

"C'mon," he said, standing up.  The cat gave him a dirty look.  "Sorry."  He hauled the kid up.  "Grab things and let's go."

"I hate shopping."

"I'm not taking you shopping.  That's a girl thing.  Put on shoes and stuff."

"I can't go.  My phone's broken."

"I'm sure Tara can find you with"  Xander nodded.  "They'll call her, right?"  Xander nodded but slower this time.  "Then it's covered."  He walked the boy out, driving him to his favorite place when he was down or upset.  He walked him into the bookstore, smiling at the people in there.

"You're Rick Castle," one older woman said with a smile.

"I am.  This is Alexian Harris.  He needed to find a good resource oriented bookstore for some reference materials."

"What do you write, dear?" she asked him.


"Ah.  Well it's not my genre but there's plenty around here on the second floor.  And the third floor has some *wonderful* reference works on the middle ages and the like."  She went to check out.

Castle smirked at the boy.  "See, you need to know about this place.  It's mostly used books too."  He walked him up to the sci-fi section.  A few of the people there stared at him in awe.  He pointed at Xander.  "This is ...."

"Alexian Harris," one said, smiling at him.

"What're you doing on this coast?" he asked her.

"Big bad, pain in my pony tail, and on and on and on," Buffy said dryly.  "I was going to stop by later."

"We've been waiting on a call.  Tara's at work."

"It's cool.  It's tomorrow."  She walked him over to some girls.  "I know only bad girls and evil girls like him but this is my buddy Alexian Harris."  They cooed and mobbed him to talk about the stuff he had written.  She walked over to Castle, staring at him.  "Who did it this time?" she asked quietly.  "He only looks like that when he's stuck."

"I don't know, he won't tell me.  I thought maybe being around people who like him would help.  It does me."  He smiled.  "Let me know when you're tired, Xander.  I'll be down in my section."  He walked down there, smiling and pulling out a pen.  "I need new ideas."  They all giggled and the ones buying his book got him to sign them.  He glanced up there but the boy was starting to relax and laugh. Though, to him it looked like a facade.  Which wasn't a bad idea for his stuck scene.  He made that note and put it in his pocket, getting back to the signing duties.  After a few hours he felt happier.  Fans and groupies did that to him.  The kid still looked a bit down but he also looked more determined.  "Let me drop you two off," he offered, smiling at Buffy.  Xander had to check out, he had a small stack of books for himself and possibly Tara since some were on herbal cures.  He heard the bad beep and sighed.  "Did she forget to pay you?"

"No, I used the old card instead of the new one," Xander complained.  "Sorry," he told the cashier.  "Tara switched our accounts recently when she thought someone got into them."


"No, she's like my little sister."  He smiled as he signed his receipt, handing her back her copy.  She bagged up his books and he was a happier boy.  He and Buffy got a ride back, finding Tara pacing.  Castle went home to explore that idea of his.  Xander went to stop her from pacing on the porch.  "Buffy's here."  She came in with him.  "So?" he asked.

She sighed, sitting down to pet the cat.  "It's bad."

"How can we help?" Xander asked.  "You know I'll be there if you need me to."

"Yeah, I know."  She smiled.  "Willow and I have a room at the Raddison.  Angel and his crew are busy in LA with her minions looking for something."

"What do we need to defeat her?" Xander asked.  "Spell, swords, artillery?"

"D, all of the above?' she offered.

Xander smiled, going to get into Tara's back closet.  She smiled at the thoughtful gift.  "I knew you had something to help."

"Probably."  He looked at Tara, who sighed but shrank it.  "Thank you."  He looked at the door.  "Kick that," he said quietly.  Buffy kicked it under the storage area that had a sheet over it while he went to the door.  "Hi," he said, smiling at the young girl there.  "Do I know you?"

"My dad knows you."  She held out a note.  "From Dad."  She smiled and walked off.

Xander looked at it then groaned.  "That's a later problem."  He put it in the kitchen on the counter top.  "Okay, let's deal with it."

"I can call Willow," Buffy said, pulling out her phone.

"We'll go there," Xander said.  She nodded, accepting that.  Tara got the weapon for them.  Xander got a few more things he put into the bags he used to move them stealthily.  They went down to their car and headed for the Raddison.  It was a long drive due to traffic.  "Why were you there, Buffy?"

"Willow said you'd be there today."  She shrugged.  "I don't know how."

"I guess that's cool," he decided.  He looked at Tara.  "How's her boy?"

"Not bad.  He's trying very hard to get her to give up the magic stuff for good unless it's an emergency."

"It might help her," Tara agreed quietly.  "I know I felt her the other day."

Xander glanced at her when they got paused by another light.  "Really?"

"Yup."  He shook his head, driving on. "So it's a what this time?"

"Worse than the mayor.  Did I tell you about my sister?"

"Yes," Xander said.  "Your mom did."  She laughed.  "Okay.  We can handle that."

"She's supposedly a hell God, Xander."

"Then how does she die?" he asked.  "Practical things, Buffy.  Can we stab her, blow her up?  What?"

"She's locked inside the body of a guy.  We have to make her revert 'cause then she's mortal."

"Spell work or punishment?"

"Punishment I think.  We can't find all that much on her or her powers.  We're going on observation."

"She can't find it online?" Tara asked.

"I wish but no.  The Council even came back to kiss our asses so I'd fix this."

"Ah hahahaha," Xander laughed.  "You flash some tit and say suck it?"

"Eww.  To Travers?  He might try!  Besides, that's a Faith thing to do.  I'm not that sort of girl, Xander."

"No, then you could hit him," he pointed out.

"Well, that might be good, yeah.  He rehired Giles."

"Excellent news for him.  What plan of the Council's does that further?"

"We don't know yet.  I'm hoping it's not another apocalypse right after this one.  Or a sacrifice."

"We all hope it's neither of those," Tara assured her.  She smiled at her.  "We'll help wherever we can, Buffy."

"I know.  Thank you, guys.  It's not an apocalypse without all of us getting messed up."

Xander snickered.  "I haven't been gooed on in weeks."  She snickered back.  "So, Tara, have a good talk with him?"

"Yes I did because you needed a hiney nudge."  She looked at him.  "Did it help?"

"I'm fine."

"Groo snot."

He sighed, shaking his head.  "Whatever."

"Uh-huh.  We'll talk after the apocalypse."

"If we must."   He pulled into the valet lot, getting out and grabbing the bags, tossing the valet the keys.  "Thank you."  He took the slip and walked upstairs with the girls.  "Tara, that thing?"  She patted her bag.  "Thank you."  Buffy let them in and he followed, holding the door for Tara.  "Okay, how bad?"  He paused when he saw who else was in there.  "We made up that much?"

"No," Buffy said, staring at the Head US Watcher.  "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to provide information support since you left your watcher on the other coast."

"He was needed to help with their apocalypse," she pointed out.  "We know what we need to do here."  She moved away from the door.  Tara put up an anti-listening shield, making Willow pout.  "Thank you, Tara."

"Welcome."  She looked at the head person.  "Why not send the one assigned to New York?"

"He's a research guy," Xander told her.  "Not a fighter.  Same as this one isn't."

"Are you going to date her, Mr. Harris?" he asked.

"I can kill your ass and not blink," he pointed out, smiling at him.  "It'd be my pleasure actually.  So sit down and shut up!"  The man gaped but did sit down and kept quiet.  "Thank you!"  He looked at Buffy.  "When, where, plans for the area so I can help plan the action?"

"As far as we know," she said, pulling out pictures.  "The locals said she's here."

Xander sat down at the small desk to go over it and the maps of the area.  "This is a sucky place," he said.  "Any idea if she got what she wanted?"

"No, not yet," Buffy said quietly, looking over his shoulder.  "What about here?"  She pointed.  "It's next door but we can lure maybe?"

"No.  Too dangerous.  If she's contained, then it'll be easier.  Less chance of outside interference since this town does know what it's doing."  He looked up at her, seeing the grim look.  "Really, they do."  He looked it over again.  "If I was being totally practical, I'd burn it."

"No can do," she agreed.  "We don't want it to spread."

"I know."  Someone pounded.  "Tara, can you please?"

Tara opened the door, staring at the very tall detective there.  "Yes, do we know you?"

"Not yet," he said, walking in and slamming the door behind him.  "Boy."

"I don't answer to that," Xander said, staring at him.  "Buffy, this is the head of the Counter Terrorism unit locally.  Captain Fitch, this is a really huge ass problem.  How would you like to kill it?"

"I'd like you to take this out of my city."  He snatched the plans, Buffy giving him the information they had.  "Who's the putz?"

"That depends on what you already know," Xander told him.  The captain stared at him.  He stared back.  "Well?"

"My sister was a potential."

"He's the head watcher in the US," Buffy said.  "Have you ever met the local one, Xander?"

"Yeah.  He's fairly decent.  Doesn't expect his potential to patrol.  I get a head's up if he hears something."

"I guess that's better than some," she decided.  She looked at Willow then glanced at the watcher.  He had to take a sudden nap.  "We'll make sure he can't nark on the local."  She looked at the captain.  "We were planning on how to deal with her."

"How fast can it be done?" he asked.  He handed back the information.

"That depends on what it takes to make her revert," Buffy said.

"I'm guessing we're going to go this side of nuclear," Xander said dryly.  "We're trying to minimize local exposure."

"Thank you for that blessing."  He stared at them.  "What do you have to use?"

"Enough, maybe," Xander admitted.  "If not, I won't tell you where I'm going to go to get some more so we can try again."

"Thank you for that.  If they're a danger to the city...."

"I'll deal with it and you'll hear," Xander assured him, holding out a hand.  The captain smirked but shook it.  "Have a better evening."

"You kids too.  I'll subtly warn some people that strange things are going on and might include some weapons or a fire."

"There's a gas station too close," Xander sighed.  "Or yeah, you'd see one.  Question, do civies live down there?"

"Some homeless.  That's all industrial."

Xander nodded.  "Okay.  Thank you, Captain."

"Don't get caught on the news."  He left, going to talk to the higher ups.  They knew strange things happened.  They knew the city had demons.  Some of that network had slipped about Harris being himself.

"How do they know you?" Buffy asked.

Xander shrugged.  "Some of the local demons might've let it slip that I hunted with you.  I have no clue.  I don't usually have to hunt around here."

"Huh.  I guess the scary Sunnydale team rep spread then."  She shrugged.  "So....  What're we doing?  I've tried to kick her butt and couldn't.  She totally threw me across a room."

Xander looked then sighed.  "I need twenty to lay a trap and about an hour to build it."  She nodded, getting with Willow about that.  "Tara, I have a really bad feeling that she'll try for you since you're such a white light witch.  I don't know why," he said.  "So you stay in the background.  Got it?"  She nodded.  "Good. Put up things so normals can't interfere and so we don't get noticed.  If we need a magical diversion, you and she can work on it together."  They all nodded at that.  "Buffster, meet me down there in an hour.  Let me build some stuff.  I'm here," he said with a point at a picture.  "It'll go."  She nodded at that.  He walked out, paying the valet so he could get his car.  This was not going to be fun and might make some people paranoid about him.  He had tried to hide his past from most of the normals but he knew some knew something.  This was going to end up confirming rumors.


Xander woke up with a groan, wincing as he made the bed sit up.  "Crap," he muttered.  He looked around.  No visitors.  It was light outside.  He found the room phone and dialed his cell.  Voicemail.  He dialed Tara's cell.  Voicemail.  "Shit."  The nurse walked in so he hung up.  "Let me guess, no one's visited?"

"When you first got here you had some but they've been gone for about the last three days you've been asleep, sir."   She checked his machines, his vitals, then looked at him.  "Do you know who you are?"  He nodded.  "Will you tell us?"

"Probably not."  He smiled.  "That depends.  Why am I in the hospital?"

"Apparently an explosion blew you through a pretty shabby building."

He blinked a few times because nodding hurt.  "I don't remember an explosion."

"The police think you should."

He smiled.  "That's them.  I don't remember an explosion."

"Uh-huh.  Well, some detectives will probably be back later."  She left, going to call those detectives.

Xander looked around then called Buffy's phone.  Her mother answered.  "It's me.  How's everyone?  No, apparently I woke up in a hospital and I'm not really sure why."  He listened to her report.  "That's nice of them.  Sure.  Well, I'm apparently still here.  No, the nurse said I hadn't had any in three days, Joyce.  No clue."  He nodded.  "Decent.  Please do.  Apparently I have voicemail."  He smiled when someone came in.   "Thanks, let me know."  He hung up.  "Captain Fitch."

"Harris."  He looked at him.  "That was fucking dumb."

"It worked."

"True," he admitted.  "It was localized, made to look like the grains had caught.  It worked well enough that those of us watching realized when she changed back and got taken out.  I wasn't talking about that though.  I was talking about your suicidal intentions."

"Not me, Captain."  He sighed.  "I'll admit to a bit upset now and then but not suicidal."

"You stepped in front of your blonde friend Buffy."

"That's kinda my job when she's got bigger things to do.  I couldn't beat the one I was fighting so I gave her enough of a diversion to get them while the man bad guy was trying to sneer at me for being so unfashionable."

The captain stared at him.  "She pouted."

"Yeah, she pouted all the way back to LA the same night I ended up in here."  The captain moaned.  "Where's Tara?"

"At home.  Still shaky.  She and the redhead had a discussion that upset her."

"I'll kick Willow's ass," he assured him.  "She knows better."

The captain smirked.  "Good to know, kid, but you've got a few extra large bruises, cuts, and a few broken things."

"Yay, not like it'll slow me down.  A broken arm didn't.  Concussions didn't.  I'm very much a do what has to be done guy."

"I've heard that."  He studied the young guy in front of him.  "I've called the dogs off you."

"Thanks.  I was about to sneak out when you walked in."

"We have security here."

"Am I in the jail wing?"  He shook his head.  "Then I can be ignored as long as the nurses aren't evil.  As shown by others recently."

"You have another visitor."

"Maybe I'll let them drive me home then."

"I doubt she'll do that.  She wants to know, knows the code, and has an idea."

Xander stared at him.  "Do you want me to date her?  Is that why I'm getting an introduction?"

"No!"  He shook his head, looking up.  "Why me."  He walked out.  "All yours."

Xander looked at the door then at his IV.  He turned it off with a press of the button and was removing the needle when she walked in.  "Morning, Detective Beckett."

"Harris, I wouldn't date you if I had to so the world was saved."

He grinned at her.  "That's a really sweet thing to say.  Should I come to the office to start courting you since you're sounding like one of my evil bitches?"  She stepped back at that.  "I'm heading home to my tylenol and my ice pack.  What did you want to know?"  The nurse stomped in.  "Can I get a bandage?"

"You need that IV."

"I'm going home within two hours," he shot back.  "I have tylenol at home, Nurse.  Can I have a bandage?  Please?" he asked with a smile.

"You shouldn't.  You don't remember how you got here."

Xander stared at her.  "I'm going to be screaming at my supposed friends.  Do you really want to hear that?"  She shook her head, going to get his paperwork and his bandage.  He looked at the detective again.  "The Captain said you had questions?"

"What was she?"

"A displaced hell goddess forced to possess that guy.  She was trying to get home and open her world onto ours to do so."

"So we would've been overrun by her world," she said flatly.  He nodded.  The nurse came back to bandage his arm.  He smiled and she walked off in a huff, leaving the papers.  "Why you guys?"

"Did you see the blonde friend who was short, stylish, and a bit loud?"
"Unfortunately.  Girls like her set my teeth on edge usually."

"Yeah, well, it's kinda her job."  He looked at her then back at the papers.  "I jumped in to help a long time ago."

"Okay.  So that explains why the nurses wondered about all the cuts and prior breaks."

Xander stared at her.  "Want me to be honest?  Yeah, it's like that.  So are two drunk assholes who raised me."  She nodded once at that fact.  "Am I in trouble?  Because if not, I have a heating pad calling my name."

"No, you're not.   If you hadn't warned us you'd be in jail."

"Next time I'll call him first.  This time he heard and we aren't exactly used to involving competent people.  Not like we were surrounded by them at home."

"Fine.  Tell one of us."  She left, going back to the office to get some coffee, something for her headache, and to see if Castle really knew that boy was needing drugs for mental problems.  She decided to call on the way.  "No, not a body yet," she said when he answered with a 'is it a body'.  "I just talked to Harris, again.  No, he's heading home.  Apparently he just woke up.  The nurse and Captain Fitch both think he's suicidal."  She listened to him complain.  "I don't care.  Well, since he apparently built a bomb big enough to blow up a warehouse, yeah, I think they're right.  Especially since he was too close to it when it went off.  She hung up and left it in his hands.  Plus Tara, wherever she was.  That was strange not to see her there since she liked to hover over the boy.  Someone needed to before he blew up something else for a less than decent reason.


Castle groaned, hanging up and rubbing his forehead with his free hand.

"Bad news?" his mother asked from the couch.

"Yeah, kind of."  He finished his coffee and called Tara, then hung up and called Paula.  "I don't care about whatever you did that nearly drove the kid into a suicidal mess.  I don't care how you fix it.  Just fix it."  He listened to her complain.  "Really?  When was the last time his editor got something from him?  And do you know where your pet author is?"  He hung up and grabbed his jacket.  "I'll be back."

"Artistic temperament?" she asked.

"No, I don't think so.  I think the kid feels really alone right now."  He walked out, slamming the door behind him.  Now he called Tara.  "Where's Xander?"  He listened to her.  "That's wonderful but he is awake.  He's also on his way home."  He hung up and went over to the hospital.  There was no way the kid was going to be taking a cab and disappear somewhere.  Paula would kill him because for some reason she'd blame him when it was her fault.  He saw the kid be wheeled out and honked, waving him over.  Xander ignored it so he got out.  "C'mon."

"I'm going home."

"I know that.  I can drive."

"I...."  The nurse parked the wheelchair next to the car, earning a smile.

"Thank you."  He walked around and opened the door, looking at him. "Well?  It's not often I play taxi."

"Why are you playing taxi?" he asked quietly.

"Because I'm going to put you in a book so I can beat your ass.  Get in the car."

"Thank you," he said quietly, getting in.  His mentor walked around to get in and drive off.  "Is Tara all right beyond whatever Willow said to her?"

"I called, she was sniffling and the cat was getting loud.  I have no idea."  He drove off, taking the longer way.  "So, you want to talk about anything?"


"You sure that's your final answer?" he asked dryly.

"Yeah, pretty sure."

"Because I've got sources all over the city that're shocked and horrified, kid."

"It had to be done."


"Because she was going to end up pulling another plane onto this one to get home.  It'd have killed everyone.  She was a hell goddess."

"Okay," he said, considering it.  "I'm still going to include you but you may be a fanatic."

Xander shrugged.  "That's fine.  I think one of the mentors is you in the hunting series."

"Thanks."  He glanced at him.  "What did Paula say that started all this off?"


"Just...don't.  You're barely older than my daughter."


"Don't try it or I'm dropping you at Bellevue for a psych eval."


"That's a teenager response."  He pulled over and looked at him.  "Well?"

"I... I don't know anymore."

"Clearly.  So....  Now what?  You go back to your regular identity and put that one behind you like a dirty secret?"

"It is."

"Maybe," he agreed.  "You're not Superman."

"No, I'm more Batman," Xander quipped.

"He has better gear and a butler.  Maybe in a few years."  Xander gave him an honest smile.  He patted him on the back of the head.  "You have to work this out.  Too many people count on you being there.  Also your fans will wail and sob for years.  They'll make up conspiracy theories and everything."

"I might like a cult to me."

Castle was trying really hard not to pop the kid.  He controlled the urge.  "Beyond that. Your fans would be more likely to think UFO's did it. I know Paula nagged you for giving a damn because she likes to be seen as being too independent to need it."

"I've seen others flinch away from it but they did eventually let someone give a damn."

"She does sometimes.  She won't even let *me* nag most of the time.  Which is why she probably cut you down all that she could to hide it."

"I'm kinda used to that."

"I figured you might be."  He stared at him.  "That blocked you then what happened after the fight?"

"How would I know, I only woke up a bit ago."

"Tara didn't show up?"

"Not according to the nurses."

"Want me to say something to her?"

"No.  I'm hoping this was to do with Willow and her having a discussion."

"And if not?"

Xander shrugged.  "How would I know?  Maybe she got infected with whatever got Buffy back in high school that made her decide I was too normal.  That particular disease has reappeared many times."

Castle reached over to touch his shoulder but the kid nearly flinched so he moved slower.  "New York isn't like Sunnydale.  Here, we're bigger.  You can find more friends who'll appreciate your artistic side.  You'll find less people in denial and all of them would rather see the supernatural than think that they're failures, unlike in your town.  Most of those also have therapists to deal with that issue so you won't have to. Some might even let you fuss over them.  Especially if you can find a decent bad girl to date."  He gave his shoulder a squeeze.  "You jumped in front of her?"

"She needed to handle the thing I couldn't so we switched.  We're out of practice for it so she stared for a few seconds.  I know very well my job is to help her and if necessary, the world has to continue no matter what.  I accepted that very long ago."

"Which makes me depressed.  You're twenty-one in a few weeks!  You should be looking forward to parties and girls and fun.  Not the end of your life because sometime you won't be good enough."

"Well, now I'll at least make it to Halloween.  Maybe we'll see a party then.  Even though Tara and I both hate crowds."  He sighed, looking at him fully when he saw the disappointed look.  "It happens to those of us in this calling.  It's a duty so that normal people don't have to."

"I get that," he assured him.  "I've met federal and foreign agents who've said the same thing as they're fighting a war that's just as pointless and never ending as you are.  The only difference is they got training, have backup, and get medical benefits.  Which apparently you didn't get."

"I'd love medical benefits," he sighed.  "But I am the backup."

"Which sucks for you.  Most of them get partners."

"Buffy dated a commando who was working on a project to create human/demon hybrids."

"If that's as close as you come, we're all doomed."  Xander snorted, shaking his head.  "I've got to find you someone nicer to date."

"You know, I am taking training.  That's part of the reason I'm at the gym," he said.

"I figured that out earlier."  His phone rang.  "What?" he answered.  He listened.  "No, I won't, because it's your fault."  He hung up.  "Paula's in a shitty mood.  Fair warning."

"I don't have to go home."

"Tara will worry."

"No, if she worried, I'd have had visitors," he sighed.  "Maybe I need to break bad.  Go on a club hunt or something to blow off everything for a night."

"You can club without hunting," he suggested.  "It'd be easier on all those bruises and sore spots."

Xander winced.  "Yeah, but it always ends up being a hunt.  I seem to draw them sometimes."

"Kid, we've got to get you a better normal life.  That way you can hide your secret identity better.  Then you can get a huge house to hide a weapons room and a butler to help hide your secret or patch you up."

"Does that mean I can run around in spandex?"

"With the way you've bulked up on muscles, maybe.  You'd put some of the rest of us to shame."  He looked at him.  "I'm hoping like hell my daughter never finds out these things happen and people have to handle it.  I never want to see her have the look in her eyes you had when I picked you up.  I never want to see her have as many scars as you have."

"I'd never tell her unless she saw it happening in front of her and even then I'd try to BS it."

"She's too smart for any BS to work on her.  She sees right through me.  She'd see through you too."  He gave his shoulder another squeeze.  "Let's get you home, then you can run out and club tonight if you need to.  That way Tara doesn't get mad at me."

"Tara won't get mad at you."

"Yes she will.  Women are like that for some reason."

"I think it's hormonal.  You know, you're the closest to a guy friend I've had since I was sixteen."

"Wow.  No wonder you wear ugly clothes and can't club right.  We'll have to set you up with some more male friends."  Xander shrugged and winced, holding his side.  "No, you can't ignore those," he said dryly.

"Sure I can.  I have before."  He straightened up.

"I'm running a poker game in a week.  Want to come?"

"I don't make the sort of money to play with you guys.  Maybe when I'm in the top ten."

"Sure.  That's very reasonable of you."  He smiled.  "Let's get you home."  He shifted to face front, starting the car.

"Can't I go to a hotel?"

"She'll gut me and use me for cat food."

"If not, she'll nag, fuss, and try to tuck me in.  I'll end up giving in to make her feel better."

"I can tell her not to fuss."

"Then she'll pout.  I'll end up feeling bad."

"Fine.  Do you have your wallet on you."  Xander groaned, shaking his head.  "Then I'll take you home so you can get it."  He drove him that way, pausing up the street.  "I see Paula and Tara are arguing."  He pulled over.  "Wait here."  He got out, walking over.  "Tara, Xander wanted a night to go unstress.  Can you get his wallet please?"

She stared t him.  "No!  He's hurt!  He checked himself out!"

"Right now, he's ready to snap," he told her.  "He doesn't want to do it on you or the cat.  He's going to take it out in a club."  She groaned, shaking her head.  "Without picking up anyone too bad."

"He needs too be checked on."

Xander got out and walked over.  "I'm not real fond of humanity," he told her bluntly.  "I'm going to a hotel tonight. I'm going to relax, eat some ice cream, go play in a club to release some of this tension I have that's causing me pain.  I'll be back tomorrow night."  She slumped, shaking her head. "It's not you but if I don't, I'm going to end up screaming at people.  I don't want to do that.  So please?"  She trudged off.  He stared Paula down.   "I don't care if you have PMS, if you're the bitch queen of the universe, whoever, you do not scream at Tara.  She had nothing to do with your yelling the last time we talked."  She opened her mouth but he held up a finger.  "I just woke up after a battle.  Now is not the time because I'm going to snap.  I'd rather snap and fuck someone into a wall in a club than snap and start screaming what I'm thinking right now," he said quietly and calmly.  "Personally, it's women who treat me like you did that makes me want to go from kinda bi to fully gay."  She stomped off.  "You can come back when we both calm down!" he called after her.  He took a deep breath.  Tara came down with his wallet and phone.  "Does it work?"

"It's the replacement.  It showed up yesterday," she said quietly.

He kissed her on the forehead.  "Thank you.  Let me go yell at Willow as well."

"She didn't...."

He held up a hand.  "Don't even think about lying.  I don't want to hear the lie that she didn't say anything because we both know she did and I have some things I'd like to scream at her as well."  She opened her mouth.  "If she were actually a friend, I would've at least woken up with a status report note and a get well added."  He walked off.  "I'll be somewhere nice and kinda sleazy so I can pick up someone to wear this out on.  I'll be back for dinner tomorrow night, Tara."

"Xander, don't yell at her.  That was Buffy's call."

"I've already talked to Joyce, Tara.  I called Buffy's cell."  He looked at her.  "I'll be home for dinner tomorrow.  Make something nice?"  She nodded, biting her lip.  "I know you were upset and couldn't.  Chill."  He walked past the car.  "Thanks for the ride, dude.  I'll see you in a few days since we're both at that signing thing."  He hailed a cab and got in, checking his wallet.  "Hyatt.  Downtown by the clubs."

"They're full.  There's a convention."

"Then somewhere by the clubs please.  I plan on shutting them down."  The cabbie just drove off.  He waved.   When he got there he paid and walked inside.  "Do you have a room open?"  The receptionist nodded.  He smiled.  "Thank you.  Got any good ideas for clubbing clothes?  I need the stress relief."

"Bad argument with your wife, sir?"

"Not married.  Female friends."  She nodded, signing him in.  He tossed out his old card when he tried to use it and it declined, letting her have the other one.  That was better.  She handed him a shopping guide as well.  "Thank you."  He went to check his room over then to find something to wear that made him look a bit dangerous so he didn't get into a fight, yet sexy and alluring so he got laid.  Right now he didn't care who it was that he had sex with.  It'd be good no matter what because they probably wouldn't be the only one.


Xander walked down to the front desk, smiling.  "Hi, I'm in room 2336 and I've left the guy that tried to stab me tied up conveniently for the cops."  She called their security guys.  Xander gave the one rushing out a bland look.  "I was nice when I tied him up when he tried to stab me.  I thought I'd nicely package him for the cops."

"What room are you in, sir?" the guard asked.


"Come with us," he said, taking him back up there.  Xander let him into the room.  There were a few signs of a struggle.  "Sir, why did you invite him in if I can ask?"

"Because I'm having a fuck or beat something day.  I figured sex was the better alternative to jail."  The guy was still sobbing.  "I'm guessing Fate wanted aa different outcome."  He glared at him and the man flinched back.

"Let me get some officers here, sir."

"Sure.  I'm going to be at the soda machine."  The guard watched him walk up the hall, get a soda, and come back while keeping an eye on the tied up person.  Officers came off the elevator.  He waved at them.  "He tried to stab me.  His knife's under the edge of the bed."  He opened the can and took a sip.  They were giving him worried looks.  "Guys, my temper's *real* high and I was going to fuck it out instead.  Aren't you happy my usual predator drawing ability came out?' he quipped, taking  a sip.

"Does this happen often?" one of the officers asked.

"Yeah.  Homicide detectives or major crime ones seem to *love* the people I date," he said dryly.  "Nine times in the last few years."

"How did you fight him off, sir?" the other officer asked.  "I'd assume you were in a...disadvantaged position."

"My former town had a protection patrol, guys, plus I'm taking classes."  They nodded at that, going in to check on the guy.  They still weren't sure he wasn't a victim.

"Please, I want to go to jail.  I promise I won't stab anyone else because I want to screw them," he whispered.  "I promise, I won't."

The officer got him undone and cuffed, sitting him up.  "You did what?" he asked.  He nodded his partner to take a statement from the other guy up the hall.  Clearly the guy was scaring the crap out of him.  "You've done this before?"

He nodded, looking miserable.  "He's right.  It's closeted hate.  I want them and can't follow through so I stab them."  He sniffled, looking up at the officer.  "I'm sorry I stabbed those others."

"How many, sir?"

"Three, maybe four.  I don't remember.  It's wrong for me to want it.  When I give in, my mind deals with it for me.  I'm really sorry."

"I'm sure you are," he agreed.  "Do you need medical attention before we take you down to talk to a detective?"

"No.  I need to apologize to him.  He's too strong.  He's the only one that fought back."

"He said he's taking martial arts classes," the officer told him.  "That's why."  He helped him stand, looking around for his shoes.  He pointed. "Yours?"  The guy nodded so he got that and the jacket.  "Yours?"

"Yes, Officer.  Thank you.  Can I apologize?"

"Sure."  He walked him out.  "Sir."  Xander looked over.

"You're right and I'm bad for trying to hurt you.  I'm sorry."

"It's cool.  You're not the first."  The guy nodded, letting himself be led off.  Xander looked at the other officer.  "That's the first one of them that apologized.  That's kinda nice."  He finished his soda.  "Can I go hit a really nasty club so I can wear out this extra energy now?"

"Sure," he decided.  He looked at the hotel security guard.

"We'll be switching his room in case CSU needs it," he promised, calling down to the desk.  By the time Xander got his things and had pointed out the knife for the officer, the desk girl had arranged it and Xander switched key cards on the way out.

Maybe he'd hit a harder club, just to let all the predators deal with him.  That'd definitely be a fight or a screwing of his life.


Castle walked in to three new folders on Beckett's desk and her swearing at her captain.  He glanced it over then went in there after a quick knock.  "Xander went clubbing?' he guessed.

"Is that how it happened?" she demanded.

"Yeah, he was a bit pissed at his friends.  Something about them fleeing while he was in the hospital and none of them even checking on him."  She groaned.  "I brought him home last night but he was too pissed to deal with things so he said he was going to wear it out in a  club."

"He did, three different ones," she told him, grimacing.  "We got one serial killer, two wanna be pimps, and a drug dealer.  I have no idea who has him right now or if he's still alive."

"I don't think he's suicidal.  I talked to him last night.  If it has to happen to save people, maybe.  Not for any other reason and a fight would work just as well in the state he was in."

"I've never...."

"You're female," the captain said.  "I've been in that sort of rage myself.  You *need* to get it out one way or another."

Castle nodded.  "I usually go to the gym.  I kill my body for a few hours.  The kid was doing that already."

"So his natural draw pulled them to him?" she demanded.

"Knowing him, after the first one he probably went looking," he admitted.  "That way he wouldn't draw more attention to himself in the normal clubs."

The captain nodded.  "At least they're solved and closed cases," he said.  "Just finish up the paperwork.  Castle, are you worried about his mental state?"

"No.  I'd still be in the gym if I was in his position."  He walked out with her.   "You've never been in that bad of an angry mood?" he asked her quietly.

"I go to the range."

"They wouldn't let him use artillery."

"Good point I guess.  Call him to make sure he's alive?"

"It's eight in the morning.  I'm doubting he's awake."  He sat down, texting him.  He got one back saying that Xander was still resting after last night and he'd text when he got up in a few hours.  "He's still sleeping."  He put it into his pocket.

She looked at him.  "You like the little bastard?"

"I do.  He sees me like a mentor.  We also talked about him making sure it never came near my daughter."

"I can agree with that.  It's bad enough I know."

"He's been doing this since he was fifteen."

"Damn.  So this is probably the only way he knows."

"Yup."  He finished his coffee and tossed out the cup.  "Drug dealer?"

"He's very pretty."  She looked at him.  "All men."

"Most women would complain if he got a bit too rough."

"Good point I guess.  Maybe he went S&M?"

"Maybe.  That's one outlet but I'm not sure if he'd deal with it then.  Most of them won't let you in if you're that angry either.  Too many chances for accidents."

"Good to know you have contacts there."

He smiled.  "I have guys everywhere."  His phone rang with a text.  He pulled it out to look at it.  "Paula's now worried about him.  He didn't come in to pick up his check yet, usually he's in there by now."  He texted back that Xander was still sleeping off the wearing out last night.  She sent back a huff.  "Hopefully she'll apologize for her part in that problem," he decided.  He put his phone back in his pocket.  "We'll have to see."


"Complained that he fussed when her blood pressure got noticeably high one day.  He also made her splurge and have real ice cream.  He treated her like he would any woman he was close to.  She's a bitch about that some days though."

"I don't let people fuss over me," she reminded him.

"If I could see the vein in your neck throbbing, I'd try to get you to relax too," he assured her.  "The same as most of us would."

"That's bad."

"That was bad.  When they let her wake up a day later, her blood pressure was only in the 190's over 140's."  She winced.  "He was right to fuss and nag.  The same as I was.  She still bit back at him and plugged his muses badly.  He hasn't written in over a month thanks to her.  She needs to apologize."

"She probably will so he keeps putting out stuff."

"He's got a good three to five year backlog," he told her dryly.  "Maybe eight if you stretch it out."  She groaned.  "I've seen him in the state where he can sit down and get so lost he'll type a hundred pages a day.  He usually has many of those a month.  That's why Tara lives with him, to make sure he eats."

"I guess that's normal," she agreed.  "On her part.  Isn't his a problem?"

"Yes and no.  Hypergraphia can be a problem but he's using it to his advantage.  Also, you can work out more minor angers in it.  It's wonderful not having to hide the bodies you write gruesome deaths for."

"I guess it could be," she decided, giving him a sideways look.

"Yes, I have used it," he assured her.  "It got me through the divorces."  She smiled at that, shaking her head.  He helped her with the paperwork.  It was the least he could do since he had introduced her to Xander.


Xander walked up to Paula's secretary, ignoring her horrified look.  "It's a black eye, Sue.  Can I have my check without having to say mean things to her?"  He had timed it so Paula was out for her daily salad.  She walked in there to find it, coming out to let him sign for both of them then handed them over.  "What's the other?"

"Advance on the next book that's being published."

He nodded.  "Thanks."  He walked off, taking the stairs.  Paula would only do the elevator so he got to avoid her.

She waited for Paula to come in.  "Xander was here and got his checks."  She handed back the folder.  "He has a black eye, was limping slightly, and favoring his right side."

"So he took his broken rib to a bar?" she guessed.

"Maybe.  I don't know."

"How did he look otherwise?"

"He wasn't bouncing, he wasn't smiling, he called me by my actual name."  Paula moaned.  "I didn't see his phone either.  In those pants you would have."

"Thank you."  She went in there to call him.  "Tara, why do you have his phone?"  She listened.  "No, I wanted to talk to him about some editing things."  She sat down.  "No, that's not good.  He will if he wants to keep getting paid.  That'd be fine.  Thank you."  She hung up.  Tara would tell him to call her at the very least.  Then she could get him back on track.  Hopefully without committing him for seventy-two hours for being a danger to himself.  Xander walked in an hour later.  "Cute t-shirt," she said.  He shrugged.  "They wanted your third book of Tral to be reedited."


"Because they said it's raunchy."

"Donnie took out the tree scene."  She gave him a dirty look.  "What did they want edited out?"

"The whole zombie thing."

"It's his decision to make.  He's got to decide to bring her back.  That would make her a zombie.  People in love actually do have those thoughts."  He walked off.  "I don't care one way or another."

She called them to let them know what he had said.  She could argue around to it.  Then she called her therapist to ask her suggestion.  The kid was in pain and even she could see it.  She hung up after a few minutes of being told to start with an apology.  She didn't want to hear that.  He had stepped over the line.


Xander looked up when someone tapped him on the arm.  "What's up?" he asked the detective.  It was one of the helper detectives Beckett kept on a leash.

"Are you dating again?  We've had some suspicious deaths."

"No.  Not since the night I went clubbing."

He looked at the kid.  "Is that a problem?  Because you don't look happy."

"I'm not totally content at the moment, no, but no I can do without dating.  As for your strange killer?  She's annoying the crap out of me at the moment.  She did send me a letter."

"Do you still have it?"

"I sent it to Richard."

"Okay.  We can get it from him.  When did you send it?"


"I'll ask his daughter then.  Thanks, kid."  He looked at him.  "Why don't you take a vacation?"

"Because Tara would worry."

"Sometimes you have to live your own life, kid.  She can worry and probably should, but if you're not happy enough to deal with things, you're going to make her worry more."  He left, going to Castle's apartment.  Alexis opened the door.  "Harris said he sent your dad a letter he got from a fan sort."

"I was wondering why he mailed him something from across the borough."  She got it for him and handed it over.  "Is it an idea?"

"No, we have some wacko running around.  She sent him a mash note."  She giggled, shaking her head.  "He figured he'd pass it on.  Thanks, kiddo."  He left, going back to work.  "Castle, your daughter is giggling that Harris sent the psycho's note to you."

"He could've dropped it off."

"With the way he looks, I'm not sure I want him driving," he said bluntly.  "He's pale and shaky too."  He handed over the letter.

Castle opened it, reading over the enclosed note and her letter.  "That's the killer," he said, handing that part over.  "Like sick pale and shaky?"

"No clue.  I suggested getting out of town might help, even if Tara does worry."

"She'll fuss him to death if he's actually sick."  He texted the kid.  Xander wasn't really answering his phone at the moment.  Not even for her.  He got back an 'I'm fine'.  He snorted and countered that, getting one back that his ribs were hurting a bit but that was normal with broken ones.  "I thought you only broke one," he said as he typed that in.  He got back another 'I'm fine' and sent one about going on vacation.  The kid said he was waiting on his plans to be finished then he'd go.  He sent a 'send postcards or something' and left it there.  "His broken ribs are bothering him."

"That'd make me pale and shaky too."  He looked over the letter once Beckett was done with it.  "Who's Tara?"

"Remember that blonde young woman in the long dress that showed up to talk to me a few weeks back?" he asked.


"She's like Harris' little sister."  He looked at him.  "Alexis okay?"

"Fine.  Happy, giggled at getting that."

"Good.  I need to introduce her to more people.  She never gets out of the house."

"She's fine," Beckett assured him.

"She should be out being a teenager and she doesn't.  I'm worried she's getting old before her time and turning into my mother.  Well, no, wait, Mother has wild stories from her youth."

"Your daughter has sense.  Do you really want to have to talk to her after she's had a hangover?"

"No but I expect most kids would have one sometime.  She doesn't even go over to party with friends anymore.  I'm worried.  I'm a parent, I'm supposed to worry."

"Yes, but I'm sure she'll be fine.  Give her a year then worry."

"No, then I'll have to beat boyfriends too."  She smirked at him for that.  "Maybe I'll have Tara take her down to the shop her aunt works at.  It'll be a good learning experience and it might open her world view a bit.  They have a few older teenagers who shop there."  He texted that to his daughter whose only reply was a sigh.  "Maybe not."

"She has sense.  Don't worry about her so much."  Beckett went back over the letter.  "Think he'd let us use him to bait her?"

"No.  Not right now.  Usually yes but not right now," he said quietly.

"Fine."  She did have more clues on how to find the problem idiot of the day.  It was nice the kid cooperated.


Xander walked in that night, looking at Tara.  "I'm buying a vacation cabin."

"Is it nice?"

"I'll let you know."  She stared at him.  "I'm fine.  My ribs are aching."  She nodded at that, handing him the advil.  "Thanks."

"Welcome.  How long will you be gone?"

"Maybe a few weeks."

"Will phones work there?"

"My new one's a satellite phone, Tara.  It works everywhere on this plane."  She smiled at that.  "It wasn't too much.  It's been empty for a while.  It'll give me something to do for a few weeks."

"I understand.  You need the recentering time."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "You'll call?  Miss Kitty will miss you petting her bald."

"Of course."  He grinned and relaxed.  "I don't want you to worry."

"I'm not.  You've had a sucky month."  He nodded, going to pack.  "When are you leaving?"


"I made pizza."

"I adore you."  She beamed.  He came down to eat.   He could pack later on.  He'd leave all the fancy stuff here but his jeans were going with him.  He debated on his laptop but decided he'd bring it just in case the muses quit tormenting him.  "I had the strangest dream last night," he said between bites.  She looked at him.  "The muses were dancing around me signing."

"What were they singing?"

"Annoying crap."  She laughed.  "Seriously!"

"Were they puppies?"

"No.  Little garden gnome looking creatures."  She shook her head.  "I don't know."

"Maybe you should try writing that," she offered.  "It might help other authors."

"Maybe."  He stuffed his mouth again.  "But hey, it's all wood so I can get some nice fixing time in and then maybe chop some firewood.  It's on a lake."

"That sounds pretty.  How far to the nearest neighbor?"

"Under a quarter mile.  It's kinda triangle shaped with the wide end by the lake.  We're nearer to the neighbor on the east."

"That's still pretty sounding."  She brushed some of his hair back.  "It'll be good for you."

He nodded.  "It will be."  She smiled and let him finish up.  He considered the weapons then decided against it.  If he needed something he could probably find a gun shop in Colorado.  And hey, he'd have to have wood working tools.  Those he shipped to himself.  It was cheaper than checking them.  His bags went too.  He hated flying because anything he checked got lost for a few hours.


To part 2