Girls of New York

Don Flack looked up the hall, having a very bad feeling about something.  He wasn't sure what yet.  It had been a pretty quiet morning so far.  Nothing too strange had happened in days.  They hadn't had to consult with Xander for more than sports time on his big screen tv in almost a month.  The kid was doing a new book and was armpit deep into the Middle Ages of Japan or something like that.  Yet, he was having that same 'something strange and bad is going to happen' gut feeling that made him nauseous.  He looked around and slowly made his way back to the lab area.  There were others who had a clue.  Most of them were there that day.  Stella had the day off, but Danny and Mac were going over a case and Lindsey was acting very indignant.  She had just barely signed on.  Aiden, their former coworker, was still seeing Xander at the moment so they saw her there, even though her firing still sucked rocks in his opinion.  Still, that feeling was growing.  "Danny?" he called from the hallway.  Danny looked out at him and smirked.  "Do you feel...odd?"

"Yeah, and I've already got a call into Xander.  He said he's not sure why, yet.  He said he's had a few odd feelings recently too."

"Good, then it's not just me.  What case is that?"

"The sub that died the other day," he offered, nodding him inside.

"I still don't see how someone who was such an outspoken feminist could ever want to give up and be a submissive that way," Mac noted patiently.  "It doesn't make sense.  Her actions and her words contradict each other.  She was all about empowerment."

"Yeah, but sometimes you've got to give up power to realize you've got it," Don reminded him patiently.  "Someone somewhere said that only the ones with power could give it up.  It proved her point because she could."

"Good point if you think that way," Mac admitted.  "I'm not much into that sort of thing.  I have no idea how this sort of thing works."

"Xander's got a few books on his shelf, Mac, research materials," Danny offered with a small grin.  "He said his publisher gave them to him for Christmas last year."

"Charming presents they give each other.  Didn't Xander buy him three live chickens and a goat?" Don asked.  Danny nodded.  "Do I wanna know why?"

"He's into that Voodoo stuff."

"Oh.  Makes sense then," he agreed, nodding a bit.  "Okay.  Danny, did he say anything?" he asked, moving around the table to look at a picture that had caught his attention.  "Correct me if I'm wrong, but was she choked from this position?"  Danny moved over to look at it, nodding a bit.  "Was that the cause of death?"

"Possibly.  We tried it once she was out of it.  If she had been standing she'd have enough room to breathe," Danny offered.

"I still say this is sick," Lindsey complained.

"Some people enjoy other things than the lights off and pretty candles," Danny reminded her.  "It's not our job to make that distinction."  He looked at her.  "Unless it's something illegal or pets, I don't care what you do in your own home."  She looked horrified and stomped off.  "She's gotta get used ta it, we've still got one of the biggest sex trades in the world," he defended at Mac's look in his direction.  "Did we figure out if choking was the only cause of death?"

"It was," he offered.  "From the positioning, Sheldon thinks that she passed out and choked once she had slumped too far.  The autopsy confirms it," he told them, turning to look at them.  "You think he'd let us borrow the reference books?"

"Yeah, I think he would if one of us asked nicely," Don said, looking at him.  "You're still giving him funny looks, Mac."

"I try not to but he's a bit odd.  How many butch guys do you know that write romance novels?  It's about as odd as this ultra-feminist being a submissive.  I just don't understand."

"I'm sure you will someday," a female voice called through the air, with no woman present.  "Very soon really."  Mac started to glow and groaned, clutching his chest as he fell down.

"Shit!" Don said, moving around Danny to help him but Danny stopped him. "Let go!"

"That's magic!" he shot back, glaring at him.  "Wait a second, or else it'll catch you too!"  He called Xander.  "Get here now.  Someone just attacked Mac.  Don, shades, now."  He moved closer once the glow was gone, looking at the person on the floor.  "Oh, Holy Shit," he moaned.  "Mac?"  The new woman moaned and shifted but stayed unconscious.  He called Xander again.  "Bring references.  He's a girl suddenly."  He hung up again and checked him over.  "Don!"

Don finished closing the shades, shaking his head.  Then he did the sensible thing - he certainly couldn't deal with this and a now feminine Mac - he called Stella.  "Can you please come in?  Mac *really* needs you.  Make sure Xander's on his way too."  He hung up and came over to lend his jacket so they could cover Mac up for a few minutes.  He mentally slapped himself, stopping himself from staring at the new chest.  "This is too weird."

"Yeah, ya think?" Danny demanded.  Someone pounded on the door.  "NO!"

"Let me in!" Sheldon yelled.  "What happened!"

Don let him in and shoved Lindsey back out.  "Stella and Xander only!" he ordered firmly. "It's something weird!"  He locked the door and looked at Sheldon, who was staring in horror and awe.  "Yeah, no wonder he screamed.  Did the voice sound familiar?" he asked Danny.

"Yeah, sounded like Willow," he said grimly.  He heard footsteps slow down and glanced out there, nodding Don to let her in.  "That's Stella, Xander's right behind her."

Don opened the door and glared at everyone, blocking the view.  "It's something odd, just go!" he ordered.  "We've got it and he's not hurt!"  He let Stella slip past him and Xander ducked under his arm, then hauled him in and shut the door, kicking it for good measure.  "It sounded like your redheaded buddy."

"It usually does," he said bitterly.  He looked at Stella.  "Morning."

"What the fuck happened?" she demanded, pointing at Mac, who Sheldon was checking over. "Is he, um, she all right?"

"Sleeping," Sheldon said, looking at her.  "I agree, what's going on?"  He looked at Xander.  "Oh, damn, you're here."  Xander nodded once and came over to do something, making Mac glow dimly.  "Can you reverse it?"

"I'm not as strong as Willow.  There's a chance Ethan can but he's in Cuba buying cigars."  He pulled out his phone and dialed.  "Ethan, buddy, no, a Willow thing."  He snorted.  "Remember that Taylor guy?  Yeah, him.  Well, her.  Nope, Willow thing," he said with a fond smirk at Danny.  "We've been having bad feelings for the last few days.  When are you coming back?  'Cause either you help or I've got to try to get her here.  Which do you think is going to be more effective?"  He snorted.  "That's what I thought.  How long?"  He nodded.  "I can handle it until then.  Anyone sooner?"  He nodded again.  "Thank you.  Email me references later so I can start stealing from your apartment and Dimitri's stash.  Thank you, Ethan.  Of course I owe you.  Whatever you want you know that."  He hung up and looked at Stella, then the other guys.  "He's not going to be back for two and a half weeks.  So either someone has to get Willow to reverse her spell, which is nearly impossible, or I've got to talk to some of the local pagan network to see if we've got someone that powerful around here at the moment.  Or we can wait."

"We can't wait," Don said.  "This'll fuck with his head like nothing else will."

"I know.  She did it to me once.  I made a really fugly woman, thank you."  Stella just whimpered and stared, mouth slightly open.  He nodded. "She had PMS and wanted to commiserate, but it was just me and her.  She got her own PMS buddy that day.  It took me ten days to talk her into changing me back and she *liked* me at that time."  She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself.  "Waiting for Ethan is a viable option against her stubbornness. I'll go to the local shops later today and put the word out about what I need."  He looked at Mac, then at her.  "He's prettier than I was, but I can tell you from experience, he'll need some help dealing with the girl stuff."  He looked at the men again.  "Sheldon, you're groping."

"I'm seeing if it's real!"

"It's real," Mac moaned.  "Get off!"  He backed off quickly and Mac sat up, letting Don help him.  "What happened?"  He looked down his shirt and groaned, then shuddered.  "Do I want to know?"

"The wrath of the bitchy one," Xander said dryly.  "Been there, done that, you're still cuter than I was."  He helped him up and onto a stool.  "Ethan will be back in three weeks.  I'll start looking to see if we've got a cure sooner than that locally.  Trying to make Willow undo it could take decades."

"So I've got to take three weeks off?" he demanded quietly.

"No, you can work like that.  Stella and Aiden manage it a lot."

Mac glared at him.  "It's not like they won't realize there's something different about me, Xander."

Xander held up a hand.  "Ask Stella if there's a way to minimize it.  I managed to strap mine down for the ten days and still go to work on a construction site.  I sighed a lot in relief the eleven nights when I got home, but I managed it.  You may be able to pull it off."

"I hate to say it, but no.  Mac's got nearly as big of tits as I do," Stella complained. "Mac, word of advice, bra, soon," she ordered dryly, shaking her head. "I can't believe I said that to you."

"Me either."  He looked down at himself again then at Xander.  "Why are you still here and not out looking for a cure?"

"Because I need to take three readings and it's going to be odd?" he offered.  "I need a candle and my blue bag from the car, Danny."

He nodded and went to get that from his trunk for him.  "Back off, he's fine, it was hunger!" Danny yelled at the gathered people.  "We're feeding him now and Stella's here ta drag him home and feed him later!"  Most everyone disappeared at that, but Lindsey, who had her mouth open.  "Not one word," he warned quietly.  He jogged out to Xander's car, finding what he needed fairly quickly.  Xander still never locked his car and his had an interior trunk button on the dash.  He carried it back inside, sliding back into the room and locking the door again.  It got handed to Xander, then he looked at Mac.  "Could be worse. You could be a fluffy bunny rabbit."

"That's mean," Don assured him with a smirk.

"I'd rather have fur and long ears," Mac growled.  "Especially instead of breasts or other parts!"

"Lindsey's still outside," Danny warned.  Mac growled something under her breath.  "I told 'em it was hunger and you were taken care of."

"Thank you."  He watched what Xander was putting together, raising an eyebrow.  "Cover the evidence in case there's smoke or anything."  They did that and Don took his jacket back.  "Stella...."

"Once he's got the resonance or whatever, I'll take you home with a quick stop somewhere to find you a bra and some decent underwear for a few days, Mac."   He glared at her.  "Trust me, you'll itch and twist otherwise.  The bra will help the backache you're already starting."

"Even small ones hurt," Xander said as he worked.  He finally got done and looked at the table, then at them.  "We might wanna cover the table too, unless someone wants to scrub it later."  They covered everything and Xander got to work, taking notes from what the potions exposed about the spells once they were rubbed onto Mac's skin.  He finished with the last one then pulled out a bottle of water and mixed something into it, handing it over.  "Here, this'll cancel that and ease some of the ache of the change.  It's all natural, it won't affect anything and it won't show up on drug tests."  Mac took it and chugged it, then gagged. "Yeah, it tastes bad, but it works wonderfully."  He looked at Stella.  "You can handle the girl stuff?"

"I do my own."

"Good.  Ethan said he'd be back in three weeks.  It could be shorter or not.  That means he shouldn't have to worry about a cycle unless she was feeling *really* cranky today.  You might wanna go there just in case and I can vouch for the nightmares he'll be having tonight."  He looked at Mac.  "Other than that, be gentle with it until we can fix it, Mac.  Remember, your body is now the temple to be worshiped at and take all precautions not to be kidnaped or attacked.  You're not used to your body and you can't fight the same as you used to.  You also can't draw and fire the same as you used to."  That got a single nod and a lighter moan.  "So be very careful.  I'm off to the herb shops.  Call me tonight, Don."  He gathered everything and headed out, nodding politely at Lindsey.  "He's fine, they're getting ready to move him home."  He headed out to his car, getting in and going to the best source he knew for magical stuff in the city.  He parked outside it and headed inside, looking grim.  The counter help took one look at him and got the boss.  Xander looked at her, drawing her off to the side.  "Rosenburg just pulled a gender reassignment spell," he said quietly.  "On the CSI working on Bilanda's homicide."

"Oh, shit," she said, bursting out laughing.

He glared.  "Not funny.  She did it to me once to have someone to talk about PMS with, Hilary."  She burst out in a new peal of laughter.  He crossed his arms and tapped his foot.  "You done?"  She nodded and calmed herself down.  "Does the city or surrounding areas have anyone who could help?  Since she's gonna be that stubborn and Ethan's out of town?"

"When is Rayne due back?" she asked hesitantly.

"Three weeks.  He's in Cuba buying cigars and stuff."  She moaned.  "No one?"  She shook her head.  "Can we find someone?  I can call Travers."

"You might wanna do that," she agreed dryly.  "As far as I know, there's no one around here that's Willow's strength.  We could probably get him halfway back but it could stick him that way, Xander."  She stepped closer. "Is she pretty?"

"Very," he offered with a small smirk.  "Prettier than I was."  She grinned at that. "It's still not funny.  This fucks with someone's mind like you wouldn't believe.  I almost went looking for mental help afterward."

"Oh, I can only imagine if I woke up male some morning," she noted dryly.  "Can we get Tara out to help?"

"I'm not sure.  She just started a new semester."  He shrugged.  "I can call and see."  She nodded so he called.  "Tara, sweetie, it's Xander.  No, emergency.  Willow just pulled a sex change spell."  He listened to the silence.  "And you would be?" he asked at the laugh.  "Buddy, just shut up and give her phone back.  Now."  It was hung up.  He glared and muttered something, then he called again.  "He down?" he noted dryly.  "Dear, I handle combative stuff, still.  So, can you come to New York for a few days ta help?  Ethan's out of town and I wouldn't ask normally, but the locals here don't think they have anyone who can pull this off."  He grinned.  "Yeah, remember Mac?  Well, now he's a Macette and he's cuter than I was when she did it to me.  Please?"  He grinned. "I'll make sure you get here.  Bless you!"  He hung up and looked at her.  "Yes, I know I'm not supposed to strike anyone with a migraine for thwarting me.  Kinda an emergency really."

"It is," she agreed, patting him on the arm.  "Do you have time for tea or are you heading to Jezzi's?"

"I was going to head there tonight since she's got a meeting and Ethan suggested I head there tonight."

She nodded. "That's wise.  Come to my office so I can laugh in private, Xander.  'Cause I want a picture of you."

"There are no pictures and I burned the ones she took."  He walked her back to her office, putting on some hot water for tea while she called around.  He even handed her the notes when she started to talk about the spell, just so someone else could formulate a counter.


Around dinner time that night, Xander tapped on a shop door, holding out the pizza boxes he was carrying. "Ethan said to bring this to you to see if anyone can help me in his stead," he offered quietly.

"So you bribe us cheaply with pizza?"

"I think better on a full stomach," he offered, walking past Jezibelle Franklin, who was a Cajun beauty of old mixed lines.  "Rosenburg pulled a spell earlier on a cop."

"I felt the magic creep out.  What sort was it?" she asked as she took them.

He put a hand on top of them.  "Sex change."

She gaped.  "Whoa.  That's power.  She is so screwed on the Threefold rule."

Xander nodded. "Yeah, just a bit since this is at least the second time she's pulled this.  May I?"

"Please.  Is she all right?"

"So far he's fine.  It's gonna be three weeks before Ethan comes home though.  He's in Cuba."  He walked into the meeting area and everyone stared.  He grinned.  "Ethan suggested I plant this problem in front of you good folk, and the not so good folk," he said with a nod for the former watcher, turned vampire, who he had taken over for. "I didn't know you were back in town, Dimitri.  We should have a beer later."  He walked in front of the group.  "Earlier, Rosenburg pulled her, at least, second sex change spell on a guy."  That got some horrified gapes and some of the top chaos people giggled.  "Trust me, it's not funny when it's you.  Been there, done that, she had PMS and wanted someone to eat chocolate with."  He looked around.  "Ethan said he's not going to be back in town for three weeks.  Would anyone know of a cure and be willing to help?  He's a cop.  He's working on Bilanda's murder."  That got a moan from the top chaos people.  "Exactly, so that means he can't work on the case since he doesn't think he can work this way.  He thinks someone might notice the C cups he's now sprouting."  He looked around.  "Anyone have any suggestions of who I can beg to help?"

"What's the price you're offering?" one of them asked with a smirk.

"What did you want?"

"Your blood."

"My publisher has claims on that," he noted dryly.  "I'm not losing my publisher's good will for this."  He smirked at him.  "And before you say it, there's no virginity there for you to take either."  That got a loud grumble from some.  "Hey, blame the one who took it against my will, guys.  Really.  I'd like that."  That got a few odd looks and he nodded.  "Yeah.  So, anyone I can pay or anything? Include you in a story?  Give you ideas?"  That got a few nicer laughs.  "It's all I've got, guys. Unless you want my piece of the old high school?  I did carry a piece as a reminder that I had done that.  I only do enough magic to ensure a parking spot and my car being untouched."

"Let us talk about it, Xander," Dimitri ordered calmly.  "Relax and go home.  Go write some more smut and remember to tell Travers so he can whip her from a distance."

"Already done and he bowled over laughing until I pointed out he was probably next on her hit list for pissing off Rupert."  That got a small smirk.  "Yeah, it stopped that laughter fast.  Can someone let me know one way or another by tomorrow or the next day?"  Everyone nodded.  "Thank you. I brought pizza too.  Mostly cheese, a few with veggies, and one supreme."  He bowed and left, heading back to his apartment.  He found Don in there with a beer.  "You okay?"

"Hell no.  Any progress?"

"Nope. I wish, but nope."  He grabbed his own beer and came back out to sit beside him.  "They're seeing if anyone knows anyone who can help.  I called Tara and she said she might be able to get out here late Wednesday but she's got to be back for class at eight on Tuesday morning."  Don nodded at that and looked over as he opened the beer.  "Yes, I'm regressing to my childhood trauma for the moment.  Sometimes you need a drink to relax and think with."

"Nothing wrong with it as long as you don't make it a habit," Don assured him.  "I've been shitting-myself drunk more than a few times and it's still not a habit for me, kid."  He shrugged and went back to his staring at the tv.  "Tomorrow?"

"Or the next day for the chaos people.  Someone might ask for a fairly steep price but I'm not sure if any of us can pay it or not."  Don nodded at that.  "Probably not a monetary one, Don."

"I didn't figure it would be.  Things are never as easy as a ransom demand.  Any idea why she did it?"

"Yeah, when I called Tara with her airline reservations, she said Willow did it because focusing on how she died would ruin the memory of her good works.  That it was sullying her memory.  I asked if she preferred the killer to go free, and she said no, so I pointed out that she died that way and that we've all got things we don't want found out after our deaths.  I really hope no one reads my last words typed if they're something like 'she cried as he broke her maidenhead' or something."  Don snickered at that.  "Yeah but that's what happens after you die.  Speaking of, I hate this new book."

"So write something else and come back to it."

"I can't.  I'm under contract for this one.  It's taking forever because of the historical issues I'm having and how unfamiliar I am with the history and time period."

"So work on something on the side.  I don't see why you don't write those pink and purple covered ones."  He took another drink of his beer.

"I have two of those written but my publisher hates them.  They're both in the five-to-six hundred page range and if you cut anything out, it skews the story horribly.  Plus he said he hates them on general principle beyond that.  I've got about six books on my laptop that he won't accept.  One's really good in my opinion but he said it's not."  He shrugged.  "Fickle tastes and all that.  My heroine saves the hero and he hates that I switched it and made her have a sense of humor."  He took another, longer drink.  "Plus I've got a pretty funny horror story on there too."

"Can I read those? I can't read the romance stuff but you seem like a decent enough writer by what my sisters gush when I mention you."

"Sure.  Laptop's in the bedroom."  He shrugged.  "I don't care.  You'll be the only one."  He finished his beer and tossed the can out, then got comfortable. "Hockey?"

"Of course.  This is New York, Xander," he said patiently, getting up to find his laptop and look those over.  "Why don't you write about a ghost hunter or something?" he called as he searched.  "Where in here?"

"Foot of the bed."  He smirked that way.  "My publisher said I'd be in for a lawsuit from the people who hold the rights to Scooby Doo."  Don snorted and came out with the laptop, plugging it in.  "Thanks, it could use the recharge.  I was playing solitaire most of the night."

"I figured you were since your game came up when I opened it."  He sat down to read, liking this one much better than the romance he hadn't gotten past page three on.  The fact that he made it that far before his innate manliness screamed in terror at the fluff impressed him.  Usually he shuddered at the very sight of his sister's collection of romance novels.  "I like this one better."

"Me too but he won't take it," Xander noted bitterly.  "He wants more like the comic shop one too but I don't know where I'd set it."

"Here in New York.  Make it a bookstore or something."

Xander leaned over and hugged him around the neck.  "I love you."

"Me too, now get off before your femme side infects me and I start signing show tunes or something."  Xander giggled and let him go, getting up to see who was leaning on the buzzer.  Don went back to reading.  He could really like this one more.  He might even buy this one if the first ten pages' promise was carried through the rest of the book.  "You need to work on your tense shifts," he called.

"I need to see an english major," he called back.  "But she'd get pissed," he offered with a grin when he let Aiden in.
"I said I'd edit for you, Xander."  She kissed him and came in.  "What's going on?  I called earlier and I got your 'oh, shit, I'm working on something for my other job' voicemail message."  She flopped down beside Flack and looked at what he was reading, then grinned at him. "I like that one and the others, and it had nothing to do with the backrub I got at the same time."  He grinned at her. "Yeah, he spoils badly."  She patted him on the arm.  "So what's going on?" she asked as Xander came back with a soda for her.

"Mac's presently a girl," Don told her with a small smirk, not looking away from the screen.  She spluttered and he had to wipe the spit and soda off his knee.  "You're paying the dry cleaning, Burns."

"Love you too," she gasped, letting Xander help her calm down by kissing her.  "He's what?"

"He is, Willow did it," Xander said, sitting down next to her to cuddle.  "Can I hate this present book?"

"Yeah, I do.  It's not up to your usual standard, Xander."  She stroked through his hair.  "Why would Willow do that?  I know she's an evil bitch and shit, but still."

"We caught Bilanda's murder and she died during kinky sex," Don said, looking at her this time.  "Xander said she's upset that that'll cloud over her memory and good works."

"I liked the woman as much as the next woman, but you can't hold kinky sex against someone unless they're the president or a priest."  Don grinned at that and went back to reading.  She looked at Xander.  "Are you okay?"  He nodded. "You sure?"

"She didn't get me this time yet."

"She'd better not or I'm gonna fly out there and kick her little ass this time," she assured him.

"Ya know, if she hears you, Xander might have to figure out what to do with a male lover," Don noted dryly.  "She seems like the sort."

"Uh-uh.  I'd miss my tits.  They get me out of traffic tickets," she said sarcastically, making Xander giggle.

"She's not joking," Don told him. "I've seen her do it."  Xander looked at his girlfriend, who smirked and nodded a bit.  "From the silence I guess you'd be flying solo, Aiden.  At least until they came back."

"Don, there's stuff you don't know," Xander said quietly.  "Neither does she."  He got up and went into the kitchen, going to fix them something to eat.  "Pizza bites or real food?" he called.

They shared a look, then back at the kitchen.  "Was it good?" Don called.

"Real food?  Yeah."

"Consensual?" Aiden called.  Something broke.  "That's all the answer I need, it'd never happen, Xander."

"Good."  He came to the doorway.  "Can we drop this?"  They both nodded and she got up to help him clean up his mess while Don went back to reading.  Aiden gave him a long cuddle and he pushed everything back, just enjoying her.  "Did you hear anything about the job?" he asked quietly.

"I did.  I've got an interview in a few days."  She smiled at him. "Can I borrow the gold card?"  He shook his head.  "No?" she asked with a pout.

"Sorry, I just about maxed it getting Tara out here."

"Damn. I'll figure some other way out there."  She kissed him and then went back to the living room.

He rolled his eyes and got back to the business of cleaning up and then cooking.  He was hungry and he knew better than to deal with magic on an empty stomach.  It made him sick.


Stella finally got Mac into her car and calmed down.  It had taken her over two hours to sneak him out of the labs through the basement since he wanted to make sure no one saw him this way, and Lindsey had been hanging around to see if he was all right.  She looked at him.  "We've got to do some shopping for you, Mac."  He groaned and let out a small whimper.  "So, do you want practical stuff or stuff you'd buy a girl?" she asked with the hint of a smirk.  This would be one man who knew and understood how to treat a woman if she had her way.  When Mac finally dated again, his future woman would be spoiled and gently tended, plus given the good presents, not the uncomfortable ones.

"What's the difference?  Claire never minded when I bought her clothes."  He moved the arm over his head just enough to look at her.  "You don't like it when guys buy you stuff?"

"Hell I don't mind, but it's never comfortable to wear.  So, practical or stuff you'd buy as a gift?"

"Practical.  It's not like I'm coming out of the house until this is cleared up."

"You know, with the way gossip goes, within a few days you'll probably be able to work like this.  Not saying any of us would tell or anything but I'm not so sure someone wouldn't make a connection to Sheldon sitting down to read books on breast growth."

"Tell me he isn't."

"Oh, yeah, he is."  He let out a smaller whimper.  "So, practical?"

"Practical is good."  She nodded and took him to the store she liked, parking and getting out, then leading her new shopping buddy inside.  "She's just gotten in, long flight, and they lost her luggage," she said.  The saleswoman cooed and helped them find everything they needed in the right sizes very quickly.  Mac quickly vetoed any dresses but the other stuff went okay.  She made him try it all on too, letting him come out in an outfit he liked, which was a big, bulky sweater and a pair of loose jeans.  "Good.  Let's head home."  Mac nodded and paid for it, taking the bags.

"I don't know why she wants to hide her body, she's got a fantastic one," the saleswoman told Stella.

"She's still kinda shy," she offered with a grin.  "I'll work on that with her."  That got a smile and a wink.  She walked out, going to let Mac back into the car and take him home.  "Now, doesn't your back feel better?"

"Yes, but the bra itches and it pinches."

"Sit up straighter."  He shifted up some and nodded that it helped.  "Now, what're you doing tonight?"

"Making sure I've got enough groceries for the next three weeks and ordering in if I don't.  Calling the Chief and telling him I'm taking an emergency leave of absence thanks to a threat I received about this case.  There's been two others, I can cite them.  I'll watch over Danny's shoulder from the house to make sure we solve it."  She nodded at that.  "I hope I have enough leave time built up."

"You should.  You haven't taken any since your grief leave, Mac."

He nodded, that was true.  He looked at the pizza place they were passing by.  "I'll have to order from somewhere other than the usual spots."

"Just say you're your own cousin and you're in for a visit or something."  She swatted him.  "You don't have to be that complicated. Your voice doesn't sound that different over the phone."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes, and two of the places you like have internet ordering."

"Thank you."  She parked in front of his building and helped him inside, smiling at the neighbor who came out.  Mac had a split house that he shared with an elderly neighbor.  "This is Mac's cousin.  She's housesitting while he's out of town on a case."  The older woman cooed and patted him on the cheek with a murmured promise of cookies.  Stella smiled and got Mac inside with his new things.  "Okay, need anything right now?"

"No.  I'll try the pizza thing tonight."  His neighbor knocked and he smiled at her as he answered it.  "Yes, ma'am?" he asked, going with the cover story.

"Oh, dear, call me Eliza."

"Eliza.  Originally enough, they named me after my cousin since he was so cute, only male.  So you can call me Mac, everyone else in the family does."

"So you're close?"  He nodded, smiling a bit.  They were very close.  "Good.  Then you should poke your cousin into starting to move on, Mac, he's such a darling boy to leave alone for too long.  I had hopes that the young woman who brought you here....."

"He works with Stella and he doesn't want to risk the awkwardness at work," he offered quietly.  She nodded, smiling like she understood that.  "After all, he does trust her to have his back on the streets and when he's having a bad day."

"And then some," Stella agreed.  "Eliza, Mac said he left her one of his debit cards."

"He didn't hand it to me, dear."

"Then I'll search again," Stella agreed happily, setting up that part of the cover story.

"How long is your cousin going to be gone for?"

"About three weeks, probably just under a month," he offered.  "But I'm almost as good as he is for anything you'd need, like stubborn jar lids."  She beamed at that and got him one.  It was harder, but he did get it open for her. "There you go," he said with a smile, licking the pickle juice off his fingers.  "Anything you need, you just come right over."

"What do you do for a living, dear?"

"Oh, I'm studying at the moment.  I'm working on some data about women and criminal activity, on both sides of the issue."

"Oooh, I do wish Mac would go back to school for a bit.  You can meet some very nice young women while you learn new things.  Come over for tea tomorrow, dear, and I'll pop those cookies over to you later.  Chocolate chip is all right or would you like raisin like he usually does?"

"Either's fine, Eliza. Whichever you want to make."  She beamed and nodded, then patted his cheek again before hurrying back into her apartment.   He closed the door and leaned against it, looking at Stella.

Who just smiled at him.  "You're young and pretty, Mac.  She's going to fuss about you a lot.  I know she does Mac like her son, but with you, it's a different version of fussing."

He walked over and collapsed on the couch, looking at her.  "Three weeks like this," he moaned quietly.  "Stella, these clothes itch."

"Wash 'em."  She shrugged and patted him on the shoulder.  "I'm going home.  I've got a date tonight.  Call if you run into anything too bad."  She smiled and walked out, winking at the neighbor.  "She's used to being a girly girl and had to change for the assignment."

"She's definitely got the body for it," she agreed.  "I hate how she's covering it up with all that bulky cloth.  If I still had a body like that, I'd show it off better.  Like you do, dear."

"Yeah, but I had to bust a few heads open to get any respect because I'm pretty.  She doesn't have time for that."

"Ooooh, that poor thing," Eliza cooed.  "Of course I understand.  My son was an officer and he never said a nice word about any females he worked with.  It's like they take that out of them at the academy."  She smiled.  "Do you have a date tonight?  And can you open my new jelly jar?"

"Of course."  Stella opened it easily and handed it back with a smile.  "I do have a date tonight with a very nice doctor.  A podiatrist so I'm not sure how it's going to go.  He might try to grope my feet instead of anything else."  Eliza tittered at that and gave her a light swat on the arm.  "Call me if you hear her crying or anything, okay?  She's the sort to hide in there when she's not working."

"Of course I will, Stella.  She seems very nice but it's got to be traumatic changing yourself so totally."  She headed back into her kitchen to get back to work on the cookies.  The poor thing needed them. She really would.

Stella headed home smiling.  It was so cute!  Mac blushed at the sight of a bra and helping him into his first one had made her want to giggle so badly, but she couldn't hurt the poor guy.  So she laughed all the way home.


Mac opened his door.  "Oh, please be good news," he told Xander, letting him inside.

"A bit, but not much."  He nodded at the other guy in there, then looked at Mac, who nodded.  "Okay.  Willow was using the hellmouth, that's about as strong as every witch on this coast, plus ten.  We can narrow it down some but you'd still be a girl."

"Narrow it down some?" the other officer asked.

"He'd have a flatter chest basically."  He looked at Mac, then shrugged. "We're going to have to wait for Ethan, Mac.  He's the only one who can unravel the hellmouth energies so a few normal ones can undo it permanently.  We can warp what's already there, but not that much.  If she hadn't been using it, we could have countered it."  That got a sigh and Mac sat down hard, holding his head.  "Did you know your neighbor knew magic?"

"No."  He looked at him.  "She does?"

"She's got some decent protections on her door."  He shrugged.  Then he looked at the other officer.  "Figuring out if he can work this way or not?  If so, I do have to warn him to practice his self-defense and shooting.  It's a different version of balance and he's not as strong or agile in the same ways."

"You've been here?" the Chief asked.  Xander nodded.  "How long ago?"

"Few years.  Same person had PMS and wanted a chocolate eating buddy.  I spent eleven days that way before she relented and she was my best friend at the time.  Getting her to undo it is doubtful at best."  Someone knocked and he felt the power.  "Mac?"  That got a nod.  He opened it and smiled at the woman standing there. "You're Georgette's mother," he said happily, kissing her on the cheek.  "I'm Xander."

"Oh, dear."  She walked in and looked at Mac.  "Is this a Georgette matter?"

"It's more a Rosenburg issue," he offered.

"Ah!  Then you're the one she said was changed," she said, looking at Mac, who gave her such a helpless look.  "Well, so far you've done okay, dear."  She sat down next to him and gave him a hug.  "You don't have to lie about those things, Mac.  I don't always understand but my daughter did call and complain a lot about Rosenburg messing in unnatural things again to change someone's gender."  He nodded and rested against her shoulder.  "Shh, it'll be all right and I'll help you be a girl."

"Three weeks," he said, looking at her.  "Then Ethan is back from Cuba and he can help fix this."

"Rayne?  Well, I suppose he could if the price was right."

Xander smirked.  "He gets to hold it over Ripper's head, Eliza.  A lot."  She 'oooohed' at that.  He smirked brighter and nodded.  "Yeah.  That and he might get a new apprentice out of it, which means he'll get to torture Willow for a few years."

"Good!  That girl needs it!  This isn't the first time she's done it!"

"I know, she did it to me the last time," he noted dryly.

"You poor thing.  How long?"

"Eleven days."

She nodded.  "At least you got returned.  Why did she change him?"

"I asked her girlfriend Tara, she said it was because of the case he was working on."

"Oh, charming.  She's dating a young woman?"

"She's dating a very nice young woman who I'll defend to my death," he assured her.  She just nodded at that.  "Tara's very sweet and kind."

"Yes, but she probably got sucked in by that heathen brat," she said firmly.  "Are you taking her away from the little brat?"

"I'm trying to get her to move to a safer school closer to here.  She's sticking there for now.  They need her as magical support on the hellmouth."  He shrugged. "I'm trying."

"Good."  She stroked over Mac's hair again.  "Dear, you should take advantage of this.  You can learn quite a lot to help you at work, Mac.  It'll help you deal with female victims and with female bad guys easier."  He gave her a hurt look.  "I know, you want to hide, but you can't.  You're a pretty young thing and you can't hide, Mac."

"Yes I can."

"No you can't," she said firmly.  She stood up.  "Put on something pretty, we're going grocery shopping.  You'll see, it'll come in useful in your line of work."  He whimpered.  She swatted him.  "Now, Mac."  He got up with a groan and she looked at the Chief.  "Chief, darling, is he going to be off work or not?"

"I'll arrange for some emergency unpaid leave," he assured her.  "I'll cite the death threats he's recently gotten.  I'll let the others know he's working from home for the duration of the threat."

"Thank you, dear."  She smiled at Xander, who was beaming.  "You like that idea?"

"No one knows it's him, he'll be safer from them if they're serious."  He shrugged.  "Just be careful if he wants to try it out and date," he said quietly.  She nodded, understanding that.  "And have him do his katas or whatever he does.  I can't stress that point enough. I got caught out during it because I didn't."  He bowed.  "Tell him I'm heading to my publisher to bitch, whine, and complain about the book he tricked me into."

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

"Oh, I'm Lavelle Harris in my spare time."  She beamed at him.  He smirked and nodded. "He talked me into doing one set in Feudal Japan and it's killing me."  He waved.  "Have him call me if he needs to talk or anything.  Even the chaos people can't unwarp the hellmouth's energies this time. A few did a scrying to see if they could and couldn't."  He shrugged.  "Ethan's in Cuba."  She smiled at that.  "So three weeks and we'll be pounding on the wall of redheaded stubbornness out there."  He nodded politely at the Chief.  "I'm off to be tortured."  He walked out, heading down to his car and then to his publisher's.

"Mac, dear, hurry up."

"I can't get into this thing," he complained.

She rolled her eyes and went up to help him. You'd figure a nice heterosexual man would know how to get into of a bra, but apparently not.

The Chief sat down to wait and think.  He wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry for the guy, but both seemed appropriate really.


Xander looked at his editor.  "I can't write this thing.  It's going to tank my image."

"It will not," he reassured patiently.

"It will.  Even Aiden says it's crap.  I don't know what I'm doing and it's much too intricate to fit a woman in that society and make it believable."

"No one would know if it wasn't."

"I would!"

"Fine."  He took a calming breath. "You're still under contract, Xander."

"And I can't write it. You talked me into this one and it's not a good thing.  I'm only on chapter three.  I'm stuck and it sucks badly. Even if I switch and move it to modern times it's still not the greatest.  I can't imagine that lifestyle and I'm sucking now because I can't put myself in my character's place to make it better."

"And you'd do what instead?"


"Writing is your full time job," he said firmly.

"Only recently.  I'm not going to go back to construction or anything that hard, but I could work in a bookstore at the moment.  But I was talking about setting one there."

He rolled his eyes. "It'll end up like one of those massive porn with a plot stories you have on your computer."

"Which everyone else seemed to like.  Even the hardass detective I know who accidentally read the first chapter liked it and he said he couldn't get past the third page on my other ones."

"I hate those things."

"And that's great, but it's still some of my better work," Xander complained.  He stood up. "I can't do the one you want, Tom.  I just can't.  It's going to suck and no one will ever buy my books again.  I'll lose all the headway I've built up by putting out something that crappy.  I'll gladly hand it and my notes to someone else.  I'm sorry, but I can't do that one.  We can break the contract however but I can't write it and I'm sorry."

"Have you accepted another cursed check?" he demanded.

"No," he snorted.  "My paycheck from the Watchers pays most of my rent."

"Oh."  He scowled at his author.  "I like you, Xander, but you're becoming a primadonna."

"And you know what, there's other editors who'd probably like me more," he shot back, glaring back now.  "You're the one who talked me into the pink elephant."

"I thought it was a white elephant," he joked, trying to ease up on the glare coming his way.

"Pink ones are even more rare and mythological. Therefore people stare more when they appear."  The glare didn't ease up.  "You're going to ruin my rep if you force me to continue to write this.  Neither of us want that."

"No, we don't, but we do still have the contract."

"Yay!  It's got clauses so we can break it if it's taking me too long, Tom.  Which it's gonna.  'Cause I'm stuck in chapter three and it's already sucking badly."  He ran a hand through his hair.  "Plus, I've got some of my best works still sitting on my harddrive and you won't even think about looking at them.  I don't consider that very fair, Tom."

"Xander, I only deal with the soft-core smut romances."

"And how hard is it to pass them on!" he demanded.

"Not very," he admitted.  "But you can't repeat them.  You said yourself that mystery novel took you nearly a year to write."

"Yeah, mostly because I put out three for you that year."

Tom groaned and opened his drawer.  "Xander," he said, pulling out a small vial.  "You're mine.  You write what I want you to write.  That's why I have your blood."

"Then use it," he challenged.  "Because I'm quitting, Tom.  I'll go find a nice agent who'll shop my stuff wherever it needs to go.  Unlike you, maybe he'll appreciate me more."  He turned and walked out, slamming the door.  "I love you, Stephanie, but your boss is an asshole and I'm never coming back," he called as he stomped out.

"Boss, if he storms out, he's never coming back," she called.  "He's serious."

"I'll taint his blood and he'll get really ill," he called.

She opened the office door, staring at him.  "You do that and you'll lose the other authors, boss.  You know that.  You just lost us one of our best ones because he's being forced outside of his comfort zone of writing and you're being a hardass about the other stuff."

"Fine, tell him I'll look at the other crap and ship it somewhere."

"Boss, how about I start my own company and do it?" she suggested.  "He makes us a lot of profits."  She closed the door and called Xander, hearing him near crying.  "Shh, calm down, Xander.  It'll be okay.  Just send me the stuff on that one story today, let me see if I can find the issue you're having.  Maybe we can make Tom see sense.  If not, I'll miss you a lot, baby.  Just calm down for now and go see Aiden."  She hung up, then glared at her boss's office. "I'm going to lunch!"

"It's not time yet."

"It's either this or I'm going to poison you for hurting him!"  She gathered her things and went to lunch.  A nice, long one so she could calm down.

In his office, the editor was moaning and taking something for his headache.  He had known Harris would be a hard one to work with but this was ridiculous.


Xander opened the door later when Don knocked, still pouting. "I quit."

"Being a Watcher?" he asked as he came inside.

"No, my editor's a bastard."  He looked at the hall, then the security monitor, hitting the button to let Aiden in.  "What game is on tonight?"

"Aiden said you needed cheering up."

"Yeah.  I suck."  He headed into the bedroom to change out of his flannel pajama pants and put on real clothes.  He came out to find Aiden cleaning up the empty ice cream pints. "Sorry, that was lunch."

"Hey, I totally get it," she promised, giving him a hug.  "What happened?"

"I quit over that stupid ass Japanese novel that I can't write. He got pushy.  Said I couldn't write the other stuff.  Called the longer ones porn."  She sighed and stroked his cheek, making him hug her and put his head on her shoulder. "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  You've only got me for another two hours and then I've got to catch a midnight flight out for that job interview."  He nodded, giving her a squeeze.  "Think this was your former friend?" she asked quietly.

"No.  I've got other stuff done since I started this one."  He looked at her. "I need a literary agent."

"You do," she agreed, stroking his cheek.  "You should start looking at those tomorrow, baby."  He nodded and sat down with her on his lap.  "We need to get you some real food before the sugar you ate earlier rots your liver or somethin'."

"I'm fine."

"You're not fine, you're still pouting," Don told him.  "Any luck on Mac's thing?"  Xander shook his head and buried his face in Aiden's neck.  "No one strong enough?"

"She used the hellmouth, the whole coast can't defeat that," Xander said grimly.  "So I'm waiting to see if Tara can help more since she's so attuned to Willow's magic."

"Okay.  At least it's a start."  He sat down next to the cute couple.  "It'll be okay.  He'll want you back."

"If he's being cranky, he's got a vial of Xander's blood and can poison him with it," Aiden told him.  Xander nodded again and gave her a squeeze.  "Don't wrinkle me too much.  I've still got to fly out tonight."  He looked at her. "I know but I don't know if I'll be met at the airport in the morning or not."  She stroked through his hair and looked at her buddy.  "Where's Danny?"


"Wow.  About time he had another one."  Don smirked at that.  "Why are you free tonight?"

"No plans.  I had thought I'd be working late tonight but then they called that stupid fire drill and I got sent home afterward since I came in swearing."  He looked at Xander.  "Have you gotten another one of those cursed checks and could it have spread?"

"I've only gotten the two and Ethan watched me unravel the curse on the second one, Don.  Besides, it would've hit me long before now."  His phone rang and he answered it.  "What?"  He listened to the reasonable sounding voice on the other side.  "It's not my fault, Travers.  No, bad day.  My editor and I got into it about the last book and I quit."  He sighed.  "Because he's forcing me to write crap that sucks and I can't write.  Stuff I have no idea about.  Yeah, I've been asked that a few times today.  Why?"  He listened and huffed.  "No, I saw Dimitri but he didn't ask for his apartment back.  I figure if he's back he's staying with his master.  He hasn't shown up here at all."  He listened then nodded.  "Then he can come tell me that himself, Travers.  Yes, I'm sure he can.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "Even better, Dimitri's back in town and he thinks he'll want his apartment back."

"Could she have cursed you from afar?" Aiden asked.

"I thought I was protected against that but one never knows about Willow and Rupert," he said grimly.  "Then again I have weeks like this and they usually work out okay.  His phone rang and he answered it again.  "Harris."  He listened.  "Dimitri, did you want the place back?  You never said so when we had that drink."  He smirked.  "Thanks, man.  No, I quit earlier.  No, my editor.  Not Travers yet.  He hasn't pissed me off that way yet.  Sure.  No, I'm here with Don and Aiden, but she's gotta fly out soon.  Thanks."  He hung up.  "He doesn't want it back but he needs some of the books he left.  They're probably down in the storage area if you want to help us find them, Don."

"I'm not busy tonight," he reminded him.  "What else did he leave?"

"Some statues. A wooden box."  He shrugged.  "I didn't do an inventory, just helped him move them down there.  I'm still not sure who cursed me this time."

"We'll figure it out, Xander," Aiden assured him, stroking through his hair again.  He looked at her, giving her the most trusting and loving look.  She smiled and kissed him on the forehead. "I should probably go.  Give me a kiss for luck?"

"You sure it won't rub off?"

"I'm sure.  Even if the plane crashes it won't be your fault."  He pulled her closer and just held her.  "Shh, it won't happen.  I love you and we'll celebrate my new job before I have to leave."  He nodded, kissing her a few times.  "Good boy.  Now entertain Don to take your mind off the asshole editor that I wanna burn to a crisp."  She smiled and he kissed her again, making her wet and wanton.  "Damn, I hate leaving."  She got up and adjusted herself, watching Don be amused.  "What?"

"Nothing," he said with a smirk.  "You already look like you're post closet sex."

"Gee, thanks."  She smiled at her boy.  "You behave until I get back, Xander."  He nodded and she left, grabbing the bag she had left at the door.  On the way out she let Dimitri in.  "He's on the couch sulking."

"He said he quit," he agreed patiently, heading up there.  He tapped on his former door and heard a trudging, getting the boy himself.  "You look like hell."

"I feel like hell. She's off for a job interview across the country and I had to quit to get some fair treatment."  He let him inside and closed the door.  "What books?"

"They're down in storage," he assured him.

"Oh, good."  He grabbed the keys to the cage door and his shoes, then hauled Don up.  "Come on, you can look at the naked women statues."  Don smirked but followed shaking his head.

"I'm surprised you didn't decorate with them, Harris," the former Watcher noted dryly.

"Aiden would've complained if she caught him fondling one," Don assured him with a smirk.

"She seemed feisty.  If I ever make a childe I'd want someone with her brains and mouth."

"Just don't make it her," Xander said firmly, glaring at him.  "I don't need to hunt down my girl."

"Of course not.  Rupert would kill my ass.  He said Spike wants that honor."  He heard the growl and moved away from the boy.  "I doubt he could with the chip."

"There's ways around the chip," Xander said bitterly.  "Should he try, I'm going to torture his skinny blond ass, right before I do an amateur sex change operation the hard way with  pruning shears."  Don snickered at that.  "Not joking," he said flatly, letting them off the elevator.  "Spike's already high on my shit list for his taunting.  Should he touch my new friends, he'd get it in the most major way I could."  He opened the first cage door, it had the majority of the books.  Then he tossed the keyring at Don.  "All the statues and stuff are in the other room."

Don went over to open it and look at that area while Xander and Dimitri looked for the list of books he needed. "This one's moving," he called.

"Shit!" the vampire yelped, coming over to look.  "Oh, hell.  No wonder.  We didn't keep the book with it.  It's up under the refrigerator.  It's got to be within ten feet of the statue."  Xander hurried up and brought back down three books.  One was put into the statue's arms and it quit moving.  The other two went into his pile to take with him. "That might've been the source of the misfortune, Harris.  We'll have to see."  He got back to his search, coming up with a few more.  He found a mostly empty box and put those in there, taking them to his car and coming back for a few more things he had left.  He stopped to pick up one last book, running his hand over it.  "My chronicle, Xander."  He handed it to him.  "Travers wants it."

"I'll mail it to him tomorrow," he promised. That got a nod and the vampire headed back up the elevator.  Xander locked everything up again and looked at his buddy.  "Would you help me torture the blond menace if she is turned?"

"I'd say yes but then I'd be one of the sickos I've got to arrest and I'd hate that.  If you do, I don't wanna have ta hear about it or know about it.  Got it?"  Xander nodded, giving him a slight grin.  "Thank you."  They got the elevator back up to his apartment.  "Think he's right and that's the cause?"

"Probably.  He had a lot of chaos related stuff in here before he moved."  He shrugged.  "If he doesn't want that I'm tempted to gift it to Ethan.  I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it."  He looked around. "Pizza or Chinese or what?"

"Deli?  Real food?" he countered.  "You could use some, Xander."  He grinned his totally shit-eating grin.  "C'mon, we should take you out tonight and get you fed and watered.  Danny's date won't last too much longer. I took her for an uptight bitch.  She'll probably wanna be in bed by ten, alone."  Xander snorted and shook his head. "Yeah, I know, I've got low standards at the moment.  It's the curse of being my age and cute.  Now, change into something more respectable and we'll head out."

"Sure, but I'm not drinking, Don."

"Up to you, Xan."  He watched as the guy went to change into better clothes, looking around the apartment again.  To him it did feel happier in there.  So maybe there was something to the statue having done it.


Lindsey tapped on Mac's door later that night, holding out the folder in her hands.  "Mac?"

"I'm his cousin.  He's back at home in Chicago for a few days to have a short vacation."

"Mac doesn't take vacations," she said.

"He doesn't, that's why he got sick," he told her, holding a hand out.  "Can I send that on for you?"

"No, I'll wait until he gets back.  Thanks anyway.  Do you have a number he can be reached at?"  She shook her head.  "Who're you again?"

"His cousin.  I came in to apartment sit since I needed to do some research this way."

"Oh.  He never talks about his family."

"Mac's a very private guy, dear.  He wouldn't just spill everything to everyone."  He felt really odd talking about himself but maybe she'd get the point.  "If he calls, I'll tell him you came by with a folder.  Maybe he'll call or email."

"Sure.  Thank you.  When is he coming back?"

"A few weeks.  Doctor ordered it."  She nodded and left, trudging off.  Eliza opened her door and he shrugged, grimacing a bit.  He probably needed to know what was in that folder.  He'd write Stella and have her get it from her instead. Or maybe Danny.  He hadn't talked to Danny in a few days.  He smiled at his neighbor once the bottom door was shut.  "You okay?"

"I'm fine, dear, how are you?"

"I'm all right.  Just resting for now.  I'm still pretty freaked out.  Claire would've thrown a fit about this."  He gave her a sad smile.  "Rosenburg would've died for doing this to her man."

She nodded.  "Yes, she probably would've killed her and you did share enough of your job to help her hide the body fairly well. I've got a pot roast cooking if you'd like some later."

"Sure, Eliza.  Thank you."  He smiled and closed the door, going back to his sulking, emailing both Stella and Danny.  One of them could talk to her tomorrow.


Danny came out of the restaurant and helped his date into her cab, smiling and waving.  He walked off, looking pleased.  He had a second date and she had been fairly nice.  He called Don's phone. "It's me, where are you?  No, second date.  I'm not some slut who sleeps around on the first, Don.  Where are you?"  He listened then smirked.  "I'm not that far away.  Wait on me."  He caught the subway heading to where Don was.  It wasn't that far and it was a pretty night for the last block he had to walk.  He walked in and took off his jacket, nodding at the bartender.  "Beer?"  He put down a five and got change and his beer, taking it to where Don was working on Xander's pool playing abilities.  "He's arching his back."  Xander looked at him.  "How was your day?"

"I had a major fight with my editor and quit," he said before taking the shot and sinking it.  He straightened up and looked at the table, then at Don, handing him the stick. "I still suck at this."

"Well, yeah," he admitted.  "Danny's right, you're arching your back."  He took his next one to show him then handed back the stick.  "Like that, Xan."  He looked at Danny.  "Aiden's off for her interview.  Left tonight.  Anything good going on?"  He noticed the door opening and who was coming in.  "That's Monroe."

"Fuck," Danny muttered and Xander wasn't far behind him.  "You too?"

"Yup.  Sorry.  I'm dating Aiden.  I'm a loyal guy."

"Point," Flack agreed, smirking at Lindsey as she came over. "What's up?"

"When did Mac leave town?"

Danny looked at her. "Huh?"

"I ran into his cousin and she told me he went out of town for a few weeks, his doctor ordered him to take a vacation."

"Oh, yeah," Danny agreed, nodding.  "Since he's got to be safe and away from work thanks to the bomb threats Stella mentioned earlier, his doc said it was a good time."  He took another drink and glanced at Don before watching Xander.  "Arching your back throws off your shot."

"Sorry, I'm used to only stretching across Aiden this way, Danny," he shot back before taking the shot, then handing him the cue and taking his drink to sit down and watch.  "You two play.  This is not my skill."

"Sure," Danny agreed happily, grinning at him.

Lindsey looked at him.  "I saw you the other day, you showed up when Mac collapsed at work.  Why?"

"I had something that can bring him around faster and easier."  He shrugged.  He grinned. "I'm Xander.  I'm dating Aiden."

"Oh."  She nodded once and left it there, looking at Don.  "What're you doing later?  I've got the Bilanda homicide bloodwork back, that's why I was at Mac's, but he's not there so I can't give them to him."

"I'll get 'em in the morning, Monroe.  Even if it pointed at a killer we couldn't do much tonight.  Especially since this is my second beer."  He finished it and nodded at the waitress, who brought him another one.  "Thanks."  He paid and got Xander another soda.  "There, yours."  He smirked at him.  "Quit sulking."

"I could've tanked my writing career; of course I'm sulking," he complained.

"Yeah, but it had ta be done, Xander.  The stuff on your computer is better than half the stuff that's been published.  More interesting too."  They shared a look.  "It'll be okay. You'll find a good agent and they'll let you work with a wonderful editor who'll appreciate you."  Xander nodded and finished his first soda, putting the glass down out of the way before picking up his second one.  "You sure you don't want something harder?"

"No thanks.  I have two drunk parents, I vowed to never become like them."  He took a drink.  "Oh, I hadn't shared that," he said smugly, looking at Don.  "Can I have them arrested for sending me a letter demanding money?"

"Not unless they're blackmailing you."

"No, more threatening.  I've got it at home in the safe."  Don nodded that he'd look at it later.  "Thanks.  I really just wanted to tell Willow, let her destroy him since my mother said she'd leak a story that said I raped her, which I didn't. Then I thought that Willow's bitchy attitude recently might make her go with them out of spite since I escaped."

"She's not that sort," Danny said firmly, glancing at him.  "Repulsive and bitchy, but not that bad yet."

"I can't be sure of that."

"I can.  Tara wouldn't put up with her," Danny reminded him firmly.

"Point."  He sighed and relaxed.  "This just sucks."  He heard his phone ring and grabbed his jacket to find it, finally getting it.  "Harris."  He listened, then gaped.  "Excuse me?  From?"  He listened and sighed.  "No, that's okay.  Was my laptop ruined?  Can I come get it?  Thank you."  He hung up and looked at Don.  "Someone tried to set the building on fire, Don.  Have I tried to date recently or something?"  He grabbed his jacket to put on, standing up and swinging it around to put his arms in the right spots.  "I'm heading.  Have a better night."

"We can go," Danny offered.  "We'd probably be called anyway."

"No, it's fine.  Thanks."   He gave him a manly hug then gave one to Don, and gave Lindsey a short wave.  "I'll see you guys soon.  I'll let you know if I end up at a hotel tonight."  He headed out, catching a cab back.  He had to get out a half-block away and walk in, frowning at the firefighter in his way. "I live on the third floor, I sublet from Dimitri Parit."


"Harris.  Xander Harris."  That got a nod and the guy checked his list, letting him inside to wait with the other tenants.  "What happened?" he demanded when he found the super.  "I was out drowning my misery in a game of pool," he said at the dirty looks. "Why?"

"Fire started in the sub-basement level, Harris," the super noted dryly.

"Dimitri was in earlier to get a few of his books.  That level?"  He shook his head.  "I had Detective Flack with me when I went down there to help him find the stuff. He wanted to see the statues."

"That's fine.  Did you hear anyone on that half-level?"  Xander shook his head. "You sure?"

"Pretty.  I wasn't listening.  I heard some scratching but I thought it was my furry guest this morning that disappeared before I could turn it into a crispy critter."  He looked at the building.  "Will we be able to go back into tonight?"

"We're not sure yet.  It only got two apartments on the bottom floor," the super admitted, turning to look. "The owner isn't going to be happy."

"Should I call Dimitri?"

"No, it's all right.  We've had a few problems with those apartments in the past," he offered.

"Ghosts?"  The super and another tenant looked at him.  "I took over Dimitri's job."  That got a nod and everyone moved away from him.  "So, problems?" he asked the super.

"More stupid people than anything else. That and the whole building has had a run of bad luck for the last week.  The girl up on five fell down because the elevator was about a foot too low.  She broke something on the day she was supposed to do a major presentation for her job."

"Yeah, I had a fight with my editor and quit because he didn't value me," Xander offered. "My girlfriend's out of town on a job interview that could take her across the country on me."

"Okay, yours is nearly as bad," he decided. "If you can find a reason, I'd like for it to stop."

"Me too," he agreed dryly, looking at the guy in the uniform coming his way.  "Those of us on upper floors, can we get in tonight?"

"We're not sure yet.  Which do you live on, sir?"

"Three.  I'm Harris."

"He writes girly novels," another guy sneered.  "He needs his laptop."

Xander looked at him.  "I can still kick your ass, Paul.  We both know this."  He looked at the amused firefighters again.  "I do need my laptop, just to make sure it's all right."

"The heat ended on the second floor, sir, and it is possible but it might not be until tomorrow."   He looked around then back at him. "You're the guy with the swords?"  Xander nodded.  "Okay.  I was wondering about that."

"Hobby," Xander explained.  That got a smirk.  "It is.  What're the chances of it happening before two in the morning?"


"Then I'll hit a hotel tonight if I can get my laptop and forward my phone."  Someone came over and whispered in the chief's ear, then looked at him.  "What?"

"Some girl called crying and said she was sorry?"

Xander pulled out his cell and called Tara's.  "It's me.  Was it you crying, Willow crying, Buffy crying, or was it Aiden crying?"  He listened to her tell her story.  "Okay.  Call the airport, see if you can get it changed.  No, the building had a small fire in two lower apartments.  Tell me when I need to pick you up and stay with Joyce tonight, Tara.  She'll drive you if you need driven.  Just head out here.  I've got you.  You'll be safe."  He hung up and looked at them.  "I desperately need into my apartment within an hour.  My car keys are up there.  Her girlfriend just tried to kill her."

The Chief looked back then at him.  "You know anything about fires?"

"I know about explosives," he offered dryly.  "I worked construction.  I know a bit about fires.  If I have to, I can take the fire escape."

"Let's do that.  She okay?"

"No.  Willow's a bitch and a half.  She sent a death threat to someone locally for liking me as a human being," he complained as he walked.  "I'll be grabbing my keys, my emergency stash of money and credit cards, plus my laptop and a small bag of stuff I keep packed.  Is that all right?"

"As long as you make it fast.  Do you have anything that could explode?"

Xander considered it.  "A few bottles in the fridge.  Yeah, I do have two guns and bullets," he admitted.  "Dimitri owned 'em and I'm holding them with the other stuff. They're in the back bedroom.  I can make sure they're safe and hand you the lockbox for now if you want."

"I wouldn't mind, Mr. Harris."  He glanced at him. "Are you the same as Lavelle Harris?"

"Yup, 'tis me.  And I had a major fight with my editor and quit earlier so I'm now looking for a new one," he finished bitterly.  He looked at the fire escape then backed up a few feet and took a running jump at it, grabbing the last rung.  He shifted his grip some then pulled himself up and onto it.  "Give me ten, sir."  He headed up and into his window, gathering everything he'd need.  He kept an emergency hunting kit packed and he still had stuff in his car for that too.  He found his stash of money and CD's, including his backup discs, and the two things he hadn't shown to anyone, packing them in a handy backpack.  The clothes he'd need for the next few days went into a small duffel and he found the guns, checking them to make sure they were unloaded before handing them over.  He got three things out of the kitchen, including his bottle of holy water, and headed back down.  The guns were handed over carefully and the others handed down afterward, then he flipped off the end of the fire escape and landed on one knee, one foot, and one hand.  He stood up and took the two bags back, then smiled and patted his keys.

"I'll be downtown in a few hours if you need me."  He handed over one of his business cards.  "That's my cell and I forwarded the other number."  That got a nod.  "Thank you.  Tara's precious to me."  He walked off, heading to his car, which was behind the tape.  "Guys, can I move my car?" he asked.  That got some nods so he got in and headed off, going to find a hotel for the night.  He found a decent looking one with a few burger places nearby and checked in, smiling at the girl behind the desk.  "Hi, I need a room for two, non-sleeping together, people.  I have a friend coming in later in the morning to get away from her girlfriend.  It might be a few days."

"All right," she agreed, typing that in.  "I've got a small suite but it's a hundred-thirty a night, sir."  He winced. "I have some double rooms."

"We can handle that. I'd never sleep with Tara."  He pulled out one of his emergency cards and let her run it, taking it back with a smile.  "Go okay? I don't use that one often."

"It's fine, sir."  She handed over the set of keys.  "Two you said?"  He nodded.  "Okay, I've got you in for two days and if you need more, just let us know."

"Thanks. There was a fire in the lower levels of my building," he admitted dryly, shrugging a bit.  "Have a nice night, ma'am."  He grabbed his bags and headed up, going to put his stuff down and call Tara back to make sure she was still all right.  Willow answered.  "She's coming out to help me, Willow.  Put her on."  She sneered and hung up.  So he set out the magical stuff he had brought with him and loaded one of the CDs into his laptop, watching it run.  He found the spell he wanted and chanted it, bringing Tara to him.  He had to stand up and catch her so she wouldn't land half on the bed and the rest on the floor, but that was okay. She was thinner than he remembered. "Jesus, Tara," he moaned.  He sat her in the protection circle with him and got to work stripping off the spells he could.  She woke up during it and he tipped her head to make her look at him. "It's me."  She nodded and closed her eyes, helping him where she could.  He got the last one stripped off and she went limp.  "Tara, baby, are you all right?" he asked in her ear.  She shook her head.  "Magic draining or beaten?"

"Hurt," she admitted.  She shifted and looked at him.  "Xander."

"Shh, I've got you and she's not getting you back, Tara.  I refuse."  He stroked over her hair.  "I know where Danny is.  Want him to give you a hug since Aiden's out of town?"  She shivered and he called his phone over, calling Danny's phone.  "Danny, me. I just had to pull a rescue to get Tara into town.  No, but can you bring her something to eat?  She's lost about thirty pounds or more.  Thanks."  He hung up and went back to cuddling her.  "Shh, I'm here.  You can cry on me, Tara."  She let out a sob, going limp against his shoulder.  "I've got you, baby."  He called Rupert. "Giles, Xander.  I've got Tara.  She's safe now.  Really?  Then why was she bespelled so heavily she didn't have free will and she's bruised?"  He hung up and went back to cuddling her.  "He'll cover for you at school, Tara.  I've got you and you're safe.  She won't be getting you again."  She nodded and held on tighter.  At least until someone tapped on the door.  Then she squealed and got away, backing away toward the window.  That's all he needed to know.  He got up and checked the peephole, then let the guys in.  "Hey."  He checked the halls and closed the door, locking it.

Danny looked at her. "Tara," he called gently.  She stayed there.  "Baby, it's Danny."  He walked over and pulled her into his arms, just holding her for now. "Shh, you're safe.  We'll kill the bitch if she comes near you."

"What happened?" Don asked.

"One of the firefighters heard her calling me saying she was sorry and crying.  I called and got Willow a while ago.  So I pulled her here magically.  Tara, I didn't leave part of you there, right?"  She shook her head, wiping off her cheeks.  "You sure?"  She nodded.  "Good, then eat.  You need to eat."  He looked at Don again.  "Once I got her here, I undid the spells taking her free will and other things away.  Rosenburg's dead if I get my hands on her now."  He sat down on the other bed, dialing Hilary's number. "Yes, I know what time it is, Hilary, I'm here with Tara.  No, she can't.  Because I just had to unspell her."

"Xander," she said quietly.

He looked at her.  "Tomorrow or the next day, Tara.  Let yourself recover from the emergency trip."  She nodded, sitting down to eat with Danny curled around her protectively.  He listened to Hilary.  "No, I want the bitch dead, Hilary.  Yeah, I told Rupert I had her and she was suddenly safe.   She said she doesn't want anyone to know.  Thanks."  He hung up.  "She'll get word back to the mother hen in LA, who'll go talk to Rupert, Tara.  Not even he can stick up for this."  She nodded.  He came over to squat in front of her, tipping her face up.  "No specifics.  All they know is that Willow spelled you.  Nothing further.  I didn't say a thing about the bruises or what sort of spells, dear.  Only that you were spelled."

"You told Rupert you took a will-removal spell off," she said quietly.

"Yeah, and he won't say a word," he said bitterly.

"He will."

"He won't.  Willow's his student, baby.  He won't.  He'll keep that one hidden and protect you.  He still loves you but he'll be beating her ass as Ripper later."  He stroked gently over the bruise. "I brought my tylenol if you want some."  She nodded so he got her some and handed them over. "There you go.  Anything else?"  She shook her head.  "Then relax for now, Tara.  You're very safe."

"What about the guy she turned?" she asked.

"We can deal with him tomorrow or the next day. You come first in my book.  He might argue but I don't care."  She smiled weakly at that and ate another bite.  "Eat more. You need to eat more. You're way too damn skinny."  She nodded and dug in.

"Tara, do you want to press charges?" Don asked quietly.  She shook her head, giving him a frantic look.  "You won't have to mention anything.  We can get a restraining order and everything."

"Won't work magically," Danny noted.

"Oh, there are magical ones," Xander assured him. "There's also having her shot."

"I can't hear that," Don said quickly, holding up a hand.  "You know that, Xander."

"Travers' words last month," he noted impatiently.  "I told you about that.  He wanted her for harming Buffy by trying to spell her tireless for a few days for finals."

"I don't blame him, she was scary," Tara offered quietly, eating another bite.  Danny patted her on the back.  "I'm okay."

"I'm sure you are, but it's the sorta guys we are ta protect you," he said patiently.  "You're like my sister, Tara.  If I see the bitch, she's getting one up the ass at the very least."  She ducked her head and blushed.  "No, I don't mean that way," he noted dryly, smirking a bit at the darker blush. "I meant a shoe, dear.  I have low standards but not that low."

"She was nice."

"And now she's got a magic addiction and all junkies are gonna do whatever they have to do to make their lives fit their addictions and that schedule," Xander told her.  She nodded and ducked her head again. "I'm sorry as hell you had to see her that way, Tara.  Maybe with some luck Rupert can save her," he sighed.  "If not, you know you've got an open invitation to my couch and any local college we can get you into.  I don't want you in pain or hurt, or worse."  She nodded, glancing at him.  "Really, it'd kill me to have to bury you or Joyce, baby."  She nodded and went back to eating.  "Just think about it if he can't cure her.  There's a lot of really good colleges here. Plus you can help me find a new editor."  She nodded and finished the dinner Danny had carried in.  "Anything else is up to you.  Including if you wanted to curl up next to me tonight.  You know I won't care and I cuddle."  She nodded.  "I packed some clothes.  Go steal some."  She nodded and searched, finding a pair of shorts and large t-shirt, going to change into it in the bathroom.  He looked at Don.  "I want to kill her," he mouthed. "So bad."  Don nodded that he agreed. "And it's not my place unless she asks."

"It's not," he agreed.  "Can you do the magical restraining order?"

"Yeah, oh, yeah.  Hilary can if I can't.  There's also healing spells for her cheek if we have to."  Tara came out and he held up an arm, letting her come over to curl up beside him.  "Whatever you want, Tara.  I won't get pushy and I won't do anything else without your permission, but I would like Hilary to do a healing on that bruise so we can make sure it won't hurt you more and no one will say anything."  She nodded, resting her head on his chest.  "Thank you for the dinner, guys."

"Not an issue," Danny assured him, standing up and making Tara look at him.  "I don't care what I'm doin' tomorrow. You need me, you call.  Hear me?"  She nodded, giving him a weak smile.  "Good.  'Cause if I see her, she's getting a foot up the ass at the very least.  You don't do things like that to your girl, especially not to nice girls like you."  He stroked over her hair for a minute, giving her a grin.  "And then we'll let Xander take you shoppin' and make you pretty for a dinner tomorrow night, 'kay?"  She nodded again, giving him another hesitant smile.  "It'll be okay.  I will kick her ass if she comes near you again."

"You and me both," Don assured her. "If I could, I'd warn Aiden and have her stop by on her way back."

Tara's eyes went wide.  "No, don't," she said weakly.

"Okay, I won't.  She'll throw a fit at her from a distance when she gets home and sees ya."

"I'm okay."

"Tara, honey, you're scared of us," Danny told her simply. "She'll know.  We've done the same job she did for a long time."  She sighed and nodded.  "Even if the bruise is gone, if you're not yourself, she'll know."

"And if you try ta act normal, she'll know even more," Don added for good measure.  "She'll never yell at you and if she tries, I get ta smack her around.  Got it?"  She nodded, giving him a brighter smile.  "Then rest and heal.  Call us tomorrow so we can come get you for dinner."  He smiled at her.  "Get better, okay?  I'll get my sisters to give me a list of places to get you stuff and pass it onto Xander."  She nodded and grinned.  "Good girl.  You rest and eat breakfast too.  You're too skinny.  Girls and boys don't like too skinny.  Makes us wanna feed you twinkies and other gross stuff."  She giggled at that and he grinned, walking out with Danny.

Xander locked the door and came back to cuddle with her.  "Danny and I will kick her ass together if she comes near you," he promised.  "Did you make it to Joyce's?"  She shook her head.  "Wanna call her?"

"It's really late."

"It's a four hour time difference and it's only midnight here, Tara.  Go ahead and use my cell to call her."  She nodded and got up to get it, coming back to curl up next to him.  He cuddled her tightly and stroked her hair.

"Joyce?" she asked quietly. "No, Buffy, your mom.  No, um, I'm with Xander."  She heard the question.  "No."

Xander took the phone.  "Yes, there's a reason she's suddenly here, Buffy, but she needs to talk to your mother.  Please."  He handed back the phone with a short grin.

She listened then kissed him on the forehead.  "Buffy sends that and she's getting her mom."  She listened to the happy voice.  "Joyce?  Can I ask you to call the college for me?"  She swallowed.  "I can't be around Willow, Joyce."  She got asked the question she dreaded and went limp, handing him the phone.  "You...."

Xander let her bury her face under his neck.  "Joyce, me," he said grimly.  "No, she's safe.  Yes, I picked that word on purpose.  Bruised and magiced.  She'll be coming out here if I can help her with that.  There's tons of really good colleges in the area," he said quietly.  "Well, she refused to press charges when Don asked."  He grinned at her, stroking her back with his free hand. "I'm cuddling her now, Joyce.  I fixed the magic stuff.  She'll be okay and we'll put that weight back on her that she lost.  Please.  It might be a few days before I can get back into my place.  No, a small fire in two of the first floor apartments or so.  Yeah, down there.  No, my stuff wasn't touched.  It's not like we had sprinklers, Joyce."

He smiled. "Thanks. Tara, go eject that CD please?  Before it possesses my laptop?"  She got up to do that for him, putting it back into the case very gingerly.  "Thank you, love."  He listened.  "Yeah, she'll be fine.  No, not too bad.  Plus she's got some support out here.  Me and the guys, plus Aiden when she comes back and Stella.  Maybe even the new girl.  Not really.  I don't like her because she took Aiden's spot and she's hitting on Mac."  He smirked at Tara when she grimaced.  "He's the one Willow turned into a girl."

"Poor man."  She came back and cuddled next to him, taking the phone back. "I'm okay, Joyce, but I can't stay with her anymore. Xander thinks she's using dark magic.  He had to clean a few spells off me.  Yeah, I think he's sure of it."  Xander nodded. "They were dark spells?"

"In intent if nothing else.  A few were blood magic as well."  She nodded.  "You're safe, that's all that matters to me, Tara."  She nodded and curled up in a way that he could hold her.  "You're safe with me."

"I'm okay, Joyce.  Thank you and I'll miss you.  You should move too before you get eaten.  Love you and don't tell Rupert?"  She smiled. "Thanks."  She hung up.  "Thank you."

"Not an issue.  You can even have the cat."  She smiled at that.  He wasn't being sweet, he'd hate to see what she'd do to a harmless animal.  "Hopefully we can move home within a few days."   His cell rang and he looked at the number, then answered it.  "Hey, Aiden.  How was the flight?"  He listened and smiled at her slight grin.  "No, I'm here with the Tara buddy.  There was a small fire on the first floor so we're at a hotel tonight.  Aiden, think about it.  Tara?  She likes girls."  He grinned at her pout.  "I know.  She'll be fine.  Yeah, I'm sure she'll be fine.  We both will and we'll start working on his issue later tomorrow, after I take her to see Hilary. Sure."  He handed the phone to her. "My girl."

"Hi, Aiden," she said quietly.  She stiffened.  "No, I'm okay.  Who told you?"  Aiden laid out her theory and she sighed.  "Yeah, he pulled a magical rescue.  I'm okay though.  No, I'm fine, Aiden.  No, I don't want you to beat her up for me. If she tries for me, Xander will.  Yeah, he's got armor and stuff, plus swords."  She smiled at the suggestion a gun worked better.  "I know but that's a bit too much at this moment. No, I'm fine.  Come home when you're done.  I'll keep him busy and stuff.  Love you too.  See you soon."  She hung up.  "She's checking into a Hyatt too."

"They're nice places.  This one is near a bunch of fast food places for tomorrow."  She smirked at that.  "Not like I can cook in here, Tara."  She giggled and nodded.  "You can always get a salad," he teased, poking her on the stomach.  She flinched and he moved the shirt, seeing a new bruise.  "Should I have Hilary come over tonight?"  She shook her head. "You sure?  I'm pretty sure she would."

"I'll be fine.  That was from patrol."

"Okay, if you say so."  He pulled her closer and put his phone onto the table between the beds, just holding her since she needed it so much.  He could put Willow into a story and kill her over and over tomorrow.


Xander walked Tara up to Mac's door and tapped quietly.  He was sure the neighbor was still asleep since it was ungodfully early by his standards.  Of course, Mac worked days so he'd be up by nine in the morning.  He opened the door and gaped a moment, then let them in.  "Already?" he asked hopefully.

"That's what she's trying to see, Mac," Xander said, taking off his jacket and taking Tara's to put with his over the back of a chair.  "Go ahead and sit, let her work on you for a few minutes."  He nodded and sat down, closing his eyes and getting comfortable.

"I won't hurt you," Tara promised quietly, closing her own eyes and resting a hand on his forehead.  She concentrated, feeling the magic around him.  "She left a few weak spots," she said, pulling back and giving him a gentle smile.  "It's not much but it can be used to unravel the powers around you, sir."

"Mac, please."  He looked her over, then at Xander.  "You never mentioned Tara was coming out."

"She was going to help do the prep work so Ethan would only have a few minutes of work.  Things got in the way of that."

"How far can we unravel it, Tara?" he asked, leaning forward to look at her.  She sat down daintily and crossed her legs like a proper woman did.  "I can't master that for the life of me."

She smiled.  "I wouldn't expect you to be a delicate young lady.  More like Stella, all brass and loudness."  He grinned at that.  "Are you okay so far?"  He nodded.  "Then we can start to unravel it.  I can show Xander how to unravel hellmouth energies.  It should come in handy around New York as well."  He took her hand to hold, giving her a smile.  "If I'm right, we can mostly turn you back tonight and let there be a bit of work left in a few days."

"So I'd be both or neither?"

"Neither until it was fully fixed," she said gently.  "I wish I could do more but I'm not stronger than she is."

"And she's a bit tired so we're going to be resting once we pick up what we need, but only if you agree," Xander told him.  He nodded quickly.  "You're sure?  This could backfire and you could be stuck there."

"Anything's better than breasts," he told him.  "I'm sure you understand."  Xander grimaced and nodded.  "How did you handle this for eleven days?"

Tara looked at him.  "You did?"  He nodded.  "When?"

"Junior year," he said quietly.  "Long before we met you, Tara."  He kissed the back of her hand.  "Again, you could get stuck that way forever and ever, or at least until she comes to her senses or is killed."

"If she's killed, the loophole closes.  She linked it back to her link to the hellmouth," Tara said quietly.  "Which is why we've got to call Rupert immediately and have him stop working on her before that seals and it's harder."   Mac nodded and handed her the phone, making her smile.  She dialed the Magic Box.  "Giles?  No, I'm fine," she said quietly.  "You can't work on Willow yet.  We're undoing her last spell.  No, she turned a male into a very pretty woman," she said gently.  "Again.  Xander said she got him once too."  She nodded and glanced at Xander, who grimaced.  "Junior year.  Of course.  No, the loophole is her link to the hellmouth.  I'll work on it tonight with a local coven and Xander.  Thank you."  She hung up on him asking what had happened.  "Thank you, Mac.  I'll be back tonight, after dark."  He nodded eagerly.  "Try to rest.  This'll hurt some."

"Changing did too.  I can take some pain to get rid of the breasts."

"Okay."  She stood up and Xander got their coats.  "We'll see you after dinner."  She took hers and smiled then left with Xander behind her.

"Don't eat after about four and take a shower before we get here, it'll be easier," Xander ordered.  That got a nod.  "Natural soap might help but I can't be sure if any additional chemicals in or on you will matter."  He closed the door behind himself and followed her down to the car, running into Lindsey.  "Problems?"

"Wondering why you came to see Mac's cousin."

"She needed some of the stuff I've researched for a few stories."  He got Tara into the car.  "Later, dear."  He walked around and got in to drive, heading back to the magic shop locally for her to pick up what she needed and then to the hotel room for a nap.  They'd both need the nap.

Lindsey walked up to Mac's door and tapped gently.  "Has there been any word from Mac?" she asked politely.

"Not yet.  It's still early, he might be sleeping in."

"Oh, okay.  Well, tell him I've pretty well figured out who killed her, okay?"

"Sure.  You might tell Stella, she's got his email address there memorized."  That got a smile and a nod and the young woman left him alone again.  He closed the door and headed to the kitchen to fix a snack.  "At least Stella will write and we can see what's going on."  He had no idea Lindsey was still outside the door or that she was eavesdropping.


Stella looked up as Lindsey drug Danny into Mac's office and closed the door, then locked it.  "What's going on?"

"That's what I want to know.  Why are you telling Mac's cousin about the cases?"

Stella blinked.  "Excuse me?"

"I went to see if she had any news about him...."

"Whoa," Danny said, holding up a hand.  "You went to his place to bug her?  He's with his family and if he's in trouble, he'll write.  This is Mac, he doesn't get into trouble quietly, Lindsey. There's a reason it's called a vacation.  That means he probably doesn't wanna hear from any of us until he's ready to."

"He always wants to know what's going on in our cases."

"Yes, but I'm doing that job while he's gone," Stella told her.  "Now, if you have progress, I'll gladly take it, Lindsey.  I email him daily with reports about what's going on."

"Fine."  She handed over the file she had been carrying.  "I think it was an assault and that person did it without her consent.  No real woman would ever put herself into that position."

Danny gave Stella a 'do you want this one' look.  She shook her head and stood up.  "Lindsey, not everyone has sex like you do," she said calmly. "Quite a few people, including women, enjoy the sexual relationships that come with handcuffs, chains, and the occasional paddle or whip.  And yes, sometimes drugs are included in that.  You're putting your bias onto the case.  Just because you don't practice it, doesn't make it any less than consensual.  Considering her apartment and her lover both said that she's had this sort of relationship many times in the past with a few different Dommes, yeah, it was consensual."

"Dommes as in female Dominants," Danny filled in.  She looked horrified.  "So, yeah, she was used ta the life. Liked it a lot and it helped her clear her mind of the icky things that men do to women while trying to hold them back in the kitchen.  You can only give up power when you have power, Lindsey.  She was all about gaining women power and sometimes when you've got it, you want Calgon to take it all away for a few hours.  That's what that sorta thing is about," he said patiently.

"How would you know?" she demanded.

"I know a few guys who're into it after hard cases.  Not in this precinct but a few.  It lets them be the one who's not in control for a few hours. The one who's not responsible for everything in the world or for catching all the bad guys.  Like I said, after bad cases.  She was probably the same way according to the reports from her lover."  She glared at them both.  "This is *your* bias and Mac would throw a fit on you for biasing your case that way."

"He's right.  We don't speak for the evidence, we let the evidence speak once we find it," Stella agreed.  She looked at the toxicology report and nodded.  "Some alcohol, a mild sedative," she said, passing it to Danny.  She had no experience in that life.

He looked and shrugged. "I'd guess it'd be normal.  You'd have to ask someone who knew more than a casual acquaintance through an old girlfriend."  He handed it back and looked at Lindsey again.  "There's men and women in both positions in that life, Lindsey," he said quietly.  "Some women enjoy the top, some don't.  The same as you get in regular sex and a preference for position."  She unlocked the door and stomped off.  He rolled his eyes.  "You get ta tell him."

"Of course.  Is Tara in yet?  I know she's supposed to be in sometime today."

"Yeah, she got rescued last night from her girl."  He grimaced.  "Not a happy camper at the moment."

"She all right?" she asked with a scowl.

"Fine.  A bit too thin.  A few bruises.  Xander helped her."

"Good!  I'm sure he can protect her but if I see that little bitch, I'm helping him kick her ass.  You don't do that to a girl like Tara!  Not to any woman, but especially not one like her!"

"Yeah, get in line behind me and him," he noted dryly.  She smirked at him.  "I like Tara, she's like a little sister.  She's transferring out too so you'll get to be a good big sister for her."  He grinned.  "Do we know the current Domme?"

"No and we're having trouble tracking them down.  All we need to know is why she passed out, that's going to determine if it was accidental or not.  But I can't get anyone to talk to us."

"Let me try later," he promised.  She sighed and smiled.  "Or this afternoon if the unholy terror of a bitch that I've got for a boss lets me."

"Go for it.  Oh, shit, she headed for Flack," she said, noticing that Lindsey was screaming at him.  "Go.  Save him."  He nodded, heading that way.

"Hold on," Flack said, holding up a hand and looking disgusted.  "I'm doing who?"

"I saw your boyfriend with some blonde little bimbo," she said bitterly.

"What boyfriend?"

"The dark haired guy who shows up to help with research and stuff.  The writer guy!"

"Okay, first, I'm not dating Xander.  I like Xander, he's a neat guy, but I'm still straight and so is he."  She opened her mouth.  "Second," he overran her before she could go on, "Tara's like a sister to him and Danny.  They're not dating or doing anything.  She's transferring out here to get out of a dangerous town and she's helping him with some research stuff for a story.   Thirdly, how *dare* you accuse me of sleeping with him!" he yelled.  She backed off.

Danny smirked at him.  "I thought you were straight. You bag way too many cute girls not to be, unless you're doing their hair and clothes."

"I'm going to kick your ass," Flack warned.  Danny just smirked brighter.  "Get her away from me before I arrest her on something."

"Of course.  I'm going out this afternoon to talk to someone in a club I know. You wanna come?"

"Please. Anything to get out of here."  He walked off, going to rant and scream in the basement for a few minutes until he calmed down.

"That was stupid, truly stupid," Danny assured her dryly.  "Really and truly stupid."  He walked off, going back to Stella's office, just leaning in since Sheldon was in there.  "She just accused Flack of poaching Aiden's turf and Xander of going behind his back with Tara.  Flack's *pissed*."

"I'd have hit her," Stella assured him.  "Go calm him down."

"With Don's luck, she'll try ta say I'm dating him."  That got a whimper and a muttered 'wrong, so wrong' and a head shake from Sheldon.  "Exactly.  So you sure you want me ta do that, boss?"

"Go, calm down Flack.  Before he explodes and screams at her in the middle of the labs again."  He nodded, going to track down the volatile detective.  She moaned and wrote Mac an email about this incident so he'd know what to expect later, then sent one to Xander as well, just in case.

"How did she get that idea?"

"They go to Xander's to watch tv at his place and hang with Aiden," she told him, shaking her head.

"Is Aiden okay?"

"Out of town on an interview.  Or else we'd see her flying out to Sunnydale to hurt Miss Rosenburg."

"I didn't know she liked Mac that way."

"Oh, no, her girlfriend is here.  Xander had to help rescue her."

"Oh, dear," he said, nodding a bit.  "She all right?"  She nodded.  "Good.  So I take it she's the Tara in question?"  She smirked and nodded.  "The delicate, shy one Danny introduced me to that time at lunch?"  She nodded again, grinning now.  "She's not even....  Oh, God.  No."  He walked off shaking his head.  "I'll come back when I can think."

"Sure.  Have fun in the morgue."

"Thank you."  He headed down there, hearing Flack still screaming at the walls.  Then it suddenly stopped and he almost went to check to make sure he wasn't dying, but Danny would call him if it was something like that.  So he left it alone for now.


Xander opened his hotel room door, finding Don on the other side, looking quite upset.  "What happened?" he asked, letting him inside.  "Watch out for the power cord."

"Monroe accused me of sleeping with you," he said hotly, glaring at him.  "And then you of going behind my back to cheat on me with Tara."

Xander burst out giggling, falling down on his bed and waking Tara up as he rolled around.

"Not funny, Harris."

"Yes it is," he gasped.  "It so is."

Tara looked at him.  "You can tell her I like nice girls.  I'd steal Aiden but he might mind."

He smiled at her.  "I doubt you'd put up with her mouth for long, sweetie."  He leaned down to drop a kiss on her head.  "You go back to your nap.  I need Xander to help me solve this."

"We're working on that problem tonight," he said, smirking at him. "But I can definitely go on a higher profile date tomorrow night if it'll help."

"Please!  Anyone, just anyone!"

"Sure. Aiden's coming back tomorrow afternoon."

"Thank you, God!" he shouted, looking up, then at him, smiling again.  "You sure she won't mind?"

"She'd kick the bitch's ass for even suggesting you were gay, Don.  You know that."

"Point.  She is fierce in proving I'm firmly heterosexual."

"I never got the point of boys," Tara said. "They're icky and they've got boy parts.  Plus you guys all smell a lot."

Don smirked at her. "I'd offer to break that myth, but it'd make her think we were together in a threesome or something and you're too nice of a girl to be put into that rumor."  She blushed and nodded, covering her head up.  He looked at Xander.  "Tell her first so she knows that we're going out.  She might be too tired."

"She's already got the job and we were going out to dinner anyway," he promised with a small grin.  He glanced at Tara, then at him. "I have no idea what I'm doing when she's moving to the Tempe, but I'll figure that out later."  Don nodded and smirked at him.  "Maybe I'll try to date Stella instead so I don't miss the mouthiness."

"I'll tell her you said that."  He grinned at the Tara lump.  "You behave and finish your nap, Tara.  I'm heading out to lunch.  Need anything?"

"I had a salad," she promised.

"Salads aren't food unless you're a rabbit."

She pulled the blanket down. "I like being a bunny."

He grinned. "If you're sure."  She nodded. "Okay.  Call me later to make sure it went okay."  They both nodded.  "Good."  He walked out, carefully stepping over the laptop's power cord.  He didn't need to be bruised today and have to explain it.  By the time he got back, the rumors were all over the station.  He finally stood up on his desk and looked around.  "You guys realize you're talking about me and Aiden Burn's guy, right?" he announced.  "Xander's hers."

"Then who was the blonde?" another one of the detectives asked.

"Tara.  His buddy from back home.  She's in town looking to transfer schools."  He got down and looked at all the disappointed face. "Plus, Tara likes nice, sweet things."  Some money changed hands and he smirked at them.  "Never bet against me being straight. I like women too much ta ever give up the soft things."  He sat down and got back to work, shaking his head at the complaining going on.   He almost wished Aiden had been here so she could've cackled about all the money she made from those stupid people who thought he liked more than breasts.  She would've stuck up for him and probably would've hit Monroe for him without him having to ask.  Stella came up to his desk with a file.  "Xander said she's got the job in Arizona."  She sighed and nodded. "He said he's not sure what he'll do without her smart mouth around and said he might give you a try."

"With the way she walked in a few times?  Might not be such a bad thing," she admitted dryly, handing him the folder. "Danny found out who and she claims it was an accident.  She passed out after the Big O."

"Ah, I hear that's fun."  He read the report and then looked at her.  "Do we believe her?"

"Yeah, she was whimpering like a little bitch in the interrogation room when Danny walked her in.  Though she did say she might redecorate her dungeon to look like that room since it was so much scarier than hers was at home."   He smirked at that.  "So we're clear, it was an accidental if we don't find anything conflicting.  Sheldon talked to her lover, who said she was on the sleeping pills and took them daily, which would account for the amount in her system, and the alcohol could've been from her or from an event earlier in the night."

"Good enough for me if it is for you guys."  She nodded.  "Then finish it up and bring it to me, dear.  Oh, they're going out tomorrow night."

"Good.  She deserves it."  She smiled and walked off, going back to the office.  "Danny!"  He came out of the lab.  "Xander said she got the job in Arizona."

"I'll miss Aiden," he complained, frowning a bit.  "Not as much as the kid will, but still."

She smirked.  "Don said he said he'll miss her mouth and might try me instead."

"That's a scary thought," Danny assured her smugly, heading back to work.  He just couldn't imagine those two together.  If he made Aiden so calm and serene she couldn't snap or snarl at anyone, too content to push out a witty remark, then what would happen to Stella?


Tara finished what she could do on Mac's problem and sighed, looking at him.  "Not as much as I had hoped," she offered quietly.

Mac looked down at himself.  He still had breasts, but they were tiny and he could probably hide them if he needed to.  "I can work like this," he assured her, smiling a bit.  "Ethan can still fix the rest?"  She nodded, giving him a shy smile.  He pulled her closer to hug her. "Thank you for what you did, Tara.  I appreciate it."

"You're welcome. It was wrong of her to do that to you, Mac."  She stroked his cheek.  "Just two more weeks and two days."

"Yeah."  He grinned at her.  "You think Stella could help me hide the rest?"

"Yeah, ones that size can be strapped down," Xander assured him from where he had been anchoring her spell.  He stood up and stretched, then helped Mac and Tara to their feet.  "Well, you're not any shorter at least.  Let's hope a good loose shirt can cover the rest of that.  You'll still need some support but hopefully Stella can show you how to do that."  He smiled at Tara.  "Good job."

"Thank you."  She smiled at Mac.  "I'll email Ethan tonight to tell him what I've done so far.  That way he can build on it and be ready when he gets back."  She stroked his cheek again.  "You be careful.  Remember, you're not as strong or as fast."  He nodded and she gathered her things, cleaning up the mess they had made.

"I've got that, Tara, go ahead and sleep, dear," he offered.  She smiled and nodded, letting Xander escort her out.  He jumped up and down a few times in joy, then had to stop and hold his chest.  "Still too big for that.  Good to know."  He called Stella.  "I'm partially fixed."  He smiled at her 'good'.  "I could still use a little bit of help.  I'm not quite fully flat again."  He smiled. "Thanks, Stella.  I'll order food."  He hung up and got to work cleaning up the mess, after making careful notes about what she had done.  There had to be a scientific explanation for how magic worked. Nothing in physics or in laboratory science covered what she had done.  Even in the theoretical stuff.


Xander led Tara into the restaurant the next night, kissing Aiden on the cheek.  He handed her to Don, then grinned at his girlfriend.  "She's starved."

"I'm fine with that.  They're not dating but I'm good with them being here.  Not like I won't get you alone later, Xander."  She smiled at Tara and patted her on the hand.  "Has he been dragging you to all the good colleges?"

"Not yet.  I checked the lists out online and I'm making a list of what I want to see."  She smiled at her, then at Don.  "We can get our own table."

"Shut up, Tara," Aiden said with a smirk.  "You're not getting out of my sight for the next two weeks."  Tara blushed at that.  "Seriously.  That's all the time I've got."

"I can stay at a hotel," she offered.

"Honey, I don't care if you hear me and him.  It's all good to me and if I need to be that noisy, he can come help me pack."

"Why doesn't she stay at your house until you start packing?" Don suggested.

"Because I'm not counting on Willow not doing the reverse," Xander told him dryly.  "If she's around me I can counter it.  If she's halfway across the borough, it'll be harder."  Tara nodded at that.  "So we'll head to Aiden's house for sex if we have to be that noisy.  If not, well, there's always pillows."  Tara blushed at that and so did Don, looking embarrassed.  "Oh, I talked with an agent today, and he said Tom's put around that I'm a primadonna and that I'm fussy and hard to work with."

"Wonderful.  Can I kick his ass too?" Aiden asked.

"Go for it.  I'm still waiting to get tragically ill.  If so, I left you, Don, and Danny in charge of the remaining stories on my harddrive and you can do whatever you want with them."  She smiled at that.  "Tara's the beneficiary on my life insurance plan."  She shook her head.  He nodded.  "Yeah, not like I'm gonna leave it to Willow."  She frowned.  "Tough.  Suck it up.  I'm not changing it."  He looked at Don.  "You and Tara get to clean out my piles of crap and donate it wherever.  But look at the CD's I've got of stuff.  Some of it is stuff no one's ever seen."  Tara's eyes went wide so he looked behind him, nodding at Dimitri.  "Hey.  Dinner?"

"Actually, yes."  He patted him on the back.  "Go see Sergei Jankowitz.  He's a nice agent."

"Thank you."  He smiled at him.  "We've mostly fixed the minor problem earlier."

"Good.  I'm sure he was miserable."  He clapped him on the back again.  "You behave, Xander, and keep my books."

"I am.  Did you want me to give Ethan the statues?"

"If you want.  I don't care.  We're going on a trip around the world and I'm making a mostly clean break from my old life."  He smirked and walked off, heading for a back room.

"Cool," Xander said happily.  "Maybe Ethan can find the rest of that stupid curse."

"What's he charging you anyway?" Don asked.

Xander stared into his eyes.  "Don't ask.  Really."  He looked at Aiden again, smiling sweetly at her.  "So, two weeks?"

"Two weeks, then I've got to drive my stuff out there.  I start officially in a month."  He pouted.  "Don't do that."  He pouted worse so she kissed him. "Please?  Be happy for me?"

"Can't I kick his ass?"

"No, Xander.  He was right to fire me," she said gently.  "I let the desire to stop someone get in the way of the evidence and it almost made me do a bad thing.  It was right of him to fire me.  My new boss knows how that is and I'm working in a really small lab that handles maybe a tenth of the cases a year."  He nodded, slumping a bit.  "Be happy for me?"

"I'm happy for you but it sucks.  I can't get cuddles from Arizona."

She stroked over his hand.  "I know.  But you'll find someone new here.  Don'll help you."

"What makes you think I know someone who'll take your place?" he asked, sounding amused.

"You've dated a lot of girls and you can make sure his next one is just as nice," she said firmly.  "Or else I'm gonna have ta come back and beat her and you."

"Yes, Aiden," he sighed, looking at Tara.  "He threatened to date Stella because he'd miss Aiden's mouth."

"I heard that."

Aiden tipped her head, looking like she was considering it.  "She'd be good ta him," she decided, looking at Xander.  "If you want, baby."  He shivered and shook his head.  She stroked his cheek.  "We'll figure that out.  Don'll make sure they're going to be good to you."  She smiled at the waiter.  "Are we ready to order?"

"Not yet. I haven't even looked at the menu," Xander told her.  "I can move to Arizona and write from there," he said suddenly.

"Xander," Aiden sighed.  "If you do that, you'll never find a new agent.  You'll have to keep coming back here."  She slapped him gently on the cheek.  "You need to be in New York for a bit."  He slumped again and nodded, looking at his menu.  "I know, it sucks.  I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," he admitted quietly.  He heard a high-pitched giggle and looked around, noticing Tara doing the same thing.  "Anya?" he asked quietly.  She shrugged then shook her head.  "Fuck," he muttered, going back to the menu.  Just what he needed, psycho ex-girlfriend syndrome.

Aiden looked around, spotting the person staring at their table.  She glared at her and the girl flinched.  She stroked Xander's hand again, getting a smile from him.  The other woman pouted and turned around.  She looked at him.  "You broke up officially with Anya, right?"

He nodded.  "Yeah, when I got sent here.  I told her I might not be coming back and I wanted her to move on with her life.  That it wasn't fair to her with me so far away.  I wouldn't let her cheat and if she did, I'd have to break up with her for it.  This way she was free to find some guy and have happies all she wanted since I wasn't doing it for her well enough.  She walked off pouting after one for the road and told Giles that I had broken up with her."  He noticed where she was looking and glared at his ex.  She flinched and faded from view, then he went back to his menu.  "It's not like she can get me for dumping someone or being untrue to my woman."

"No, you've been very good to me, Xander."  Aiden smiled at him.  "It's gonna be hard finding a guy to follow you.  You're a hard guy to follow.  He's got to be great in bed, have really good hands for massages, and test spoiling stuff on me for books."

"He does?" Don teased.  "Really?"

"Oh, yeah," Aiden agreed with a smirk.  "Anytime he needed to write something mushy and sweet, he'd try it on me and gauge how happy it made me.  He used me for two weeks to get a menu for a spoiling 'I'm sorry I'm an asshole' meal for a book right."  He snickered at that. "Hey, it's sweet!" she told him.  "I got spoiled all the damn time."

Tara nodded.  "Xander's a very spoiling guy, even before he started to write," she assured her with a small grin.  "Cordy and Anya encouraged it.  All the time."  He nodded at that, going back to his menu reading.  "I think I want the chicken salad."

"Tara, you're eating a real dinner or I'm going to spank you," Don said firmly.  She opened her mouth and he held up a finger. "I said so.  You're eating more than a salad.  You're not a bunny rabbit.  It can be all veggies, but you will eat more than a salad tonight.  You'll wear it off when we go shoot pool later."  She nodded and blushed, going back to her menu reading.  "Look at the next-to-last page.  It's got all the Vegan stuff."  He patted her on the hand.  "Besides, you're too skinny."

"You sound like my grandmother," she said quietly.

"She sounds like a smart woman," he retorted, smirking at her.  She sighed and gave up, going to that page.  He looked at Aiden.  "You eat too."

"Oh, I know I'll need my strength.  Xander, share the meal for two with me?"  He looked then nodded, smiling at her.  "Appetizer?"

"I'll be too full," he assured her.  "Get whatever you want.  I've got it."

She nodded and looked him over. "You sure about that?"

"Oh, yeah.  I'm sure about that.  Even with Anya's and Tom's interference."  He smiled at her.  "They haven't beaten me yet."  She nodded and looked at the menu again then at Don.  He looked at Don.  "What about the number 113, Tara?" he asked, smirking at Don.  "Nice work," he mouthed.  Don smirked back.

"That does look good," she admitted.  "Or the one above it.  By the way, I saw that, Xander."  She smiled sweetly at him.  "Behave."

"We have the right to worry.  You are too skinny. You look like one of those wafer thin models and I liked you at your last weight.  It made you look like a woman instead of a cancer patient."  She nodded and sighed, going back to her browsing.  The waiter came back.  "We're ready."  He pulled out his pad and smiled at them.  "She and I are doing the meal for two thing."

"What to drink?" he asked as he wrote that down.

"Water," Aiden told him.  "Xander?"

"Water's fine.  I have a thing against brewed tea."  He looked at Don.  "Your turn."

"Give me number 113, plus a salad."  He handed his menu over, taking Xander and Aiden's to hand over as well.  "Coffee."  The waiter nodded and wrote that down.  Tara didn't say anything so he gave her a gentle nudge.

She smiled at the waiter.  "I'll have 112 and a side salad please.  Water to drink?"  He smiled and nodded, taking her menu and walking off. "You didn't have to, Don."

"Yes, I did.  Sheldon got onto me about my thing with hotdogs earlier.  Threatened to take away my lunches and make me eat carrot sticks for a week if I didn't have healthy stuff."  She smiled at that and he could see the mischievous look.  "I'm trying to be a good boy."

"You pretend very well," Tara assured him, making him chuckle.  She smiled at Aiden.  "Doesn't he?"

"He does."  She smiled at Don.  "Those who know you know you're not a good boy, Flackey, but you do pretend very well."  He giggled some more. "When and where are we meeting Danny?"

"Two hours at the usual place," he offered with a smile.  "His date's probably not going to let him get any farther than a kiss tonight.  Then again, he's being a nice, sweet, good boy too."

"Sweet and nice are good traits," Tara said quietly.

"Only when you're as sweet as you are," Aiden assured her with a grin.  "Danny's not usually one you'd describe as sweet.  Tough, stubborn, loud now and then, but not usually sweet."

"I find him very sweet."

"That's because you won't play basketball with us," Don assured her with a grin.  "He keeps tryin' ta shove me to the ground while we play."

She blushed and sipped her water.  "Naughty you," she said firmly.

Don blinked.  "Oh, don't you start," he warned, smirking at her.

She shook her head.  "Sorry."

He leaned closer.  "It's okay, I know that people like to think about me that way, Tara.  I know exactly how cute I am."  She blushed brighter red and swatted him, shaking her head.  He grinned and she chuckled.  "Tell him that one.  I wanna see what shade he turns."

She giggled and leaned on his arm, giving him a hug.  "You're being naughty again."

"I know.  But I only have ta be a good boy on shift, Tara."  He patted her on the back.  Then he smirked at Xander, who was taking notes.  "Going to use that?"

"Muses," he muttered, finishing up and putting the notepad back into his pocket.  "Sorry."

Aiden rolled her eyes.  "I know your muses very well, Xander.  Sometimes I think they like me and that's why they come out so often."

"Well, you do give me very good ideas," he offered with a small leer.  She blushed and sipped her own water, remembering very well the last time she had 'inspired' Xander's muses on the fire escape.  "At least we're back in the apartment now."

"They ever figure out what happened with the fire?" Don asked.

"Fire?" Aiden asked.

"Yeah, the back two apartments burned.  They said it was a short in the stove that lit the wall between them," he explained.  "The fire department was very nice and let me get some stuff out when they heard Tara call.  Otherwise we'd have been on one of you guys' couch."

"She's more than welcome on mine," Don assured him.  "You'd have to sleep on the floor if you're both over."  Tara nodded at that.  "Did he cuddle too much?"

"Yes, and he's a bed hog too," she pouted at him. "I ended up with a few inches of mattress the night he cuddled me."

Don scowled at Xander.

"Don't blame me, I was asleep.  She kept moving away."

"On nights like that, I get out and get behind him," Aiden assured Tara with a small grin.  "It's usually just as good of a cuddle.  Though there was that one night I ended up switching sides of the bed about five times.  Plus he had nightmares.  I kept telling him I'm not a teddy bear, I don't have any fur.  He apparently didn't believe me."  Tara blushed and giggled at that.  Aiden and she shared a look.  "What're you gonna do? He's too cute to make sleep on the couch on those nights."

"Another reason I like girls.  They cuddle and don't chase you across the bed."

"Bet me," Don complained quietly.  "I've had a few that chased me and stole the blankets, plus snored."  Both girls snickered at that.

"Amen," Xander said dryly.  "Anya was a vacuum at night and of my wallet at times."  He shook his head.  "Even Spike didn't snore that loudly when he borrowed the recliner.  I thought for a few minutes she had changed into a sailor with a cold."  Tara burst out in louder giggles at that.  His phone went off and he answered it quickly.  "What?"  He listened, then glanced at Tara.  "No, I'm having dinner with Aiden.  Why?" he asked coolly.

Aiden took the phone, there's only one person he would talk to in that tone of voice.  "Willow," she said fondly.  "What the fuck do you want?" she snarled.  She heard the whimper. "Tough."  She hung up and handed it back.  "So, can we get Joycey out here?  Just to make sure she's safe from the twat too?"

"I'm still working on it," Xander assured her.  He looked at Don.  "She thought you were very cute but tragically young for her.  It'd be like dating a teenager according to her."

"I'm not that young," he defended.

He shrugged. "She said she'd feel like she was robbing the playground if she asked you out."  He smirked a bit evilly.  "I told her you weren't that young, she assured me you were and it'd be like you were her boytoy."

"Well, I'm more than studly enough," he assured him, "but I can't talk about art stuff.  I'm not quite that smart."

"Oh, shut up, Don.  Yes you are," Aiden said firmly.  The waiter brought their food and she smiled at him.  "Thank you."  He smiled back and hurried off after handing Tara her plate.

"Should you be flirting with your boyfriend beside you?" Don teased.

"Yeah," she agreed, grinning at Xander.  "You didn't mind, right?"

"As long as all you do is flirt," he said dryly, staring her down.  She grinned back.  "I mean it."

"Point."  She got to work separating out their dinner, shooting him a coy little smile. "I'd never do more than flirt."

"Good.  I'd hate to have to tie you down and do what I did for that Malaysian novel again," he assured her dryly.  She blushed at that and nodded, feeding him a bite of their dinner.  He smiled before eating it, chewing slowly.  She swallowed and ate a bite then took a quick drink.  "You don't like it?"

"Oh, I do," she assured him.

Don nudged Tara again. "You can have my couch tonight," he assured her with a grin.  She smiled and nodded, ducking her head to go back to eating.  He saw someone coming in out of the corner of his eye and looked.  "Hey, it's Danny and his date."

Xander grinned that way and went back to feeding Aiden a bite of dinner.  He got one back.

"Guys, mushy stuff is bad," Don said firmly.  "It's why I can't read his romantic stuff."

"Sorry," Aiden said, feeding him another bite.  "I'd feed you but Tara's in the way and I doubt she'd let me feed her too."

Tara blushed and sipped her drink.  "He probably wouldn't like that."

Danny stopped at the table.  "If I had known we'd all be here, I'd have arranged to split stuff."  He smiled at his date.  "Steph, this is Don Flack, Tara Maclay, Aiden Burns, and Xander Harris.  I work with Don, used ta work with Aiden, Tara's like my little sister, and Xander helps around the office now and then."  Xander nodded with a smile.  "We're off to be mushy so we don't have ta make Don gag."  He walked her off with a smile for her. "They're like family," he assured her.  "I had no idea they were coming here."

"That's fine, Danny."  She stroked over his cheek.  "She's cute."

"They're all cute but Aiden and Xander are together."  He held her chair and let her sit down then sat down himself, taking his menu.  "That thing they were sharing was cute."

"It was, but too cute for me."  He grinned and left it there. If she didn't wanna be cute with him, he was okay with that. "Are the blonde one and Don dating?"

"No, she's just moving out here ta go to college.  She and Xander are old friends."

"Oh. His ex?"   He shook his head.  "Oh."  She frowned then glanced over there, then back at him.  "Are you sure about that?"

"Don and I both look at Tara like our little sister," he assured her patiently, staring her down.  "Don't tell me you're that insecure."

"Well, she is pretty."

"Yes, and so was her last girlfriend."

"Oh!"  She nodded, happier with that now.  "The other one?"

"Xander's," he said before she could speculate.

"All right."  She opened her menu.  "Should I worry about any of your present coworkers?"

"Hell no," he said dryly.  "I love Stella, but it's like a sister and Monroe is being annoying."  She raised an eyebrow.  "Really. She thought Don and Xander were together."  Tara came over to whisper in his ear, making him nod, then she went back to her seat.  "Sorry, just got told I was a bit loud."

"Not really."

"I'm embarrassing her," he assured her. He closed his menu.  "I want the steak thing."

She looked and shook her head. "I'll have the shrimp and pasta."  She smiled at him and closed her menu.  "Aren't we going out with them later?"

"Playing pool if you wanted to come.  Aiden's moving soon for a new job."

"Oh.  I'm sorry for him."

He shrugged. "It happens.  We'll make sure he doesn't pout everyone ta death."  He grinned at her again.  "You're more than welcome to come with us."

"No, I don't really play pool."

"Neither does Tara and Xander sucks at it.  I fully expect to lose him to his muses later."


He smirked.  "That's also Lavelle Harris."  She blinked and looked back there, then at him.  His smirk got more evil and he nodded.  "Yeah."

"Wow.  You know a very good author."  He beamed and nodded.  "Do you get preview copies?"

"I don't read romance stuff," he pointed out dryly.  "Tara might.  I know Aiden gets to help him proofread."  He smiled at the waiter.  "Give me the steak thing, rare?"  That got a nod.  "Water's good for me."

"I want the shrimp and pasta dinner, and I'll take coffee," she said, handing over her menu.  He smiled and nodded, taking their menus and leaving them alone.  She leaned closer.  "Is he working on a new one?" she hissed.

"Maybe.  I don't know.  I haven't been over to watch the game at his place in a few days.  I know he's looking for a new literary agent since his last editor pissed him off about one he was trying ta make him write."  She pouted.  "Something set in Japan.  It wasn't working for him.  He complained about it for months."  He shrugged. "I guess it happens."

"I guess it would."  She smiled at him and shifted her seat closer, letting one of her feet touch his.  "Will you tell me the next time he has a signing?"

"Sure," he agreed happily.  She smiled back and that's when he knew he's be getting lucky later on.  Which he'd take even though she was more impressed about Xander than him.


Xander walked up to Sheldon Hawkes and held up a page.  "Can I do that?"

He looked it over, then smiled and nodded. "I've seen a few cases of that."

"Cool.  Thank you."  He held out the bag.  "Danny wanted and needed that for his girlfriend.  I was going to ask him but the receptionist said he's out on a case."

"I'll give it to him.  What is it?"

"Herbal stuff."  He shrugged. "I'm playing delivery guy before my appointment later with a new editor candidate."  He grinned. "Thank you, Sheldon.  How's Mac?"

"Okay for now.  Ethan?"

"Had to dodge some cops down in Cuba so he's coming back early if his boat works."  He shrugged.  "That's life with Ethan at times though."  He gave him a wry look.  "Hand that to him and tell him the game's on tonight."  He grinned and walked off whistling.

Sheldon looked inside the bag, noticing the bags of herbs.  He looked at a few and nodded, not understanding why people used herbs for stuff like headaches and other pains. But he would give it to Danny when he got back.  He went back to work, smiling at the fact he had gotten to see the end of Xander's new book. What he had read had been very well thought out.  It was obvious all the time he spent with Danny and Don was rubbing off on his writing.


Ethan opened Xander's door at the grunt that greeted his knock, leaning in.  "Xander?"  He got another grunt from the pencil-filled mouth as the boy typed.  "Having a nibbling problem?" he asked as he walked in and shut the door.  He saw Tara and blinked. "Why are you here?"

She smiled and handed him a can of ale.  "Because I'm transferring out here. I couldn't take Sunnydale anymore."  She took Xander's pencil, making him frown and finish his last sentence, then save and give her a quizzical look.  She pointed at Ethan.

"Oh, hey."  He waved. "Let me finish this chapter.  It's only a few more pages.  Tara, go ahead and tell him what you were able to do?"  He got back to it, taking back his pencil.

"He was muttering while he typed but he kept getting typos," she offered, handing over her notes.  "I was able to do that much but nothing else.  Giles has yelled and nearly hit her but he hasn't done anything else because of how she tied it down."

He leaned against the couch to read it, nodding slightly.  "At least it's partially cured.  How far down did they go?"

"He can hide it under a bulky sweater if this were winter," Xander said absently.  He backspaced with a frown and got back to it, then got back to chewing on his pencil instead of muttering.  He finally finished off that chapter and saved it, then put his laptop aside and looked at Ethan.  "You missed the fire right above the cursed stuff Dimitri has in storage.  He said as long as I keep his books, you can have whatever else you want in payment if you'll accept it."

Ethan quirked up an eyebrow. "I'd have to see, whelp."

"We can do that too," he agreed, getting up and grabbing the keys.  "There's even an elevator."  Ethan smirked at that so he led him down there, letting him see the second storage area.  Ethan stroked a few things.  "The one with the book was giving the whole building a cursed week.  I ended up quitting on my old editor.  My new one is a cow and a slave driver but she liked the other stuff I've done too."

"Congratulations, but that's not the only reason.  What did Anyanka do to you?"  He gave him a look.

"She's my ex and I didn't break it off with her for a bad reason so I have no clue.  If you do, that's up to you."

"I could remove it, for the usual fee," he offered smoothly.

Xander sighed and smoothed down his hair.  "Ethan, you nearly made me puke the last time."

"Fine."  He moved closer, pinning him against the wall.  "I could let him suffer."

"You could, and then I won't give you the locket that Tara has of Willow stuff either."  Ethan moaned and he smirked.  "Like I said, you can have anything in here as payment, Ethan.   Unless you're working with her to get your usual payment?"

Ethan pulled away from him. "I may be mean but I'm not that evil, ducks."

"I didn't figure you were, Ethan, and I know it's not that great either," he said dryly.  "Nothing to blackmail me for."  Ethan nodded at that.  "Some of your buddies at Jezzi's tried to extract the same price until I pointed out there wasn't any innocence left."

"Pity but all too true."  He stroked down his cheek.  "Fine, I'll take the cursed artifacts.  Maybe I'll mail one to Ripper, shall we?" he suggested fondly.  Xander beamed at him.  "If only you would train on my side, Xander."

"I'll give up magic totally before then, Ethan."  He ducked the hand.  "No."

"Fine.  Get the young woman here."

"Thank you."

"What about Tara?"

He moved closer.  "Willow hurt her," he said quietly.  "I had to remove the spells from her."  Ethan's face tightened at that.  "For that help I would pay the usual price, Ethan.  No questions asked and no complaints afterward, even no hot shower."

Ethan smirked at him. "Are you requesting a favor?"

"You know, one of these days, that attitude will come back to haunt you."

"Oh, I'm aware of that.  By then I hope to have talked you onto my side."

"Like I said, I'd give up magic first, Ethan."

"Point.  How? What did you remove?"  Xander opened a box and handed over the list he had stored down there.  He read it over and his face tightened up again.  "She did?"

"I had to magically move her, Ethan, I was hoping like hell I didn't leave a piece of her there."

"You didn't.  I've had seen that, Xander."  He looked at him, putting the list into his pocket.  "No fee needed.  She obviously needs a teacher more."

"Plus, it would be better for you to be there.  Just think, you could help Ripper regain himself."

"If he did, you'd be in more danger," he said blandly.

"Oh, I realize that.  I also know that I'm better at offensive magic than he is," he said dryly, staring back.  Ethan smirked at him.  "Yeah, well, some of us had to study it, Eth.  Remember that, okay?  What did you want help moving to your place today?"

He shivered and looked around, pointing at a pair of back-to-back statues.  "That one.  It does remind me a lot of my chosen God."

"I figured as much.  That's why I shifted the one with the book out of the way."  He pointed at it. "It was under the fridge for over two months while the statue was down here."

Ethan looked closer, stroking the book.  "Oh, my.  Can I have this one as well?"

"Please!  Take the thing and make sure it's not tainting me."

Ethan smirked at him. "In return I'll break the curses your ex put on you and the ones Ripper's done."

"Thank you."  He tipped the statue.  "Shall we?"

"I took a cab."

"Then draw a circle, Ethan. I know you know how to do the demony teleport thingy."

"True."  He found some chalk and got to work on that around the statues he wanted, standing between them.  He and they disappeared and Ethan came back a few minutes later to get the book that had stayed.  "I'll head home within the hour.  When can you get him here?"

He pulled out his phone and called Danny's.  "Tell Mac Ethan's back and paid."  He heard that be repeated and Mac squealed.  He smirked.  "Tonight when?"  He nodded, looking at Ethan.  "He gets off in about three hours."

"Fine with me.  Ordering dinner?"

"If Tara doesn't feel like cooking.  She's very good at it," he shared, walking him out and relocking the storage area.  "That's fine, Mac.  Sure."  He hung up.  "He said he'd bring beer and wine."  He pointed at the elevator.  "We should."

Ethan pushed him against the wall.  "How much would you pay to get Rosenburg off your case, Xander?" he asked smoothly.

"I couldn't hurt her permanently, Ethan.  It's a magic addiction and she was my best friend for years."

"She left you to die."

"I know that.  So did your ex."  Ethan smirked at that.  "For that matter, so did they all but Tara and Joyce.  I'm used to the betrayal by now.  If I have to, I can handle Willow on my own."

"With the hellmouth backing her," he started.

Xander snorted.  "Ethan, she moved there, I was born there," he said simply.  "I don't want that sort of power."  He moaned.  "I can handle it if I have to.  I don't want to dirty my soul that much at the moment.  Mostly, I want someone to take her in hand and teach her what she's doing is wrong and why.  You're the best lesson anyone could ever hope for."

"True," he agreed, letting him go.  The boy hit the button for the elevator. "Is that all I am?"

"Most of the time.  Sometimes a handy ally."  He grinned at him.  "It's not like we're dating."

"True," he agreed again, smirking a bit now.  "I could handle being spoiled by you however."

"Sorry, I only spoil my girl, Ethan.  You're not a girl nor are we dating."  He let the elevator come and waved a hand. "Shall we?"  Ethan got on and he followed him, heading up to the apartment again.  "Thank you for taking that statue and the book.  It was driving me insane with its shifting."

"Not a problem."   He smiled at Tara, but she pushed him back out of the apartment. "Fine, I'll run home to put the book up."

"Thank you."  She smiled at him and he left.  She looked at Xander.  "What's his usual price?"

"Don't ask."  He sat down to get back to work.  "Mac's coming over after shift.  He said he'd bring beer and wine."

"That's fine.  I'm making comfort food."  She handed him his pencil and got back to the kitchen and her cooking.  She liked to cook and Xander only ate takeout.  Her first afternoon back had been spent cleaning out his fridge and cabinets.  She also knew that they had a talk about Willow down there, and that Xander had asked him to handle her.  "Is he going to torture or teach her?"

"Going to be an object lesson, Tara," he said from behind her, hugging her. "Ethan used to be a lot like her."  He kissed her on the side of the neck.  "Can I help?"

"No muses?"

"No, they're a bit freaked right now.  They like to run and hide from Ethan.  They think he's scary."  She smiled and nodded.  "Only a bit and let's face it, honey.  I was born on the hellmouth.  I don't wanna have to prove it."  She nodded, turning to give him a hug back. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."  She kissed him on the cheek then turned back around to get back to cooking.  "You should go play on the computer. Maybe edit something."  He nodded and went to do that, leaving her alone for now.  She smiled at his back.  He was incredibly sweet but she was sure he didn't know what he was talking about.


Xander got frustrated as Ethan did and sighed, going into his bedroom to do something he hated.  He looked up and relaxed, concentrating on the magic stuff.  He linked into his hellmouth and felt the power fill him.  Since he had closed the closer one, it was nearly as happy with him as his old one had been.  Then he focused on Ethan, pointing him at the power.  Like the faithful river of strength it was, it flowed into Ethan, supercharging him and making it easier to undo what Willow had done.  He went limp when Ethan released it a while later, sending it back with a fond pat on the head.  Then he went into the bathroom to take something for his head and wipe his face off.  He looked up and found Ethan behind him.  "I did close it.  It's the same link Willow formed with the one at home," he said quietly.  "You're welcome."

Ethan laid a hand on him and tested his magic.  "It's not tainting you."

"That's because I don't use it. I only channel it now and then when others need it."  He turned to look at him.  "Hence the issue that she won't win."  He walked off, going back to the living room.  He looked over Mac, nodding.  "Is he fully male, Tara?"

"He'd have to check that. I don't get near boy parts," she reminded him.  Mac got up and went into the bathroom, coming out smiling.  "All there?" she asked with a small blush.

"Feels like it.  Thank you, Tara."  He hugged her, making her moan a bit. "Sorry, I got used to being weaker."  He shook Ethan's hand when he came out.  "Thank you as well."

"Xander paid me already.  Chaos people do things to learn and for their own benefit.  He pays well."  Mac opened his mouth.  "Don't ask."

"Fine, I don't need to know."  He nodded at Xander.  "Thank you."

"Not an issue. That's what I do.  Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.  I'm just really glad I wouldn't let Eliza set me up on a date."

"No that's a very bad idea," Xander assured her calmly.  Mac nodded and clapped him on the arm, giving Tara another hug before leaving.  He looked at the two curious witches.  "What?"

"You went on a date?" Ethan asked dryly.

"Not of my choosing.  Willow thought it'd be a good idea.  Make me more sensitive.  Cordy agreed when she found out."  He went back into his bathroom.  "I'm going to take a shower.  Tara, save me a brownie?"

"Of course."  She looked at Ethan.  "If you hurt him," she said quietly.  "I will make you suffer as only a white lighter can, Ethan Rayne.  I don't care what you do to Ripper but you leave Xander alone."

"You realize he could turn into your beloved?" he retorted just as quietly.

"Yes, but he doesn't want or need the power like she did.  It's not in him to want it that way."  He nodded, leaving it there.  "Now, do we owe you anything for removing the curses?"

"No, I've been paid amply, Tara."  He smiled at her, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.  "Do be safe in this city.  Call upon me if you need me. I might even make the first one free."  She smirked at that and he nodded politely before leaving as well.  He had new cursed objects to play with.

Tara finished off the brownie batter and put them in the oven, then went to check on Xander.  He gave her a wet hug and she gave him a squeeze.  "I'm fine," he assured her. "It's a long time ago."  She looked into his eyes.  "Really."  She nodded, leaving it there since he was.  He went back to his shower.  Channeling for the hellmouth always made him feel grungy and nasty.


Danny looked up as Mac came in, smirking a bit at his happy smile.  "Have a better night?"

"Much thanks to Ethan and Tara."  He grinned at Lindsey.  "Good morning."

"Good morning," she said with a bright smile.  "You're in a good mood."

"It's a beautiful morning."  He headed to his office, excited about doing the paperwork he had waiting on him.

Danny watched his back, then shook his head. "Do we have a call yet?"

"Not yet."  She smiled at him, watching Mac walk off.  "It's good to see him in a good mood."

"It is."  He headed back to the case he had been working on, calling Xander. "Did you hit him with a happiness thing?" he asked quietly.  "He's bouncy and giddy, Xander."  He smirked.  "Fine, if you say so."  He hung up and got back to work, smirking at Stella when she came in.  "You see the bouncy, happy Mac yet?"

"I did.  Who gave him the personality transplant?"

Danny snorted, shaking his head. "It got fixed last night."

"I noticed. At least he's happy for now."

"Thankfully. So, new case or you wanna help me with this one?"

"I can help.  What're we doing?"

He pointed at the analysis he had printed off.  "I only found it in one spot so I'm looking for more."  She nodded and helped him by taking another magnifying glass and the other end of the blanket.


Don tapped on Xander's door, grinning when the younger man answered.  "What happened?"  Xander held up a letter, making him frown and take it.  "Yeah, that's against the law."

"Can you arrest them before I have them eaten?"

"Sure. I can pass this on.  It might even be a Federal thing since it crossed state lines."  That got a happy grin.  "You all right?"

"Pissed.  Aiden left last night.  That came today.  I'm not the world's happiest camper and my new editor wants to look over my shoulder at the moment.  She wants me to send her each chapter as it's done."

"Danny went ta talk to your old one," he offered, coming in and closing the door.  "Apparently they've had a few words."

"Why?" he asked calmly.  "I didn't ask him to."

"I know, that's the sorta guy he is."

"Wonderful.  Am I going to be cursed again?  I've just gotten the old ones off the apartment."

"No.  He's pouting now.  Danny pointed out what he had lost in you."  That got a small smirk. "How's the new editor working out?"

"Fussy.  Very fussy.   She doesn't like any of my prior stuff but about half the stuff I've got stored is good enough for her.  The rest I was told need a lot of editing.  Like she's going to have to stay over a great many nights to fix it on me."

"I thought they were good."

"You never read a few of them, Don," he said, letting him further inside.

"You let me read all the other stuff."

"This stuff wasn't on the laptop."

"Ah."  He took the CD Xander found and held out.  "You sure?"

"It's not evil or dark, I promise."

"Okay."   He tucked the CD into his pocket and waved the letter.  "You sure you wanna do this? It'll create some press attention."

"It's either arrest them, sue them, or have them eaten.  My editor said if I sue them it'll get more press attention and they'll have to prove they were good parents.  Since they can't...."  He shrugged and sat down, pulling his laptop over again. "It'd let stuff into the open that I don't want to let anyone know."

"Gotcha.  This way there's less chance of the dirty laundry coming out."

"Yup, sure is. Even if it hits the local papers, it won't go national probably."  He glanced over at him. "As long as it doesn't end up on some late night talk show, I'll be a happy camper again.  Just as long as they leave me alone."

"Then I'll pass this onto the proper guys.  Where's the first one?"

"Safe," he said, pointing at it.  "Same code as downstairs."

"That's dangerous," he complained, but he went to get it.  Xander had given him the door code a week ago when he was too tired to get up and answer the buzzer.

"It's not like they'll find any money or anything, Don.  All they'd get was smut and the blackmail and praise file I keep in there."  He got back to work.  "Want to watch the game this weekend?"

"Sure.  If I can drag Danny away from your groupie."

"You should be able to.  She'll be in bliss since I've got a signing early Saturday morning at Trubador."  He reread his last sentence and got back into it, going on with the story.

"Which box is which?"

"The blue one is praise but the other's not bad.  It's more things like psychotic people who like me a bit too much and threaten to come visit me to make sure I put them in things.  Or that I spoke to them and I must read their minds, so would I please quit.  One threatened copyright infringement but my editor has that one.  She said there was no way for the guy to say it was since he claims he only had thoughts about the book he wanted to write.  Nothing in writing."  He shrugged. "There's nuts everywhere.  That one came from Texas and a minister."

"You ever meet him?" Don asked fondly, smirking at his very own psycho magnet.

"Nope.  Never heard of him, his church, or anything.  He runs a small cult."  He shrugged again and went back to typing.  "Don't worry about those.  Really.  My parents are the annoyances of my life."

"Sure, kid."  He closed the safe and patted him on the back.  "You behave.  Where's Tara?"

"At one of the small colleges outside of the city.  She's narrowed it down to three choices."  He grinned at him.  "All of them just outside the city's limits but on the train route."

"Good!  I don't want her that far off.  I'd worry."  He frowned a bit then cleared it up. "What's this one about?"

"This one?"  He looked at it, then back at him.  "Different sort of pirate smut actually.  I've done the bookstore idea you gave me.  I gave you a dedication on that one for it.  This one Danny hit off with a smart comment so he's got the dedication on this one.  Yours and the one before that one are shared with Aiden for dedication space."

"Not like I mind. You only used my first name, right?"  Xander nodded, smirking at him.  "Thanks, I'd never live it down if you used my full name."  He patted him on the head.  "Have fun writing, Xander."

"Thanks, I am."  He got back to it, opening a new window to take down the idea that had just bitten him and the time, date, and who had started it how.  Then he got back to his old one, writing about space pirates and ransom demands for military captains.  Gay pirate smut, it was kinda cool in his mind.


Danny opened the door and leaned in. "Xander!" he called.  Xander came out of the bedroom, looking confused. "Where is my girlfriend?"

"She was there this morning, Danny.  She walked off looking like I had made her have wet panties and got into a cab."  He shrugged. "I signed three books for her."  He smirked at him.  "Expect to have something with candles later if she's still replaying scenes."

"Sure.  Thanks."  He came in and shut the door behind him.  "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I was remaking the bed.  I broke to do laundry earlier while Tara was at the park."

"Is she okay?"

"Just fine.  Hilary invited her to a picnic with her and her girlfriend and a very nice young woman they know.  She skipped out of here blushing bright red and wearing her prettiest new dress.  I made her go shopping," he offered with a grin.  "She blushed the whole time since I took her to a store Hilary suggested that's run by a very butch lesbian and her partner.  The woman tried to get her into a net camo print long dress and a matching camo corset.  It was so cute!" he cooed.

Danny grinned at that.  "Did she get it?"

"Yup, I got it after she left," he admitted with a smirk. "Her birthday's early next month so she's getting it then."  Danny beamed at that, at least until his phone rang.  "If that's Don, tell him it's still early and he can come later if he has to."  He went back to making the bed and putting up his laundry.

"Messer," Danny answered.  He leaned against the back of the couch.  "You all right, Mac?"  Xander came out of the bedroom. "It came back?"

Xander groaned and leaned his head against the door frame.  "Is it the full moon?"  Danny thought then nodded.  "It'll go away again by tomorrow.  I'll call Tara and she'll be able to head over tonight to see what it was."

Danny grinned at him. "Mac, Tara's out on a date but Xander said he'd drive her over later when she got home.  That good for you?"  He winced at something he said.  "I'm sorry she's there, Mac.  Not my fault she's hanging on you again.  I don't know.  Have Sheldon explain it, Mac," he offered with a wicked smirk.  "Yeah, him.  Because I think he could.  Not a clue.  Have him sedate her otherwise and put her in a freezer for a while?"  He pulled the phone away from his ear at the shouting.  "Sorry."  He put it back.  "Sorry, Mac.  But hey, she's the one who accused Don and Xander of being together and Xander of stepping out on him with Tara.  Not like she's got a clue at the moment."  He smirked again.  "Yeah, so tell her she's imagining things and head home."  He hung up on the new shouting.  "He's not a happy guy."

"It happened once to me," Xander admitted.  "Out on the dance floor if I remember right.  Thankfully I only had tiny tits when she did it to me."  He shrugged and got back to work, calling Tara's phone to leave her a voice mail.  Then he got back to his laundry.  He wasn't going to interrupt Tara having fun for suddenly reappearing breasts.  They'd either go away and the problem would be solved or they'd still be there later.  "Maybe it's stress related," he called.

"If so, Mac's in a world of hurt," Danny called back.  "We kinda work the world's most stressful job, Xander."

"Point."  He heard the buzzer.  "Let whoever it is in."

"Sure."  Danny looked at the video panel and let Mac in.  "It's him."  He opened the door, letting Mac in when he made it up there.  "He said it happened to him once. He thinks it's stress related maybe."

"Where's Tara?"

"On a date," Xander called. "I left a message on her phone, Mac."  He came out to the doorway, looking him over. "I'm guessing it was stress related?"  Mac shrugged.  "What were you doing before they came back?" he asked patiently.

"Doing paperwork."

"Okay.  Was it stressful, annoying?  Boring?"  Mac gave him another dirty look.  "Not my fault.  Trying to find the cause so we can fix it again."

He ran a hand through his dark hair.  "I guess it was kinda stressful.  It's been a long day but I've had those before."

"No, it's been worse today, Mac," Danny reminded him. "Flack was snappy all day.  Monroe was haunting you all day.  Stella was cracking jokes all day about the mustard stain on your shirt.  You were frustrated long before the new and extra paperwork from the Mayor hit."  Mac groaned and nodded.  "That was it, wasn't it?"  Mac nodded again.  "Then it was probably stress related.  Thankfully most days aren't like that."

"So only the days that you absolutely can't find an answer and are feeling thwarted, they might come back," Xander offered.  "Take up meditation.  See if they disappear when you're calm, cool, and collected again."

"How can you say that!" he shouted.

Xander glared at him. "Because Willow and Cordelia, my ex, talked me into going on a date, Mac.  Really. You can calm yourself."  Mac backed off and nodded, calming himself. "Good.  Now keep going.  You should be able to figure out how to make yourself drop back into that mentally sated and emotionally calm spot by now with your history.  You probably do it most nights after nightmares.  I know I end up doing that because I end up glowing otherwise."

Mac nodded and sat down in the most comfortable chair to work on that.  If that would cure it, he'd start to meditate every day, just as long as the breasts didn't come back.

Don walked in.  "Whoa," he said, looking at Mac's chest.  Then he blinked and shut the door, getting a 'hey!' from the hall behind him.  "Not now, Lindsey."  Xander came back out of the bedroom, giving him a long stare.  "What?  She saw!"

"Have Sheldon explain it," he muttered, going into the kitchen to get a drink and go back to his last few pieces of laundry.  He came back out and found Danny in the hallway and Don listening at the door, smirking a bit.  "His girlfriend didn't call him after the signing."

"I'm surprised.  Didn't she recreate a few things after the last new book of yours?"  Xander smirked and nodded.  "Good work, Xander. You're responsible for guys getting laid.  I'm proud to say I know you."  Xander snickered at that and sat down, turning on the game.  Mac suddenly groaned and bent over holding his chest.  "You okay, Mac?"

"Pain," he admitted, sitting up again.  He looked down at himself.  "Nearly gone."

Xander walked over and took off Mac's necklace, handing it to him.  They disappeared.  "Silver?" he asked.

"Yeah."  He groaned.  "I wear these every day, Xander."

"And the next time it happens, remember that the cure is to meditate and take off the dogtags for a while."

"Which isn't that hard," he agreed, smiling at him.  "Thank you."

"Not an issue.  Expect Tara later anyway."  He nodded and got up, putting back on his tags.  They didn't come back so he was a happy guy.  "We're going to watch the game."

"I should finish that paperwork," he admitted bitterly.  "Then I'll head home so I don't miss her."  Xander nodded at that so he left, making Lindsey squeak and stare at his chest.  "What!" he demanded. "There's nothing there."

"I can see that," Danny assured him with a grin. "Better now?"

"Much.  Keep it up, do dumpsters every day for a year."

Danny lost the grin.  "Whatever you say, Boss. Any other orders?"

"No.  Thank you, Danny.  I hope your girlfriend is all right."  He walked around them, heading for the elevator.  Lindsey followed, babbling at her.  He glared at her and she quit midsentence.  "It was nothing," he said firmly.  "You didn't see it happen."

"Yes I did."

Danny groaned.  "That was an order, Monroe.  Remember, he's a Marine.  They give orders, not suggestions."  He went back inside and smirked at Don, who was stifling a laugh.  He looked out the peephole, they were gone and the elevator door was closing.  He burst out laughing and Don let his out too.  "That poor guy."

"It'll happen less often as he figures out the triggers if Tara can't cure it for him," Xander said from his spot on the couch.  "It's also not good to laugh at the misery of others.  Remember, it can come back to haunt you."

"My grandma said I have bad eyesight because I laughed at someone's ugly glasses once," Danny told him, coming over to sit next to him. "So, what's your trigger?"

"Don't ask."

Danny gave him a nudge.  "Come on, you can tell us."

Xander glared at him.  "No I won't.  Not even under torture."  Danny grinned at him. "Seriously.  I won't be.  Even under torture.  Others have tried."  Danny smirked at that.  "You're not more evil than a vampire, Danny."

"I can tickle you."

"And I can kick your ass.  Remember, the house is filled with sharp, pointy things I'm very good at using and I can always heal you later," he said seriously.  Danny got the hint and dropped it, nodding and turning on the tv.

"Xander, be nice," Don ordered.

"I was."  He glared at him too.  "Really."

"Fine.  We won't mention it."  Don looked at his chest, then back at him.  "So, what was it?"

"Thoughts."  He calmed himself down and they disappeared again.  "There, better again."

"I didn't even notice," Danny complained.

"Good," Xander assured him, getting up again to head for the kitchen.  "Anyone need anything?"

"No, we're good so far," Don admitted, picking up some popcorn to eat.  "So, is the date Tara's on nice?"

"She is.  Very nice and sweet.  Very much like Tara," he called back, finishing his shot and getting a new soda to chase it.  He came out with the soda, handing them each a beer. "There, for later."  Don smirked at him and Danny grinned, then nudged him and sniffed.  "I'm fine."

"I'm sorry."

"It's all right. Just don't anymore."

"Okay.  I didn't mean to pick."  Xander gave him a look.  "Fine, I'm forgiven?"  Xander nodded.  "Thank you.  I should probably call her."

"You're so whipped, Messer," Don teased.

"I am not.  I'm looking forward to my Xander-inspired nookie later."  He pulled out his phone and called his girlfriend.  "Hey, me.  You okay?  You didn't answer earlier."  Her answer of 'I needed a nap, badly' made him a happy guy.  "I'm watching the game with Don.  Yeah, and him, but mostly with Don since Xander's writing."  He looked over his shoulder at the screen.  "Nope, mystery."  He heard the defeated sigh.  "Sorry, dear.  You wanna do something tonight?"  He smirked.  Score!  "Sure, good by me.  I'll set my watch alarm and everything.  Later."  He hung up and smirked at Xander.  "Thank you."

"Welcome and there's sex in this one too.  Just food sex.  It's a chef."  He got back to work.  "Tell me when the game starts, guys."  They both grinned at him and nodded, getting back to nibbling and talking about the upcoming game and stuff from work. Xander typed faster, opening a few new windows with ideas, then glared at them. "Guys, too many ideas," he protested.  "Quit, please?"  They nodded and changed subjects to cars and women. That only gave him one idea so it was okay with him.  He got back to work and missed the smug look the guys were giving him.

"Maybe I should go to a signing with one of my sisters, pick up one of his fans."

"It's a tough thing," Danny said with a shit-eating grin.  "I get fed the same food.  Get the same backrubs.  Hell, I nearly got the same sex as one but I'm not that flexible."

"Sorry about that," Xander muttered.

"Not a problem. My back was popped and it felt pretty good afterward."  Don snickered at that.  "Seriously!  One of the longer ones had serious smut in it."  Don nodded at that.  "Your sisters buy the whole collection yet?"

"Oh, yeah.  Between them.  They're sharing back and forth and Ma gets to handle any disputes between 'em over who gets which one which night."  Xander moaned and wrote down another idea.  "Sorry, Xander."

"My editor won't be," he said fondly, smirking at him. "Thank you.  She's already wondering who you two are."  He got back to work with a headshake.  When the phone rang, he held out a hand. "Give it here."  Danny got it and handed it over.  "House of Xander Smut."  He listened and nodded. "Sure, Joyce.  No, she's on a date."  He smirked a bit.  "Nice girl, a lot like her.  I even helped her buy a pretty new dress."  He grinned.  "Sure. I'll tell her that when she gets home."   He frowned.  "Who's that?"   He blinked and frowned at the picture on the wall, getting up to look at it.  "Really?  Huh."  He hung up and looked at Don.  "Joyce has another daughter, Dawn?"

"She does?" they asked.

"She never mentioned one," Don admitted.  "Why not?"

"I don't know."  He called Travers.  "Dawn?"  He listened to the story and nodded.  "Thank you."  He hung up.  "Ah.  Mystical."  They both nodded, leaving it there.  "Joyce is sending her this way in case something bad happens."

"Okay," Danny agreed.  "Is she nice or like her sister?"

"She's fourteen," Xander told him.  "Not old enough to be either yet."  He shrugged and wrote down that idea, then got back to work on his present one.  Before he maxed out windows.  He got done with that one during the second inning, saving it like usual and then burning it to CD.  Then he put the laptop aside and got another soda, coming out to enjoy the guy stuff for a while.  He could write later, while Tara was with Mac helping him.


Tara came home, looking at Xander.  "He's very cute that way."

"He is," Xander agreed, grinning at her.  He saved his spot and turned to look at her.  "Joyce's other daughter...."

"I heard.  She called."  She kissed him on the forehead. "She thought you were writing by the tone of voice when you answered.  She wasn't sure you'd remember it."

"Oh, I did."  He pulled her over to sit next to him.  "So, how did it go?"

"It went," she offered shyly, smiling at him.  "She goes to one of my final choices for college.  She's very nice.  A bit outspoken on some things but pretty nice. We like the same flavor of cookie.  She's a bit more militant than I am about the feminist stuff, but she's nice."

"So, second date?" he asked.  She blushed and nodded.  "Good."  He hugged her.  "If you need an allowance, just ask."

"I was going to see if I could borrow enough to get that one outfit," she asked shyly.

"Closet, dear.  Closet."  She hugged him and got up to get it, trying it on in the bathroom.  He smiled and got back to work.  She'd be working on her hair for a bit to figure out how to put it.  "Braid it," he called a few minutes later.

"Thank you!"  She came out and hugged him, then answered the door.

Don whistled.  "I like you in that, Tara.  It's cute."  He kissed her on the cheek.  "Can I come in?"  She let him in and closed the door after checking the hall.  "Mac okay?"

"Just fine now."  She twirled around.  "You like it?  I'm wearing it on my next date."

"You look really pretty in that.  The colors suit you."  She blushed and hurried back to change again, coming out in her other dress.  "I gotta say, you look more adorable in that one.  Delicate and cuddleable."  Xander grinned at that.  "Xander, do you have a current stalker?"  He looked up, frowning a bit and shaking his head.  "You're sure?"

"Pretty muchly.  Why?  Do I?"  Don nodded.  "How do we know this?"

"Two of the girls at your signing earlier were almost hit by the same car.  Danny's girlfriend's."  Xander winced.  "Fortunately she had loved him into a coma and enforced it with a shot of something before going out to hit your other fans."  He smirked at him when Xander groaned. "She was screaming that she got the idea from you, that you were speaking directly to her through your books and Danny was your high priest and messenger."

"Not really.  Though I did give him an idea for a romantic dinner to see if it'd work," Xander offered patiently.  "Oh, shit."  He opened up another file and handed the laptop to him.  "From that one, Don."

"Thanks."  He took down the title, then frowned. "When did that one come out?"

Tara looked. "Next month.  It's in advanced previews right now."  She frowned, looking at him.  "Does that means she works for the publisher?"

"Either that or she managed to steal a copy," he suggested with a small shrug.  "I'm not responsible for what my former dates and what my fans do. I did not tell her to run over my fans.  I like my fans.  They make me happy.  They make me content.  I write for them and make it as good as I can for them.  I was not speaking to her through the books."

"I know that, she's just a garden variety psycho," Don assured him, paging down through the story.  He did a word search, finding the scene he wanted.  "She didn't get it exact either.  She drives a Cutlass.  You used a Pontiac Sunfire."  He kept reading, getting a bit sucked in.  Then he finally nodded at the end of the scene.  "Is that a smutty one?"  Xander smirked and nodded.  "Good smut or romance smut?"

"Romance but her love turns her around."

"At least that's okay.  He helps her get over her obsession?"

"He is her obsession and she'd do anything to keep him, but he makes her see he's just a man who has normal human desires.  Which she then plays on," he offered with a grin.  "That's the descriptive blurb."  Don smirked and wrote that down then left them alone to go talk to the fan again.  Xander looked at his best friend. "Is this what happens to my dates or a different version of the same thing?"

"I thought it was the same thing," she offered, kissing him on the cheek.  "Then again, it didn't affect Aiden.  Maybe it transferred into your writing, Xander."  She shrugged and turned on the tv.  "If you finish that one soon I'll proof it for you.  I don't have anything to do until school starts."  He hugged her and got back to work once he had closed that story.   Life with Xander was never boring. There was always something to giggle and stare in awe at.


Danny pouted when Xander showed up with lunch for him.  "She went insane."

"I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to do to your date what used to happen to mine."  Danny cracked a smile at that.  "I brought you goodies for lunch."

"I can see that."  He opened the bag and moaned.  "Thank you, Xander."

"You're welcome."  He punched him on the arm. "I figured it'd help if you ate good chocolate for lunch, and maybe you'd slip one to Stella so she'd smile at me?"

Danny smirked and nodded.  "I'll see if she's free anytime soon."  He walked off shaking his head.  Xander skipped out happily, even grinning at Lindsey.  He sat down next to Stella and emptied out the sack of chocolates, picking up the first one. He unwrapped it slowly, then ate it with a small moan of contentment.  She glared at him.  "Xander."  He pushed one over.  "He wanted to know if you were free anytime soon."  He slowly ate another one with another moan.

"Why did he buy you chocolate for lunch?" she asked, eating that one.  "Oh, this is the good stuff," she moaned.  "I'm free all next week."

He grinned.  "Thanks to his books, my ex went nuts and drugged me before trying to run over other fans of his.  He said he was sorry that what used ta happen to his dates happened to mine."  She smirked and he pushed over another one.  "Even he couldn't eat this many by himself."  She smiled and ate it.  "Tara had a date," he said before eating a third.

Don walked in and split off five of them.  "Because I had to deal with your ex," he complained, sitting down to eat them.  "She's totally loony.  Thinks Xan's God and wants to raise her status up now."

"It was good while it lasted," Danny sighed, eating another piece.

Don gave him a look, then shook his head.  "Maybe I shouldn't try to date a fan of his.  Mine might be worse."

"Then you'd get chocolate and share it too," Stella pointed out, taking another piece.  "Think I should date him, guys?"

Don looked at him.  "Remember how content Aiden came in?"  She moaned and nodded.  "You too can be loved into the floor."

"Plus he spoilt her horribly," Danny agreed.  "He tried the stuff for the romantic dinners and stuff on her."

Stella moaned at her next bite of chocolate.  "Hell, I'm free all next week."  Mac paused in the doorway.  "Xander gave it to him."

He came in and got a piece, shaking his head.  "Every author has fans like her," he reminded them.

"Yeah, but we don't usually know anyone who dates 'em," Don teased.  Danny kicked him under the table and had another chocolate. "You're gonna be sick soon."

"Everyone get one more and they're going into my locker," Danny announced.  They all took another piece and he put them back into the bag, then taped it shut with evidence tape.  He came back from putting it away and sat down again.  "So, Stella, you gonna try it?"

"Try what?" Mac asked.

"Xander wanted to know if I'd go on a date with him," she said smugly.

"Last time he said anything about it," Don offered, "he said Aiden's smart mouth turned him on and you're just as smart at times, but you've got less pouty lips and hair he wants to play with.  He said you're prettier and you look like you could handle him more than she could since she used to beg for mercy some nights."  She blushed at that.  "But he did want to play with your hair a lot.  He likes playing with hair."

"Yeah, every now and then I'll fall asleep watching something at his place and wake up with him proofreading while playing with mine," Danny admitted.

"He's done that to me once or twice too," Don agreed with a smirk for him.  "I nearly hit him the first time but he didn't realize he was doing it."

Stella smiled.  "Why did Aiden have to beg for mercy?"

Don considered how to put this delicately since Mac was still at the table with them. "You hear anything about his ex, Anya?" he asked finally.  She nodded.  "You hear anything about her needs?"

"Two or three hours a night of sex," she admitted.

"No, more like five or six," Don told her.

Danny nodded.  "Anya was a borderline nympho at times.  We're talking five, six orgasms a night and she didn't go easily."  She looked stunned. "And he kept up with it."  She blushed at that.  "Aiden begged and crawled home some mornings.  The night she got fired, Xander nearly had to call the paramedics from his idea of soothing the hurt.  She claims her heart nearly stopped."

"Wow.  What was he doing?" she asked.

Sheldon came in.  "What's the discussion topic? New case?"

"Xander making Aiden beg for mercy," she told him with a bright grin.

"Yeah, she called for advice about not taking pain killers and if a hot bath would ease that pain.  She claimed she cramped up vaginally once."  He shrugged and sat down. "I heard we had chocolate?"  Don tossed him his last piece.  "Thanks.  Why did we have chocolate?"

"Xander," Danny told him. "He wants ta date Stella."

Sheldon looked at her.  "From what Aiden said, stock up on pain killers.  He's got some incredible stamina from his exes and she said he had this thing about oral sex."

"He doesn't give it?" Don asked, sounding amused.

"No, that's his major kink," Danny told him dryly.  "Aiden complained she got more of that than anything else."

"That won't be bothering me," Stella assured them.  "Number?"  Danny wrote it out and handed it over.  "Thanks, guys."  She got up and went outside to call him more privately, and so none of the guys she worked with could eavesdrop.


Don looked at his watch, then at Danny's watch.  They were waiting on Stella.  She was now late.  The second time ever and the first time didn't count since she had been stuck right behind a wreck on the bridge.  They saw a cab pull up and watched her get out, clinging to it for a moment before wobbling inside.  She was walking very delicately.  "You okay?" he asked quietly, helping her to a seat.

"Never let anyone tell you that there's no such thing as too much oral sex," she moaned, shifting some.  "I don't think I can work today."

Danny handed her his bottle of advil and a soda, then went to find Mac for her.  He wouldn't make her walk all the way to the elevator and than halfway down another hallway.  He found him in DNA and coughed.  "Mac, Stella's here."

"Now?" he asked, then he frowned at the clock.  "Stella's late?"

Danny nodded.  "Yeah, and I just handed her something for the pain."  He followed Danny back down there.

Mac looked at her, then shook his head.  "What did you do, throw out your back?"

"Yeah, but he popped it very well, and then he went back to the oral sex."  She let out a small moan as she stood up and moved forward.  "I don't think I can work today, Mac."

He looked her over, then shook his head. "Flack, drive her home."

"Sure.  Danny, help me get her to my car."

"Stella, are you going out with him again?" Mac asked.

She looked at him. "It was so good and he's so sweet!" she complained, pouting a bit.  "I'll stop him after two hours the next time."  Mac's mouth opened and she blinked at Lindsey.  "Hi."  She smiled at her.  "You should've seen Aiden's first post-date day with Xander."  She let the guys help her out to the car. "Thank you, Mac.  I'll be walking by tomorrow."

"That's fine.  Rest, take a long, hot bath," Mac called after her, going to call Xander. "Did you have to do that to her?" he demanded once Tara handed over the phone.  Xander muttered something.  "Excuse me?"  He repeated it a bit louder, making Tara giggle.  "I didn't need that detail, Xander.  Leave her able to walk next time. It was bad enough you made Aiden mellow and calm again."  The boy let out a sigh and told him something, making him blush.  "Well, at least she had fun.  No, she's going home to soak.  It's not like she can *walk* or *sit*."  He heard the embarrassment. "Next time, be more gentle."   He hung up and walked off shaking his head. "Sheldon, call Stella later and advise her on what she needs to do," he said when he passed him in the hall.


"She went on her date with Xander."

"I remember Aiden's first post-date," he said happily.  "As bad?"

"Worse."  He turned to look at him. "Six hours," he mouthed.  "Just oral sex and six hours.  He put her back into place when she threw it out too.  Twice."

Sheldon grinned at that.  "I bet she's happy then.  I'll call her in a bit.  She at home?"  Mac grimaced and nodded.  "Cab?"

"She cabbed here probably.  I had Flack drive her home."

"I gave her some advil," Danny said as he walked past them. "Lindsey's throwing a fit," he said quietly next to Mac's ear.  "Thinks it's preferential treatment."

"Stella's only been late one other time in nearly eight years," he said dryly.  "I think she can take the day off."  He went to talk with Lindsey, leaving Sheldon and Danny to grin at each other.

"She can't sit, she can't walk, she was walking on tiptoes nearly.  She wobbled in here like she was in those ballerina heels, the ones with the hells so high you're on it and your toes."  Sheldon smirked at that.  "She threw her back out twice."

"Sounds like she had fun.  He spoil her before then?"

"Dinner at a *nice* place.  Slow dancing at a nice club.  Champagne while there."  Sheldon smiled at that.  "He spoiled her rotten and he called to let me know he had sent her flowers too."

"I could take lessons from him."  He walked off, going to call Stella and advise her on what do put into her bath if she didn't have a spa attachment for her tub.

Danny walked off nodding. "I did.  Let's hope Stella doesn't go funny like mine did."  He heard Lindsey yelling and winced, moving into a lab for safety and closing the door.  The AV tech gave him an odd look since it was his.  "Monroe is throwing a fit," he said quietly.  "Stella came in late and called off."


"Too much Xander."

The tech just gaped for a moment.  "That's valid?  Hangover?"

"Nah, not with her this time."  He heard the screaming come closer and his name added, wincing a bit at that.  He locked the door and made sure he was out of sight of the windows.  This was about the only solid door in the place and it was to block the glare from the monitors.  Someone pounded on the door, making him flinch, but she didn't try the knob.

"He's not in here," the AV tech yelled.  "Go away!"  She stomped off.  "What did you do?" he asked in awe.

"I dated one of his fans and she lost it mentally, trying to run over a few others."  He shrugged.  "Not a clue why she's after me."  Someone tapped more politely so he looked then let Mac in, closing and locking the door again. "Is it okay if I hide in here for a few, Mac?"

"You and me both, Danny.  By the way, you've been warped by Xander and that's why you didn't stick up for her viewpoint on the Bilanda case about submissives, and you're now going to do the same evil and bad things to women because she's decided he had rough and unconsenting sex with Stella.  I told her three different times Stella didn't say that but she's not listening yet.  So I called Flack and had him bring her back for a few."

"Need me ta help carry Stella to your office?"

"No.  The pain killers are starting to kick in.  She said she thinks she can walk."  He heard the screaming again and they both hid behind the door.  She pounded on it and screamed Mac's name so apparently he wasn't very well hid.  "I'm not going out there."

The AV tech got up and glared out the window at her. "Stella's on her way in. Go wait in Mac's office for her.  That way you can voice your concerns in private and the rest of us don't have to hear it!"  She stomped off again and he closed the shades.  Then he gave Mac a look.  "What happened to Stella?"

"Too much Xander sex."   That got a small whimper.  "She threw her back."

"Oh, wonderful."

"He fixed it for her," Danny assured him. "She's just sore."

"Can he give tips?  Maybe a seminar?"

"I'm not sure I can go that long," Danny said, considering it. "No, my limit is about two hours for oral sex.  After that, I want more."

Mac looked at him.  "I can't last that long.  Claire, well. It wasn't her favorite thing."

Danny nodded. "Some women are like that."  He looked out at the stomping.  "Oooh, yeah, she's walking more normally but Flack's in full protective mode."  He hurried around Mac and out to catch up.  "Stell."  She stopped and looked at him.  "She thinks Xander tainted me and that's why I didn't stick up for her on the Bilanda sex angle and you've been assaulted."

"I heard," she noted grimly.  "Coming?"

"Love too."  He took her arm and walked her that way, Flack taking her other side.  "So, Sheldon said you got flowers?"

"I did," she agreed with a smile.  "Pretty flowers.  The card with them said he got silk roses since I was a busy woman and wouldn't have time to baby a vase of them into not dying too soon.  But that whenever I was ready, he'd gladly shower me in real roses and whatever other flowers I liked, probably the petals."  Both guys grinned at that and she walked into Mac's office, leaving them out there.  "What is your damn problem!"  Lindsey backed away from her.  "I sure as hell know what consensual sex is and I'm quite sure I let him do every single thing he wanted last night and today with great pleasure. I may be sore, but that's a good sore.  By the way, Danny was right, Lindsey, some people do like other sorts of sex than you.  You'd know that if you dated."  She opened the door and walked out. "Okay, I'm done."  Flack nodded and walked her back out, answering his phone on the way.

"Flack.  No, I'm escorting Bonasera home.  She's limping.  No, not work related but she's off for the day.  She just had to come in and chew someone a new one.  Thanks, boss.  Yeah, won't take me long and I'll bring Messer with me since he's here.  Sure, thanks."  He hung up and put his phone back into his pocket. "Case."

"I figured as much.  Let me get my scene kit," Danny said, going to get it and meeting them at the car.  They helped Stella back in and he got into the back seat.  Stella only had stairs at her place, it was going to be a slow climb.

Mac walked into his office and shut the door.  "Lindsey, I won't have you causing dissent," he said quietly.  "I'm sure Stella put your fears to rest."

"There's no way...."

"Lindsey, I talked to Xander myself.  She never asked him to stop.  She said she never asked him to stop.  Xander doesn't have urges to rape or maim women."

"He writes disgusting dark things!" she told him.

"Yes, to keep down any urges he has to kill his former friends who keep trying to harm his life.  Or his parents, who were trying to blackmail him."  She looked horrified, backing away from him.  He sat down and looked at her.  "In truth, Stella had way too much sex.  Xander had her for about five hours straight.  Of course she can't walk."  She glared at him.  "It's a wonder she can move at all.  She said to tell you that by the way.  That way you would drop that insinuation."

"There's no way the male body can...."

"Who said anything about him doing more than having oral sex with her?" Mac asked dryly.  She glared and looked slightly grossed out.  "That's what she said happened, Lindsey, and she said to drop whatever you're thinking.  It isn't true.  It could hurt him and her."

"They won't hurt her for reporting it," she started.

"There's nothing to report.  She said there's nothing to report.  She was smiling and happy when she said it, Lindsey.  I've known Stella since the day she walked through the front door here.  She was in no way unhappy with what went on with Xander after their date.  She thanks you for your concern, but it's a bit misplaced at this point in time.  The same as your accusations about Danny being tainted by Xander and his casework suffering due to their friendship was a dangerous accusation to make."

"No human can...."

"Lindsey, women are designed differently.  Stella apparently can, but she's not used to it.  Aiden walked in after her first date with Xander being too tired to do more than smile and sit there staring at things on a table.  Don and Danny both know him very well.  They wouldn't have let Aiden date him, or let Stella go on a date with him, if they even had the hint that Xander was a bad person.  Aiden was like a sister to both of them," he said calmly.  She was still glaring.  "In this case, your concern is noted and she appreciates it but it's not warranted.  Now, we have open cases to work on and you have one as well.  Where are you in your case?"

"I still say she was protecting him.  Maybe because he bribed her or scared her, but she was protecting him for some reason."

"She's not, Lindsey."  He looked outside, nodding their IAB contact inside.  "Captain Hillborne.  What can I do for you today?"

"Someone heard this one shouting about Bonasera being attacked?" he asked quietly.

"No, she had a very intense date last night with a young man some of us know.  They had a great deal of consensual sex according to her and she threw her back."

"Oh.  She okay?" he asked.   Mac nodded. "Present for work?"

"Called off since she's having problems walking.  Sheldon Hawkes has already advised on a good method of treatment for tonight.  I had Detective Flack take her home and since he was headed for a scene, he brought Danny with him."

"That's fine. It was consensual?"

"It was when I asked her.  She was smiling when she said it was.  She said it was one of the nicest dates she'd been on recently.  He treated her to an expensive, romantic dinner out. They went to a club and went dancing, then they went home and had sex."

"Okay.  As long as she's sure."

"She's protecting him!" Lindsey told him.

"She's not," Mac told her again.  "I promise you she's not.  Xander's a very nice guy."

"The same Xander that came in to help you on a few cases?" Hillborne asked.  "As in the one who writes romance novels and does some very odd research?"  Mac nodded once.  "Okay then."  He licked his lips.  "The same one Aiden Burns was dating?"  Mac nodded again, smirking a bit.  "Same cause as hers when she collapsed at a scene?"

"Not quite.  Stella ate enough, that was Aiden's problem.  Her blood sugar had tanked and it made her pass out.  Stella's just sore."

"Okay then, not a concern for us."

"He writes violent and disturbing books," Lindsey told him.

"He writes romance novels," Hillborne snorted.  "I don't call that particularly disturbing unless you're really overly macho."

"I can read 'em.  Flack said he can even read the first few pages and usually he breaks out in hives on sight of them."  He leaned back.  "Xander has written a few darker things but it's to take the urges away to hurt his former friends and family that're hurting him presently. His parents are trying to blackmail him and his friends hurt him greatly a few times."

"I see.  And the pretty blonde we see Detective Flack with now and then?"

"Xander's friend Tara.  She's recently transferred out here to get away from one of the friends who hurt Xander greatly.  They consider her a younger sister, him and Messer both."

"Very well," he decided.  "It sounds like it's just puritanism again.  I'll drop this and tell the ones gossiping it's that instead of anything real."

"Thank you.  I'll stop the gossiping in a few.  Which techs?"

"DNA called me.  Your ME is looking very worried as well."

Mac called down to the morgue.  "Doc, it's Mac."  He listened to his question.  "No, she's fine.  Too much Xander last night."  He smirked at the response.  "Sheldon already did, Doc, but you could check on her later.  Thanks."  He hung up and looked at him. "DNA and anyone else?"

"Just this one.  Thank you for making this easier on me, Taylor."

"Not an issue.  We hate to see you coming, Hillborne."

"Everyone does."  He left, going back to report it was a complaining coworker with delusions against good sex.

Mac stared Lindsey down.  "You know, if she had actually been hurt, this would have gotten her reputation ruined around the station with all the gossip," he said quietly.  "You're going to have to do some groveling to get back on Stella's good side.  I would suggest you start as soon as she comes in tomorrow.  Now, go back to work, Lindsey, and do not let this malicious gossiping happen again.  Yes, that is an order," he said at her opening mouth.  She walked off.  He went down to DNA to talk to that tech.  The tech gave him a long look then whimpered.  "She went on a date with Xander."

"Aiden's Xander?" she asked.  He nodded. "So she's fine?"

"She threw her back out."

"What Lindsey said....."

"Puritanical mindset," he agreed.  "You did the right thing but next time, report it to me, not to IA.  Got it?"  That got a quick nod.  "Good instincts though, just sucky follow through."

"Yeah, but I'm not in the field," she offered sheepishly.

Mac nodded.  "That's fine. Just apologize tomorrow."

"I will. I'll send her one tonight, Mac."

"Good.  Thank you."  He walked out, going to check on the rest of his staff.  He'd have to stop the gossip chain from going around the entire station. He did call to let Flack know that Hillborne had wanted to know who Tara was.  Just in case it came up again.


Xander gave Stella a sheepish look. "I'm sorry."

"Not your fault.  Lindsey's a twit," she said, kissing him on the cheek.  "But I'm under orders not to get that bad again."

"I'll be more gentle the next time I play with you, my kitten," he offered with a small smirk. She smirked back and he stole a kiss.  "Are you on Sunday night?  Tara said she wants to cook dinner for her date and invited you too."

"I'm off.  What time?"  He shrugged. "Ask her?"

"She'll call Saturday to let you know."

"That's fine."  She pinched him on the cheek. "You didn't have to bring me flowers."

"Yes I did.  You deserve flowers for not killing anyone."  He handed them over, then the lunch he had gotten her. "Because a beautiful woman is one with curves and slight imperfections to make her seem human instead of a statue."  She smiled at that.  He beamed and bounced off. "I've got to threaten my old publisher for threatening my new one. I'll see you Sunday."  He rushed off to his car.

Stella smiled and took her things back to the break room.  Don looked at the flowers then smirked at her.  "Xander invited me over to dinner Sunday to eat with Tara and her girlfriend."

"I got that too," he agreed. "Danny too.  Tara told her she had to get used to the overprotective people in her life."

"That's right," Danny said as he came in.  "He get you chocolates for lunch?"

She sat down and looked inside the bag, shaking her head as she pulled out the sandwiches.  "But he fed you two."  She pushed over the ones with their names stapled to the wrapper.  "We should be careful, she might think we're a quad now," she teased.

Don snorted and shook his head.  "Then you'd really be sore when we took turns."  She giggled and kicked him, making him smirk back.  "How about you, Danny?"

"No thanks.  Stella might kill me in the sack."  He sat down to eat, looking out the window.  "There's Mac and Sheldon, off to a scene probably."  They stopped in and looked at the table.  She handed Sheldon his and Mac had to pout so she handed over her extra one, then they left again.  "He spoils all us."

"Yeah, well, Xander's a spoiling sort," Don reminded him. "His friends and exes all trained him to spoil horribly and I'm guessing the writing is going well at the moment."

"Oh, yeah," Danny agreed dryly.  "He didn't answer my last email for three days because he was writing a new one.  He say anything else?" he asked before taking a bite.

"He was off to threaten his old editor for threatening his new one."  She ate a bite and moaned.  This was a good sandwich.  Don smirked and took a larger bite.  "He do this to you guys when you go over to hog his tv?"

"No.  He puts out chips and stuff," Don told her with a grin. "You can come over if you want."

"Sure.  What's her girlfriend like?"

"Like Tara, only she's a brunette," Danny told her, finishing off his and getting up to get a drink from the machine. "You two need anything?"

"Soda me," Don ordered.

"I'm good," Stella promised, glancing at her bottle of water.  Danny came back and Don paid him for his soda before opening it.  "Think she'll watch the game with you guys?"

"I don't think they'd do more than sit in the corner and read to each other.  They've done that before," Danny offered with a tiny grin at her.  "They're so adorable."

"They are," Don agreed happily. "It's good she found someone sweet and special after Rosenburg."

"It is," Stella agreed. "Any idea why she's been so quiet?"

"Apparently Ethan went out to deliver his last present in person and made her cry," Danny offered with a grin.  "Something about turning into him."   That got a mass evil smirk from his friends.  "I heard she's getting help again.  Wants Tara back but oh well."  He shrugged and finished his soda.  "I'd better get back.  I've got something running right now."  He grinned at Stella.  "Come up and get results when you're done."  She nodded so he hurried off.

Don leaned back with a grin.  "So, you're serious?"

"I don't know," she admitted.  "Maybe.  He's a nice guy."

"He is," Don agreed. "A bit weird but nice.  Kinda slick now and then.  He got Aiden to work out with him a lot even though she complained about getting that sweaty."

She smiled at that.  "I heard.  I don't think I can do that.  I'm good but not that good."  He smirked at that.  She shrugged. "I'm not."

"You could be."

"Yeah, well, then again he's got some odd ideas too, like his absolute fear of halloween."

"I noticed that.  Tara said it's because Ethan picked on him during it a few times."

"What is between him and Ethan?"

"Blackmail," he said simply.  She raised an eyebrow.  "A guy like Ethan doesn't do things for free and I doubt he needs money.   He seems like the sort to do whatever he can to make you uncomfortable."

"Yeah, Ethan is a bit slimy that way," she agreed dryly.  "He showed up earlier while I was talking to Xander on the phone and you could hear the bitterness in his response.  I'm hoping he's not usually like that?"  Flack shook his head quickly.  "We're sure?"

"Very."  He tipped his chair down and leaned forward.  "You didn't see it but some of his reactions to what happened to Mac let me know all I want to know about how it'd never be totally voluntary," he said quietly.  "From the way he reacts about his time like that, someone, whoever took him out on that date Rosenburg and his ex Cordelia set him up on, wasn't exactly pleasant to him."  She nodded at that.  "He shuts down usually when we get close to it.  Aiden and I were joking with him and it came up, he ended up breaking a glass bowl in the kitchen when he tensed up."

"Okay, so he's not like that, but Ethan's slimy enough to force the issue and make him do it."  Flack nodded.  "Why?"

"Because sometimes you've got to have that sort of power on your side.  Can you imagine if he hadn't helped Mac?"  She shivered.  "Yeah, so."  He shrugged again.  "Sometimes you gotta do it."

"But he's got power."

"And he's got the same sort of power Rosenburg does," he agreed quietly.  "Notice how he's not turning into her?"  She stared then swallowed and nodded.  "I noticed the other day he got frustrated and something floated.  He gave it the most horrified look and shut down his magic totally for a few hours, blocked it from himself.  He told me closing the one here got him the same sort of power and he was born on the other one, where she now tries to hold sway.  He said it'd welcome him home anytime he wanted and he could access that one, but he doesn't want to."

"Good.  That's excellent."  She slumped a bit then nodded.  "Since he doesn't want it...."

"He doesn't use it unless he has to.  He also said he doesn't want to use it.  He doesn't want to risk going anywhere near what she is."

"Even better," she decided.  "I think maybe I'm going to go have a talk with my boyfriend tonight."

"He'll freak."

"He won't. It's not like I'm going to be judgmental.   I'm not like that. I just want to make him talk to me about this instead of to others.  I'd rather hear this sort of stuff from the source."

"Well, one last tidbit. I've seen Ethan pressuring him to join his side instead."

"Xander's too decent for that," she reminded him.

"Exactly.  Doesn't mean he's not the pushy sort though."   They shared a look.

"Ethan gets him over my dead body," she agreed quietly.  He grinned at her, patting her on the hand.  "You really like the kid?"

"Yeah, he's like a very odd friend's little brother or something.  The kid you kinda watch out for but you're not related to.  Not that he couldn't do the job.  He probably could.  He invited me to go to the range with him and I did.  He's a damn good shot."

"Good.  Why?"

"Ethan.  Halloween."

"Oh, wonderful."  She smiled a bit.  "I'll get him to talk to me."

"Aiden avoided all that stuff."

"I'm not Aiden."

"Good point, but expect that thought to cross his mind.  She never wanted to know."

"Then again, I'm definitely not Aiden.  I'm the one with the curly hair."  He grinned and she got up.  "Thanks, Flack."

"Welcome, Stella.  Have fun with that and I've got to get back to the evil pile of paperwork too."  He got up and headed back to his desk.  He passed Lindsey in the hall, noticing she looked thoughtful.  When he got back to his desk, he called Stella.  "Did you see a lurker?" he asked quietly.  "Certain people just gave me a very thoughtful look."  He grinned and left it in her hands, hanging up after she did. She could handle the new girl and straighten her out.


Stella found Lindsey in the locker room. "We should talk."

"About?" she asked.

"About a few things."  She looked around then at her.  "Were you listening earlier?"

"No.  I don't eavesdrop."

"Really?"  She handed over the picture she had pulled from their security system.  "How long were you there?"

"Long enough to know that something's seriously wrong with that guy."

Tara walked in and looked at her.  "Danny said you needed me, Stella?"

She nodded.  "Not yet, but in a few."  Tara smiled at that.  She looked at Lindsey again, frowning a bit.  "First, what you listened to was a *private* conversation about my boyfriend.  Second, if you go near him, I will trash you.  If you try to use that stuff, I will kick your ass.  And if you say anything to anyone else about him, I will make sure your end is painful."  Lindsey looked startled.  Tara frowned at that.  "I'm serious, Lindsey.  Whatever you heard, whatever you snuck around to gather on him, drop it.  Xander's a nice guy with a good heart and great instincts."

"Who writes about torture and mutilation now and then," she said dryly.  "Get over it, Stella.  That's your problem."

"Really?  Then why were you eavesdropping?"

"Because I didn't feel like blatantly going in and being snubbed again."

"Again, your fault for overreacting because I had too much sex.  Trust me, if someone *had* attacked me, Mac would've met me at the hospital and probably had me in handcuffs since I killed the bastard.  Notice Xander's still alive?"

"Wait, she said what?" Tara asked quietly.

"When I came in hobbling from too much Xander, she accused him of attacking me," Stella told her.  "I was going to take you out later to talk to you about the neat and nifty things she was eavesdropping about and get your opinion on something."  Tara just nodded.  "We were talking about the Ethan payments and things like how he reacted to Mac recently."

Tara nodded at that.  "Before my time and he keeps Ethan away from me most of the time.  Your thoughts are probably correct on both counts.  I know he shuts down whenever that date is mentioned.  I can only guess why. I'm not sure how far it got.  I do know that Cordelia had to save him because Buffy laughed and walked off."  She looked at Lindsey again.  "So, you think you can do what?  Blackmail him?  Torment him?  I'm not going to let anyone hurt Xander.  Not you, not Stella, not anyone."

"I'm not like that, but if he was he needs help."

"What makes you think he didn't have it?" Tara countered.  Lindsey glared at her. "Don't even try, little girl. My ex girlfriend is so much better at that than you are."  She looked over as the door opened, then at Stella again.  "Any other topics that might've come up?"

"Halloweens.  Mostly it was pretty light until Flack and I ended up alone and he asked me if I was serious, then he warned me about a few reactions he's seen so I could talk to Xander myself and not accidentally hurt him."

"He won't talk about it," she advised, "but you can try.  It might help.  Ooooh, cute thing. I proofed the new pirate one.  He finally gave in and did a really gay piece."  Stella smiled at that and so did Tara.  "Anyway."  The other officer left and she looked around then glared at Lindsey again.  "Xander might have given you the chance to get to know you, but you've already blown that by accusing him of doing something so horrible he puts those people into special categories of he won't save them if they're attacked.  Xander's fought very hard to save a lot of people over the years, young lady, and its people like you who make him want to hide from the rest of the world and let it go to hell.  Considering we stop the world from going to hell quite often, that's a bad thing."  Lindsey opened her mouth, looking a bit confused.  "You don't need to know what that means.  You haven't earned the right.  The same as Xander didn't like you before because he was dating the person who you took over for."

"She tainted...."

"No," Stella said firmly.  "Aiden did not taint anything.  She thought about.  She thought about it quite hard to catch a sick pervert that we didn't have enough evidence on.  The job was wearing her down and she realized that, that's why she didn't."  Lindsey's mouth snapped shut.  "The fact that she got that burnt out over some of the horrors we see daily is why Mac fired her, because she didn't deal with it appropriately.  If I catch you moving that way, I'll make sure you deal with it.  If I had paid attention to Aiden, I'd have stopped her.  I'm damn sorry we lost Aiden.  She was a damn good CSI and I valued her on our team. You may be good but you haven't earned your spot yet with us.  Not when you accuse people of things without information, not when you use your own biases on cases, and not when you spout off shit that you have no right to talk about.

"*IF* I'm ever attacked, I sure as hell don't want someone spreading it around in here.  If it ever happens, I'll be calling Mac directly because I know as soon as I do, he'll be in his car and to my side as fast as humanly possible and he'll do everything in his power to catch them.  The same as I know who else around here I can call at three in the morning to drive me home when it's been that bad of a shift and I'm totally drunk from the after-effects.  The same as I know exactly who I trust enough to sleep next to and know that they won't even look at me funny. I knew that within six weeks of being here."  Lindsey went stiff at that implication.  "I'm not saying they wouldn't for you, Lindsey, but I'm not sure you realize what the hell you're trashing at the moment.  If I were you, I'd take a long, hard look at my attitudes and actions and see why you're at the top of the list to be sent away."

"I'm trying to help," she said quietly.

"And yelling that in front of everyone wasn't," Stella countered.  "You knew that when you did it.  The same as you know the consequences of one of us saying something like that, even if it's unsubstantiated like yours was. I can guarantee you if that got out to the press, there'd be a field day and you'd end up sued."  She glared back.  "That's slander, dear, that's ruining a reputation and he would sue you to keep his clean.  Loudly and in the press since you said that so openly."

Tara nodded.  "Someone did call his editor, who conferenced Xander into the call.  He explained that it had been a bit too much sex with his new girlfriend and you had thrown out your back, that's why you were moving wrong.  He said that she's paranoid and overreacted.  That's kept it out of the press and when the small bit of gossip went around, the journalist actually stopped it.  I think that was very nice of him and I sent him a small plant for it."

Stella smiled at her. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, but I'd do anything to protect Xander."  She looked at Lindsey.  "You have no idea what you've done to him, Lindsey.  Xander risked his life to protect me from my girlfriend. I know very well she tried to have him hurt because of him protecting me.  I have no doubt about it."  Stella looked at her.  "Willow hit me and magiced me," she said quietly.

"It doesn't exist," Lindsey said hotly.

Tara changed her into a kitten then looked at Stella again.  "Yes, it did happen how you and Don think," she offered quietly.  "No, he won't talk about it.  Yes, he's repressing it.  Yes, I'm pretty sure that's what Ethan charges and he does it to tweak Xander and to prove to him he's stronger than he thinks, not totally out of malicious feelings.  Ethan wants Xander very badly to be his protege.  Xander could surpass him and he's the one that Ethan would consider a proper student."  Mac came in and she nodded at him, giving him a little smile. "They came back?"

"Just a bit ago," he admitted bitterly.  "How can you tell?"

"It's in your aura."  She pulled him closer to give him a hug.  "I wish I could fix that but I'm not sure how yet.  I'm still researching.  Dimitri left a lot of books and Ethan's helping too."

"Thank you, Tara."  He looked at the kitten trying to climb him, picking it up to look at.  "Why do I think you're not a normal cat?"

Tara took her back and put her on the floor, changing her back.  "Do you still think magic isn't real?"  She burst out crying.  She looked at Stella again.  "He won't talk about it. If you hint that you know he might open up some.  I wouldn't count on it and if you do, you'll be cuddling him all night."

"I can do that.  Cuddling should be equal.   I like to be supportive the same as I like being the one held."  She gave her a hug and Tara relaxed.  "I understand, Tara."

"I'm glad you do.  Xander's a big, huge puzzle to me most of the time."  She pulled back and looked at Mac, giving his energy a small boost to finish the transformation back.  He smiled at that.  "You know my new girlfriend."

"I do?"  She nodded.  "From where?"

"I'm not sure yet.  She wouldn't tell me.  But I mentioned that I had to visit you once to check on you and she said she knew you."  She patted him on the hand.  "You behave.  No more causing trouble."

"I try very hard not to."

"Yes, but it seems to like you as much as it does the Xander."

"No, that's more Danny's thing," Stella said dryly.  Tara grinned at that and nodded.  "So, you're okay?"  Tara nodded.  "Has she tried anything?"

"Yup, I caught it when something came up and challenged him a few weeks back.  You never see anything that's so deadly it's pretty until you watch Xander spar with something."  Mac and Stella both nodded at that.  She beamed. "You've seen him?"

"He had to save Don from something," Mac admitted.

"Of course, Mac got the wrong idea about him until Joyce chewed him a new one," Stella said with fond tolerance.

Tara nodded. "Xander's only dangerous if you're a bad guy or you're trying to hurt one of his family or friends.  Well, really his friends are his only family, but still friends."  She slumped a bit. "He got another letter from his family.  From the jail."

Stella moaned.  "I'll tell Don to come get it later."

"Thank you.  Xander's stressing out with ice cream."  She patted her on the cheek.  "Go see my buddy and calm him down, Stella.  I can't do that for him.  He won't let me be the one to cuddle him."  She nodded and went to handle that for her. She looked at Lindsey, who was down to sniffles.  "Xander handles things like that for a hobby," she said quietly.  "That's why Sheldon hates to see him coming.  Xander does things he can't explain."  She smiled at Mac again.  "There's a book on what you wondered about."  He beamed at her. "It's in one of the post-hieroglyphics but pre-Greek writing Middle Eastern languages that Xander can read."   He let out a small moan.  "He might be able to translate it for you if someone else can't.   His muses might mind that long off, but he might be able to since he can read it."

"How many of those sort of languages can you guys read?" he asked quietly, shifting a bit closer.  He decided to sit down.  "If I end up with something in Ancient Greek or Hebrew, can I come to him?"

She nodded.  "I know he can read Ancient Hebrew, not that it's changed much from what he's said.  Um, Ancient Greek I'm not sure if he can or not. I think Willow had that one.  I know he can read that one language.  I know he can read a few demonic ones."   He smirked a bit at that. "That comes in handier than you could ever know.  There's one he's found in a local museum hidden inside some very nice paintings.  The artist wasn't as human as everyone thought."  He smiled at that and nodded.  "You'd have to ask Xander what he can read.  I know he can speak a few but not read them.  I know Willow can do more and she's got a kick-ass translation program on her laptop for that stuff if we need it.  I can guilt a copy out of Giles since he's supposed to hand stuff like that to the Watchers and Xander is one."  She smiled a bit but blushed too.  "He found a smutty, pervy book the other day in a demonic language in the stuff Travers sent him.  He giggled all night while he read it."  Mac beamed at that.  "He's a normal, goofy guy until something or someone threatens his family."

"I finally saw that.  Now I only give him odd looks because he writes soft-core romance novels."

"Yeah, well, even Xanders have to eat.  They grow very attached to eating a lot very regularly."  He laughed and nodded.  "Xander used to be a bottomless pit.  Willow said the buffet place in Sunnydale refused to let him in a few times if they heard he hadn't eaten that day.  He closed them down once."  He snickered at that, shaking his head a few times.  "So he does what he has to so the bills can be paid but mostly he's a fun and goofy guy.  Ooh!  Tom, his old publisher, and his new one, Elizabeth, threatened each other until they worked it out and they're sharing him.  She'll do the stuff Tom doesn't want and Tom will make sure she quits nagging him about his style since others seem to like it a lot. That only leaves him with three things he won't hand over."

"Why not?"

"Well, one's his first book and he thinks it's crappy.  One's something he won't let even me read.  The other Don's read but I'm not sure what it's about.  I think Don liked it but I'm not sure."

"I'll suggest he prod Xander if he did."  She smiled at that. "Lindsey, are you all right?"

"Fine," she said quietly.

"Good."  He stood up, making her look at him.  "Xander is a normal guy.  It took me months and Joyce Summers chewing me out for me to see that, but it's true.  He's a very protective normal guy with skills that enable him to protect others."

"They were talking about some guy named Ethan and how he was using him," she said quietly.

"I got that hint when he kept pushing me to protect myself.  I know, so does Don.  So does Tara and Stella probably. We're not cops for nothing, Lindsey."  She nodded, swallowing a bit.  "Now, you owe the boy an apology.  One in public so the others around here can see it.  Because you have trashed his reputation around here and they're watching Stella to make sure she's fine.  You will do that tomorrow when he comes to pick her up for a lunch date. Do you understand me?"  She swallowed and nodded.  "Thank you."  He let her go and smiled at Tara again.  "How is the new girlfriend?"

"Sweet.  We're having dinner with Xander and Stella on Sunday."

"And Don and Danny," he reminded her.  She sighed and nodded.  "Invited themselves along?"

"No, I invited them but they're just as overprotective as Xander is.  She laughed when I complained that Xander escorted me places, even when I said I could go alone."

"He wants to make sure you're safe.  The city is a dangerous to those who are sweet and blush," he reminded her, stroking her cheek. "Let him be protective, Tara.  Otherwise he'll end up stalking you around to make sure you're all right."

"I know.  That's one of the reasons I'm going to school just outside the city.  It's a safe area and the campus has a very low crime rate.  Don made sure of it and handed me statistics on my three choices."  He smiled at that.  "Danny bought me pepper spray and a taser."  He let out a small chuckle. "It's not funny."

"I can't imagine you using a taser," he teased, making her smile and blush.  "Are you and Stella going out tonight?"

"She's going to cuddle the Xander.  He got another letter from his parents."  He nodded at that.  "They're being mean, Mac.  Very mean, and they're threatening that Willow will back them up."

"Sounds like someone needs to slap some sense into Willow again," he noted dryly.

"I've asked Buffy to, she swears she's talked to Willow and made her see sense."  She shrugged.  "If she tries anything I will hurt her this time.  No one hurts Xander like they're threatening."  She looked at Lindsey.  "If she's the love of my life and I'm going to fry her, imagine what'll happen to you," she said quietly, then she gave Mac one last smile. "I'm off to find ice cream.  Which big brother is here?"

"Danny's on until nine tonight and Don's probably about ready to leave."

"I'll be extra careful to avoid the big brothers on my way out then.  That way I can get some time to play at the ice cream place."  He smiled and she left, running into Don.  "Hi."

"We're worried about you, that's why we protect you so hard," he reminded her patiently, kissing her on the forehead.  "Remember, scummy guys like sweet and nice girls like you."  He smiled at her.  "Want a ride?"

"I can take a bus.  I'm a big girl."

"I'm heading that way anyway, Tara.  You can take the subway home."  She smiled at that. "You have the pepper spray, right?"  She nodded and he ducked in to get his jacket, then walked her out with an arm around her shoulders.  "If you and Morgan don't work out, I'm introducing you to my littlest sister."  She blushed at that.  "Let me guess, she gushed at Xander recently?"

"At his last book signing and I was there," she agreed happily.  "She gushed about how you said such nice things about him.  He gave her this sweet and goofy grin and made her book extra special.  He said you're a really nice guy and he likes you as a buddy."

"I like him that way too.  Xander is one unique, likeable guy."  He saw the curious look from one of the lab techs.  "Janice, this is Tara.  Tara is like Xander's and my little sister."

"Hi," she said shyly.

"Hi.  The same Xander that Stella's dating?"  He nodded.  "That's kinda cool. I saw her heading out talking to him on the phone."  She shook Tara's hand.  "You don't have to be shy around me.  I'm a nice person.  Tell him he did really good on that mystery novel that just came out last week."  Tara nodded, blushing a bit.  "Have fun tonight.  You too, Detective."

"Thanks.  I plan on going home and relaxing. It's about time I got some time off."  He led Tara off again, grinning at her.  "See, and now you can babble at your girlfriend that you've met another decent New Yorker who doesn't usually swear."

"Stella only usually swears in Greek around me, it makes Xander laugh."

"Yeah I took him for a guy who giggles at things like that."

She poked him on the side. "You should've seen him with the ancient smutty book he found recently.  Giggled all night."  Don smirked at that.  "He's translating it for me so you can get a copy."  She looked up at him.  "What was that one story about?"

"Lots and lots of stuff.  He needs to expand on some of the points but that'll make it about as long as the bible."  She smiled at that. "It's interesting but it's *really* long.  He just needs to expand on a few parts and it'd be a trilogy.  I can see it going that way too."  She smiled at that.  "It wasn't too bad.  You could tell it was an earlier thing by the writing and the grammar mistakes, but that's okay.  Has Elizabeth figured out how to edit him easiest yet?"

"Yup, she said she reads it all the way through first and then goes back to edit out the extra stuff. Otherwise she got confused."  He smiled at that.  "She kept trying to cut out that random character that keeps showing up in everything.  She doesn't like him at all."  He grinned and held the door for her, letting her out first.  She looked up then at him. "You do get sun."

"Yeah, wait until high summer when we get humidity too."

"I'm from the south.  I've seen humidity, Don."   He smiled at that and led her out to his car, letting her into it.  She watched as another officer came over to talk to him and Don glared at him so he backed off.  She rolled down the window.  "Don?"

"It's fine.  He thinks I'm dating you."

She looked at him.  "I like girls.  He doesn't have the necessary stuff for me to date him," she said with a shy look.  The officer gulped and nodded, backing off and going inside.  "Sorry."

"Not an issue.  My father's nagging me to date too," he noted as he walked around and got in.  "Of course he'd love you."  She smiled as she rolled back up the window and he started the engine.  "He would.  He'd call you cute and delicate and beg for a Third."  She frowned at him.  "I'm a Junior."

She patted him on the wrist.  "All parents hope that their children will be better than them.  Few live up to it.  I think you're more than capable."  He smiled at that and backed out, one happy guy.  He even dropped her off at the ice cream place without watching her walk inside like the big brother he was.


Aiden casually strolled into the Magic Box in Sunnydale and found Willow behind the register, and the guy who must be Rupert Giles. "Hi.  I need Rosenburg for a few please."

"Is there a problem?"

"Oh yeah, one hell of one."  She grabbed Willow by the hair and walked her outside and out into the alley, her protesting and squirming the whole way.  "Willow."

"Aiden," she said coldly.

Aiden swung and punched her, knocking her down.  "You're hurting Xander again, have you realized how evil you're becoming? Tara wasn't enough to hurt?"

"How dare...!"  Aiden hit her again.  "Hey!"

"Shut up, bitch.   You hurt Tara so badly that she nearly hid from Xander one morning.  You're hurting Xander now by helping his parents blackmail him.  How much more evil are you going?"  She watched Willow get up and step away from her.  "You leave Xander and Tara and all the rest of New York alone.  You got me here?"

"I can...."  She backed away from her w hen Aiden tensed up again.  "They said it happened!"

"How would they know?  It's not like they watched him.  Or took care of him.   Besides, you were there. Do you remember it?"  She shook her head, wiping the blood off her mouth.

"Um, can I interrupt?" a young blonde girl asked.

"No," Aiden said, glaring at her.  "Go away, Buffy.  This is between me and little miss smarty pants here."

"And you are?" Buffy asked, moving carefully closer.


"Oh, Xander's ex."  She smiled and shook her hand.  "It's nice to finally meet you.  He said a lot of happy things about you to my mom.  You should go talk to my mom when you've finished yelling at Willow, but if you hit her I might have to try to defend her again."

"You know she's helping his parents, right?"

"Yeah, and I'm not sure why.  Willow, are you going evil and dark magic again?"  Willow gave her a hurt look. "You're acting like it.  You hurt the Xander.  A lot.  Xander cried to my mom about you this time."  Willow slumped and nodded.  "Now, did it happen that way?"  She shook her head.  "What did they promise you?"

"That he'd come back."

Aiden snorted.  "Ain't no way in hell he's coming back to this town, Willow.  You fucked that possibility straight to hell when you sent him a cursed check and tried to fucking kill him by keeping information from him.  You and Giles both.   You better be *damn* glad I've calmed down since I heard about that or else I'd be covering up a few homicides."

"In this town, no cover up needed," Buffy assured her dryly.  Then she shrugged at the amused look. "Really, there's not.  They'd just count it as another demonic related death."  She shrugged. "They do it with everything that's not domestic related really."  She looked at Willow.  "If you're staying one of the good guys I think you need to apologize and step up to admit you did wrong, Willow. Isn't that one of the step thingies you get in rehab?"  She nodded, swallowing a bit. "Good, then I'll expect it tonight before mom has a cow."  She smiled at Aiden.  "Come on, you should come home with me. It's gonna be dark soon.  We don't want you eaten.  I'd hate to make Xander stake you if you got away from me."  She took her arm and led her off.  "So, how did you handle Xander and not turn evil?  All the girls he dated here turned evil."

"I think they turned bad because they panicked.  Xander's very intense.  We kept it really causal and light between us so I didn't get overwhelmed with the spoiling little goofball with the really good tongue."  Buffy blushed at that. "Sorry, but true."  She smiled at her.  "Your mom kick Giles' ass over that lack of information thing?"

Buffy nodded.  "In front of Travers, that's why Xander's a watcher."

"He is?" Willow asked from behind them.

"He's the area Watcher over New York," Aiden told her.  "The last guy got turned and Dimitri's letting him rent his place and everything. It's a nice place and Tara and he split the bed."  She smiled at Buffy.  "Now and then I hear she goes to sleep on Danny and Don's couch whenever they wanna get loud and noisy," she offered with a grin.  "He's doing good with Stella.  I hear she's not that tense anymore."

"Do you think I could visit?"

"I think if you do you'd better be very good and very nice," Aiden assured her, smiling at the woman walking toward them. "Joyce."  She hugged her.  "We were coming to see you."

Joyce looked at Willow, then at her.  "Got tired of it?" she asked.  Aiden nodded. "Good.  Willow, I'm not fond of you and I do not want you around Dawn when you're like this."


"Oh, long story," Buffy assured her with a grin. She smiled at her mother.  "Can we put her up tonight?"

"Of course."  She smiled at Aiden. "Did you drive in?"  She nodded. "Then let Buffy navigate back to the house.  Dawn's desperate for any new Xander stories she can hear.  She had the worst crush on him," she shared.

"He's an easy guy to crush on," Aiden agreed happily.  "If I didn't live in Arizona, no one would get near the Xander."  Joyce laughed and hugged her.  "I'll see you back there?"

"Sure.  What did you want for dinner?"

"Whatever's fine. I'm not picky."

"Okay."  She smiled and patted Buffy on the cheek.  "We'll talk about you visiting him later this summer."

Buffy smiled at her and led her back to her car, getting in to navigate the way home.  When they got there, her little sister came out onto the porch, looking a bit confused.  "This is Xander's last girlfriend Aiden."

Dawn squealed and rushed over to hug her. "An unevil Xander girlfriend!  Finally!  I want new Xander stories!"  She pulled her inside to pump her for information.

"I don't think I was ever that young," Buffy sighed as she followed along, listening to the stories of a Xander finding his way around the big city.


Xander beamed as everyone showed up for lunch.  "Good news!  I'm free of the horrible parents!  Willow recanted his bs story and I'm very free!"  Don clapped him on the back.  "Aiden went and punched Willow in the mouth a few times too."  Danny laughed at that. "Seriously.  Joyce told me."  He beamed at that.   "She also said that Buffy wants to come out but she'll be on her best behavior and she's very sorry about the earlier bs she helped in."

"Good. You could use another buddy to show around since Tara's finding her own way around now," Danny teased.  Xander grinned at that and got their food from the kitchen.  Danny looked then at Tara. "You cook very well."

"Thank you.  Morgan helped."  She took her girlfriend's hand.  "Morgan, this is Danny and Don," she said, pointing at them.  "And that's Stella."

"Hi," she said quietly, waving.

Stella smiled and patted her on the head.  "Don't worry about us being mean, Morgan.  As long as you treat Tara okay you're probably good with us."  She sat down and Xander smiled at her.  "Any other good news?"

"Lindsey apologized in public."

"I heard. I'm glad," Stella assured him.

"I was about to kick her ass over it," Danny promised.  "She's been very quiet and thinking recently."

"Yeah, I guarded the locker room door when Mac bitched her out," Don admitted.  He looked at Tara.  "Someone was sneaking around for ice cream and I nearly got accused of dating her."  Tara blushed at that.

Morgan giggled. "You're too much a guy for her, Don."

"Which makes me a happy guy to be such a guy," he agreed.  Xander grinned at him.  "I am!  Speaking of, did she tell you what I said about that one?"  Xander nodded.  "I think you could do that easily."

"I've looked at the spots that could be filled in with some of the back story. Like Drega's?"  Don nodded, smirking a bit.  "I can do that."

"I think you should.  It'd be a kick ass trilogy if you did."

"I haven't seen this book," Danny noted dryly.

"It's one of the ones he usually hides," Stella told him. "Neither have I.  He let Don read it."

"I haven't even seen it," Tara offered.

"I've got it on the laptop again but it's really long," Xander told them.

Don nodded.  "Very long.  Like biblical long, but very good.  It needs some grammatical help now and then too. You could tell it was an early story."  Xander smiled at that compliment that he had gotten better over time.  "By the way, I'm sorry if my sister made an ass outta herself at the signing thing."

"Nope, she was good.  The others gave her an awed look for knowing me through you.  They thought she was semi-cool just because of that."  He beamed at him.  "I alluded to that book in her personal message and winked at her, telling her it was hopefully upcoming.  She about danced out of there."

"That's something you don't see every day.  A Flack dancing," Don teased.

"Yeah, but she was cute and happy.  It suited her."

"It does. I'd like to see my sister as happy as often as she can be.  Which is why you cannot date her if you and Stella break up.  She'd pout at you for writing for her all the time."  Xander blushed at that and Danny laughed.

"Oh, I don't know, him trying stuff out on you is kinda nice," Stella assured him with a smile.  "I got a 'just because I'm pretty and smart' gift the other day."

"I saw," Danny teased.  "I also stole one of the lollipops."  Xander frowned at him.  "Only one, there were fifty of them on the tree."

"I let him," Stella assured him.  "I'd have smacked his hand otherwise."  Xander smiled at that, a shy, happy smile.  She stroked his cheek.  "Let's eat.  Before I get mushy and embarrass Morgan and Tara."  They all dug in, eating happily.  Morgan ate a bit carefully and quietly but she was enjoying herself.  At least until someone knocked on the door.

Tara got up to get it, looking at the woman on the other side.  "How did that happen, Mac?" she let him inside and locked the door again, leading him into the bedroom to look him over.  "Is this like being a werewolf?  Do you change once a month?"  He grimaced at that, sniffling a bit.  "It's all right," she promised, giving him a hug.  "Let me look."

"Can I help?" Xander called.

"No.  I've got it."  She sat him down and went to work on him.  "Oooh, I see why."  She called Joyce.  "Can you please swat the Willow?  When she did whatever she did it turned Mac back into a woman again and it's nearly locked down so she'll have to cancel it."  She smiled as Joyce passed that message on.  It meant Willow was getting better.  "No, we're all having dinner with my new girlfriend," she offered as she watched Mac turn back.  "Nearly, not quite all there, Joyce.  Now he's kinda a neither."  There was a popping noise and a soft glow, and Mac was himself again.  "Thank you.  Now, can she stop it from ever coming back on him and Xander?  It freaks them both out badly."  She looked in the living room at Xander, who was hunched over.  "Come here.  She's working on it and it'll be easier if you're closer together."  He walked in there and closed the bedroom door.  She smiled.  "You're okay."  He shook his head.

Mac stared at Xander, just blinking.  "She got you closer to yourself," he offered.

"No she didn't. I don't have breasts.  Breasts are girl things."  He took the phone.  "Willow.  Change me back," he growled.  "Now!"  He felt himself change back and sighed, relaxing again. "Thank you!  Can we stop this from happening?  It's like I'm a werewoman some months."  He heard the snickering.  "Not funny, Tara."

"She asked me if I was," Mac offered, standing up.  He went into the bathroom to check himself over.  Everything was still attached and in the right spot so he was a happy guy again.  He felt something settle into him and it felt right so he let it go at that. "Is it fixed?"

"She thinks so," Tara offered, hanging up the phone as he came out.  She came over to look at his aura then smiled. "You should be okay."

"Thank you."  He kissed her on the cheek and gave her a hug.  "You're very nice."  He left, going home again.  He needed a drink now that this whole episode was over with.

Tara walked over to where Xander was sitting, giving him a hug.  He sniffled, looking at her. "It's okay now."  He shook his head.  "Really, it is.  They knew before that you turned."

Don stuck his head in.  "Xander, get out here and eat.  You're making Stella frown.  We know it's not your usual form," he said at the glare.  "Not like you were as bad as Mac was.  You didn't have the big tits like Stella or Aiden have."  Xander loosened up at that.  "Danny's sorry he stared," he offered.  "Come on, your food's getting cold and microwaves distort tastes."  He walked in and hauled Xander up, looking at him. "You all there?"  He nodded.  "Good.  Then go eat. You were cute but not cute enough for us to do more than gape in horror and thank God it wasn't us."  Xander nodded and headed out there.

Danny looked at him.  "Sorry, Xander."

"Not your fault," he muttered as he sat down.

Stella hugged him.  "I like you better this way.  They were cute but not my thing."  Xander blushed at that so she took a kiss. "Fully back and fixed?"

"I hope so."

"Me too.  You make a much better guy than you do a girl. I can't imagine you in a dress," she teased.  He blushed and shuddered.  "Sorry."  She gave him another hug and whispered in his ear, getting a nod. "Good boy.  Now eat.   You have to eat.  Tara did a wonderful job on dinner."

Xander looked toward the bedroom. "You guys talking about me?" he called.

"No, about Willow," Don said as he came out. "I offered to pay for Aiden's airfare so she could go back for it but Tara said she was fixing some of her magic stuff and it happened accidentally."

"Willow has that happen a lot," Tara agreed dryly, sitting down again. "Sorry, Morgan."

"That's okay.  Hilary and Beth both told me about Willow and her accidents.  Something about a 'will' spell when she got dumped and other stuff."

"Yeah," Tara sighed.  "It was pretty bad there for a few times."  Xander nodded at that.  "Thankfully all of us here who practice do so more carefully than that."  Xander nodded more strongly at that, eating another bite of dinner.  "Or else I'd kick his ass."  He smirked at that, still chewing.  "Right, Stella?"

"Yup, I'd stand there and hand you the paddle if he did something like that as anything but an accident."  She patted Xander on the back.  "Most of the time he's a good boy, until he gets a wicked idea."

Xander moaned and went to find his laptop.  "Thank you, I needed that line."  He found where it needed to go and inserted it, then saved it again and went back to dinner. "Sorry.  My muses occasionally scream at me and I have to listen or they get cranky and I don't get anything for a week or so."

"We're used ta it," Don assured him as he started to eat again.

"Very," Danny agreed between bites.

"You get used to Xander reaching for his laptop or a piece of paper and a pen during everything," Stella agreed, smiling at her boyfriend.

"I said I was sorry."

"That's okay, I needed the breather anyway," she promised, kissing him gently.  "Eat, you'll need your strength for later."  He blushed and dug in, taking seconds.  He would not disappoint his lady.

Tara smiled.  Everyone was happy and so she was she.  It was a good day and even though Xander now had a small chance of growing a vagina behind his balls, it was all good to her. At least he didn't have breasts anymore.  Because he and Mac just looked really funny as girls.

The End.