Horatio knocked on the door for the third time and Speed opened it, blinking at him.  "Take out?"

"And I made brownies."  He saw the drool start.  "Can I?"  Speed let him in, nodding at that.  "Where is he?"

"Eating cereal.  Xander, Horatio brought over dinner."  Xander peeked out of the kitchen.  "Bring a few plates and some silverware."  He walked him into the good study, where they had a chessboard set up.  "I'm teaching him how to play."

"It's a wonderful skill to have," he agreed, setting things down.  Xander peeked in.  "I'll help him teach you, Xander."  Xander beamed and came in, drooling at the sight of the brownies. "I was in a bit of a baking mood.  From a mix but...."  The boy hugged him and he smiled.  "After I've made sure you eat."  Xander nodded, carefully moving the board out of the way and sitting on the floor across from them.  He even held his plate up to get it filled.  Horatio smiled at that and filled it for him.  Filling Speed's just as much since Alexx would complain if he lost more weight.  Xander looked at him.  "What?"

"Trying to figure out if I should make small talk.  Is this like a date thingy?"

"This is a three-way date," Speed assured him before eating a bite.  The boy just blinked.  "Eat, Xander."  Xander ate a bite with his fingers and Horatio leaned over to pick up something and feed it to him, making him blush.  "Good boy.  Move closer?"  Xander moved closer and Speed fed him a bite, then Horatio one.  "He's incredibly tactile."

"I thought you were straight," Xander said, looking confused.

"With about three exceptions and I've made you one of them," he said, staring back.  Xander swallowed then took off running for the stairs.  "Xander," he called patiently, eating a bite.

"I didn't want to scare him."

Speed sighed as he got up, heading up there.  He found Xander in his room and walked in. "Hey."  He pulled him onto the bed, cuddling with him.  "A few years back, I wanted nothing more than to be Horatio's stress relief.  Unfortunately he thought I was too drunk."  Xander looked at him.  "Really.  He turned me down.  Crushed me horribly," he offered with a small grin.  "Then I went out with a really horribly clingy girl and I about quit dating after that."  He stroked over the bandage on his arm.  "Well, today, Horatio realized how he feels about you, which the rest of us knew a few weeks back.  He's never that regular about always stopping in the same place on the way home.  Then I got jealous."  Xander opened his mouth so he kissed him.  Xander moaned into it so he pulled back and grinned.  "Thanks."  He stroked his cheek.  "I got really jealous.  That's why Horatio put me here so I'd have a chance. It nearly crushed me when you tried to give me a way out of our date."  He took another kiss.  "Then I realized this morning that Horatio was still struggling, that he still wants you. That's why I went in today.  So we could talk."


"Shh."  He kissed him silent again, staring at him.  "We talked, Xander.  He and I have been friends for years.  If I hadn't been so stupid I would've been in his suit years ago and making him as happy and bouncy as cuddling with you earlier made me.  So we talked.  I don't want to destroy our friendship.  I still care for him and I'm coming to care for you."  Xander whimpered.  "So yeah, it took a while but Horatio quit being so stubborn and admitted he felt the same way too.  So we decided not to fight and to share, see where it took us.  Because the thought of seeing you every night made Horatio leave the office at a decent hour.  That wasn't me.  That was you long before I got shot.  Then last night we both panicked when we heard there had been a shooting there."  Xander shook his head. "Didn't he run in like there was someone chasing him?"

"I did.  For me," Horatio said from the doorway, coming in to lay behind him, cuddling Speed across Xander.  "I was so worried, Xander."  He kissed the back of his head.  "Between that and how you defended me with the idiot today, and then the chief, who said I was spoiled by the attention, I realized what I wanted.  I was trying to make a decision when Speed walked into my office.  After the talk...."

"But three is wrong."

"Not always," Speed assured him, stroking his arm again.  "Sometimes three is just right."

Xander looked at him.  "She'll really kick my ass over that."

"We'll protect you," Horatio soothed, kissing the back of his head again, getting the same shiver.  "We'll talk about this later.  For now, let's go eat.  Then we can work all this out."  He got up and hauled Xander up, smiling at him.  "Everything looks different on a full stomach."

Xander gave him a sheepish grin.  "I'm not sure I can be full."

"You can be," he promised, giving him a look.  "We'll show you later."  He helped Speed off the bed, letting him get the boy's back this time.  Xander let out a full-body shiver.  "See?"  He smirked.  "For now, food, then later we'll talk about the other things."

"For now a date and later we'll see about the after-dating rituals of CSI and convenience store workers," Speed agreed, getting a look. "Now, let's go eat.  I'm hungry."  Xander nodded and let himself be led down the stairs.  Speed knew Horatio was watching them walk, that was the beauty of being young and pretty.  He grinned at Xander.  "So, you really stripped a few times?"

Horatio moaned but Xander nodded.  "Yup, I was so sucky at it they paid me to get off the stage.  It was while I was roadtripping and my car broke down.  I ended up working in a club washing dishes, cleaning the floors, and occasionally having to fill in when they were really short a dancer."

"Was it exciting?"

"No.  I was bored shitless," Xander admitted grinning at them as he sat down in his spot, shooing the fly off his plate.  The other two took their places and shoed the fly off.  Xander finally got tired of it and smacked it when it landed on his thigh.  It flew off.  He did it again the next time he could, this time on Horatio's leg.  It flew off again.  "What are you?  Duncan McFly of the Clan McFly?"  He finally killed it and went 'ha!' and spit at it.  "Got you, you immortal beast."

Speed just shook his head and laughed.  "You're so bad."

"Well, yeah," he admitted then he grinned.  "I'm the official spirit keeper-upper of Sunnydale.  Willow even made me a t-shirt."

Horatio smiled at that. "You've certainly kept mine up some nights when I stopped in to talk."  He fed Xander a bite, watching him eat it.  Then Speed did.  Then he fed Speed one.  "I'm not facing down Alexx if you lose weight."

"I have an active metabolism.  Ask Xander, he probably has one."

Xander shook his head slowly.  "No, I was working construction, going home, making dinner, occasionally doing some laundry, doing three hours of hunting then four or so hours of Anya pleasing before going to sleep and starting all over again."  They both gaped.  He blushed and shrugged. "I like giving pleasure."

"We'll appreciate that about you," Speed assured him, making him blush brighter.

"Boys," Horatio chastised.  "First we'll have to teach him how to give men great pleasure orally."  Speed shivered and hugged himself at that thought.  "Exactly."  He ate a bite and grinned at Xander.  "Not that certain CSI are that experienced."

Speed looked at him.  "I never told you about him?"

"You did.  You also said you were eighteen when he was paralyzed."

"Horatio, how many times do you think an eighteen-year-old guy can get it up in a day?"  They looked at Xander.  "Well?"

"I was dating the self-esteem dissolving cheerleader and getting gropes in the closets.  I was worse when I was younger."  He stuffed his mouth before he could say anything else.

Horatio looked at Speed. "Go get my laptop?"  He handed him the hummer's keys, watching as he went to get it.  He pulled Xander closer by his waistband, looking at him. "Joyce knew about Faith and Cordelia, Xander."  He went pale. "She also knew what happened."  He gave him a gentle kiss then smiled.  "It doesn't make a bit of difference to us if you were a true virgin or just a renewed one."

"No, in this area I am."

"That's fine. I'll enjoy it.  I always did like the teaching and breaking in process."  He kissed him again.  "You needed better taste in women, and now they can't have you back."

Xander blushed and looked down, then back at him.  "Didn't mean to stare."

"Stare away.  You'll see it better later."

"But Speed's shoulder...."

"Nothing too strenuous is going to happen tonight."  He stroked over his nose with a fingertip.  "That'll be for later on in the week, Xander.  Not tonight. Tonight we'll get to know each other better.  I know a lot more about you than Speed does.  That's why I'm giving him the pictures I took from Joyce's journal."  Xander whimpered. "They didn't appreciate you, Xander.  You know that."  He looked over when someone knocked on the door.  "What?"

"It's me, boys."  Horatio got up to let Alexx and Calleigh in.  They gave him back Speed and the laptop. Alexx smiled and handed him the picnic basket.  "You'll never get Speedy back up to his old weight if you don't make him eat.  How's Xander's arm?"

"He said it's fine," Horatio told her.

"Uh-huh."  She pushed her way inside with Calleigh shrugging behind her.

"Eric said you needed help wooing them," she said as she walked past him.  "Since we're here, Alexx, let's check Speed's shoulder so they can have tomorrow off since Horatio's suspended."

"I'm what?"

"He's what!" Speed demanded hotly.  "Why?"

"Oh, Stetler called the FBI on us," she said with a smirk.  "We've already told them he was a victim of violence and hiding from his attacker.  They thought it was cute too until I played the tape.  Then they realized who it was.  She's on an untouchable list and so is he.  So we're okay but they're doing our lab audit and said you're suspended tomorrow.  Stopped the Chief in the middle of having his secretaries to tell him that.  He said something about giving you a nice day off."  She grinned at him.  "So we'll take ten minutes and then disappear again."  She looked at the chinese food then the pan of brownies, smirking at that.  "Good start," she whispered. "In the basket is other stuff and other food for midnight snacks or cuddling in front of the tv and with books."  She came in to look at Xander's arm.  "Eww."

"I've had worse," he said in a sing-song voice.  Alexx gave him a look so he stood up and let his pants drop, showing her the one on his hip, which made her choke and hug him and him struggle to get free, which tripped him into Speed, but he caught him.  "Sorry."

"S'okay. You make a good lap cuddle.   Move your pants though."  Xander removed his pants and got them out of the food, staring at the scary women, who just looked amused.  "He changed my bandages earlier."

"Hht."  She moved Xander, handing him to Calleigh, who handed him to Horatio, who smiled at him, making him blush.  "Xander, how did you do that?"

He squeaked.  Horatio gave him a squeeze.  "During graduation.  Something got me with a claw or something."

"Uh-huh.  Who treated it?"


Alexx stared at him.  "How far away was the nearest ER?"

"Um, ten blocks?"  He shrugged and shifted away from her.  "Sorry," he said then he took off running into the scary library.

"He'll learn," Speed soothed. "I'm fine, mom."

"You're very handsome in that outfit," she agreed, looking at his shoulder.  "Well, it's not too bad.  He's done good with it.  Xander!"  He peeked around the doorway. "You did a good job with this, baby."  He blinked and nodded slowly.  "That was a compliment, Xander, say thank you, mom."

"I don't like mothers.  But thank you."  He disappeared again.

"I wouldn't much like mothers with his either," Horatio said blandly.  They all stared at him.  "They were there cheering on Willow for nearly killing their son for being gay," he said quietly.

"Did he make pompoms and if he did, did you get a picture so I can humiliate him?" Xander called from the next room.  He peeked around the doorway again. "I'm kinda surprised they didn't buy her a cake and a bottle."  He looked at Speed. "I found a normal people book in there."  Speed grinned and held out a hand so he handed it to Horatio.

"We've already seen it, Xander," Calleigh pointed out.

"Doesn't mean I'm showing it off to you."  He spit. "You didn't appreciate it when I let you cuddle."  He disappeared again.

"Where was I when you got cuddles?" Horatio asked.

"When he stopped me from getting the guy from the fire he cuddled against my back," she said dryly, staring at him.  "Your second boy needs a leash."

"You two do know Horatio and I haven't been together yet?" Speed offered.  They both looked stunned.  "Told you that you were dumping the best thing in your life when you put me to bed by myself," Speed said with a smirk.

"You're serious?" Alexx asked.  They both nodded. She rolled her eyes then swatted Horatio.  "Treat my son better!"

"Yes, Alexx," he said meekly, handing him the book Xander had found.

Speed flipped through it.  "I don't read this language."

"I'm shocked," Calleigh teased.

"Hey, Xander, do you read this language?"


"Good, you can read it to us tonight."  He put it on the couch behind him then moved it when he felt the wet spot.  He looked back. "I don't know what that is but it keeps happening."  He shrugged it off and picked up his plate.  "Shoo, ladies.  We were busy and cuddly."  They smiled and walked out, Alexx trying to hunt down Xander but even she wasn't going to go into the creepy library.   Horatio shut the door and came back, sitting down again.  "They're gone, Xander.  Come back so you can read to us."

Xander peeked around the doorframe.  "Can I have my pants back?  I'm not ready to be nearly naked in front of you guys yet."

"We'll get down to our boxers if you want," Horatio offered.

Speed looked at him, licking his lips.  "That presupposes I'm wearing underwear, Horatio."

"You can get naked.  I've seen it before and you have nothing to be ashamed of, Speed."   Speed blushed at that.  "Come on, Xander."  Xander snuck back in, grabbing his pants to put in his lap.  Horatio smiled at him and took off his jacket and shirt, then undid his belt.  Xander stared but he was so red they thought his heart might be giving him troubles so he paused there.  "Need me to go on?"

"If you want," he offered, sounding awed.  Someone knocked on the door when he moved his zipper down.  "I'll beat them."  He got up and went to look outside then peeked around the door. "Hi, boss.  Let me guess, I got fired?"

"Just a bit, Harris.  Can I come in?"  Xander stepped into view and he blinked.  "Never mind.  What did that curved scar come from?"

He looked, then pointed at it.  "That one?"  He nodded. "Dracula."  His boss shook his head. "Sorry.  I wasn't about to die, boss."

"No, the owner's decided to sell the store," he admitted.  He handed him a check.  "That's your last one and severance pay.  I'll gladly praise you to your next boss, Xander."  That got a grin.  "Be good and have a good shower.  Or whatever."  He glanced at the hummer then grinned and walked off.

Xander closed the door and came back to the other room, finding Horatio standing up and sliding out of his pants.  He blinked, losing all thoughts.  Everything but 'toy'.  He must've said it out loud, Speed was giggling and trying to roll around on the floor.

Horatio pulled him closer to kiss.  "It's your toy if you want but Speed gets just as much playtime," he reminded him.

Xander looked up at him and smiled.  "You'll teach me how to drive stick?"

"As soon as you're ready," he promised with a smile.  "What was that?"

"Oh, that was my last boss telling me the store's being sold and I got fired."  He put the envelope aside and sat down, which put him at the right height.

Speed moved behind him, kneeling there. "Touch it, Xander," he whispered. "He'll make pretty noises."  Xander reached out to touch it, making Horatio groan and arch into his hand.  "Gently.  Like you're petting yourself."  Xander got a bit harder and Horatio had to shift his stance so he didn't fall on top of them.  "Now, pull off and see him wobble," he teased.  He pulled Xander's hand away, watching as Horatio wobbled.  "See, that's the power of liking boys."  He kissed his neck, making him shiver.  He let his hand go again, watching as he petted Horatio and took the opportunity to pet him the same way.  When his stroke changed so did Xander's.  "Good boy," he whispered.  "Play with it like you would a toy.  Grip it firmly and stroke."  He did that to Xander and Xander must've squeezed too hard, Horatio's eyes nearly popped out.  "Gently."

"He is," Horatio moaned.  "Feels good though."  He moved closer, kneeling in front of them.  "There, easier on your arm," he promised, taking a kiss.  Xander moaned and felt the cock in his hand get harder.  He moved down to tease the same ear Speed was whispering into.  "Stroke it, Xander.  Play with the head, just like how you like."  Xander's grip got harder and a bit rougher.  "No, more gently.  I like more gentle.  I'm fragile."  Xander eased up and went more gently. "Thank you."  He nudged Speed's hand aside. "Let him watch this time, Xander.  He learns by watching."  Xander nodded and let Speed move to watch them.  He got Xander onto his back, kissing and touching him.  "Like I am you," he said.  Xander did what he was doing, making him groan and arch up into his hand.  "Shh, let it go, let me pleasure you."

"Need harder," he pleaded.  "Please?  Always too light before."

"I've got you."  He gave him a harder squeeze on the stroke up and Xander stayed gentle. "Good boy.  Now, faster."  He sped up a bit, playing his palm around the head.  Xander went limp under him, making him smile.  "I'll still expect some later."  Xander thumped his head on the floor and a plate was moved by his foot.  Horatio learned this new body's responses.  Xander was stuck so he went a bit harder, making him groan and spread out more.  "Xander, let it go.  I want to see you."


"You can," Speed promised.  "Go ahead, we want to see it, Xander."  Xander shook his head.  "Please?"

Xander groaned, arching his hips up.  "Can't."

"You can," Horatio said more firmly.  Xander whimpered.  He looked at him, he looked desperate.  He did what he was supposed to do, moving his hand.  He moved it back and Xander yelped but it was helping.  He finally did get off, but Horatio's wrist was very sore.  They cuddled around him, letting him pant and come down.

Xander buried his face in Horatio's chest. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be.  I'm sure this had something to do with your last girlfriend, the nymphette," Speed soothed, stroking his back.  Xander nodded.  "She cursed you?"

"She said I couldn't."

"She said you couldn't...."  Horatio said, filling in the rest.  "Until she was satisfied?"

"At least twice," Xander agreed.

Horatio tipped is face up.  "I want you to do it on command, Xander, with just a look.  I don't want you to wait, hardly ever.  Am I clear?"  Xander gave him an awed look.  "Am I?"  Xander nodded. "Good.   Now, prove what you learned."  Xander pushed him onto his back and moved down to do what he had been trained.  Horatio stopped him.  "We're staying at the touching stage, Xander.  Stay there."  Xander nodded, kissing him and doing what Horatio had done to him.  It was a lesson learned very well.   His head thumped on the floor from the pleasure more than once.  When he came down he found Xander looking really pleased with himself and still going.  "One an hour, Xander.  One an hour."  He took his hand and kissed it.  "One an hour."

Xander nodded, grinning at him.  "But it was okay?"

"It was good.  Very good."  He gave him another kiss, seeing the happy smile.  "Now, go get Speed, prove you learned it."  Xander grinned wickedly and attacked Speed, making him yelp but fall back to enjoy it.  He came within minutes and pulled Xander down to stop him.  "That's what I want to see you do, Xander.  Almost every single time.  Unless we put something on you to keep you from going over."   Horatio moved closer to hold both of them.  "Too bad we put all the dinner down."

Xander looked and pulled one plate out from under the couch.  "This one wasn't kicked or anything."  He picked up a fork and licked it off then fed them, smiling and happy to be doing it.

Horatio let him, it was nice to be spoiled for a bit.  They'd have to get Xander back later.


Horatio looked at the two offered bedrooms then pointed at the end suite door.  "Why aren't you staying in there?"

"Because it's more creepy than the library," Speed offered.  He looked at Xander. "But we could fix that in a few weeks once you find a new job.  He said he's gone for a year to Barbados and then Haiti."

Xander looked at him.  "When did you see him?"

"When you went to work."

"Oh."  He grimaced.  "He said he'd be gone six months last time and I'm not up to that."

"Okay.  So, small bed in his room or mildly less small bed in mine, H?"

Horatio went to look and blinked, then shut the doors and came back.  "There's blood on the sheets?"

"There is?"  Xander frowned and went to look.  He grimaced as well, sniffing it.  "It's demonic.  No worries."  He came back out, closing the door.  "I don't want to know what he's doing in there as long as it's not human."

"Can you prove it's not human?" Speed asked.

"I haven't heard a scream, have you?"

"No....  Then again, that's why someone brilliant came up with the idea of drugging."

"Lets go to my place, boys," Horatio ordered, breaking into the fight.  Speed gave him a pitiful look.  "You only have a full size bed, Speed."

Speed looked at him.  "How do you know this?"

Horatio gave him a kiss.  "Because I went to clean your gun for you when Xander warned me."  Xander shrank down and headed into his room.  "Pack a small bag, Xander."

"Sure."  He came out and went to pack one for Speed.  He came back out and presented them.

"Good, let's go.  Put on something."  They all went to put on pants and shirts, Horatio leaving his jacket for now.  The went back to his house but he did let Speed run inside to get something.  Then they went back to his place and Xander looked around in appreciation.  "Soon you'll have a place this warm and homey."  He led him upstairs and to the bedroom, letting Xander bounce on the bed.  Both older men smiled at that but stripped down to let him do whatever he wanted to do to them. At least Xander took it easy on Speed but Horatio was limp and sated long before Xander was ready to let them take him back into hand and make him limp with them.  Then he curled up between them, letting them cuddle all they wanted.   Horatio looked over at Speed. "Need something for your shoulder?"

"No, surprisingly I can't feel anything," he said, patting Xander's back.  Xander made an inquisitive noise.  "Just patting.  Stay asleep."  He snuggled up behind him, putting an around Xander's waist and onto Horatio's stomach.  "He's comfortable."

"He is. He's very comfortable, if a bit bouncy."  That got a smile.  "Not that it's a bad thing."  He stroked over Xander's hair and kissed him on the top of the head.  "Should we help him find a new job?"

"No, I think he'll be fine," Speed assured him.  "He's made a lot of contacts and there's always jobs open in Miami.  We might want to see if he wants to learn Spanish."  Horatio smiled at that.  "We left the other book."

"I'll let him read that to you," Horatio promised, smiling at him.  "It'll be your special time."  That got a nod and a grin.  "We'll be good to him."

"We will.  Even when we're working together."  He yawned.  "Do you believe the store's being sold?"

"We passed by it and it was closed."

"I don't think I could do that job if you paid me a lot more than I'm making now.  I doubt he was making money like that."

"No, we talked about that.  He was making six an hour."  Speed moaned.  "The most dangerous jobs are always underpaid.  We are."

"I told him this was a fluke."

"It had better not be a reoccurring problem, Speed."

"I don't think it will, Horatio."

"It had better not."  He took a kiss. "Should we pout about the present house?  He said it's four-eighty a month."

"Which is a good deal but it's very odd and seems dangerous."  Speed nodded.

Xander lifted his head. "But it's got the library in case I need anything."

"Buy a copier and paper," Speed ordered in his ear, making him shift.  "It's creepy."

"It is but it's better than living in a hotel room and I'm nowhere near ready to move in with another person."  He put his head back down.  "I'm going to the wiccan bookstore and begging them for the job.  Maybe they can help me find another spot."

"What did Giles send you?"

"Not that much."

"I don't mean to pry," Speed soothed, stroking his stomach.  "We're trying to get you to a comfortable, safe space, Xander.  One where you don't have to carry a gun to work."

"Not like I'll get mine back."

"Yes, but you could get a new one," Horatio pointed out.

Xander looked up at him.  "Not with a shooting on my record, Horatio.  Even if I'm not charged that's counted as an act of violence.  Unless I go black market and if I plan on doing that while dating you two I'll get into trouble."

"You could. That depends on what you buy."

Xander sighed and got up, going to find his cellphone and call Buffy.  "Hey, it's me. I know it's late but I also know you're up, woman.  No, I was wondering if I could have the weapons back.  Please?"  He grinned.  "Actually, if Giles doesn't want that katana, I'd adore it.  No, I got fired.  Someone came in to rob me.  I ended up getting grazed and I shot him in the stomach before taking down some of his friends.  Yeah, basically."  He grinned.  "Please?  I don't know.  Tara?  Or Giles?  Well, I'm up right now," he offered with a grin for them. "Oooh, big announcement. I may have found a boyfriend.  When I'm more certain.  Because I don't want to jinx it, Buffy.  I don't want to make it go bad just because I told you.  I will.  Tara said she's coming down during spring break.  Wherever I am you two can have a couch."

He smiled.  "Thanks, sweetie.  Yeah, I'm up.  I'm in front of a big, clear section.  Why?"  He raised an eyebrow.  "Really?  I could do that maybe.  For me?"  He beamed.  "Thanks!"  He squealed.  "Love you and her of course and mildly accepting of Willow's right to exist again.  Tell him I said thanks and her too."  He hung up and looked up.  "Whenever you're ready."  Two boxes and a large duffle bag, plus a box landed on top of that, making him beam.  He moved and another box fell there.  "Thank you!" he called.  One more thing floated down and he smiled, taking it to look at.  "Aww.  Willow sent a card."  He handed that to Speed and got into the duffle bag, holding up the axe to cuddle it.  "Mine," he said proudly.

Horatio got up to look at the boxes and in the bag. "What's all this?"

"Some of it's mine.  Some of it's Willow's old hacking stuff.  Some of it's the weapons I've modified.  Ooh, and this," he said, pulling out a katana.  "Ethan Rayne, who is a scummy chaos guy who got me possessed a few times, sent this to him but we've uncursed it and now it's a perfectly normal exceptional sword."  He uncovered it and let him see.  "See?" he said proudly.

"Can you use that?  Or the axe?" Speed asked, sitting up.

Xander looked at him.  "I can use everything but the hacker gear, Speed.  I was her weapon's guy."  He pulled out the crossbow but Horatio took it from him.  "I can use that.  I'm a crack shot with it.  It's mine.  See, my initials are on the handle."

Speed looked at him.  "You're strange, Xander."  Xander pouted at him. "You are!  No one else would be cuddling his battle axe."

"But it's mine."  He came over to kneel on the bed and let him see it.  "See?"

Speed looked it over, stroking down the handle.  "It's well used."

"It is.  I used it a lot.  At least once a week."

Horatio came over to look at the axe, then at him.  "Xander, can we maybe buy some of this off you?  Some of us in the department?" Xander shrugged.  "Because some of that is highly illegal."

"Oops?" he offered, trying for cute and innocent.  Horatio and Speed both looked at him. "Sorry.  What's illegal?"

"The two Russian machine guns for one thing."

"But they're better made than ours."

"It's still illegal."

"I'll hide it and let you borrow it?"

"Xander," Speed sighed.

"Can I just send it home?"

"No," the cops said together.

Horatio gave him a hug.  "We'll let the ballistics department buy it off you for exemplars.  That way they're still stored and in use now and then so they can't be destroyed."  Xander looked more cheerful at that. "Thank you.  Now, put the battle axe down and do not bring another weapon to bed, Xander."

"Yes, Horatio."  He crawled off the end of the bed and put his toys away, checking the other boxes, then he came back to look at his card, smiling at it he put that in one of the boxes.  Then he crawled back into bed to pounce them again.  "It's been an hour, right?" he asked with an impish grin.

"Nearly," Horatio agreed, letting Xander attack him and taste him.  He held his head down, watching him taste him for the first time.  "Suck, Xander."  Xander sucked on the side like he was sucking a hickey on a neck.  "The whole thing."  Xander let that bit of skin go and let the head slip into his mouth.

Speed came down to help him.  "Gently, not too much suction, Xander," he whispered. "Just gently. Play with your tongue and your hand."  Xander stroked the rest.  "Good.  Now let more in and add a bit more suction.  Breathe in as it goes down.  When it reaches the back, swallow."  Xander pulled off choked.  "It's all right.  Go get a piece of ice and eat it on the way back up then try it again."  He went to do that, hopping over the boxes and heading down to the kitchen.  He smiled at him. "It's how I had to fight that gag reflex."  Xander came back crunching the ice as he walked.  "Now, come back to it."  Xander came back to the same spot he had been in, between Horatio's legs.  "Go down."  Xander went back down.  "Now swallow."  Xander went down further and Horatio moaned, banging his head on the pillows.  "See, I knew you could."  He stroked his back.  "Come back up."  Xander came back up panting.  "Breathe in as you go down, out as you come back up."  Xander nodded, going back to it, experimenting for now.

Horatio pulled Xander off after a few minutes.  "Too much," he moaned, kissing him.  "Much too much."

"But I wanna taste, Horatio.  It's my first blowjob."  He wiggled back down and got back to his very enthusiastic blow job.  Horatio could only hold onto the bed.

"No teeth," Speed warned.  Xander quit scraping him and Horatio yelped.  "Teeth?"

"Suction," he begged.  "Too much."  Xander eased off and he came, letting the boy lick it off.  He pulled Xander up when he grinned.  "Very good for a first try.  Next time, less suction. I like things slower and gentler, Xander."  Xander pouted.  "It was good for the first time."  Xander beamed again.  "Attack Speed and let him get you off."  Xander cackled and pounced Speed gently.  Speed wiggled and Horatio had to hold his arm before he flailed.  "Xander, more gently.  Remember, he's still injured."  Xander slowed down and got it better this time.  He watched and it was good.  Xander was very good to him and he got to play and tease him until Xander finally passed out in a puddle on the mattress.  He and Speed kissed over him and they curled up around him.


Xander looked up when Calleigh came into Horatio's apartment, waving.  "They sent me the rest of my stuff from Sunnydale."

"Congratulations.  What did they send?"  He pulled up a battle axe with a grin.  "Wow."  She came over to look at it, struggling under the weight.  "You're very strong, Xander."  She handed it back.  "What else did you get sent?"  Xander grinned and led her upstairs to go through the boxes with him.  She saw him petting a few.  "Horatio said I needed to expand the exemplars."  She heard the door closed and leaned out the doorway.  "Eric?"

"No, me," Horatio called.  He came up the stairs.  "I was getting new juice."  He came in and looked at the things spread around.  "They're his babies."

"I can tell.  He's rubbing them."  She picked out the weapons bag to carry a few inches away.  She ended up dragging it but it was okay.  She was a tiny woman.  She knew that. Xander handed Horatio a few boxes to look through then he got to work with the other ones.  Horatio slipped a few things back into the boxes Xander was working on but the rest got taken downstairs.  He came back and Xander gave him a few other things.  He checked the laptops, finding one had listings for books so he brought it back up along with some other stuff.  Calleigh looked at the guns, shaking her head.  She put the swords and things aside.  "Xander?" she asked.  He looked up.  "Did you need all the sharp, pointy things?"

"Yeah.  They kill things. A lot of things."

"Okay."  She went back to separating out the guns from the other weapons, hesitating over a few things.  "What's the red versus the purple rings on the grenades?"

"The purple are garlic gas bombs."  She stared at him.  "I fixed 'em," he said weakly.  "It was helpful.  Vampires don't like garlic.  Not even Dracula."  She just nodded and put those aside specially.  "Ooh, the crossbow has really high tension.  Be careful."

"Sure.  How high?"

"I can go through steel with it."  He pulled it over and drug her outside once he found a carbon tipped bolt, putting it through the fence.  And it did go through the fence and into the brick wall behind it.  He beamed at her. "See?"

"Xander, have either Speed or Horatio said you scare them?"

"Only when I was cuddling the battle axe last night," he offered with a sweet grin and a head tilt.

"Uh-huh."  She took the crossbow back, looking it over. "What did you do to make it this high?"

"I changed the screw and the wire type."  He showed her, making it go higher.  He ran back inside to get another bolt and came over to check the fence, then did it again.  It went through the bricks this time and was only hanging by the fletching.  The neighbor shrieked.  "Sorry, but I checked first, ma'am," he called, going over to get them both.  "Showing off how I adjusted the tension."  He grinned and she went back inside.  He heard the phone inside ring.

"Xander," Horatio called.  "No shooting at the neighbor's fence."  He came out and saw the two new holes.  "You're fixing those."

"Yes, sir."  He drug him over to look at the bricks.  "Should I fix that too?"

Horatio walked him back inside, taking the crossbow from Calleigh. "Behave or you can't play with the swords later."

Xander nodded and went back to sorting and tagging things.  Because he knew what they were and he had the bullets somewhere. "Ah, she put it in the zippered compartments."

Horatio came up the stairs with Speed and Eric.  "How are we doing on the sorting of the weapons into legal and illegal?"

She held one up.  "Garlic gas bomb."

He sighed and nodded, taking it to look over.  "Very good, Xander.  You made these?"

"I took out the explosives and redid them."

"Interesting."  He gathered up the other ones.  "Let me call someone to see if we can use those."

"I can make more," Xander called after him.

"Not until we get clearance, Xander."  He went into the kitchen to pray for patience.  He'd need patience over the next few days.  Eric came in and patted him on the back.  "His past," he said quietly.

"I know.  It'll be okay.  Maybe he can find a job making weapons down here."

Horatio looked at him.  "Don't tempt me, Eric.  I know someone in Rapid Response who could use that garlic bomb."  Eric grinned and handed him his cellphone off the counter.  Horatio sighed and called.  "It's Caine," he said, walking outside.  "No, not a new problem but I do have a very nice young man who is a friend who can make you odd weapons."  He stared at the fence.  "He has a crossbow that can send an arrow through a wood fence and a brick fence.  The garlic gas bombs that look like grenades.  That's what I was wondering.  Home," he sighed. "Thank you."  He hung up and called his computer tech.  "Come to my house, quietly.  Because a hacker has given Mr. Harris things that he cannot use.  If we can, it could help us and I do not know that much about computers."  He hung up and went back inside, going to get some juice for him and the others.  "Xander, cranberry or orange juice?"

"Either's fine."

"Sure."  He carried glasses up to the ones up there helping Xander, then went to let others in.  He pointed at the table in front of the couch.  "Watch out for anything occult.  The person who hacks is a Wiccan."

"What ever happened to first do no harm?"

"She's the one who hurt him," he said quietly.

"Ah.  She doesn't follow the cardinal rule then."  He looked at the axe, then at his boss.  "New decoration?"

"Xander's.  He was cuddling it.  Xander?  Did you leave any of the hacking gear up there?"  He bounced down with a few more things, handing them to him.  "Thank you."  He accepted the hug with a smile.  "I've got someone coming to help Calleigh."

"Okay.  If you think it's best."  He went back upstairs.

The tech shook his head. Then he opened up something and groaned.  "Rosenburg," he growled, going through it.  "Boss, she hacked us recently."

"I took her back to Sunnydale."

"Yay them."  He went through the other things, finding a few things he *wanted*.  He looked at the boss.  "What's my goodie budget this year?"

Horatio smiled.  "Whatever I can talk the Chief into."

"I wouldn't ask today, he's pouting."  He put what he wanted aside and looked at the other stuff, making notes.  Then he handed them over.  "Ask a Fed, boss."  He went to call the senior computer person in the city, telling him that Caine had found him a supply of hacker gear if he wanted, if they had room in the budget.  He took the list back and read off the stuff he hadn't wanted, getting a nod.  He hung up. "Boss, Compy Services loves you and him.  Delia will be here in a few to look at them.  She'll have the checkbook with her."  That got a nod.  "What other stuff are we looking at?"

"Mr. Harris is also from Sunnydale.  He was her weapons person."  He sipped his juice, watching his neighbor look at the holes in her fence.  He walked out onto his back porch.  "He was showing off, he did check first, and he has offered to fix the damage."

"He should!  What was that?"

"He upped the tension too high on his crossbow."

"He hunts with it?"

Horatio looked at her.  "Possibly.  He's a new resident and a friend."

She snorted. "Must go through the deer."  She headed back inside, slamming her back door.

Horatio went to let the person from Rapid Response in.  "Upstairs," he offered.  He shrugged and went up there.  Where he squealed like a little girl a few minutes later.

Xander came down looking confused.  "Have you seen my small black spiral bound book?  It'd look like a diary and it says 'boy' on it?"

"It was in the trunk," he offered.

Xander frowned and concentrated, and it fell into his hand minus a few pages.  He scowled and muttered and those came too.  He flipped through them, walking them up the stairs.  "Here you go."  He grinned.  "That's how I did all those things."  He sat down to check his new sword.  It was going to be his baby, just like his battle axe.  His phone rang.  "It's me."  He listened.  "You said six months.  No, I've got a guest over since he's injured.  Well, he was shot and he needed the help.  I can do that.  It'll take me tonight.  Is that okay?"  He grinned.  "Sure, I can be over to do that.  So, did you go out of time or something?"  He listened.  Then he nodded. "Okay. I'll be right there.  No, dinner."  He hung up and hopped back down the stairs.  "I'll be right back.  The landlord came back and pouted at me."  He saw the keys being held out.  "I can't drive a hummer."  He walked into the kitchen then disappeared.  He beamed at his landlord.  "I just learned that."

"Congratulations.  Now, my maid?"

"She was stealing evidence."  He groaned. "She also brought the letter.  I wasn't about to rip her to shreds for it."  He got to work cleaning up the mess and gathering his and Speed's stuff, including the book.  "Can you give me a lift to Horatio's?"

"Fine.  Who was staying with you?"

"CSI Speedle after he got shot.  Oh, you're out of venom bane. I mixed a healing potion for him and they're out at the store I know."

"That's fine."  He shook his head.  "What happened to him?"

"Shot in the chest."

"It was a good idea then."  He got the boy over there and dropped off with everything, then went back to check his library.  The boy hadn't taken anything but a story book so it was fine.   He had probably been reading it and good guys like him always sent things they borrowed back. Xander came back for the picnic basket and jacket in the living room then disappeared again.  He shook his head, but it was all right.  He checked his potion supplies, they were okay.  He looked up.  "You can borrow my potions books, boy."

"Thank you," drifted back.  "I might do that.  Then again, I took them to a copier place."

That got a laugh and he went to check the kitchen.  He had some groceries, it was nice.  Not what he ate.  He did not eat Cocoa Puffs or Fruity Pebbles.  He bagged everything up and a few other things he found, including an envelope with his name on it, and a few other books he didn't want, including a new potion's book he had been given, then drove it to the same place, handing it to the guy who answered the door.  "He left outrageous food and things.  Plus his last paycheck.  Have fun with him.  Tell him I want the story book back sometime but he can have those others."  He waved a hand and left again.

Eric watched the old guy with the beard walk away, then shook his head and went to put things into Horatio's kitchen.  It got him an odd look from Calleigh.  "Xander's."

"Oh."  She nodded, taking his paycheck up to him, getting a hug for it.  Then he went back to playing with his sword.

"No using it in the house, Xander," Horatio warned.

"Yes, dear."  He blew a kiss and the others laughed but he did go into the backyard to practice with it.  He loved this sword.  That's why he had uncursed it with Giles' help.

Horatio came down the stairs, looking in the refrigerator.  "They brought the groceries?"

"The skinny guy with the beard said he left outrageous food.  Fruity Pebbles would be that."

"I like Fruity Pebbles," Speed called.  "Them and the Cocoa Puffs are mine."  Everyone stared at him. "I'm on painkillers!"

"You eat like you're smoking things," the computer tech joked, giving him a look. "How's the shoulder?"

"Good.  The stitches come out soon and then starts physical therapy."  The SWAT guy came down the stairs.  "Buying stuff off him?"

"If we have the budget.  If not, I might have to confiscate the weapons."

"They're mine, you touch them and I'm using his sword to cut you into pieces," Calleigh said firmly.  He stepped away and nodded at that.  "Thank you."  She looked at Horatio.  "He has good taste."

"He does.  But it's a bit scary, Calleigh."

"I noticed that."  Xander bounced in from the backyard.  "Put that away before you cut someone."  Xander put it back into the sheathe then covered it again. "Thank you.  You make me nervous."

"I kinda got a limb on the tree, Horatio, but I can tie it back up so it'll heal."  He grabbed some twist ties and a few small pieces of string out of his stuff and went to do that.  Because Giles had taught him how to do Bonsai trees once upon a time when he was trying to do them for relaxation.  He looked inside and saw Horatio had his head down and sighed.  He berated himself and decided he'd have to get a room tonight.  Because he was obviously wearing on someone's nerves.  He went back to tying on the branch again and then went back inside.  He looked at Horatio.  "I can find a room in a few hours," he said quietly.

Horatio looked up at him. "You're fine, Xander.  Once we get this settled down it'll be more calm. I haven't had this much excitement in a while."

Xander grinned at that.  "Still, I'll need somewhere to put the sword and stuff."  He plucked a hair off him and then went to get more juice, carrying his sword and axe upstairs to put back into his duffel bag with the stuff Calleigh said he could keep.  Then he went onto the back porch glider swing to call the only herb shop he knew.  "Hi, it's Xander," he said quietly, swinging slowly.  "Is my order in?"  He grinned. "Thanks.  Any occulty type shop that needs a clerk?  I got fired."  He grinned. "Well, I do know," he admitted dryly.  He beamed.  "I'll check there.  It does?"  He drooled.  "Wow.  I was going to see how much their apartments ran and if lending library privileges came with it.  No but I have been concentrating on potions," he offered.  "The old landlord came back early.  Yeah, this is my cell.  Thanks."  He beamed and went back inside to hug Eric.  "Two occult shops need register boys."  He went to get more juice, refilling Horatio's glass, getting a small smile.  "One's the major bookstore and there's apartments above."

"Good.  That might work out well for you if you could get on there."  He smiled at him. "It's very responsible, Xander.  I'm proud."  Xander beamed and went to talk to the guy petting his computer stuff that Willow told him to sell.


Xander bounced into the bookstore, all grins and things. "Hi."

"Hi, Xander.  Why are you here today?"

"I heard you needed a shop boy."

The girl blinked at him.  "You got fired at the store?"

"He said he's selling it and I got fired because I had to shoot one of the punks who was going to kill me."

"I'm sorry, baby."  She patted him on the hand, looking at the wound he was showing off.  "That's gotta ache."  He shrugged and put down his sleeve.  "So, what can you do for us?"

"Besides learn more potiony stuff from the books and give practical demonstrations of a lot of weapons?  And maybe fix some for the legit and legal hunters?"

"Well..."  She blinked at him. "You can?"  He nodded.  "Wow.  I didn't know that."

"I did for Buffy all the time.  Not like Giles fixed weapons."

"Good point.  Let's go talk about it in the office."  He nodded and followed her in there, coming out a half hour later happier and employed again.  She smiled at his back.  "He's a credit to the community."  She called the owner. "I just solved the hiring problem.  Fifty bucks a week above rent in the empty apartment upstairs.  I thought it was more than reasonable," she agreed. "Harris.  That Harris, yes, boss.  No, he wanted lending privileges for the potions books too.  He also said that if your weapons needed it he might be able to help you repair them.  He did Buffy's."  She smiled.  "That's his phone number.  He just left.  I told him he was first in my mind but you had to okay it.  That's what his salary demands were and he did say he's in a gay relationship, boss.  Yeah. He can do that.  Well, he *is* Harris, boss.  Apparently someone tried to rob his last place and he ended up shooting them non-fatally to save his own life.  Yeah, that's cool.  That's his number and he's probably on the bus.  He said he doesn't have a car around here yet."  She smiled. "Thanks, boss."  She hung up.  "A *major* coup for the store.  He can even keep posers from getting hurt probably."


Xander walked back into Horatio's that night, after the run to the bank, the store, and then out to get some metal polish for his babies.  "I'm back and I'm once again employed with an apartment.  It's part of the salary."  Speed grinned at him.  "The good guy's occult bookstore has apartments above it. I'm making a small salary above rent."  He came into the kitchen to help him, giving him a hug.  "Did I hurt you?"

"Not in the least. Would you like to tell me why you were so bouncy?"

"I didn't do anything."

"Like work?"  Xander nodded.  "What did you call last night?" he asked quietly.  Eric and Calleigh were still around.

Xander grinned.  "A night off of fun."

"I can agree with that," he promised. "Go fix the fences."  Xander nodded, going to grab something from his kit and the bag he had gotten on the way home.  He watched him spackle the wood fence so it looked like a knot in the wood and then replace the broken brick without having to tear down the wall.  Then he came back in and got another hug.  "When do you start?"

"Two days."  He grinned.  "More than enough time to move all that up there and buy groceries. All utilities included."  He grinned and went to brag to the others.  "Horatio?"  He looked up from his computer in his study.  "I'm employed and apartmented again."  That got a brighter smile.  "Are you okay?  We, um..  Good?"

"We're fine, Xander.  It's been a very exciting day and I'm catching up on email."  Xander came in to give him a hug. "Where are you working?"

"The good guy's occult bookstore."  He grinned. "There's apartments upstairs and it's part of my salary."

"Congratulations."  He stroked his cheek.  "Speed suggested that you might think about learning Spanish."

"Horatio, I'm from Southern California.  I already can speak a good bit of Spanish."  That got a smile.  "We're second only to Texas and you guys."

"I forgot what a problem LA had," he soothed, stroking his back. "What was Speed cooking?"

"Not a clue.  I'm doing good when I make burgers and grilled cheese."  That got another smile.  "Can we move my stuff up there tomorrow?"

"We can. Or tonight and then come back here once you figure out what you'll need to get?  That way you can do some looking online?"  Xander shrugged. "Go get your stuff, we'll take the hummer."  Xander nodded, going to gather everything he had put in the closet, bringing it down the stairs and to the hummer, then going back for more.  Horatio watched the second duffel bag.  "Where did that come from?"  Xander shrugged and looked then blushed and showed him, making him blush.  "Anya?"

"Probably."  He put it outside too and then checked the closet, finding his journal in there.  He put it into the trunk and a backpack in there, then they headed over to put things down.  They found it decorated in tapestries, real ones that had been woven, not printed ones, and soft shag carpeting.  It had a ratty old couch and a chair, plus a table in front of the couch.  It had a small tv.  In the bedroom it had a queen sized bed and a bare closet.  Xander got to work while Horatio waited, putting the weapons up and then blessing the space with the stuff left in the kitchen.  Then they went back to his place while Xander made some notes.  Xander smiled at Eric when he came back.  "I need cable."

"Get Dish Network, it's cheaper.  Plus you'd need a phone line anyway."  Xander nodded, going to put that down on his list.  Eric looked at Horatio, who looked amused.  "How bad is it?"

"It's very comfortable if a bit worn out.  The couch needs a slipcover."  Xander added that.  "That can be a good sheet, Xander."  That got a smile and he made that note.  "It's got shag carpeting and has actual tapestries up already.   He put up his favorite weapons as decoration on the walls."  Calleigh smiled at that.

"The best part is I save on bus fare getting to work.  All I have to do is walk down the back stairs," Xander quipped, grinning at them.  "Speed, can I help cook?"

"No.  I'm nearly done, Xander."  He came out to look at the list.  "Lightbulbs, trash bags.  Normal household stuff."  That got added.  He looked at one entry.  "Why do you need a whet stone?"

"My axe needs sharpened."

"Oh."  He went back to the kitchen.  "Someone set the table.  Eric, are you two staying?"

"Probably," Calleigh agreed with a smile.  "Because I'm too lazy to cook for myself."  Xander looked at her.  "It's a long running joke, Xander."

"Okay."  He went back to cleaning up his mess and helped Eric set the table.  They both had to look for stuff, meaning they didn't usually come to hang out at Horatio's.  Which made him happy but he stamped on the bit of jealousy he was having.  He looked at what Speed was doing.  "Real food?"

"Yes, real food."  He turned him around and given a small shove.  "Finishing helping and I'll feed you."  Xander went to do that, making him shake his head.  He dished up food and Horatio brought it out for him, leaving him to run water in the empty pans for later cleanup.  Horatio had a dishwasher, which would make it easier once they got rid of their friends.  He walked out and sat down in his spot, across from Xander, getting a shy smile.  "I'll take you down to the really good thrift shop tomorrow," he offered.  Xander smiled.  "It'll keep me from being bored."  Xander gave him a look.  "It'll also be cheaper for you."

"I know.  Are you bored?"

Horatio coughed.  "There's levels to Speed's boredom, Xander."

"He's missing the lab," Eric agreed.  "He'll try to sneak back in this week."

Speed looked at him.  "I was up there the other night."

"Good for you, you still have to do rehab on your shoulder," Calleigh pointed out.  He groaned.  "They'll restrict you to lab-only duties soon."

"I got around it the last time."

Xander stared at him.  "If you do that and something happens in the field then no one's going to be able to get to you in time."  Speed stared at him.  Xander stared back.  "I stopped Buffy from going out with too bad of wounds too."

"I'm sure you went out with stitches."

"Yeah but not when they limited my movements."

"Fine.  I'll be reasonable for another week or so.  I'll let you take all my attention."  Xander kicked him under the table.  "What?"  Xander just stared at him and he shook his head.  "I won't do stupid things."

"Good, that's my job."  He ate a bite.  "It's good, Speed, thank you."

"Welcome.  No more doing stupid stuff, Xander."

"I could've used the mop instead of my gun."

"That would have been a worse scene for them to clean up," Horatio said firmly.  Xander slumped and nodded.  "It'll be fine, Xander."

"Yes, Horatio."  Horatio made him look at him and smiled.  "I'll be fine."

"You weren't having nightmares last night."

"I'm well past that stage in my life."  He got up and went to the bathroom, making sure they all heard him washing his hands.  That way he didn't have to see the looks they gave each other.  Because Calleigh and Eric had given each other knowing looks when he had chastised his new lover.  Horatio knocked.  "I'm nearly done."  He came out drying his hands.  "Sorry."

"That's all right."  He gave him a smile and a hug.  "Someone's got to beat some sense into Speed."  He made Xander look up at him.  "You don't have nightmares?"

"We lived nightmares, Horatio.  I have very few left."  He stroked his cheek.  "I'm sorry if I overstepped some boundaries."

"You didn't.  They thought it was cute you're making him behave.  Even Alexx can't do that."  He smiled again, giving him a cuddle. "Come eat."  Xander nodded, going back down with him.  "Eric, Xander was even good enough to fix Speed's toilet for him."

"It's been a long standing joke that Speed works so many hours so he has a working toilet to use."  Calleigh poked him. "It was."

"Well, yeah, it was," she admitted, grinning at them.  "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.  Sudden call of nature.  My stomach's not used to real food."

"I remember that time after college," Eric sighed.  "My mother had to make me eat real food for a week before my stomach quit liking the dorm slop."

Xander made a cross with two fingers.  "College evil.  Go away."

"Sorry," he offered with a grin.  "We had to go for the job."

"I'll stick with manual labor, thanks."  He got back into eating, looking up when Speed kicked him.  So he chewed slower.  Speed continued to stare at him.  "What?  Did I slurp?"

"No," he said, shaking his head.  They'd have to go over non-verbal communication with him too.

"Just kiss him already!" Calleigh sighed. She looked at Eric.  "I know all you men are clueless because you're men and therefore inferior, but work on Speed, okay?  You've got to have absorbed some womanly superiority with all the ones you've dated."

"Sure."  He looked at Speed.  "She said you're inferior and dumb."

"Amazons have a few points and easier sex lives but they still had to go steal guys," Xander told Calleigh, who blushed.  "Especially to open stuck pickle jars.  Even Buffy needed help with that."  She blushed brighter red.  "Besides, if women are so superior then none of you would be working, you'd have harems, you'd be running this country, and unfortunately someone's long-ago plan to take over the world from the bottom isn't working.  You guys need new PR and strategy people so you can take over the world the way you should've back when we all wore furs."

She laughed.  "True, we could use some," she agreed, smirking at him.  "Then again, we do run the country.  Look what happens when the president doesn't get some for a few weeks.  He cheats and gets into trouble."

"Yeah, because he was a dumbass and she was a skank.  Who keeps the dress with nasty crap on it?"

"Gotta agree on that point.  That and he has bad taste," she agreed.

"Don't look at me, all I had around me were skinny, deadly women."  He shrugged.  "I had worse tastes."

"You did," Horatio agreed smugly, smiling at him. "They'll get there someday soon.  Then all of us who're overprotective of our women will end up being harem guardians."

"Favored pets," Calleigh assured him.  "The memos are starting around now, Horatio," she said sweetly.  "Guys like you who go all overprotective will be nicely collared and chained on the foot of our very soft beds to be stroked by at least a foot to keep you calm all day."  She smiled sweetly again.  "So, did you want to be mine, since I've got to do the same thing to Eric and Tripp, or did you want Yelina to hold your leash?"

He gave her an evil look then smirked.  "We'll have to see, won't we?  May the best woman win."

Speed looked at him.  "I don't think it's gonna matter, Horatio."  He looked over at Calleigh.  "What about all the gay guys?"

"Hell, we need shopping buddies.  I can't take Eric bra shopping with me."  Xander shuddered and shrank away from her. "It's all right, I won't ask you."

"Thank you.  Viccy's scares me.  Toothpick women without real breasts, fake women, women who don't eat, and women without imagination.  Eww."

"There's better places."

"Eric, I was a lowly construction worker," Xander complained.  "I didn't make that much."

"Point.  Anya?"

"Yeah.  That's how I know it's a scary and evil place.  The same as most clothing stores are."

Speed nodded at that.  "They can be but every now and then you've got to replace stuff."

"Wal-mart.  They have socks."

Horatio shook his head. "Sometimes you need better things, Xander."

Xander gave him an odd look. "Maybe you do.  All I have to do is fight the sock gremlin.  The occasional underwear gremlin."

"Gremlins?" Eric teased.

"How else do they get holes?" he asked, looking perfectly serious.

"Have you seen one?" Calleigh asked.

"Anya claims she had.  She said it liked how I tasted since it was nibbling on her favorite boxer shorts.  Never, ever let a woman tell you to wear silk boxers while doing construction."  He stuffed his mouth.

"She can't have you back.  Miami is very possessive," Horatio said firmly.

"Does that mean we've got a hellmouth and I've got to stop it too?"

"No but some residents are still highly possessive of what's theirs," Eric assured him. "Calleigh's harem never gets away from her."

"I'm going to shove you in the next dumpster job," she told him.

"Wait until it's one at a taco or other fast food place," Xander offered.  "You'll never get those clothes cleaned."

"True."  She smiled sweetly at Eric, who just slouched down.

"Take it like a man, Eric," Horatio taunted.  "If you can love half the women in Miami, you can deal with Calleigh."

"But she's scary, I don't sleep with scary women." Everyone but Eric and Xander burst out laughing.  Even some people outside started to laugh it sounded like.  "Hey!" he complained.

Xander gave him a sympathetic look.  "Wanna trade scary women stories?  I'll put Cordy up against anything but the Incan mummy or the bug lady."

"Ummm, no thanks.  I think yours are worse," Eric decided.

"Yes, they are, Eric," Horatio agreed.  "Then again, his last one is free."

Xander looked at him.  "Don't do that to him.  He'll never be able to afford rent and things if he dated Anya."

Horatio stroked his cheek, smiling at him. "She can't have you back."

"She wouldn't want me back, I'm working in a low paying job.  Plus she complained constantly about the lack of orgasms."

"We heard, she visited," Calleigh assured him.  Xander gave her a look.  "She did."

"I'm sorry.  I know she's scary and somewhat possessive of me."

"You're ours now," Speed reminded him.

"Is there a vengeance demon over scorned boyfriends?" Eric asked.

Xander nodded and stuffed his mouth.  "His name's Chuck and he's very flamingly gay," he said when he swallowed. "Nice guy but very flaming.  Swishy hand and all.  But a great guy.  Love the guy.  He helped me work on my wardrobe the last time Anya nagged."  He ate another bite.

Horatio patted Xander's arm and gave it a gentle stroke.  "You won't need to call him again, Xander."

"Not even for shopping help?"

"That we can let Eric or Calleigh help you with," Horatio promised.  That got a grin from Eric and a headshake from Xander.  "No?"

"He wears sweaters in the middle of summer in Miami.  He apparently has freon for blood."

"Only if you're a bad guy but H does that so much better," Eric offered.

"No, he's warm and let me cuddle when I was half-asleep earlier.  If I cuddled you I'd get a chill.  No human can wear sweaters like you do."

"Keep it up, I'll introduce you to my sister," he taunted.  "She's the major shopper in the family."

"Eric, you've said Mari's scary.  If scary women are drawn to him I might have to put my foot down when she starts to stalk him," Speed noted lightly.

Eric considered that then shuddered.  "No, momma wouldn't want her to bring him home.  He'd appreciate all the food but no.  Bad thoughts. Oh, so bad thoughts."  Calleigh gave him a hug and so did Xander. "Thank you."  He hung his head, listening to Horatio snicker at him.  "Just think, H, if he and Marisol become really good friends, she'll get to come hit on you more often too."  That stopped the laughter and he grinned at Xander.  "You're not allowed to like my sisters."

"I've always been surrounded by girls."

"So?  You can't like my sister."  He gave his head a gentle shove.  "You can tolerate her, you can help her shop, you can't like her."

"Okay, I won't."  He looked at Horatio.  "What about the guy they're letting you get to fill in Speed's spot until he's back?"

"I found the one I liked earlier today and he might like you," he offered. "He's younger."

"Can I scare him?" Speed asked.

"No, Speed."

"But, Horatio, it's a time honored tradition.  I scared Eric when you first brought home that stray mutt."

Xander looked at him.  "You're not that scary.  If you want to scare him you can bring Anya and introduce her.  She might like him if he's nice."

They all stared at each other and Speed shook his head. That was too mean even for him.


Speed looked at Horatio.  It was just them, finally, alone in bed while Xander cleaned up in the bathroom.  It was all gentle and cuddling between them at the moment.  He heard the shower shut off and Xander humming.  "Think one of these days he's going to see us like this and shout 'bonzai' before diving in?" he teased.

"I can see Xander doing that," Horatio agreed.  "Of course, he'll have to replace the bed when the pounce breaks the springs."  Xander peeked out.  "No bouncing on the bed."

"Okay, I wasn't planning on it."  He slid in behind Speed, cuddling his back. "I'm sorry I'm so energetic sometimes."

"Why were you energetic today?"

"I didn't work."

"You moved stuff, you sorted stuff."

"Yeah but that was still day off stuff.  So I'm having a day off of bounciness."  He snuggled in harder. "Are we cuddling in tonight?"

"If that's what you want."

"Please?  I just wanna be *here*, ya know?"

"Yeah, I felt the same possessive jealousy," Speed admitted. "I love Eric but I liked it better when he left tonight."  Horatio looked at them.  "We're allowed to be possessive and jealous of your time, this is still very new and we don't want to share you yet."

"I understand that.  I'm sure I'll be jealous over the time Xander spends with his other friends."

"I have other friends?"

"I'm sure you'll make some."  He stroked over his hair, then Speed's.  "Don't get too scruffy, Xander.  I'll never tell you two apart in the dark."  Xander blushed at that, shaking his head.  "Good."  He let them cuddle up around him, Xander shifting over to get his back.  "So you two are just going shopping tomorrow?"

"Yup.  The thrift store, maybe the dollar store for sheets."

"Wal-mart, I like t-shirt sheets."

"You know Wal-mart closes smaller stores, right?"

"Yeah but it's too convenient to care."  He gave Horatio's stomach a squeeze.  "They were teasing me about getting a familiar."

"That would be up to your landlord, Xander."

"Point."  He smiled when he heard Speed snore, looking over Horatio's shoulder at him.  "He's very pretty like that."

"He is," he agreed. "He's relaxed and he's not scowling."

"I got one of those earlier."

"It happens even to me, Xander."  He patted the arm around him.  "Fall asleep."

"It's still early."

"Having trouble adjusting from night shift?" he teased.

"No, but I'm only used to four hours of sleep a night."  Horatio shifted onto his back to look at him.  "I wasn't getting very much between her, work, and my other duties."

"You should get more sleep.  Sleep helps recharge the brain."

"I was never a long sleeper."   He put his head down on Horatio's chest, yawning a bit.

"You used to wait up until you were sure they passed out?" he suggested, petting over the back of his hair.  Xander looked up at him.  "My father was like that," he admitted quietly.  Xander relaxed and nodded, putting his head back down.  "You're safe and protected here, Xander.  Nothing and no one is getting in here without me throwing fits."  His phone rang and he answered it.  "Caine."  He frowned.  "Xander, call your new boss?"

Xander called her once he found his phone.  "Hey, boss, Horatio said to call you?"  He smirked.  "That's the one Merry gave me the key to.  I noticed that but it didn't have sheets and that's the one she gave me the key to.  I can come move the stuff to the other one if you want."  He nodded. "Sure."  He got up and found clothes, not putting on underwear or socks. "I'll be there in a few.  Yeah, make them go away.  Please?  Thanks."  He hung up.  "I'll be back soon.  Um, unless you want to go to sleep?"

"No, I'll drive you over," Horatio promised, getting up and grabbing something to put on. He walked Xander out to the hummer, smiling at him.  "I'm sure it was a misunderstanding."

"I hope so."  He climbed in and Horatio drove him over, enjoying the silence with him.  They parked behind the other cop car and got out, him looking at the officers he vaguely knew, not one of his regulars. "Guys?"  One of them smirked at him.  "She gave me the key to there."  He walked upstairs, finding the boss. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault.  I need to spank Merry."  She smiled and exchanged keys with him.  "There.  Now let's go get your stuff.  She's still ranting."

"I don't mean to upset anyone."

The woman inside the apartment flung open the door. "What sort of nature person uses swords?" she sneered.

"One from Sunnydale who hunted with the slayer," Xander shot back, giving her a look.  She went pale and stepped back.  "Sorry, Merry gave me this key and I didn't see anything like clothes or sheets that said someone else lived here."

"No, I am moving," she said, forcing herself to be more calm.  "I still have to get my tapestries and stuff."

"Sure, I get that," Xander promised, smiling at her.  "Are you leaving any of the furniture or should I find something cheap and used?"

She looked at him. "You're not violent?"

"Not unless you're attacking me or someone else."

"Oh."  She blinked.  "Okay.  Um, I can move the rest of the stuff tomorrow. I saw you did the blessing?"  Xander nodded, walking in with the boss. "I'm sorry I caused such a stink, boss."

"No, that's okay.  Merry obviously thought you had already moved."  She patted her on the cheek.  "Xander's learning the fine art of potion making."

"Good. It's a good art to have," she agreed more calmly. "It'll take me most of tomorrow."

"That's fine.  I've got to get sheets and stuff."  She smiled at that.  "And a bed if you're taking yours."

"I am and the couch but you can have the old chair.  I think it's about to fall apart."  Xander grinned at that. "Thank you."

"I'm just sorry for the mixup," he soothed, giving her a hug.  She smiled at him. "Moved to a higher paying job?"

"Bank job.  More steady.  The hours can be a bit spotty in the off-months."

"I've been there before.  We worked with Giles at the Magic Box.  It was mostly free labor during the busy times."  She giggled at that.  "I don't mind if you need extra time.  I plan on coming over tomorrow night and staying over then if possible but if you need stuff after that just ask."  She nodded, giving him another gentle hug.  He gave her a squeeze. "It'll be okay."  He looked at the walls.  "Where's my katana?"

"The bedroom.  I needed to take the legs off the old dresser."

Xander pulled back to look at her.  "Hammers are so much easier."

"Sorry."  He grinned and went to help her, bringing his sword back to clean off and put back up.  He'd deal with the blade scratches tomorrow.  "Thank you, Xander."

"You're welcome.  Expect to see me on and off tomorrow as we drop off stuff.  If you need help, let me know."  He grinned and kissed his landlord on the cheek, taking back his old key, making her smile. "I can't forge swords but I'm willing to help with the other stuff."

"I heard.  We'll figure out if you can, dear.  Now, go back to bed.  The redhead is adorable."  He blushed and hurried down the stairs.  She looked at her former worker. "Sorry."

"No, you needed him and he clearly needs you. He's still healing from there."  She smiled.  "I don't have too much more stuff to get."

"Thank you."  She went down to tell the officers what had happened, getting nods and tolerant looks for the hysterical young woman.  They went off, she went home to her husband, and Xander and Horatio went back to bed with a stop for milk Speed's cereal in the morning.


Horatio smiled on his way past his boss.  "Still pushing, sir?"

"I am.  I don't see you being happy to be back, Lieutenant."

Horatio looked at him. "I'm always happy to be back but I'm not the cheerleader sort, sir."

"No, but that one boy is," he teased with a smirk.

"Perhaps.  He did date one."  That got a shocked look.  "Anyway, he's moving into a real apartment today with Speed's help."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not.  Personal matters will work themselves out, Chief.  Pushing only makes them go sour faster."  He walked off with an enigmatic smile, nodding at Frank.  "Morning, Frank."

"Morning, Horatio.  Good date?"  Horatio paused to stare at him. He grinned.  "Calleigh was squealing with Alexx a few minutes ago and I overheard."  Horatio moaned.  "I think it's cute you're adding to the one you already had," he teased.

"Frank, I wasn't having a relationship before."

"Yeah you were."  Horatio shook his heading, giving him an amused look.  "You and him weren't...."  Horatio shook his head again.  "Huh.  I've apparently got to work on my deductive skills then."

"Might be good, Frank, but you're not the only one who thought that.  It is an incredibly close friendship."

Calleigh and Alexx came up to them.  "Or at least now it's a lot more friendly of one," she teased.  "When is Xander settling in?"


"So we can bring him food tonight?" Alexx suggested.

"Give him another day, Alexx."

"Fine. I can do that. What's Speedy helping him do today?"

"Hit the thrift store and find furniture.  There was a small issue last night when he started to move in that the last person hadn't fully moved out yet."  She smiled at that. "He got called at four this morning."  Why they had called him....  Well, he'd take that up with someone later tonight.  "Do we have anything yet?"

"Not yet.  Let them have the time to try to stump us with how they dump the bodies," Calleigh said with a small grin.  "What does he still need?"

"That depends on what she's leaving.  It was fairly decorated last night."  He headed off to his office to see what was going on in there.  The night shift had apparently been allowed to come in.  He found a reminder email from his boss reminding him he only had five more days or else he'd have to meddle.  A few new pieces of paperwork he got down to.  At least it killed time and it kept his mind off the trouble Speed and Xander could be getting into.  He had to remind himself over and over Xander would watch out and protect Speed for him.  Xander was very overprotective of Speed.  So much so even Eric had seen it and laughed about it last night.  Alexx walked in and he glanced up.  "We have something?"

"No, but how did the picnic go?"

"Better.  Though a bit interrupted."  He looked up.  "We had a good picnic on the rug and teased him a lot.  Then we went back to my place but his landlord came home so he had to go home and pack suddenly."

"I saw the end of that yesterday, Horatio.  How did the rest of the stuff go?"

"How long has everyone thought Speed and I were together?"

"About two years now that everyone's been *certain*."  He groaned and shook his head.  "Not like you date openly."  She smirked at him.  "Yelina thought it was cute."

"She would," he sighed.  "And now?"

"She hasn't met Xander yet.  She's probably the only one who hasn't met Xander yet."  Horatio looked up and prayed.  "Bring him by later today for lunch.  She'll be here and so will your nephew after school.  Remember, he's got to do the interview thing for Civics class."

"Point."  He looked up at her.  "You can ask Speed and see if they'll be free since he's driving today."

"You're letting him?"

"Not like I can stop him, Alexx."

"On his bike?"

"Not with them going shopping.  They rented a car for the day."

"Oh, good."  She went to call Speed and order him to bring the boy by for lunch today so Yelina could meet him and the others could meet him properly.  Then she finally got a call and her meddling was interrupted for a little while.


Horatio smiled when Yelina and his nephew, Ray Junior, walked up to where he was.  "How is your report coming?"

"Okay I guess. I need the interview to finish it off.  Then I have one on alternate religions."

"You could ask the young man with Speed.  He works in a Wiccan bookstore. I'm not sure that's his path but he should know quite a lot."  Ray grinned at that and headed to find Speed and this new guy.

"Young man with Speed?" she asked, glancing around. "Horatio, is he cheating on you?"

"We've just barely gotten together and we're all together, Yelina," he said bluntly.  She gaped.  "I don't know why everyone thought I was with him two years ago."  He walked off, heading to lunch with the others.

She followed a few minutes later, watching the young man.  He was goofy and relaxed but there was some tension there. Calleigh was teasing him about a battle axe?  She walked in and got her lunch out of the refrigerator, sitting down across from him. "Hi.  Yelina Salas."

"Xander Harris," he said, shaking her hand with a happy grin.

"He's new to Miami," Speed said, patting Xander on the back.  "Yelina is Horatio's sister- in-law and one of our detectives."

"That's kinda cool.  You should've been there yesterday when I was cleaning out the computers and stuff."

"Then you'd be the reason the Rapid Response commander was so happy this morning," she guessed.  Xander blushed but shrugged.  "What did you do?"

"He turned some grenades into garlic gas bombs.  I heard they're fairly strong and stink all to hell and back," Calleigh offered, "but the people inside ran out."

"That's why I made them."  He grinned and ate a bite of lunch.  "She didn't take the tapestries. Apparently those aren't hers.  But I have a new bed and Speed told me what to get.  Plus a new used couch.  And a sheet to cover the ugly thing."

"I told you to get something comfortable to sit and sleep on.  Ugly can be covered up.  Uncomfortable means you don't get too many visitors."  He grinned at Horatio.  "He fixed the old chair this morning with some nails and things.  We also did a real grocery shopping run so people can teach him how to cook.  Even if I did stick with things in his skill range.  Minute rice.  Rice a roni.  Chicken he can bake.  I had to nag him to buy decent pots too."

Xander looked at him.  "They were really expensive."

"Yes, but you shouldn't have to replace them every year.  Especially not with how little you cook, Xander."

"Point."  He looked up and waved at the guy glaring at him. "What?   Horatio said to bring Speed in for lunch."  Rick stomped off.  He shrugged and looked at Yelina again, grinning at her.  "He does not like me."

"Ignore him.   His opinion's not worth the stress of getting on his good side," Frank offered, smirking at him.  "So, this battle axe of yours?"

"Is very pretty.  It's silver. Pure silver heads and stainless steel handle."  Frank gaped.  "It weighs about thirty pounds."

"You can lift and use it?" Yelina asked.  Xander beamed and nodded.  "Why?"

"I grew up in Sunnydale," he said, staring at her.  Her eyes went wide. "I noticed the accent.  Old rumors down there?"  She nodded, taking a drink.  "Let's just say I was helping out there.  I can use my axe very well.  It's one of my favorite weapons until Giles got that katana and we cleaned it up.  Then I got it."  He grinned.  "It's really cool and a lot lighter when I need something lighter."

"And sharper," Horatio reminded him.  "The girl last night used is to cut the legs off her dresser."

"She wasn't holding it properly but it wasn't that great of wood, Horatio."

"Good point.  It was still very sharp."

"Ooh, I fixed the fences."

"I'm sure she appreciates that, Xander."  He smiled at him.  "What did happen to that crossbow?"

"It's in the bottom of the new dresser, along with the other weapons he couldn't decorate with," Speed offered.

"Oh, good."  He looked at Yelina.  "He was playing with his crossbow to show off and had it on a higher tension setting.  He sent two carbon tipped arrows through my back fence and into the brick wall on the other side."

"Interesting."  She smiled at her son.  "Xander, Raymond has to do a report on alternate religions.  He's in Catholic school."

"Have him come down to the shop.  We've got me, who's a bastardized form of Wicca.  We've got the two true Wiccans who run the shop.  We've got Santeria priestess who comes in fairly regularly.  She's in there whenever I see her.  We have a few Buddhists who come in for incense.  Plus we've got a huge lot of books if any particular path interests him.  We've apparently got a good New Druid coven down here as well."  He nodded at that and Xander wrote out the address for him.  "Go there.  I start work tomorrow.  I'll warn the teacher your class has one so she can point most of the kids that way."  He grinned at Ray.  "Don't worry, I'm not usually scary unless I have to be."

"That's fine.  Someone should be scary around Uncle Horatio.  No one's ever scary for him."  Horatio choked on the water he was sipping.

Yelina looked at her son.  "What do you mean, son?"

"It's kinda clear, mom.  Uncle Horatio's giving him the same sort of looks you gave Dad.  He's giving them to Speed too.  Besides, no one's ever scarily possessive over Uncle Horatio and he deserves someone to be scary and possessive about him.  Everyone should have someone they love that much."  Horatio gave him a hug and he grinned.  "So, was this so Mom and I could meet the new boyfriend?  I mean, we already knew about Speed."

Horatio shook his head.  "The three of us only got together recently, Ray.  I wasn't with Speed before then."

He patted him on the arm.  "Were you stupid?" he asked facetiously.  Horatio burst out laughing when Eric, Calleigh, Speed, and Frank all nodded at that.  "It's good you're finally clear on that, Uncle Horatio."  He hugged him back then got free.  "Don't hug me in public."

"Fine, I won't hug you in public," he soothed, patting him on the back.  "Do you need to have a talk later on about any questions?"

Ray gave him an odd look.  "Uncle Horatio, I like women.  A whole lot.  I don't need to know how two or more guys do things like that.  It'd interrupt my breast fantasies."  Horatio snickered when Yelina choked. "They're amazing, multipurpose organs according to the nuns."

"That they are," Xander sighed.  "I'll make sure you don't date girls like I did."

"Were they that bad?"

"Yes," Eric and Calleigh assured him.  She shuddered.

"Let's just leave it as a few of them tried to kill him," Frank offered.  "By the way, Horatio, I got an annoying email from the redhead it took us two days to capture?"


"That's what I was wondering.  She wanted me to make sure Xander was still okay."  Xander groaned and shook his head.  "Apparently she's still worrying about you."

"She has other things to worry about and he talked with Buffy last night.  She can pass on information," Speed offered.

"Okay, I'll write that back and point out work emails are only for work stuff."  He took a drink of his coffee.   "So, housewarming?"

"He's living above the bookstore, Frank," Horatio offered.

"Um...."  He looked at Xander.  "Is it as creepy as your last place?"

"No, it's fairly warm and inviting," Speed promised.  "There is a back entrance, right?"

"Yeah, but it's locked and I don't have the key to it yet.  We went down it."

"Oh, yeah.  Okay."  He stroked the back of Xander's neck.  "He's all moved in and his boss handed him a book on potions."

"She needs something made for someone," Xander agreed.

"You did good with the ones we've seen," Eric assured him with a smile.  "So, when should we start coming up?"

"Give me a day to finish unpacking everything?"  They all nodded at that.  "Then you guys can come up and see how pretty the battle axe is next to the dragon tapestry."

"No armor?" Yelina teased.

"Armor's really expensive and my last girlfriend sucked money like I do food."  He ate another bite.  "Besides, not totally practical at home."  He shrugged and ate another bite.

A few officers went running past and all the CSI groaned, putting up their food while the detectives went to see what was wrong.  "Xander, please guard Speed and Ray," Horatio ordered as he got up, heading out to follow his people.

Xander watched as more people went running.  "Either someone's fighting or someone's trying to kill themselves," Speed noted.  One of the K-9 people went jogging past with his dog.  "Nope, small escape attempt."  Someone new walked in and Speed nodded at him.  "Hi.  Who're you?"

"Ryan Wolfe.   I'm your helper while you're down and hopefully I'll still have a job when you come back," he said, shaking his hand.  "I heard you were in so I thought I'd come introduce myself."  He shook his hand.  "Family lunch?"

"This is Ray Junior, Yelina Salas' son, and our friend Xander."  Xander waved and ate another chip.  "Apparently something's going on up the hall."

"I saw but they're crowding into holding.  There's no room for another person."  He grinned.  "So how's the arm?"

"I get the stitches out in two more days," he complained.

"It's doing very well.  It's almost fully sealed," Xander told him.  "I changed his bandage while we were out shopping for my new place."

"That's cool."  He sat down with a grin.  "So, Xander, are you an officer?"

Xander giggled and shook his head.  "Nope, sorry.  I'm working in one of the occult bookstores at the moment."

"Faggot," someone called.

"You know, being gay bashed once in my life was enough," Xander said, glaring at the officer.  "Unless you want me to pick up something and show you how it's done, go help."  He sneered.  "Speed, would I get into trouble if I hit him?"

"Probably.  I won't."  He glared at him. "Go away.  You're stinking so much I can't eat."

Ryan looked at him.  "Are you that insecure about your own sexuality that you have to taunt others to prove it?" he asked.   "Because I'm sure we can prove to you that you do want men to bend you over and make it all better."  The officer moved inside. "Oh, please, go ahead and take a swing," Ryan pleaded.  He stood up, the guy took a swing.  Xander got him in the kidneys with a foot and then onto the ground, then went back to his lunch.  "Good work.  Maybe you should be an officer."  He called the shift supervisor.  "Gary and I got into it again.  No, he's presently moaning about the foot to his kidneys he took while trying to make discriminating remarks in the break room to a civilian.  It might be a good idea, yeah."  He hung up and sat back down again.  "Sorry, he's had this issue for a few days now."

"Awww, did the baby man's wet dreams make him go off?" Ray Junior taunted.  His mother gasped from the doorway. "Sorry, mom, he started off with the f word and went from there."  He stuffed his mouth.

"What happened to him?" she demanded.  Xander and Ryan both raised their hands.  "I see."  She looked at Xander.  "Do not set a bad example for my son."

Xander looked at him.  "Only taunt if you can back it up and I'll help your uncle and mom with your self-defense skills."  That got a grin and a nod.  She stomped off.  He grinned at Ryan.  "Good quippage."

"Thank you."  He smirked back.  "Now I know you.  You worked at that damned convenience store."  Ray looked at him.  "They had so many robberies someone must've damned it."

Xander nodded.  "I did.  Now I work at an occult bookstore."  Two bigger officers came in with Stetler.  "He tried to gay bash me again," he said, looking very upset.  "He called me horrible names and I'm having flashbacks now."  He let out another sniffle. "Please take the horrible man away?"  The two officers nodded and drug him out.  "Thank you, officers!"  He looked at Stetler.  "Did you want to meet the woman who did that to me?  You expressed an interest in it."  He stomped off with a growl.  "Thank you.  It's less smelly in here now."  He took a sip of his soda and looked at Speed, who just shook his head with a light moan.  "I could have them."

"I know you could."

"You did?" Ryan asked.

"By a five-foot-five lesbian witch," he agreed.

"I was on the hunt for her.  I helped when we took her down," he admitted with a small grin.  "She did what she did to the lamp?"

"With a board to my ribs and back mostly."

"Ow.  I'm sorry.  The last time someone tried it on me they only used their fists."  Speed blinked at him.  "I don't hide it.  I'm very bi," he said quietly, glancing at Ray Junior.  "That time was a matter of mistaken identity but yeah.  He was too drunk to know who he was going after."

"They all need to put the assholes back in place and quit playing with them," Ray said dryly, finishing his soda.  The adults all stared, then Xander burst out laughing.  "They do."

"Yeah, that's one way of putting it," Speed agreed, shaking his head when Horatio came back in.  "We've met Ryan.  He seems okay, if a bit new."

"We'll mentor him," Horatio assured them.  "Are we all okay?"

"We're just fine, Lieutenant. What did you expect to happen?" Ryan asked with a small grin. "Did we get him?"

"We did get her and she's back in custody.  The officer she got the key from is giving a statement up the hall."  He looked at them again.  "What happened?"

"What makes you think something happened?" his nephew asked.

"You all look much too innocent."  He looked at Speed. "Speed?"

"What?  It wasn't me.  I'm sitting here eating and being a good boy."  He stuffed his mouth again.  Xander did the same.

Yelina stomped back in.  "Did they tell you about the officer who came in and made sexual innuendos around my son?" she demanded.

"No.  Please do," Horatio said.

She gave him an odd look.  "I got here after he was on the floor."

"Xander said he'd help you work on my self-defense skills, Uncle Horatio," Ray said with a grin for him.  "Can we do that this weekend?"

"After he's done working for the day and so am I."  He looked at Xander, then at Ryan.  "Mr. Wolfe?"

"The officer started it.  He's been trying all week.  He won't do it again around your nephew, sir."

"That's not what I'm worried about," he said dryly, staring at him.

"I doubt he's going to do it around Speed or Xander again either," he offered with a grin.

"Damn it, you're as bad as Eric," Speed complained.

Ryan looked at him and shook his head.  "I've heard his reputation.  I can't date like that."

"Good.  Keep that in mind and grow different problems."

"I will."

"He'll make rookie mistakes that'll haunt him for a few years but he'll settle into the job," Xander promised.  "We all do."  That got some nods from Yelina and Speed.  "We need to make sure we mentor him instead of letting him flounder if he has mouth problems like I do."

"It was a good quip," Ray told him with a small grin.

He grinned back.  "Thanks, Ray."

Yelina moaned.  "Come on, Raymond.  Frank's not busy so he can give you that interview for your report."  She helped him clean up and walked him off while Ryan cleaned up the rest of the mess.

Speed watched him.  "They make drugs for that."

"Yes but they left me fuzzy and unable to use my imagination."

"Oh, sure."  He nodded and left it there.  If he was happy with his OCD it could be an asset on the job. "So, bossman, need me this afternoon?"

"No, Ryan's got his first case and he's doing that.  We'll see you when the doctor releases you to work, Speed.  Otherwise I'll have to make Xander watch you."  Speed's eyes went wide at Xander's wicked chuckle.  "So behave."  He looked at Ryan.  "Nearly done?"  He nodded and walked back out with him.

"I'll help you watch out for those two," Ryan said quietly.  "Can we talk Xander into the department?"

"He doesn't want to go to college."

"Pity.  He'd make a great officer or a social worker."

"They're both very wearing and tiring fields, Mr. Wolfe.  I think he wants to enjoy life for a bit."  He gave him a look as he opened the door to their unit.  "Do you have anything yet?"

"I have a few things and that's why I was looking for you, Lieutenant.  Meet me in the garage?"

"That'd be fine."  He headed to get something for his headache then went down with him.


Alexx walked around Xander's apartment, looking at the pot on the stove.  "Xander, should I stir this?"

"No, leave it alone.  It has to congeal.  It's not food."

"What is it?"

"A bruise potion."  He came in and got a clean dishcloth then a small bottle out of the fridge.  "Anyone have one?" he asked while he shook the bottle a few times.

"Frank does.  A suspect got him with an elbow.  He's on his way up."  She watched as he poured some onto the cloth and handed it to Frank when he walked in.

"Don't let that get into your eye, just let it rest against your cheek."

"Sure.  What does it do?"

"Draws out the bruise."  He put the bottle back.  "I can't help the black eye part but it'll do the bruise on your cheek."  Frank nodded, sitting down to look around while he did that.  The cold cloth did feel good.  "I put mine in the fridge since the cold seems to help a bit, even though it makes it go bad faster.  But hey, I can always make more every six months."  Alexx gave him a look.  "It works well, Alexx.  Trust me.  I've used it for years.  We all did."  He looked at the pot then covered it and put it aside.  "Don't drink that even though it does have some alcohol in it."

Frank sniffed the cloth.  "Smells like mint."

"If I didn't put in the mint oil at the end, it'd smell like the bit of liquor in it," he admitted with a grin.  "Look up.  That's my axe."  Frank turned to look at it, staring in awe.  He beamed.  "That was one of my first weapons."

Horatio walked in, smiling at Frank.  "Hurting?"

"He said it's a bruise potion."

"It does work well.  He used it on an older one I had and it disappeared within hours."  He came over to hand Xander the bag.  "From your coworkers."

Xander got into it with a grin, putting things in the herb cabinet, then giving him a hug and holding up the key.  "The back door key."

"Good.  Copies?" he asked quietly.

"The next time I get out."

"Thank you."  He smiled as he saw the pot.  "Food?"

"Um, nope.  I didn't expect you guys so soon so everything's still in the fridge.  That's more bruise potion.  Miami's protector needs a new batch."  He wiggled past Alexx to get into the fridge.  "Turn on the oven to broil?"  Horatio did that and he put things into it.  Then he put sodas out onto the small table, plus some bottles of water. "There.  Glasses are above the sink."  He went to check on Frank's bruise, moving the cloth a bit.  "Don't want it in your eye, Frank.  It'll sting."  That got a nod and he patted him on the head, going into the bedroom to change and come out wearing better clothes.  "Sorry, those are my brewing clothes."

"It's all right, sugar, it happens," Alexx promised, smiling at him.  "I like that shirt on you."

"Thank you.  Speed made me get it."  He heard more footsteps and opened the door, smiling at his coworker.  "We're having guests in.  Tell me if I get annoying."

"I will, Xander.  I'm pretty deaf over here.  Did you get the bruise potion done?"

"It's congealing. I've got to mint oil the bottles and then chill it for her.  It's how I like mine.  The chill seems to make the bruise feel better."

"I bet it does.  Does it cut down on the efficiency?"

"Six months instead of a year.  But it smells better and the cold is nice."  He let her have the rest of that bottle.  "The rest is on the stove congealing."

"Go ahead and include one of your bottles and take one of hers so she can compare.  She usually only wants the standard one."  He nodded, going to grab the bottles from the pot of hot water in the sink.  She came in and smiled.  "Hi, I'm Tolly.  I work with Xander and live across the hall."  She came over to watch him, watching as he used the ladle to mix the congealing syrup.  Then he used that and a funnel to put it into the jars.  "Very neatly done," she praised, sealing that one.  "Mint oil?"

"I swish it around the inside of the bottle before I bottle it.  It takes some of the stink."

"Smells like toothpaste," Frank offered.  She came out to look at his cheek, sniffing that cloth, then putting it back.  "It going okay?"

"It's already to the darker stage.  It's going along very well."  He grinned at that.  "It should be gone by later tonight.  Remember, only an hour with it on, Xander."  She came back to help him finish bottling, then added a new bottle of his style into it, taking them down to call their client to tell her it was ready.  It just needed time to cool down and finish congealing in the bottles.

Xander got to work on the dishes, checking the food.  "Someone come save these?" he called.  Alexx came back to take stuff out.  "There's another two pans but they need 425," he said quietly.  She nodded, putting them in once she had the oven adjusted.  He finished scrubbing the pots and put them away, that one going into the herb cabinet.  Speed came in.  "I made more bruise potion."

"I love that stuff."  He checked Frank's cheek.  "It's looking good."  He came in to look, noticing the new pot.  "Making that one specially for that?"

"That way no residue can get into any food.  Especially if I have to do something with poisonous stuff."

"Good idea."  He kissed the back of his neck and held him around the waist, watching as he cleaned the dishes.  "Are you serving?"

"I figured you guys could come figure out what you wanted and serve yourselves."  He grinned at him, then winked and walked him into the bedroom to show him.  "Giles sent it."

"It's pretty."  He stroked his back and came out to look at Horatio.  "Did you see the quilt Giles sent him?"

"I hadn't."  He went to look, smiling at the nice, simple quilt on the bed and the furry thing on it.  "What are you?"

"I'm trying to decide between the mottled shorthair and the black persian," Xander called. Alexx looked at him.  "My familiar."

"Uh-huh."  She went to look at the stuffed animal, bursting out laughing.  "That's cute, Xander."

"Thank you.  Real pets would get fussy while I brewed and kitty fur in fertility potions is a bad thing.  Willow nearly found that out but Tara stopped her."  He went to check on the other food, taking it out.  "Guys, I'm not eating all the nibble-type stuff on my own," he demanded.  They came in to get plates and cups of stuff to drink, going back to the living room to relax and chat.  Xander did turn on the stereo and turned it down, then looked in the fridge.  "I need more milk," he muttered.

"We just got you some," Speed said from behind him.

"I know, I used it in a wash for someone's acne."  He stood up and looked in the freezer, taking the milk out of there and putting it into the fridge to thaw and be recombined. "There, it'll be fine by breakfast."  He turned and smiled at Speed.  "Am I going with you when you get the stitches taken out?"

"No, you've got to work.  I'll go alone and then we'll have dinner that night, Horatio's new case willing."  Xander beamed and Speed grinned back.  "Behave."

"I try so hard," he teased, moving closer.

"Hmm.  Try harder, Xander," Horatio warned as he came in, getting a cuddle from him.  "I like how you switched those two around."

"Now they tell a story."

Horatio looked at the bracelet he was wearing.  "What's that for?"

"To bleed some energy into the store's protections."  Someone knocked. "It's open!"  Calleigh and Eric came in.  "Come up through the store?"

"They told us where the other door is and unlocked it for us."  She kissed him on the cheek and got something to eat, going to look around the small apartment.  "This is nice, Xander."

"Thank you."  He grinned at Eric, pointing at his axe.  "See, I did decorate with it."

"I can see that."  He got something to drink and walked around to look too.  "Stuffed animal?"

"My familiar."  He looked at Horatio. "Are either of you allergic to cats?"

"No, not in the past," he offered. "Speed?"

"Haven't been yet."

"Cool.  Should I get the shorthaired quiet one or the black persian?"  They stared at him.  "It'll give me something to pet when I'm here.  I'm not *that* clingy, guys."

"Good point," Horatio agreed, smiling at him. "Which do you like more?"

"Neither one loves me yet.  So I could pick either one but they're going to pound if I don't."

"Pick whichever one you want."  Horatio smiled at his squeal and heading across the hall.  He came back with two small bundles of fluff and put them down.  Frank stared at the one that decided to walk over him.  Xander went back to get the other stuff and put it under the stereo's table then went back to get something to drink.  When Yelina and Ray Junior came in he had a book in a bag and she stared at the cats.  "They're my familiars," he joked.  Ryan came in and he waved, then grinned. "Food?  Drinks?  No alcohol."  They came over to eat and Ray went to look at the weapons.  "Those are sharp," he warned.

"Uncle Horatio said you nearly cut his tree down for him."  Ray grinned at him.  "Naughty you."

"I was practicing."  He grinned back and looked at the cat on the counter.  "That is a people space.  Get down.  Now."  He hopped down and went to curl up on Yelina's lap, purring at her.  "He loves you."

"I can tell."  She petted him, making him a content cat.  "When did you get him?"

"Oh, about ten minutes ago," Frank joked.  "Xander, can I move this, it's heating."

Xander came out and took it, using a dry spot to wipe off the rest of the potion and the blood it had drawn out.  "It's down to the yellow and green stage, very faint."  Frank got up to look in the bathroom and he put the cloth behind the bottles in the fridge.

"I won't get pity cuddles from the wife tonight," Frank complained.  But he was smiling.

"You still have the black eye, Frank," Xander teased.  "She'll give you plenty of pity cuddles for that and for being beaten up on by someone."

"True."  He let Alexx look at it, then she stared at him.  "Ancient recipe," he teased.

"Very but it works very well," Xander said with a proud grin. "It was the first potion I learned."  He sat down and went back to nibbling.  "So, how was your work today?"

"Good," everyone agreed, relaxing again. They knew Xander was amazing.  This just proved it.


Xander looked up at his boss's cough, giving her a clueless look.  "I'm being good."

She held up the furball she had caught in her office.  "I told Tolly to get rid of the evil things."

"The one went to Yelina."  He grabbed his cat and nuzzled him, getting purrs.  "He was bored and he's not evil."

"He is."

"He's not. If he was he'd turn into a girl and try to date me."

She stared for a minute then walked off muttering.  She couldn't refute that argument.  It was too true.  She came back out of the office.  "Send him to Willow or something."

"Yes, ma'am."  He pulled out his cellphone and called Buffy.  "Hi.  My boss doesn't like my familiar."  He pouted while he cuddled his cat.  "Because she claims he's evil."  He smiled.  "A black persian.  He's very cuddly.  I think it's a good pet but she claims he's evil."

"He tried to eat me, he's evil," she called from the office.  "He's throwing off negative energy, Xander."

He looked into the office.  "Are you sure it's not where someone's pregnant?  It feel like a baby spike."  She gaped then went to the bathroom, coming out swearing.  He shrugged.  "Sorry.  Can I keep my familiar?"  He smiled sweetly.

"Fine.  For now."  Xander cheered and told Buffy that then hung up, going to let his pet help him learn potions.

She had some patience.  She knew Buffy and Tara were coming down for spring break in a few months.  The cat could go home with them then.  Especially if she could get them sooner.  It was nearly the fourth of july and she didn't want to wait that long.  "Xander?"  He stuck his head back in.  "Can you please help me do the fireworks this year?"  The look of glee on his face nearly made her cringe.  "Commercial ones are fine," she offered weakly.

He grinned.  "I'll be a good boy, boss.  Just think what would happen if I worked for the other store."

"True, dear.  We can keep you on the side of good and that's an important thing.  Just something nice?  We hold it out at Tolly's family's farm."

"Sure.  Can I bring anything like foodish?"

"Bring your men if you can," she offered with a smile.  He blushed and went back to his reading and plotting.  She took the easy way, getting up to close the door and call his mate.  "Mr. Speedle?  This is Rebecca, down at Xander's work.  We're doing a wonderful July 4th sabbat at one of our coworker's farms.  Dinner, fireworks, that sort of thing.  I'm sure he was but I know how he blushes about you two and doesn't want to inconvenience you.  Of course.  We'd adore having you there and there's no worry about anything.  There's a few lesbian couples and one other gay couple within our circle of friends and our coven.  Thank you," she said with a smile.  "Bringing another guest as long as he's tolerant is fine with us.  The more the merrier for celebrations.  I'll see you then.  No, the evil furball snuck out of his apartment.  He said it can't be evil, he's not dating it."  She giggled at his shocked silence and hung up on it.  After all, the side of good needed Xander but he needed more than one person to keep him on the straight and narrow.  That's why he had two men and had been drawn to work in their store.


Speed hung up and shook his head quickly.  "I just got the mental image from Hades."

"Why?" Eric asked, grinning at him.

"Rebecca, Xander's boss, said that his cat is evil.  Xander said it can't be, he's not dating it."  Eric choked and moaned, getting up to walk off and get a new drink.  "Hey, it's out of my head," he said happily.

"Gee, thanks, Speed."  He looked up as Ryan came in.  "What else was going on?"

"Plans for a Sabbat on the fourth.  Fireworks, a picnic, that stuff."  He sipped his soda.  "Do you think Xander's worried about inconveniencing us?"  Ryan nodded at that.  "Why do you think that, Wolfe?"

Ryan gave him a knowing look.  "Because he never asks you for anything, only suggests that you could.  It speaks heavily to an abusive family."  He finished pouring his coffee.  "If the boss isn't in his office, should I leave the report on his desk or wait until he's back?"

"Put it in the blue box on his desk, Ryan," Eric ordered.  He nodded, going to do that.  Eric sat back down.  "Does he?"

"Have an abusive family?  Just slightly," he said bitterly.  "But he's right.  Xander never asks to do anything.  He offers a suggestion now and then but he's got bad timing.  Two of the last ones Horatio's been really exhausted and didn't want to go to the movies.  We'll have to fix that later.  Want to go with us?"

"My mother would freak if I went to a Wiccan ceremony.  She hisses at his store when she walks past."

"Sorry.   Does H have off the fourth?"

"We're all on call."

"Great, so we could probably go out for the picnic and the fireworks."  He finished his lunch and smiled when Calleigh came in.  "Xander's boss offered to let us come out to a Sabbat for the fourth."

"Sorry, I'm going to the main fireworks."

"We'll have some somehow."

She smiled.  "I go every year, Speed."


"It's okay."  She kissed him on the head.  "Ask Ryan.  You two haven't really talked yet."  She grabbed her water and left again.

"That is true," Eric agreed.

"Yeah, but I'm kinda wary since he's my replacement."

"Only until you come back and then he's your student," Eric pointed out. "Because I'm sucking at teaching him.  He's ambitious and he doesn't listen."

Speed looked at him.  "So he's a smart ass who has ideas?"  Eric nodded.  "So we'll either get along very well or clash."

"He's very jump happy," Eric warned.  He stood up and cleaned up his mess.  "Remind Horatio before he can make any other plans."

"Sure."  He pulled out his phone to text him, getting back an 'on a scene' automatic response.  It'd be saved for later.  He stood up to clean up his mess, noticing Ryan had come back for his lunch. "Done?"

"Cleaned my desk for ten minutes so I thought I'd nibble."  He gave him a small grin.  "How is Xander liking his new job?"

"He thinks it's great.  His boss thinks his cat is evil but he says it's not since he's not dating it."  Ryan giggled at that.  "Listen, we've got a Sabbat thingy on the fourth."

"Out at Tolly's farm this year?"  He grinned.  "I was dating one of the coven back in high school.  I'll go with him if you can't."

"No, I'm not against going, I was going to invite you to come with us."

"Sure.  I'd like that."  He grinned and got his carrot sticks, going back to his desk to nibble for a few minutes while he wiped it down.  At least until a new case came in.  Being new meant he didn't have any cold ones laying around to work on.

Speed went to ask Yelina, who shuddered, and Frank, who shrugged and said his wife's company was throwing a picnic so they were going for the suck-up potential for her career. Then he went to wait outside for Horatio, who didn't look happy.  "You don't want to go?"

"I would like to go.  It'll be a nice, calm, peaceful evening for a change."  He smiled at him.  "What's wrong?"

"Ryan noticed something.  Xander never *asks* us to do anything."

"He does."

"No, he suggests.  He has bad timing too since you're usually tired after the day from hell."  Horatio considered that.  "He's letting us keep him in a closet, Horatio," he said quietly.

"I didn't realize.  Did you want to do something tonight?"


"I could probably stand that but I might fall asleep.  I've had a few rough nights recently."

"Then come curl up with one of us, Horatio.  You didn't have nightmares with us."  He smiled.  "She said there's going to be a picnic and fireworks."

"Then we'll have to get together and bring something for them to eat."  He smiled.  "Get our boy out of the house tonight.  Come get me when it's time."  Speed nodded, going to find Xander and ask him out tonight.  Horatio went inside to log in evidence and do what he could.  He found Ryan happy and jobless.  "Come help me, Mr. Wolfe."

"Yes, Horatio."  He followed him, finishing his last carrot stick on the way.  "Sorry, nibbling since I was clear.  I put the files into your blue box on your desk."

"That's where I want them," he promised, giving him a look.  "Relax, I'm not going to bite."

"Well, you could but you don't look that goth."  Horatio smiled at that.  "How is Xander?"

"He's good.  Probably working since it's his shift at the moment."

"Before you say it, Speed asked if I wanted to go the fourth Sabbat with you guys.  I can drive and all, I know the way.  I used to date a member of the coven."

"That's fine. I'm sure they'll welcome you back."  He gave him a sideways smile.  "Fireworks?"

"They usually go with some commercial ones but one never knows who's going to help.  A few years back they had a designer do it for them."  That got a smile.  "Maybe Xander can help."

"I'm not sure he knows explosives and fireworks."

"He didn't do the grenade?"

"Well..."  He considered it. "It's still vastly different."

Ryan grinned. "Maybe he'll just help then.  Speaking of, what can I help you with, Lieutenant?"

"I've got soil samples to run plus the new autopsy to go to."

"I can do the samples while you do that."  He went to wash his hands and glove and coat up.  Then he came back to get them and start on the paperwork noting the samples.


Horatio smiled as Speed got drug out to dance with the people dancing around the fire and having fun, looking at Ryan.   "Bad breakup?"

"Well, I did call her a fruitcake but no.  I'm not a revel sort, I'm a guard sort."  He smiled and nodded politely at the high priestess.  "That's the real tension," he sighed. "That's my ex."

"Is she holding a grudge?"

"No.  I've been invited out in the past."  He looked at him.   "You should be out there partying with your boys, boss.  Xander needs you just as much as he does Speed," he said quietly.  Horatio gave him an amused look.  "He does.  A trio takes a lot of work and making sure things are fairly even.  Otherwise someone starts to worry that you're not with them, just with the other one and you're humoring his like for him."

"Xander told you that?" he asked.

"Not yet.  He did ask if I thought you and Speed would stay together if something happened to him."  He took another drink.  "Go be with Xander, boss.  He needs to see you like him like you do the other one."

Horatio nodded and went to play with his boy.  It had been a good point.  And something to think about.  Would he and Speed be together if it wasn't for Xander?  Or would he and Xander be together if it wasn't for Speed?  He pulled the boy into his chest, smiling at his laughter.  "Show me?"

"It's all about letting it go and ignoring anyone who might laugh."  He led him in the circle dance they were all doing, taking his hand and grinning at him.  Horatio relaxed and let it go with him, liking these new friends of Xander's.  They seemed very nice.

Ryan looked up as his ex sat down across from him.  "I'm working with Horatio."

"I heard.  Congrats."  He smiled at that.  "You were right.  I was a fruitcake.  I've had a lot of time to study and straighten myself out."

"Then I'm happy if you are."

"Not as much as I was.  Before I was innocent.  Now, not so much."  She took his hand.  "She still bothers you."

"She still worries me. I know I blurt things out now and then," he admitted.  "She'll catch something from me that way and get me in trouble."

"I'm sure Horatio knows this about you, Ryan.  He does study people."  She looked at the trio and smiled then at him.  "Even that one.  He's not thinking yet, and Xander does too much of that."  She stroked his hand.  "Go revel."

"I suck at dancing."


"I like playing guard, Marcia.  You go revel.  You're the priestess here."  She smiled and went to do that while he watched the road and the woods.  He did see something come out but Xander glared at it while he danced and it headed off at a dead run.  So he had help guarding them.  He smiled at Tolly as she bounced over and hauled him up.  "I suck at dancing."

"Who cares!"  She drug him out to the fire and danced with him.  "We don't need a guardian tonight, Ryan."  He smiled and let her lead him around the fire.  Dark finished falling and she noticed Xander sneaking off, winking at Speed. "He's helping with the fireworks."

"I should," Horatio offered.

"No, you sit," she ordered, pulling them back to their seats and letting Ryan pant and calm down beside her.  They all watched as the first one went up as a test of the darkness.  Then a few minutes later they heard some very quiet music and more went off.  Slowly, then building up to a higher and faster peak as the song changed.  Horatio and Speed were cuddling.  Almost everyone was cuddling while they watched so she shrugged and cuddled Ryan since he was single.  He grinned at her.  "Xander's doing good," she said quietly.

"He is."  He gave her shoulders a squeeze and they watched as the fireworks built to a higher pitch and then a sudden barrage of colors and sounds, then a few trickling ones trailing back to silence.  They clapped.  It had been well done.  "He did a good job designing that," he praised.

"He did.  I'm not sure where he got the real fireworks but it was a great job."  Speed looked at her.  "The usual guy goes out of state to get it somewhere special.  Xander designed his own I think."

Horatio gave her a look.  "He built them?"  She nodded.  "Interesting."  They went to find their boy, finding him laying back in the grass, covered in the scent of gunpowder, but it was a happy boy they found.  Sated, content.  They laid down with him to cuddle him and make him go off again.  Because he was limp from the orgasm he had let be shown to the others in the fireworks.  "You did great, Xander," he told him as he stroked him.

"Very good show," Speed agreed.

"Did you make them?"  Xander blushed but nodded, giving Horatio a look.  "Let me help you next time. I don't want you to have an accident and I want to watch you do it."  Xander blushed brighter.  "I'm serious.  This is a side of you I never get to see and it is very good."  He took another kiss.

"If you want," he promised, staring at him.  Horatio smiled and kissed him.  "You really liked it?"

"I did," Speed assured him, nuzzling his neck.  "I wanted to stroke him off in front of the others."  Xander moaned and arched up into their hands, making him smile.  "I know Horatio's hand was on my thigh to keep himself from touching me."  Xander shot off at that, going limp in their arms.

"It was very erotic and very good, baby," Horatio assured him, kissing him deeply, then Speed, who smiled at him.  "You did good."  Xander smiled, hugging him.  "Now, let's pounce Speed."  Xander hauled speed between them to play with him.  He got to watch and then Xander came back to him to please him.  So he made him stop so they could show him he was there to be pleased, not to please others.   When they finally made it back to the party half of everyone had went home or up to the farmhouse to spend the night together.  Ryan nodded at them but he was still talking with Tolly so they left after a quick word with the hostess, Xander kissing her on the cheek.  Then they went back to Xander's place to sleep with him and play with the cat since it got demanding and blatantly curled up on Horatio's chest with a glare to pet him.  They had stolen his human so they had to pay the price for that.


Xander looked up from his reading when someone coughed, smiling at her.  "Ready to check out?"

"Not yet.  I can't find the toadstool."

"It's out until Tuesday when we get a new shipment from New Jersey.  I can put you on the list to hold some back," he offered, pulling over a notepad.  "How much did you need?"

"Two grams."  He nodded and wrote that down for her.  "Thank you, Xander."  He grinned at her. She put her basket on the counter.  "What are you reading?"

"Oh, a demonic translation of something Hindu, one of the older stories."  He let her see it and she gaped.  "It came in handy at home."  He rang her up.  "Twenty-three-twelve please."  She handed over her debit card and he ran it for her, letting her sign the slip.  He took his book back after he handed her the bags, still grinning.  "It's all about the romance and stuff.  I'm reading it to Speed so I'm getting a bit ahead so I know what I'm reading."

"Interesting.  It's still demonic."

"No, it's in a demonic language.  Some human priests translated a lot of stuff back in the Middle Ages.  Even some of the Watchers.  There's some very intelligent demonic species.  They don't hunt, don't eat people or kitty cats," he said, scooping up his since he was wandering around again, "and they're the ones who do arts and literature.  This is Hummer."  She smiled at that.  "Horatio rolled his eyes when Speed and I named him."  She giggled at that.  "Trust me, I wouldn't bring something demonic in here, for all that my boss thinks the cat is."

"Fine.  I'm sure you can tell the difference."

"Very well."  She nodded and left.  He looked at his cat.  "Where did you escape to last night?"

She came out of the office to look at the cat. "The roof.  I saw him peeking down when I pulled in."  She let the cat sniff her then scratched behind his ears, earning a purr.  He was much happier and less prone to attacking now that he had Xander instead of Tolly.  "Demonic?"  He let her have the book and she looked it over. "It's not demonic."

"It's in a demonic language."

"Oh.  Some people can't tell the difference."  She handed it back.  "You're reading to Speed?"

"He likes books," he said shyly.  "Besides, Horatio falls asleep when I read to him."

"He does have a hard job."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "Be a good boy, Xander."

"I try really hard.  Did she like how I do the bruise potion?"

"She did for some things but she prefers the traditional one.  It lasts longer and she can carry it in the car."

"Point."  She smiled at that.  "We all have different styles. Did she want me to dose her next batch with the mint oil?"

"No, she said the stench reminds her that she got tagged."

"Okay."  She smiled and went back into her office.  He looked at his cat.  "Let's put you upstairs," he said, heading that way.  He came back down and found a guy in a mask with a shotgun there.  He coughed.  "Do you really think we make enough to make it worthwhile for you to rob us?"


"No.  Sorry."  He walked over and leaned on the counter, blatantly in front of his boss.  "She's not opening the register.  Now, unless you want to be really horribly disfigured for life when I shove that shotgun up your nose and blow the top of your head off, without killing you probably, I'd leave."

"Give me the money!" he demanded.

Xander looked at him.  "I worked in convenience stores, buddy."  He backed up at that.  "Shoo.  Now.  This isn't a place for violence."  The man sneered and cocked the gun.  Xander pulled his new one and pointed it at him.  The man blinked.  "Out. Now.  Right now.  I've had to shoot a Mala Noche, I can do you."  He turned and fled.  Xander put his gun back and looked at his boss. "I hate stupid people.  It wasn't bad enough all the vamps used to come in when I worked the convenience stores in Sunnydale to pick on me?"

She patted him on the back.  "No guns in the store, Xander.  Even though it was appreciated."

"Yes, ma'am."  He went to put it up.  Then he came back down the stairs with a candy bar to nibble on while he went back to his reading.  "Can I brew anything tonight?"

"We haven't gotten any requests but let me check the supplies, Xander."  She went to do that and calm down.  Counting vials of potions would keep her calmer.  She came out.  "I could use some more banishing potion."  He nodded, making a note on the notepad and putting it into the book.  "I noticed we're down on hensbane too."

"Toadstool's been looked for recently."

"Hmm."  She came to look at the list and call her supplier to make sure they were getting enough.  It was time for a great many of them to do the anti-bug protections again and that was a major component.  She got Xander that potion as well so he could study it, getting a grin and a nod.  Then she went back to double that order.  They had already gotten requests for more than that but some would find alternate suppliers by then if they were desperate.  Some people always waited for the last minute and then got the sudden influx of bugs.

Xander looked up as someone came in, smiling at them.  "Hey, Ray.  Skipping?"

"You know it," he complained, coming in.  "My teacher said that places like this don't exist."

"Need pictures?"

"No.  I showed her the phone book ad."  He leaned on the counter, grinning at him.  "But she did want to know if you knew anything about the more traditional alternate religions.  She thought it was odd that I did mine on Wiccans even though I pointed out I knew someone who worked here now."

"So she wants it on what?  Buddhist, Shinto, that sort?"  He nodded.  "Okay.  Um..." he said, thinking.  "Actually I do think we have a few things."  He led him back there, showing him that section.  "Ah, comparative religions on a few spectrums and one on the demonic influences in them, written by a paranoid Christian person.  And this one," he offered, holding it up.  "On the various death rituals as a comparison."

"How much is the comparative one?"

Xander pulled it down.  It was a textbook and it was heavy.  "It says thirty."  He looked at him.  "You can ask the boss if it's on special."  That got a smile and Ray went to talk to her, finding the guy with the shotgun back there.  Xander came out and coughed, shaking his head.  He walked up behind him and took the shotgun from him, opening the breach and shaking out the two shells, then he handed it back. "What part of no violence in the store didn't you get?" he demanded.  "Shoo, little boy.  Now!"  He stepped back.  "Right now.  I'm dating a cop."  He took another step back and Xander sighed, taking off his mask and making his head turn to look at the camera, then he walked him outside and ejected him onto the sidewalk.  He got his shotgun and tossed it back on top of him.  "No violence in this store."  He got up and ran off.  Xander shook his head, heading back inside. "Boss, I got a good frame of his face at least if you needed it."

"I'll let Speed have it later," she promised, handing him the shells.  "Make them safe too."

He looked at them.  "They should be.  You can't hurt anyone with shells unless you hit the gunpowder to make it explode."  He went to put them under the counter in the box of lost and found stuff.  Then he looked at Ray.  "His teacher didn't like us.  We're not mainstream enough."

"It happens now and then," she agreed, looking at the kid.  "You okay?"

"I'm good.  He didn't see me."  He shrugged.  "He said I should ask if the book was on discount."

She smiled.  "I'll let him give it to you for twenty so you can share it with some other kids."  That got a smile and he paid for it then left, heading home on the bus.  "Nice work."

"That one compares a few different areas.  It's a book Willow would've used in a report so his teacher would probably like it more than the 'Comparative Religions for Beginners' with the comics in it."  That got a smile and she went back to her office.  He went back to studying this new potion.  It was a good one.  "Is this a copy for me?"

"No.  Copy it."

He pulled over the notepad and got to work copying it for himself.  He glanced up when the door's bell rang.  "Ethan," he said blandly.  "You do know this is a haven of peace and for those who don't cause chaos?"

"I do."  He came inside.  "I wish no harm.  Just supplies."

"To cause harm?" he asked.

"Well, to cause Ripper and the bratty one out there mental agony."

The owner came out.  "We don't participate in that, sir."

"I realize that but the other place was out of three herbs."

"What are you doing to Giles this time?" Xander complained.  "And please don't let me be possessed again."

Ethan looked at him.  "You were only a side effect."

Xander smirked. "Then I should thank you for the explosives knowledge I have.  Huh?"

Ethan swallowed.  "Oh, dear.  That costume of yours?"  Xander nodded.  "Then I'm rather sorry about that.  Why are you here?"


"What?  Did she curl your hair one too many times?"

"Gaybashed me actually."  Ethan blinked.  "Yeah.  Her, board, my ribs, not fun.  So, what are you doing to Giles this time?"

He stared at him for a moment.  "Nothing that should impact you in this city.  I was merely going to get him back for handing me to the people who tortured me."

Xander considered it then looked at his boss.  "During the Initiative thing Ethan popped up and turned Giles into a demon for a day.  Giles handed him to the Initiative creeps."

"Retribution is the Goddess' job," she said firmly.

"I doubt Janus would punish his own for this," Ethan said dryly, staring at her.  "I only need some herbs.  Nothing else.  Not like you can't tell me someone hasn't used it before for bad things.  Like lust spells."

"Not my fault she was immune and it went wrong," Xander complained.  Ethan stared at him.  "Cordy broke up with me on Valentine's day.  I was a stupid little kid.  I had her cursed and she was the only one not caught.  I learned my lesson the hard way."  His boss stared at him.  "Really, I did."

She moaned and shook her head. "I wondered about that spot in your aura."

"That and Ethan had me possessed and gave me mentally deaging candy."

She sighed.  "Ethan...."

"I promise it won't harm him permanently. He did have me tortured.  He handed me over knowing that they were torturing demons and doing medical experiments on them."  Xander nodded at that.  "Even he knew."

"That's one of the reasons we took them down," Xander agreed.  "They had a friend."  He looked at her.  Then back at Ethan.  "I'm stepping out of this conversation because I'm a bit torn in the center."

"I can see why," she admitted.  "What sort of harm were you planning?"

He handed over his list.  She read it and then gaped in horror at him.  He grinned. "Not the first time I've done it to him, love.  It's almost like a long distance kiss from us only this time it'll be permanent."

Xander glanced at it then at him.  "Willow's on permanent community service, Ethan.  Leave Tara alone."

"I would no more touch that white witch than I would a hot burner," he assured him.  "Or Miss Summers.  I was thinking more... Spike."

"Which would get him turned and then Rupert would come to eat you," Xander pointed out dryly.  "Either that or Giles would become Dru."

Ethan stared at him then suddenly smiled.  "That's a much better idea.  Thank you, lad."  He smiled at him.  "It would repay that torture greatly."

Xander shrugged.  "As long as no permanent harm was done I'll only slip word back to Buffy."

"Thank you."  He smiled at her.  "For that I would need a new crystal and a bit of warts," he muttered as he walked off.

His boss glared at him.  "They would have tortured him," he agreed quietly.  "This is something Giles can fight off.  It won't kill him.  It won't maim him permanently.  Then again, they play back and forth like this all the time.  Giles hands him to the Watchers, they torture him so Ethan comes back with something nasty in repayment.  This time even I flinched a bit," he admitted.  "I knew what they were doing and so did Giles.  They *tortured* people.  Including a werewolf we knew and worked with on the team.  Like cutting parts off and electroshocks and all sorts of neat things to kill, maim, and torture experiments.  They didn't care if they were kids, harmless, thinking beings or anything.  To them they were hostiles."

"I can understand that but it's still not right."

"That's why I'll warn Buffy in about an hour."

She considered it then nodded.  "Very well.  As long as you do warn her."  He nodded.  "Thank you."  She went back to see what Ethan was doing, finding him touching a scar.  She looked at it then at him.  "He told me."

"I heard.  Truly, Ripper does deserve death for that one.  It wasn't his place to have me tortured for four months or to allow them to kill me four times and then bring me back."  She gasped and he looked at her.  "Ripper used to be mine."

She swallowed and nodded.  "Then retribution is your right even though it is at the Goddess' will."  She pointed at something.  "If I was taking what you were thinking correctly, you'll need that."  He smiled and got it down, nodding his thanks.  "Did Xander help in that?"

"No, Spike did.  They had their own problems."

She nodded, going back to the register to ring him up.  That way Xander wouldn't be involved.  She could see the ethical quandary now and she knew he was now starting to think of ethics again.  Back in Sunnydale too much was based on survival to think much about ethics.  It showed that he was reading books in demon languages.  Ethan looked at the book then at the boy.  She nodded.  "He's reading it to his boyfriend."

"Is he at least a reasonable sort?"

"He's a CSI," Xander said proudly, smiling at him.  "Both of them are."

Ethan nodded.  "At least you've escaped."

"I had to.  She was going to kill me."

"Point.  She's not always reasonable."  He took his bags and his change.  "Thank you, lad."

"Ethan, don't put me in the middle again."

"Fine."  He smiled as he walked out, heading back to his flat to go over this new idea.  It was more wicked and fun for him but less deadly for Giles, which was what the boy had asked for.  Much more satisfying as well.


Buffy looked up as her phone rang for a text message, looking at it.  "Giles is being hunted by Ethan to repay the torture he got at the hands of the Initiative," she read.  "Oooh.  Ow."  She called Giles.  "It's me.  I just got a text message from Xander.  Ethan's free of the Initiative and apparently they tortured him.  No, Xander said payback for the torture, Giles.  Well, we know they did.  Look what they did to Oz and they only had him a day."  She snorted and hung up on his moan.  "That was pretty mean to hand him over, even if Ethan is a blight and a pimple on our butts."  She went back to her sandwich making, then went to watch her soaps.


Xander looked up as Horatio answered his door.  "Are you untired enough to talk to me?"

Horatio let him inside.  "I am.  What's wrong?"

"I'm having heavy thoughts."  He walked in and looked at him.  "I'm not sure if I stuck up for the right side today."

"The robber who came in while my nephew was there?"

"No, that one I'm sure about.  Ethan came in today to get something to do evil things to Giles."  Horatio looked at him and Xander sighed.   He handed over something.  "My journal from the Initiative things.  We knew they were torturing people but Giles still handed him over to them.  I talked him out of having Giles turned and mated to Spike for eternity but I'm not sure I should have stuck up for him because I know I have convenient ethics now and then but we did do the bad thing by handing him over to them.  Because we knew by then that they were torturing the demons they had gathered but they didn't care if they were children or thinking or not.  So we knew they were bad but he still handed Ethan over to them.  So I think we do deserve it just not as bad as Ethan had planned, but I feel like I betrayed them by giving him a mean idea and suggesting a torment instead of a turning."  He looked at him.  "I'm having one of the few times my conscience bites me on the ass."

Horatio gave him a hug.  "Let me read this, Xander.  It may not have been wrong."

"But they're my friends and supported me, Horatio.  I should be loyal to them."

"Yes, but not if they're doing the wrong things," he noted.  "Even if your ethics are a bit skewed due to what you had to do, it's no worse than what mine's come to be over the years."  Xander nodded, sitting down next to him while he read the journal.  It wasn't something that made him happy and he wanted to bomb the town when he was done.  He looked down, seeing Xander staring off into space at the blank tv.  So he shifted and made the boy look at him.  "Retribution is something that happens.  Through the judicial system or through your Goddess, or even in the afterlife if you believe that way," he started quietly.

"I already know I'm going to hell, Horatio.  I killed people."

"I'm not sure vampires would count."

"I shot one of the soldiers," he said quietly.

"That was self defense."

"Thou shall not murder doesn't have an out clause for self defense."

"True," he admitted.  "Then again it's wrong to let others or yourself die for selfish reasons.  I can't believe that self-defense is wrong.   You went in to save your friend and that's a good thing.  In the end it balances out, Xander.  The same as if I had to shoot someone in the line of duty would."

"But they'd be bad guys."

"Trust me, the soldiers weren't clueless, Xander."  He made the boy look into his eyes.  "They could have blown the whistle.  There's plenty of ways for them to have protested their duties and gotten free of it.  If they kept going once they started, they wanted to be there.  Even if they felt trapped, there were things they could have done to get free."

"But that's not always practical."

"True.  Did they turn evidence when it was ended?"

"No one did a trial, Horatio.  They swept it under the carpet."

"I see."  He stroked over his head.  "You cannot be faulted for protecting others, Xander.  Not even if you had to step in to do so by going in to save your friend.  I can't count that against you and I doubt many priests would."  Xander slumped at that and he stroked over his hair and down onto his neck, stroking it gently.  "As for encouraging Ethan to do something lighter?  I find that to be practical and nice instead of doing more harm."  Xander looked up again.  "I do.  You saved his life.  Yet you knew something had to happen."

"But it should happen to Buffy and me too.  We were there. I wasn't helping very much that time but...."

Horatio put a finger over his lips so he stopped talking.  "If he *knew* they were torturing others and he knowingly handed him over to them, then he had to assume that they were going to torture him as well," he said calmly.  "He could have sent him away in other ways.  He could have simply had him sent out of the town.  He didn't.  He handed him over to the people that he *knew* were torturing others.  That makes him an accomplice in his torture."  Xander went limp and looked miserable.  "Even if it was the most expedient thing.  Even if Buffy helped."

"I'm not sure if she knew or not," he admitted, looking down at his hands again.  "Buffy can be pretty clueless when she's dating someone.  It took her weeks to figure out Angel was a vampire even though she's got vampire-sensing cramps."   Horatio tipped his face up again.  "They handed him over to her boyfriend."

"Then Buffy's part in that is debatable, depending on whether or not she knew.  Did Giles?"  Xander slumped and nodded.  "Because you told him?"  Xander nodded.   Horatio swallowed.  "Then he knew he was going to be interrogated at the very least and then probably tortured, Xander.  If Ethan feels the desire to get him back, that's perfectly normal.  The fact you talked him out of killing him was a good thing."

"I warned Buffy," he said quietly.

"Then you've done what you could to make it be stopped in a reasonable time but Ethan needs to do this to regain some of the humanity he lost.  There's no court that would punish him for him.  He can't get satisfaction any other way."  Xander nodded, going limp against his side.  "Sometimes, the world isn't as clear cut ethically as we'd like, Xander.  The system has flaws and sometimes people end up doing it when it fails.  Then they get punished."

"Which is wrong."

"It is."  He looked down at him.  "The same as you had to do what you did to save others.  Even if it was in anger."

"It's just...."

"Sometimes you see the blood on your hands?" he suggested.  Xander looked up at him.  "I've had to kill others before.  We all have those thoughts, Xander."  He stroked over his shoulder and arm since it was available.  Xander soaked up any touches he was given. It was something he liked about the boy.  "Necessity and saving the lives of other people aren't murder.  Sometimes necessity is self defense and sometimes it's a bad thing but it's necessary.  Saving others, if they can't do it themselves or won't do it themselves like in Sunnydale, then it's an act of protection.  The same as an officer shooting someone in the line of duty is."

Xander nodded at that and put his head back down on his shoulder.  "Sometimes I still get the desire to just go clean things up so the normal humans don't have to worry," he admitted.

"I've felt that need.  It's the same desire that drove me to being an officer and eventually into the lab when I found I could make more of a difference that way."  Xander nodded at that, giving his chest a small hug with the arm around it.  "It's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you do with it.  If you do something positive for society then it's a good thing.  If you go out to become a vigilante, then I'd have to complain and arrest you."  Xander relaxed more.  He looked down and stroked over his head.  "It'll be all right, Xander," he promised to his sleeping face.  "We'll help you through this.  We've all been through it."  He put the journal down and lifted Xander up, taking him up to bed.  They could both use the rest.  They could keep each other's nightmares away.


Speed looked up when Horatio joined him at lunch, taking the journal.  "What's this?"

"The reason Xander was having ethical qualms last night," he admitted.


"Read it."  He sat down, picking up his menu.  "Are you getting it or me?"

"You. They turned down my temporary disability claim."


"I'm not real sure.  Their reasons sounded something along the lines of 'you could've ducked' or something."  Horatio groaned.  "So I'm suing them."  He went back to his reading, flipping the page.  "His handwriting could use some work."

"Not what I wanted you to see," Horatio noted, waving over the waiter.  "Shrimp salad and water?"  That got a nod.

"Sounds good.  Orange dressing on the side," Speed ordered, handing his menu back without looking.  He turned the next page and went back to reading, then looked at Horatio.  "He had ethical qualms?"

"Ethan, someone from out there, got handed over to them by Giles," he said quietly.  "For tormenting him."

"With just the first few pages I could've told you what you would happen."

"He gave Ethan a lesser idea to get back at Giles yesterday.  Then he angsted over it last night."

"As is good for a healthy mind," he agreed, putting the journal down.  "I'll finish it at home when I can scream and rant in peace."

"I had to convince him that protecting one of them by shooting someone who was trying to stop them from saving a friend they had in custody wasn't evil," Horatio said quietly.

"It's like shooting someone in the line of duty."

"I told him that."

Speed went back to reading.  His boy needed him. "You know we can't tell the others about this," he said firmly.  "Alexx would stare in horror and shock too long.  So would Calleigh.  He'd run."

"I know.  But we have to reassure him that he wasn't wrong."

Speed looked over the edge of the journal at him.  "There's no wrong in saving your friend from someone who's torturing them, Horatio.   Even if one of the torturing bastards does get hurt in the rescue."

"I know that and so do you," he reminded him.  "He wasn't so sure.  That and helping Ethan by giving him something less than he wanted to do."

Speed shook his head and went back to reading, even when his food was put down.  He ate automatically, shaking his head every few pages.  He finally had to put it down because Horatio saw his white knuckles and made him.  "I want to hurt them."

"As do I.  It's not our place," Horatio reminded him.  "We've done what we can about that."

"God, H!"

"I know, Speed.  He needs us to show him how normal people are now and then."

"I can do that!"  He finished eating and took the book with him, heading over to the store on his bike.  He walked up the back stairs and into Xander's apartment, putting the journal down.  He even saw the flinch.  "I'm not mad at you.  You did what you had to do."  He made the boy look at him.  "You did the right thing.  Even suggesting something lesser was the right thing."  Xander relaxed and nodded, looking at the stuff in the pot. "What's that?"

"Anti-bug stuff."

"Why?  They make sprays."

"They're dangerous to animals and bad for the environment.  Besides, this lasts for a year."  He got back to work stirring it.  Then he kissed Speed. "Did you read it all?"

"The first ten pages.  Then Horatio made me put it down before I went on a rant in public."  He gave him another hug.  "You did the right thing and we're here for you, Xander.  Even if we're both tired from a long day in the lab."  Xander rested against his chest.  "Can you pull that off the heat?  You need cuddles."

"If I do it could curdle and ruin it.  Then I'd have to get new stuff and the boss would complain."

"How long to finish it?"

"Another hour.  You can help."

"Okay."  He let him go very slowly and watched him work.  Someone tapped on the door so he went to get it.  "Hi, Rebecca.  He's working on the bug stuff."

"That's good."  She came in to look over his shoulder.  "That's a bit thick, Xander. Did you stir it constantly?"

"Speed hugged me," he admitted. "Can I add some purified water?"

"You can try.  That one's a pain to make.  Especially if the toadstools weren't soaked beforehand."

"I did it in the wine like the directions said.  I guess I'll figure it out.  If I can't, I'll get new stuff and start over tonight."  She smiled at that.  "I told him about some of the Sunnydale stuff," he said quietly.

She looked at Speed.  "Are you blaming him for what he did?"

"No.  Not in the least.  Or with Ethan.  I think it was wrong of Ethan to put him in the middle and it was wrong of Giles to give Ethan to them, no matter how expedient it was."  Xander slumped at that.  "The same as him having to hurt someone to get Oz back from them would be a good reason in my book."  Xander looked at him.  "It would be."  Xander nodded and got back to his stirring.  "Sorry if I made him mess up."

"That's all right.  It happens to the best of us. That one is a pain to make," she promised, kissing him on the cheek.  "Watch his brilliance in action.  He could be the next Snape."  Xander blushed and gave her a shy grin for that compliment.  "Just keep going, Xander.  We'll test it later."  He nodded.  "Don't thin it by adding extra wine either.  That'll make it odd."  She left, going back to the store.  The owner was looking over the books.  "I've got Xander making the anti-bug potion, Merry."

"Good.  How is it going?"

"It's a bit thickened.  He's down to the last two ingredients though so it may still come out all right.  Apparently Speed needed a hug during the constant stirring portion."

"That happens now and then.  How have his other ones been?"

"Excellent."  She got a bottle of the bruise potion he made and handed it over. "It lasts only half a year but it feels great and works just as good.  Plus he washes the bottle with mint oil before filling it so it doesn't stink."

"Really?  Just as good?"

"Just as good," she promised.  "He said he'd let anyone test it."

"I'll do that."  She tucked it into her purse.  "The cold must make it feel better."

"It so does," she agreed.  She looked out at the empty store then at her boss.  "He's having a few ethical qualms now that he's not living the life of survival."

"That's typical.  I'm sure his boys can help him," she said with a smile. "Have we paid him this week?"

"We have.  I left it on his table just now since he's not due in today and I needed that made.   We'll test it later to see how it works."

"That's fine then."  She heard the small explosion.  "Sounds like he added the dried mushrooms too soon."

"It always does that to me," she admitted.  "The recipe we have says how may stirs not a set time."

"Point."  She handed over the other paychecks and took the weekly pay sheets, heading back to her home to see if she could still make that, and to test the bruise potion against the old style on a piece of raw meat. An hour later it was just as effective and it did smell so much better!


Speed smiled as Horatio came over for dinner, Xander was in the backyard bouncing around.  "He did a good job on the anti-bug potion they had him make today.  Even if it did explode a bit and was too thick.  They said it'd dry to the right consistency."  He handed Horatio a glass of wine.  "Xander?"  He came in and Speed gave him a glass too.  "To celebrate.  We'll all have just the one.  And there's some in the sauce with the meat but the alcohol's gone," he promised.  Xander nodded and sipped his, looking at it.  He grinned. "I know, I went for the nice tasting stuff."  Horatio sipped and smiled.  "I got to watch him stir and add things."

"Maybe he should take up cooking too."

"It's about the same," Xander agreed shyly.  "She said I could be the next Snape."  Horatio gave him a hug and he relaxed against his chest. "I paid the cable guy too since I got paid."

"Good boy, Xander."  He gave him a gentle kiss.  Speed gave him a harder one, getting a moan.  "We should eat then decide what we're doing tonight."

"I was thinking a nice night in and some more teaching Xander," Speed offered.  Xander blushed bright red at that.  "Horatio?"

"That would be a good night," he agreed, kissing Xander again to make him quit blushing.  "There's a lot you haven't tried to do yet with our bodies, Xander."

"Can we, um, break me in tonight?"

"We could if you wanted it and at the right time," Horatio promised, smiling at him.  "How long is your shift tomorrow?"

"Eight hours but I've got a nice stool I can sit on."

"Then we'll be as gentle as we can."  Xander smiled and snuck a kiss, then went to set the table.  Very carefully so he wouldn't break another plate like the last time.  Speed smiled and Horatio took a kiss before going to help him.  "What else did you do today?"

"Just that.  It takes forever and a lot of stirring.  You have to stir it constantly for three thousand strokes."

"Ow," Horatio agreed, moving to rub his shoulders, which made Xander tense but then relax and go limp in his hands.  "Glasses on the table," he ordered quietly.  Xander finished setting it and then let Horatio sit him down in a chair to work on his shoulders and arms.  He heard the moans and smiled at Speed.  "You didn't do this for him earlier?"

"I started to but he had to finish it before I could.  Since it stunk I evacuated him here with the cat for dinner."  He pointed at the little black ball of fur on top of the tv.  "He doesn't listen very well."

"He's a cat, Speed."

"Point."  He glared at the cat and it got up to lazily stretch then hopped down to come see what he was doing.  "Xander, did we bring the food?"

"No.  Oops?"

"I've got tuna," he admitted, finding a can and putting that down for the beast.  It blinked up at him. "Yes, you, eat."  He put down a small bowl of water as well and the thing sniffed the tuna, then at the stove.  "You don't get people food."

"He likes gravy."  He moaned and his cat came over to hop into his lap and knead his thighs.  "Hi, Hummer.  I promise I'm not in pain.  It's a good thing not a bad ouchie."  He stroked the cat anyway, making Horatio smile.

"Don't you dare teach him to come when you moan," Speed ordered.

"He was doing that anyway, Speed."

Speed came over to look at the cat, picking him up by the stomach.  "The boy's not in pain.  We'd never hurt your boy, Hummer.  Calm down and go eat the tuna."  He put him in front of the plate and washed his hands so he could dish up dinner.  He turned and found the cat on top of the microwave, staring at him.  "What?"

"Hummer, that's a people space," Xander said firmly.  The cat hopped down and went back to sniffing the tuna then taking a delicate lick of the juice that had come with it.  He decided he liked that so he licked some more up to chew on, watching the peoples sit down at the table.  He snuck over but a sudden burst of water hit him and made him run back into the kitchen to his own bowl.  He didn't know tables hated cats.  His mother had never told him that!

Speed put the squirt gun aside and dished up food, making Horatio smile.  "I found it on a cat site.  It works."

"It does."  Xander held up his own plate with a smile. "Thank you, Speed."

"Welcome, Xander.  Eat so we can play."  Xander smiled and dug in.  "So, Horatio, how's my lab?"

"Fine.  Ryan's doing very well in there so far.  Even if he is making rookie mistakes."

"He told someone at the revel his brain doesn't always regulate what his mouth says," Xander told them.

"I've already seen that once," Horatio admitted.  "That reporter worries me."

"Him too if he's smart," Speed agreed thoughtfully.  "How do they know each other?"

"Probably back in college since the woman he told at the revel knew him back then and she knew who he was talking about."

"That does make sense," Horatio agreed.  He ate another bite and sipped his wine.  "I like this together, Speed."

"Thank you."  He smiled at Xander.  "I promise there's no alcohol in the meat, Xander.  Only that one glass.  You'll need to be a bit more relaxed later."  Xander nodded and dug in, eating the sauce too.  He reached over to take his hand to hold while he ate, getting a brilliant smile.  "How have things been at the store?"

"Okay I guess.  The same as usual.  We got our quarterly threat from one of the local priests apparently.  Rebecca said I couldn't go threaten him back but she said they turned it over to their lawyers so I guess they've got it."  They both paused to stare at him.  "He's paranoid, talking about heathen this and that."  He shrugged.  "You get odd people like that now and then.  Oooh, and I got to stake two vampires the other night.  We have the invite all peaceful people spell on the door so they managed to get in since they only wanted to steal some supplies and a book.  I couldn't stake them in the store but I did get them outside and it went okay.  They went whoosh as planned within seconds and they dropped the stuff so it didn't disappear with them."  He ate another bite and watched them continue to stare.  "What?  It was a good thing.  Vampires are bad."

"They are," Speed agreed, shaking loose of his thoughts.

"It's the way you talk about it, Xander," Horatio told him.  "Like you were stomping roaches."

"They're about the same.  Roaches carry diseases, vampires are a disease."  The cat hopped into his lap to purr at him.  "Hi, Hummer."  He nuzzled him and smiled. "I'm okay but you're not allowed in the lap when I eat."  He kissed him and put him back onto the floor.  "Go lounge or stare out the window."  The cat went to do that.  "We did remember the litter box, right?"

"We did," Speed agreed, patting him on the hand.  "What did Rebecca think?"

"That it was good that I got the stuff.  The book was like nearly a grand."

"Ow," Speed hissed.  A grand?"

"Nine and a half plus tax."

"Still ow," Speed told him.  "Is it at least a first edition?"

"No, but it's got some really important spells and things.  Like a translation spell and one to find other areas of magic.  Things like that."

"Do they work?" Horatio asked.

"Depends on the belief level and level of power."

"Like any faith then," Horatio agreed.  Xander smiled and nodded.  "Can you do them?"

"Not very well.  I can do very minor things but I'm not the magic guy.  Potion guy but not the magic stuff as much."  He gave him a shy look.  "We had Willow and Tara for that."

"Did you make their potions for them?"

"Tara taught me.  Willow usually liked to mess potions up for not measuring exactly.  Usually not badly enough to really mess the important things up but now and then she got some really odd things from her potions.  One time she turned me into a lizard instead of a dog when she got mad at me."

Both older men blinked at that.  "Did you tell her to do that?" Horatio asked.

"Well, no, but she was mad at me and having PMS.  Women are scary creatures and I couldn't do more than flinch or try to run."

"You do realize that was wrong of her?" Speed asked.  He almost sounded hesitant.

"Yeah, but she's a scary woman.  Especially when she's got PMS."

"Point," Speed agreed.  "Did she do that often?"

"Now and then."  He shrugged. "Tara made her stop after that time."

"I'm liking this Tara.  Can we meet her when she comes down?"

"Sure.  She'll be down during the holidays and if she can right before school starts."

"That's cool."  Speed smiled at him. "Want more?"  Xander nodded so he dished him up some more food, adding some to Horatio's plate too.  "You've had a long day."

"I know but it was a good one. I got to threaten the IRS."

"Would I have to claim what the department gave me?" Xander asked.

Horatio considered that, then shook his head.  "Not as far as I know.  You should check with the IRS for that."  He took his other hand to hold for a few moments.  "You're here now and none of us are going to turn you into things you shouldn't be."

"Being a lizard wasn't so bad.  I basked under her desk light while watching her pace and rant and scream at herself for screwing up.  I'm just glad I'm not Amy.  She got stuck as a rat when she changed to get away from the people with the stakes and the flames."

"Like tied her to the stake?" Speed asked.  That was just too far in his book.  Witchcraft and demons were one thing, witch trials were another.

Xander nodded.  "It was the Hansel and Gretel demon influencing the town.  Joyce formed MOO and went after the witches. They tried to burn Amy, Willow, and Buffy.  Amy prayed to Hecate and got turned into a rat.  She's still a rat on Willow's desk.  So it wasn't so bad.  I got changed back that same day."  Speed leaned over to kiss him, making Xander smile.  "Thank you.  What was that for?"

"For surviving and coming down here," Speed told him.

"It wasn't that bad.  I mean, vampires are icky and all.  So are most demons, especially the insane ones who're high on the power of the area, but it's just like that.  I didn't do anything special."

"Nothing special?" Horatio asked.  "Xander, what did you do during graduation?"

"I led the battle."

"That's special," Speed assured him.  Horatio nodded.  "You saved lives.  That's very special."

"We all did that and I tripped a lot."

"So?"  Speed frowned at him.  "Trust me, Xander.  What you did was even more special than them.  Not every normal, unskilled guy like you were could or would have done what you did there."

"Most of the town didn't even want to see that there was a problem," Horatio reminded him calmly.  "Most of them didn't even want to realize that people had died.  That new people were moving into town to give the vampires and others things to eat.  You did great things out there.  Even if you tripped.  Even if they discounted you."  Xander looked down at that.  He had known they didn't respect him for his sacrifices.  "You did very good things out there."  Xander looked at him again.  "Understand?"

Xander nodded. "Thank you."

"You're welcome but if they come back for you again I'm going to blow up that whole town."  Xander gave him a shy grin and shook his head.  "Yes I will."

"No you won't.  That would hurt innocent people.  You're not like that."

"You're right, I'm not.  It doesn't mean I won't destroy that town."  Xander giggled and hugged him across the table, then got back to eating.  He even licked the spot of food off his shirt.  Horatio and Speed shared a look.  "I'm very glad I didn't go armed," he mouthed when Xander wasn't looking. The cat jumped up in his lap, making him look at him.  "Hello, Hummer."  He let him lick a bit of sauce off his finger, then the cat purred at him and settled in.  "You shouldn't be on laps at the table," he chastised. "You're going to get sprayed again if you don't run."  The cat stared at him.  "I promise, I'll take good care of your human if you go take a nap somewhere soft."  The cat got put onto the floor and he wandered off, going to find a good spot to watch and nap.  "Good boy, Hummer."  The phone rang.  "I knew it was too good to last."

Speed grabbed it.  "Speedle.  We're all here, Eric, why?"  He listened to the story about the store's break-in and the people burning instantly.  "Xander, would anything in the store make people burst into flames in the entryway?"

"No.  Not unless they were bothered by the holy spot we laid down recently.  Which meant they were probably vampires."  He took the phone.  "What's going on, Eric?"  He listened.  Then he nodded.  "Are they ash or bones?"  He sighed at that.  "Kinda blue tinged skin? Had gills?"  He smirked.  "Knew there were some in town.  They were bothered by the holy spot we laid into the floor, on the mosaic.  That small area is holy ground and it bothers them.  Toss them back into the harbor, they'll regenerate and won't do it again.  Hey, they can feel holy ground.  Even if they were coming for help they would've announced it first and walked around the spot.  That meant they didn't come peacefully.  Sure.  They regenerate with water.  Preferably salt water."

He smiled.  "I don't know, dump some of your bottle of water on them, make sure."  He waited while Eric did that.  Then nodded at what he said.  "Tell her to have them dumped in the harbor, they'll be fine within hours as long as the sharks don't get them.  They're relatives so I doubt they would.  That'll work too.  Then she can ask them what they wanted.  Sure.  I'm here.  Thanks, Eric."  He hung up and his cat came running back to hop into his lap.  "No laps while we're eating," Xander said firmly.  "You're a familiar, you're that smart."  The cat huffed off and went to twine around their ankles. "I'm nearly done."  He finished up and went to play with his cat, making him more satisfied.  Speed handed him his glass of wine so he sipped it slowly while he petted the moving beast.  "I should brush you tomorrow.  Yes I should."

"You can do that here," Speed promised.  "Just pick up all the hair."

"I'll take him up onto the roof so the birds can get the hair if they need it."

"That's a nice idea," Speed agreed, smiling at him. "An easy way to give back to nature."  Horatio nodded since his mouth was full.  "Put your dishes in the kitchen for me?"  Xander smiled and finished his wine, the cat following him into the kitchen.  "That bad?"

"That bad," Horatio agreed.  "Even the ones who liked him were that bad."

"I should go visit," Xander called. "I can take Speed with me for the weekend."

"Not without support you're not," Horatio ordered.  Xander looked at him.  "I'm serious, Xander.  I don't want you hurt.  Willow's still out there."

"I've had worse, just not from my beset friend, Horatio."

Horatio got up to hug him.  "I don't care if you had.  I'm sure the others are dead."  Xander shook his head.  "Except your parents?" he asked quietly.  Xander nodded.  "I understand that stuff, Xander, but we don't want you to go alone and get trapped or get hurt."

"I won't."

"You could."

"Giles said he'd fly me out for a week."  He left out the 'for the next apocalypse' part that Giles had added.

"Then one of us will go with you.  If we can't, I'll send Calleigh.  She'll like the weapons."  Xander grinned slightly at that.  Because they all knew that Calleigh would shoot someone who hurt Xander.  She was very protective of him.  "All right?"  He nodded and gave him a hug.  "Thank you."  He gave him a gentle kiss.  "Play with your little monster until he's worn out so we can go have fun."  Xander blushed but did that while the other two finished eating.  Horatio sat back down and took Speed's hand to hold, getting a grin.  "It'll be fine.  If we can't go with him we'll send Calleigh."

"Can we send Eric too?  He said he needs a vacation."

"He'd try to hit on Buffy.  Probably not the best of ideas," Xander offered.  "She's a bit more dangerous than he's used to."

"Not really," Speed said dryly.  That got a shy smile sent his way and the phone rang again.  He growled into it this time. Calleigh complained.  "What, Calleigh.  No, I thought you were Eric calling back.  Yeah, we heard. He's here.  Why?  Dinner," he said dryly.  "He's here too.  I cooked for both of them."

"It was good too," Xander promised.

Speed smiled.  "She said she wanted leftovers."

"There won't be any," Horatio assured him, finishing his plate and putting his in the kitchen so he could help him wear out his beast.  Because he knew the cat would interrupt at the wrong time.  Especially if he came to make sure Xander was all right each time he moaned.

Speed grinned at them and took a picture with his phone.  "What?"  He listened to her repeat herself. "Tara's here already?  Is she all right?"  Xander looked concerned.  "Sure.  We can go to Xander's but it's kinda stinky," he admitted.  "An anti-bug potion.  Sure.  Give us thirty."  He hung up and looked at them.  "Let's pack up the cat and go back for a while."  Because the cat would destroy something if he was left alone.  He only loved Xander's things.  Especially the weapons.  They each grabbed something and Speed put the tuna into the fridge.  Horatio drove and Xander held his cat under his shirt again.  Hummer didn't like to travel.  He reached across the back seat to stroke his cheek, smiling at him.  "If we didn't have a deadline I'd have Horatio pull over and molest you in here," he whispered in Xander's ear.  Xander grinned at him.  "Maybe later tonight or this weekend?"

"He's on call."

"I'm not this weekend," Horatio noted.  "If you're planning on molesting him, let me find out from Eric how to disable the camera for a bit."

"He did?" Speed laughed.

"He did.  He had sex in the one he had checked out and no one saw it.  They smelled it the next morning and checked the tape.  It had been turned off for three hours."

Xander grinned.  "I might be able to arrange that."  Horatio gave him a long stare at a light. "I might."

"We'll see if you can or not, Xander."  He went on and parked behind the store, letting the boy get out while Speed got the litterbox and Horatio walked in to check on Eric.  "Are they back yet?"

"Mostly.  There's still a few spots and they admitted they wanted to rob the store.  I told his boss what he said and she agreed that they usually did announce themselves.  That's why she didn't call.  One of the neighbors called in the screams."  That got a nod.  "So the pretty blonde girl with Calleigh?"


"Oh."  That got a grin.  "She's cute."

"She's into girls, Eric.  Notably Willow."

"Pity."  He shrugged.  "Anyway...."

"Two things. If he goes back for a few days and we can't, you and Calleigh or she and Frank are going."

"Sure.  We can guard what's yours."  Horatio gave him a look for that.  "The camera wire is the blue one with the green stripe down the side.  Disconnect it from the battery and give it an hour to run out of backup power."  Horatio smirked and walked off.  "I figured Speed would like that," he called after him.  He got back to work finishing up the scene.  He'd file it as someone who hurt themselves.  It'd cause less headaches than 'demon coming in to rob occult store - killed and regenerated' would.

Horatio walked into the apartment smiling at Tara.  "Good evening."

She blushed and looked at him.  "Hi, Mr. Caine."

"Horatio, Tara."

"Horatio then."  She shook his hand delicately then went back to hugging Xander and his familiar.  "He's good for you," she whispered in her friend's ear, getting a blush from him too.  "I'm sorry I'm early."

"I'm not."  He handed her the cat.  "That's Hummer."

She smiled.  "Hi, Hummer."  She petted him gently, earning a purr for her nails. "You're very pretty."  She petted Xander's arm too.  "Can I stay?"

"Sure.  I don't mind.  I've got to work tomorrow but you can hang out in the store with me if you want.  Tomorrow's probably going to be a light day."

"Sure."  She blushed at the two men watching them.  "I'm the nice one, really."

"We heard you were," Speed agreed.  "If he gives in to Giles, one of the team will be coming with him."  She giggled at that.  "We will."

"If you send the playboy I'll have him set up with Buffy.  She knows lots of cute girls at the college."

"He'd probably like that," Horatio agreed. "Xander, would you like to come over this weekend?"

"Sure.  Thanks, guys."

"Not a problem.  We'll be more than happy to cuddle you whenever your friend's off exploring Miami or she's back in Sunnydale.  Friends are too important to miss out on," Speed reminded him, giving him a gentle kiss. Xander smiled at him. "I'll try to save that tuna for the hairy thing."  He winked at Xander blushed bright red. "That too."  He pulled Horatio up with his good arm.  "Come on, H.  We'll head home so they can catch up."  That got a nod and Horatio got a kiss from Xander and a hug from Tara.  She hugged him too.  "Thanks, Tara.  Relax, have some fun on the vacation."  She nodded and they left.  "I've got dirty movies at my house," he teased.

"I'm sure you do," he agreed.  "But I'm far past the age where I watch them."

"Yeah, pull the other one, Horatio," he said with a wicked grin.  "Take me home.  Now.  I reward good men who do good things all day, especially ones that are as socially redeeming as threatening the IRS."  Horatio got him into the hummer and took him back to his place so they could spend the night together.  It was hard juggling working in the lab and a lover, much less two lovers, with Xander's work schedule.   This was the first night they'd been together in a week and Speed was going to make the most of it by driving Horatio insane.


Tara hung up and sighed, then shook her head as she walked back into the store.  "Giles needs me before school starts."  Xander pouted.  "I've been here nearly a week," she teased.  "You should be tired of me by now.  It's been five days."

He shook his head.  "Of course I'm not.  It's nice to have friends who understand me."    He smiled at her.  "I fixed the bruise potion."  She flinched at that.  "I would've offered sooner but if you go back with it on you they'll all complain."

"They will," she agreed.  "Thank you, Xander.  Where do you put yours?"

"In the fridge."

She looked at him.  "You changed it?"  He nodded.  She smiled and went to check it out, putting it on the bruises on her arms.  Some gauze and tape was good enough to hold it in place.  She came back down and hugged him.  "It's a good correction.  Doesn't stink as much."

"You can tell them that I spilled mouthwash on you."

She swatted him.  "I'm not like that," she reminded him.

"They'll think it anyway or make up some other story if you don't."

She sighed and shook her head.  "I should protest."

"Yeah but that's just Sunnydale and me together," he reminded her.

"Point.  Not a happy one."  She stroked his cheek.  "Thank you for the warning about Ethan," she said quietly.

"I had to.  Even if I did have ethical qualms."

"What is he going to do?"

"He was going to repay the torture Giles sent him to by casting a lust spell between Giles and Spike."

She shuddered.  "I like Spike but that would be horrible, especially with his chip."

Xander nodded. "But he probably had an idea for that too.  Then again, Giles may end up like someone from Spike's life."

"Understood," she said, giving him another hug.  "It was wrong of us to hand him over, Xander," she agreed quietly.  "We do deserve some punishment."

"I looked for him when we went to find Oz and didn't see him," he admitted.  "He was somewhere else."

She nodded. "I know.  I looked too."  She let him go, stroking his face. "You did the right thing, Xander."  He nodded, finally relaxing about that.  "Now, should I ask Giles if he needs you too?"  He shook his head.  "Are you sure?"

"He'd never admit it," he pointed out.

"True."  She gave him another hug.  "He's sending me tickets for later tonight.  I've got to pick them up at the airport."  He nodded at that, giving her a gentle smile.  "Can I take a bottle of the bruise stuff with me?"

"Sure.  Remember to keep it cold."  She smiled and went to fix that issue, then repack her bags.  She came back down with her two bags and he gave her another hug.  "Be safe and come back at the holidays if you don't want to go home, Tara.  Miami can be home to both of us."  She smiled and nodded, heading out to get a ride to the airport.  Xander sighed and then mentally cursed at her family.  A gentle hand stroked his back.  "Her parents were like mine," he admitted, looking at his coworker Tolly.

"The goddess always provides a sanctuary if we look for it, Xander.  She's found hers in you.  She'll be back."

"If Sunnydale doesn't kill her."

"It won't, not this year."  He looked at her. "We all have to die sometime but her aura is strong."

"It is," he sighed, pouting some.   "Sometimes I really want to destroy Sunnydale."  She gave him a long stare.  "It would help save more lives and end a lot of misery.  The whole town was built as a food farm for the vampires and demons, Tolly.  It'd be saving lives to go bomb the town and then bury the stupid hellmouth under a mountain of dirt."

"Others would come later for the power it radiates," she pointed out.  "The town would eventually be rebuilt."

"Not for decades, at least, if not centuries if we buried it right.  Right now, the remains of the high school are over it and you can dig down deep enough to get it and the seal."  She nodded, letting him go.  "I know, I shouldn't have violent thoughts in the store.  I'd evacuate the people."

"I'm sure you would," she agreed.  "It's still not right to do the town harm."

He looked at her.  "It's not like it'd hurt *people*, Tolly."

"What about the sentient demon races?"

"They'd hear.  I'd even let most of the vamps run for LA.  I'd give a whole day of warning."  She smiled at that.  "I would.  That's more than you usually get with hurricanes."

"It is," she sighed, shaking her head. "Still, it's a bad thought."

He looked at her.  "One that might someday be necessary.  Tara was saying that Giles thinks this next apocalypse is going to be too big to fight without something drastic."

"If you want to, you could probably get time off to go back."  He nodded.  "But it would change you again."

"I know."  He grimaced and went back to his dusting.  "Maybe I'll be a sanctuary where they can run this time."

She stroked his back.  "We will all do as we're called to do, Xander.  Your part will be told or shown to you.  Have some patience."

He looked at her and nodded.  "I will."  She smiled and left him alone while he thought. Then he went to grab the prophecy book to flip through.  He frowned, finding something. He called Giles.  "It's me.  I'm sitting here looking at a prophecy book and it says a hell goddess is coming?"  He listened to him.  "Tara just left, Giles.  I'm having strong 'bomb the city and use the remains to bury the hole under the library for good' feelings."  He listened to him.  "That book, yes.  I do work in an occult bookstore, Giles.  Yeah, that one."  He smiled. "So, have any visions yet?"  He heard the moan and Giles hung up.  He called him back.  "He was going to cast a lust spell between you and Spike," he offered.  "Yes, Giles, he did come here.  Because they tortured him for four months," he said plainly.  "They killed and revived him a few times to see what it'd do to his special skills.  He's got more scars than I do."

He smiled.  "That's what I thought you'd say.  Now, hell goddess named Glory after something called a key?"  He listened to the more comprehensive history lesson.  "Uh-huh.  And she's coming *this* year, Giles."  He nodded.  "Well, she's probably not coming to Miami.  Why would she go anywhere other than there?"  He nodded. "Exactly."  He smirked.  "Let me know, I'll figure out something."  He hung up and put the book back, then went outside to scream and rant at the Gods for doing this to him.  His boss came out to check on him. "It's a damn goddess from hell," he said hotly.  "This year's apocalypse in Sunnydale.  Giles thinks *Willow* can handle this with his help!"  He hung his head then looked at her.  "According to our book, it'll come down to a sacrifice," he said more quietly.

She came out to give him a hug.   "Now is the time to make plans," she reminded him.

"They won't listen to me.  They never did."

"This time make them."

He looked at her.  "They think all I can do is fetch coffee and make lame jokes," he said bitterly.  "They've never listened to me.  Not since Willow learned how to float a pencil.  Not that I think Willow listened to me before Buffy came, she just mostly stared in awe."

"Tell Willow what you've seen, Xander.  Perhaps the necessary things can be stopped."

"How?  It's a timed thing.  We can't stop time."  He looked at her, then shook his head slowly.  "That's an insane plan but thank you, Ethan."  He looked up.  "I'm not magical that way."  He looked at her again then shrugged.  "I do not know what to do this time and before you say it they're not involved in that life.  Horatio agreed with me about bombing the town and then burying it over the hellmouth in a mountain."

She looked at him. "Ending the hellmouth is nearly impossible.  Go research this goddess.  See what you can find out about it."

"I need to research the key.  That's what she's after."

"What sort of key?"

"Giles said it's an interdimensional key of some sort.  He said she tries for it every millennium."

"Then go research that," she agreed.  He nodded, walking off.  "Xander?" she called patiently.

"Going to see my old landlord."  She rolled her eyes.  "He'd have more things than we would."

"Good point."  She watched him jog off to catch the bus coming up the street.  Then she sighed. "Damn it, I like Xander.  I don't want to have to fire him for getting involved in another Sunnydale matter."  She went back inside to call the owner to let her know.  At the very least they could send energy to Tara and Willow. Plus she'd be warned if Xander had to suddenly take time off.


Xander looked up from his reading when someone knocked on the door.  "It's open."  The cat walked over to meow at the person coming in.  "Hi, Yelina."

"What are you researching this time?  A new potion?" she teased.

Xander looked up at her.  "There's a hell goddess coming to Sunnydale this year after a sacrifice she wants."

She blinked, then laughed nervously.  "You are kidding, right?"  He shook his head.  "Do things like that often happen there?"  He nodded.  "Oh, dear.  You're serious?"

"Unfortunately.  We're trying to stop it right now."  He stood up. "What's up?  Something happen to Horatio?"

"No, dear.  I came to see if you had any more of that bruise stuff you used on Frank.  Ray got scraped up in soccer today."  He got a new bottle and handed it over.  "Any directions?"

"Only leave it on for an hour, keep it cold.  Use a clean cloth and expect it to pull some of the blood out through the skin.  Might sting some if he's got scrapes and keep it out of bodily orifices but scrapes won't matter."  She smiled and nodded. "It'll be fine, Yelina.  We've handled really bad shit before, we can handle this one."  She nodded and left him to it.  He had an idea and looked up.  "Not a bad one," he agreed quietly.  "Thanks."  He called Giles.  "Is the key human or not?  Because if she needs her blood, do what Ethan did to you for that one day, Giles.  Or have her turned."  He listened to what they knew about who the key was.  "Then turn her demonic or have her tainted toward the demonic.   You know that one demon, the one so beautiful it's decent?  Have her turn into that?  I don't know, ask Anya for a favor?" he suggested.  He smirked.  "That would keep it out of her hands, Giles.  Exactly.  As long as it wasn't something that was going to harm everyone in the family they should be fine.  I know what I'm saying, Giles, and I heard you when you said she was fourteen.  Giles, this is Glorificus we're talking about.  We'll get to bury the hellmouth under a mountain of rubble when she's through with Sunnydale.  Then you can all move."  He held his head.  "If you say so."  He hung up and went back to research what type of demon would be best.  Horatio came over and before he could even knock the cat was howling for attention.  "S'open," he called.

Horatio walked in and took the book from him.  "You scared Yelina?"

He looked at him then grabbed another book and found the section so he could read it. "She's coming after someone in Sunnydale," he said simply.  Horatio sat down while reading, staring at him in horror when he was done.  "My suggestion, taint the poor fourteen-year-old girl so she can't hurt her.  Make the key incapable of being used."

"Can you do that without harming her?"

"Yeah, I can," he agreed.  "Or actually, Anya can.  There's some demons that just *are*, that aren't *bad* or evil.  She can be tainted or turned into a half one.  Most of them even look human. That would protect Dawn and everyone else and I'm sure she wouldn't really mind that instead of having her sister die along with the rest of them. Because Buffy will have to try to protect her but that's a bit too strong for her."

"It would be," he agreed quietly.  "Did you call out there?"

"I did and Giles said that was mean.  That I should come home because you guys were warping me toward the bad side."

Horatio groaned.  "No, I think that's a last resort plan," he admitted.  "It's not something I'd want to consider but..."

"Doing it now means that Glorificus can't even come back.  She'll be brought back within the week.  They don't have time because if she's raised she's stuck here until someone kills her host."


"She's got to be given a host body to reside in."


"It'll be like two people in the same body."

"Oh."  He nodded a bit at that.  "Perhaps you should lay out a better plan. Lay it out fully. Send it over in a logical letter."

"By the time a letter gets there from here it'll be too late."  His phone rang so he looked at it. "Buffy," he answered.  "Yeah, that's my idea.  Because tainting it so the key isn't ...  Buffy, it's in the blood if she's human," he pointed out.  "Then what about something like the Tra'aken?  They're harmless.  They're human looking.  She could be a halfie and it'd still be out of her blood.  That would keep her from being risen, Buffy. The key has to be vulnerable to use for her to be released and put into a host.  The only way to kill her is to kill her host.  No, we're talking like possession with benefits from what I've read.  Actually, I sublet from a wizard down here for a while.  Chaos guy, had imps doing his housework.  Has a huge library.  Well, ask Anya.  She could tell you what would be the downside of anything like that, any vulnerabilities and special considerations.  Have her call in a favor or have Willow and Tara do it, Buffy," he said patiently.

"Why not?  They turned me into a lizard."  He smirked.  "That's right, they can.  They said they made her from you?  Well, if worst comes to worst, you can be turned," he offered.  "Or do the same thing.  There's no saying it can't be a temporary transformation, Buffy.  Bring her back when all this is over with and her use-by date is past by a month or so.  Yes, I would give it some leeway.  Because it's numbered in a calendar that wasn't stable according to Giles' lecture a few years ago about prophecies?  No, you were asleep on Faith."  He nodded. "That year.  Yeah."  He listened.  "That would be the least painful plan.  It would protect your family and her, it would protect the town.  It would take the danger out.  It would keep you from dying by having to take something like Glorificus on.  Technically, I would ask Spike and Anya for their opinions.  Really.  Spike'll suggest something pretty and deadly.  Anya will counter it and can help you find something or someone to help her change over.  If you need more verification, ask Wes, he's with Angel.  He ordered from us the other day.  Sure.  I'm here or at work, dear.  Thanks."  He hung up and put his head over on Horatio's arm.  "I feel dirty."

"You're trying to save lives," he reminded him.  "It won't hurt her."

"Buffy said their mother would never agree."

"She would if it would save her daughters' lives," he pointed out.  He called her himself.  "Joyce, Horatio Caine.  No, he's fine, resting on my arm.  No, about the new apocalypse.  He had an idea but they don't like it.  He doesn't much like it but it would keep her safe we think."  He nodded.  "That's what he was thinking.  If it's in the blood, change the blood."   He smiled.  "That's what he said.  He said something about Tra'aken? I don't follow those things.  He did say to ask Spike and Anya.  No, we've met Anya.  She came down to complain about her lack of sex again today."  He smiled.  "Thank you, dear.  Of course.  We'll be here or he'll be at work and I can find him if you need me to.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "She's going to ask Spike and Anya if this is a workable idea and get their opinions."

Xander lifted his head to look at him. "I still feel dirty for suggesting we sacrifice one."

"What you had planned wouldn't sacrifice her, Xander.  Sacrificing her would be putting her on an altar and bleeding her before this Glorificius was raised.  I'm sure people have done that in the past."  He nodded.  "Then changing her isn't sacrificing her.  It's protecting her.  You suggested she be turned into something non-lethal and harmless."

"I did," he agreed quietly.  "But I still feel dirty."

"I know.  These decisions weigh on the soul.  It's like shooting the hostage to get the person holding them."

"I saw Speed, Horatio."


"The movie."

Horatio smiled. "It was an apt point and a good ploy."  That got a grin back.  "That's basically what you did this time too."  He nodded.  "As long as it won't hurt her then it shouldn't weigh on you.  She might even like it."

"She might," he agreed. "Plus it would save lives."

"It would."  He gave him a cuddle. "If not, they're going to go through hell fighting her."

"Then I'd have to go back."

"No you won't."

"Yeah, I would.  It's my duty."

"Not any longer, Xander.  You protect Miami now," he reminded him gently.  Xander nodded and went back to his cuddle.  "We should nap."

"We should but I'd rather have you take this thought out of my head."

"I'd like that," he agreed, getting up to check on the cat's things. Then he hauled Xander up and into the bathroom so they could shower together.  He knew how much Xander liked water.  He was all for it. It was fun having a slippery Xander in your arm.  It relaxed him too, made him quit thinking about the problems at home.


Xander looked up as the phone rang upstairs. Then he looked at his cell.  "I thought I forwraded that."  His phone rang a minute after his other one stopped. "Harris."  He smiled at the woman coming up.  "Find everything okay?"  She nodded and handed over her basket.  "No, I'm at work, Buffy."  He rang her up, having to look up a price. "Is this fig root or lemon root?"

"Fig," she said.

He nodded and put in that code and the weight from the electronic scale next to the register.  "No, I'm still here, Buffy, and I am listening.  Did she rise already?"  He turned around the price and she gaped.  "Hold on."  He put it against his shoulder.  "Fig root comes up as ten bucks an ounce.  Let me get the boss to correct that, okay?"  She nodded.  "Boss?"  She came out.  "Fig root is how much? It came up ten bucks an ounce when I typed in the code."  She came over. "Sorry, Buffy," he explained at her odd look.  He went back to it.  "Okay, boss is fixing a coding issue.  Hit me with it again?"  He listened, then sighed.  "Do it anyway, find her host, Buffy.  That's all you can do.  Buffy, if it's a matter of the world or you and your sister...."  He rolled his eyes.  "Buffy, I'm working.  I'm still in Miami and if I had been out there it'd already have been done.  Even if Giles didn't like it.  That seems to happen every few years, yeah," he agreed dryly.  "Then ask her!" he complained.  "Yes, her, the her involved!  I'm sure we don't want  you to die, Buffy.  I pushed in the code off the sheet, boss.  Fig root."  He found it again and pointed.  She rang it up and it came up again.  "Told ya so."  He shrugged and sat down, watching her correct it manually.  "Buffy, Giles is still human and fallible."

"What's the issue, Xander?" Rebecca asked.

"Glorificus."  The woman on the other side of the counter gasped.  "I'm from Sunnydale," he said with a weak wave.  He listened to her complain.  "I work in an occult bookstore, Buffy.  Of *course* someone around here's gonna have a clue!"  He held his head.  "Buffy, this is the only sound tactical plan that will keep people living or undead depending on the person.  Do you really wanna die this year?" he asked dryly.  He nodded.  "Exactly.  I don't think you can fight a God, Buffy."  He hung up on her protests that she could.  Then he called Giles.  "It's me.  Turn her," he said slowly and clearly. "Buffy thinks she can fight her.  Then you've got to find her host, Giles.  I did read the damn books!  You taught me to read the Latin," he said dryly.  "I emailed the whole of what I found to Willow."  He nodded, grimacing. "It's the only thing that'll keep all of you alive.  That and finding her host, Giles.  Yay," he said patiently.  He held his head.  "Giles.  I'm protecting Miami now.  What good am I against a God?" he demanded.  He looked at his phone then hung up and threw it at a wall.  He glared at his boss. "I have stupid people for friends."

"You do," she agreed calmly.  "Go outside and rant, Xander."  He walked outside and the back door slammed then he yelled and hopped up and down a few times.  Both women winced at that.  "Sorry."

"That's okay.  It's good we've got another protector.  Does he have a girlfriend?"

"Two boyfriends.  I'm about to call them if they're not busy."  That got a smile and she took her cash.  "Thank you for being so patient with him."

"It's all right. Sometimes those things happen when you rely on mechanical things."  She took her bag and left.

Xander came in a few minutes later.  "I need to rant.  I need to rant at someone very badly."

"Go into the office and call Horatio."

"He's at work.  So's Speed. It's his first day back," he said proudly.  "I.. Just..."  He let out a deep breath.  "She came back because the key is available.  Happens every single millennia."  His boss nodded, sitting down.  "The only way to stop her is to stop the blood that's calling out to her and making it possible for her to be brought back.  I suggested they turn her into a halfie, even temporarily.  That's not that mean, right?"

"No, it's a lot less mean than killing her to stop it.  She might be a bit uncomfortable but I doubt it's going to be hated."

"I even suggested something prettier and harmless.  Not a problem there.  We talked to her sister, the slayer.  We talked to her mother.  We talked to Giles.  I sent my suggestions to Willow and they fucking well ignored me," he ranted.  "Now she's back and Giles said he needs me back there to help with the upcoming battle."

"What happens if you had her turned now?"

"We'd have to find Glory's host and kill it to kill or banish her."

"Okay," she said slowly. "Did he volunteer?"

"Probably without knowing what he was doing.  Stupid idiot making a wish level of volunteering."  She nodded.  "Which, ya know, I feel really sorry for whoever has her inside.  I do.  I don't want to harm him.  I really don't.  But she'll stay if we don't.  And then I'm being ignored because I found a way around it."  He nodded quickly.  "Because I'm such an idiot.  I only helped plan graduation and fixed it when Giles' plans left us vulnerable!  I only led the damn battle!  It's not like I don't have a *clue*!"

"Calm down," she ordered.  "I know you know what you're doing.  Everyone else outside Sunnydale does."

His face brightened.  "Angel.  I'll be right back."  He looked at his cellphone.  It was cracked.  He raced up to his apartment and called LA.  "Cordy, put on Wes.  Yes, it's a damn emergency!  Cordelia!" he snapped.  "There's a hell goddess on the hellmouth!"  She handed over the phone.  "Glorificius was raised because Giles didn't listen to me, Wes.  Yes, this is Xander."  He rolled his eyes.  "Wesley," he snapped.  "Who planned graduation?  Then who fixed it so it worked?" he demanded.  He nodded. "Exactly. The only way to stop Glory is to take the blood she's wanting away.  Taint her!  Turn her!  Change her into a demon temporarily by magic!  Whatever!  Also, if she was made of Buffy, you might have to do the same to her but maybe not!  So get to turning, Wes!  Yes, that's the only way.  To get rid of her, you've got to find her host and kill it.  I told them this before she was raised!  Tara was here," he admitted dryly.  "Yeah.  They don't listen to me but they want me back to plan the battles," he said grimly.

"Please.  I sent it to Willow.  Rosewitch at yahoo.  Password is evilkitty the last I knew."  He waited while Wes got into the account and downloaded the research email.  Then he sighed in relief.  "Make Giles listen to you, please!" he begged.  "He won't listen to me.  He thinks I'm an idiot boy again.   Thank you!  No, you don't have to sacrifice her, Wes, just turn her into a demon temporarily.  Ethan can do it.  He did it to Giles."  He grimaced.  "No, Giles turned him over to the Initiative."  Wesley swore at that. "They tortured him for months on end and then he finally escaped.  Now he's after Giles too.  I don't know, but I think he's going to start having visions.  Because I talked him out of making him Spike's eternal bitch, Wes.  Yeah, he was down here a few weeks ago.  Please.  We talked to Joyce.  We talked to Buffy.  So make her beautiful and undeadly.  You can do that.  There's plenty, right?  Then suggest it.  Then see if she can use Buffy's blood and do the same to her if you need to.  Temporarily or not.  If I see him I'll ask him how he did it," he agreed.

"I'm doubting I'll see him.  He knew I was having an ethical moment before.  Thank you, Wesley.  No, I'm in Miami.  Thanks.  Tell Cordy I'm down here but working.  Actually, I packed your order the other day so you should get it today or tomorrow," he offered more happily. "Taunt deadboy for me and mess up her hair."  His 'I'm not that brave' made him snicker.  "Neither am I but I figured you could.  Laters.  Thank you."  He hung up and went back downstairs, resting his head against his boss's shoulder. "Thank you for letting me take an early lunch," he said tiredly.  "Wes may listen to me.  He has the research I sent out there.  He's another watcher so he may listen to him."

She patted him on the back.  "I know it's hard."

He looked at her.  "If they can't I've got to go back for the battle."

"I'll arrange your schedule myself, Xander."  He nodded at that.  "Are you sure this'll work?"

"If she's changed to a demon, she's not human and therefore doesn't have that special key stuff in the blood.  Then they'd have to find her host. That might be a bigger problem."  She nodded.  "I hate that damn town."

"I know," she soothed.  The boss came in.  "He found a solution to the Sunnydale problem and they wouldn't listen to him."

"Like usual but they want me back to do the battle," he said grimly.  He looked at her.  "I'm trying to prevent the need for a battle, boss."

"I understand, Xander.  How?"

"The key is human.  The key's power is in her blood."  The boss looked horrified.  "Turn the key into a demon, even temporarily.  No more key in the blood."  That got a brighter smile.  "She can be pretty, human looking, not deadly to others.  It can be temporary because Ethan did that to Giles.  That's why Giles gave him to the Initiative."  She shuddered at that.  "Exactly.  That's why he was in here to get some stuff to torture Giles and I made him go for something lesser.  That's all they have to do and then find her host to get rid of her.  That's it.  They wouldn't listen to me."

"We'll arrange your work schedule if you have to go back," his boss soothed, patting him on the back.  Speed walked in.  "I heard you went back to work."

"I did.  I came to get pouty for lunch.  What happened?"

"They wouldn't listen to me."

"Did they have another plan?"

"Giles wants me back for the battle."

"That's not a plan," he noted dryly.

"I called Wes to tell him my ideas.  Maybe Giles will listen to him or Angel."  He walked over to give him a hug.  "Want to eat in here with me?  I took some time off to go call Wes."

"I can do that if your boss doesn't mind," he assured him with a smile.  "I got sandwiches in the car."

"Sure," he agreed happily, smiling at him.  "Boss?"

"Eat at the reading table, dear, just clean up any mess you make," the owner said, smiling at him.  They went to the office to give the young lovers some privacy.  Speed came back with the sandwiches and sodas, sitting down next to Xander to talk and eat with him.


Horatio watched Xander pace around his living room and got him on the next pass.  "Did they not listen?"  He shook his head.  "Now what?"

"Now I'm depending on Deadboy and Wes to handle things or make him see sense."  He looked at him.  "Otherwise I have to go back for the battle."

"I don't like that idea."

"Neither do I."  He sat down in his lap, getting the cuddle he needed. "My phone's broken, I threw it earlier when Buffy refused to listen."

"That's fine.  I'm sure you can have it fixed."

"I'm not sure my insurance will fix it unless I lie."  Horatio looked at him. "That's fraud, isn't it?"  Horatio nodded.  "Damn."  He chuckled and gave him a squeeze.  "My one back in Sunnydale got replaced six times in a year because of the demon goo that kept getting in it and the ashes.  They didn't like that but the store couldn't deny I didn't do it.  Spike did it once," he admitted.  He snuggled in deeper. "I'm so tired of Sunnydale, Horatio.  Can't we just bomb it after this one?"

"We can," he soothed, stroking his back.  "Or you could not go back."

"Then they could all die and it'd be my fault.  I'd be haunted."

"You don't know that.  They can't know that."

"Spirits won't see reason on those matters. I wasn't there so it was my fault."

"Hmm."  He gave him a squeeze.  "Have you eaten today?"

"Speed and I had lunch at the store."

"I'm sure that was cute," he teased.  Xander blushed and ducked his head, nodding. "Did you like it?"  He nodded, looking at him.  "Good.  I like picnics."

"I would've went out with him to the park or something but I had to take the time off to call Wes."

"I understand.  That happens when you work."  He smoothed down his hair.  "You need a trim."

"Next payday."  He slid off his lap, getting a hurt look. "I'm heavy and your feet will fall asleep."

"I won't mind for a while," he promised, letting Xander curl up next to him again so he could cuddle him that way.  "Did you want to do anything tonight?"


"That's not good for you," he taunted.  "Come on."  He stood up and ignored the pins and needles for now, hauling Xander up with him.  "We'll go to the mall."

"Okay.  Just us?"

"Did you want to invite Speed?"

"No but I thought you might want to invite your nephew."  He smiled shyly at him.  "I think he's pretty cool but he's at that age where mom doesn't understand things."

"Very true. We can do that if you want."  He checked the time.  "Movies?"  Xander shrugged. "I'll treat."

"You'd have to, I lied to the insurance company earlier," he admitted sheepishly.  Horatio rolled his eyes and shook his head but he didn't chastize.  "I won't next time."

"Good.  This time I can forgive."  He called Yelina's house.  "Xander and I are going out to the mall and wanted to know if your son wanted to come with us."  He smiled.  "That's fine.  Maybe we'll run into him.  Thanks, Yelina."  She hung up so he did.  "He's out with his friends but she said that's perpetually cute of us."

"She needs to date," Xander said dryly.  Horatio nodded and took his hand, leading him out to the hummer to go to the mall.  On the way Xander made him pull over and he got out.  Xander snuck out and up the alley with Horatio behind him, hand on his gun.  They ran into a bunch of kids picking on an older, homeless man.

"Raymond Caine!" Horatio snapped, stepping out of the shadows.  His nephew jumped and glared at him, making the other boys laugh.  "In the truck, now!" he ordered.


Xander stepped out of the shadows.  "Ray, don't make me beat your friends today."

"You're not too tragically old," one of them sneered.  "Think you can handle us, *sir*?" he taunted.

Xander reached out to grab him by the hair, smacking his forehead into a building.  "Yes, I do."  He glared at the others.  "Next?"  They took off running.  So he squatted down in front of the homeless man.  "Sir, are you all right?  Do you need medical help?" he asked quietly.  The man gave him a scared look.  "You don't have to be scared of me.  I'm Xander.  I'm a protector of Miami.  You don't have to be scared.  Now, should I call someone to help you?"  The man shook his head and mumbled something.  "That's fine. Thank you, sir.  Make sure nothing hurts the stupid one until he can run off.  I didn't do more than bruise his ego and scrape his forehead."  He stood up and put an arm around Ray's shoulder.  "You were watching?"

"I....  I'm not talking about this."

Xander squeezed his arm around the kid's neck.  "Horatio, do I have permission to impart some truths to him?"

"His mother would not like that."

"Yay."  He looked at Ray then walked him further up the alley.  He had hunted here a few times.  He coughed when he found a vampire trying to intimidate the kid he had caught.  "Go grr for them.  They scream really pretty because they're thugs."  The vampire shrugged and did that, making all the boys scream.  Including Ray Junior.  He looked at him. "I hunted creatures like that, Ray.  I was sixteen when I started."  The vampire sneered and spit at him.  Xander let Ray go and kicked at the vampire, then got him pinned and staked.  Then he dusted himself off and looked at him.  He looked at the other kid.  "Vanish.  Now.  Find God."  The kid ran off, leaving a trail of urine behind him.  He looked at Ray again.  "Now.  You wanted to be what sort of thug?"

"How?" he whispered. "Does my mother know?"

"Some.  She recognized where I was from."  He moved closer.  "You don't have to worry about me, Ray.  I only hunt vampires and other hunters.  Now, you have a choice to make.  You can turn out like that pile of dust and continue to taunt and be a bad boy until something bigger eats you.  That's what happened to him.  Most vampires used to be thugs," he shared.  "Or you could change and let your uncle mentor you.  Your mother has no idea what you were doing.  She thought you were out with friends."  Ray swallowed and nodded.  Xander put his arm back around his neck. "Come on, it's not nice to keep Horatio waiting and we're heading to the mall."

"Sure," he agreed.  He looked at his uncle, who gave him a frown.  One of the first ones from him.  He felt really bad.  "I'm sorry, sir.  What I did was wrong. I should have stopped them."  He let Xander lead him back to the hummer.  Horatio followed behind them.  "I think I need to think."

"I think that would be an excellent place to start, Raymond," Horatio agreed quietly.  He let him into the back then Xander into the front, then he walked around to get in and drive.  "How did you see them?"

"I felt the vampire vibe."  He shrugged.  "I have deep shit radar, Horatio."  He looked at Ray.  "Think, Ray.  Come to him in a few days to tell him what you're thinking about."  Ray nodded at that, slumping down some.  "Buckle up too."  He buckled his own belt.  Then he smiled at Horatio.  "Movie?  Or just walking and window shopping?"

"Movie," he decided, heading that way.  "I think we can catch the newest mystery.  If not the disaster movie is out."  Xander shook his head.  "Sorry.  Hmm.  There's a spy movie."

"There's a horror movie but it might squick Ray."

"I've seen it," he admitted quietly.  "How can you go from killing that thing to movies!" he demanded.

"Four years of doing it already, Ray," Xander said simply. "A few times a week."  He looked at him.  "Your uncle is trying very hard to make me calm down to normal people levels.  He's doing a good job. Even if I did lie to the insurance company about how my phone broke today."  Ray let out a surprised smile at that, then he realized and wiped it.  "It's okay to smile at that.  Your uncle did."  Horatio nodded. "Now, do you have a choice for the movie?"

"Anything's fine," he agreed weakly.  "How did you learn to do that?"

"Buffy moved into town and I had a crush on her."  He shifted so he could see him easier.  "Her first night in town we found out that something was strange.  Then my two best friends got taken.  We rescued one and not the other one," he offered quietly.  "I demanded the right to go after the other one with her."

"Was he okay?"

"He was undead," Xander admitted.  "She wouldn't let us go until the daytime.  It was too late by then."  Ray sighed and nodded, hanging his head.  "A few weeks later we met up again when the vampires were planning a huge splatter fest to raise power and blood so their boss could get out of his magical confinement."

"Magic exists?"  Xander concentrated very hard and Ray felt his arm move, making him squeak.  "Okay.  Let it go."  Xander did with an exhalation and his arm flopped back down.  He felt it, nothing odd.  He hadn't done it.  "Wow."

Xander nodded. "I don't have the sort of power to do it very often.  That's after hoarding power for weeks.  I'm better at potions."  Ray nodded slowly at that.  Xander grinned. "My boss thinks I can be the next Snape with some practice."

Ray smiled at that.  "Congrats."

Xander gave him a gentle smile. "I never want you to have to stake your own best friend, Ray.  Nor do I want to have to stake you some day."  Ray lost his smile and went rigid.  Xander nodded.  "Yeah.  My first official staking was the kid I used to play with when we were in diapers," he said quietly.  "That's where those kids are going.  Bullies and those who taunt others get picked at a rate of five-to-one to become newly made minions.  Which are cannon fodder.  Now, consider your future.  If I had to I would stake you to spare your uncle or mother having to do it.  Because most vampires go after their families first."

"Xander," Horatio warned.

"It's the truth, Horatio.  It's an easy first kill.  They've already got an invite and there's a small part in everyone that wants mommy to make things all better."  He looked at Ray again.  "Your choices tonight sucked ass.  Badly.  You still have the opportunity to change them.  Before you end up in that alley threatening a punk kid in a few years, Ray."

"You want to train me?" he squeaked.

"Hell no," Xander said grimly.  "I'm not going to ruin anyone else's childhood.  I had a little enough one before Buffy got there.  I know I slipped way too easily.  The same as I know what'll make those around me slip.  The same as I know the slope you stepped on tonight.  Taunting leads to shoving, leads to hitting, and then hurting.  Once you start to hurt others, you learn you like it.  It's cathartic in some ways.  Then you've got one steep climb out of the outhouse.  Now, hunting is different.  I don't like it but it's necessary.  Even if it does kill my wrists."  He rubbed his newly sore one.  "What I did was necessary.  What you were doing wasn't."

Ray nodded. "I understand.  I just wanted to fit in!"

"Who cares about the opinions of people who need written instructions every day on how to tie their shoes?" Xander complained.  Ray snickered at that. "They're beneath you, Ray. They're using you because you've got connections in your mom and Horatio.  They think you'll shield them.  If they did something really bad, they'd turn on you in a heartbeat to keep themselves out of trouble.  That's not even a good pack.  Pack mentality would protect others within the pack.  That's the sort of pack you want to run with.  Not with idiots who had to have their names on their shirt so they can spell it."

"One had his tattooed on his forearm," Ray admitted with a small sigh.  "I'm sorry, Uncle Horatio."

"We'll talk tonight, Raymond."

"Yes, sir."  He slumped again.  "Is Buffy pretty?"

"Very."  He showed her a picture.  "The blonde is Buffy. The redhead is Willow.  She was my best friend since the first day of school."  Ray handed it back. "She's also the one who gay bashed me.  Buffy's the one who helped me escape."  Ray nodded.  "You want friends who will protect you.  Mine aren't good examples. They all think I need my name tattooed on my arm.  They're wrong."

"They lean on you, they count on you, then they put you down, Xander.  It's much the same situation.  Only they need you for different reasons," Horatio offered.  He pulled into the parking lot and looked at his lover.  "Some of us appreciate you for more than your skills with a stake and how well you can remember coffee orders."  He stroked his cheek.  "We'd miss you if you were gone.  So don't do more stupid things.  No more hunting."

"I don't plan on it, Horatio, but I knew I needed to be there."

"Point.  They probably would've given Ray to him so they could get away."  He smiled gently and kissed him. "Thank you."  Xander smiled back and gave him a hug.  "Good.  Now, let's go inside and get something to nibble while we watch something."  They got out and Horatio locked the hummer before heading inside with the boys.  Xander had his arm around Ray's shoulder, snarking on the teenage girls in front of them who were so stupid it was hurting his head.  Fortunately they were going for shoes, not the movies.

Xander pointed back at them.  "Buffy was one of those before the job got handed to her."

"Poor thing."

"Cordy was like that really.  Still is kinda.  She's my ex."  He shrugged and looked up at the board, then at Ray's watch.  "Can we excuse his curfew tonight?  The new disaster movie is in twenty minutes."

"Sure," Horatio agreed, smiling at him.  It was good that they had distracted each other from the problems.  He and Ray would still be talking tonight or tomorrow.  His nephew needed someone male to be there to explain the stupid urges to him.  Yelina was good but she wasn't a teenage guy.


Xander hung up and sighed, looking at his boss. "Buffy's mother just died."

"Go," she agreed.  "Leaving when?"

"Tonight.  I'm going to bankrupt myself getting out there.  Thank you."  He kissed her on the cheek and headed up to pack and change clothes.  He called Speed.  "Buffy's mom died. I'm headed home for the funeral," he said quietly.  "I don't mind, I can go alone.  I'll be okay.  I can't afford to bring anyone else out, Speed."  He nodded.  "Whatever.  I'm headed to the airport now.  Love you both."  He blew a kiss and hung up.  Then he found his suit and put it into his bag carefully.  He zipped it and headed out, waving at the owner.  "Buffy's mom died."

"I heard.  I'm sorry, Xander."

"She was a pseudo mother to the group and she's the one who got to the guy who got me down here."  She gave him a hug.  "Thanks. I'm going to the airport right now."

"I can drive you.  Save you some cash."  He nodded and let her, pulling out his wallet and his emergency credit card and ID before they got there.  He kissed her on the cheek then got out.  "Be safe, Xander.  Remember, I need you to come back to work."

"I'll try," he promised, smiling at her.  He headed inside and found Eric and Calleigh. "I really can't afford to buy tickets for both of you."

"That's fine, we can do it on our own," Calleigh promised, stroking his cheek.  "I'm heading to LA to drop off a casefile anyway."  He nodded, going to get onto the same flight as them.  He was further back in the plane but that was fine with him.  He made it through security and onto the plane, putting his bag underneath the seat in front of him.  Then he settled in to look at the pictures in his wallet.  This was not a happy reunion.


Eric looked at the town they pulled into after dark.  "This is pretty nice."

"Not really."  He called Buffy.  "It's me and I brought a friend on the orders of my boyfriends.  Can we crash at your place or is the hotel finally safe?"  He smiled.  "Thanks, Buffy.  On our way past the school now.  Be there soon."  He hung up.  "That was our high school," he said, pointing at it.  Eric hissed and winced.  "It was a pretty explosion."

"I'm sure it was."  He drove on.  "Where do I turn?"

"Two more streets.  Then left."  Eric nodded, doing that.  He pulled into the driveway Xander pointed out and let him get out first.  They were his friends.  He was there to protect Horatio's boyfriend.  The house looked friendly enough.  A blonde woman stepped onto the porch.

"Hey, Buff."

"Xander."  She sniffled and came down to hug him.  "You made it."

"Of course I did. You needed me," he soothed, stroking her back while he gave her a squeeze.  "This is Eric.  Horatio sent him with me so I'd make it back to work in a few days.  There's another officer who had to come out to drop stuff in LA so she'll be up for the funeral tomorrow."  She pulled back and nodded. "Let's go inside before we get pounced."  She nodded, leading them inside.  He looked at Dawn.  He had the altered memories of her.  He hugged her too, letting her sniffle on him.  "Shh.  I'm here.   You can cry on me, Dawnie."  She nodded, starting to cry.  He sat down on the stairs with her.  "Guys, this is Eric.  Horatio sent him," he called.  "Be nice to Eric. Or else!"  He went back to soothing her.

Buffy led him into the living room.  "This is Eric," she introduced, waving a hand at him.  "Horatio sent him so Xander makes it back to work."

"Was he thinking about staying?" Giles asked.

"I think Horatio was worried about the dangers out here.  Being emotional can throw off your ability to protect yourself."

"Another officer?"

"Another CSI too," he agreed with a small grin.  "I'm one of Horatio's team."  He shook his hand.  "Eric Delko."

"I'm Rupert and this is Willow and Tara.  Dawn's apparently latched onto Xander?"  Buffy nodded, sitting down.  "Watch out for the other blond twit.  He's annoying but around."

Xander walked in with Dawn.  "Joyce straightened out his love life, Giles.  Of course Spike's going to be here.  Who else would've fed him cocoa with marshmallows and let him babble about Dru?"

Buffy smiled at that.  "Mom was one of a kind," she agreed.  Dawn sat on the arm of her chair, letting her pat her on the back.  "It'll be okay, Dawn.  I'm still here."

"You are," she agreed, nodding at that.  She looked at the new guy.  "So, does Xander get into a lot of trouble?"

"Not now that he's in the occult bookstore.  When he was working in the convenience store?   He was offering officers free fountain drinks so there would always be someone nearby for when he got robbed.  It was the most cursed store in the city."

Buffy smiled a bit more.  "When he was working at the ones out here all the vampires came in to give him a hard time," Buffy admitted.

"I started to spike the ice with holy water," Xander agreed grimly.  Everyone stared at him.  "It worked."  He shrugged.  "The normal people never noticed."  She smiled at that.

Dawn smiled weakly at him.  "At least you made it out of here."

"I did.  Your mom helped me get out of Sunnydale."  She came over to sit next to him, curling into his side.  "It's all right, Dawnie.  Maybe Buffy can let you come down during the summers to visit me.   Miami's really pretty and has lots and lots of hotties.  Horatio sent Eric to prove it."  She grinned at that and blushed a bit.  "Plus I'll let you wear a mildly skimpy bathing suit to the beach."  She looked up at him, looking happier.

"She's too young for boys," Buffy chastised.

"No she's not," Xander assured her.  "By this summer she'll be fifteen.  Remember what you were doing when you were fifteen?"

She thought back.  "Burning down a school gym."  Eric choked.  "Vampires," she explained.

"I've heard."

"Did Xander tell you stories about him tripping and falling into graves?" Buffy asked him.

"Now and then. He doesn't talk about it much with me.  I'm sure Horatio and Speed hear more."

"I remember Horatio, which one was Speed?  Did we get to see him?" Buffy asked Xander.  He shook his head.

Eric pulled out his wallet. "He's the dark haired smartass against the bike," he offered, handing over a picture.  She looked and smiled, then passed it onto Tara, who smiled and handed it on.  "I remember you were in town."  Tara nodded, blushing and ducking her head some.  "Don't worry, I don't hit on taken women."  She blushed brighter but giggled.

"She's a shy witch," Dawn told him.  "Can I see?"  He handed her the picture when he got it.  "He's cute," she told Xander, smiling at him. "Is he comfy to nap with?"

"Dawn!" Buffy complained.

"Oh, please!  I do know something about the sex and if Xander's happy then of course they're having the sex."  She handed the picture back.

"He's very comfy to nap on but I'm taking that very slowly due to my dating history.  Speaking of, is *she* missing?"  Everyone nodded.  "As in MIA or just somewhere?"

"Working," Willow admitted grimly.

"Oh, she came down to complain about her lack of sex life," Eric assured her. "I assume we're talking Anya?"  Buffy nodded quickly then shuddered.  "She's come down twice now to complain about that issue."

"Where am I when she does this?" Xander asked.

"I think the last time you were napping on Horatio's couch with Hummer."

"Hummer?  A foursome?" Willow squeaked.  "Xander!"

"My familiar, chill!" he complained.  He rolled his eyes.  "No, Willow, I have *two* men.  Not three.  Speed's the one you called me to make the potion for.  He just started back to work or he'd have been here instead of Eric and probably Calleigh tomorrow when she's done with the LAPD."

"She's a nice lady.  Wanted to string his parents up," Eric offered.

"Works for me," Willow agreed, nodding a bit.  She gave Tara a hug. "It's all right. He's a nice guy.  If he's not, I'll turn him into a lizard."  Tara scowled at her.  "I will."

"Y..yo..you won't," she stuttered.

"Or else I'll spank," Xander agreed firmly, staring her down.  She wilted and nodded.  "Thank you.  So, Giles, how's the shop?"

"Doing tolerable.  You're working with Rebecca?"  Xander nodded.  "I see.  It's a good place for you.  She can watch you for us.  Keep you out of trouble."

Xander snickered.  "I don't get into trouble in Miami, Giles.  I'm making her potions for her."

Tara nodded.  "She said he's very good," she agreed quietly.

Xander smiled.  "She said I could be the next Snape."

Dawn patted him on the chest.  "You'd look really funny in the Victorian robes," she assured him.  He grinned at her.  "You would.  Plus you bathe more.  If he did that he'd be hotty material."

"Some people like them sarcastic," he agreed happily. She smiled back.  "So, what are we doing tonight?"

"I was going to wear out some pain and anger on the vamp population," Buffy offered.  "Want to come, Xander?"

"I'll stay and protect Dawn.  It was a long flight."  She nodded and got up, heading out with Willow and Tara.  Giles paused then left before he could say something.

Dawn looked at Eric.  "She's sorry.  It's always been like that," she offered.  "Want something to drink?  Or eat?"

"Only if you eat something too," Eric told her.  "When my grandmother died I didn't eat for nearly a week.  You can eat with me."  She nodded, letting him pull her up and into the kitchen to help her make sandwiches.

Xander looked up.  "I can hear you moving, Spike. It's just us."  He came up out of the basement and he waved at things.  "They didn't listen?' he asked quietly.  That got a head shake.  "Fuck."

"Basically.  We're buggered at the moment."

"Can you tell her host?"

"Maybe.  Think I sniffed 'im out.  Not sure yet."

"Have something hunt it."  That got a nod.  "Something strong.   Just in case."

"Sure.  Can do that.  You back for good?"

"Hell no," he said grimly.  He stood up.  "I love Miami and I've got ties there now," he said  happily.  "Come meet Eric."  He led the way into the kitchen.  "Eric, this is Spike.  Spike, this is Eric, he works with my boyfriends."  Spike's cigarette dropped from his mouth and Dawn had to stomp it out before it burned the rug.

"One's my boss and the other's my best friend so they sent me to guard Xander for them," he said, shaking his hand.  "Want a sandwich?  She needs to eat."

"Nah, not that hungry myself," he admitted, shaking his head and looking at Xander.  "Never expected you for a poofy slut, whelp."

Xander smacked him on the side of the head.  "Keep it up, Spike.  I know where Ethan is now and he nearly punished Giles by making him your bitch for eternity."  Spike's eyes went wide.  "Giles handed him to the Initiative."

"What he's got now is better," Spike said weakly.

Xander nodded.  "I had to stop him from having him turned.  Even if they did kill him.  He's turning him into Dru."

"I've noticed.  He was singing to his teapot the other day," he agreed, starting to smirk again.  "S'not a bad punishment.  He gonna get Red for you?"

"No. Her punishment was already done by the courts, Spike."

"Can I move to Miami with you?" Dawn asked.

"Dawn, I'm living in a one-bedroom apartment," Xander told her.  He considered it.  "If I can arrange it and she doesn't mind.  I'll manage it somehow, even if I do have to go back to hunting vampires so I can frisk them first."  She nodded, going back to her sandwich.  He gave her a hug around the shoulders.  "You'd like Horatio's nephew.  He's your age.  He's nice but he lost his dad a few years back," he said quietly.  "He's struggling with macho crap at the moment but he's a good boy."  She smiled at that and nodded, eating a bigger bite.  "Good girl.  We'll handle whatever happens."  She relaxed and nodded, eating again.

Dawn finished. "Is it really hard to taint me that way?"

"I'm not powerful, Dawn.  I can barely float a pencil.  I'm told it's not.  Ethan did it from Kansas to Giles when he got released."  She nodded at that.  "I tried to get them before she got raised."

"I know."  She gave him a gentle smile, so much like her mother's.  "Giles is an asshole."

"Language," Spike complained. "You're too young for that and Fluffy wouldn't like that."

"Fluffy can bite me," she complained, finishing her dinner and getting up to get some milk.  "She's not thinking logically.  Can it be reversed?"

"Giles' was," Xander said with a small shrug, looking at Spike.  "You've had more experience than I have."

"As far as I know it's not bad," he offered.  "Angel and his crew probably could."  Buffy walked in the back door.  "She asked."

"I heard.  I still don't like it."

"It'll keep me safe and let you kill Glory, Buffy.  Mom wouldn't want one of us to follow."  Xander gave her another hug.  "As long as it's temporary I can deal.  If not, I might be able to deal depending on what it was."

She slumped and nodded. "I'll talk with Wesley."

Xander looked at her.  "I called from the airport.  He's driving Cordy up for the funeral."

"Thank you."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "Any idea on Glory?"  He pointed at Spike.  "He can't...."

"She'd be demonic," Spike noted dryly.  "Could but it'd make me sick.  Could get her pointed out and eaten by something else."

"It's doable," she sighed, shaking her head.  "It feels like cheating."

"Is," Spike agreed.  "But good cheating."

"It's practical instead of making things worse," Xander agreed. "What was Giles' problem?"

"It's evil."  He rolled his eyes, mirrored by her little sister.  "Well, maybe they'll make you pretty and blonde," she teased.

"I'm a beautiful brunette and so was mom," Dawn said firmly, sticking out her tongue.

"She was," Xander agreed.  "The same as your big sister is, she just wanted to be a blonde."  Buffy hit him on the arm. "You are."

"Shut up.  Don't tell those secrets or I'll tell them about Larry asking you to the prom."

"He asked me to more than that, Buffy, and I still turned him down.  Or don't you remember who I took?"

"I do.  She's back in town and pouting about you to Willow."

"Hmm," Xander said grimly.  "I'm thinking about the need to slap me a witch."  Dawn giggled.  "She's more than welcome to come to Miami, Buffy.  I'll do what I can to protect  her and make due for her."  She nodded, giving him a hug.  "Now, she's eating.   Have you?"

"I can't."

"Eat," he ordered, staring into her eyes.  "You do no one any good if you collapse, especially your sister.  Keeping her safe means that you've got to keep yourself up."  She slumped and Eric got up to make her a sandwich too.  "Thanks, Eric."

"If Calleigh were here she'd be cooking up a lot more."

"That's a bint thing," Spike assured him.  He looked at Xander.  "Two blokes?  Two?"  Xander grinned and nodded.  Eric pulled out a picture to show him.  "The other two in the picture?"

"I can't keep up with Xander or his kitten. Or play with the battle axe he decorated with."

"It keeps it handy in case of emergency," Xander said dryly.  He looked.  "The redhead's Horatio.  He's the one who brought Willow back.  The other is Speed."

"His mother named him that?" Buffy asked.

"No, that's his nickname.  He's a Timothy by birth," Eric offered.  "The blonde in that picture is Calleigh. She'll be up tomorrow."  They smiled at her sweet smile. "She's from New Orleans.  She's a great lady."

Dawn looked at him.  "Is she going to come destroy Xander's parents?"

"No, that's my fun," Xander assured her.  "Why?  Are they being annoying?"   All three of the Scoobies nodded.  "Crap.  Why?"

"Not a clue but they've been throwing loud and obnoxious parties for the last few weeks," Buffy offered.  "I know your mom's still alive.  She's been out in town to buy more vodka every few days."

Xander considered it. "Guess the EPT was negative."  They all shuddered.  "That's what the vodka was last time. The good stuff?"  She nodded. "Yeah, the EPT was negative."

"Can I slap some sense into your parents?" Dawn asked him. "Please?"

"They might like that, honey, you can't," Xander told her, making her shudder.  "Sorry but no. That's my fun."  He smiled sweetly.  "Eric, can you stay here and settle in?"  He nodded. "Thanks.  Let's go see the problem people, Buff."  She nodded, escorting him that way.  They looked at the rundown house from the shadows across the street, watching the party going on.  "Hmm.  Wondering who the newbie is."

"Your cousin Earl."

"I don't have a cousin Earl," he sighed.  His mother looked outside and he smirked.  "She saw us."

"Should we leave?"

"No.  It'll be fine."  She threw open the door and glared at them.  "They're not worth running."

"You gonna stand over there or come congratulate us on your new cousin?' she sneered loudly.

"I'm not getting near you and I hope that one doesn't go like my last one," he said, walking onto the sidewalk.  "Having fun?"

"You?" she sneered.

"Yes.  I've found some people who accept me as a good family member.  Better than I got in this shithole."  He smirked at her.  "Happy pitiful existence, mom.  I hope like hell the kid turns out better than anyone in there."  He walked off, taking Buffy's arm to make her walk off.

She patted his hand. "It was brave yet stupid.  You're known for that, Xander," she soothed quietly.  She could feel the shakes.  "We'll call social services in the morning."

"No, we'll do it tonight," he ordered.  He pulled out her phone, dialing 911.  "This is Alexander Harris....  I'm in town for Joyce's funeral, Margaret.  Did anyone realize they've got a kid in the house with them?  Yes, my parents.  And cousins I've never heard of.  Earl?"  He ahhed.  "I thought he died."  He smiled.  "Yeah, I wouldn't want to claim him either.  Yeah, vodka and she said they're celebrating my new cousin.  That means they've got kids in the house.  Margaret, think about it.  Do we have a social worker on tonight?" He smiled.  "Thanks, dear.  I'll see you tomorrow."  He hung up and handed back the phone. "She'll wake her sister up."

"Which one is Margaret?"

"Her sister owns the coffee shop."

"Oh, her!  Yeah, she's a nice lady."  She smiled at him. "So, a Horatio and a Timmy?"

"A Horatio and a Speed.  He hates being called Timmy."  She smiled at that.  He grinned back.  "They're helping me heal a lot of stuff and we're going very slowly but I have free invitations for cuddles."

"Good.  Cuddles are good.  Any other problems since you moved to the Magic Box, Miami edition?"

"Nope.  A few vamps breaking in to get supplies.  Nothing else."

"Boy!" a drunken voice slurred.  They turned, finding Xander's uncle standing there.  "You have no right to be here.  Town shouldn't hold *fags* like you," he sneered.

"I came back for Joyce's funeral.  She was more of a mother to me than anyone else," he said calmly.  "You're drunk and have an open container, Uncle Rory.  Shouldn't you be inside and passed out by now?"  They went on but the man grabbed him.  Xander twisted his wrist, making him scream.  "Do not touch me, you filthy, teenage girl raping drunk," he hissed.  "You are nothing.  You will never be anything.  I am not wasting my energy dealing with you."  He let his hand go and dusted himself off, wiping his shoulder. "Stains?"

"No.  Not that I can see."  She looked at his back.  "Didn't spill either.  Good job."  She stepped over his arm.  "We shouldn't leave him out here."

Xander looked around and went to knock on a door, pointing at his uncle's body. "He tried to grab me, Officer Tom.  I grabbed his wrist and twisted it then sneered.  He should probably be inside somewhere sobbing about being pitiful.  By the way, did you know they had kids in there?"

"I didn't, Xander, but I'll make sure he gets home."

"I'll go with you," Buffy promised.  "You can get yourself home?"

"Of course," Xander agreed, smiling at her. "Thanks.  Don't get too nasty."

"I won't.  Can I play with the handcuffs again, Officer Tom?" she asked cheerfully.

"Sure, Buffy."  He found his and handed them over. "Cuff him with his hands in front while I find shoes."  She nodded, going to do that while Xander walked home.

Xander walked onto the lawn and watched the vampire stare at the house. "She's doing good deeds."  Angel turned. "My uncle tried to sneer and make us dirty.  She's helping him home with Officer Tom."

"That's fine. Are you okay?"

"I'm good.  My boyfriends are very supportive," he agreed happily.  A vampire snarled and pounced until he staked it then dusted himself off.  "Ah, I feel better now.  It's not home unless I had to stake something."  He looked at Angel again. "I'd offer but she'd get pissed at me."

Angel gaped in horror.  "You can't fight," he said slowly and weakly.

"I always could fight, Angel. I was untrained," he corrected. "I learned on the job.  You never saw me as I was.  It skewed your world that a normal guy without many skills could do the job."  He walked into the house. "Angel's here, Spike.  Staked Daphne's little brother on the lawn."  He kissed Dawn on the head.  "Buffy's escorting one drunk uncle home."

"You okay?" Eric asked.

"Yeah.  He's a turd that not even a dog would cover."  He shrugged and went to get some milk, then grimaced at the smell.  "This was expired last year," he complained, pouring it out.

"Mommy was sick for a while," she admitted.

"I'll clean the fridge.  You got rest, Dawn."  She nodded, heading up to her bedroom.  "So, did she tell you embarrassing Anya stories?"

"Some," Eric agreed, smirking at him.  "Then again she also told me some embarrassing Xander stories."  Spike nodded and smirked from his position.  Xander shrugged.  He went back to cleaning out the fridge.  "You can't put that down the disposal."

"Yes I can. It's nearly liquid."  He poured the fish down the drain and turned on the disposal.

"That is very loud," Buffy complained when she walked in.  "What are you doing?"

"You had milk that had more chunks than Harmony's lips after that bad collagen treatment."

"Oh.  Yeah."  He shrugged and went back to it.  "Where's Dawn?"

"Bed," Spike told her.  "You okay?  You smell like a brewery."

"His uncle was way gross," she complained, making an 'eww' face.  "He nearly puked on me and everything, Spike.  I mean, demon goo is one thing and still gross and all but puke?  Drunk guy puke?  Eww!"  She shuddered.  "They should bring him in like that to health classes with a big, huge sign saying 'this is why you don't drink' and let him babble and puke on them!  I'd never have drank the evil beer if I had seen that before."

"Oh, I don't know, caveslayer girl was kinda fun," Xander said dryly.  "How old was the kid?"

"Early teens.  Apparently your other cousin who was supposedly dead just lost all his jobs and is now broke man so he came to see your parents and uncle for a while.  Oh, your mom miscarried."

"Good!  They take the kid?"

"Yeah but he's got that sullen eyes look that reminds me of Angel."

"Yeah, saw him on the lawn.  I staked Daphne's little brother."

"Eeh.  Who cares.  Another vampire bites the dust."  She smiled.  "I should listen to that song while I'm hunting."  She went to see if they had it.

Spike looked at Eric, who was looking horrified. "It's like that around here now and then."  Xander nodded.

"They've helped you a lot," Eric said quietly.  Xander gave him a gentle smile and a nod. "Where am I bunking?"

"Only one guest room," Buffy called.  She came back in.  "We don't have the song."

"Have Willow download it," Xander said.  "I can share a room with him.  I'll take the floor or the chair."

"I know you won't molest me tonight, Xander."  Xander shook his head quickly.  "What, not good enough?" he taunted with a smirk.

"No, I'm taken and according to the rumors I've heard, you and Ryan Wolfe are nearly as close as Speed, Horatio, and I are."  Eric went pale and slowly started to shake his head.  "Some of the patrol guys think that the sore butt the other day was a pair of tattoos for your commitment ceremony."

"No, nononononononono!" he said, shaking his head quickly.  "No, not Ryan!"  He followed Buffy up the stairs still shaking her head.

She patted him on the arm.  "Xander does it to me sometimes too.  It's a Xander thing."  She opened the door.  "Here you go.  You guys can work out how to sleep and stuff.  Bathroom's across the hall and the only one."  She patted him again and went back down to watch Xander clean the fridge.  Angel came to the back door so she let him in.  "Hi, welcome to the house."  He stepped inside.  "Ooh, that's not a happy Angel look, I mean relatively speaking."

"Did he make some sort of demonic deal to be able to fight?"

"No," she said slowly.  Spike started to snicker, shaking his head. "You did, Xander?"

"No, Buffy," he said patiently.  "I learned some stuff.  That's all."

"Oh.  See, he just learned stuff. After all, Giles made him spar with me, even though he lost and got big owwies now and then."

"Boy's better'n you both think because you never wanted to see him," Spike said with a mean smirk.  "You wanted a whelp to hate.  She wanted a puppy, so that was what you saw.  Not like he doesn't have memories from both possessions, peaches."  He sneered at him.  "Not like you ever wanted to see the boy."

"Spike, I'm not coming back to date you," Xander said patiently.  "They'll see what they want to see.  Speed was right, that's basic human nature.  In this case they wanted me to not be as effective so I wasn't to them."  He looked at Angel.  "Just because I can fight doesn't mean I made a deal.  You know they teach classes in that now, right?"  He growled. "Really.  They do."

"Enough," Buffy warned.  "You took classes?"

"That too," he agreed.  "Fortunately Miami doesn't have too many problems since it's me and about three other protectors.  Though I heard they had two elves who came out of a portal a few years back."

"I miss them," Buffy sighed. "I should see if Willow can call them.  They liked Mom."  She went to talk to Willow.  Angel followed shaking his head.

Spike rolled his eyes.  "It happens."

"I know.  You get it because you're chipped.  I get it for being normal.  It happens."  He got back to work.  "Is anyone eating this tofu?  If not it's going now.  It's only got two days left."  Buffy came to get it and squeeze it dry so she could eat it.  He shook his head. "I never understood tofu."  He got back to work on the freezer.  "Poor ice cream has freezer burn but they'll need it."  He left that alone.   Spike grabbed something and went to warm it up in the microwave.  "Not that cup, Spike, that was hers."  He switched mugs and carefully put the other one back.  When he was done he went up to sleep on the floor.  Joyce had always went for comfortable rugs.


Calleigh looked around the very pretty town but she knew the reputation so she didn't let it fool her.  She parked downtown and found a coffee shop, stopping to pick up some.

"New in town, sweetie?" the older woman behind the counter asked.

"I'm here to help Xander through the funeral.  Do you know where they'd be?"

"The Magic Box.  'Round the corner," she said, losing some of her smile.  "So, he attacked his uncle?" she asked, trying for casual.

"I don't know, did he?"  She called Eric's phone.  "He attacked his uncle?  The coffee shop."  She looked at her. "Giles needs some tea.  Can I bring him some?"

"Sure.  We keep a tab for Mr. Giles."  She went to brew some.  "Is that the cutie that came in with him last night?"

"It is," she agreed with a smile.  "Eric and I work with Horatio, and Xander's kinda been adopted by our whole CSI team."  She listened to the story. "Oh, thanks, Eric.  Be there soon."  She hung up.  "Apparently his uncle came out to swear at him and tell him he was nothing after Xander found out they had a kid in the house while they were outrageously drunk."

"That figures.  The boy tries so hard to be good but we all knew he'd turn some day.  Turning on that poor Willow...."

Calleigh snorted. "Uh-uh.  Sorry, I saw what she did to him. Can't let that one stand.  Willow beat him black and blue and into broken ribs, dear.  I helped him while he had broken ribs."  The woman looked stunned.  "Yeah.  She beat him, he didn't touch her.  He just walked away from her.  All the way to Miami."

"You're from down there?"

"I work there.  I'm from New Orleans," she offered with a smile.  "We're sister cities."

"I've heard."  She handed over the tea. "You watch out for that boy.  He's dangerous when he wants to be."

"Needs to be, please," Xander ordered as he came in.  "I'm only dangerous when I *need* to be.  Fortunately that's pretty rare in Miami these days."  He stared at her.  "By the way, tell my mother the bitch that yes, I did turn her in for having a kid in the house and they took enough pictures of the damage they did to that kid to put her away for life.  Tell her I hope she enjoys being the block bitch."  He took the tea.  "Giles said he'll get his tab tonight.  Did Buffy order muffins?"  She nodded and got the box.  "Thanks, Sarah.  I talked to Margaret last night when I turned them in."  He grinned and she smiled back, a sweet, motherly smile.  "Just remember not to let my mother drive."  She nodded and he led Calleigh out.  "Go back in an hour and she'll have forgotten I was there."


"That's Sunnydale.  Anything bad is ignored."  He walked her into the shop. "Don't touch *anything*," he warned.  "Eric touched a mineral sample and ended up with rabbit ears for twenty minutes until it wore off."  She giggled.  "I took pictures for Speed," he promised.  He handed Giles his tea.  "Sarah was spreading that I beat my uncle bloody."

"Did you?" he asked dryly.

"I twisted his wrist after he grabbed me and told me I'd never be anything."

"Hmm.  Some people have shallower visions of what anything is I suppose," Giles agreed.

"Of course I do.  I'm happy.  I'm safe.  I'm content.  What the hell more do I need, Giles?"  He stared him down and he looked away.  "By the way, do you have Potions and Hexes?  We can't get the new copy at the store and someone asked me about the new banishing potion in it."  He nodded and got a copy for him. "Thanks.  Paper in the usual place?"

"Of course."

"Thanks."  He went to copy it and read over the notes with it.  He found a few others he copied too.  They would help him.  "Calleigh, where did you park?"

"By the bank."

"Then you're probably safe.  I found out earlier that Uncle Rory is the daytime ambulance driver."

"Ooh," she said, wincing and hissing.  "Poor patients."

"You're telling me," Eric complained as he came out of the back with Dawn. "He tried to run her down."

"You poor thing."  She gave her a one-armed hug. "I'm sorry you lost your mother, sweetie.  Xander said a lot of nice things about her."  She pulled back to look at her.  "You come down to Miami for a vacation and we'll make sure you laugh and you're safe."  She smiled a bit and nodded. "Good girl.  Chin up."  She smiled.  "Then make your sister break."

"I've been trying," she sighed. "She won't."

Xander looked at her and shook his head.  "She won't, guys. If she hasn't by the funeral I'll wade in."  That got a nod.  He went back to copying.  "Giles, does this hair rinse actually work to take annoyance hexes out?"

"Not that I've heard."

"Hmm.  I'll have to experiment then," he said happily, going back to it.  "Speaking of, did Tara show you the new bruise potion?"

"She did.  I must say it feels nicer and smells better.  How long does it last?"

"Half the time."  He looked at him.  "But you're right, it fixed the things we all complained about."  That got a small smirk.  "I did good with that recipe.  Speed thinks I should learn how to cook for real since it's so much like potions."

"You're doing potions?" Dawn asked as she came over to watch him copy stuff.  "Why?"

"Because the store I work in down in Miami sells some made potions.  I just did an anti- bug potion.  Works a lot better than Raid."  She giggled at that.  "It's pain in the shoulder.  Three thousand slow, steady, even strokes in the center."

"I didn't know that one worked," Giles admitted.  Xander looked at him and nodded.  "Really?  I'll have to order some from Rebecca to try it in the back."

"Add some grated lemon peel to the powder before you put it down, Giles.  You've got possessed termites."

"Oh, thank you, Xander."

"Welcome."  He went back to work, smiling at Eric.

"Please don't ask for a copy of the picture," he told Calleigh, who just smiled. "Please?"

"Fat chance.  You wouldn't let me see you in mouse ears so now I get to see you in bunny ears."

"He's still denying the existence of the fluffy tail," Dawn told her with a small smile.

"Dawn!" he complained.

"What?  It was cute.  Cute helps you get more girls."

"I don't have a problem getting girls, Dawn.  I get so many I have to form a line behind my current lady."

"Speed said the guy who played Zorro has nothing on him," Xander agreed.  Calleigh giggled at that, turning away to lean on Eric's shoulder.  "But do show that to Anya, Eric."  He looked up.  "She'll leave you alone."

"Hmm.  True, Anya has a bunny phobia," Dawn agreed.

"Give me the picture please," Eric begged.

Xander looked up. "Anya?" he called.  "Come meet my friends?"  She appeared and smiled at Eric.  He nudged Dawn and handed her the camera.

"Lookie, Anh.  He touched the furry making stone," she said, showing her the picture.  She went pale and backed away from Eric.  "Isn't he *cute*?"

"No, bunnies are evil!  They have twitchy noses and cute tails!  And ears!  Ears are bad!"  She pouted at Xander.  "Meany."

He grinned and nodded.  "But my men like me like this."

She stamped a foot. "When are you going to get over this gay phase so I can have orgasms again?" she demanded.

He looked at her. "I hope I never do.  Horatio and Speed are good to me, Anya.  They love me.  They support me.  Why would I want to do anything to hurt that."  She pouted.  "You'll find someone else."

"But not with your oral fetish," she whined. "Horatio said I can't even watch!"  She stamped a foot again.

"Eww," Dawn said.  "Go buy porn or go watch a whorehouse."

"Dawn!" Giles shouted.

"Not like I don't know that they exist," she said dryly.   "I mean, please!  I know what Sarah does in her off hours, Giles.  Everyone in town does.  One of my classmates works for her.  I'm not four, I'm fourteen. Give me a bit of credit."

"Who is she letting work for her at that age?" Xander complained, frowning.

"My science partner Amanda does her books and I'm guessing some special assignments.  How did you know?"

"First of the month Rory would waste most of his check on her.  She came over for that night."  He shrugged and got back to it.  "Don't let Willow hear that you know about that stuff.  She'll go into feminist outrage."

"If she's underaged, someone should stop that," Calleigh said firmly.

"Amanda volunteered to do her books," Dawn assured her.  "Said it gives her shopping money and gives her accounting class credit."

Eric frowned.  "What makes you think she's working in other ways, Dawn?"

"The two thousand dollar leather outfit she wore to school a few weeks back.  She's not that well off."

"Which Amanda, Dawn?  Larry's little sister or the Shovatz's younger one?"

"Larry's little sister."

"Well, Larry knew what was going on in town and he said a few times the only way his sister was going to make it out of town was on her back," he considered.  "I was hoping she was going to wait though.  I know he was."

Dawn shrugged. "She said she's saving for college and later."

"How can you to discuss that?" Calleigh demanded.

Xander looked at her.  "Around here, fifteen is middle aged, Calleigh.  Being practical, she's got about a sixty percent chance of living to her high school graduation.  In the last two years she's seen about ten percent of her kindergarten classmates die.  Including her brother because he died during graduation.  She'll be lucky to make it out after graduation.  The denial problem with the town hits you harder once you get the diploma.  It's like it's laid on it.  Within ten years her life expectancy chances if she stays drops to about twenty percent from eighteen to twenty-eight and then it goes back up to about forty or fifty percent."  They both looked stunned.  "Sunnydale kids grow up a bit faster.  Even the ones in good homes who don't hunt.  If this is her choice and she doesn't want help out, then that's her choice and there's nothing I can do to stop it.  Because trust me, half the cops in town know where she works.  None of them will touch her but there's a few guys in the next town."

"No pedophiles in town?" Dawn asked him.

"Vampires don't want the competition to take away their future harvest.  They tend to do away with the other predators."  He went back to copying.  "The police station is up the street and to the right, but I do think if you do, she definitely won't make it out of town."

"Unfortunately he's correct," Giles said sadly.  "Though I do not believe this is a discussion we should have around Dawn, Xander."

Xander looked at him.  "She's how old, Giles?  She knows more about the dirty sides of life than you think or her sister thinks.  What she doesn't learn from the other kids she's seen watching us hunt, her sister run away, and all the problems we've had."

"Also the two girls a year younger than me who have kids," Dawn agreed.  "The three druggie bitches on the cheerleading team.  The one serious pothead.  The next generation of the acid family."  Xander snickered.  "I take it you know Merla's family?"

"Her big sister Penelope died in ninth grade.  She went out to watch the stars twinkle at her while she dropped.  She disappeared off the football field.  Her mother decided the good aliens had removed her because she was a proper woman."

"Hmm.  Is that when she started to make her own version?" Dawn asked.  He nodded.  "Cool.  Oh, and our one gang member and one drug dealer in town.  I do watch people, guys.  There's only one club in town so I'm forced to associate if I want to go out.  The nearest mall is like ten miles so I've got to stay in town unless someone drives or we all hitch a ride with the moms.  And hey, my best friend last year got eaten at a sleepover."  Xander looked at her.  "She invited them in.  I told her not to.  She thought they were there to do a panty raid."

Xander shook his head.  "Stupid vampires.  You went where?"

"The closet with a pencil.  Which I had to use," she admitted.  "Buffy doesn't know."  He pointed at Giles.  "He knew.  I came in babbling and freaking out."

"I did that for a while too," he admitted, patting her on the hand.  "If you turn into me I will kick your ass, Dawn."

"I'm trying really hard not to."

"Good.  Try harder."  She nodded, accepting that.  "Good girl."  He got back to work while Calleigh went to share that information with someone.  He looked at Eric.  "You might want to escort her.  Especially if my father's out.  Hate to make her shoot him."  He ran after her.  He sighed and nodded.  "Well, Horatio said he only wanted to evacuate a few people before he blew the town to cover the hellmouth.  Hey, Giles, if we destroyed the town and buried the rubble on top of the hellmouth, how long would that stop it for?"

"Maybe a year before someone tried to unbury it."

"But we could stop those," Dawn reminded him.

"We could but we can't exactly destroy the town."

Xander looked at him. "Let Glory come, Giles.  Watch it go to ashes."  Giles shuddered.  "Spike thinks he can sniff out the host by his or her possession."

"I'll keep that in mind.  I still say it won't work."

"Well, I don't and it's my damn blood so I'm doing it," Dawn said firmly, glaring at him.  "Anya!"  She popped back.  "I want to be changed over."

"Are you sure?  We can't be sure it'll take, Dawn. Or that we can reverse it."

"Ask Ethan, Anya.  He did it to Giles."

"I had forgotten about that."  She took Dawn's hand and took her with her to Miami and Ethan.  Who was now living with Xander's former subletting landlord.  Ethan looked at her.  "Xander suggested we turn her."

"I've heard.  Miss Summers, I'm sorry to hear about your mother."

"Thank you."  She sat down on the footstool he was using. "I don't care if I look human. I want to be safe, Ethan.  I'd like to be able to change back when the danger's gone but I want to be safe.  Mostly human would be good.  Not something that's going to attract everything to hunt me down for food, sex, or fun and games would be nice."  He smiled at that.  "I know you hate us."

"No, precious, I hate Ripper."  He held out a hand.  "Come into the study."  She nodded, taking his hand.  "You as well, Anyanka.  I might need some help."  She nodded, following them.  "What about your sister?"

"We're not sure but please don't make her shoot snot or anything gross?  I'll never hear the end of it and she'll blame Xander because it was his plan."

"I won't.  This is too important.  I like the world as it is."  He closed the study door.


Buffy looked up as Ethan and Anya led Dawn up to her side, glaring at Ethan.

//Shut up, Buffy. It was my choice and I made it,// Dawn sent telepathically. //Besides, it's kinda cool.  I know who likes my cute butt now and I still look normal.  But I'll have a small aversion to holy water and holy objects, and vampires won't want to be around me.  We'll have to calm Spike down.//  She felt her sister's acceptance. //Thank you.//   She smiled.  "It's the only way," she said out loud, her voice quiet.  "I'm safer."  Buffy nodded at that, taking her hand to hold.  "Thank you."

"Welcome, Dawnie.  We'll deal."  Dawn looked around then suddenly blushed at Xander.  "Quit perving," she hissed.  "Mommy would be really pissed."  She nodded and blocked out Xander's thoughts of cuddling his boyfriend for comfort.  The minister walked up to start the graveside service.

At the end Xander looked at her.  "Nice choice."  She hugged him. "I am there if you need me, Dawn Summers.  Remember that."  She nodded.  "Good girl.  I love you."  She smiled at him and nodded, turning to take Spike's hand.  He looked at Buffy.  "I love you too, Buffy.  I'm here if you need your knight."

"Spring break?"

"Works for me," he agreed, smiling a bit sadly.  "Make sure you last that long.  I don't think she needs a big brother as much as she does a big sister."  She nodded and gave him a hug then went to walk Dawn off.

Willow backed away from Dawn.  "What..."

"It was my choice, back off," Dawn growled.  "I'm safe now."

"You are, bit.  Most of us won't touch you now," Spike agreed, nodding at Xander.  "Be safe.  I'll come terrorize you after I get this chip out," he said with a dark, evil smirk.  Then he led Dawn off, not letting her look back at the service.

Eric patted Xander on the back.  "Should we stay tonight?"

"No.  I need to hit LA and talk to Wes," he admitted. "Buffy."  She looked and he nodded toward LA.  "Gotta.  Love you.  Call me."

"Get the phone fixed," she taunted.  He nodded and smiled some.  He hugged Tara and whispered in her ear, getting a nod. He nodded at Willow but she pounced him for a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  He patted her on the back then they went to follow Buffy to the shop.

Calleigh patted him on the back. "Eric and I have our bags in the cars," she offered.  He nodded, heading with them.   The ride back to LA was quiet in both cars.  Xander had asked them to share one and take the other one.  They hadn't seen a reason not to so they had let him.  He didn't even turn on the radio that they heard before he pulled out. They followed him back to LA and the Hyperion hotel.  They walked in and found Xander talking to a man about their age with dark hair and glasses who was British.  "Xander?"

"Guys. This is Wes.  He had Giles' job for a while.  Poor man.  Right before graduation."  He looked at Wes.  "So she's safe.  Buffy's not, maybe.  Buffy told Giles she was made of her."

"That could complicate her duties."

"Not really.  She's not the first."

"True."  He considered it.  "Any other cautions?"

"Buffy broke earlier," he said quietly.  "Willow had tried for hours and I got up and took her to spar and got her really hard.  She fought back for real after that.  The bruise potion and I are good friends tonight."  That got a smile.  "Did you get the bottle I included?"

"I did and the note.  It's in the refrigerator if you need some."

"Nah.  I've got some in my bag, Wes.  The old style even."  That got a smile.  "Tell me how you like it.  It's the exact same formula only you wash the bottle with mint oil and let it drain out fully before you pour it in then you put it in the fridge instead of a cabinet."

"I'll write that down.  Are you staying overnight?"

"We fly out tomorrow.  Can we bum rooms?"

"Of course.  Angel will be up there all night undoubtedly and I doubt he'd mind."

"Oh, he accused me of taking a dark deal because he saw me actually able to fight."

"That vampire and denial are fast friends," he sighed.  "Oh well.  Ah. I hear Cordelia's piece of junk pulling in."  He saw the wince. "She'll have Gunn with her."

"Cool.  You said nice things about him."  Cordelia walked in complaining about the nasty demon slime in her hair that had mixed with vampire ashes and she'd never get it clean.  "Haven't you learned that lemon juice and a bit of baking soda mixed together fixes that?" he demanded.  She paused then squealed and hugged him.  "Ow.  I had to spar with Buffy, Cordy."

"Anything broken?"


"Then hug me, duffus!"  He hugged her, giving Gunn a wave behind her back.  She pulled back.  "Who're they?  Did you adopt?" she asked them dryly.

"No, I'm Eric, this is Calleigh, we work with Xander's boyfriends in Miami."

"Okay, rewind and start again at half speed?" she demanded.

Xander coughed. "Willow gaybashed me.  I ran to Miami to get away from her.  Found two guys who love me as much as they do their jobs and you do shoes, and they put up with my bad habits.  They sent these two with me so Sunnydale couldn't keep me.  They're both CSI down in Miami."

She passed out.

"Huh, haven't done that to her since sixth grade when she said that boy parts were green so I showed her."  He shrugged and walked over her to shake Gunn's hand.  "I'm Xander."

"That explains a lot more," he agreed, smirking at him. "So, you know English there?"

"I do.  He had the misfortune to be sent to Sunnydale right before graduation with bad information in one ear, a stupid voice in the other, and no field training.  We were really hard on Wesley."

"No wonder."  Calleigh smiled at him and shook his hand.  "We met the rest of them.  Did you have much problems with Willow?"

"Not really.  The group refused to let me do anything."

"We were all arrogant kids, Wes, even you," Xander reminded him.  That got a nod.  He looked at Gunn again.  "So, are you civilizing the shoeworld princess?"

"She does okay now and then."

"Yeah, she did okay now and then in Sunnydale and then she decided to morph back into a princess between to rip into the group," he said dryly.

"She tried that once, I spanked her," Gunn assured him.

"I should've done that years ago," he sighed, shaking his head.  Cordelia moaned.  "We're going up to bed," he called loudly. "Then we're leaving at dawn."

"Bastard, I'm not getting up that early," she complained, letting Eric help her off the floor.  "You're not one of his boyfriends, right?"

"No, I'm not," he assured her with a grin. "I'm apparently one of the few straight CSI on my shift."  Calleigh hit him on the arm. "Ow!  I am!  You are too."

"Three to two, Eric.  We're in the majority," she pointed out, rolling her eyes.  "I'm Calleigh and he's Eric."  She shook her hand.  "Xander said you two used to date in high school."

"More like grope and snark," she admitted.  "I could tell you some horrifying stories about Xander in school."

"Go ahead," Xander sighed. "Buffy and Dawn did.  They'll tell my boyfriends and it'll make them want to blow up Sunnydale all the more."  She cackled at that and gave him another hug.  "Who's kidding?  Our present idea is to bomb the town and then use it to bury the hellmouth.  It'll be easier to keep track of who's trying to get into it."

"It would be," Wesley said, considering it.  "We'd have to give an evacuation notice."

"I figure a day should be enough," Xander offered.  "It's only got about twelve hundred people and about eight hundred vampires and demons at the moment, right?  Or so Giles estimates."

"I'll work up a good plan to do that," Wesley promised.  "Let me show you three to rooms.  That way the rest of us don't have to listen to war stories from high school."  He led them up to three rooms once they got their bags.  Cordelia followed to talk to Eric.  He came back down to find Angel.  "Xander and his guardians are here."

"That's fine.  Can we find out what sort of dark deal he made?"

"It's called love, Angel," Wesley said simply.  "Do get over your former denial clouding your vision of the boy.  Go mope or whatever."  He waved a hand.  "Shoo!  We've got it for the night and Cordelia is telling them embarrassing stories about the boy."

Xander came back down the stairs.  "All the better to make Horatio let me bomb the town," he said dryly.  "Test me, Angel.  It's the only way you'll ever be satisfied."  Angel went to get a book and came back with it, letting him sit on a chair while he tested him. At the end Angel looked almost defeated.  He stood up and looked at him.  "The sad thing is I could've used the training before I had to get it on the job," he said quietly.  "Next time, less jealousy and desire to put down anyone not marked as special.  More empathy and helping.  That way the next kid like me can get the help he needs when he's still got a soul left.  We're all damn lucky Horatio and Speed found where I hid mine."  He went back to his room.

Gunn looked up from his reading.  "He's right, Angel.  How bad was the kid's home life?"  Angel gave him a stunned look. "I've seen plenty of the kids at the shelter and other places," he reminded him. "Some worse, some better.  How bad was it?"

"Fairly so, drunken parents.  You saw how Cordelia treated him.  It was like that once Buffy showed up and Willow discovered magic," Wesley offered quietly.  "He was a normal man among those with superior training and skills."  Gunn nodded at that and went back to reading. "I tried but the boy wouldn't let me get anywhere near him."

"You have a stick up your butt, Wes.  Of course he didn't.  Boys like that are like injured dogs on the street.  They live on survival reflexes."  He looked at him.  "Next time you'll know."  He nodded.  Angel walked off muttering and cursing.  "Well, the glasses are off now," he complained.  "He'll mope for weeks."

"He doesn't like the boy," Wesley told him. "He was Buffy's friend and shared things that he couldn't with her.  He may respect him more now but that's it."

"For being so old he certainly hasn't learned much about people," Gunn agreed. "Then again, maybe that's why he turned Spike.  To fill in the gap."

Wesley smiled. "That could be," he agreed.  He cleaned up Angel's mess and went to make the notes Xander had given him about the bruise potion.  He did like the new version better.


Calleigh tapped on Horatio's door the next night.  "I hate them.  It's not often I hate anyone but I hate that whole town."  He let her inside.  "They were blase about a fourteen- year-old being a hooker, Horatio.  Your boy said that was about their middle age."

"It probably is with their death rate," Horatio agreed. "Did anything happen?"

"Dawn decided to fix her own issue against her sister's wishes.  I don't know what Eric heard but I dropped him off at a club.  His bag's in my trunk and his car's still at home."  He nodded and relaxed. "I really don't know what happened that first night.  Eric hovered over Dawn like a momma cat the whole time we were there.  Her and a blond vampire guy named Spike."  He moaned quietly.  "You heard about him?"

"Some.  I heard what happened to him and how Xander used to torment him by tying him in his recliner all day while he slept."  He crossed his feet.  "Sit."

"I can't.  I'm going to go throttle someone and make them sorry!  They accepted death at twenty as being unavoidable.  The group of his former friends didn't really seem to like him.  If my mother had died, I know you'd be there holding my hand if I needed you to.  Eric would take me out and try to make me have a bit of joy so I could remember the good times and let the grief go for a while.  Speed would give me a hug and let me cry on him.  Alexx would feed me.  Giles acted like it was an imposition.  Buffy couldn't cry until Xander made her spar with him and broke her during it.  Willow and Tara were quiet but not that unusual by what I could see.  Xander was holding his grief in.  Dawn was destroyed but trying to be strong for her sister.  She was a problem waiting to happen.  And it's like they ignored each other.  They told us a lot of stories about how Xander attracted the wrong woman, tripped during a hunt, did something unusual or odd.   They didn't appreciate him.  They saw Dawn like she was a footstool to be passed around among the group.  She tried to cling to her sister but her sister's so deep up her own grief she's not letting it go to help her.  Xander and Eric got Dawn through the day."

He nodded.  "She made Eric cookies for the flight.  She's a strong girl, Horatio, but there's got to be a breaking point.  It's like no one out there gets past the shallow levels of knowing each other.  Even if they did, they can't show it.  And I'm sorry, but they blamed that boy for defending himself when his uncle grabbed him while drunk.  They're letting his drunken uncle be an ambulance driver.  His license was taken six different times for DUI!  That town is screwed up and Xander may be one of the few normal ones!  If Dawn has other relatives I hope they let Buffy know that they'll take her for a while before she turns into some of them.  She has it in her to be a great woman, like I heard her mother was, but not if she stays there.  That town is dangerous!  They all discount your boy and all you can do is nod?"

"I saw that when I went out there."

"That's why you sent us, wasn't it?"

"I thought Xander might need some support."

"No, they all leaned on him.  Giles said that his ambitions were shallow," she spat.  "He answered he had love and he was content.  Giles looked horrified, Horatio!"

"I know, Calleigh.  Where is Xander?"

"Home."  She sat down next to him and he gave her a hug.  "It's like this is a foreign concept in the town," she said miserably.  "I want to shake them and make them wake up."

"I wanted to bomb the town," he offered.  She smiled and relaxed, looking at him.  "Now you understand Xander a bit better."  She nodded.  "Eric went to the club?"  She nodded, resting her head on his shoulder.  "It'll be fine.  You rant to work off steam.  Eric goes to dance and get laid."  She smiled at that.  "I'm sure he's called Speed by now."

"Maybe. I dropped Xander off and he was waiting there on him."  That got a smile.  "What are you doing here?"

"Waiting on you to come rant."  She got up and headed for the door.  "I'd like to hear the stories."

"No you don't.  Especially not Cordelia's.  But the picture of Eric with bunny ears is cute."  She left him alone.

He smiled and got up, heading over to Xander's.  He let himself in, nodding at Tolly when she peeked out.  She made shooing motions then closed her door. He smiled at the cat, picking him up to pet him.  "Good evening, Hummer.  How are you?"  The cat hopped down and went to pace around his bowl.  So Horatio filled it and gave him another pet before heading into the bedroom.  He saw the two of them curled together, Speed asleep. He stripped down to his boxers and climbed in behind him.  "Hi."

"Hi. I'm feeling bad because it was like everyone was shallow."

"That was the stresses of fighting," he soothed.

"I hid mine before. I can't tell if they are or not."  He looked back at him.  "I'll miss Dawn, Horatio, but I'm not going back there.  It's not courage.  Getting out of bed there takes courage.  They all have that, but it's like they don't have any deeper emotions.  Like it's all taken from them."

"Sometimes life can do that," he reminded him. "Remember when you first got down here?"  Xander nodded.  "Did you notice that you've let yourself feel deeper?"

"I felt deeply before. I mourned those that I lost.  Willow was like 'okay, she's gone, it's been a day, let's move on'.  Tara was still grieving but she won't ever let anyone that deep into her soul because she's had a childhood like me."  He shifted back to hold him.  "Cordelia had the same amount of depth as before.  Emergencies, some lesser emotions, and anger at the world for not meeting up to her standards.  And get this, Angel saw me do the same thing he saw dozens of times before and he accused me of making dark deals because I managed to stake a vampire.  I had to prove it to him so he'd quit accusing me of it to the others. Dawn needs to get out of there."

"She does and she will," Horatio soothed, stroking his stomach. "Is she safe?"

"Yeah but they've got to get Glory's host and then see if Buffy's blood helps."  That got a nod against the back of his head with a kiss in his hair.  "I don't know if I'm being shallow because I found them that way or if I was skewed suddenly or what."

Speed lifted his head. "You let yourself open up and they haven't yet, Xander. Think about it like flowers. Some buds never open.  Some open halfway and let you see some of their inner petals.  Some of them open all the way for anyone to come by and look.  Some of them only open under gentle coaxing of someone who understands their natures.  Some of them only open when they're not being watched. Some open and surprise you with their inner colors.  Some don't."

"Cordelia surprised us by helping hunt now and then but she went back to shallow immediately and we almost had to force her to help now and then when it was bad.  In her it wasn't a matter of confidence. She had everything and she knew it.  She was confident that she deserved it.  Even when her father lost it all to the IRS, it didn't affect her that much.  She's still the same Cordelia she was back in eleventh grade.  I almost feel like I went back in time or maybe I sped up for a bit and lived a few extra years.  It was almost exactly like before graduation for everyone else."

Horatio stroked his stomach.  "That happens.  Some people never let themselves reach past who they used to be.  You've been given the opportunity to do that."

"I feel like I should take Dawn and make sure she does whatever I did to get that maturity, but she surprised me.  She decided to go with my plan.  Told her sister off at the funeral too."  That got a smile from Speed. "I'm wondering if Eric's ranting about sorority sisters again.  He said the whole town was like a sorority house he used to know.  Full of shallow princesses who don't look past what color their nails are and if it matches and is fashionable."

"Calleigh dropped him at a club.  He'll work it out on the floor and with some woman in the bathroom," Speed promised, kissing him.  "You should rest.  You have to work early tomorrow too."  Xander nodded, letting them cuddle him.  Speed waited until he was asleep.  "He's never going back there again, Horatio," he ordered quietly.  "They've got others to fill in and it's stress he doesn't need."

"True.  I didn't want to let him go this time but sending them apparently helped. There's a picture of Eric with rabbit ears somewhere."

"Like mouse ears?"  Horatio gave him a look. "You're right, probably not."  He put his head back down on Xander's shoulder, letting him cuddle him.  "How hard is it to bomb a town?"

"Not very," he admitted.  He snuggled in better after he made sure the alarm was set.  "We can make plans for that tomorrow during lunch."  That got a smile and they let Xander soothe them into sleep.

The End.