Calleigh stopped Maxine Valera from going inside, making her wait with her and Frank.  "Horatio took Xander shopping."

"Awwww.  So he's going to actually wear clothes in the right size?" she asked.

"He thought he looked like a freak because he had good pecs," Calleigh told him.  "Those girls need a good dose of Alexx."  Maxine giggled.

Frank looked at the ladies.  "Why am I here?"

"So we don't swoon?" Valera teased.

"If you do, I'm letting him catch you."  They pulled up and Frank nudged Calleigh.  "There you go."  They watched as Horatio got out wearing a new shirt.  "I see someone got onto him about the wrong shade of blue again."

"Oh, yes, I did," Calleigh agreed.  "I even stopped him from buying something orange."  Xander slid out of the hummer and Valera blinked then leaned against Calleigh's side.  "Good.  You look good like that."  She smiled when the boys joined them.  She fussed with Xander's collar. "Much better, Xander."  She patted him on the cheek.  "How was your morning run?"

"Horatio made me wait for him," he admitted sheepishly.  "So it went okay.  I pushed myself a little bit.  Did most of the three miles."

"This was after an hour of other physical exercise," Horatio told them.  "Ladies, is there no work?"

"Making sure Xander looked good," Calleigh said happily.  "Come on, Xander.  I'll escort you so the tit patrol leaves you alone."  He gave her a look.  "Really."  She took his arm to walk him inside.

Valera turned to watch him go.  "Physical training is *very* good for that boy.  I need him to help me work out."  Frank gave her a nudge so she smiled.  "I do.  I don't have abs anywhere near that."  She went inside to talk to him about helping her with her weekly workouts.

Frank looked at Horatio.  "Calleigh wanted swooning protection."

"She brought in another secretary last night to tell him he looked good," Horatio said with a small smirk, heading inside to his office.  Half of the stuff on his desk went down to Xander and then he settled in to do the other things.  He did hear a comment from someone so he went to look down on the lab and the closet Xander was stationed in.  He saw Maxine bragging that Xander looked much better today and how Natalia shot back that someone must've bought it for him.  He casually strolled down there, walking into DNA.  Maxine gave him a small look.  "Anything for me, Miss Valera?"

"No, Horatio.  Not yet.  Do I have something of yours?"  She looked around, finding something with his name on it.  "Here it is.  You've got about two in front of you," she admitted, giving him a small 'sorry' smile.  "Probably by mid-afternoon?"

"That's fine, Maxine.  Page me if I'm not here."  He looked at Natalia.  "Yes, I did make Xander go shopping.  After all, the women in his former life bought him the other things to make sure that his exes wouldn't come back."  He walked off again, going to look in on Xander, getting the usual folder held up.  "Already?"

"Most of it's stuff to file."  He grinned at him.  "I don't care what she says, Horatio.  Buffy was only a prototype and it's one that's unfortunately spread."

"True."  He looked at the forms, frowning at one.  "I had to do that one already?"

"The Chief sent it and said so.  He said to bring it down tonight."

"I can do that. Thank you.  Anything else I should know?"

"Cost of living paperwork is next month?"

"I'll start on that now so it's not late."  He went to find those forms, pulling them offline and got to work filling them and the new one out.  He heard a female squeal of outrage and got up to see what happened.  "What happened?" he asked as he walked down there.

Ryan looked at him. "I was walking and ran into her, sorry, Horatio."

"It's an accident I'm sure," he said.  "Are you all right, Natalia?"

"Ice water!" she complained, holding her shirt away from her chest.

"Go change."  She stomped off.  He looked at Ryan, who shrugged, giving him a sheepish look.  "What did she do?" he asked quietly, moving closer.

"Asked Xander how many men he had to sleep with to get that shirt.  His answer of none, it was payback, made her sneer."  He walked off.  "I am sorry I accidentally dumped ice water on her, H."

"Try not to do it again, Ryan.  Be more careful."  He went to check on Xander, finding him typing.  "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine.  If I was a whore, she'd never be able to afford me."  He looked up.  "Besides, I didn't ask her about the lingerie she was wearing as clothes again.  If she's waiting for me to be impressed, I've seen better tits on dead women."  He got back to his work.  "You can quote me if you need to."

"You have?" he asked.

Xander looked at him, then nodded.  "Yeah.  There've been some very stunning creatures."  He grinned. "Cordelia called my cell an hour ago.  She wants to come down to make sure you're not abusing me.  I told her if she did she's staying at a hotel and can't come to the lab."

"She can take you to lunch," he promised, smiling at him.  "Number?"  Xander handed over his cellphone.  "I'll make sure she knows when you get lunch and if you need a day off you'll have it."  He walked off to call her.  "Miss Chase please.  Horatio Caine, Xander's boss."  He smiled at the shout that earned.  "Miss Chase, Horatio Caine.  Yes, I am.  Actually, he is on my couch at the moment or he might have room to put you up.  Of course.  If you are going to come down you can definitely take him to lunch and possibly take him out for a day.  Actually, I am the one he fed that to.  It was a wonderful dinner.  Thank you for giving him that recipe."  He smiled.  "Of course you can.  I look forward to meeting more of his friends.  We'll see you then.  Have a better day."  He hung up and walked the cellphone back to Xander.  "She'll be down on the sixth."  He went back to his office, noticing Natalia was ranting in DNA.  He took the quick route to solve that.  He called Alexx.

"It's me.  Have you noticed that Miss Boa Vista has a problem with young Xander?"  He smiled.  "I did make him buy new clothes, Alexx.  Calleigh even helped when we ran into her at the mall.  Well, she did ask how many clients he had taken to get it."  He listened to her choke.  "No, for that remark Ryan accidentally ran into her," he admitted, watching what was happening down there.  "If you wouldn't mind, I do believe it could use some tact.  Also, one of his former girlfriends is coming down soon.  Cordelia.  I'm sure we can all meet her.  Thank you, Alexx.  I knew you'd have the perfect touch for that problem."  He hung up and watched her come up to talk to the young lady about her behavior.  It got another fit but Maxine was giving her odd looks and blatantly walked out saying she didn't need to be involved in this discussion.  Maxine smiled at him and he grinned back, tipping his head slightly.  Alexx did have more tact than he did sometimes.  If it wasn't the route necessary, she could also be blunter than he could.


Speed met the young lady at the airport, he had her paged so she wouldn't miss him.  "Miss Chase?"  She gave him an odd look.  "I'm Horatio's tech, Tim Speedle.  He asked me to pick you up.  That way you don't get lost on the way to lunch today."

"Okay.  I need to drop things off at my motel."

"That's fine.  Is it on the way?"  She nodded.  "Good.  Grab your bags, meet me out front.  I'll pull the car around."  She nodded, going to do that.  He went to grab the company car.  He had almost missed the behemoth hummers. She came out and he waved, getting an amused look as she slid in.  "Company car.  It needed to be driven.  Buckle up."  She did that and he took off, taking her to the motel of her choice.  She had it printed out and he knew where it was.  "It's a common spring break place," he told her.

"I hear that's fun but I'm not in college.  I'm trying to be an actress wile working for Angel."

"Xander told us."

"You guys hang out?"

"Horatio and I are good friends.  Xander's staying on his couch so he's spoiling Horatio by cooking most every night."

"Wow.  So you get to mooch food?"

"Right now we're having some odd contest to make the most creamy, fluffy dessert to spoil Horatio with.  He's had a bad week."  He pulled into the motel.  "I'll be here."  She nodded, going to drop things off and freshen up quickly.  He smirked at her outfit of choice.  Much more fashionable than what she had been wearing.  "Ready?"

"Definitely.  So, what happened?  Xander would normally try to get me to stay home and his boss almost made it a command that I come down."

"Some women who're jealous of him.  Nothing too bad.  We thought you might be able to cheer him up."

"I heard what Buffy and Willow did, Tim.  I also know where Dawn is since she wrote me.  Why was I asked for?  I'm not quite in vengeance, yet."

He smirked at her at a stoplight.  "There's one woman in the lab who keeps trying to shoot Xander down for being young and cute, but not looking at her."

"Uh-huh.  So uber-twat needs taken down a notch?"  He nodded.  "I can do that.  How is Xander?  I ask as an ex."

"He's good.  He's settled in.  He's sparing H a lot of work.  He fusses horribly over his diet.  He's always feeding H something."  She snickered at that.  "He's a damn good cook too."  He pulled into the crime lab's parking lot  a few minutes later.  "C'mon."  He walked in, flashing his ID.  "This is Miss Chase, Xander's ex-girlfriend from high school.  I'm assuming he's hovering and trying to feed H something?"

"He brought in something like a sheppard's pie but it's made with steak and biscuits instead of hamburger and potato topping."  She smiled at Cordelia.  "Broke up after graduation?"

"Before.  I was stupid.  I let him get away," she said honestly.  Tim handed her the visitor's pass so she followed him back to the break room area, then up to the office when they only found a few people in there.  "Just hold the spoon like you would a baby," she teased as she walked in.

Xander smirked back.  "Unlike you, I don't have to spoonfeed him anything, Cordelia.  He appreciates me in the kitchen."  He finished dishing up the lunch, coming over to give her a hug.  "Speed, I made enough for you two to have a quiet lunch together."  He walked her off.  "So, how's Hell-A?"

"Decent, same as usual.  Angel was freaking out that I was coming to visit you.  He thought your usual traumas would come eat me."

"No, I don't seem to have any psycho women down here," he admitted, grinning at her.  He walked her into the break room.  "Guys, this is Cordelia.  I used to date her.  Cordelia, this is Calleigh, she plays with guns.  That's Eric and Ryan squabbling like lovers in the corner.  They're also scene techs, like Calleigh is.  The other one is Alexx Woods, she's our ME."

"Charmed," she said, shaking hands.  She looked at Eric, then at Ryan, then shook her head.  "You could do so much better," she told Ryan, walking Xander off again.  She heard Alexx cackle and smiled at him.  "So, anywhere good for lunch close-by?"

"Horatio gave me an extra hour for lunch.  That way you can go nap off lunch and we'll meet for dinner?"

"That'll work."  She walked him out to his car, grimacing at it.  "Get a real ride, Xander."

"Excuse me, but Daddy couldn't buy me a car," he said dryly, giving her a look.  "Some of us earned our cars, princess.  Get in or starve."  She smirked and got in, letting him drive them off.  "So, why is Angel freaking?"

"He thinks Anya's going to come hit on him.  She latched on when Buffy came down to complain about you."

"Tell her he's impotent and the little blue pill doesn't work on vampires because there's no blood flow," he said dryly, pulling onto the main road.  "Tell her it happened when he went to hell."

"I could do that.  She'd go ask Spike since he's back in Sunnydale."

"I'm sure if we clued him in he'd play along.  It'd torment Angel and he likes to play with him.  Besides, last time I knew she was cheating on me with him."

"She said she still is."

"No, we broke up.  She stole from me," he said dryly.  "I tried before but she had Willow bind us together when I tried the last time."

"Wow, major suckage from the brats."

"Yuppers.  Want fish or cow?"

"Cow.  I'm in a decidedly mooing mood because I feel fat next to you, Xan."

"I still say it's too tight and I look like a freak."

"Your mom joined the Buffy patrol?" she asked.

"Long, long time ago."

"Uh-huh.  Your mom's a drunken bitch, Xander.  She's too drunk to realize what a hottie looks like and mad at herself because they'd never hit on her even if she could find one.  You've got bulkier arms than you used to but I'd still rate you a seven.  Better than the three you were in high school."


"Your hair sucks.  It needs fixed badly, dear."  She played with it.  "Really.  You're letting down the lab's image."

"Maybe that's why Horatio paid me back buying groceries by buying me clothes," he mused, pulling into a burger place.  "It's good here.  Ryan said they've got a greatly clean kitchen and he's OCD."

"That'll work."  They got out and went to get something to eat, sitting outside in the sun to eat and talk. She heard *exactly* why Xander had left Sunnydale on that second roadtrip.  It only cemented her desire to get back at those two.  No one but her got to abuse Xander!  She let him drive her back to her motel before going back to work, smiling at his promise to pick her up tonight.


Xander knocked on her door for a second time, giving his ex in the towel a long look.  "Running a bit late are we?"

"Just about.  I woke up sweaty."

"Hopefully the neighbors got just as happy.  I'll wait in the car."  She nodded, slamming the door.  He walked off shaking his head.  The manager gave him an odd look. "My ex."

"You dumped that?"

"Mutual decision."  He got into the car, waiting on her with the radio on quietly.  He heard the news report and groaned.  He called Speed.  "Is he there?"  He nodded.  "Does he need me?"  He listened, then nodded a second time.  "The blue thingy is killed with stone.  To the throat, which is the red band under it's mouth.  Has to puncture it and at least puncture the airway.  If he can get it onto a statue with a sword or something it'll help as long as it's stone."  He listened to him tell him that.  "We can do that.  You've got to clear the media though.  Sure."  He hung up and called the room. "It's me.  We've got a kraken's cousin that came out of the ocean.  Dress reasonably or stay in the car, dear."  He hung up, starting the engine.  She came down in something fashionable and he gave her a look.  "Fine, you can stay in the car."

"I'll go distract the others."  He nodded, backing out of his parking space and heading out to save his sentinel.  She didn't know that about Horatio but that was fine.  He parked at the police line, letting her take one path while he took another.  He ran into Stetler.  She ran into Calleigh.  "I'm here to distract," she told her, making her jump.  She smiled.  "That is what we used to do."  She looked then snorted.  "The one at graduation was so much bigger and grosser smelling.  So maybe Xander won't have to change this time.  C'mon, we've got to clear the area, it's a people eater."

Calleigh stared at her.  "Okay."  She called the patrol guys.  "Back everyone up out of visual range.  We're going to have to kill it and I don't want *anyone* to try to complain!"  They nodded, going to do that.

Xander looked at the guy beside him, who hadn't noticed him yet.  Horatio wasn't on this side of the park.  That left the annoying one in charge.  "Is there a good way to sneak near the trees and I need something that's made of stone and is sharp and pointy.  A statue is fine," he said quietly.  Stetler gave him a horrified look. "It'll eat people.  Your choice."  He heard Calleigh's orders go across.  "Wait or sneak?"

"Sneak over.  There's a statue on the other side of the park.  I'll clear it."

"Thank you."  He snuck that way, nodding at one of the officers trying to stop him.  "I'm Horatio's assistant.  I know how to kill it."  That got a horrified look.  "Just ignore me."  He headed off at a faster than average jog into the trees.  Then he did something stupid.  He knew any Hellmouth child's blood would call out to any demon.  He was born over the stupid thing.  His was very powerful and he was wanted by Hell for staking vampires.  So he cut his arm.  The demon whipped its head around, sniffing in his direction.  He laid some on the ground, making it hiss and move closer to him.  "Come on, ugly."  He took off running, letting the blood drip.  He saw Horatio.  "Back off!" he ordered. "Now!  Hide before it thinks you're a damn snack!"  He dodged around another officer.  "Get out of the way!  Didn't you get the orders?"  The demon lunged so he ducked and rolled out of the way, then got up and saw the statue.  Not exactly *pointy* but it would do.  It'd have to do.  He ran toward it and the demon lunged again, getting into the middle of the abstract art loop.

Xander panted, running toward it's side, making it bend back.  Xander pulled something out of his pocket, something he always carried, and he placed it on the statue, hitting it a second time on the next pass.  That stuck the timer he had been setting while he distracted it.  The statue blew, causing sharp fragments.  He picked up one, waving it on.  "C'mere."  It lunged again with another hiss and one smaller one went up its nose, making it scream and rear up.  He hopped up onto the statue and stabbed it in the right spot, making it splutter and choke, then die.  He managed to get out of the way, looking down at himself.  "Cool, only sweaty.  She won't bitch and whine at me."  He walked off, smiling at Eric when he ran into him.  "Where is he?"

"Shocked.  What did you do!"

"Killed it.  What do you think I did?  It eats people."  He went to find Horatio, batting him on the arm.  "You okay?"

"You're bleeding.  All I can smell is the blood."

Xander looked then licked it clean, showing him the cut.  "It'll be fine, Horatio."  He walked off, grabbing the first aid kit out of the trunk when he finally got there, letting Cordelia help him hold the bandage.  "See, I didn't even get nasty."

"Yeah and you had that hotty with a sword vibe too," she said dryly.  "You're still carrying around plastique?"

He nodded.  "Comes in handy.  So, I planned Thai for dinner?"

"That works. You're not nasty or too sweaty.  We'll keep the car windows down as long as it doesn't mess up my hair."  She got into the car, slamming the door.

He put the first aid kit back, nodding at Stetler.  "Thank you for your help.  There's a mess but hydrochloric acid dissolves it and makes it go gooey so it can be rinsed off.  Treat it like you would any other nasty ectoplasm and biological substance.  It'll be fine and it's dead."  He got into the car, starting the engine and backing out, taking her to dinner.  "So, how's Wes working out?"

"Much better.  He's found that confidence he needed to stand up to Willow before."

"Good!  He got a rough deal.  Having Faith be his girl was a sucky decision.  He shouldn't have been in the field that young."

"True, but they were trying to prove he was worthless.  His daddy made him."

"His and Giles' father sound like butt buddies."

"Probably," she agreed.  She noticed he texted someone at a red light.  "Checking in?"

"Horatio was there, I was making sure he knew I was taking you to dinner," he covered, turning off his phone and going on.  "I said Thai, right?"  She nodded.  "Want real Thai or American Thai?"

"Either's fine but I'm not in the mood for super spicy."

"American Thai it is."  He turned a corner, making them go back the way they came.  He finally pulled in and got out, walking her inside.  He turned on his phone in his pocket, without her knowing, before they were seated.   He didn't want to be out of touch if Horatio needed him.


Horatio continued to stare at the body until Stetler came over.  "Well, you wanted proof," he said finally.

"Your assistant is insane.  I have plenty of proof of that."

Horatio looked at him. "Warped, please.  Doing this for nearly five years warped him.  Not to mention the women in his life.  They even used to make him go bra shopping with them."

Stetler looked at him.  "He needs help."

"He's retired, Rick."

"He still needs help."

"I can't get him to admit he's having nightmares," he said honestly.  "He said he didn't want to scare anyone."

"Too late for that.  Where did he get the explosive?"

"I have the feeling he had it already," Ryan said as he joined them.  "I noticed a small ball of it in his desk the other day when I was looking for white out.  How do we move this mess without the press knowing?"

"He said HCL dissolves it," Stetler said grimly.  "Then we can treat it like a biological spill."

"We have experience with that,"  Horatio agreed.  "Mr. Wolfe?"

"Speed's back at the lab wondering what we need."  He walked off calling him.  "It's Ryan.  We need HCL and then we'll have to clean up a mess.  It dissolves."  He hung up, finding Eric staring at it.  "Xander's fine."

"He blew up the statue," he said, sounding stunned.  "Xander's a nice guy.  He blew up the statue and killed the giant worm thing."

"It's a demon and yes, he did," Ryan said.  Eric gave him a confused look.  "He said it's a demon and it ate people."

"Oh."  He nodded.  "Yeah, it nibbled on an officer's arm.  Why did he blow up the statue?"

"Maybe it had to be killed by stone."

"I thought it was always silver or something holy," he said, looking confused.

"Ask him later.  He's out with his ex," Stetler said as he walked over there.  "Start the containment, Delko."

"Will I need communion if I do?"

"I don't know!  Ask Harris!"

Ryan texted that to Xander, then shook his head.  "No, he said that's something like that came up during graduation.  He said it was someone who wanted more power so they've been doing rituals for decades.  We won't be tainted by it."

"Good," Eric said, going to help with the clean up portion.  He saw Speed come in with the giant glass jug.  "Hydrochloric acid?" he said.

"Xander said it turns it into goo."  He opened up the jug once he had on gloves, pouring it on the tail section.  It did indeed dissolve with a hiss of bubbles.  "Okay, we're going to need more than this jug."  He called back there.  "It's Speed.  We need the drum of HCL, Maxine.  Yeah, there.  I know it's on the news.  We can't shoot down the news copters.  Just bring it."  He hung up, getting back to work on the tail.  He saw something shift and went to work on the head instead.  He didn't want it to be tortured or anything.  Kinder to kill it outright if Xander hadn't.  The head finished dissolving and Eric grabbed a hazmat suit to help with the biological vacuum device so it wouldn't soak into the ground.  Horatio came over to help with that.  "Was it always like this?" Speed asked them.  They both nodded.  "Wonderful.  At least he can deal with it if we have to run into it."

"Hopefully," Stetler agreed, well out of range of anything nasty.  He saw two uniforms carrying a drum over.  "Attach a spray nozzle.  It'll go faster.  Then go help keep people away from here."  They nodded, letting Horatio attach the nozzle for them.  After that it was like watering a garden and then soaking up the extra puss it brought up.


Horatio was waiting when Xander got home that night.  "Good date?"

"Decent enough I guess.  She didn't snark on me all night for a change.  She did break bad on my other ex."  He grinned.  "It go okay?"

"It's cleaned up.  The statue can be put back together."

"Stetler said there was a stone statue that way."

"There's one further on that's got an actual point on it.  We'll show you tomorrow."  Xander nodded.  "Is there anything that might contaminate the ground?"

"Not if you got it all up.  If you didn't, get a priest."  That got a nod and Horatio pulled him over to undo the bandage so he could look at the cut.  "They're drawn to any of us from the hellmouth, Horatio," he said quietly.  "It was the fastest way to get it to follow me and not eat others."

"I understand the thinking.  Why would it be drawn to you more than us?"

"Because the hellmouth, any hellmouth, leaks magic," he said quietly, sitting down next to him, letting him fuss over his arm.  "Think of it like magical radiation.  Those of us from there get more the longer we've lived there.  Willow's got a good deal of it, especially since she's had to close it a few times.  I was born and bred there.  I was actually born overtop of the stupid thing.  They tore down the old hospital and built the school when I was five."  Horatio nodded once at that, staring at him.  "So I've soaked up a lot of the magical radiation.  It is mostly masked.  The others around me aren't in any more danger because I'm here or anything."

"That's good to know."

"I sweat it out like you do x-rays.  Unless you're actively doing magic around me...  That might be that one's problem."

"I can see."  He stroked over his cheek.  "You worried me sick and then you acted like it was nothing."

Xander looked at him.  "The one at graduation was seventy feet long," he said grimly.  "The only choice we had was the school as a guillotine.   This one was smaller, younger, and less powerful.  We found out after graduation that stone was what killed those things.  Giles and Willow did some tests on it with some other Watchers that summer.  Did it eat anyone?"

"It bit a patrol officer's arm off."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Will it taint him?"  Xander shook his head.  "Are you sure?"

Xander shifted, taking his arm back.  "To get to there, you have to do *decades* of work, Horatio.  You have to be doing a lot of magic rituals, beg a lot of demons, eat some spiders that make you immortal for a while before you change.  It can't taint him and won't taint him.  If it makes him feel better to run for religion then more power to his soul," he said firmly, making him nod at that.  "I'm not against anyone finding religion.  There's plenty of things it can help you with.  It's never been my drug of choice however.  He'll be fine as long as he lives."

Horatio nodded at that.  "Thank you."

"Not an issue.  This is what I used to do.  Or be if you want to get technical.  Buffy used me as the bait a lot."  Horatio growled at that.  "It was necessary."

"It was expedient, Xander.  Not necessary.  You're not expendable."

"To them I was."  He stroked his cheek. "I'm fine.  The cut's barely more than a scratch. My pocket knife was clean.  I keep it clean and very sharp for these sort of situations. There's no faster way to draw vamps in a cemetery either."  He heard the growl again and stroked his cheek with a sad smile.  "Why do you think I retired?" he asked gently.  Horatio pulled him closer, kissing him.  "I didn't think we were going here."

"Shut up, Xander."  He kissed him again, then hauled him up and into his room so he could check him over.  The cut got looked at again. It wasn't that deep.  No stitches needed.  It was scabbed over.  He kissed him again, getting him out of his clothes so he could look him over.  "Mine?" he growled.

"If that's what you need," he agreed, letting Horatio look over him as he turned around slowly.  "See, only one bruise, Horatio.  I banged my knee when I rolled.  There was a smaller rock on the ground in the way."  Horatio pulled him closer, touching, his hands barely skimming over Xander's skin.  Xander shivered a bit, then sat down, letting him check his legs.  The bruise got a light kiss.  "I'm fine.  Really.   I didn't even get slimy."

Horatio looked at him.  "Shut up.  Do not put yourself down again, Xander."

"I wasn't."

"You were making bad jokes to ease the tension."

"I was trying to calm you down."  He messed up his hair.  "If this is what you want, make it because you *want* it, Horatio.  Not because you need to claim me, not because you need to make sure I'm okay.  I'll lay here all you want so you can check me over, sniff me, touch me.  But if we're going farther than that, make it because you *want* it.  Not about the sentinel/guide stuff," he finished quietly.  Horatio bowed his head, nodding.  "Like I said, I'm not against it.  Hell, I've got a hot boss."  Horatio smiled a bit at that.  "You're just as guilty of putting yourself down as I am," he said gently, playing with his hair.  "Even Cordy noticed it.  That says something."

"Eric pouted all afternoon because she said Ryan could do better."

He grinned.  "She was sticking up for Ryan.  She does that now and then."  He kissed him.  "If you need to check me over, check me over.  If we're going farther, I want to be wooed."

Horatio smiled and nodded. "I understand."

"Good.  Now, what about Speed?"

"I..."  He coughed.  "We're still not...."

"Why not?  He wants you more than he does his job back."

"We're friends and that's more important," he said, staring at him.

"I nearly slept with Willow, did sleep with Cordelia in a few closets, and cheated on her with Willow, and crushed on Buffy, Horatio.  They were all like this before then.  I didn't have to turn them evil, they were already there."  Horatio laughed, standing up to give him a hug.  "Now, do you want to cuddle?  I love to cuddle and do all the touching stuff.  Anya hated to cuddle."

"I wouldn't mind," he agreed, laying down next to him, stroking over his arm.  "Any other injuries?"

"Just the one bruise on my knee.  The ball of plastique wasn't that strong.  None of the rocks hit me.  The demon didn't come that close.  I didn't even ruin the new clothes."  Horatio kissed him.  "I didn't.  I'm proud of myself."

"Shirts can be replaced, you can't," he said quietly.  "Let her do it next time."

"She could.  She has staked things in the past," he admitted.  He shifted closer, taking another kiss.  "This won't get weird, right?"

"No, I'm not like that, Xander.  Possessive but it won't get in the way of anything else in our lives."  Xander grinned.  "I know, but Speed's different."

"Best friends can be that way," he agreed, messing up his hair further.  He got a small huff and Horatio smoothed it back out.  "I like it messy.  Shows I was there.  You can be all cool and calm, but if your hair's messy I know it was good."  He took another kiss, letting Horatio take control after a few seconds.  He found himself on his back, looking up at his sentinel, grinning at him.  "So, does this mean you're a top?"

"Mostly," he said quietly.  "Why?  Is that going to be a problem?"

"Don't know, never really tried it."  Horatio gave him an amused look.  "Many thoughts but no actual experience except a quick groping job right before graduation with Larry.  Stress relief before the battle sort of thing."

"I've had a few of those after the fact, I'm usually not that wired before the event.  Worried, not wired.  It makes me sharper."

"I'm usually too tense and I end up over-thinking things," Xander admitted, stroking over Horatio's shoulder. "You are overdressed if you're going to do more than cuddle tonight," he said gently.

Horatio stood up, stripping down, letting Xander see him as he did it.  He was a bit embarrassed.  Xander was much tighter and had less scars than he did.  He looked at him.  "You're hiding things."

"I am?"

"There's a blurry spot, Xander."

"Are you sure it's not your vision going?"   He propped himself up on his elbows, looking down at his body.  "What's cloudy?"  Horatio stroked over the spot.  He knew he could feel the scar so he shrugged.  "It was a long time ago, Horatio."

"Uncover them, Xander.  All my scars are exposed too."  Xander looked at him.  "They are."  Xander nodded and let the illusion fall.  Horatio looked at the wide scar on his thigh.  Then into his eyes.  "We both have scars, but we don't live for them."

"Good."  He pulled him down, kissing him again.  "Drinking?"

"One beer.  Nowhere near impaired."

"Thank you."

"It's something I can't stand either," he admitted, taking another kiss. Xander went limp underneath him but someone pounded on the door, earning a real growl.  "What!" he bellowed.  His phone rang and he answered it with a similar growl.  He listened to Calleigh babble.  "You can ask him tomorrow."

Xander laid a hand on his arm.  "Let them come in, Horatio.  We have some time left," he said very quietly.  "If they're scared they could get hurt."  Horatio looked at him.  "Let them come ask their questions.  We still have later.  I can always hide tomorrow."

Horatio nodded, listening to the other end.  "Porch," he said finally, hanging up.  He gathered his clothes, then looked around for Xander's.  He found them then looked at him, getting him a pair of his sweat pants.  "Here, that way it looks like you calmed down and relaxed."  Xander smiled and pulled them on, grabbing a t-shirt too.  They walked out together, finding nearly everyone on the back porch.  Even Natalia.  Xander went to make drinks, but Horatio drug him out onto the porch so they could get rid of their friends faster.

"How bad is it?" Xander asked, sitting down in his usual spot.

"You know what that was," Natalia sneered.

"Of course I do.  One raised during my graduation, Natalia.  I helped with the battle plans then.  That's how I knew what to do tonight."  She sat back, glaring at him. "Get over it, woman."  Calleigh grabbed his arm, hissing when she saw the cut.  "It's fine, Calleigh.  It's why I keep a surgically sharp and clean pocket knife."  He pulled back gently.  "What did we need to know?"

"What happened?" Eric asked.

"Decades of rituals," Xander said honestly.  "That was the after picture of an ascension.  The person it used to be prayed long and hard, made a few demonic deals, and wanted a lot more power so they had to ascend.  That's what they turn into.  By the size I'd say a female and I'd also say she started fairly young.  The former mayor of Sunnydale was in his late forties by looks but he was over a hundred years old.  He had been working on his for nearly ninety of it.   He wanted a lot more power.  I'd say this one didn't beg for as long or had a way to get her deals made earlier or easier.  She could've even been a halfie and gotten to skip some steps.  She definitely wasn't the same age or size as the mayor was when he turned."

"So that's what the video was," Ryan said quietly.  Xander nodded.  "Back then you had to blow up something to kill it."

"Willow, Giles, and the other Watchers experimented to see what would've been better since we didn't know.  It was a lot easier than an impromptu battle plan tonight.  By the way, which news channels caught me killing it so I can avoid them permanently?"

"There was only one news copter at the end," Eric said, shaking his head.  "Please stay away from the press."  He took his coffee cup when Horatio came out with a tray of them.  "Thanks, H.  How's Speed?"

"Probably getting drunk," Calleigh said, taking hers.  "Thank you, Horatio.   Xander, do we have to worry about any...environmental impact?"

"Only if you didn't get all the goo up."  He took his soda with a grin.  "Thanks, Horatio."

"Welcome, Xander."  He sat down, looking over as Alexx walked around the house.  "He's fine."

"Why wouldn't he be?  All I got was that Eric was panicking."

"He had to kill the big demon in the park," Ryan told her.  "He cut himself to draw it off."

"Now I see why I was called."

"It's fairly shallow, already scabbed over, and I had it covered earlier, Alexx," Xander promised, letting her see it.  "It's almost nothing."

"What happens if we didn't get all the goo?" Eric asked.

"Then I'd probably dig it up and rebless it.  The statue can be hosed off.  It was nonporous so it'll be fine."  Eric nodded at that.  "Horatio said there was a stone pointy thing further on.  If I had known that I would've used it."

"That one was ugly anyway," Ryan said.  "They picked ugly stone to use then didn't polish it very well.  Plenty of residents hated that statue."  Horatio nodded behind his coffee cup.  "What about the officer who got bitten?"

"It can't transfer, Ryan.  He was a snack."

"So if he takes communion, nothing will happen?" Eric asked.

"Other than what usually does for him?  No.  Things like this can give some people deeper faith.  Others get really pissed.  I've had to hide from a few who got accidentally exposed.  For some reason they never go after Buffy, even the women.  Maybe they try and she sics them on me, not sure."  He took another drink of his soda.  "If you want to suggest it, have them dig it up and plant a few trees.  The world could use more trees.  Trees naturally filter goo out of the ground.  They shouldn't die even if some was absorbed."  They all nodded at that.  He took another drink when no one said anything.  "Guys, I'm not an oracle.  I'm a foot soldier."

"You still took on a thirty-foot long worm with teeth," Eric said.  "We're waiting to see what your next trick is," he finished with the lame joke.

"Surviving, same as always," Xander said with a small shrug.  "It's become one of those habits that I've gotten used to."  He put his cup aside, looking at Alexx.  "I'll bandage it again later, Alexx.  Horatio pulled the first one off to look at it."

"That's fine.  Clean it first," she ordered. He nodded.  "No lasting effects?"

"I'm craving brownies but that's mostly because Cordy ate hers in front of me," he admitted sheepishly, grinning at her.  "It's a lot easier when you don't have to replan a battle the night before it's supposed to happen.  Giles' original plan didn't take into account the lack of fighters and the spectators that wouldn't be running at the first strange thing.  I had to get the others involved.  We planned the original one in about a week and then I replanned it that night."

"So you blew up your high school?" Calleigh asked.

"Had to kill it somehow," Xander said dryly.  "Before it ate all of us.  It probably had indigestion from the principal but if you're not picky about what you eat..."  He picked up his glass to take another drink.  "Only one person got bitten?"  Eric nodded.  "When was the eclipse?"

"Earlier today," Ryan admitted.  "So we could be looking for more missing persons?"

"Possibly," Xander admitted.  "Or huge piles of former people.  We didn't let ours last long enough to see how long the digestive cycle was."  They all looked grossed out.  "Sorry!  Had to be said."  They all shuddered.  He looked up at Alexx.  "I'm sorry if you do have to handle one of those."

"Me too, sugar.  Where's Speedy?"

"Home getting drunk," Calleigh told her.  "He said he knew Xander could handle it but he'll have nightmares about how he handled it."

"So will I," Alexx agreed.  She stroked through Xander's hair.  "Any other injuries?"

"I got a boo-boo when I rolled and hit a rock with my knee if you wanted to kiss it," he teased with a small grin.  She swatted him gently, shaking her head.  "Then I'm fine, Alexx.  Thank you for asking.  It's better than Willow when she used to play nurse from the textbooks when we were younger."

Dawn appeared, looking confused.  "Did you have a redo of grad, Xander?"  He nodded, finishing his soda.  "Need support?"

"No, I killed it," he promised, giving her a grin.  "Hug?"  She came over to hug him.  "Guys, this is Dawn."

She looked around and waved.  "Hi.  Jethro told me to check and make sure you didn't need me."

"Nope, blew up a statue and used it," he admitted.  She beamed and patted him on the head.  "How're things up there?"

"Okay I guess.  I got to help proofread reports.  Ziva's third language is English."  He nodded at that.  "So I'm helping her with that.  The director tried to call my father and he hung up on her.  She told Jethro that just outside of my hearing but Tony told me she tried so I wouldn't be worried.  She's settled down to glare at me for being around him when she wants in his panties.  Oh, we have deer behind the house.  He's helping me feed them so I can get closer."

"I'd wear less perfume if you're going to do that," Xander told her.  She bopped him on the shoulder but nodded.  "Cordy's down.  Want to see her?"

"Eeeh, no thanks.  I'll pop out to see her."

"You might not want to do that.  Anya thinks Angel's like a cream puff."

"Eww.  Vampires having sex with my sister was more than enough of a mental image.  Your former nympho ho having the sex with the same vampires is sickening.  I don't need to know if she compares or anything with my sister."

"I told Cordy to tell her Angel was impotent and the little blue pill couldn't work on vamps due to lack of blood circulating."

She gave him another hug.  "I love your bad mind.  Let me make up the excuses, okay?  I'm much better at the mildly evil thoughts than you are."  He kissed her on the temple.  "Fine, I'll pop around on Cordy."  She smiled at Horatio.  "Has he been good otherwise?"

"He's helped me a great deal around the office as my assistant and he's never stopped spoiling me with dinner," he assured her gently.  She beamed and disappeared again, going to find Cordelia.  He looked at Alexx.  "That was his guardee."

"The one who's helping Jethro Gibbs like he's helping you?" she asked.  Xander nodded.  "She's sweet, but a bit young."

"She's not going to be like that with him," Xander pointed out. "Right now she's bouncing around and helping him.  This way he can have the experience of having a daughter without the diapers."

"That could be nice," Eric agreed, thinking about it.  "I hate having to change all the nieces and nephews."  Ryan pinched him.  "What!  I do."

"Not the point," Ryan told him, looking at Alexx.

"If I could have, I would've done it without the diapers too," Alexx assured him, letting Eric pinch him back.  "No wonder she thought you two were together."

"No, that's how Xander introduced us," Ryan said, kicking at Xander's bare foot.   "I didn't need picked on more."

"At least she said you could do better, Ryan.  She didn't try to set us up either."  He barely heard Horatio's growl.  Speed wandered around the house and he glared at him.  "You had better not have driven while you were lit or I will tan  your ass.  Them and people who hurt kids get both my feet up their ass."

"It was one beer, Xander.  Nearly an hour ago.  Chill."  He sat down next to him.  "Which parent was it?"

"Both and an uncle," he said, staring at him.  "They never did stop Rory from drunk driving."

Speed gave him a hug.  "I'd get my nuts busted if I even thought about it."  He let him go and looked at his arm.  "That's going to ache."

Xander looked at it then shrugged.  "Not really.  Kinda itches."  He looked around. "I'm not that fascinating."

Speed snorted.  "Sure you're not."  He ruffled his hair, hearing the growl this time.  "Horatio, calm down.  I know he was in danger.  I'm not going to put him in more danger.  I'm not being a trouble magnet this week."

"I only draw psycho women," Xander said.

"No, that's Eric's talent," Calleigh said dryly, finishing her coffee.  "Are you hiding tomorrow?"

"I probably should.  Most people can convince themselves that it wasn't what they thought within a day if they're not forced to accept what happened," Xander told them.  He looked at Horatio, who nodded. "You sure?"

"Go spend it with Cordelia, Xander."  Xander shook his head.  "Are you sure?"

"She'll be basking on the beach tomorrow.  She needs a good dose of appreciation.  Working with Angel keeps messing up her manicures and hair."  They all rolled their eyes.  "Ask her, that's what she'll say," he defended.  "She is like that.  She used to be head cheerleader.  She perfected the 'ooh I broke a nail' response during a fight.  Of course she kicked butt when you messed up her nails during a fight," he said, considering it.  "She really did mess up the vamp that did that.  They kept away from her hair and nails after that."

Ryan reached over to pat him on the head.  "We'll help you find someone better and more normal to date," he promised.  He stood up.  "I'm going to go have nightmares."

"Take Eric, help him with his," Xander quipped.

Ryan smirked at him.  "I have something softer in mind but thank you."  He walked off smiling.

Eric nodded.  "Me too, Xander.  I like women."

"A lot," Natalia said.

Horatio looked at her.  "You have no idea."  Eric scowled at him.  "Go home, people.  I'll be in tomorrow on time."  They all fled, taking Alexx with them to fill her in.  He stopped Natalia.  "Are you involved in any part of that lifestyle?" he asked quietly.  "Someone thought they felt magic moving around you."  She swallowed.

"The hospital I was born in was overtop of the Sunnydale hellmouth," Xander told her simply.  He stood up and cleaned up the mess.

"It's not that.  We all know he's a little nothing in the fight."

"Then he couldn't have successfully defeated the creature earlier," he pointed out, standing up as well.  "Leave him alone, Natalia."

"It's clear where your loyalties lay."

Xander walked out, sighing a bit.  "Natalia, don't make me call Dawn back."

"That little girl?" she snorted.

Dawn appeared with Cordelia, then she shook her head and laid a hand on her head, chanting something quietly.  She fled crying.  "There, now she'll ignore you.  Saw you on the news, looked hot, Xander."  She beamed and took Cordelia off with her.  She'd bring her back in the morning but Jethro wanted to meet her.  That way he could understand the other female influences in her life.

Xander looked at Horatio.  "Rain check?"


"I could use a cuddle," he admitted.  "I'll even try not to kick you when I get up."  He finished grabbing things, walking them back inside, closing the door and locking it. When his usual nightmare woke him up at three, Horatio was holding him too tightly to get free so he ended up falling back asleep.  At least until the next one.  Then Horatio bit him when he tried to move.  So he quit and snuggled in, deciding to lay there and think instead of thinking while running.


Dawn came back from putting Cordelia back, smiling as she landed in the basement.  "She wasn't as blunt as usual.  It was nice of her to be on her best company manners."

Jethro gave her an odd look.  "That wasn't blunt?"

"Miss Snark 2000?  Nope."  She belched.  "'Scuse me."  She sat down on the stairs.

"No wonder the kid had low self esteem."

"No, she was a minor irritant in that wound," she admitted.  "There are worse ones."  He shook his head, getting back to sanding his boat.  "Anyway, she and my sister used to trade cutting quips and things but Cordy did fight with the group."

"How many people were in the group?"

"Some of those are in LA," she admitted.  "Angel moved there and she moved there to try to become an actress.  Angel is her paying job."

"Makes sense.  Make a chart?"

"Sure."  She got some chalk and came over to draw on a bare wall.  "Okay, you've got the two groups, Sunnydale and LA.  Originally, Sunnydale was Buffy, Willow, Xander, Angel, Oz - Willow's boyfriend, and Cordelia - backup for some really bad things and snark patrol who mugged Xander often for smoochies in the closet then beat up his self-esteem afterwards.  She was mean enough to break up with him on Valentines Day so he had someone curse her to want him so he could dump her back.  Unfortunately the spell didn't get through her snark; it got every other woman in Sunnydale *but* her.  Xander ended up running and hiding from lots and lots women who said they'd have him or no one would.  Then...  Let's see.  Angel moved to LA after graduation to work there.  He couldn't stand to be around Buffy and want her but not have her."

"So he grew up finally?"

"Yeah, only took two hundred years," she agreed dryly.  "After going evil, going to hell, and all that good stuff."  She started on the second group.  "Cordy moved to LA to be an actress.  Angel ended up saving her and she became his assistant.  Angel also had Doyle, who was his seer for the Powers That Be... Stupid.  But that's a personal opinion.  Doyle gave up his life to save the team and half of LA from a nuclear device.  Cordy got the visions, they ran into Wes, who was the second Watcher assigned to Sunnydale.  Giles got fired for giving too much of a damn."  She wrote his name and Wes's name under it, drawing an arrow for Wes.  "He went rogue demon hunter Wes and started driving a motorcycle and wearing leathers.  So Cordy's former crush on him came back with the hotty geek leather.  Then they adopted Gunn, who worked with a shelter and was doing the same thing on the streets before then.  Then they saved Fred.  *The* most major science nerd ever but really nice."

"What's his field?"

"Physics.  She had been taken hostage and used as a slave, though where she was they were called cows."  Gibbs gave her a funny look.  "Her full name's Winifred, Jethro."

"Oh, one of those names.  Anyone else?"

"No, that's the current LA team.  But now it's down to Buffy, Willow, Giles, and if Riley's back probably him."  She wrote his name then scribbled through it.  "Hate the guy.  Former Initiative group commander.  Butt bastard.  But now they've also got Spike, who was chipped by the Initiative and is their vampire ho now."  She wrote his name.

"What happened to Oz?"

"He went wolfy and had a dominance fight with a female wolfy who tried to eat Willow so he killed her.  He went to Tibet to find control.  Which was when Willow switched to witchly lovin' and got a Tara, who I will die to protect," she told him honestly, writing her name down.  "Oz was majorly pissed when he showed back up.  She had promised to wait on him and, wow, she didn't.  He lost control and got furry so that's how they got Oz, and how the group went in to rescue Oz from the Initiative while they were torturing him."  Tony came down the stairs,  "You missed Cordy's visit."

"Is that a bad or a good thing?"

"Depends on your viewpoint," Gibbs told him.  "Anyone else now in Sunnydale?"

She looked then shook her head.  "No.  Riley may or may not be there.  Last I heard he was.  Spike's a free agent but tied to the group since he was made so he can't hunt.  We've been feeding him blood and things plus protecting him.  Even though my sister slept with him, Anya slept with him.  Oh, there is that ho wannabe."  She wrote her name.  "Xan's ex.  Former vengeance demon over women scorned.  Major ho wannabe."  She scribbled through her name.  "Having trouble with my anger issues over her at the moment," she told them.  "She had Willow make Xander go back to her magically after he dumped her the first time for cheating on him and stealing from him.   She still thinks Xander's going to come back to her.  With what I saw earlier, not a chance, Xander's getting smart and changing to a stick driving man."  Tony coughed at that, shaking his head.  "What?  He was."  She shrugged and looked at the messy diagrams.  "Maybe I should teach."

"You babble too much," Gibbs told her.  She pouted.  "The kids would never understand you."

"Did you?"

"I'm getting used to you."

"So would they."  She smiled then at Tony.  "What's up?"

"I came to make sure you're still here.  I saw the news on the attack in the park in Miami.  Some rabid, wild animal?"

"A graduation redo," she told him, nodding a bit. "Xander handled it.  Cordy helped by distracting others.  He didn't even get nasty and slimy this time."

"You don't do things like that, right?" Tony asked.

She giggled and batted him on the arm.  "No!  Buffy never let me hunt.  She taught me one night and then decided I'm weak and helpless because I look better in her favorite skirt than she does."  She beamed.  "You know, I still have her leather pants too."

"No," Gibbs said.

"Fine, be that way, Jethro."  She beamed at Tony.  "He wanted a chart of who was where."

He looked at the diagram, then nodded.  "Who's Fred?"

"She's a major brain.  Somehow she got taken from UCLA's physics department, or one of the schools out there anyway, and got snatched to a realm where they made her a slave and called her a cow.  All the humans were cows to them.  She said it's a really sour place.  No music at all.  Probably could've sent a rap group to take over the place."

Gibbs shook his head.  "At least they'd be easier to conquer," he decided, getting back to his sanding.  "Why else are you here tonight, DiNozzo."

"Making sure she's okay.  Making sure she ate today since I know she wasn't at school."

"I was so at school.  Until he called and needed me.  Then I came home with a migraine and let him be guided from a distance.  I can't talk on the phone in class after all.  I did get asked if he was my boyfriend."

"No thanks," Gibbs said, sounding a bit grim.

She patted him on the arm.  "It's okay, I'd never have you.  You do things like jog before the sun comes up."  He snickered at that.  "I need my beauty sleep or else I'll turn into Buffy."

"Lack of beauty sleep won't turn you ugly," Tony said, giving her a look.  "That's an attitude problem, Dawnie."  She smiled at that, patting him on the knee as she walked around him and sat beside him.  "They did get a good few shots of Xander killing the animal but couldn't get his face."

"Good job, Xander," she said happily.  "When I popped down to check on him he was on a porch in sweats, clearly not his by the way they fit, and there were a lot of people staring at him."

"On the beach?" Gibbs asked.  She nodded.  "Then it was probably Horatio's porch," he decided.  "They probably came over to get their own answers."  The house phone rang so she got up to get it, letting out a shriek a few minutes later.  "Screaming at a telemarketer?"

"Giles wanted me to yell at Xander for saving the people of Miami from being eaten," she called back.  "I didn't get to scream at him so I vented."  She came back down the stairs with a soda, but Tony stole it.  "Hey!"

"I don't think you need more caffeine before bed," he said dryly, giving her a look.  She punched him on the arm, making him wince.  "Ow."

"Whine, babyman.  I'm not Xander.  I don't have an addiction to the sparkling stuff."  She opened it and took a sip.  "He goes through a two liter a day."

"That's got to drive Horatio nuts," Gibbs said.

"You drink more than that in coffee," Dawn pointed out.  "He does it to calm down."  The phone rang again.  "What the hell?"  She stomped up the stairs to get it.  "What?" she demanded.  "I know I'm being rude, it's after polite calling hours.  I get to say mean and nasty things to people who call so late.  Sure, I can give him a message."  She listened then put the phone against her chest.  "Jethro, your boss wanted to know if you would go help her change lightbulbs in her closet because she's playing weak and helpless again," she yelled.  "She's also apparently not able to do it herself with the way she's panting.  Either that or she's been running a marathon."  He came up the stairs and grabbed the phone, smacking her on the head.  "She is!"

"What, Jen?"  He listened to her complain.  "Well, it is after polite calling times," he admitted.  "I did tell her she could be rude to anyone who called too late as long as it wasn't for a scene."  He listened to more ranting.  "Why are you getting involved in that?  That's not us."  He snorted.  "That's fine, they can come talk to her tomorrow.  I can keep her home from school."  He hung up, looking at her.  "She was panting but that was very rude."

She gave a pointed look at the clock on the microwave.  "Why else would she call at ten- thirty?  For a booty call, that was pretty pitiful.  Which CID guy is coming?"


"Cool.  I like him.  He's a nice guy."  She beamed.  "I'll let you and Tony gab while I go chat with Tara online."  She bounced up to her room, going to do that.

Gibbs walked down the stairs.  "She's online."

"Did the director need something important, boss?"

"No.  She wants to butt into the investigation in Sunnydale.  Claims there's Marines."

"I thought it was wrapped up.  Phelps told me that when I asked him the other day."

"He's coming in tomorrow to tell her to butt out in person.  She thinks he'll want to talk to Dawn too."

"That's fine."  He leaned on his knees.  "That does bring up the situation from earlier, boss.  You can't call her while she's in class unless you home school her."

"I'd rather not.  It'd keep her away from normal teenage things."  He thought for a minute.  "We'll talk with Horatio, see how he's doing it."

"Xander's his assistant, boss.  He can call during the work day if he needs him.  Dawn?"  She came bouncing back down the stairs.  "Have they worked out any other means of helping Horatio in the field?"

"Xander's last email mentioned a talisman.  That way he didn't have to call if he didn't need to.  Something that smelled of Xander."

"Like a lock of hair?" Gibbs suggested.  She nodded.  "Huh.  That's a quick fix for the smaller things."

"Horatio has the problem of doing too many things at once," she said, sitting down beside Tony again.  "You have the problem of going too deeply into a particular sense.  I can write Blair.  I was on with him when you yelled."

"Let's see if he does have any ideas," Tony agreed.  "That way you don't have to keep calling off school."  She nodded, bouncing back up there to do that.  Then she came down with a sheet of paper a few minutes later.  "He did?"

"He knew about the talisman idea.  Jim had to go out of town to help another department and Blair couldn't go.  That's how they did that.  We can try."  She handed it to Jethro. "Either that or I'm going to end up home schooling."

"That'll keep you from doing normal teenager things," Gibbs reminded her.

"Not like I care if I try out for sports or cheerleading, Gibbs.  I'm not a sporty sort.  I might miss the prom but I can find boys at the mall to go out with."

Tony gave her a long look.  "There's more to enjoy while being a teenager than that, Dawn.  There's parties, trips, band trips if you wanted to join the band.  All sorts of stuff."

"I'm not that musical.  I love music but I suck at it.  Even the recorder.  The band teacher banned me from coming back to try again after the first class.  I'm still not that sporty.  Parties are nice but I don't need to go get drunk and get laid that way.  I'm smarter than that."  Tony grinned, giving her a squeeze.  "Really.  I'll have friends.  I've made a few.  If we tell them something about my migraines getting worse or something they'll be pity friends but it'll be fine.  They'll only dump me as friends if I turn out to be some psycho who can't handle school."

"There's a local teen center you can hang out at too," Gibbs pointed out.  "I'll consider it, Dawn."

"Okay."  She bounced up, grinning at Tony.  "Should I make him bring you lunch tomorrow too?"

"We'll probably have an office day so we'll be able to order," he said with a grin.  She winked and strolled back to her chatting with Blair.  They both had very picky sentinels and some things Jethro complained about confused her.

"I'm going to be lucky if I'm not in the director's office most of the day," Gibbs complained.

"Why was she panting?"

"She was right, it was a booty call," Jethro agreed, getting back to work.  "You going to help or stare, DiNozzo?"

"Came to see if you needed help finding her but since you don't, I'll to play."

"Be careful.  Be on time."

"I always am."  He got up, heading out to find someone to play with for the night.   There were still a lot of things he was in heavy thought about.  Including Dawn.  She wasn't the normal little girl.  Not by any means.  Especially not since she could stare down Gibbs.


Xander looked up his first morning back when his paperwork was interrupted.  "What's up, Stetler?"

"The mayor wants you," he said smugly.

"Crap.  Give me ten to let Horatio know and finish drying off my shirt."  He called.  "Stetler said the mayor wants me.  No, I'm going to duck anything more than a good job and weather any yelling," he admitted blandly.  "I've got to change my shirt.  Maxine ran into me and soaked me with her coffee.  Thanks."  He hung up and changed shirts right there, making Stetler stare.  "What?  They're scars, dude.  We all have them."  He put on the clean shirt from his desk, following him out.  This one made him seem a bit younger since it was a t-shirt.  Ryan gave him an odd look.  "Maxine tripped."

"I'm sorry."  He shook his head.  "I'll get your shirt soaking if you want."

"Please."  He followed him out to the official car, getting into the passenger's side.  "When did he tell you to grab me?"

"Yesterday while you were wisely hiding."

"Most people can convince themselves it wasn't demonic within a day," he said.  Eric gave him an odd look but he shook his head and waved, getting a nod.  Stetler backed out and headed toward City Hall.  "Is he a yeller?"

"Now and then.  He's also the only person who liked that statue."

"It was the only stone thing I saw."

"Another half mile and there was one with sharp edges."

"Horatio took me out to show me all the statues over the last few nights in case it came in handy again."  That got a nod.  Stetler got them there a few minutes later and Xander got out, heading after him.  He nodded at the secretary, smiling a bit.  "Hi, I'm Xander, Horatio Caine's assistant.  He wanted to bellow at me?" he asked sheepishly.

She smiled at him.  "It's good to put a face to the name, Xander.  I got the memo today to send things to you."  She shook his hand.  "He's in a huffing mood but let it ride out."  He nodded, heading in there while Stetler waited.  "He made you fetch him?"

"Yup.  He's also the one who solved the thing in the park."

"Ah.  No wonder the boss is huffing.  Even though it was an ugly stone they used on that statue.  If you want some coffee, there's some in the break room, Sergeant."  He nodded, going to get some.

Xander closed the door behind himself.   "You had me fetched, sir?"

"You called off yesterday?"

"That way people could decide to forget what I did the night before.  That way it wouldn't impact Horatio."

"Horatio...."  He stared at him.  "You're Caine's wonder assistant."  Xander beamed and nodded.  "Does he know what you do in your spare hours?"

"He knows what I *used* to do.  He's helping me stay retired."  He came in further.  "I'm sorry about using that one.  The person who told me said there was a stone statue that way.  He meant the one further on but I'm kinda new to the city, only been here a month and a half."

"I see."  He stared at him.  "I did like that statue."

"I'll help superglue it back together," he offered.

The Mayor gave him an odd look.  "I don't think that will work this time, Xander."  He sat down.  "It can't come back, right?"

"That was the product of someone wanting power ascending after decades of work, Sir.  She had to make decades of prayers and rituals to get there.  It was all about getting more power.  I can't guarantee someone else won't try it.  We had one at my high school graduation."

"I see."  He stared at him.  "Is the ground tainted?"

"If any of the goo soaked in it's nasty, but not unholy."

"What would you suggest I do?"

"Personally?  I'd take out the statue and plant trees.  The world could use more trees and trees do naturally filter out biological contaminants.  Maybe some nice birch trees?  They're pretty.  A small grouping together over the spot?  Or recycle the statue into a different one?"

"I do like the trees.  We do need to move a few new ones as well."  He took off his glasses to look at him.  "How often do you have to hunt?"

"Never down here unless it attacks me or someone I know.  I'm retired, sir.  It's one of the things Horatio is helping me with."

He nodded at that.  "Good.  How are you doing as his assistant?"

"Very well.  He's ahead on some of his paperwork, his desk is clear, and the only person I'm rude to is Stetler because he keeps staring at me and accusing me of warping Horatio."

That got a smirk.  "I doubt that, son.  Dressed down for me?"

"Miss Valera tripped when her shoe broke and splashed her coffee on me."


"Cold coffee, sir, just messy."  He pointed at the spot on his pants.  "That's what that is too but I didn't bring extra pants to work."

"I can see why, Xander.  Thank you for handling that."

"Thank you for not rewarding me or balling me out, sir."

"Next time I'll do one of those."

"And I'll run," he agreed with a small grin, getting a smirk back.  "I'm like that.  Have a better day, sir."

"You as well.  Remind Horatio to do the cost of living paperwork please."

"Your assistant said she got it today."

"Even better.  Thank you."  He waved him out and Xander left, giving Stetler a smile.  He buzzed her.  "Caine's got his COL paperwork in already?"

"Yes, sir," she called back.  She brought it in to him.  "Xander's very efficient.  He's already cleared all of Horatio's backlog."

"Good for the boy.  Caine needs it and a bodyguard."  She gave him a look.  "I know, he can probably do double duty.  He's a good investment."

"He makes the same as any new secretary does, Chief.  Not that big of an investment."

"Horatio can ask for the boy's raises for him," he said bluntly.  She walked out giggling.  He looked over the paperwork.  "Done before it was due, done correctly the first time, and even corrected in the one spot he usually messes up," he said.  "If he keeps helping Caine that way the boy'll get a good raise this time."  He put it aside with the others that would be coming in soon.   IAB already had theirs in, but they always had less to do so they got paperwork done early.


Xander looked at Horatio when he came in for lunch.  "Give me another ten minutes to finish this one, Horatio."

"I was wondering why your shirt was drying in front of my window."

"Maxine's shoe broke.  She spilled her cold coffee on me.  Ryan promised he'd rinse it out for me when Stetler got to escort me to talk to the Mayor."

"I remember you calling.  What happened?"

Xander grinned.  "Nothing.  He pressed gently.   I suggested beech trees to go there instead."   Horatio smirked.  "I told him I'd run next time."

"Thank you."

"Your COL paperwork already made it there.  His assistant said so."

"Even better.  Lunch?"

"Let me finish this one.  I left yours in your desk, boss."

"Thank you, Xander.  When you're done come up." He went back up there, finding his lunch was in his desk.  It was a nice sandwich and a fruit cup.  A small bag of chips he liked.  It fit with his 'I'm getting fat' complaints so he sat down to nibble waiting on his assistant.  Xander finally came up with the folder of stuff and his own lunch.  "He wasn't too mean?"

"I offered to superglue it back together."

Horatio hummed, then nodded while he swallowed.  "That's fine.  Eat."  Xander dug in, eating quickly.  "We'll go jogging tonight, you don't have to go to the gym today."

"I'm helping Maxine."  He smiled and finished up, heading down there.  "See you later when I come to file stuff."

"That'll be fine, Xander."  He shook his head, smiling as he got back to lunch.  He watched as Maxine came back twenty minutes later wobbling.  Xander bounced up the hallway all smiles and happiness, coming up to file things.  "Is she able to work?"

"Yup.  I helped her use the arm machine and set the resistance for her, and then for the leg presses.  Then I showed her the proper way to do pushups.  She's doing fine.  If she keeps it up she'll be ripped in a few months."

"If that's what she wants I hope she gets there."  He watched him file, humming and bouncing to his own music.  He pulled Xander over, staring at him.  "Too much chocolate?" he suggested.

"A happy day.  Buffy actually apologized in an email."  Horatio smiled at that.  "She still doesn't appreciate me but she did apologize for helping run me off."

"It's good."

"Something broke," he told him.


"No, she said something broke; she didn't realize everything I did around there.  I told her she was forgiven but she still needed to apologize to Dawn before I kicked her butt."  He shrugged and got back to his filing, looking down at the hallway.  "Um, sour people are here, boss."  He got up to look, going down there while Xander tidied up his small mess and got back to filing.

"Who're you?" a woman asked as she came in.

"I'm Horatio's assistant, Xander.  I'm filing.  Who're you and if you touch his desk I get to break your arm."  She sneered.  He glared back.  "Don't make me slam you against the window too."  Horatio walked in.  "Hey, boss, what did you need me to do this afternoon?"

"I need you to proofread two grant applications," he said, finding the file and handing it over.

"Okay but I know *nothing* about the proper format.  I can only make it so you don't sound bad."

"That'll be fine, Xander."  He nodded, finishing his filing and leaving to do that.  He looked at the agent.  "You're in my office for a good reason?" he asked.

"I saw someone up here."

"He's my assistant.  He's allowed to file things for me."  He pointed.  "Get out of my office.  Now."  She stomped off.  He went to close the door on his way back out.  Calleigh was in Xander's office.  "Problems?"

"Wondering if he'd look over my report again.  I'm backed up and I don't have time to proofread it."  He held up a hand and she handed it over with a smile.  "Thanks Xander."  She went back to work.

Xander looked over it, using a pencil to circle a few things and make notes in the margins.  He did have to look up a few words in the forensics dictionary but that was fine.  He even circled her last name since she had switched letters.  He handed it to Horatio, who smiled and went to hand it back while he got back to work on his assigned tasks.

"You proofread reports?" that same agent sneered.

"If someone needs me to.  Not like I'm going to do more than make sure you don't do tense changes and that you spelled things right."  He turned the page on the grant application, circling a word and putting a question mark next to it.  It wasn't in the forensic dictionary, he knew that.  He found it again and went online, typing it into a search engine.  The machine came up and he checked it against the spelling, nodding when he got it.  He saw the price and winced.  Then he noticed the difference on the application.  He noted that on a sticky pad and erased his prior marks.  He canceled the browser and found a few typos according to the dictionary, circling them too, then he went onto the second one.  "Staring at me must be fun since you enjoy it so much.  Do it some more, I might bark."

"You should not be around evidence."

He looked up, looking very confused.  "When am I around evidence, woman?  I'm in here or in Horatio's office all day.  Get a life!"  The phone rang so he answered it.  "Xander Harris."  He listened to Horatio tell him to play nice.  "I'm trying.  Oh, I looked up the name to make sure it was correct and saw the price.  Did you know there was a discrepancy between the webpage and the application?  I noted it on a sticky pad.  Only a few typos so far.  Circled in pencil, Horatio."  He hung up, getting back to work.  "He said to send you to bother Alexx.  The guy bothering her passed out."

"I think I'll watch what you're doing."

"Then you're going to be bored because this is what I do all day," he quipped, waving his pencil hand.  The phone rang again.  "Xander Harris."  He listened, making a note on the pad beside him.  "It'll probably be a few Chief.  We've got Feds in the lab.  How fast do I have to run?"  He smiled and noted that as well.  "I can do that.  Thank you, Chief."  He hung up and called Horatio back.  "The Chief said he needs to see you *right now* and it's vitally important.  Like someone ripping their spleen out important.  Yeah, he suggested I run to see you important.  So I'd at least call.  Thanks, boss.  Oh, she's still here.  She said she was going to watch me proofread because she thinks I get near evidence."  He held out the phone.  "Here, talk to the man yourself since your boss got handed Horatio's phone."  She snatched it, listening then nodding and hanging up.  He smiled as she stomped off.  "Have a better day, ma'am."  He got back to work.  The phone rang again.

"Xander ....  Hey, Frank.  No, he's with the Feds in the lab and the Chief's just called him so he's on his cell somewhere.  Last I heard he told the one who decided I'm fascinating to go to the morgue.  Thanks.  Give it two more or...  There he goes, hold on.  Horatio, Frank needs you too," he called quietly, getting a nod and a smile.  "Okay, I yelled it at him.  He's in the elevator right now, Frank."  He smiled.  "Welcome."  He hung up, letting him go catch Horatio on his way out.  Xander turned on the online radio site he liked, turning it down so only he could hear it, then got back to work.  It wasn't hard work.  He'd never had a job so easy in his life really.  He found another typo and checked online to make sure.  The dictionary said it was an alternate spelling so he noted that in the margin as well.  Then he closed his browser and went to drop it off in Horatio's inbox, heading back down to his office.  He found another agent in there.  "What are you doing?"

"We've had people tampering with evidence."

"The only time I touch evidence is if someone needs help carrying something in.  Get out of my desk.  Now, before I beat your ass."  The agent sneered so he hauled him out of his closet and gave him a shove.  "Stay out of my shit."  He sat down, checking his drawer.  "I do have a permit for that.  Do you need to see it?"  Stetler came out of the elevator.  "He's not here right now, Stetler," he called.  "The Chief and Frank both needed him but can you please come here for a minute?"  Stetler glared but stomped over.  "Sorry, the Chief said someone was going to rip out their spleen.  Can you please tell this idiot boy that I don't touch evidence?"

Stetler looked at him.  "The closest he comes is proofreading reports for Duquesne and Wolfe when they're backed up.  Not that he understands it, he's a construction worker."

"And the one time I carried in stuff because Eric had too much to carry in one load."

"And that," Stetler agreed.  "He's Caine's secretary."

"He's got a gun."

Xander pulled out his permit and the gun.  "You can check it if you want, dude.  Horatio knows I have it."  He stared him down.  "I don't even use it on rude people."  He smiled sweetly.

Stetler looked at him.  "That's a good thing to know.  What did he do?"

"Going through my desk."

"Uh-huh."  He looked at the agent.  "He's harmless."  He stomped off.  "Put that back."  Xander put the gun and permit back.  "The Chief and Tripp?"

"Frank about a suspect, the Chief needed him for a quick emergency meeting.  Apparently Madeline in Vice nearly died earlier.  I think Eric had that scene."

"Thank you.  Tell him I want to know what went on there as soon as he gets back."  Xander wrote out the note and put it into the holder.  "Thank you.  Don't insult them, they make things more difficult for your boss."

"Then tell them not to go through my shit.  We do still have a fourth amendment, no matter how much they tried to take it away from us."

Stetler walked off shaking his head.  He heard a yelp and spun around, looking around.  Natalia came out of DNA holding her arm.  "What happened?"

"The machine's top wasn't on far enough and an empty vial came out to bite me," she complained.  Xander came out with a first aid kit.  "Are you qualified?"

"To put on bandaids?  Yes.  Unless you want to hike down to the morgue for a tiny cut?"  He sprayed it with a spray antiseptic, then applied some gauze and  tape to it.  "There you go.  You've got some blood on your arm to clean up."  He closed the case once the spray was back.  "If you finish the paperwork, hand it to me and I'll put it into Horatio's inbox for you."  He went back into his closet, getting back to work, noting it on his work log.

Ryan coughed, making Stetler turn around. "He makes pretty decent coffee too.  Here about the Vice scene?  Eric said you'd be by and he left it in the locker for you."  He nodded, letting Ryan get it for him, including reports.  "Here you go, Stetler.  He got paged from a scene to the emergency meeting to give an oral report.  He'll be back in thirty he thinks."  He decided he could be nice to him today because he was much less irritating than the Feds who were watching them.

"Thank you."  He read over the report, frowning.  "He needed Harris to proofread it."

"That's his preliminary.  He'll proof it later I'm sure."  He left him alone.  He was allowed when it was an interdepartmental case.  He went to check on Natalia.  "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine.  It just bit me."  Ryan smiled and went back to work.

"See, that's one good reason why you should appreciate Xander," Maxine said from her stool.

"Why can't you stand?"

"I had Xander show me how I was supposed to be working out.  I'm sore."  That got a snicker.  "I am!  It's a good sore but I'm still sore."  She got to work on her present sample.  "He does an hour of PT and then jogs every morning."

"I guess chasing giant worm things means you've got to."

"Yeah, he's in great shape."

"You still can't stand."

"As long as we don't have a fire drill, I'm fine," she assured her.  She glared at Stetler when she saw the smirk.  "You call one today and I'm so going to file a complaint," she hissed.  He just walked off smirking after leaving her something.  "What do you want me to do with this?"

"Verify it is the same suspect," he called as he walked off.

"Yeah, sometime next week," she called after him.  She got back to work, shaking her head.  "Maybe the evil female vibe that Xander puts off tainted him since he's so bitchy recently."  Natalia stared at her, making squeaky noises.  "He is!"

"I can't believe you just said that!"

Maxine smiled.  "What?" she asked innocently. "It's the truth."  She got back to work.  Calleigh leaned in.  "Don't you think the evil female vibe Xander puts out to draw them to him could be tainting Stetler since he's being so bitchy recently?"

Calleigh went red and walked off.  "I don't want to know how you got onto that topic," she called.  "Let me know when you have something for me."

"Sure."  She beamed at her labmate, getting back to work.  "We'll see what Ryan thinks later."

Up the hall, Xander was giggling.  He had heard that.


Horatio walked in and found Calleigh waiting on him.  "Is there a problem?"

"Only with Valera overdoing it in the gym rotting her mind."  He smiled at that.  "She asked me if I thought the bad girl vibe Xander puts out to draw them is tainting Stetler since he's been so cranky recently."  He started to laugh.  "Then she asked Ryan if he was going to be that evil to world to please let her know so they could keep track of his evil empire building to draw Xander."  He laughed louder.  "They're trying to come up with ways for him to draw Xander to him."

"I'm sure it won't work."

"Ryan came up with the idea to have a bunch of patrol officers on the bad list do a fantasy striptease for his pleasure.  Xander countered with the fact someone built a robot Buffy and she could do one better.  Now they're trying to figure out how to do that.  Valera still wants the strip line but now she's convinced Stetler's going to blackmail one of us into making GHB or something for him."

"He'd have to steal it out of evidence, Calleigh," he soothed.

"They're going wrong and it's Xander's abs' fault.  They stunned Maxine until her brain went funny places."

He gave her a gentle hug. "It'll be fine.  I promise it will be.  They're teasing Xander.  It's a good thing."  She shook her head.  "No?  What did he say?"

"He's giggling like he's high.  Stetler threatened to drug test him when he saw him."

"I'll deal with it."  She nodded, giving him a small smile.  "Thank you for letting me know they both needed some time off."

"You're welcome."  She handed over reports.  "Yours.  I even fixed where I spelled my name wrong."

"Go home tonight, Calleigh."

"I am.  The ice cream eating fairy and I need to commune according to Xander."  She walked off, going to sign out for the day and head home.

Horatio went to gather other paperwork, finding Ryan and Valera snickering in DNA and Natalia giving them uneasy looks.  "Ladies and Ryan."

Ryan grinned.  "Hi, H."  He handed over his folders.  "I'm done for the day.  We're just joking."

"I heard.  You made Calleigh blush."

"Xander promised if he did get the strip line we could all watch," Maxine said happily, handing over reports.  "Yours."

"Thank you, ma'am."  He shook his head.  "If you're done, go home.  You clearly need a nap, Miss Valera.  You as well, Mr. Wolfe."

"Yes, Horatio," they said together, bursting out laughing again.

"If they're like this again tomorrow I'm hiding," Natalia told him.  "They're going odd in the head and it's got to be Xander's fault."

Horatio glared at her.  "They're having fun, Miss Boa Vista.  They're young, they can do that."  He walked off with his reports, running into Stetler.  "Did you get the evidence Eric left for you?"

"I did," he admitted grimly. "You two, here, now!" he ordered.  "You're clearly high on something."

"Just life," Maxine said happily.  "Why?  Are you drug testing us?"  He nodded, handing over cups.  She pinched him on the cheek.  "Wanna watch me?"

"There's a female officer for that."

"Sure.  That'll be fine."  She strolled off to do that.

Ryan looked at him.  "You know, Natalia's been laughing with us all day."  He went to fill his own cup, handing it over when he was done.  "You have a good night playing with my urine specimen," he told the officer in there with him, washing his hands and heading out once he was redressed.   He grinned at Horatio.  "I'm not worried."

"Neither am I, Mr. Wolfe.  Where is my assistant?"

"Gone home about ten minutes before you got here," he said.  "Something about dinner and needing to hit the grocery store.  He left on time and you've got things in your inbox from him, plus messages."

"Thank you."  He went to check his desk, finding three messages and a pile of papers he only had to read over and sign.  Plus two he had to fill out. Those were easy enough to do.  He left an hour later, heading home.  He walked in to a fabulous smell and the smell of smoke.  "Did you burn something?"

"Yeah, some of the breaded stuff didn't quite turn out right," he admitted.  "I fed it to the neighborhood stray instead."  He smiled at him and went back to cooking.  "Are the giggle twins still at it?"

"Yes they are, and they were also drug tested."

"It was Maxine's dirty thought first, Horatio.  She thought the vibe I put out to draw bad girls was tainting Stetler because he was being bitchy."  Horatio snickered at that.  "It went on from there and the Feds gave her horrified looks.  Oh, they left early but you had a sealed envelope in your top desk drawer.  I locked it in there personally.  They said to call them by tomorrow morning."

"That's fine.  I saw that message and glanced at the envelope but I'll do that in the morning."

"That's a bad way to ruin a good morning."  He snuck a kiss with a smile.  "Breaded fish and fries?"

"I could like that."  He went to change, coming out to find Xander serving.  "Baked?"

"I tried frying them and it burned.  Better the dogs than us."  He settled in with his glass of soda.  "Can Maxine walk now?"

"She was walking better," he admitted.  "Did you remember to grab your shirt?"

"After lunch when it was dry."  He ate a bite, smiling a this good work.  "First try even."

"It's good, Xander.  Thank you."  He gave his hand a pat and they got back to eating.  "What else came in today?"

"Manpower report for the upcoming week.  Two evaluation packets.  A letter from Duke University to speak at one of their forensic classes.  I can draft a letter tomorrow for whichever way you want to go.  Um..."  He ate another bite while thinking.  "Two threats that I handed to Calleigh and Ryan and one proposition to take me.  That one went to Ryan and he went to find the other officer to chew him a new one.  That one may have ended up with Stetler, I'm not sure."

"Interesting.  Why was he going to take you?"

"To quote, little gay boys don't belong in our department and only little gay boys can be secretaries."  He ate another bite.  Horatio moaned, shaking his head.  "Your two threats were in the interdepartmental mail too.   One went to Calleigh, one went to Ryan.  They were not amused."

"I'm not amused."  He finished up, going hunting for seconds.  He came out to find Xander finishing up.  "I left you the other piece."

"I'm fine.  You have it.  You've had a trying day.  I only ended up being snotty to the Feds who came back and made Stetler go through my desk for me.  I did offer him a few of my certs since he gave the gigantic bag I have in there an odd look."  Horatio smiled at that, shaking his head, going to get the last piece.  Then he came out to eat with him.  "Are we going jogging again tonight?"

"We can if you want," he promised, smiling at him. "I wasn't sure you'd want to after helping Maxine in the gym."

"All I did was spot."

"Good."  He dug in again, finishing up quickly.  "Go change."  Xander smiled, going to do that while he did the same thing.  He came out tying his new shoes.  "How are those working out for you?"

"They're okay.  My knees don't hurt as much.  Thank you."  He gave him a hug and a grin.  "Want me to drive?"

"Not the hummer."  They walked out together, heading for the park they ran in.  Xander took off in one direction, Horatio took off in the other.  He tracked him for as long as he could.  He still lost him halfway through.  That was fine though, it came back ten minutes later when he was back in range.  It phased out again for a few minutes where the path curved back, and by the time he got there, it was waiting on him. "Cramps?"

"Broke the shoelace," Xander admitted, giving him a grin.  He finished relacing it and stood up, looking around.  "So, what're we doing later?"  Horatio smiled.  "Good."  He winked and jogged off, letting Horatio stare at him before heading to finish his run. They made it back to the hummer about the same time to find Eric leaning there.  "What's wrong?" Xander asked.

"I got asked what your relationship was," he admitted quietly.

"You tell them I'm a mooch who's living on his couch?" Xander asked.

"Yeah.  Basically."  He looked at Horatio.  "It wasn't Stetler.  It was one of the Feds."

"I'm starting to wonder if this ties back to the thing in Sunnydale," Xander said grimly.  Eric nodded.  "You're sure?"

"One mentioned that your name was mentioned in an open investigation."

"Could be the parking garage."

"No, he mentioned a federal investigation."

"Yippee.  Not like I was going to not help."  He leaned against the hummer, cooling down.  "We'll deal, Eric.  Thank you."

"Welcome.  Thought you two should know and I know you jog out here. Oh, Calleigh thinks they bugged your house."

"We'll look when we get home," Horatio agreed.  "Thank you, Eric."

"Welcome, H."  He walked off, going to do his own jogging.

Xander looked at Horatio.  "I so wanna call Phelps."


"The CID guy out in Sunnydale."

"Perhaps we'll have to.  Let's see what happens first."  He let Xander into the hummer, getting in to drive them home.  He had known he spotted a tail earlier.  Now he knew why.


Dawn smiled as she came off the elevator that morning, waving at Tony.  "I'm back.  Ziva, do you need more help?  I'm on call until Phelps gets here."

"I could," she admitted.  Dawn handed over her old english textbook.  "What's this?"

"Sixth grade english.  I found it in my stuff.  It's full of parts of speech exercises."  Ziva smiled, leaning back to go through it.  "With the answers in the back.  I figured it'd be a reference when you needed one."

"Thank you, Dawn.  This may help."  She got to work on the first exercise, frowning at it.  "What's a megamart?"

"Wal-Mart," Tony told her.

"Oh, one of those."  She nodded, getting back to work on the exercise.  She smiled and checked her answers, only getting two wrong.  She saw why and it was reasonable.  It was helpful.  She smiled.  "I can definitely use this."

"You're welcome."  She beamed and pulled over her usual chair.  "Let's go over the next report."  Ziva let her see it.  She had corrected it already.  Dawn punched her on the arm with a beaming smile.  "Good job!  Only two spots."  She found them and highlighted them.  "Those two sentences make *no* sense."

"I couldn't figure out how to say it in English so I did in Hebrew and translated it back."

"No wonder."  She got onto an online translator Willow liked for research work.  "Type it in there."  She did that and it came out better, making Ziva smile.  "Willow uses that one for research purposes when she can't figure out a word. Is that closer?"

"Much closer."  She cut and pasted it into the report, then edited it to sound better.  She did the other one and it came out a little bit less good but that was fine.  She knew what she wanted to say now.  It got fixed and Dawn gave it another reread, then nodded for her to print it.  Ziva did that, handing it to Gibbs when he walked past with his newest cup of coffee.  "She found me a better online translator and an old English book."

"Good."  He read it over, nodding.  "Much better, Ziva."  He put it into the 'going upstairs' stack.  "DiNozzo, how many are you behind now?"

"None, boss.  I even had Dawn proof my last two."  He kicked back, grinning at her.  "She's very good at helping.  Maybe Probie's reports could use the help?"

"No, I dated an English major and I am a writer, Tony," McGee said, smirking at him.

"You could still use some tightening," Gibbs told him.  "You've been using girl words again, McGee."

Dawn reached over to bop him on the arm.  "Girl words are sometimes necessary words, Gibbs."  She went to go over that one with him, circling a few.  "Going metaphorically?"  He blushed and got back to work on that and she found one thing.  "'Tis a typo, Shakespeare."  She kissed him on the temple and went to check on the coffee pot.  She made some since it was empty and there was an agent staring at it in trepidation. "It's not that hard," she told him, showing him how it was done.  Then she let it brew.  "Started a new pot," she announced.  A few more agents went in to get new cups of coffee.  She sat down with Ziva, going over the next one.

Gibbs answered his phone an hour later.  "Gibbs."  He listened.  "That's fine.  I can even have her deliver stuff."  He hung up, grabbing the stack of reports.  "Hand those to the director on your way in, Dawn."  He gave her a look that said he'd be listening for her to have troubles.

"Sure, I can do that."  She made sure she looked neat and presentable then carried the stack up there, tapping before walking into the director's office.  "I've been helping proofread reports."

"Go on in, Dawn."  The secretary smiled at her back.  She was so nice!

Dawn knocked then walked in, putting down the stack.  "Amended and new reports, Director.  I've been helping proofread and working on Ziva's english skills."  She squealed and hugged Phelps.  "You survived, I'm so proud!"

He smiled. "Thank you, Dawn.  How are you handling Gibbs?"

"He's great.  He lets me cook dinner all the time so I can fuss over someone.  He lets me help with the boat.  He puts up with my tv watching now and then."  That got a smile.  "Much better than Buffy."

"She wanted me to tell you she was sorry."

"Yes, she certainly is," she agreed.  "Not going to cut it this time, sorry."  She gave him another hug, sitting down with him.  "So, what's the what this time?  New information?  New questions?  Are they trying to come back again?"

"Some new information," he admitted, patting her on the knee.  "I found what you were looking for."  She stiffened and nodded.  He nodded back, giving her a sorry look.  "I wish we had been wrong, Dawn, I really do," he said gently.

She sniffled then nodded.  "It's best I know so I can kick their ass."

"Xander shot them on the way out the second time," he admitted gently.

"Good!  Are they dead or can I visit them?"

"They're in the hospital at Walter Reed."   She nodded at that.  "You can't kill him."

"I won't but it doesn't mean I can't torment him."  She straightened up again.  "What else came out?"

"They were going to assassinate the whole group but keep Buffy.  That's part of the divide and conquer plan.  Starting with Giles and Xander.  I smugly pointed out that it was Willow they had to really watch out for."

"No, Xander would've survived.  He's good at that."

"I saw what happened in Miami.  Is he okay?"

"Yeah, he's fine."  She beamed, giving him another hug.  "They wouldn't have gotten Xander.  I'm very sure of it.  His parents couldn't, they wouldn't have."  He nodded at that.  "What else is going on?  How's Tara?"

"Tara's doing just great," he assured her, giving her a gentle smile.  "The town's on a downward swing.  Your sister did apologize to Xander."

"Won't cut it now," she assured him.  He nodded.  "Anything new come out?"

"Is your friend Oz typical or atypical?"

"Atypical.  Something he found in Tibet."

"I'll have that entry corrected then.  It will be sealed.  Every last file, every interview, all of it, will be sealed for at least eighty years.  There's three people who have seen everything.  One is in the Pentagon.  One is myself.  One is Fornell."

"He's a furry, it's not a problem as long as we can warn Xander if he goes to Miami."

"I'll tell him to warn one of you guys so you can."  She nodded, giving him a cuddle.  "It'll be fine, Dawn, I promise it will be."  He patted her on the back.  "Now why aren't you in school?"  She sat up and pointed at the director, getting a scowl.  "She had you kept out today?"

"I thought you might need to talk to her," the director defended.

"I could've done that at Gibbs' house later, ma'am.  It's important that Dawn get a great education."  He looked at her.  "I'm stationed locally so you can come talk to me if you need to.  Got it, kiddo?"

"I do, Phelps.  Thank you."

"Welcome.  Now, let's go make sure Gibbs knows that his ass is dead if he treats you wrong."

"He's been good to me.  He even let me threaten Willow when she showed up.  Plus Fornell."  She stood up, taking his arm to walk him out.  "Thank you, Director."  She walked him down there, smiling at Ziva.  "Guys, this is Agent Phelps, CID."  Gibbs looked at him.  "He wanted to make sure you're not being mean to me."

"She's noisy and bouncy but she makes good coffee," Gibbs said, earning another swat.  He only gave her a mild glare, getting a smug look back.  "You do make good coffee, go make some more?"

"In a few."  She smiled at Phelps.  "See?"

"I do."  He grinned at Gibbs.  "If you need help with her stuff, let me know, Gibbs."  Dawn looked at him.  "I kept that stuff out of it, Dawn."  She sighed in relief.  "Who else knows?"  She pointed at Tony.  "That'll work too.  He's always on Gibbs' six."  He looked at Gibbs again.  "It'll be sealed.  It's me, Henderson in the Pentagon, and Fornell that'll have access to it.  He's got to so some of the still-living ones can be charged with treason.  There shouldn't be a need for her to testify.  Henderson's handling the internal trials so he's seen every file."  That got another nod.  "If you needed to we can get you access or a copy."

"I wouldn't mind, just in case one of them comes after her."

"The only one that could would be the one in Walter Reed.  Harris shot him on the way out the second time.  There was an indication that her mother's brain tumor was caused by him but he's paralyzed so they're not charging him at this time.  Later ones may be coming," he said, looking down at Dawn, who nodded.  He looked at Gibbs again.  "I told her she could torment him but not kill him."

"That's reasonable.  He deserves it.  I'm sure they'll be charging him?"

"It'll cost us a hell of a lot to have a quadriplegic in prison so if he doesn't get better, he's staying in a home under watch and basically lifetime house arrest."  That got dual nods as well.  "I'll bring those copies out to you tonight.  Do make her go to school, Gibbs.  She needs to do great things for the world."

"She was thinking about home schooling instead."

"I heard she had a migraine yesterday.  I'll get the file about what happened to her mom to Ducky.  That way it can be checked and watched out for.  You might also tell Harris that they did try to poison him but apparently it had no effect."  Gibbs stiffened at that.  "That was the end plan for the divide and conquer strategy they had going."

"But Xander's better than them," she said happily.

"I'll let him know.  Is he getting access?"

"If he wants it.  The same as you can let this one have it if she wants it," he said, giving Dawn a squeeze.  "If you need me, call, and I'll have that to you tonight."  He smiled at her.  "You are going to do great things and your mother would be very proud," he said quietly.  She sniffled and nodded. "I'll be watching to make sure for her.  Got me here?"  She nodded, giving him a hug.  "Good girl."  He gave her a pat and let her go.  "I'll see you later tonight."  He saluted Gibbs and walked off.

"'Scuse me for a few," Dawn said, heading to the bathroom.  She got five minutes before Tony came looking, giving her the cuddle she needed so she could cry on him.  "Thank you," she said finally.

"You needed it, Dawn.  Crying's a natural part of healing."  He smoothed down her hair.  "Better for the moment?"  She nodded.  "Then get fabulous again.  The director wants into those files."

"He didn't put in there why I'm so special."

"I heard.  It makes me happy.  She still doesn't need to know the rest."  Another female agent came in.  "The final report on her mother's death just came in," he explained.  "Ziva didn't know why you shouldn't let a girl cry alone."  He tipped her chin up.  "Clean up, come back.  We'll run interference for you."

"I'll chew her a new one myself," she promised, bucking up again.  He grinned and walked out, letting her clean up.  "Sorry."

"No, you obviously needed it.  What happened?"

"A top secret military project came to my former town and decided to torture people.  They made my mom sick to get rid of our group."  She splashed her face with water, drying it off.  "Not too puffy."  She checked herself over, walking back out there.  "Hey."

"You good?" Gibbs asked quietly.  She nodded.  "You sure?"

"I'm fine.  When I got asked, I told them it was a top secret military project that came out to torture people.  They got Mom to destroy the group."

"Which is about three-quarters of the truth," he agreed, smiling at her.  "Help Ziva finish amending her old reports."  She nodded, sitting down to do that.   "Ducky said if you wanted to know the particulars he could research how it happened."

"No, I figure it was something they slipped to her, a shot or something."  He nodded.  "They're evil bastards.  They need to be safely contained away from people."

"Are we talking special cells with face masks and chained to an upright table?" Tony teased.

She gave him a weak smile.  "I don't think the Hannibal torture would be enough.  I'm thinking Ancient Roman Coliseum treatment. We could hold parties like the old days, watch them be ripped apart by lions and things.  Let elephants draw and quarter them.  That sort of thing."

Ziva gave her an odd look then dug out some chocolate, handing it over.  "Here, it helps when I'm feeling homicidal."

Dawn smiled.  "Thanks, Ziva.  Chocolate does ease a lot of ills and cures others completely."  She nibbled while they worked together. She'd talk to Xander tonight.  "That one's plural," she told her.  "It doesn't go with the 'he' pronoun."  She nodded, fixing that.


Xander answered his cellphone about an hour after they had gotten back from their run.  "Harris."  He listened.  "We're hunting bugs right now, Dawn.  Not that sort.  Asshole Feds in the lab sort.  Sure."  He hung up.  "Dawn wanted a  video conference right now."

"I don't have that setup on my computer."  A bag fell lightly next to his feet.

"Thankfully Dawn can borrow from Willow."  He plugged it into the phone line, then into his cellphone, letting her come up a minute later.  "What's wrong, glowy one?  Have you been crying?"

"The final reports are out from Phelps.  They're going to be sealed.  Almost no one's going to have access but we'll have a copy and he said you could too if you wanted to."

He considered it.  "I know what they did."

"They did dose Mommy," she said quietly.  "They tried to poison you too, Xander."

"At least someone saw me as useful."  He leaned on his knees, looking at her.  "Hey, Jethro.  Who'll have access?"

"The judge doing the hearings at the Pentagon, Fornell in the FBI because a few are being charged with treason, and Phelps.  We'll have a copy, you can have one."

"It would be appreciated," Horatio said, sitting next to Xander on the couch.  "How bad did it turn out?"

"Well, Xander shot the guy who dosed Mommy on the way out the second time."

"Good, he alive?" Xander asked.

"Paralyzed from the lungs down," Dawn told him.  Xander smirked at that.  "Can't move his arms either.  He's in treatment up here so I'll get to torment him all I want.  As long as I don't hurt him further physically."  Xander snickered, nodding.  "The divide and conquering stuff was so they could kill you and Giles.  Apparently they thought Willow was harmless."

"Yeah," he snorted.  "Poison?"

Gibbs opened up the report, finding it.  "They tried to get you with a biological neurotoxin.  They had no idea why it didn't work."

"Probably sweated it out too fast," Xander said thoughtfully.  "How was it administered?"

"They put it in a dinner Anya bought for you."  He looked at him.  "Shrimp."

"Ah.  I never ate it.  We went like rabid bunnies when she got home and it went bad on the table waiting on us."  That got a smirk.  "Hey, I found a use for too much sex," he said proudly.

Horatio patted him on the back.  "Anything else we should know before we get the report?" Horatio asked.

"The rest could probably wait but we're not sure they're all captured.  They had their personnel list but scientists were running it first.  Scatterbrained ones at that."

Xander nodded.  "You had to meet Doctor Walsh to hate her properly.  You okay, Dawnie?"

"I'm good," she said quietly, leaning on Jethro's arm. "I had a good cry on Tony earlier.  Ziva fed me some chocolate while I was making torture plans."  That got a pat from Jethro.  "We have the cutest skunk demon family out behind the house."

Xander smiled.  "Better you than me.  They don't like me."  She giggled.  "Go rest, baby girl.  You need the rest.  Cuddle up with him if you have to.  He looks like he could use a couch cuddle."

"Sure.  Thanks, Xander."

"We'll get you a copy sent down tonight," Gibbs told Horatio.  "Fornell's on his way down."

"Why?" Horatio asked.  Gibbs pointed at Xander.  "The park?"  That got a nod.  "We're not sure who she was."

"Ryan figured that out earlier," Xander said, looking at him.  Horatio gave him a curious look.  "It was a reporter chick that knows the one who bothers him."

"We'll look into that tomorrow.  Did he find her ritual spot?"

"Yeah, he thinks he did.  They also found the remains of a few other former people.  Alexx was *not* amused."

"Eeww, yeah, not fun," Dawn agreed. "Poor woman.  How bad was it?"

"About four feet long," Xander admitted.  "Alexx was *really* not amused having to go through the after-digestion to get parts."  Gibbs looked sickened.  "Sorry."  He looked at Dawn.  "You sure? You can pop down for a cuddle if you need one."

"No, I'm good," she assured him, smiling a bit. "Besides, you look comfy."  She wiggled her fingers and signed off.

Horatio looked at Xander.  "You do look comfortable."

"We still have to finish sweeping the house for bugs.  Otherwise I'll end up moaning into one with nightmares.  Or something," he said with a small grin.  Horatio nodded, helping him up so they could do that.  He did disconnect the laptop and put it back into the box, letting Dawn have it back.  By the time they got done all Xander wanted was a cuddle and Horatio was more than happy to indulge him.


Xander looked up the next morning as his closet was invaded.  "Yes, Agent Fornell?"  He took the folder he held out, flipping through it.  "It's not as massive as I expected."

"That's not the video files, just the report, Mr. Harris."  Xander nodded, sticking it into his backpack.  "You do know that they..."

"Saw my name in an open investigation and decided Horatio's harboring a fugitive or something?  Yeah, I made the connection yesterday when someone mentioned my name."   That got a nod.  "How is Dawn doing really?"

"She's a strong young woman.  She'll be a credit to her mother's good teachings."  Xander smiled at that.  "She can lean on his team if she needs emotional support."

"Good to know.  I've only met Jethro out of his team."

"They're not too bad.  Gibbs runs a tight ship but his hacker's a bit on the light and fluffy, almost emotional side.  Then there's DiNozzo.  He's dated most of three cities' worth of women.  He should know how to hold one when she needs to cry on someone.  His female member seems to be confused by female emotions but Dawn's been helping her with her English recently."

"Even better.  Thank you."

"Welcome.  Now, would you like to explain to me what happened?"


"Not the one here recently.  I got briefed on that by Dawn late last night when I went to see if she knew what it had been."

Xander smiled.  "Ryan Wolfe has that case and he's nearly done with the report.  He found her lair and all her prior victims."

"Good to know.  I'll get that from him.  How did you survive the poisoning?"

"My ex Anya in a nympho.  Literally, textbook definition."  Fornell gaped.  "It went bad on the table while she jumped me."

"That's good to know.   We're hoping we have all the scientists."

"So do I but I can protect myself," he said gently.

"I saw that."  Someone coughed behind him.  "You are?"

"Eric Delko.  Is there a problem?"

"This is Special Agent Fornell with the FBI, Eric.  He came down to bring me a report."

"On the parking garage?"

Fornell looked at him.  "No, from his former hometown."  He looked at Xander again.  "There will be sixteen charged with treason.  The scientists and the two commanders.  The others are being charged in a military tribunal.  Closed of course."  Xander nodded.  "Then they'll be going away for a very long time."

"Good.  Thank you for giving that to me."

"I had to come down anyway.  Your boss is apparently tampering with evidence and letting you do so."

"Now and then I proofread a report," Xander offered, grimacing.  "I don't know where their fairytales come from but here, tell them I don't like it when people listen to my nightmares."  He handed over the baggie of bugs.  "Straight out of the freezer this morning."

"Interesting."  He looked at them.  "They are ours."  Xander nodded.  "Seen a few?"

"Yeah, during the Initiative thing.  We found requisitions so we knew who had sent them."  He leaned on his desk.  "Have them prove it."

"That's why I'm here.  Do you get into Caine's office when he's not there?"

"To file, sort his mail, bring him lunch.  Otherwise I've got this luxurious space here. Why would I need his windows?"

"Good joke, kid," he said dryly, walking off smirking.  "Tell him I'm here."

"He already knows," Xander promised.  He smiled at Eric.  "It's all right, really."

"What happened in your hometown?"

"A lot of very bad things but the files have been sealed.  He gave me my copy."  Eric just nodded, walking off to tell Ryan that there was a Fed looking for a copy of his newest report.  Xander turned and put the small padlock on his backpack, then popped in a certs and got back to work.  At least until his closet was yet again invaded.  He looked at Stetler.  "No one's doing anything bad this week?"

"There was a different agent here?"

"Special Agent Fornell.  He brought me my copy of a report that was recently sealed."

"Why did *you* need a copy?"

"Because he helped shut the torturing assholes down," Fornell said from behind him.  He looked at him.  "We've got a list of things you've apparently done?"

"Me?  Sure."  He got up, coming out and closing his closet door, locking it even. "I've got the amended budget papers in there," he said at Fornell's curious look.  "No one needs to know how much the others make."

"Fine.  His office."

"Going."  He hiked that way.

Fornell looked at Stetler.  "That is need to know...."

"Stetler, IAB."

"Is the secretary under investigation?"

"We think it's *strange* that Horatio's taken him in and gave him a job as his assistant."

"Don't be.  The kid's very protective."

"So I've noticed," he said dryly.  "I've also noticed that they're incredibly closer than friends after only knowing each other a short time."

"There's no rule against sleeping with a secretary, even yours," Fornell said.  "As long as it's not a provision of his employment."  He walked off, heading up to the office.  He walked in and shut the door.  "He thinks you've got the mistress job."

"No, then I'd have to wear the short skirts," Xander quipped from the couch, getting a snicker from Fornell and Horatio moaning and shaking his head. "I would."  He looked at Fornell.  "I supposedly did what?"

"Signed an evidence log?"

"I did a double count."  He came over to find it, showing him.  "See, I signed under the 'double count' notice.  They were counting by hand because the counter quit working mid- count for some reason.  This way they had a second validated opinion."

"Good to know."  He made notes.  "I also see that you've dipped into departmental petty cash?"

"For lysol and a box of sanitary wipes," Xander agreed.  "One of the night shift people has the flu and she likes to come rifle through my desk for my bag of certs since she can't keep down food.  Horatio approved that."

He made that note.  "I see that you've signed an evidence envelope?"  Xander shook his head.  He showed him the picture of it.

"Um, no, my middle initial is 'L'.  My full first name would be Alexander.  No.  XH, isn't that the QD guy, Horatio?"

"In non-felony," he agreed quietly.  "May I?"  The report was handed over.  He looked at it.  "Those are QD files," he agreed, handing them back.  "That would be his signature in the picture.  We've had to do some quality control for their lab in the past.  You can have our tech verify if you want."

"I can do that."  He went through the rest of it.  "Oh, here's one.  You're sleeping with your assistant."

"I've been on his couch since I moved down here," Xander told him.  He stared at him.

Fornell looked at him.  "I know about Gibbs, kid.  The same as I know why Dawn's really living up with him."  Horatio quirked an eyebrow up.  "He zoned during a case once.  DiNozzo had a hopping up and down fit to get him out of it.  Nearly got himself shot."  He went back to it.  "So I'm going to assume?" he said, looking at Horatio again. "Since you both go to see Sandburg now and then?"

Horatio nodded quietly.  "I would like that to not get out."

"Not an issue with me.  I reserve the right to coopt you if I have to come down here for a case that has forensics."  Horatio nodded that was agreeable.  "How is he working out?"

"Very good.  Even if I have gained ten pounds."  Xander stuck his tongue out.  "We're both going on a diet."

"I'm twenty pounds under target weight.  I'll quit making you desserts."  He looked at the snickering agent next to him.  "Anything else they're trying to blame on me, like global warming?"

"Not that yet."  He looked over the rest of the report.  "Here's one. You have an unnatural attraction to weapons?"

"I was Buffy's gear guy," Xander said simply.  "I probably know some classes of weapons as well as Calleigh does, Agent Fornell.  I had to."

"I saw the mention of the stolen rocket launcher."

"Was kinda necessary," Xander admitted.  "They knew, they came and asked.  They got the mall footage and decided it was necessary too.  They told us to ask next time."

Fornell nodded, making a note about his prior bodyguarding experience including weapons training.  "That should clear that up as long as I can have your documents person verify it is the same signature as that other guy."  Horatio paged him.  "What about the thing in the park?"

"The mayor called me down to talk about it too," Xander agreed.  "I suggested he plant trees if he didn't want my help putting it back together again.  I like beech trees, that park could use some lighter colors."

Fornell looked at him. "The girls made you shop with them, didn't they?"

"No, I was the approval committee."

Fornell patted him on the shoulder.  "You'll get over it, Mr. Harris."

"I had to drag him," Horatio admitted dryly, smirking at Xander.  "Go let him in."  Xander went to open the door and let Ryan and the QD guy in.  "Yes, Mr. Wolfe?"

"I heard he wanted a copy of the report from the park?"  He handed a copy to Horatio and one to Fornell.  "That is preliminary, only grammar and spell checked.  I'll go back over it again tonight if you need a better one."  He looked at Xander. "Lunch?"

"Not sure if I'll be here or not," Xander admitted.  "Maxine wanted help in the gym again."

"Last time you gave her evil thoughts," Horatio pointed out.  "It can wait until after work so she doesn't traumatize anyone else."  He smiled. "Yes, you can have lunch with Mr. Wolfe.  I won't need you and if Fornell does, he can take you again afterward."

"Okay."  He grinned at Ryan.  "Sure, but I'm getting out of the machine today."

"That's fine.  I'll see you then."  He walked off, going to finish his other paperwork since he didn't have an open case at the moment.

Fornell looked at the nervous tech.  "You're not in trouble.  There was a question about who signed some evidence envelopes.  They think Mr. Harris did it.  Your boss thinks one of your counterparts did."  He gave him the list.  "Figure it out."

"Yes, sir."  He went to do that after a glance and a nod from Horatio.

"You know, them not knowing that Xander is a nickname shows that they didn't even look me up in the DMV database.  It's in there if they had checked."

Fornell smirked at him.  "They're lazy and stupid.  That's why they got moved to that department.  I kicked one of them out personally for those sins."  He nodded. "Shoo."  Xander nodded, smiling at Horatio, who nodded.  Fornell closed the door again. "He's really working out?"

"He's doing fine.  How is Jethro doing?"

"There's been a bit of a fuss since he's had to call her from scenes while she's at school.  She's thinking about home schooling.   Personally I think DiNozzo is one too.  He's got hyper sensitive hearing at the least."

"Sometimes guides can have one or two hyped," Horatio admitted.  "Blair said so when we figured out Speed has an extraordinary sense of smell.  Unfortunately neither of us could be led by the people we have around us."

"Which is a pain," he agreed.  "Anyway, the girl's fine.  First time I met her she smarted off after making one of my boys whimper and cry by ramming his head into a porch support for suggesting she and Jethro were together."  Horatio laughed, nodding.  "She's quite a woman in the making.  Her only problem is the Director up there."

"She and Xander have talked about her a few times," he admitted quietly, leaning back some.  "She said Jethro's boss decided to try to find her father for her."

"Yeah, the guy laughed and hung up."  He sat down across from him.  "Have you had to work with Miss Summers?"

"No, I've had to meet Miss Rosenburg."

"Yeah, she showed up once when they were having a team dinner.  Dawn chewed her out."

"As did Xander, just quietly."  He nodded at the hall.  "That's Calleigh.  It's open," he called.  She opened the door.  "What's wrong?"

"Xander knows weapons?"

"He was her gear guy according to him," Fornell told her.  "He at least knows how to use a rocket launcher."


"Something that had to be taken out in a mall."

"Okay," she said, nodding.  "Should we see how well he knows?" she asked.  Horatio shrugged.  "Do you want to know?"

"If he wants me to know he'll tell me.  Or he'll show me some day."  She nodded at that, leaving them alone.  "I'm assuming you also brought his copy of the report?"

"I did.  He locked it in his backpack."

"Good.  Anything else I should be aware of?"

"They probably won't ask him to testify.  Sixteen are going down for treason.  The rest for various military crimes against humanity and torture. They're all going to be sealed as well."


"Jethro's director wants into the files however."

"She can't have him or Dawn."

"She's got a heated distaste of Dawn," he warned.

"Jethro is more than any threat's equal," he said happily, smirking a bit.  "Dawn as well from what Xander said."

"She's still trying to out-snark the girl.  Dawn apparently learned that skill very well."

"I met the reason.  Xander's ex Cordelia came down."

"I heard about that from Jethro.  He called her the meaner version of him in a short skirt and fashionable shoes."  Horatio laughed, nodding that he agreed.  "Good to know.  I'll remember that if I have to go to LA anytime in the near future."  He heard the alarm start and got up.  "Fire drill?"

"Not that I'm aware of.  Head down the stairs and follow the others."  He nodded, going to do that while Horatio checked the labs to make sure everyone was out.  He passed by Xander, who gave him a pat on the arm, but was carrying the backpack.  "Put that in the hummer, Xander."

"It'll keep until tonight," he promised, jogging outside.  He joined the others on the grass, looking up at the building.  Someone gave a tug to the backpack so he looked back at Maxine.  "I've got my copy of a sealed report on me," he admitted.  "Agent Fornell brought it for me."

"What did you do?"

"There were bad assholes who came to torture people in our town.  A few of us didn't like that.  So we dealt with it," he said bluntly.  She gaped.  He shrugged.  "It's a long story and the files have all been sealed now.  I wasn't going to leave the report in there in case someone snooped."  She nodded, giving him a hug around the shoulders. "Horatio said we can't do the gym until after work."

"That's fine.  I can have lunch with you and Ryan," she agreed happily.  "What did you bring today?"

"Nothing.  Horatio got the last of the leftovers."  She giggled.  "I have no idea what I'm cooking tonight.  I'm not craving anything."

"Then order a pizza, Xander. You're a young guy, you can do that and he'd probably appreciate it.  You make great but fussy food."

"I made fish and chips last night," he said, frowning at her. "You didn't even have the roulade I made that first night."

"What's a roulade?" Natalia asked.

"This meat dish with stuffing in the center of the rolled meat," Eric said as he joined them.  "It's like a jelly roll only made of meat and stuffing."

"Was it good?" Valera asked.

"Very," he agreed with a grin.  "It's no wonder H gained ten pounds in the last few months."

"He has not!"

"He has," Valera said with a grin.  "His pants are tight again but they look good on him."  She watched Horatio coming outside.  "Oooh, the tight pants aren't happy either."  Xander smacked her on the forehead.  "Hey!"  She swatted him.  He stared at her until she blushed.  "Oh, really?" she teased, pulling him closer to hug.

"If you keep doing that you're going to have to turn snarky, evil, or mean to me," he complained a bit loudly.  She giggled and let him go.  "Thank you."  He grabbed his backpack when it fell off, looking at the lock.  Then at Ryan, who had the report.  "Cute.  Give it back.  It's a sealed file."

"I can see why."  He handed it back.  Xander relocked it.  "Just wondering.  What you told her sounded like a movie plot."

"I know I'm not an action star.  Xanders are good at action stuff but I never get the hotty girls or get to play with the greatest weapons.  Sorry, it'd be a poor man's action movie if it was."  Ryan giggled and Maxine laughed, leaning on Eric's shoulder while he shook his head.  "It would be."

"I'm sure it would be," he agreed, patting him on the shoulder.  "It's all right.  We'll work on your sanity, your wardrobe, and Valera's abs to help you."  Horatio made it over to them.  "Not a drill?"

"No there was legitimate smoke," he admitted.  Xander gave him a look.  "Gas canister by the air conditioning unit."

"Uh-huh," Xander said, staring his sentinel down.  "Like SWAT issue or like prank smoke bomb or like homemade smoke bomb?"

"Let us figure that out," Ryan ordered.  Xander looked at him.  "That is our job."  He looked at Horatio.  "I've got one of your threats from yesterday.  I did find fingerprints and I've been trying to prove he was in the building, Horatio.  Cooper's going over AV footage yesterday."  Horatio nodded.  "Calleigh had the other one."

"He told me.  What about the one to him?"

"That one came from someone in homicide.  I gave it to Frank."   Horatio smiled.  "He was dumb enough to use his personal stationary.  Last I heard,  Yelina had a talk with him with Hagen."

Eric shuddered.  "He'd let her hit him all she wanted," he complained.

"Calleigh did train him well in how to let women go first," Ryan teased.

"Very," Eric agreed.  He looked around.  "There's Hagen but I don't see Frank or  Yelina, H."

Horatio strode over there, looking at John, who was smirking a bit evilly.  "Who was it?"  John pointed at the very cowering man off to the side.  "Yelina?"

"Me, Horatio.  She only yelled and screamed at him.  I had fun."  He patted him on the arm.  "It's good to see you happy again.  What's up with today?"

"Gas canister on the A/C unit."

"Really?"  He smiled.  "Need a detective to start the legwork?"

Xander looked at something then slammed into it with his backpack, making it scream.  "Go away."  It scampered off, going back to its master, the cowering detective.  He glared at Xander.  Xander turned and glared back, making him back down and make his demon disappear.  "You'd better."  He smiled at Maxine again.  "So you're going to try my whole workout today, right?"

"There's no way I can do two hours of situps and pushups, Xander," she complained.  "I'll let you help me with mine while you run on the treadmill.  You can even change this time."

He gave her an odd look.  "I've got to be able to fight in what I'm wearing, Maxine.  I only change when I'm going for a job.  Speaking of, my new sneakers are at home."

"Pity.  Are you the sort to wear the short shorts?" she teased.

"You'd have to come running with me to see," he teased back with an evil smirk.  "In the park and all that.  You can wear spandex and I'll wear short shorts."

She blushed.  "I look lumpy in spandex."

"After a few weeks on my PT you won't," he assured her, giving her a squeeze.  "Then you'll have abs of doom too, dear."

She looked at him.  "We'll see.  I'm not up to jogging yet."  He nodded, letting her go.  "Can I see you in your running clothes anyway?"

"Only if you go stalker," he taunted.

"Stalker's such a *negative* word," she complained.  "How about an admirer?  Or a cheerleader?  I have a costume."

"No thanks.  I've had my quota of cheerleaders.  Cordy was enough for me."  She pinched him.  "She was!  You guys saw her on her best behavior.  That was company manners and she grew up a rich girl."

"Poo.  You sure?"

"I'm sure.  One cheerleader was enough.  Really.  Otherwise I'll start having flashbacks and expect them to kiss, snuggle, and grope with me and then put me down afterward."

"See, that was the problem.  She should've kept you tied down," Eric teased.

"Don't give Cordy ideas.  She'll do it as long as it won't mess up her nails or hair.  Then I'd have to put up with Angel taunting me forever about how he had to save me *this* time."

"He had to save you before?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, Faith was....  Well, kinda complicated.  She went a bit bad.  The group was treating her like shit for it.  I went to talk to her about it, see if we could work something out, bring her back to the group after she accidentally staked someone living.  She decided to reenact our first time together, where she pounced and climbed on top, but this time she decided to choke me while she was doing it. I blacked out and woke up to Angel.  I thought it was a nightmare or I had went to Hell for what I was doing out there.  Really creepy and someone kept my boxers."

Eric made squeaky noises.  "She tried to kill you?"

"Well, yeah.  She tried the first time by bracing on my upper chest so I couldn't breathe, but she was done too fast.  Wasn't the least bit great like it should've been."  He pulled out a picture.  "That was Faith.  That's Buffy and Willow," he said, pointing at the picture across from it.  "The older guy is Giles.  The older woman is...was Joyce, Buffy and Dawn's mother.  She was a mother to the group.  That's Tara," he said with a smile.  "She's Willow's girlfriend.  She's got the definition of sweet and pure in her soul."  He flipped a picture. "That's Oz.  He's cool if he shows up but he never talks.  He's a thinker instead of a doer."

"Why do you keep their picture if they hurt you?" Maxine demanded.

Xander looked at her.  "They're family, Max.  What did you want me to do?  I even have a picture of the dirtbags at home.  They're family.  No matter how selfish or stupid."

She gave him a hug.  "I'm going to kill them all for you, that way they can't hurt you again."

Xander looked at her.  "Are you turning into the next psycho girl I'll have to date?  Horatio would fire me for tainting you that way."

She pinched him on the side.  "I am not but someone has to.  They hurt you!"  She took his wallet, taking it to Alexx.  "Look at this.  He keeps the pictures of his made family, even the one who tried to kill him.  Twice!"  Alexx gave her an odd look.  "The first time she was playing with breath play and climbed on top, leaning on his chest so he couldn't breathe.  Thankfully she's an easy lay.  The second time she flat out choked him and he had to be saved.  Then either she or the guy who saved him kept his boxers," she complained.  She pointed at the other picture.  "That's Buffy and Willow."

"Hmm.  Sometimes you need reminders of the bad things so you don't go there again," she reminded her.

"No, he said they're family."

"That too."  Xander snatched his wallet back.  "If they come down you will let us know?"

"If Faith's coming down I'm running and hiding."

"Good."  Alexx stroked his cheek.  "What did you bring for lunch, baby?"

"Horatio got the last of the leftovers.  I'll eat out of the machine."

"Pick something good for you.  That way you have the energy to run and hide long enough for us to bust their hind ends for hurting you."  She smiled as Horatio joined them.  "He told her about some of his former friends."

"I heard.  Miss Valera was a bit loud."  She shrugged and snatched the wallet but Xander took it back, swatting her.  "Xander."

"Sorry, Horatio.  I'll quit acting like I'm in kindergarten."

"Thank you.  Let's see if we can go back to work."  He went to check, getting an all clear.  "Let's go back inside.  Check for tampering and spoiled samples, people.  I need to know."  They nodded, going inside.  He stopped Xander.  "Are you all right?"

"I'm alive."

"I know that.  That wasn't the question."

"I'm fine.  If Faith comes down I'll hide.  You can keep Alexx from killing her."

"I'll try," he agreed, giving him a smile.  "Put that in my office, lock it in the filing cabinet, Xander."  He nodded, going to do that.  He found Ryan watching him.  "You do not need to know."

"You're right, I don't.  I shouldn't have looked.  I'll apologize."

"Thank you, Mr. Wolfe."  He watched him go inside, following him a minute later.  Ryan was apologizing to Xander.  Maxine was looking up flights to Sunnydale.  "She's in jail in LA," he said quietly, making her jump.

"Good!  Saves me the trouble."  She canceled the flight search and got back to work. "It was because of what she did to him?"

"I believe it was where she staked someone by accident," he admitted.  She growled.  "He was not the only person she hurt, Miss Valera."

"If you say so."  She went back to work.   "Let me know if they need help keeping her there."

"I will."  He walked off smiling, even when he ran into Stetler.  "Problems?"

"Gas canister?"

"I believe Calleigh has it in fingerprints."

"Thank you."  He went that way.  "Duquesne, canister?"

"You can wait," she assured him.  "I'm nearly done lifting prints to run."  He scowled.  "Xander does that better when you take away his soda."  She got back to work, finding a match in the system.  She smiled and turned the monitor around.  "Him?"

"Him," he said grimly.  "What is wrong with him?"

"Well, Ryan got given a threat to Horatio from him."

"Interesting."  He walked out after hitting the print button.  He ran into Wolfe, who held up the folder.  "On the threat to the lab?"

"Both of them.  One of them I turned over to Detective Tripp since it was in his unit.  I thought he should handle it as head detective there."  He walked off.  "Calleigh had another one."

"How many did you get?" he demanded when he saw Horatio.

"One to Xander.  Two to the lab," he said, smirking some.  "Ma'am."  Calleigh handed over her report.  "Ryan's two?"


Horatio took them from his hand.  "Interesting."  He walked off reading them.

"That is my job."

"You can be there when I talk to them, Rick.  You know I'd never think about questioning an officer without you lurking in the corner."

Stetler growled, stomping after him.  "Give me those!"  He snatched them back.

"Polite manners do get you more cooperation than being surly," Frank chastised from the corner.  "That one on mine?"  Horatio nodded.  "What did he send at Harris?"

"I don't know.  You'd have to ask him."  Xander walked out and handed over that report, going back to his closet.  "Ah."  He read it then handed it to Frank.  "For you apparently."

"Thanks.  Really."  He headed for the elevator, getting the paper snatched.  "I was handling that one without you."

"If Xander gets hurt all the secretaries in the department will go off on the person who did it," he said grimly.  "They think it's very nice that Horatio has an assistant who can do things finally."  He got onto the elevator while reading, shaking his head at the stupidity of some officers.

Horatio looked at Frank.  "After you, Francis."

"Gee, thanks, Horatio."  They got onto the next car, going to save the poor stupid officers before they got eaten.  Because neither of them was sure if Stetler was something Xander would've hunted back at home or not.


Dawn got off the elevator at NCIS five weeks later, coming over smiling and happy.  "You guys don't look pleased to see my magical coffee making hands.  Bad case?"

"The director has ordered us to go to an upcoming Hill event," Tony said.  She looked clueless.  "That's black tie, making nice with the Senators and those sort, and you have to go too."

"Excuse me?  Why do I have to go?"

"Because she said so or she's going to fire Gibbs," Tony said, grinning at her.  "Do not freak out where she can see you, Dawn.  This is her next power move," he said quietly.

"She...  How long do I have to shop?" she asked, keeping in the insult.

"Three weeks."

"Girls plan shopping for the prom for *months*!" she complained.  "I can't do it in three weeks!  Not unless I borrow and I don't want to do that."

"We'll help you shop," McGee promised.  "You can take Ziva."

Ziva looked at him.  "I need help shopping.  What does one wear if they're not wearing a black tie?"

"A fancy dress," Tony told her.  "Think ballgown.  Diamonds.  Those things."

"Uh-huh," Dawn said, looking around for Gibbs.  She spotted him coming back from Abby's lab with her.  "Abby, help!  I'm apparently having to go too!"

"I know *nothing* about formal wear," she said, giving her a hug.  "It's all right.  We can start looking online.  I've got to go too.  We can help each other and Ziva so we don't embarrass NCIS.  Even get Ducky to help if we can."

Dawn whimpered, looking at Jethro.  "What're you wearing so I don't clash?  Because I'm thinking this is going to be worse than prom shopping."

"Probably.  I have the option of my dress uniform or a tux, like the others."

"Oh, yay."  She sighed and sat down at the spare desk in their row, pulling up a listing for prom dresses.  "How fancy am I going?  Am I going subtle, fantasy, what?  I need an idea here, people."

"Go classic, go glam, and go subtle," Tony told her.  "No sequins if you can help it.  Think movie star."

Dawn looked at him.  "Did you see some of the Oscar dresses last year?"

"Yes and if you go in something that slutty we'll lock you in a closet so  you don't get hit on by all the dirty old men," McGee told her.

"Thank you."  She went back to browsing.  "Any particular color scheme?  Red, blue, black?"

"Yes," Tony agreed.  "Simple and subtle and making you look gorgeous.  If we have to, we'll work on the polite small talk stuff later."  She beamed at him.  "Good girl.  Find pictures you like and let us see so we can weed them down.  Then you can take them shopping."  She nodded, going to do that.

Abby came over to look.  "Nothing's in black this year.  It's all barbie princess colors and ruffles.  Though, that one blue/purple/gauzy one is kinda pretty in a strange, barbie way."

"It's a Disney Princess look, get it right," Dawn said, grinning at her.  Abby snickered, kissing her on the head.  "At least you've got it easier."

"Maybe.  I take Ducky shopping.  He puts up with some of the stranger things."  She walked off, going to do her own searching and to whine to Ducky so he'd go with her again.


Dawn drug Ziva into the first of five dress shops she had found, ones that weren't couture because her budget wasn't that good, giving the older lady in there a helpless look.  "It's not the prom, I've got to go to a Capitol Hill event with my guardian.  She's got to go too.  She's dangerous and doesn't do pretty very often.  I'm fabulous but I'm more geared toward prom than high society glam.  Help?  Please?"

"Let's see what we can do.  What's your budget?"

"Under two hundred?" Ziva said hopefully.  The clearance rack was pointed at.

"Some girls spend *thousands* on their prom dresses," Dawn told her.  She looked at her. "I've got three, maybe four if I can beg nicely."

"That's a bit more leeway."  She handed Ziva something from the rack.  "Try that on, dear."  She led Dawn around, looking at her body and skin, plus her coloring and how she wore her hair.  "Are you planning up or down?"

"The dress will decide.  I need to look so fabulous the stupid woman who only gave me three weeks warning chokes and dies."

The woman smiled.  "I hate catty females too."  She led her to a rack she liked for younger ladies.  "It's a nighttime event?"  She handed over the invitation.  "Hmm.  What about this one?" she suggested, pulling something out.

"I'm not a big fan of the crinkled skirt look.  I was told something classical and fabulous.  Little sequins if any.  I was also told to think movie star but not the Oscars."

"That's reasonable for that sort of event."  She led her around to the other racks.  "Well, I have one that might do."  She pulled out a dark green dress, letting her see it.  It had a faux Egyptian decorated scoop neckline connected to a halter looking top and then a straight skirt.  "It's a bit older than you are.  This is an awkward age for these sort of events.  Your body's changing."

"I've had PMS now for three years.  They aren't getting any bigger."

"Good to know."  She let her try on the halter dress, going back to helping the older one.  She had a fantastic body and clearly worked at it.  "What do you do, dear?"

"I'm a liaison officer with NCIS but I'm originally Mossad."

"So you're really deadly?" she quipped.

"In many styles and languages," she agreed. "We're still deciding if I can go armed."

"Only a garter dagger," Dawn called.  "Jethro said so."

"What she said," she said, grimacing.  "Not that it'll be enough."

Dawn came out in her dress, looking at herself.  "It makes me look fat."

"A bit of tailoring can fix that," she pointed out.  "You've still got a very thin figure instead of the classical hourglass."

Dawn looked at her backside, then shook her head.  "No, I can't disappoint."  That got a nod so she changed back.  She came out to look at Ziva's dress, shaking her head.  "You look pretty but simpering girl pretty."  Ziva shuddered, going to change back into her street clothes.  "Thank you for trying."

"Anytime.  Come back for your prom, dear."

"Hopefully that one'll be less stressful."  She walked Ziva out, taking her up the street.


Xander answered his cellphone.  "Harris."  He listened to the babbling.  "Calm down, Dawn."  He leaned forward, holding his head.  "Let me talk to her."  He smiled when the harried saleswoman came on.  "I know it's awkward but she's got an older woman who's jealous that her guardian has her at the moment.  The older woman wants her guardian in the worst way and is trying to make Dawn miserable.  I know.  Anything that's going to make her look fantastic and wanted?  I want her so hot she gets a stalker from Capitol Hill."  He smiled.  "Tiger prints? With her coloring?  Is that good for social events?  Especially a two piece formal gown?"  He nodded.  "I tell you what.  She's got a picture phone.  I've got a picture phone.  Have her take pictures.  I don't know what Ziva looks like.  Have her take pictures there too.  I'll be here, I can afford the overage charges.

"Tell her to do that even if she has to try on very single dress in the store and don't worry about the price.  I can cover up to another five hundred if I have to."  He smiled.  "Good.  Yeah, I'll text back answers.  Have fun with it.  Calm her down again.  She's sounding frantic and frantic fifteen-year-old girl means pimples."  He hung up, waiting on the pictures while he went back to sipping his soda.  He sent back a few 'no's before he had to go to capital 'no's.  Then she ran out of dresses.  He sighed and typed in a longer one.  "Give Ziva the pink dress.  It'll look good on her and people will underestimate her."  He considered the other pictures, frowning.  "I'd ask Calleigh but she's off today."  He got up, going to get Maxine's help...and Alexx's since she was lurking.  "Dawn needs help picking a dress."

"It's prom season already?" Maxine asked, looking confused.

"No, Gibbs' director decided to order his whole team to a gala Capitol Hill event, including her, and gave them three whole weeks to shop."   Both women whimpered. "We need her to look comfortable, poised, classic, and hot.  Because I want that woman to choke and die on it for doing this to Dawn.  Before I have to go make her choke and die for doing this to Dawn."  He handed over the pictures.  "I told her to give the brunette in the one picture the pink dress.  It'll make her look delicate and they'll underestimate how deadly she can be.  She's Mossad."

Maxine gave him an odd look.  "Why can't she take Dawn shopping?"

"She doesn't own a skirt.  She's pouting because she can only bring one garter dagger."

"Oh, one of those women," Alexx said, taking the phone to look through the pictures, including the ones now coming in.  "Well...."  She flipped to one, showing it to Maxine, who looked hesitant.  Then another one.  "Huh."  She handed it back.  "Tell her the fairytale blue or the medium green looked the best on her."

"What about the jade?"  He flipped to that picture.  "I know she's fifteen but she's as hot as she's getting."

"She doesn't really have the curves for that yet," Maxine admitted.

"Her sister's flat too."

"Oh.  So she's not ever going to get them."  She called her.  "Dawn, take video of you walking around in the jade green, the medium green, and the fairytale blue please?  His wardrobe approval committee.  We'd offer Calleigh but she's off today.  Alexx and I are.  Doctor Woods, yeah, her."  She smiled.  "Dawn said hi and thank you, she's going nuts."

"The other she can use for something else, like her prom."

"She's being home schooled," Xander told them.  They both grimaced at that.  "Not saying she can't go with someone else."  He heard the giggling going on.  "Tell her to make Ziva get the pink one."

Maxine listened.  "She did, but Ziva's still fussing and fretting."

"Then have her call Tony."

"She said it's a secret or else she'd have drug him along already.  She wants to know if the green will go with the Marine dress uniform."

"She'll be surrounded by guys in black, she can put up with the blue and white uniform too," Xander pointed out.  Maxine repeated that.  "Have her take the video."  Horatio walked in looking confused.  "Dawn.  Still trying to dress shop for the event that's tomorrow."

"Oooh," Alexx said, wincing.  "She couldn't find anything?"

"It's not prom season yet.  There's not a whole lot of selection that's not baby colors and ruffled for weddings this summer," Xander said, looking a bit grim.  The video came through and they stared at it.  "The blue or the jade?"

"The jade's a bit big.  The medium green or the blue."  She let Alexx have it to show Horatio.

"I like them both," he said.  "I'm not up to date on what girls wear to formal events."

"It's a black tie thing," Xander told him.  "Capitol Hill and the senators."

"Either should be fine.  The blue's a bit...frilly," Horatio pointed out.  "Have her get both and let Jethro or Ducky decide."

Xander took the phone back to call her.  "Horatio said to get the medium green and the blue and let Jethro or Ducky decide.  You can always wear the other one later.  How much?"  He winced. "Your budget was what?  Sure.  You have my debit card number, right?"  He nodded and sighed.  "That'll be fine, Dawn.  Yeah, go ahead and bankrupt me.  Just don't do it again for a year, okay?"  He smiled.  "Yes, make her get the pink one. Put her on.  Ziva, there's a very good reason for that.  The pink one will make you glow but it will make you seem delicate and charming.  People will underestimate how deadly you are, and that is a good thing if something happens.  Remember, they'll take out the guys.  The women up there aren't harpies in *that* area.  Social sniping, political mud- raking, all that stuff, but not self-defense.  Having you be underestimated means that you can protect them if something happens.  Okay?  Yes, I'm very sure.  Then get the other one in that color.  Have Dawn send me a picture, dear."  He hung up and waited, nodding.  Then he called back.  "You're right, the second one does flatter your figure better but try for a strapless one.  Just remember you have to shave."  He hung up and shook his head.  "She's still freaking out. You could hear her having a small breakdown in the background, going over what they still had to do."

"Facials, manicures, pedicures, shopping if they don't have the shoes," Maxine agreed.

"No, Dawn said she can match any shoes she needs.  She found a place for shoes.  She can do their hair very well.  She can do their nails very well.  She's going to go insane trying to be polite all night long to stupid people who're going to sneer because she's fifteen and Jethro's taking care of her."

Horatio gave him a gentle pat.  "It'll be fine, Xander.  Jethro will growl at them for her if Tony doesn't.  Now, you have my long-awaited journal?"

"No, I put it on your desk yesterday.  Under the lamp, Horatio."  Horatio smiled and went to look.  "Thanks, Ladies."  He went back to his closet, going back to work with a new soda.  He needed the caffeine rush.  He didn't have anything left to do and he was bored.  Bored enough for a nap.  But if he did that he'd dream about the dresses attacking him.  It had happened before, he didn't want it to happen again.


Dawn came down the stairs, making Tony gape.  "Wrong one?" she asked hesitantly.  It was a satin and tulle ballgown in a light blue that had a slight shimmer to it.  She looked like a fairytale princess.  Or maybe the fairy from a fairytale.  The sleeves were small shoulder caps and the neckline was modestly plunging to give her a good hint of cleavage.

"Um, well, a bit girlish," he admitted.

"I knew I picked the wrong one.  Give me ten to change."  She walked back upstairs, coming down in the medium green dress.  This one was sleeker, all silk, a medium green hue, but a matte finish.  It had a small 'mermaid' tail effect at the bottom and the strapless bodice was a bit more daring.  "I'll clash with Jethro if he's wearing his uniform."

"I'm wearing a tux too," he called from his room.  "If I can ever get the bowtie on."

Dawn went in there to help him.  "This or the blue?"

He looked at her. "That one looks more grown up," he admitted.  "Wear the blue one to something younger and hipper."  He looked at her makeup.  "Is it supposed to be smudged?"

"Yes, Jethro."  She finished smoothing out his tie.  "There you go."  She walked out and found Tony staring at Ziva with his mouth open.  "Xander suggested it.  That they'd underestimate her."

"I certainly would," he agreed finally, smiling and nodding.  "All but your hair."

"Hey!" Dawn complained.  "She liked the look."

"Not with that dress.  C'mere, Ziva.  Let me fix that."  Dawn came over to help him put it in a bun, even lending him her bun cage and stick.  "That'll help."  He put her hair up, using a few brown bobbypins to finish setting the cage over the bun.  The stick had to be reapplied by Dawn but that was fine.  "That looks more classical and your makeup shows better," he decided.  He looked at Dawn.  "A bit too adult for you.  Go wash."  She huffed but did that.  "And pull your hair back in a french braid if you can.  That way you won't play with it."  He looked at Jethro as he came out, shrugging at him.  "Hair stuff.  Makeup in Dawn's case."  She came down five minutes later with it reapplied and her lipstick changed.  "Better."  She turned, letting him play with her hair, handing over a small silver band.  "Slytherin colors?" he teased.

"It goes with Mom's jade bracelet."  She held it up.  "And the new faux jade earrings we found."  She checked her shoes, she had on the right ones for this dress.  Tony finished her hair, making her smile.  "We good?"

"We're fabulous."  He took her arm, letting Gibbs get Ziva.  "There is that city-wide teen dance next month that's a formal," he offered.  "You could wear the blue one there."

"I haven't heard about that."

"We'll have to look it up for you," he said, holding the limo's door open for her.  "In you get, ladies."  They climbed in, Ziva a bit awkwardly, but they managed it.  "Ziva, lift the skirt, step, bend, straighten, don't drop the skirt before you take your other step out," Tony instructed, sitting across from her.  Gibbs got in.  "Otherwise you look like you're getting out of a tank.  Like Gibbs does."  He got smacked on the head.  "Thanks, boss."

"Get it out of your system now, DiNozzo."

"We'll be fine.  Dawn knows what polite conversation is.  She can politely brush off the stupid people who want to touch her.  The director will be choking and dying."

"Which is what Xander wanted," she agreed happily.  "Are we picking up Ducky, McGee, and Abby?"

"No, they're coming together," Tony told her.  "Abby's wearing the black velvet dress you found her."

Gibbs looked at Ziva.  "Are you armed?"

"A garter dagger."  She took it off to show him.  "I was told I couldn't be that armed. There were agents there for that.  One of the Secret Service agents made sure I knew that yesterday by coming up to me while I was getting breakfast."

He handed it back, then dug something out of his pocket.  "A bodice gun, just in case.  Only has two shots."  She smiled, checking it over before tucking it down inside.  Dawn shifted to help her arrange herself again but it was fine, the guys weren't looking.  Dawn put on a bit of lotion, handing it to Ziva, then to Tony.  "Why are you doing that?"

"They'll be insulted if we have rough hands while we shake," Tony told him, tossing over the bottle.  "You could use some anyway, boss.  There's no scent to it."  He grimaced but put some on.  They arrived and got out, the men getting out to help the ladies.  "Watch your bodice when you bend over," Tony said quietly in Dawn's ear.

"I'm not built like that," she said with a sweet smile for him.  They walked up to the door, presenting their invitations.  They gave her an odd look.  "The director said Jethro had to bring me since he's my guardian."

"I guess that's fine. You'd qualify as a date," one agent said.  She gave him a dirty look and he backed off.  "I've heard of you."

"Really?  Was that before or after I smacked around the last one who insinuated what you just did?"

"After," he said, opening the doors.  He told the herald who they were, watching how she handled it.  The herald nodded at her, announcing her separately.  She smiled at Jethro, walking down next to him on his left.  Ziva was on his right, and Tony was between but behind her and Jethro.  She ran into Abby, kissing her on the cheek.  "I knew that was going to look great on you."  The black velvet dress had a modest scooping neckline and an A-line skirt, but it had gold cording around the bodice and waist to highlight and outline her figure.

"Thank you.  You look hot."

Dawn smiled. "Of course I do.  I'm a Summers, woman."  Abby giggled, walking her off to introduce her to the interesting people she had found.  Dawn nodded politely at McGee, kissing him on the cheek as they walked past.

McGee had to do a double-take. "Dawn?"  She smiled and nodded, walking off with Abby.  "Wow."  He shook his head, going back to his conversation.  "Gibbs is her temporary guardian and the director made him bring her so she could make good contacts."  That was the polite version of 'the director was trying to destroy Dawn's self-esteem and make her commit suicide so she could have Jethro all to herself' they had decided to tell the others tonight.

"It's a tough age to be," his fellow hacker from the FBI admitted  "She's adorable.  I'd date that."

"She's fifteen," McGee complained.

"Well, maybe I'll date that in a few years then.  Don't wanna end up on Pappa Gibbs' bad side."

McGee patted him on the arm.  "It'll take more than a few years for that one to ease off."  That got a laugh and they went to find others like them, bored and smarter than half the room.

Tony drifted behind the ladies, nodding at the director when he ran into her.  "Doesn't Dawn look magnificent?" he asked, smiling at her.  She looked then did a double-take.  "She decided against the more girlish one to fit in better."  He snagged a glass of champagne off a passing tray, sipping it.  He grimaced, looking at the glass.  "They went cheap again this time."  He walked off shaking his head, smiling when he walked up to where Jethro was lurking.  "She's fine.  You're being a very bad blessed protector," he said in his ear.  "No one would dare try them.  Save Ziva instead.  I'm watching out for those two, boss."  Jethro nodded, going to save Ziva from the semi-drunk senators who were quizzing her on her knowledge of foreign intelligence.

Jethro smiled at his agent.  "Ziva, somewhere in here is your ambassador.  You should probably greet him as well.  May I have her, Senators?"

"We're not done yet, Agent Gibbs."

Jethro gave him a dry look.  "Do remember that she is a highly trained agent as well," he said smoothly.  "Plus snubbing her own ambassador will only lead to trouble since she's here on a foreign relations bid."  They grumbled but let him walk her off.  He smirked at her.  "Welcome."

"Thank you.  Now I know why Xander had me get this one."

"He did?"

"He said they'd underestimate me."

"They certainly did.  They thought you were only eye candy.  Director," he said when he walked past her.  He smiled and let her go, pointing at her ambassador.  "There you go."

"Thank you."  She walked over there, trying to look casual instead of like she was running for cover.  Her father's second, the Assistant Director of the Mossad, smirked at her so she knew he had noticed it.  "I was nearly attacked," she said quietly when she got there.  She smiled at her ambassador, who was gaping at her.  "Do you like it?  Dawn and her other guardian helped me pick it out."

"I do, Ziva.  You look...charming."

"I think that was his point.  To make me look less trained than I am tonight."

"It can be a good ploy now and then," her father's assistant said.  "You do look nice.  Very nicely done hair as well."

"That was Tony and Dawn."  She pointed.  "That is Dawn, Jethro Gibbs is her temporary guardian while her real one settles in down in Miami and finds somewhere for them to live."

They looked.  "She's adorable and poised," the ambassador said, smiling at her.  "Is she a local?"

"No, she's from Sunnydale."  They both choked and she smiled.  "That is Buffy's little sister."

"I see," the other Mossad agent said, gaping at her.  Dawn felt it and turned to glare at him, then smirked and wiggled her fingers before going back to her discussion partner's speech on why education was so underfunded.  She said something and he gaped then burst out laughing, letting her pat him on the arm and say something else before walking off, heading for the bar.  "You might want to stop her."

"They agreed she could have one glass of champagne tonight," Ziva told him, shrugging a bit.  "Must it be so cold in here?" she complained in Hebrew.

"They'll close the doors and then it'll be stuffy," her ambassador said, saluting her with his glass.  "How goes the assignment?"

"It goes very well.  Dawn has been working on my English skills and helping me with my reports," she admitted.  "She's helped me a lot.  Now I write almost like a native."  They smiled at that.  "She gets to help around the office."  She felt a hand go around her waist but smelled the familiar aftershave so she looked at Tony.  "Bored already?"

"Incredibly."  He looked around.  "I lost Abby."  She looked then pointed.  "Ah, there she is.  Hanging on Ducky.  Dawn's looking bored stupid too."  He walked that way, going to save her.  "Come along, madam."

"Me, kind sir?" she teased back.  She let him take her onto the dance floor.  "Do I know how to do this?  This isn't getting down and boogying music."

"It's fairly simple," he said firmly.  "Follow along, don't look at your feet."  She nodded, letting him move her around some.  "One on my arm, one on my hip," he said, smirking at her.

"Don't want to tempt myself to grope or anything," she quipped, doing it anyway when he laughed.  They moved off a bit more smoothly now.  "Now I know why women quip about Ginger Rogers."

"She did do everything Fred did backward and in heels," he agreed.  "Any woman who can wear heels all day, especially if they're doing more than sitting down in them, has my sympathy and support."

"I've only got on three inch ones, Tony.  Not like I'm wearing bimbo shoes."

He laughed.  "True, you're not."  He dipped her, making her giggle as she came back up, swatting him with the hand on his shoulder.  "Good girl."  He stepped back when the music ended, bowing and she curtseyed.  "Good job.  Now, go save Jethro.  We'll save each other tonight."

She nodded, going to distract him from the Director's grasp.  "Jethro, Tony said I should ask you to dance, that you know how to cut a rug and all that."  He gave her an amused look.  "If not, I've got to talk to the guy who tried to pinch my butt and I'll slug him the next time.  That's not his property and I'm not taking his generous offer of ten grand for the school of my choice to break me in."

"Which one?" the director asked.  Dawn casually looked around then pointed discreetly.  "Oh, dear.  He's on appropriations."

Dawn leaned closer to her.  "I'm not a ho for the department.  If he needs it to give us the budget we need, talk someone else into it.  My virginity is a bit more precious than that."  She walked Jethro off, smiling at him.  "Are you sure I can't do something mean and evil?"

"No, Dawn."

"Just one little cantrip?" she begged. "Please?"

"No, Dawn.  She'll never forgive us if something happens.  Even if she can't trace it back, she'll know and blame us anyway."

"Then she should *really* fix that fraying seam on her side."  She took his hand, doing what Tony showed her to do.

He smiled and danced with her, making her smile.  "Thank you for saving me."

"Tony said we could save each other.  Ziva ran for cover.  Ducky's saving Abby.  McGee is off in geek talk land."  She shrugged casually and nodded politely when they were almost bumped into.  Jethro got them off the floor and back into one of the side nooks.  "We can escape when?"

"Probably not for another two hours," he offered.  "Unless you faint or something. If you do, save who you can."  She nodded, leading him back into the majority of the morass.  They strolled around together, her on his arm, until they ran into McGee's little clique against one wall.  She walked over to whisper in his ear, getting a whimper.  Gibbs gave her an odd look when she came back.  "What now?"

"When I borrowed Willow's laptop I saw some secret plans for something.  I told him I saved it down for him."

"Thanks.  Military or otherwise?"

"I'm not really sure.  That's not my area of expertise," she reminded him.  She smiled at the woman who came up to them.  "Good evening."

"Good evening.  Special Agent Gibbs, I had no idea  you were dating."

"I'm not.  I'm her guardian and Director Sheppard suggested very strongly that I bring Dawn with us tonight to show her around."

"Oh, that's charming."  She smiled at Dawn.  "And so grown up too."

"Being three days from sixteen can be that way," she agreed, smiling back at the shocked look.  "Why, do I look younger?  I'm told that'll help when I'm ancient at thirty."

The older lady coughed.  "That is a perspective of the young."

"True, but I am young."  She held out a hand.  "Dawn Summers.  I'm from near LA originally."

"I am Mrs. Manus, one of the Capitol Hill Wives, we have our own association."

"Of course you do.  You've got to make your husbands see sense when they vote for stupid things that'll upset everyone else in the country."  She smiled at that so Dawn walked off with her.  "How does it really work?  I mean I know the women hold about sixty percent of the *real* power in DC.  All the wives and things.  My mother said that a good wife knew how to arrange things for her husband and how to make him pay attention when all he needed was a good swat."

"Was she a Marine?"

"No, my official guardian is about six years older than I am but he's in Miami.  Since he just moved down there he's got to find a place to stay and all that so Jethro agreed to play guardian for me until he could."  That got a small pat.  "My mother died a few months ago of a brain tumor," she said quietly.

"I'm sorry, Dawn."

"So am I," she agreed.  "The person who did it is suffering however since it was induced."  The woman gave her a stunned look.  She nodded.  "It's been well handled but Jethro gets paranoid about those things now and then."

"I can see why."  She gave her a squeeze around the shoulders.  "You come with me, dear.  I would've expected a more whimsical choice from an unguided young lady of your age."

"I have a light blue one at home in case Jethro was going to wear his uniform.  That way I wouldn't clash, but Agent DiNozzo thought this one went better with tonight's event."  She let herself be led off, smiling at the older women gathered around.  "Good evening."

"This is Dawn Summers.  Jethro Gibbs is her temporary guardian.  Director Sheppard wanted her to make some good contacts locally while she was up here."  They all smiled and welcomed her into the group, chatting about whatever she asked about, including how they all ruled the world without their husband's realizing it.  After all, a good wife could work her husband around to her point of view fairly easily in most matters.

Tony gave it a half hour then walked over there.  "Ladies, may I have Dawn back for another dance?  It'll keep me from being rude to someone who asked me how much I charged my escort tonight."

The woman who had led Dawn smiled at him.  "She said you helped her choose this dress tonight, Agent DiNozzo.  Very nice choice."

"Thank you, Mrs. Manus.  I thought she looked stunning in the other one but this one suited the event better.  Can I steal her?"  They all nodded, letting her be led off.  He smiled at her.  "You okay?"

"I'm fine.  They were giving me tips on how to rule my future spouse."

Tony laughed, kissing her on the forehead.  "It'll be fine, Dawn."  He let her pick the beat they started on and it was much smoother this time.  She had the hang of it now.  That song finished fairly quickly so they danced the other one then he brought her back.  "Here you go, Mrs. Manus, one delightful dance partner back for more tutoring in the finer points of life.  I'm going to save my coworker from your husband if you'll excuse me?"

She looked then frowned. "She's with NCIS?"

"Actually, Ziva's a liaison officer from the Mossad," Dawn told her. "I've been helping her with some finer points of English grammar for her reports."  They all smiled about that, going off another tangent while Tony went to rescue Ziva.

"Officer David," Tony said as he walked up to them.  "Dawn is presently talking to his wife and wanted to know if you wanted introduced.  The wives' club has done some extensive traveling over their years here in DC."

"I wouldn't mind.  Excuse me please, Senator."  She walked off on his arm. "Thank you."

"I saw you pat your hip looking for your gun," he said with a sweet smile.  "I got asked how much I charged my date, don't feel bad."  He walked her back to the circle.  "Ladies, this is Officer Ziva David, Mossad.  My coworker, another being tormented by Gibbs."  They tittered and accepted her into the circle while Tony got led off by a gorgeous woman with her hand in his pocket.

Dawn huffed.  "That's so trite," she complained.  "Be subtle if you're going to pick up someone."  They all looked at her.  "Kinda obvious.  She had her hand in his pocket, ladies.  That's not subtle.  Good girls go for hints, not gropes."

They all nodded, liking her for that much alone.  Though they did agree quietly to protect Ziva since she looked darling and would help keep some of the more unsavory men away from them.  She could break their arm or something if they tried to be mean.

Tony came back a few hours later, watching Dawn.  "Ladies, can I steal her for the night?" he requested politely.  "Gibbs had her up early doing PT with him."  They all nodded, letting him walk Dawn off.  "Thank you for helping her."

"She's a charming young lady," one of the elderly women said.  "Reminds me of me when I was younger.  A bit feisty but proper when necessary."  Dawn smiled a shy, girlish smile at her and waved a little wave before Tony walked her off.   They all gossiped.  It was nice how Gibbs had assigned her a guard for the night to make sure she didn't have any problems with some of the leches they had attending tonight.

"Boss, taking her home," he said quietly.

Gibbs checked his watch. "I've got another hour, DiNozzo.  At the least."

"She can crash on my couch, boss.  Not an issue."  That got a nod.  "Then I'm taking her home.  Ziva's with the ladies circle protecting them.  She's already broken one wrist quietly when someone tried to grope.  McGee is still with his geeks, Abby's about passed out on Ducky's arm so you might want to send them home too."  He walked Dawn off, going to hail a taxi.  There were some waiting so he took her back to his place, letting her inside.  "Go wash off the makeup and take down your hair," he ordered gently.  "You can borrow some sweats and a t-shirt."

She smiled. "I'll leave it up for now.  That way I won't inhale it or have to untangle it in the morning."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "Thank you, Tony.  You were a charming and great escort tonight.  Even if I didn't have to pay you."  He laughed, giving her a nudge toward the bathroom while he went to find her something to wear that night.  He blindly tossed it in with a hanger and went to change out of his tux, coming out in a pair of his sweats and a t-shirt much like she was wearing.  She looked a lot different without the makeup.  A bit younger, but more worldly.  She snuggled in against his arm, pointing at a movie.  "That one tonight or are you in the mood for a romantic comedy?"

He smiled at her.  "I like that one.  It's one of my favorites."

"Mine's the Yul Brynner version of _the King and I_.  The dresses and the attitude.  The newer version didn't have the same attitude.  He knew he should be king and the new guy was kinda  wishy-washy prince sort."  He grinned at her.  "I know, not what you'd expect.  I grew out of my Cinderella phase a long time ago.  Though I did go as Tinkerbell for a few Halloweens running."

He gave her a squeeze around the shoulders.  "You're a very unique young lady, Dawn.  How do you feel about film noire?"


"Ah, something I can educate you in."  He got up, finding a movie to put in, then came back, letting her curl up against his arm again.  "Watch and learn, dear."  He turned it on, watching as she got involved in the story, a small frown creasing her brow.  He smoothed a finger over it.  "Wrinkle producer."

"That means I've had a life I lived instead of one I experienced.  The same as gray hairs early are."

He smiled at her, letting her get back into the film, watching it with her.  It was fun, she booed at the same places he did.  "I should dress you in a copy of my suit sometime."

"Does that mean I can go as your faulty clone for Halloween this year?"

He snickered, giving her a hug.  "Sure you can if you want.  It'll horrify everyone but Abby."

"McGee will have giggle fits."

He smirked an evil little smirk at her.  "Good.  He needs them now and then.  Keeps him humble to shoot coffee out his nose."

"Ow, that had to hurt."  Tony nodded.  "Not the coffee thing, I know that does.  The spike through the stomach thing.  No wonder Spike used to torture people that way."

He gave her another squeeze.  "You're safe and protected now, Dawn."  She smiled at him, getting back into the movie, eventually falling asleep against his arm.  He finished the movie, letting the credits play while he napped too.


Gibbs got tired of knocking and used the emergency key he had, walking into Tony's apartment.  He saw a sight that made him frown, then think.  Dawn, his guide, was nestled against DiNozzo's side, almost being held like a teddy bear.  They were both asleep.  The tv was showing a blue screen, meaning the DVD player was on but nothing was playing.  Dawn moaned, shifting in her sleep, one foot stretching out and one arm reaching for something but Tony grunted and gave her a squeeze.  Her frown disappeared and she sighed in pleasure, leaving the nightmare alone for now.  He coughed, waking Tony up enough to glare at him.  "Can I have her back, DiNozzo, or are you needing the comfort?"

Tony looked down at the girl in his arms, then smiled at her.  Then at his boss.  "She's great.  She likes the same movies I do.  She's going to be my faulty clone for Halloween."  Gibbs cracked a smile.  "But if you want to wake her up, you can.  Just have her wash those.  Her dress is in my bathroom too."  He yawned, poking Dawn until she grunted and glared.  He pointed.  "The boss is here.  He said you can't be my teddybear anymore."

"You're mine, get it right, Tony."  She put her head back down.  "You're interrupting my beauty sleep."

"Not like you need it anyway," Tony said gently, making her smile.  "Go home.  Don't forget your dress."  She yawned, heading to grab it and follow Gibbs out.  Tony yawned, pulling the blanket off the back of the couch so he could curl up there and finish his sleep.  Though he didn't quite get as much rest as he should.  He had nightmares without her there.  He'd have to think about that when he could think rationally.


Xander woke up to pounding on the door, frowning at it.  Glaring really.  Then he looked at his pillow, who was giving it a similar glare.  "Speed?"

"He'd come in."  Horatio got up, going to answer the door.  "What?" he demanded.  Stetler sneered at him.  "It's four in the morning, someone had better be dead."

"We can't be sure, one of your techs is missing."



"Um, didn't he take a road trip?" Xander asked from the couch, pulling a blanket down to cover himself.  They had gotten to groping tonight.  He wiggled is clothes back into place under the blanket but stayed there.  It was comfortable.  He yawned, blinking hard.

"Go back to sleep, Xander.  I'll kill him myself," Horatio said gently, tucking him in.  Then he grabbed things and headed out, dragging Stetler with him.  "Come on."

"Delko couldn't get him and asked Dispatch if he had left any messages."

Horatio glared then shoved him toward his car.  "I know where he is.  Come on."  That got a nod and Stetler wisely went with the plan before he got killed.  Waking Caine was not a good idea it seemed.  Four in the morning was a bad look for him.  His hair was messy.  His clothes were rumpled.  Apparently the kid did sleep on the couch after all, he wasn't sure why since there was a guest room.  He followed the hummer to a spot just outside the city going south, finding a small condo out there.  Horatio got out, going to knock until Speedle opened the door.  "So you do live."

"What did you want?" he demanded.

"Eric," Horatio said simply.

"I'll kill him myself, Horatio.  Get in here and finish your nap."  He glared at Strtler.  "I am on leave so therefore I can take a vacation."

"You didn't show up for court today.  You panicked Delko.  Dispatch was going to file a missing persons report."

"I'll kill them later and I wasn't due in court.  Since no one called me I guessed I was free.  You can tell them that.  Thank you for wondering."  He slammed the door, going to find Horatio in the kitchen.  "He woke you up?"

"He did."  He gave him a gentle smile.  "We needed to talk anyway."

"I noticed the 'I got groped' messy hair, H.  Kinda obvious what the cause was."  Horatio hummed, nodding, finishing the pot of coffee.  Speed walked him out of the kitchen and onto the couch.  "Did you need my blessing?" he asked.

"We're both still concerned, especially me, that Xander may have initially been right."  He looked at him, seeing the shocked look.  "I'm not sure what to do about that but I don't know, Speed."

Speed sat down next to him, smiling when he shifted to look at him.  "It's always been closer than that with us, H."

"I know, which is why it worries me that I'm keeping us at the cuddling level until I work this out."  Speed looked stunned.  "He agreed with me earlier.  We need to figure out if there's something here before I dive into something with him."

"If not, your senses could rebel and you'd end up rejecting Xander's help," he finished quietly.  Horatio nodded.  "Okay, well...huh."  He scrubbed his face with his hands.  "It's four-thirty in the morning, Horatio.  We both need to sleep.  We can talk about this at a decent hour over breakfast.  He's not in the hummer, right?"

"No, he's at home on the couch."

"Good.  Then you do the same here and I'm going to not sleep in the bedroom while I think."

"You need sleep too."

"As pointed out, I'm on vacation until my arm's finished healing and I'm done with my physical therapy."  He gave him a wry grin.  "I needed the vacation time anyway."

"Point."  He stroked through the messy hair.  "I'll see you at breakfast."

"Sure.  Sleep.  Take off anything you feel necessary.  Not like I'll mind."  He got up, heading back to his bedroom, going to lay there and think.  Did he want Horatio?  Would he be jealous of whatever Horatio and Xander had?  How far did they have to have for Horatio to be in control of his senses?  Was it as hot of a bed as he imagined?  Because Horatio going primal on Xander's body was a thought that had gotten him happy earlier that night.  It was getting him happy now.  Which he knew Horatio could smell but oh well.  He stroked his stomach, keeping it there while he thought about it.  Being with Horatio would be a lot of work.  He worked a lot of long hours.  They both worked a lot of long hours.  He'd have to make sure Xander wasn't ignored by either of them.  That he didn't feel like the maid.  Though, Xander in a maid's costume made him decide he could grow a new kink suddenly.  He couldn't see Horatio in it but he could definitely see Xander in one.  He shook his head to clear it, hearing the laugh from the living room.  "Are you seeing him in a maid's costume too?"

"No.  You."

"I doubt that."

"So would he."  Horatio came to the door.  "It's going to be a lot of work, Speed."

"Yeah.  I can't figure out what to do with Xander.  Because I know you need him and want him."  He blinked hard to clear his vision.  "Didn't need that mental image."

"Hmm, which one?"

"Xander in straps on the bed."  He raised an arm and Horatio came in to lay next to him.  "We'd end up ripping each other up."

Horatio gave him a gentle kiss.  "The one thing we used to have was a lot of fun, Speed."

"I know.  Fun is good but I'm not getting between what you two have."

"I'm not a polygamist.  I can't have two households."

"That's an even worse thought," Speed agreed dryly.  "What would be doing in a village setting?"

"I'd have a wife to have kids with and she'd take care of myself, while Xander would have one to take care of him, and the rest would be considered bonding rituals.  Blair said it'd be like a big family."  He looked at him.  "He did say that sometimes we were bad enough to need another helper, especially if the guide couldn't hunt with us."

"Like a disabled guide?"  Horatio nodded.  "But he's not."

"No, but he can't hunt with me."

"So I'd be the backup guide?"

"That could work. You did do the job for years."

"True, but that would mean I'd have a lot of authority over you."

"I'm finding that he's not so much leading me as showing me signposts and giving me a nudge now and then.  He's very good at keeping us separate from the other stuff.  He told me if we did go farther it would be about *us* and not that stuff."

"Which is sensible and kinder if something doesn't work out," Speed agreed, stroking through the messy red hair.  "Did he enjoy messing you up?"

"He said I can be as calm and cool as I ever have been outwardly but if my hair's messy he knows it was good and he was there."  Speed cackled, giving him a kiss.  "I don't know what...."

"Then let Xander be the urban version of the wife, Horatio."

"I think that would be you, not him."

"Okay.  Then I'll be the wife but I refuse to wear heels."

"I'd never ask," Horatio said, giving him a smile as he curled up on his shoulder.  He yawned.  "We'll talk in the morning then I'll go beat Eric to death for having Stetler get me up at four in the morning to find you."

"I'll help."  He stroked through his hair, putting it back to rights.  Horatio hated to have his hair messed up normally.  In the middle of the night was one thing.  Where others could see him was another.  He'd have to talk to Blair tomorrow to make sure it wasn't going to upset the delicate balance they already had with Horatio's senses.


Dawn walked into work the next afternoon, smiling at Gibbs.  "How did it go?"

"We were much lauded by all the Senators and you were given many compliments," Gibbs told her.  "They all thought you were charming and well mannered for your age, though a few thought you were twelve."

"They're just stupid," Tony told her.

McGee giggled.  "They pretty muchly are," he agreed.  "Abby got many compliments among the crowd I was with as well."

"Two of the female senators thought it was cute that we kept saving each other from the drunken leches," Tony told her, "and I did get warned not to even be thinking about you at your age."

Dawn gave him a confused look.  "You like 'em young but not quite this young."

"I know that, they know that, but they said we're adorable when we dance together."  She beamed at that.  "You made the paper."  He handed it over, watching her beam and squeal.  "Also, we've gotten a call from a ranting Willow.  Your phone was off in school."  He handed over that message as well.

"I got handed the phone when the angry babble started," McGee admitted.  "I had to explain eight different times how the director made you go too.  Apparently the online version of the paper has another picture of you dancing with Tony and giggling at something he said.  That's what she was really ranting about."

"Ooh, yay," she said dryly, looking at the message, then crumpling it up.  "I'll deal with her next time."  She smiled at Gibbs then at Tony.  "My copy?"

"Your copy and I did talk one of the newspaper staff into giving me the copies of your pictures so you could put them in your scrapbook since this was your first formal event."  She took the envelope and hugged him.  "Good girl.  Can you go make some coffee?  Gibbs has been a grouch all morning."

"Sure."  She carefully put them into her backpack then went to do that, smiling at Ziva.  "See, I told you you'd look hot in that dress.  Xander is usually right about those things because my sister made him shop with her."

"It was odd being the center of that sort of attention," she admitted. "I've never been the one to be petted."

"Pawed?" Dawn suggested.

"Maybe.  Though one did try to pet my hair like I was a cat."  She walked off shaking her head.  She went back to her desk and found the director coming down the stairs.  "Dawn's started some new coffee," she called.  There was a rush toward the break room.  "I don't find hers much different."

"They're too lazy to make their own," Gibbs told her, shaking his head slightly.  Dawn came back with the first fruits of the pot for him, earning a smile.  "Thanks.  Run the two manilla envelopes down to Abby."  She nodded, taking her new soda with her to do that.  He looked at the director.  "She was praised quite often last night."

"She was.  I heard many good things about her," the director agreed.  "Though the dress was a"

"She's got her full adult height and body," Ziva told her.  "Besides, she looked good in it and that was part of the criteria, to look good.  The same as she helped me with mine."

"You did look adorable," the director said with a smile.

"That's why I got pawed."   Dawn came back.  "Did you send Xander pictures of last night?"

"I'll mail him one of the new ones.  I was going to find it online and send it to his email account."  She sat down at Jethro's side.  "Now what, boss?"

"Math homework?"

"Done."  He gave her a look so she dug it out and handed it over with a sigh.  "See, done."

He looked it over, then handed it back. "Have McGee check it for you.  I hate trig."

She walked it over, letting him check and nod, but circle one.  "You missed a negative."  She shrugged.  "But good job."

"Thank you.  I hate trig too."  She stuffed it into her backpack, then pulled out her English workbook.  "Gee, yay, parts of grammar."

"Work ahead," Gibbs ordered. "It can only help."  She nodded, grabbing a pencil to do what she had back in junior high.  His phone rang.  "Gibbs."  He listened.  "No, I meant to send you the panties and the other evidence.  What did I send?"  He smirked.  "That's fine, Abby.  Yes, you can come change them out or I'll spare Dawn some English homework."  He hung up, finding the other envelope.  "Wrong one."

"You handed it over," she quipped.  "Be right back."  She walked off reading her newest assignment, nearly bumping into someone.  She glared at him.  "Rude much?  If someone's reading and walking, you can go around them."  She walked around him, going back to her trek to the lab.

The agent stomped over to glare at Gibbs.  "Why do you bring a child here?"

"She's nearly sixteen," Tony told him.

"Plus she was right," McGee agreed.  "You walk around Abby when she's reading and walking, you can give Dawn the same courtesy."

"Abby's strange."

Ziva looked at him.  "Dawn's about half as deadly as I am.  Plus she spent half the night on Tony's couch after the event."  He shuddered and walked off, making sure he gave Dawn *plenty* of room this time.  Ziva smiled at her.  "I told him you were half as deadly as I am."

Dawn considered it.  "Only with a weapon.  I don't like to break a nail unless I have to.  But yeah, give me a firing weapon or a baseball bat?  I'm good for that."  McGee handed her a piece of chocolate.  "Awww."  She kissed him on the forehead.  "Thank you, McGee.  That was very nice of you."  She sat down to nibble and write in her answers, handing Gibbs the original one.

He tossed it at the staring director.  "Manpower reports."  He got back to work on his system.  "DiNozzo."

"I'm still trying to find the casefile, boss.  It appears the system ate it already."  He looked at the director, then at McGee.  "Can you get onto your buddies?"

"I've already called.  They said it was on a server that went down last year that they weren't allowed to fix.  They thought they got all the information off but they're still transferring it in since someone wanted them to do an update at the same time.  They're searching the backups for us and they'll email me when they find it."  That got a nod.  "It'll probably be at least a day.  There's over six terrabytes of information that got eaten when it went down."

"Can't you go geek squad it?" Dawn asked.

Tony smirked, shaking his head.  "The guys down there are the Geek Squad's geek squad," he explained.

"They can do things I've never dreamed of," McGee agreed.  "But thank you for thinking I'm that great."

"Of course you are.  The same as I know you can decode whatever Willow was hacking this time."  She dug it out of her backpack and tossed it over. "That's either my Nirvana copy that I wasn't allowed to make or her thing."

"You copied it without your mother's permission?"

"She thought it'd make me depressed."  She grinned. "Now and then it makes me feel better, Jethro."  She gave him a pat on the arm and got back to work, turning the page to go on.  "If high school were this easy Xander would've graduated near the top of his class."

"Those systems are built for under-achievers," Tony reminded her.

"Good point, and Xander was one."  She finished that page with a few words and moved on.  "Essays, fun," she said blandly.  "So, if I finish all this stuff this year, does that mean I've got to start college next year?" she asked Gibbs, who shrugged.  "Okay.  Maybe we can look?"

"Maybe," he agreed.  Abby came back, handing over the new envelope he had sent, patting down his desk to find the real one.  "Sorry."

"Not an issue.  No wonder you sealed that one with evidence tape, Gibbs."  She patted Dawn on the head.  "I hated that class."

She grinned. "It's all sixth grade grammar and reading comprehension."

"Then you'll be done by tonight," she agreed, heading off again, checking the envelope by the time she got out of the row.

Gibbs looked then tossed that at the director.  "The other reports you wanted."  He got back to work.  "Call and poke, McGee."

"Only if you want them to never find it," he said bluntly.  "Because they will lose it, boss.  They're having a bad week down there with the upgrade.  Tony sent them lunch they're having such a bad week."

"I did?" Tony asked.

"I did in your name to show this team's appreciation for all they do."

"Okay.  Did you use my debit card too?"

"No.  Mine.  Six large pizzas wasn't that expensive with the deals going on."  He got back to work. "Oh, Director, they said the tech upgrade was going to be a bit later than you hoped for since the two systems won't integrate.  The new one is Windows based and you know how Microsoft hates anything that's not its own creation."  He got back to work.  "Boss, did we close the Perelli case or not?"

He thought then shook his head.  "It's cold.  We know who, we can't get him to confess."

Dawn looked at him.  "He wouldn't break?"

"He did break, he had a breakdown when faced with Gibbs and started to cry in Klingon," Tony told her.  "He's still not making sense after two weeks."

McGee smirked.  "I went to visit him and he's still babbling in Klingon."

"Pity Xander's not here.  I think he speaks it.  Or Romulan, one of the two."  She frowned for a minute.  "If not, Andrew definitely did."  They all looked at her.  "Xander is a geek.  Not a computer geek but a comic geek and a Star Trek geek."

Gibbs called down there.  "Xander, do you know Klingon?  I broke a suspect and he's still babbling in it."  He listened then nodded.  "I can do that.  Thank you."  He hung up.  "There's a group locally we can have translate for us."

McGee frowned.  "One of the costume convention people, boss?"

"He said he'd email them."  His computer beeped and he smiled at the new message with the header 'you needed Klingon support'.  "That's fast."  He opened it and told him what was going on.  The guy sent back that he could do that and they had found his file.  "They're in Tech Support too."

"I didn't even think about him.  Tell Rodney I said hi," McGee said.

Gibbs looked at him but did type in that, a thank you, and to call him in two hours so they could go interrogate the guy.  He got back an okay and a 'live long and prosper'.  Dawn looked then giggled.  She made the sign at McGee, who giggled and made it back. Then he got back to work since the file had been sent to him.  He shook his head.  "I don't want to know."

"If he had a breakdown, wouldn't he go back to his base native language?" Tony asked.  Gibbs gave him an odd look. "Just saying, boss, Klingon's not my first choice for a native language that you'd regress into."

"You lapsed into Italian your last two concussions," Gibbs reminded him.

"Only to swear at everyone around me," Tony shot back.  Dawn gave him a look.  "Yes, my grandmother taught me."

"Grandmas are good at those sort of things."  She smiled and went back to work.

Ziva watched the director quit lurking and stomp off then looked at her.  "What is her problem this time?"

"She's not my age," Dawn said bluntly.  She looked at Tony.  "They really thought you'd date someone my age?  How low do they think of you?"

"Apparently very, though I have went out with a few girls in college."

She shrugged.  "I'm not there yet.  Was one of them the one we had to point out I wasn't twelve to?"

"Yup," he agreed.

"Ah, so alcohol does do bad things for the mind.  I thought Xander's parents were good examples of why drinking is evil to the mind."  She shook her head, getting back to her work.  "Don't worry, if the guys from SVU show up I'll back you up."

"Thanks, Dawn.  Do you watch that show?"

She grinned.  "Every single time it comes on," Gibbs sighed.  She swatted him with a scowl.  "You do."

"It's improving my mind to watch things with a good plotline."  She went back to work.  "Plus, the actors are kinda hotties."

"One's my age."

"He's also a great comedian and that's the same reason I watch that medical show too, Gibbs."

He shook his head.  "I'm about to move the tv to your room."

She looked at him.  "Then you'd never see me at night."

"You moan when you watch that one show."

"Well, yeah, and so did you."  He glared at her but she smiled sweetly.  "I can so see you and Cuddy, Jethro."  She got back to work, ducking the head smack.  "Don't mess up the hair."

Tony looked at her, then shook his head quickly.  "Don't wish that mental vision on us, Dawn!" he complained.  She smirked at him, stuck out her tongue, then got up to make more coffee.  By now someone was staring at the pot and pouting.

"Which one is Cuddy?" McGee asked.

"The administrator," Tony said.

"Well, she's pretty, smart, and a bit sarcastic."  He shook his head.  "Can't see it."

"I've already had three of those," Gibbs reminded them.  "I don't need another."  Dawn came back with a cup for Tony and McGee, getting smiles.  "Homework."

"I'm already ahead."  She sat down to finish that workbook anyway, handing it over to be graded.  He handed it back. "Fine, I'll mail it off tonight."  He nodded, getting back to work.  She went to putter around, filing the things that needed it, Gibbs taking a few files back from her.  "Sorry."

"Not an issue.  Go get ice cream."  He handed over a five and she grabbed her backpack, heading out to do that.

"Boss, you do know her sixteenth birthday is coming up in two days?" Tony asked.

"I didn't.  I thought that's what she told the senator to get him off her back."

"No.  I checked this morning.  It's in two days."

"Thanks for the warning."  He went online, trying to figure out what you got a girl like Dawn.  Besides a boyfriend he could stand.


Xander looked at his online account balance then sighed and bought what he wanted her to have, having it shipped overnight to her.  Horatio gave him an odd look at his sigh.  "Dawn's sixteenth is in two days and I nearly forgot."

"What are you getting her?"  He came over to look at the charm bracelet, smiling at it.  "She'll probably love it."

"I know she will.  It's just getting expensive."

Horatio stroked through his hair.  "You're not leaving here, Xander.  Not for a very long time."  Xander looked at him.  "Really.  You're not."  An eyebrow got quirked up.  "I need you here."

"You're still working out the stuff with Speed," he reminded him gently.  "You don't need me here, Horatio."

"I do.  As a matter of fact we're going to have that awkward talk tonight with him."

"What'm I cooking?" he asked, trying to sound positive.

"Nothing,  you're going to write Dawn a very long email while I cook.  I can cook," he said at the amused look.  "It's my turn."  He went back to it.  It wasn't that great, nothing fancy like Xander or Speed could do, but they loved him in spite of his cooking skills.

Xander came in ten minutes later, looking over his shoulder.  He got something from a cabinet and handed it to him.  "Put that in the rice.  Just a few pinches so it'll soak in."  Horatio gave him an odd look.  "Really."  He did it for him, then put the small jar back.  He stirred a few times then put the cover back on the rice cooker, going to look at the beef he was doing.  "Roast.  Good roast."  Horatio smiled.  "Good choice.  Plenty of leftovers for lunches for you too."  He smiled.  "Other veggies?"

"Speed said he wasn't that hungry."

"Uh-huh.  That's stress."  He found a can of new potatoes.  "Not as great as the stuff that's fresh but it can be mashed.  That'll make it lighter and fluffier.  All it'll need is reheated and mashed."  Horatio smiled, taking it from him to do that.  It was pretty easy to drain, heat and then mash them.  He added his own touches with some fat free yogurt instead of milk and some of the sprinkle cheese.  Xander had disappeared to answer the door.   He pulled out the roast, looking it over.  Speed handed him the meat thermometer.  "Done?"

"About another seven minutes."  He put it back for him and closed the oven door with his hip.  "I said I wasn't hungry."

"Xander said that was stress. He made me make the potatoes.   He also put something into the rice."

Speed shook his head.  "You're so spoiled."

"We, Speed, we."  He looked at him, getting a grin back.  "How was your ride?"

"Good.  I had a long think.  I'm not sure if I'm right though."  Xander came up behind him, giving him a hug.  "Hi, Xander."

"How did you know it was me?" he teased.

"You're the only human octopus I know."  He grinned back at him.  "We'll talk."  Xander opened his mouth and Speed shook his head.  "After we eat.  Not before or we'll never eat."  Xander nodded, heading back to his room.  He looked at Horatio, nodding.  "You should drag him out.  His first instinct is probably to pack."

"Xander, don't do anything."

"I'm finishing my email to Dawn."

"Tell her we wished her a happy birthday too."

"Did already."

Horatio smiled at Speed. "Her sixteenth is in a few days."

"Well, the party they made her go to was definitely a good one for a coming out," Speed offered, handing over the clipping he had found.  Horatio smiled at the young girl dancing with Tony.  "She looked very grown up in that."

"She did," he agreed, smiling and putting it on the fridge.  "She'll send him down a real picture.  Someone probably bribed a photographer."  Speed smirked at that.  "She went through every dress shop in three counties.  They finally found a bridal outlet and went there.  Alexx and Maxine helped her pick out two dresses.  I guess she chose that one."

Xander came back in, looking and smiling at the picture.  "The other's in her closet in case she gets to go to the prom with someone."  He took out a can of soda, taking a sniff at the oven, then grabbed the thermometer to check.  The roast got pulled out and put onto the stove.  "Give it a few to rest before you cut it so it can soak up some of the juices again."  He closed the oven and went to clean off the table.  They didn't need to be outside for this one.  Speed gave him an odd look.  "With people watching, I do not want to be listened to."

"That's reasonable but we can open the screen door."  He did that, bringing in a good breeze.  "Huh, it's windy today."

"Yeah, there's some storm off the Bahamas coming this way. They joked about an early hurricane," Xander agreed.

Speed pulled him closer, staring him down.  "I'm not going to interrupt what you two have, Xander."

"I feel the same way," he admitted.

"We didn't have anything when you got here."

"I realize that now.  He's much more awkward with you."

"That's because he doesn't want to hurt us.  He's like that."  That got a nod and a small sigh.  Speed gave him a tentative hug, getting one back.  "You're definitely more huggable than he is."

"He said he likes to cuddle."

"Really?"  Xander grinned and nodded. "And you like to cuddle?"  Xander beamed and nodded. "Then I can be an octopus's squeeze toy."  Xander snorted, giving him a bop on his good shoulder.  "Easy!  I rode all day."

"That part of you shouldn't be sore if you rode all day unless you crashed?"

"No, no crashing and the other part is used to all-day rides to think.  I've done a few of them."  Horatio brought out dinner so they went to get plates and set the table.  "We do work pretty well together.  He's been talking to Blair."

"I know, he wrote me.  Told me to stay calm, think, don't panic or anything."

"Not panicking is a good idea," Speed agreed, handing him the last of the glasses.  He watched him go, smiling at his back.  At least they had someone else on their side.  Horatio came back in, grabbing Xander a new soda and them some milk.  He followed him out, taking the unused chair, getting comfortable.  "So."

Xander took his plate and let Horatio dish it up, then let Horatio dish up food for him too.  "You eat too."

"I am, Xander."  He dished it up, then leaned on the table.  "We're all in an awkward spot."

"A bit," Speed said, taking a bite of the potatoes.  He looked at them then at Horatio.  "Canned?"  He nodded.  "Not bad."  He dug in to eat another bite.  "Needed a bit less cheese but good."  He added some pepper, making the redhead smile.  "We've got a few options, Horatio.  We're either sharing you or you're sharing us."

Xander looked confused.  "Isn't that the same thing?"

"No, in one you'd be his guide, including any bonding things you guys had to do. I'd get him at work.  I'd get him in bed for the other things.  But I wouldn't get you.  The other is the cheesy porno threesome thing."  Xander blushed.  "Anya?"

"Tried to get us there many times," he agreed.  He coughed and ate, digging in.  "I.... I'm still kinda new to that stuff, Speed."  He ate another bite.  "Plus, I don't want anything that goes on between us to be about that stuff.  If Blair can keep from jumping Jim then I can keep from jumping Horatio."

"They're not together?" Horatio asked.  Xander shook his head.  "Jethro and I both assumed wrong.  They're always touching each other."

"That's how Blair maintains contact to help him.  That and Jim focuses on his heartbeat."  He ate another bite really fast.

Speed reached over to take his free hand.  "There's the other option, Xander.  We'd both be his wives."

Xander coughed, shaking his head.  "I'm a needy and whiny lover according to Anya, guys.   I asked Cordelia and she agreed with Anya's assessment since she was there bothering Angel again."

"I'm not finding you needy," Horatio admitted. "I'm finding that you need some attention paid to you.  Then again, positive attention is a bit new to you and it's good for you.  It makes you more confident and keeps you from slamming Stetler into a wall again."

"I haven't had a reason to until he woke me up at four this morning."

"I'm not seeing you as a needy one either, Xander," Speed said.  "I'm finding you're more clingy.  That you like to spend every free moment that you can with them.  Which is fine because most of the time we're too tired to go do things anyway."

"Life is precious but short."

"You don't have the same risk of death down here," Speed said gently.

"Then you guys don't have car accidents and neither of you can get shot on the job?  Or even walking into a minimart for a drink?"

"That's an unfortunate part of life," Horatio said. "Which is why you like to hang around with me instead of someone your own age?"

"Who do I know down here?  Besides I don't make friends all that easily."

"I'm surprised Eric hasn't drug you to the club yet," Speed said with a small grin, taking his hand back to eat.

"He tried but I'm no good in them.  I dance like a dork."

"That can be fixed," Speed said, grinning just a little smirk.  "I can help you with that."

"That's never been on my list of Xander-capable activities."

"All you need is a decent teacher."

"And a sense of rhythm," Xander quipped back.  "According to Cordy it went wherever my fashion sense went on vacation and got kidnaped too."

"Cordelia is not the best judge of those things," Horatio told him.

"We're still friends."

"That may be but she still put you down."

Xander looked at him.  "So?  So did everyone else, Horatio.  They had a reason in most of the cases."

Speed leaned forward to swat him on the arm. "Stop it.  Even if you're rhythmless it's not a problem.  Eric's tone deaf and he still tries to sing.  It's about being out to enjoy yourself, not caring that you look bad.  It's the pleasure from the movement not from being stared at and admired.  That's going out to hook up.  A bit different."  Xander shrugged, eating another bite.  "We're still off topic here."

"I think we went off on a small side tangent that we'll have to come back to some day soon," Horatio admitted.  He stroked Xander's shoulder, making him look at him.  "The girls were wrong about nearly everything, Xander.  You're not like they said.  They were trying to make themselves feel more important than they are."  Xander shrugged.  "We'll keep undoing their work for years.  The same as I had to undo some of what was told to me."  Xander opened his mouth.  "Speed made me face up to one thing that I carried around and then showed me I was wrong."

"Yeah, well, some of it was right.  So let's drop it, okay?"

"Fine," Speed agreed.  "We don't want to gang up on you, Xander."  He shrugged.  "Now, how do you want to share Horatio as a toy?"

"I am not a toy, Speed," he said, giving him a look.

"I heard you were a good cuddle toy."

Horatio rolled his eyes.  "I like tactile contact."

"He gives good leg rubs too.  I cramped recently and he did very good working it out for me."

"Good to know.  Are you doing the full three miles with him?"  Xander nodded.  "Still going twice a day?"  He nodded.  "Damn.  I can barely make it out to jog at all anymore."

"There's the gym at work."

"I don't usually take a lunch."

"You will if you're with us," Xander told him.

Speed smiled.  "Alexx keeps trying too."

"She's right.  You won't have the energy when you need it if you don't eat."

"I know.  You do nag, huh?"  Xander gave him a look then nodded.  "Fine, we can start taking lunches together in the office or with the others when we have the time."

Xander shrugged.  "Not like I don't have the time.  So whenever is good ya know?"

"You could take a standard lunch, Xander."

"I use it as a way to help you center and to figure out what I have to do that afternoon. You don't give me that much work, Horatio."

"Don't say that, the Chief will add more paperwork," Speed complained.

"There's the upcoming inventory, Xander.  We've got to check off each machine, make sure it works, and then count supplies," Horatio told him.  "You can start on that with Mr. Wolfe next month.  That way he can turn on everything and test it for you."  Xander nodded.  "That took Calleigh about two weeks last year."

"I did an inventory for the supply ordering," Xander admitted.  "That's on your desk."

Speed checked his watch.  "They're not due in until Wednesday.  It's only Saturday."

"Getting it in early means that we won't run short of something.  Oh, I ordered an extra case of swabs.  There was a leak in one so I asked Calleigh.  She told me to order five boxes instead of four."

"That's fine, Xander.  What about testing bottles?"

"I uncovered an older box of them when I cleaned and rearranged the supply closet.  I checked to make sure that they could still use them with Maxine and Ryan.  They both said they were fine so I ordered one box on next weeks' sheet.  That's started on my desk."  That got a nod.  "Also, I got you some new pens since yours all walked off."

"Usually we clean out Eric's case and find them all," Speed told him. "He's a pen thief."

"I think this time Frank Tripp took most of them.  He's been doing the patting himself/let me borrow your pen thing for the last few days.  I used the one you hide as a style match."

"That's fine," he agreed.  "We're still off-topic."

"I thought people talked about this stuff at home too."

"They do, but not tonight," Speed told him, leaning over to give him a kiss.  Xander looked stunned.  "We're talking about that stuff.  You taste good."

"All the sugar I eat."

"It could be your nature," Speed offered.

Xander looked at him, licking his lips.  "I'm not sweet, Speed.  I haven't been considered sweet since you could coo over me.  I think the last time I was six.  Willow joked that's why I eat all that sugar, to get it back."

Horatio stared at him for a minute.  "You've been very sweet to me, Xander.  No one told you had to cook every night.  Or spoil me with sweets.  Or even spoil my team with lunch now and then."

"I like to cook.  It's good stress relief."  He ate another bite.  "Though you are right, I am gaining weight.  Just doing my PT and jogging twice a day isn't making up for the calories I used to burn doing construction and Anya."

"That could be muscle mass," Speed said.

Xander shook his head.  "Not on my waist.  My abs are more defined now, not less."

"Then you're not getting fat, Xander.  Not if you're getting more defined."

"I am, the pants you got me are getting tighter."

"They could be shrinking in the wash," Horatio pointed out.  "We'll see after dinner."  Xander nodded, accepting that, eating another bite.  He looked at Speed.  "You eat too.  You've lost weight and Alexx is going to have kittens."

Speed dug in, eating faster.  "She'll swat me," he told Xander, who grinned.  "So, how do you want to share our Horatio toy?"

Xander shrugged.  "I don't know.  I'm not sure I can share someone."

"You can.  It'll give you two people to go clingy over," Speed pointed out.  "You'd be able to fuss over both of us.  Alexx would quit swatting me over not eating lunch."  Xander let out a gentle smile.

"I'm still not a toy," Horatio told him.  Nor was he sure about being in a trio.  Dating one person was really hard for him.  With his hours and the toll his work took on his soul there wasn't much left for a lover.  Much less two.  Speed kissed him, making him blink.  "What?"

"Quit thinking, Horatio.  We both know what being with you would be like."  He looked at Xander. "In case you didn't realize it, he worries sometimes."

"I give good neck rubs for those days," he admitted shyly.

"Good!  We could both use one now and then on the bad days.  See if you can loosen Wolfe up too.  He's got the stick shoved up there the wrong way."

"He's worried and the stuff with Eric is eating him," Xander explained.

"Eric needs to be laid, then it'll be better."

"He has been," Xander told him.  "Repeatedly.  It hasn't helped yet.  Maybe if Ryan does it, it'll help more."  Horatio spluttered his milk.  "It would."

"It could," Speed agreed.  "Eric would never go for being topped though.  Too much machismo."

"As Cordy said once, straps cure many manly mental issues."

Both older men choked, Horatio turning red while he coughed.


Xander woke up a few days later, looking at the ceiling above him.  "Wow, what hit me this time?" he asked himself, trying to think back.  He took stock of where the injuries were.  "Sedative nastiness headache.  Sore stomach.  No other injuries.  Huh."  He lifted his head when he realized he couldn't move his hands.  "Yeah, that'll play," he said dryly.  "Get me the fuck out of these restraints before I kill all of you!" he bellowed.  A nurse came in, glaring at him.  "What did I do to be strapped down?"

"You had a tumor that's usually associated with not eating."

"Gee, that's funny, I drink a two liter of soda a day, eat four meals, and then do my PT regimen.  I'm pretty sure I'm eating, lady.  Now, release the straps before I have to do it myself."

"The doctor thought you might...."  She watched as one strap undid itself and he got free, then undid the other one.  "Mr. Harris!"

"Shut up, get me my papers or I'm walking out without them, lady.  I don't care!" he snarled.  She backed off, running out of his room.  A doctor with a needle came in and he got up, slamming him against the wall.  "Hate to point this out, but I do eat.  I eat four meals a day.  If you had *asked* someone they would tell you this.  You having me hitched down means I'm going to be pissed because now I get to flashback to kidnaping issues.  I'm leaving," he said coldly.  "You're not keeping me."

"You're just out of surgery.  You collapsed at work," he babbled.  "Help!"

Xander tossed him out of the room, following him slowly, one hand on his stomach.  "I've had worse and walked off.  I can do it tonight!"  He saw Speed jogging up the hall.  "So help me Goddess get me out of here before I kill."

"Calm down, Xander.  Let's get you onto the bed and we'll work this out."

"They had me strapped down!  Claimed I'm not eating!"

"That's funny, you polished off the rest of the triple chocolate cake last night," he said dryly, leading him back to the bed.  He stomped out there.  "Why was he restrained?  You had better have a *damn* good explanation and I want one now!" he shouted.  Horatio came off the elevator.  "Xander wants to leave."

"I'm not surprised."  He came over to check on Xander.  "How are you feeling?"

"Sore.  I want fucking answers."

"Let me talk to the doctor.  Then we'll see if we can remove you," he promised gently, stroking over his hair.  "Curl up on your side, it'll help."  Xander did that, letting him fuss over him.  The doctor came back and Horatio held up a folder.  "Was his tumor like this one?"

The doctor read it over then nodded.  "It was.  How did you know?"

"They removed that from a woman he knew in his former hometown."

"An environmental cause?  These are almost always caused by not eating when they're in the intestine, sir."

"Lieutenant," Xander said coldly.  "And hers was in her brain, dipshit.  Read better."

"It didn't have where, Xander."  Horatio looked at him again, seeing the shock.  "Hers was induced.  There was a group of scientists who wanted the group he belonged to out of the way so they could continue on their torture plans.  Xander helped remove them from his town."

"It's been too long if they gave it to me back then, Horatio," Xander said quietly, touching his arm.  "Calm down, I'm the hothead."

"I know."  He gave him a gentle smile. "That doesn't mean they didn't get to you since then."  He looked at the doctor again.  "Well?"

"Are you sure hers was induced?"

"They found it in the paperwork when the military had to shut down their unit."

The doctor moaned.  "Okay, if that's true then his could be by the same cause.  He has been eating?"

"He drinks at least a two liter of soda a day plus eats at least three times.  Even if he does jog a total of six miles and do two hours of PT."

"Would this explain why my pants have been tight?" Xander asked.  The doctor nodded.  "Did we remove it?"

"Most of it.  We removed what had caused the bleeding.  The rest you'll have to have removed later on.  It was in a different area, Mr. Harris."

"Charming.  Can we do that while I'm still here?"

"I'd rather not."

Xander looked at Horatio then at him again.  "Then I'm going home.  If you argue I'll slam you into the wall again."

"I'm sorry about that."  He handed back the folder.  "I would like to know what the initial cause was."

"So would they.  All they know is that she was hit with a needle full of something," Speed said as he came in with the paperwork.  "Are you *sure*, Xander?  You're going to be sore and have to take care of it."

"I've taken care of cuts, scrapes, and other things.  As long as I've got the antibiotic I'll be fine and find a surgeon who won't strap me down for no reason."  The doctor looked abashed but left them alone.  He signed, then sat up again.  "Clothes?"

"I've got a bag in the hummer for you.  You collapsed at work," Horatio said gently.

"I'll go get it," Speed agreed, going to hand over the papers and do that.

"You slammed him against a wall too?" Horatio asked.

"He had a needle," Xander said quietly.  "I kinda opened the restraints myself."

"I figured you did," he said, giving him a gentle smile.  "You can rest in the back of the hummer on the way home, Xander."  He nodded, curling up again.  "You can still stay."

"No way in hell."

"Okay."  Speed came back with the bag, helping Xander into the soft pants with the tie waistband, leaving them loose so they'd ride down around his hips and the big t-shirt.  "Slippers?"  Speed put them on for him and then helped Xander into the wheelchair the nurse brought in.  "His personal effects?"  The nurse handed over that bag.  "Thank you."  He pushed him out, letting her hover on the way down and give Speed his antibiotic and records.  "You worried me sick," he said when they were in the elevator.  Xander looked back at him.  "You did.  You worried me sick.  I was on a scene out in the Everglades when Calleigh called me.  Maxine found you collapsed on top of your desk and you wouldn't wake up.  She called someone and then Alexx, who had you rushed here.  She figured out you were bleeding internally."  He nodded, patting his hand.  "You can rest on the couch and we'll let the others know I'm taking a few days off to make sure you're fine."

"Horatio, I'm still off, I can do it," Speed reminded him.

Horatio looked at him.  "I'd be there anyway."

The nurse coughed.  "Gentlemen, I hate to say it but I do have to remind you he just had intestinal surgery.  He'll not be up to any shenanigans for a while."

"Hasn't happened yet, why would it now?" Xander asked.  She blushed but nodded.  He looked at Horatio.  "You can stay home one day then fuss from the office.  Otherwise Ryan and Eric will end up eating each other."

"I'll do what I can," he promised.  They came off the elevator and he let Speed push the wheelchair while he went to get the hummer and bring it around.  This was the fastest visit he'd ever had to the hospital.  Xander truly hated them apparently.  Next time they'd have to be much more prepared.  He parked and got out, helping Xander into the back seat so he could curl up on his side again.  He got back in to drive, Speed got into the passenger's seat, and they headed home.  Where Alexx and the others were waiting with dinner and ready to fuss.  "He'll be fine but he'll have to have another one," he told her quietly.  "I need a good recommendation.  The doctor had him strapped down, thought he wasn't eating."

"I'll get you one," she promised. Xander flopped down, letting Speed handle the prescriptions for now.  "What was it?"

"I'm with symbiot," Xander said.  Ryan gave him an odd look.  "What?"

"Is that like saying you're pregnant?" Maxine asked.  "Because if you are, I'm going to freak out."

"It was an intestinal tumor," Horatio announced.  "There's another one that'll have to be removed."

"And yay me, the people out in Sunnydale gave it to me it looks like," Xander said.  "So I'm considering it a blood sucking symbiot.  I'll be back at work soon to proofread more papers and do more of Horatio's paperwork for him."

Horatio stroked over his hair.  "We like you for other reasons," he reminded him.  Speed came back.  "That was fast."

"I do ride a racing bike and they know me at my pharmacy."  He handed over the bag.  "Quit hovering, guys.  Fuss if you want but quit staring."

"He said he was with symbiot," Ryan told him.

"Well...."  He shook his head quickly.  "We've got to figure out how they gave it to him."

"Call Phelps," Xander said, yawning a bit.  Horatio handed him his pills, letting him take them.  "Thank you.  I'll nap now."  He snuggled in, letting Horatio cover him with the throw off the back of the couch.  "Night, all.  Night, symbiot Bob."

Alexx glared at Speed.  "I want the full story, Timmy."

"Dawn!" Horatio called.  She appeared, then spotted Xander and let out a shriek of outrage.  "He got given the same shot your mother did, his is in his intestines.  We need to know what it was if possible and how it got to him so late."

"The federal investigative team," Ryan said.  Horatio frowned at him.  "They're the only ones who've been in the lab who shouldn't be.  Unless you think Stetler or Fornell gave it to him?"

Horatio made her look at him.  "He's all right. They removed one when he collapsed, they'll be removing the other one soon.  That's why I need to know what it was."  She nodded, disappearing again.  He sighed and called Jethro.  "I'm sorry she's mad, it's not our fault no matter how much she's screaming and ranting."  He hung up, looking at Xander, then at Alexx.  "When I know you will."

"The funny thing is, the doctor decided he hadn't been eating, that was the cause, so he had Xander strapped down," Speed told them all.  "Hence him being home tonight."

"He slammed the doctor against the wall too," Horatio agreed, getting a small laugh from Ryan.  "Let's let him sleep, people."  They headed outside to talk.


Dawn reappeared, fuming as she came off the elevator.  She grabbed Jethro's phone, dialing a number she had found.  "Phelps, Dawnie Summers.  Xander just popped a tumor in his intestines.  Yeah, he thinks it's the same.  Please."  She hung up and glared at Jethro, leaning down.  "They got Xander."

"You're being checked then," he said simply.

"I'm fine."

"So was he."

"He's been complaining he was getting fat.  I haven't."

"You're still getting a full physical from Ducky," he said firmly.  She stood up, nodding at that.  "Calm down."

"Hell no.  One of their guys down there said there had been an investigative team?"

"A lab investigative team," he said, thinking about it.  "I'll ask Fornell."

"Thank you.  I'm going up to the roof to throw a screaming hissy."

"Go to the basement, that way you don't worry anyone," Tony said, giving her a look.  "He'll be fine.  He survived a lot worse than this."

"He had restraint marks on his wrists.  Someone's going to die," she told him, stomping off again.

Jethro hit redial, listening to the tense voice.  "I need it as soon as possible so I can get her checked as well, Phelps, plus she said there'd been an investigative lab team down there recently.  Yeah, that's who I was going to ask.  No, she's throwing a fit."  He smiled. "Thanks."  He hung up.  "I'm going to calm Dawn down before she explodes.  He'll call Fornell.  DiNozzo, tell Ducky?"  He walked off, going to find his guide.  He found her screaming and ranting, but crying in a corner.  He walked over and gave her a hug.  "He'll live and it'll be fine."  She looked at him. "It'll be fine.  I know it will be.  If it looks that bad we'll make Blair do some herbal things."

Dawn wiped her face off.  "I called Willow.  Her answer was to laugh."

"I'll gut her for you later."  She nodded, resting against his chest.  He heard the elevator and looked over as Ducky came off with Abby.  "She's calming down."

"I've got what you need in my office.  Agent Phelps asked me to look it over to see if I could find a cause."  Dawn looked at her.  "We'll need to do a few tests, Dawn, just in case."

"Xander too?"

"I'll tell Horatio myself," Jethro told her.  She nodded, walking off with Ducky.  He looked at Abby. "I get a copy, Phelps gets a copy, Horatio gets a copy.  No one else."

"Agreed."  She went to do that, encrypting it afterward.  Just in case they needed it later.

Jethro hit the wall then followed to where they were looking Dawn over.  He saw the director come in and shook his head.  "Out."

"She's not dead."

"Yet," Ducky said.  "Everyone does die, Director.  In this case we're making sure she won't be."  He looked at her.  "I've made the other appointments for you."  She nodded. "Jethro will take you over there and sit with you.  It'll be a long time but it'll be helpful."  She nodded again.  "Then we'll get these people, Dawn."

"I want a few stabs myself," she growled.  She glared at the director.  "Do you fucking well mind, woman?  They gave one of the others of the group the same sort of shot that killed my mother and he's got a tumor now too."  She backed off looking pale.  She looked at Ducky.  "When and where?"

"In about an hour at Bethesda.  Since you're Jethro's charge we can send you there.  Do not worry.  You're not showing any signs," he said gently.

"If I do I'm killing."

"I know, Dawn," Jethro soothed.  "Come on."  Ducky handed him the appointment slip.  "Thanks, Duck."  He walked her out, heading down to the garage.  He found a new cup of his coffee waiting in the car on him and a soda for her.  "DiNozzo."

"I'll thank him later."  She curled up in her seat.  "He'll have to have the other one removed according to Horatio."

"It'll be fine, Dawn.  You know Xander.  He'll survive it."

"He's home and had restraint marks."

"That means the doctor was stupid."  He started the engine and backed out, heading off for the nearby hospital.  "It'll be fine."  He gave her hand a squeeze.  "We'll let you beat the crap out of them if you want."  She nodded, sniffling some.  "It'll be fine."

"It'll be fine.  I'm just as strong as Xander is."  Her phone rang and she looked at it.  "What, Buffy?"  She listened to her.  "No, they gave Xander the same sort of shot that gave Mom the tumor.  He has one in his stomach.  They apparently removed some and have another one to go.  I don't know.  Horatio's taking care of him right now.  No, right now I'm being taken to the hospital to be checked over.  I'm on Jethro's insurance temporarily, Buffy.  It'll pay for it and this is just in case.  We don't think anyone got to me.  Because Jethro doesn't even let me go out to the mall without an escort, Buffy.  Unless they got me at that event I'm probably fine.  Thank you for giving a damn."  She hung up and turned off her phone, sticking it in his shirt pocket.  "I'm tired of people."

"At least she was trying."

"She did, that was nice."  She took another drink of her soda.  "I'm wondering if it's how it was administered."  He gave her a glance before going back to his driving.  "Mom got it in her brain.  Xander in his gut."

"It could be.  Ducky can tell us."  She nodded, resting against his arm.  "I'll be there. You'll be fine."

"Thank you."

"Welcome, kiddo."  He pulled into the parking lot, getting out with his coffee, letting her cling to his arm with her soda.  He walked her up to the registration desk, handing over the slip.  "Doctor Mallard set it up."

She looked then typed, then nodded. "We need to do the health questionnaire, Agent Gibbs."

"I'm her temporary guardian."

"That's fine."  She pulled up the other screen, pointing at the chairs.  "Okay, Miss Summers.  He gave us most of your personal information.  You are sixteen?"

"A few days ago.  This is a hell of a present," she said bitterly.

"I can understand that.  Now, it says here you may have been exposed to a biological substance?"

"Someone gave something to my mother that created a brain tumor.  My other guardian just collapsed with a similar problem today.  They found at least one in his intestine."  She nodded, making note of that.  "Ducky has all that.  I mean Doctor Mallard."

She smiled.  "We know Ducky, Miss Summers.  Relax."

"Kinda hard to do."

"I know.  When was the last time you had intercourse?"


She smiled, checking that box.  "Last period?"

"Um, um..."  She counted back.  "Due in about a week by the way I feel but it's been about a month.  A little over a month.  Early last month.  A week or so before that formal. When was that?"

"The sixteenth," Jethro supplied.  The nurse nodded, putting that in.  "We're hoping this is precautionary."

"It's always better to be safe than sorry in any sort of biological exposure."  She found a few questions he hadn't answered.  "Any allergies?"

"Penicillin.  Though Ducky's green tea has been making me wanna hurl recently by smell alone."  She noted that on a different section and came back.  "You don't think it's there, right?"

"We'll be checking everywhere by the orders he gave us," she assured her.  She gave her a gentle smile.  "Chicken pox?"

"Ten.  No measles, no mumps.  Broken ankle three years ago.  Contemplated braces but I decided I'd rather have teeth with character."

She smiled and checked the proper boxes.  "All right."  She printed off a bracelet and put it on her.  "Here you go.  You have to keep that on.  I need you to go to radiology and they'll make you change into the hospital gown up there.  You're probably going to be here pretty late tonight so if your guardian has to call anyone he can do it from the payphones up there.  All right?"  Dawn nodded, shaking her hand and letting Jethro lead her off.  "Poor girl.  At her age too," she sighed, shaking her head.


Tony leaned into Dawn's room.  "Going to growl at me too?"  She had snapped at most of the nurses since they had found the uterine tumor three nights before and had rushed her in to remove it.

"I feel like shit."

"That happens."  He came in, handing over a small bag.  "I'm going to let you borrow my roadtrip buddy."  She smiled at him, opening it then grinning at him.  "I also included a few of my favorite movies so you can watch them.  The portable DVD player is a great invention.  You even have headphones."  He kissed her on the top of the head.  "We heard from Horatio.  Xander's other lump was removed."


"Two members of the investigative lab team were minor researchers for them.  One of them dosed him.  She's already broken.  Jethro went to help."  She gave him an evil smirk.  He pulled a chair over. "He'd be here but he's being chained to a desk since he nearly killed one of them."

"Can I hit them?"

"If we can work it out with Fornell."  He patted her on the hand.  "They said the small lump they found was easily removed and it shouldn't come back and it shouldn't leave scar tissue, Dawn."

"They also said they weren't sure I was fertile," she told him dryly.  "Not that I'm going to miss having kids for a very long time."

"There's always adoption."


"Or IVF."

"Also true."  She looked at him.  "I got nagged to put on weight."  He smiled.  "I'm not too skinny, right?"

"Not horribly so.  You could use a bit of padding for boys to grab onto."

"Not anytime soon, thank you."  He stroked over her hair, letting her lean against his hand.  "Thank you, Tony."

"It's not a problem.  Probie bought it for me while I was in here for the plague."


"Someone sent it to the office."

"Charming, are they dead?"

"Yeah, she had cancer when she sent it."  He stroked over her hair again.  "Willow showed up with flowers.  They're on Ziva's desk.  She'll bring them later."


"That's cynical."  Dawn gave him a look.  "I know but she can change her mind, the same as you can."

"Uh-huh."  She wiggled down, putting his hand back when he moved it.  "I liked that, but my back's aching again."

"Hospital beds are not good for backs.  It's how they get repeat business."

"In your case we simply wait for you to get hit on the head again, Agent DiNozzo," the nurse said as she came in.  "How are you feeling, Miss Summers?"

"Crappy," she complained, pouting some.  "Can I have pudding?"

"You can have some for supper."  She checked her over, then wrote on her chart, leaving them alone.

Tony nodded at the bag, getting a small smile when she found the hershey's kisses.  "They're small enough to hide from the nurses."  He went back to petting her since she liked it.  "Even the director has backed off for now."

"Yippee.  She wanting to comfort him?"

"She tried that last night," he admitted with an evil smirk.  "Apparently Jethro tossed her out of the basement."  She gave a soft smile and went back to nibbling on her first piece of chocolate.  "Tell me what you think of the movies."

"Think I could use them as book reports?"

He chuckled and shook his head.  "Gibbs would never allow it."  She nodded. "I even included your favorite."  He kissed her on the head again then stood up.  "We have a kidnaping we're working on."

"Find them for me and tell Fornell I want a few good stabs."

"I will.  Try to rest between movies."  She nodded, watching him leave.  He ran into Gibbs downstairs.  "I leant her my DVD player."

"Thanks, DiNozzo.  How is she?"

"A bit pouty, kinda sore.  I told her about Willow showing up with flowers."

"Thanks."  He headed up to see his guide, finding her watching a movie and nibbling on a piece of chocolate.  "He spoiled you?"

"He spoiled me rotten," she agreed with a small grin.  She scooted over, then patted the bed beside her.  He gave her an odd look. "You are doing daddy duty.  You can cuddle."

"Fine.  If I must."  He sat next to her, letting her rest against his shoulder.  "How are you feeling?"

"Pouty.  I'm cramping and I ache."

"You get to go home in two days."

"Good.  What did Willow want?"

"To bring you flowers and apologize."

"A real one?"  He nodded.  "Good.  How's Xander?"

"Horatio said he came through fine and he's awake and complaining already.  He said the new surgeon doesn't like him very much but removed it without pulling out anything extra.  He's coming up for the hearing those two are having.  They're going to try to plea down to a misdemeanor."

"Fat chance or I get to kill them when they get out."

"We're going to that one as well.  It's in three days.  You and Xander can be sore and achy together."  She nodded, giving his arm a hug.  "Feeling better?"

"A bit sleepy.  Are we sure this is the last of them?"

"Phelps went back to Willow to have her help him hack with McGee's help."

"Now she knows so she's sorry about it?"

"Possibly."  He gave her a kiss on the head.  "Get better faster."

"Tony said you had a kidnaping.  Use the bad guy to take the anger out on."

"I have DiNozzo and a boxing ring for that," he said dryly, smirking at her.

"Don't dent the Tony.  Then he can't work."

"He'll still come in.  He's like that."  He gave her another squeeze.  "Think you can handle another few hours?  Abby and Ziva are coming tonight."

"I can do that as long as they bring me more chocolate?  Tony only brought the small bag of hersheys kisses and it does help the cramps."

"I'll tell them you need some more chocolate.  Since they're girls I'm sure they'll understand."  He smirked at her.  "Behave."

"I'm trying."

"Good girl."  He got up, heading back to his car.  He wouldn't even wonder why she was watching Cinderella.  It was probably something Tony was teasing her about to raise her spirits.


Horatio walked into Jethro's house, smiling at him.  "He managed to confuse the prosecutor by talking about his symbiot."

Jethro shook his head.  "At least he accepted it.  Dawn's still call hers a problem.  That's all she calls it."

"That is a delicate way of putting it."

"The girl nearly gutted a nurse who came in to change her IV one night when she startled her awake."

"Miss Chase was much the same way.  Delicate and nice until she had to defend herself."

"She said that's where she learned it.  Bourbon?"

"Thank you."  He took the small glass, taking a sip.  "The good stuff even."

"We deserve it."

"We do."  He finished the glass and put it down.  "Tony's watching over them.  He quipped that Xander was the construction worker version of him."

"It's possible."  He shook his head.  "He spoiled her rotten.  Let her use his portable DVD player, leant her movies, all that."

"It's good your team loves her."

"We had to lie to Abby so she wouldn't come up there and help Dawn gut them."  He finished his glass.  "Is it done?"

"We hope so.  The judge refused the plea agreement.  They worked out another one for twenty years each charge, to run concurrently."

"So in twenty years they'll kill 'em," Gibbs said, nodding.  "That'll work."  Horatio smiled and nodded.  "How's your boy?"

"He's doing better.  He begged my boss for twenty minutes to let me come up with him.  Claimed he couldn't do his post-surgical care by himself and that he needed the protection.  That they needed the protection because I was the only one who could handcuff him and he wouldn't get violent from it."

Gibbs snickered.  "Your boss know?"

"He figured it out on his own," he admitted.  "We have another one in the city as well.  They're in SWAT together."

"Good to know."  He looked over as Tony walked both injured ones inside, shaking his head.  "They wear you out?"

"Made me miss my girlfriend."

"I saw her while I was on my back," Dawn told him.  "She came to visit and said nice things."  Tony grinned at that.  "Go, have a date with the hotty chick."  He laughed, heading out to do that.  "Your DVD player and movies are in the back seat, all but the Peter Pan special edition," she called after him.  He grinned back at her.  "Thank you!"

"Welcome, princess."  He got in, heading off to change and get ready for his date.  When he got home he found she had given him a new movie to watch, making him smile.  It'd go well later on.

Xander sat at the table.  "I'd offer to cook but my stomach aches."

"I can cook," Dawn said.

"Dawn, I'm getting fat from his cooking, I'll cook with Jethro," Horatio said, putting her into a chair next to Xander.  "You two cannot criticize."

"We'll go up to her room then," Xander said, getting up with a wince.  Horatio found the pill bottle and handed it over.  "Thanks, boss."  He dry swallowed one and tossed it back, walking her upstairs.

"They told me to take tylenol," Dawn complained.

He grinned.  "They had to dig inside my guts for three hours.  I growled better than you can."

"She scared one of the doctors," Gibbs said.  "I got asked if she bites."

"Yes, I do," Dawn said with a sweet smile.  She walked Xander up to her room to talk about the boyfriend stuff.  It was a common, not painful, safe topic.

Jethro looked at Horatio.  "Pizza?"

"Pizza's good."  He pulled out a twenty for their half, letting Jethro get the rest and order it.  "Mushrooms on the side.  Xander's funny about fungus now and then."  Jethro added that and hung up.  They sat down to talk about work things and how it was working out with their guides.  It was fun, sometimes.  Others.....  Well, it was Xander and Dawn's fault usually.

The End.

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