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Posted February 28, 2009
Series: Grave Survivors
Title: A Non-Issue
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Spoilers: B:tVS post-"Chosen"; vaguely post-Season 6
Summary: B:tVS, CSI. Nick knew as well as any man that when a girl sat him down with an invitation to Talk it was rarely good news. 1900 words.
"So, you know how I've never told you exactly what it is I do for a living," Nick's girlfriend opened the conversation, wringing her hands in her lap.
He stared blankly at Buffy across the coffee table for a moment, caught between twin reactions of 'oh shit, it's time for that conversation,' and 'thank God, that's what she wants to talk about.' Nick knew as well as any man that when a girl sat him down with an invitation to Talk it was rarely good news, and he'd been fearing the worst. After all, they'd technically only met the month before, and had only been on a handful of actual dates; what if she'd decided they didn't suit as more than penpals after all?
While he was busy trying to keep either emotion-- terror or relief-- from showing up on his face, she furrowed her brow and wrung her hands a little more. "Okay, I expected a little more reaction than that," she said, sharply.
"Sorry," Nick shook his head, then leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. It made him a little uneasy to resort to using his behavioral science training on her, but despite their long correspondence they really did have very little experience interpreting each other's body language, and she was looking pretty nervous. "Look, it's okay, you don't have to tell me," he said, soothingly.
Unfortunately, his girlfriend appeared to be as determined to keep him off balance in this area as in every other. "I don't?" she asked, tone of voice rising as her eyebrows flew up. "What do you mean?"
Damn, he thought, wincing. He'd known all along that whatever her job was, there were major secrecy issues surrounding it, but having that actually confirmed was raising some scary possibilities. Still, he'd thought it all out long ago, and was pretty convinced of the conclusions he'd reached.
"I figured it had to be something that wouldn't bear up to public scrutiny," he forced himself to say calmly. "That's not all that unusual; there are a lot of companies and agencies that make their people sign non-disclosure agreements. But after I started receiving letters and phone calls from all over the world, Greg and Warrick had questions about you I couldn't answer, and they made jokes about tracking dates and locations to see what you'd been up to. Like if you'd left a trail of increased drug activity or bank robberies or any other major crimes behind you, and hey, in this day and age you never know, right?"
Buffy was looking more and more horrified the more he spoke, jaw dropping and thunderclouds building up behind her green eyes; he hurried to finish before she could decide to react prematurely. One thing he did know, and definitely respected about her, was her temper and determination; a dangerous combination for anyone who pissed her off, despite her size. He did not want to lose her over this, especially since she'd brought it up to start with.
"So I spent a weekend doing some research, not expecting to find anything-- but the funny thing is, I did. And it was pretty much the opposite of what the guys had been thinking. Reductions in murders, fewer inexplicable violent accidents, that kind of thing; and the drop in the death rate lasted weeks, if not months, in most places after your stay there."
That startled her, Nick could tell; her tense shoulders relaxed a little, and her expression softened. "It did?" she asked, and this time she sounded more like someone seeking affirmation than an angry woman looking for an excuse to knee him in the crotch.
"Yeah," he said, softly, keeping eye contact as he nodded confirmation. "It did. So like I said, you don't have to tell me. Whatever it is you do, I figure it's dangerous and necessary and probably way above my pay grade."
Not that the death rate was the only clue there for the experienced eye to see; he wasn't a crime scene analyst for nothing, after all. But he didn't want to drag the mood down even more by bringing up the similar experiences with coffins that had prompted her first call, or the strange scars he'd mapped with his fingers six nights ago, or the heavy, clanking box she'd been so touchy about in her hotel room.
Buffy swallowed, and her expression softened further as she stared back at him. "Wow," she said. "I-- I guess I thought you'd be a little more-- I don't know--"
"Skeptical? Demanding?" He grinned affectionately at her as she bit her lip and looked down, self-consciously. "I do work in a crime lab, you know," he continued, "and I used to be a cop; I like to think I'm good at my job, and we're trained to look under the surface of things...."
She rallied a little at that, interjecting a wry comment: "Like Andrew says, underneath the underneath?"
Nick chuckled. "With fewer ninja, but yeah, like that. And in my professional judgment, you're a genuinely good person, over and above your obvious qualifications as a friend and significant other." It couldn't hurt to add a little flattery; especially since it was true, every word of it.
"Obvious, huh?" Buffy asked, shifting her seat from the couch to the coffee table and sliding forward until she could plant her tiny feet firmly between his larger ones on the carpet in front of him. She took his clasped hands between hers, looking deeply into his eyes; then she smiled, though it was a sadder smile than he'd been hoping for.
"Very obvious," he replied, bending forward to capture her lips in a lingering kiss.
"I don't deserve you, you know," she said warmly after he pulled back again. "Seriously, though, I stopped by today so I could finally fill you in, not so you could talk me out of it. I'm almost afraid you'll find what I actually do kind of a letdown after this, though! And that's if you even believe me in the first place."
"Why wouldn't I believe you?" Nick asked. He was starting to get the impression he was not so much confronting her directly in this conversation, as fighting against the ghosts of boyfriends past who'd taken the whole thing much less supportively, and that was not a place he wanted to spend much time in. "I'm not your enemy here, Buffy," he drawled. "I'm already on your side. You've been pretty damn understanding about my job; why should I be any less understanding about yours?"
"Even if it sounds crazy?" she asked, plaintively.
"Even if," he repeated, firmly.
"You'd better be right," she said, wistfully, then straightened up and began her story. "It starts kind of like this: 'The world is much older than you know'...."
What felt like hours later, but was probably much less, Nick let the silence settle as he thought about what she'd said to him. She'd been right, it did sound crazy. More than crazy; certifiable. And yet....
On the one hand, half the things she talked about were straight out of horror novels; it was all a little too Brothers Grimm and Laurel K. Hamilton for him. But on the other, well. In a strange way, it made a lot of sense out of a few of the stranger things he'd seen in his day, and not just in Vegas. He'd been on the force back home for three years before he'd transferred to CSI, and a few of the cases he'd investigated there would set a lot better with him if the perpetrators had been a little less than human. The slaughter at the Gorch wedding back in '98, for instance. And there was always that green guy with horns over at the Tropicana whose makeup seemed a little too perfect for anyone not on the set of a movie....
They'd shifted a little, over the course of her revelations, until Buffy's feet were braced on either side of Nick's lap and his hands wrapped around hers rather than the other way around; he stroked his thumbs across the backs of her wrists as he considered all the new information. "And you said the government knows about all this?" he had to ask.
She nodded solemnly, blonde hair sweeping over her shoulders. "You were right about that part; they do have it classified way above your pay grade. They played with fire, and got burned; they pretty much leave everything to us now except for a few wandering teams of demon hunters."
"And 'us' is a multinational corporation staffed by superwomen and librarians whose goals in life are to stop the world from ending and save as many people as they can from getting eaten," he continued, summing up the most important points-- aside from the litany of tragedy she seemed to have personally suffered over the last decade-- that he'd gleaned from her speech.
Buffy winced a little at the way it sounded, but nodded again, solemnly, her body language tense as she waited for his final reaction.
Nick drew a deep breath, still weighing things in his mind, then let it out and made his decision. "Okay."
"...Okay?" she echoed him, uncertainly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means, okay, I believe you," Nick said. "Not that it doesn't worry me, and not that I don't expect you to take me out patrolling on one of my off days so I can see for myself, but, okay. I doubt you'd make up a lie that complicated and unbelievable just for some kind of cover, and I've known you long enough to know you're not that out of touch with reality, so the only other alternative is that you're telling the truth. And I know how weird the truth can get; I've found scuba divers in trees, drowning victims in the desert-- what's a little supernatural weirdness on top of that?
"Besides," he continued on a less solemn note. "I'm not about to throw away whatever chance we might have together over something I'd already decided was a non-issue. You help people. So do I. End of story."
"But not the end of our story?" Buffy said quietly, eyes shining.
"Hell no, girl," he replied, tugging her into his lap. "You think I'd let you go that easy?"
He'd never regretted the choice he'd made to pick up the phone and return that first call; and it would take more than one surreal conversation to change that. Hell, even if it had all been a crazy cover story, it still didn't matter; whatever her past had been like, she'd clearly been burned badly by it, and had expected his reaction to be one more disappointment.
Well, he was going to prove her wrong. She'd been a light for him in a dark place a year ago, and a supportive friend during the long aftermath, and she'd never, even when they began dating, asked him what kind of car he drove. So he'd make sure not to check his brain at the door when she showed him the proof later on; and in the meanwhile, offer her as much support as she'd given him.
Not that that was a hardship, or anything, he thought, sliding his arms around her as she leaned in for another kiss.
© 2009 Jedi Buttercup.