No, they aren’t mine. I wish they were, but they aren’t. They belong to their creators. I make no money off them. I just take them out, put them in pretty dresses, and make them fight each other. No harm, no foul. Feed the writer. Review.
“What have we got?”
Gil Grissom glanced up from the paperwork laid out in front of him. “We have a body.”
“Wow. Very original,” Catherine pulled up a stool and began rifling through the papers. “Forty-seven years old, male…” she turned the page. “Missing intestines?”
“Ok, we’ve got a middle-aged guy missing his intestines.” Warrick slid into a chair in the workroom.
“Where are Nick and Sara?” Gil asked, looking around.
“Wrapping up the Campos case with Brass. Give them a minute,” Catherine replied, still examining the initial reports on their newest case.
“What’s new and exciting?” Sara and Nick joined their coworkers.
“Body, no intestines,” Warrick said.
“Eviscerated?” Nick asked.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Gil stated. “And since there aren’t any other cases to work on right now, we’ll all focus on this one.”
Sara smirked. “Family fun night! How wonderful.”
Gil ignored the sarcasm. “Ok. The body is male, forty-seven years old, white. We’re still waiting on the autopsy, but it was, apparently, obvious that the victim was missing the contents of his abdomen when he was found.”
“Any signs of struggle?” Catherine asked.
“Nothing obvious—no visible gunshot or knife wounds or obvious ligatures,” Gil replied.
“Do we have anything to go on?” Warrick asked.
“Wallet.” Gil pushed over to the young man a man’s wallet in a plastic baggie. “Found in the left back pocket.”
“Get right on it,” Warrick sighed. He took the wallet over to a work station. Sara joined him in extracting the contents and dusting for fingerprints.
“This reminds me of that porphyrian case last year. We good for the autopsy?” Catherine asked. At Gil’s nod, the pair turned to leave.
“What about me?” Nick muttered.
“Coffee,” Warrick shot over his shoulder. “Greg didn’t make any earlier.”
“So,” Gil said, staring down at the corpse.
“He is missing his intestines,” The coroner stated. “Among other things.”
“Other things?” Catherine asked, cocking an eyebrow. “What other things?”
“Oh, spleen, liver, stomach, colon, bladder, kidneys.”
“So he was gutted?” Gil questioned the doctor.
“You could say that. I didn’t even have to make an incision—the cut was clean, just deep enough to cut through the abdominal wall into the cavity.” Mort gestured to the wounds.
“Doubtful—the disturbances to the epithelial cells indicates a sharp edge, but not a narrow one. More wedge-shaped,” He replied.
“Like a claw?” Catherine supplied.
Gil shook his head. “Claws tend to rip the skin—they aren’t that sharp.”
“Normally, I’d agree with you, but look for yourself.” The CSI investigator peered into a microscope.
“I see what you mean,” Catherine took his place at the device.
“Claw,” She said triumphantly.
Gil ignored her. “Anything else?”
“Depends. Mr. Body was an overweight, out of shape, middle aged man, smoker, no tattoos or piercings. A few odd scars here and there.”
“Scars?” Gil asked.
“On the neck.” The coroner turned the head slightly. “Old wounds—a pair of what look like puncture wounds, some tearing.” The three scientists peered at the two round scars situated over the dead man’s jugular.
“Did you get anything from underneath his nails?” Catherine queried.
“Yeah.” The doctor handed over the scrapings.
“How did he die?” Gil asked.
“How does anyone die? Asphyxiation.” The coroner smirked at Grissom’s obvious display of frustration. “Take your pick—massive blood loss from the veins and arteries that were severed, loss of organs, trauma, shock.”
“Any signs of a struggle?” Catherine inquired.
The doctor shook his head. “Nope. Not even a scratch.”
“So we’ve got a victim with no internal organs, who probably died of massive blood loss from losing those organs, with no sign of a struggle?” Catherine summarized.
“Pretty much. I’m still waiting on the toxicology reports. One interesting thing, though—the heart, lungs, gall bladder and adrenal glands were left behind.”
“Adrenal glands?” Gil asked, surprised. “They were separated from the kidneys?”
“Looks that way.”
“Call us when the test results come in.”
“So, what do we have now?” Nick asked over a cup of coffee. He’d been out of the loop on the first part of the case—his punishment for slacking off on the Campos case, he figured.
Gil organized the results of several lab tests. “George Harris, 47 year old white male, last known permanent address: Sunnydale, California. Habitual smoker, probable alcoholic.”
“Probable alcoholic?” Warrick asked.
“Autopsy of his brain showed severe degradation of the mamillary bodies, which is indicative of Korsakoff’s disease. Tissue samples from the mouth and esophagus show signs of habitual drinking as well; the blood tests also show alcohol. Unfortunately, we couldn’t study his liver,” Gil replied.
“He died somewhere between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am yesterday. No signs of struggle, restraints or use of force—other than the single wound to the abdomen. Victim is missing both large and small intestines, colon, bladder, kidneys, stomach, spleen and liver, but not the lungs, heart, gall bladder or adrenal glands,” Gil continued.
“Someone was picky,” Sara stated.
“Analysis of dirt underneath the fingernails is consistent with the soil makeup of Sunnydale, California,” Gil finished.
“That’s all we have?” Warrick asked.
“The victim had massive blood loss, but there was virtually no blood at the scene,” Catherine answered.
“He was probably transported, then, sometime well after his death—since he’d been dead for some time before anyone found him,” Sara surmised.
“That’s not much to go on,” Warrick said.
“He was staying at the Flamingo on a three day vacation package purchased through Four Seasons Travel in Sunnydale. The victim was employed at the local pet food processing company as a midlevel shift supervisor. He was married, to Naomi Harris, with one son, Alexander. He left a car—a Dodge Aries, in the parking structure at the Flamingo,” Nick added, smirking. He had done something besides make coffee.
“Any criminal record?” Gil asked.
“A couple of DUIs," Nick replied.
“Who found him?” Warrick asked.
“A traffic cop saw the body on a sidewalk a few blocks off the strip,” Catherine read from a report.
Their discussion was interrupted by a phone call. Everyone watched as Grissom’s face tightened.
“What?” Sara asked as her boss hung up the phone.
“The last reports came back. The debris from around the wound turned out to be dirt—the same dirt that was underneath the victim’s fingernails,” Gil said tightly.
“California dirt?” Warrick asked.
Catherine started pacing. “But he was already in town.”
“What?” Nick asked.
“I was going to say that he died in California and was brought here, but he was in town, alive, to check into the hotel,” She elaborated. “Maybe the murderer was from Sunnydale as well?”
“It’s possible. Nick, call back to the Sunnydale Police Department—see if they come up with anything. Get in touch with the family. Maybe he was involved in something,” Gil said. “This doesn’t add up.”
“Damn it.” Nick slammed down the phone.
“What?” Sara asked, pulling herself away from the computer.
“Sunnydale has got to have the worst police department in the country, no, the world. Idiots.” He stormed off to get coffee. “Want a cup?”
“Sure.” She said.
“You all get anything?” Catherine asked.
“Nick didn’t, but I think I might,” Sara said. “Grissom’s going to want to look at this.”
Catherine retrieved the boss from his office. “Sara’s got something…Nick might have, too.”
Grissom joined the team. “What is it?”
“Nick?” Sara prompted.
“More of what we don’t have—any cooperation at all from the Sunnydale police. Nothing. I don’t think they know where they keep their ammo.”
“Anything important?” Gil said, cocking an eyebrow.
“It might be important,” Sara said. “I just pulled up some statistics on Sunnydale. Small town America, right? The death rate in Sunnydale is the highest in the world. The entire world. More death certificates were signed in Sunnydale last year than in New York City, and there aren’t but 60,000 people in Sunnydale. And no, it’s not a retirement community. What’s more, the numbers of assaults reported is off the charts,” Sara stated, enjoying the looks of shock on her coworkers’ faces.
“Why haven’t we heard of this before?” Catherine asked.
“Nick’s police department—I had to dig deep to find this info. It’s not part of any national or state records. In fact, I had to take a back door into the police department web site, and then compare the numbers to national averages myself. Don’t look at me like that, Grissom, I didn’t do anything illegal.” Sara smirked.
“We’ve got a city that’s managed to hide an incredibly high death rate, which might, but might not, be from violent crimes?” Gil summarized. “Interesting, fascinating, and perhaps horrifying, but how does it relate to this case?”
“You did ask us to find out if he was involved in anything. We might want to look into Sunnydale a bit more—with stats like these, he might just be involved in something unsavory,” Nick stated.
Gil shook his head. “Fine, but don’t start chasing conspiracy theories, Mulder, Scully.” He retreated to his office.
“Ready?” Nick grinned at Sara.
“Oh yeah. Lone gunman, here we come.” The young woman swiveled back to the computer.
“Boss?” Sara poked her head into Grissom’s office. “We have more info.”
“Just a sec,” Gil said from behind a stack of reports.
By the time he’d unearthed himself, the rest of the troops had convened in the workroom.
“What?” He asked.
Sara smirked. “Well, how this guy kicked it might be strange here, but not in dear old Sunnydale. I found some numbers from the local hospital. Exsanguinations, disemboweling, decapitation, amputation, and animal attacks are more common reasons for admittance into that hospital than any diseases, even heart disease. They had more bodies in the coroner’s office with missing internal organs last month than Las Vegas had in the last ten years.”
Gil whistled softly. “Did I tell you two not to start playing X-files?”
“Gris, something is seriously weird in Sunnydale. These numbers are off---hell, they’re off for cities like Bangkok, Moscow or Los Angeles.”
“Warrick and I have gotten nowhere working from the local angle,” Catherine added. “The guy checked into the hotel and spent all his time either in the casino or at the bar, with a few side trips to catch a show or two. No hookers, no drugs, no sleazy betting on the side, nothing at all.”
“Why do I get the feeling you all want to take a field trip to California?” Gil muttered. “Brass will never go for it, you know.”
“Why not? We’ve got zilch right now,” Sara said.
“Fine, but I get to say I told you so.” Grissom retorted as he left to find the homicide detective.
“You want what?” Brass squeaked.
Gil sighed. “Do you have a better idea?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean that this one is any good either.” Brass rubbed his forehead. “It’s not my call anyway. I’ll take it to the big guys, but don’t get your hopes up.”
Gil returned to his office, only to find his team hovering outside the door. “What?”
“What did he say?” Sara asked anxiously.
Gil rolled his eyes. “He’ll call, but it’s not likely that they’ll let any CSI investigators go, much less all of us.”
He was cut short by the phone ringing in his office. “Grissom.” He said as he picked it up, scowling at his coworkers, who had followed him in. “What? Really? Ok, fine.”
“What?” Warrick asked, watching a variety of emotions flicker on his boss’s face.
“We, all of us, are going to Sunnydale,” Gil said, disbelief clear in his voice.
“Wow.” Sara replied.
“Yeah, what she said,” Nick added.
“When do we leave?” Catherine asked, thinking of her daughter.
“As soon as possible. Apparently we’re not very popular with whoever Brass talked to,” Gil replied, gathering the files from the case.
“And that got us permission how?” Warrick asked.
Gil turned to them. “They want us out of town for a while.” He stopped, snorting. “We’ve handled too many high profile, damaging cases lately. Brass thinks that the big guys want us out of here for a while, so that whatever we dig up ends up on someone else’s plate.” He turned to Catherine. “What about…”
She smiled. “It’s not a problem.”
“Xander, I’m so sorry,” Buffy said softly, giving her friend a warm hug. The Scooby gang had gathered in the Magic Box to offer their support to the young man who had just lost his father.
“Thanks, Buffy. I’m ok, though.” He smiled tentatively. “Mom’s the one who’s not handling it so well.”
Willow took her turn giving Xander a hug. “I know you didn’t get along with him, but it’s ok to miss him,” She whispered.
Xander just smiled and hugged her a little more, before settling down next to Anya behind the counter.
“When are they giving you the body?” Anya asked.
“Anya!” Willow shrieked.
“It’s alright, Wills,” Xander said, grinning. “They haven’t closed the case, and until they do, they won’t release the body. I guess mom or I could fight them, but there’s no real point.” He had told his friends some time back that his parents’ marriage was pretty much over, and they’d known since high school that he had virtually no relationship with his father.
Xander wasn’t acting; his father’s death really didn’t bother him. Between their mutual dislike for each other and life on the Hellmouth, the news of his father’s death had, to be honest, only struck Xander as morbidly amusing. The drunken old bastard spent years stumbling around Sunnydale after dark, prime vampire bait, and he bites the bullet in Las Vegas, while on vacation.
“Did the police there say anything about how he died?” Buffy asked.
Xander shook his head. “When they called, they said they weren’t releasing anything until there was more evidence.”
Willow leaned on the counter. “You know we’re here for you, Xander. Don’t try to be the strong, silent type.”
“This is the best place you could find?” Warrick asked, peering into the run-down motel room.
Nick shuddered, sure that he’d seen an entire colony of roaches traverse the bathroom floor. “It was the only place that met FEMA standards, and those new policies in the department went into effect last month.”
“Wonder how Sara’s taking it,” Warrick said, grinning. Nick laughed with him. Chances were the women were already whipping out the bug spray.
“Ok, first we talk to the relatives. Catherine, Warrick and I will visit the wife, you two take the son.” Gil handed out addresses. “We’ll start with the workplace tomorrow, as well as any leads we pick up today. Meet back here at, say, 10:00 pm?”
“The kid, Alexander L. Harris, should be getting off work soon,” Sara said, reading the information Grissom had provided.
“Yeah. Weird, this town doesn’t look that dangerous, you know? I don’t see any gang stuff, not a lot of abandoned buildings or…what the hell is that?” Nick stopped, staring at a burned-out hull of a building.
Sara peered at a charred sign in front of the crumbling edifice. “The high school.”
“Ok…someone torched a high school and it didn’t make the news?” Nick shook his head. “The motel has cable, telephones, even satellite, and nothing about this town makes the news?”
“Hmm…” Sara hummed, flipping through the files. “The kid is 20, has an impressively spotty employment record—I’ve never seen someone so young go through this many jobs before.”
“But no arrests,” Nick said, remembering the file.
“Nothing. Not a good student, but no trouble with the law, creditors, or, well, anything. But he was a stripper, for a while.” She grinned. “Maybe he’s cute.” Sara smirked at her companion. “Maybe you should lead on this one.”
Nick glared at the young woman. “You lead.”
Xander pitched aside his towel and grabbed a shirt before answering the door. “Um, hi.” He greeted a pair of people at his door. He didn’t recognize them.
“Alexander Harris?” The woman asked. Xander nodded. “I’m Sara Sidle, and this is Nick Stokes. We’re from the Las Vegas CSI-crime scene investigation lab. Can we ask you a few questions?”
Xander opened the door a bit wider. He wasn’t expecting to hear anything more from the police in Las Vegas. He did remember Nick Stokes’ name—he was the officer who had called him about his father. Xander waited by the door for the two people to enter—it was his version of a vampire litmus test. After a moment, most humans would just walk in, taking the unspoken invitation. A vampire would have to wait until he said something.
The two investigators stepped inside, wondering about the brief look of relief on they younger man’s face as he closed the door. “How can I help you?” Xander asked.
“Mr. Harris,” Sara began, “Is there anything you can tell us about your father?”
“What?” Sara asked.
“Call me Xander. What do you want to know?”
“Anything,” She sighed. “Your father died under unusual circumstances. We’re trying to find out what happened, but all the evidence we have seems to point back to Sunnydale.”
Xander studied the two police investigators. They seemed authentic. “How did he die?”
Nick jerked his head back from where he’d been studying the contents of the apartment. “Um…violently.”
Xander raised an eyebrow. “Violently?”
“He was eviscerated,” Sara said. The statement did not get the response she expected.
“I see,” Xander said calmly. “I don’t see how I can help you, though.”
“Did you father have any enemies? People he owed money, old friends…” Nick asked.
Xander shook his head. “Nothing that I know of. I wasn’t very close to him, particularly since I got out of school. He was a drunk, and not a nice one, but I don’t think anyone cared enough to actually hate him.”
“What about your mother?” Sara asked.
“What about her? Were they ok? I don’t know,” Xander sighed. “Look, to be honest, we weren’t a happy family. They drank; I stayed away as much as I could, and moved out when I got the money together. I’ve been here more than a year and haven’t seen either of them since I left. I wish I could help you, I really do.” He leaned back on the counter, watching the two investigators.
“Yeah. What’s Sunnydale like?” Nick asked casually.
Xander grinned coldly. “It’s hellish.”
“Why do you stay?” Sara inquired.
“I’ve got ties here.”
“Ah. Well, sorry to take up your time. We may be back, though,” Sara said as she opened the door.
“Like I said, if I can help you…” Xander murmured as he ushered them out the door.
“Oh, Xander?” Nick called back. “Did you go to high school in Sunnydale?”
“What happened to the place? We passed it on the way in.”
Xander smiled again, baring even, white teeth. “We blew it up at graduation.”
“The wife was no help,” Catherine said, situating herself on the uncomfortable vinyl booth. They had gathered in the all-night diner attached to the motel—the only always-open restaurant in Sunnydale.
“What about the son?” Grissom asked.
Nick and Sara smirked at each other. “Yes and no.”
Catherine shot them an inquiring glance.
Nick grinned. “He didn’t have much to say about his father, other than that he was a drunk and that the family life wasn’t too hot.”
Sara continued. “That’s not to say it wasn’t a productive interview.”
“Do tell.” Grissom prompted.
“Your story, Nick,” Sara said, sitting back in the booth.
“The kid, Xander, works construction, but the scars and calluses on his hands aren’t like anything I’ve ever seen on a construction worker—and they don’t fit any of his twenty or so other jobs either. Also, his apartment is full of weapons.”
“Guns?” Grissom asked.
“No—not a gun in sight. But there were swords, axes, daggers, knives, and—get this—stakes. Lots of wooden stakes laying everywhere,” Nick said.
“So he collects weapons. That doesn’t prove anything,” Catherine replied.
“We told him how his father died, and you wanna know how he reacted?” Nick said. “He didn’t.”
“What do you mean?” Grissom queried. “He didn’t react at all?”
“Oh, he didn’t jump for joy or anything, but most people would be horrified, or something. He just nodded,” Sara added.
“Then there’s the school,” Nick said.
Catherine squinted. “The school? What about it?”
“Sara and I passed the old high school. It had been burned to the ground. When we asked the kid about it, he said, ‘we blew it up at graduation,’” Nick stated.
“Who? The students? They blew up the school?”
“That’s what he said. He smiled, too.”
“Oh, and he said Sunnydale’s ‘hellish,’” Sara concluded.
“Hey, guys!” Xander chirped as he entered the Magic Box.
“What’s wrong?” Willow asked.
Xander sighed. “How do you do that?”
“I’m psychic,” Willow replied, grinning.
“Some cops from Las Vegas showed up today after work, asking about dad,” Xander said, flopping down into a chair.
“What did they want?” Buffy inquired.
“Information I don’t have, like who wanted Dad dead,” Xander responded. “They said he was eviscerated.”
“Fun that,” Spike said from behind the counter.
“Right. Apparently, all the evidence leads to Sunnydale. They asked about the high school,” He groaned. “One of them was real interested in my slaying gear, too. Shit, they probably think I offed the bastard.”
“Nah. Anyone with half a brain can see you don’t have the knackers for that,” Spike reassured him.
“Are you worried?” Willow asked, watching her friend.
“No, since I didn’t do anything. I just wish they’d go away.”
“Eviscerated?” Giles asked, frowning. “Is that all they said?”
Xander nodded. “Nothing but that.”
“Where is everybody?” Warrick asked, looking out the Explorer’s windows. “This place is dead.”
“All at home, tucked safely in bed?” Catherine sing-songed.
Two days of interviewing had led both nowhere and everywhere, so the team was driving through Sunnydale, hoping to figure out what was going on. They’d caught on fairly quickly to what Sara’s earlier investigations had found. People died in Sunnydale at an alarming rate, but no one seemed overly concerned about it. The place was eerie—it was only nine yet the streets were deserted. Only a few brave souls ventured out, other than those crowds gathered around a few bars or around campus.
“A place like this should be hopping, with the university so close,” Nick murmured, watching students swarm the Bronze.
“Hey! There’s the Harris kid.” Sara pointed toward a small group of youths striking out toward the campus. Catherine turned the SUV to follow them.
“And why are we following our not-a-suspect?” Grissom asked from the passenger seat.
“Cause maybe he is a suspect, and we don’t know it,” Nick said.
“You’re awfully sure that he’s involved,” Grissom replied, turning to study his colleague.
Nick squirmed. “I don’t know that he is, but I do think he knows more than he’s letting on.”
“Here, vampy, vampy, vampy,” Buffy taunted softy as she led the way into the cemetery.
Spike flinched. “They’re not going to come to that, you know.”
“Can it,” Buffy snarled. She’d much rather patrol on her own, but this nest of fledges was far too big for her to go at alone. So instead of a nice, quiet evening slaying vampires, she was hosting Spike at his snarky best, a disturbed Xander, and Willow, who was still upset and distracted over her recent breakup with Tara.
The foursome found their targets quickly: a nest of more than twenty young vampires had settled into several crypts. “These guys drive property values into the ground for you respectable vamps, don’t they, Spike?”
Spike slipped into gameface and hissed at Xander’s lame humor. The fighting was fast and furious, but didn’t take very long due to their enemies’ relative lack of experience.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Buffy whirled at the exclamation. A middle-aged man was standing a few feet away, a gun aimed at her head. The other Scoobies also turned, Spike automatically reverting to his human face.
“Buffy?” Xander started. “Um…” It was then that the others noticed that they, too, were being targeted. They were also outnumbered. “Spike?”
The vampire snarled. ‘All human, pet.” He wasn’t worried about himself; a bullet would do little damage to a vampire. The others, though, were vulnerable.
“Mr. Harris, would you care to explain what’s going on here?” Nick said sharply, keeping Xander within his sights.
Xander flushed. This was so not good.
Willow’s short temper reached its end. No one spoke to her friends in that tone of voice. Clenching her fists, she muttered a few words under her breath. The humans’ handguns flew into the air, landing on top of a crypt several yards away.
“What the fuck?” Warrick shouted, staring at his hands.
“That’s better,” Willow said, dusting off her hands. “You know, those things are dangerous. You shouldn’t go around pointing guns at people. It’s rude.”
Buffy smiled in spite of herself. “You all should be inside. It’s not safe to be out this late at night.” She turned to collect a discarded stake, dismissing the humans.
“Buffy…” Xander began. “Those are the cops from Las Vegas.” His eyes darted nervously between Nick and Sara. The police investigators were still staring at the Scoobies, frozen in place.
“Oh,” She replied dully. This was not going to be easy. “I bet you all wonder what’s going on around here.”
Gil finally found his voice. “You could say that.” He wondered how they did the trick with the guns. Had they wondered onto a movie set? The disappearing people they’d seen earlier were fascinating.
Willow pretty much guessed what was going on; between her burgeoning telepathic powers and the obvious expressions on the others’ faces, she figured that they were confused, shocked, and still suspicious of Xander’s involvement in his father’s death. “Why don’t you all come with us? The cemetery’s kind of creepy this time of night.”
“Sure,” Catherine said, starting to follow. Warrick shot her a skeptical glance, but she just shrugged. What else could they do?
The crime scene investigators stared, slack-jawed, at the youths in front of them with a mixture of shock, disbelief, and awe. “Nice story,” Gil said, finally able to speak.
Spike snorted. “Told you he wouldn’t believe you.”
“Right. And you’re a vampire,” Nick shot back, smirking. Spike grinned and morphed into gameface, enjoying the expressions that caused.
“Shit!” Warrick jumped back several feet. “How’d you do that?”
Spike’s grin widened. “What?” Gil took a step forward.
“Does that hurt?” He peered at the vampire’s face, innate curiosity getting the better of him. The vampire shook his head. The investigator stopped just inches from the vampire. “Can I?” At Spike’s nod, Gil reached out, touching the ridges on his face.
“It’s like no theatrical makeup I’ve ever seen,” He commented to his coworkers. Spike snorted in response.
“Cause its not makeup, wanker.” He shifted back into his human guise underneath Gil’s fingers, enjoying the shocked expression on the human’s face. Gil moved his hand down, checking for a pulse on the unusually cool skin of Spike’s neck.
“No pulse,” He remarked.
Spike rolled his eyes. “No pulse, no heartbeat. No reflection. Hello, vampire?”
“But, but there’s no such thing…” Nick said, backing up a few steps. He traded incredulous glances with Sara, who was edging toward Catherine.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Spike muttered at the out-of-town detectives.
“What Spike’s saying, in Shakespeare-quoting vampirespeak, is that Sunnydale is on the Hellmouth, and weird things happen here,” Xander summarized.
“Weird things like people getting their innards removed?” Warrick shot back, still keeping a wary eye on Spike.
“And making our guns fly on top of crypts?” Catherine added, glaring at Willow.
The young witch scowled. “You pointed them at us for no good reason! We’re doing our jobs, protecting people. Besides, guns don’t work on vampires. Or on most of what’s in Sunnydale, for that matter.”
“But witches, Slayers, vampires, werewolves, the Hellmouth? You expect us to believe you?” Sara said cynically.
“No, I don’t, to be honest with you. Why should you? I mean, just because you’re standing in a room with a vampire Slayer, a vampire who’s been the subject of U.S. military experiments—sorry, Spike, a witch, and a man who’s been possessed twice…all after seeing the four of us dust-that’s kill-a nest of fledgling vampires in a cemetery, after apparently tracking Xander’s father’s killer back to Sunnydale…having seen for yourself how weird Sunnydale is, the blown-up school, the way Xander’s father died…the odd nightlife…” Willow paused for a breath and Buffy cut in.
“No, we don’t expect you to believe us. All those impressive stats you dug up on Sunnydale? Most of the people here don’t notice it at all. Not event the cops. They just live in this nice haze of plausible excuses.”
Gil shook his head. “Science…”
Spike snarled, shifting back into gameface. “Science? Science put a ‘behavioral modification chip’ in my effin’ skull, so I can’t feed or defend myself against humans. By YOUR military! Yeah, the great American government knows about us…at least the Army does. You wanna know what ‘Science’ thinks about this stuff? It’s called ‘let’s build a superwarrior’, one that tries to destroy the known world! A big, nasty monster that took everything we had to get rid of.” The arguments raged on for more than an hour. Scientists were, after all, notoriously difficult to convince of things they couldn’t test.
“So…” Willow said tiredly, after everyone seemed to have wound down. “If you want, we can help you track down whatever got a hold of Xander’s father…”
“Yeah?” Warrick said. “Why?”
Xander jerked his head up. “Because it might still be out there, and its next victim might actually not deserve to die.”
Spike shoved off the steps, smirking as the female investigators jumped back. “Right. So, what kind of demon does neat, clean cut jobs of removing internal organs, and is willing to track a victim hundreds of miles to do so?” The Scooby gang moved to the myriad bookshelves, ignoring the curious stares of the Las Vegas investigators.
“Spike?” Willow called. “I can’t read this one.” She thrust a book toward him. “You read that language, right?”
“Yeah. U’uruganthak.” The vampire flipped through the text. “So, Mr. Science, you said the wound was caused by a claw, and that the adrenals were left behind? Take a look at this.” Spike handed over the text, which contained an illustration of the retractable claws of a rather large, hairless demon.
“Fascinating,” Gil said, studying the drawing. “And what is that supposed to be?” He asked, humoring the obviously crazy man.
The blonde smirked. “That is a Humjkskib. Nasty bugger. Probably the one you want, too.” He took the book back over to Buffy.
The Slayer checked out the demon, scowling. “So, Spike…you know how to fight this one?”
“The usual, kick-kick, punch-punch, stake through the heart.” The vampire lit a cigarette, taking his place back on the stairs.
“I’m sensing a catch here.” Xander remarked, frowning at the picture.
Spike chuckled. “Catch? According to the book, Humjkskib use the internal organs in a summoning ceremony for some even nastier demon. I’m guessing the catch is stopping one before it calls the other.”
Willow closed the book. “Where do we look?”
“Sewers.” Spike replied.
As the Scoobies were discussing the particulars of the current slaying job, the crime scene investigators followed the conversation with increasing levels of disbelief.
“Um…Gris?” Sara started, biting her lower lip. “Did you notice which rabbit hole we fell down back there?”
Grissom rubbed his brow, frustration and exhaustion battling for dominance. “Third from the left?”
“Whatever. They’re leaving.” Warrick marshaled the investigators into motion, following the youths out into the darkness.
“Where exactly are we going?” Sara asked, watching the Scoobies lift a manhole cover.
“Sewers. Weren’t you listening?” Xander replied, scowling. “Humjkskib, sewers, kick-kick, punch-punch? What part didn’t you understand?”
“Oh, just the DEMON part,” Nick said, averting his eyes from the handsome youth.
“So…do all the kids in Sunnydale spend their nights in the sewers?” Nick managed to sound sarcastic through the disgust evident in his voice. “Or just you guys?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Oh, just us, the zombies, a few vampires, several dozen demons, and a rat or ninety.” The Slayer was more than a little irritated by the uninvited tagalongs. They were slowing her down, even more than the Scoobies normally did. At the rate they were going, the Humjkskib would be able to summon an army of demons before they found it.
Gil followed along behind the youths, watching Spike carefully. He couldn’t believe that he was beginning to believe the obviously delusional Englishman. Seriously, he’d dealt with this type before—people who thought they needed human blood to survive. But the physical evidence was fascinating. That and the fact that Spike just didn’t move like anyone else in the group. When he wasn’t walking, he was still—too still, like a statue. Then there was the movement. Sometimes he moved so gradually, with such control, it was like watching ballet in slow-motion. Other times he was so quick it was as though he simply disappeared and reappeared somewhere else. The elder CSI supervisor shook his head to clear it. There was no way he was going to be drawn into this farce.
Grissom’s thoughts were interrupted when the group in front of him stopped walking. “What?”
Buffy ignored him completely. “Xander, left. I’ll take the right. Spike, Willow, you’ve got The Science Guys.”
“Huh?” Warrick looked around. “What are they talking about?”
Xander glared. “Slayer sense. Vamps up ahead. Shut up and don’t move.”
“Right.” Sara smirked. “All this action and damn if I didn’t leave my best cross at home.” Nick smiled despite the situation.
Catherine, however, stayed focused on the blond girl in front. Buffy was standing stock still, only her eyes moving as she scanned the darkness in front of her. Suddenly, the girl spun around and kicked, flipping a formerly unseen man onto the ground. Five more men disfigured much like Spike swarmed out of the darkness, surrounding her and Xander.
Xander pulled out a stake and went to work on the closest vamp. Unlike Buffy, he couldn’t just throw them down, so he used his hard-earned agility to outsmart the enemy. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Willow and Spike each take on a fledge that had targeted the Las Vegas investigators as defenseless.
Nick grabbed Warrick, slamming him into the scummy sewer walls behind him just as a vampire’s clawed hand raked past the tall mans’ face. “Uh, thanks,” Warrick panted, returning the favor as several more vampires clambered out of the shadows and joined the fray.
Spike took the time to laugh at Sara when she tried to halt one vampire by threatening to arrest him. His laughter almost overtook him when he saw the expression on her face as five bullets didn’t slow her attacker down. Taking pity on the girl, he pitched a stake through the fledge’s heart, coating Sara in dust.
“You got another one of those?” Catherine asked Xander. Two vampires in identical leisure suits had pushed her forwards until she was pressed against the young man’s back.
“You know how to use it?” Xander shot back, distracted.
“I learn real fast.” Catherine took the initiative of pulling a spare stake from Xander’s belt and struck back. The closest vampire laughed at her inexpert fumbles—until a lucky shot put the stake in her hand right into his heart.
A startled cough caught Xander’s attention. “Oh, you might wanna step back when you do that.”
“Now he tells me.” Catherine grimaced, and then went after leisure-suit boy’s twin.
Several minutes later, the dust had quite literally settled. A total of nine very inexperienced vamps had been slain, and somehow the Scoobies were spotless while the SCI team looked like it had rolled under a bed.
“Let’s go.” Buffy wasted no time, and the Scoobies took off right after her.
“Wait a minute! What was that?” Gil tried to stop the band of vigilantes by shouting in his best authority voice. It didn’t have the intended effect.
“Wait for what? You five to get bitten? Or killed? Go back to the Magic Box. Better yet, go back to wherever you came from,” Buffy shouted right back over her shoulder.
That response was unacceptable to Nick. He ran up to Buffy, pulling her arm to stop her. He found himself flat on his back with a stake at his throat. Warrick and Sara had guns trained on Buffy almost immediately, but a look from Willow made them pause.
“I wouldn’t do that, now, would I?” She stepped in front of Warrick, smirking. Xander quickly moved in front of Sara.
“Tell blondie to get off Nick.” Sara hissed. Catherine moved forward, hoping to do some damage control.
Buffy did release Nick, pulling him roughly off the floor. “Never, EVER touch me, buster.”
“Slayer doesn’t like boys touching her without permission. Even if they’re panting over baggy-britches and not her.” Spike leaned up against the sewer walls, watching Nick’s display of insulted-manhood anger.
While Spike’s words simply confused the CSI team, they sent a spark of shock through the Scoobies. “What?” Willow squeaked.
Xander paled, and then blushed. “Spike, shut up.” The vampire opened his mouth, only to find a face full of pissed off Xander. “I said shut up. Now is definitely, no argument, NOT THE TIME!” Xander didn’t want to deal with this now—not Spike’s snarky vampire attitude, not Sara and Warrick’s pit bull routine, and certainly not the damned inconvenient attraction Nick may feel for him.
“What’s on his case?” Warrick muttered, shouldering his sidearm. A gape-jawed look from Willow made him frown.
“His case? It’s your case! We’re in the sewers tracking the thing that killed his father, and you all are goofing off!” The redheaded witch stamped a foot in a rare display of anger. She’d been mad more in the last four hours than she had in months.
“If you all would cease whatever games you’re playing, we wouldn’t be having these little arguments, now would we?” Grissom’s statement only riled the youths more. Catherine stepped in, determined to settle things.
“Grissom, be quiet.” That statement made everyone shut up. She turned to her boss. “You don’t believe in it. Fine. They do. They also know where they’re going. And what they’re doing. Let them do their job, and maybe we can do ours, ok?”
“Catherine…” Warrick began, only to be interrupted by Sara.
“You don’t believe them, do you, Cat?” Sara scowled at the older lady. “You do!”
The CSI team stared in displeased shock at Catherine, who just shrugged. “When you’ve seen what I’ve seen, it’s not so hard to believe.”
“Yeah, like what?” Nick asked suspiciously.
Catherine spun around to face him. “Like girls dancing for fifty years and never aging a day. Plastic surgery can’t do that. Trust me, I know. Or the dealers that always win. Always. No matter what, no matter whom they play—way beyond the laws of probability.” She sighed, suddenly feeling her age.
“How can you say that?” Sara snarled, angry at her turncoat coworker.
“'Cause she’s been around vamps before.” This statement came from the shadows that held Spike.
“What?” Grissom said. He’d found himself saying that a lot lately.
“She’s rusty, but she knows her way around a stake,” Spike added, stepping out of the shadows. “Not something you pick up investigating crime scenes.” The vampire approached Catherine slowly, circling her. “But definitely a skill to have when you slum with the undead, hm?” Catherine stiffened and shivered as Spike reached out and gently pushed the hair up on the nape of her neck.
“How long?” He removed his hand and Catherine relaxed visibly.
“At the risk of being repetitive, what?” Gil asked crossly. He was losing his patience.
Spike answered for him. “She’s marked.”
Willow gasped, and both Xander and Buffy looked dumbstruck. “Marked?” the redheaded witch squeaked.
“How?” Buffy asked.
“I could smell it on her in the cemetery. It’s faint, but still there. Been years since she’s been bitten, but it never fades completely.” Spike looked longingly at Catherine for a moment, and then walked off.
“Catherine, do you have anything you want to tell us?” Grissom inquired.
“What do you want me to say? I had a vampire boyfriend? That I knew these guys were on the up and up all along?” Catherine began, looking a bit put out. “Would you have believed me? I seriously doubt it, Gil.”
“But it’s not possible…” Warrick said, frowning.
Catherine laughed. “Keep telling yourself that, Warrick. In the meantime, there’s something a lot worse than a vampire out there, and we’re going to find it.” She turned away from her coworkers and joined the Scoobies, who had regrouped from the little revelatory scene and were quickly disappearing in the sewers. After a moment, the other CSIs joined them, albeit reluctantly.
Many twists and turns later, Spike drew them to a halt. “It’s up ahead, Slayer.” He pointed toward a particularly decrepit tunnel, coated with slime and obviously home to many rats.
“How can you tell?” Nick asked, curious despite his anger.
“The smell? It smells bad, yeah, but no more bad than when we first climbed down here.” Nick looked around warily. Spike just flipped him off.
Buffy pulled out her stake and ventured forward. Spike and Xander joined her, while Willow stayed a bit back with Catherine. There hadn’t been any vampires around when they reached the tunnel, but you never knew.
“So we wait here while Barbie goes and kicks big bad wolf’s butt?” Warrick commented, checking out the sewers with Nick.
“Basically,” Willow snapped back, still pissed at them. A noise drew her attention. “Duck!”
The CSI team ducked instinctively, used to following that sage advice when it was given. They were just in time to miss being hit by a huge, scaly demon that flew over them and struck a crumbling brick wall. Buffy and Spike soon followed, never letting up on the attack. Xander limped out a bit behind them, joining Willow in keeping between the demon and the out-of-towners.
Sure enough, the battle was kick-kick, punch-punch, and stake through the heart. As the demon lay dying on the sewer floor, Buffy reached down with a knife and sliced off its forearm. Walking up to a still-crouching Grissom, she dropped it at his feet.
“You want to study something? Look at that.” Grissom just stared at the hand and arm as Buffy walked off. Xander and Willow stayed behind; making sure the CSI team was ok, while Spike joined Buffy in exiting the sewers.
Willow stuck close to Xander on the way back to the Magic Box. Grissom had, true to his nature, wrapped the severed arm in his jacket and was carrying it back with him. Of course, he was determined to discover what kind of movie special effects had produced such a thing. The trip back was tense and silent, however, as the rest of the CSIs mulled over Catherine’s perceived defection, and Xander thought about what Spike had said regarding Nick. The youth thanked the gods that the comment had flown right over the CSI investigators’ heads.
When the two groups met back up at the Magic Box, Buffy made it clear that it was closing time and that the investigators were warmly invited to get out.
“This isn’t over, you know,” Sara said as the blonde shoved them out of the store.
Buffy just groaned. “Fire your writer and get someone better to do your dialog, babe.” With that, the door slammed shut on the Las Vegas CSI.
Grissom turned from the door, frowning at the arm he was carrying. “So…”
Nick summed up the evening. “Guys, we really, really need to talk.”
The ride back to the hotel was tense and silent. Sara stared holes in the back of Catherine’s head while Grissom alternated between studying (or was that *sniffing?*) the severed arm in his lap. Nick sulked, occasionally pounding his head against the window. Warrick simply sat next to Sara, trying to keep from either laughing or crying. He wasn’t sure which one was more appropriate.
Once everyone had piled out of the car, Sara jumped on Catherine. “What the fucking hell was that back there, Cat?”
“Language, Sidle,” Grissom warned.
Sara glared. “Excuse me, Catherine. Just what exactly were you trying to accomplish in the sewers tonight, Catherine?”
Catherine sighed. This was not a conversation she’d ever wanted to have—with anyone. Having it with Sara, and the rest of the CSI, was nearly the worst scenario she could imagine.
Grissom’s cell phone started ringing before Catherine could say anything, however. He answered it, speaking in terse, angry sentences. His expression as he hung up was not promising.
“We can deal with this on the road. That was Brass. The CSI is overloaded and five employees short. We’ve been recalled as of ten minutes ago.” Grissom pocketed his cell phone and went to check them out of the hotel. Within minutes, they were back on the road, headed for Nevada.
The change of venue didn’t slow Sara down any. She didn’t even wait for Catherine to answer her previous question before launching into a new attack. Eventually, Warrick caught her attention.
“Sara,” Warrick started, “maybe you should let Catherine explain.”
Catherine looked at Warrick through the rearview mirror. She hadn’t expected anyone to stand up for her, although Warrick was more likely to than anyone else.
“Fine.” Sara waved a hand at Catherine’s head, missing her only an inch or so. “Explain.”
Grissom finally looked up from the arm he was currently obsessed with. “This should be interesting.”
Nick ignored all of them, preferring to curl up against the window as he had before.
Catherine took a deep breath, and then started. “You all already heard most of it. I dated a vampire. Not a person who thought he was a vampire, or somebody with a hemoglobin problem, but a real, honest to god vampire—like Spike.” She paused for a moment, looking for the right words. Grissom took the opportunity to ask a few questions.
“How did you know he was a vampire?” This had obviously been before she had received any training in research or evidence gathering.
“Oh, the fact that he burst into flames if even the slightest bit of sunlight touched him, or that my favorite cross branded him, or the fact that he had yellow eyes, a ridged face, and drank blood.” She smiled. “Eric was definitely a vampire.”
“But those things could be rigged. Theatrical makeup, chemicals…” Warrick said, still unconvinced.
“Then how do you explain a room-temperature body—all the time? His internal body temperature wasn’t above 72. He didn’t have to breathe unless he was speaking.”
“Still, those things could be faked as well.” Grissom pointed out.
“I know. Then there was the time I watched him get shot in the gut at point blank range. I spent nearly an hour poking his cold intestines back in and duct taping him together, then feeding him,” Catherine said. “That’s when I got marked.”
Silence followed that response. It was one thing to fake the other symptoms. How exactly did one fake disembowelment? “Marked?” Grissom asked, avoiding the other topic.
Catherine winced. This wasn’t going to be easy either. Hell, she’d rather have the sex talk with her daughter. “Vampires, at least ones with any years on them, mark people that they…care about.”
“How?” Sara asked, curiosity overcoming her anger.
“A bite—not to kill, but to leave a small scar. Eric said it left a scent other vampires could smell, that never went away completely. He said that vampires usually left other vampires…marked people alone.”
Grissom considered this. “So this guy Eric bit you twenty years ago, above the hairline, and Spike could sense it tonight?”
Catherine nodded. “Apparently so. Usually vampires mark somewhere more obvious, but I was a dancer then…” She trailed off. They all knew how important physical appearance was for a dancer. “So, yeah, I guess Spike could sense it still—it’s not like I told him it was there.”
“I still don’t buy the vampire story,” Sara said, shaking her head. “There has to be a rational, logical explanation. We’re scientists. We don’t buy into urban legends and fantasy.”
Grissom nodded, but decided to play the devil’s advocate. “And this is definitely not science. Just like conception wasn’t science but magic a few hundred years ago.”
Sara scowled. “That’s different.”
“Why? Because now we know different? Hindsight’s twenty/twenty, Sara. Who knows? Maybe there are vampires,” Warrick said, hoping she wouldn’t come after him with an axe later.
“I just don’t think so. There is no spontaneous combustion, no miraculous resurrections, no spontaneous healings,” Sara replied, unconvinced.
“No Santa Claus, no Easter bunny, no leprechauns with a pot of gold, no coincidences, no miracles, no immaculate conceptions,” Warrick added, nodding his head. “Man, if we got rid of everything science couldn’t prove, not only would holidays be cheaper, I could sleep in on Sundays.”
Sara knocked him on the head for the comments. “I’m serious here. A dead body walking around and not decomposing? It’s not going to happen. The body temperature is too low to keep proteins from denaturing, molds and bacteria from growing, and insects from feeding.”
“Unless you pickle it,” Grissom said absently, his attention caught once again by the arm. “Then the tissue stops degrading and microbial and larger organisms can’t feed on it.” Catherine chuckled slightly at the mental image she had of Eric in a huge dill pickle jar.
The others also found Grissom’s off the wall comment humorous, and some of the tension was alleviated. By mutual, tacit consent they dropped the subject for a while.
“How’s Nick?” Catherine asked. Warrick, stuck in the middle, turned to check on him.
“At least he’s not moping,” Sara remarked. “You’d think someone had kicked him in the—“ Warrick slapped a hand over her mouth, shooting her a dirty look.
“—knees,” she finished once he’d removed his hand. “I guess having Spike call him on the whole ‘Xander’s a hottie’ thing pretty much ruined his night.”
“That or he was disappointed that Xander didn’t say anything about it,” Warrick suggested. “And how did Spike know?”
“The same way we did?” Sara replied.
“That or pheromones,” Catherine said. “Vampires are very sensitive to them—much more so than humans.”
“I’ve never seen epidermis like this before,” Grissom whispered. Catherine, Warrick and Sara turned to see Grissom peering a little too closely to that damned arm. If Catherine braked suddenly, Grissom’s nose would be shoved well into the bloody mass of tissue.
“Gris, man, you need a new hobby,” Sara claimed. She sighed at Grissom’s nonresponse, and then leaned over to rest against Warrick. After a moment, he relaxed and put an arm around her. Normally, they kept a professional distance while on the job, but with everything that had happened the last couple of days, no one would care.
“Why? I like this one,” Grissom replied softly, distracted by the unusual new toy he’d been given.
“Why don’t you all get some sleep, like Nick? We’re probably going to be pulling long shifts when we get back,” Catherine suggested over her shoulder. Maybe some quiet, without any sniping and arguing, would do them all some good.
“You’re right,” Grissom said, wrapping the arm up once more and placing it on the floorboard. Soon Catherine had the road and the car to herself, kept company by Grissom’s soft, snuffly snoring.