"I'm sorry, Gil," Jim greeted him as he approached the scene, accessorized with CSI vest and evidence kit. "I know you wanted to take a couple of days off for your mysterious out of town visitor, but...."
"Crime never sleeps. Particularly not in this town," Gil shrugged, evading Jim's half-implied question.
He'd left a message on Buffy Summers' cell phone to let her know he wouldn't be meeting her flight after all; but hopefully they'd still be able to meet the next day. And after he knew how the meeting was going to go would be time enough to satisfy his old friend's curiosity. He'd prefer to save the congratulations or gruff sympathies until he was certain which reaction the situation called for.
"So what do we have?" he asked.
"Missing person; suspected foul play," Jim replied darkly, walking beside him as they approached the suburban home. "Teenage girl. The parents say their daughter's been hanging out with a lot of unsavory characters lately; they think it might be gang related. They overheard her talking about a 'patrol' and someone called 'the Slayer' coming to town when she was on the phone after dinner last night, but they thought it had something to do with one of her video games, or maybe a music group – until they discovered no one had seen or heard from her since. The bedroom window was unlocked, and there's a bloody handprint on the sill."
He gestured at the window in question; it was a second story window, next to a tree with sturdy branches; a handy route for clandestine exit and reentry. There was nothing else particularly unusual about the place that Gil could see at first glance; it seemed like an average, well-kept middle class residence, and the neighborhood was neither downscale, nor upscale enough that either gang activity or kidnapping for ransom was likely to be a routine hazard. Statistically, it was more probable that the girl had left under her own power, though the blood evidence did raise a question mark.
"What else?" he said, narrowing his eyes at his friend. "If you're already sure this is more than a rebellious kid who scraped her hand sneaking out after curfew, there has to be more to it."
Jim nodded, ushering him in through the open door of the house. Gil could see Sara down the hall, bagging the contents of a laundry basket as he entered; she gave him a sympathetic half-smile as she spotted him, sorting flimsy shirts and narrow jeans into bags separate from the rest of the items.
"There is," Jim continued. "Several things, none of which add up. Mom went digging, checking to make sure her daughter's things were all still there – they had a big fight last week about her wanting to switch to some private school out in Cleveland that the parents didn't approve of, and they were worried she might have taken off without notice. But as far as she could tell, nothing's missing – and there were a few extras in the wardrobe I think you might want to take a look at."
"Extras?" Gil replied dryly, raising his eyebrows at him.
Jim made a face. "Like maybe she'd been watching a little too much genre TV," he said, preceding Gil into the room in question and gesturing toward the closet door.
Gil had already slipped on a pair of gloves; he checked the floor to make sure it had been cleared and that he wasn't about to step on any evidence, then picked his way over to the closet and crouched down for a look. A heavy trunk provided a backdrop for a shallow rack of shoes; the trunk's lid was open, and inside he could see …
"Is that a morningstar?" Gil snorted, surprised. "You have pictures of this already?"
"Be my guest," Jim nodded. "And – yeah, as far as I remember my medieval weaponry."
"Not your usual teenage fashion accessory," Gil observed, carefully edging his fingers under the spiked weapon's handle to lift it aside. It rested on a tangle of other weapons – mostly blades, but there were a few more of the crushing variety, with and without sharp projections, as well. "Nor any of these. This is an arsenal – and they're not plastic reproductions, either, by the weight. Has anyone asked her parents whether she belonged to the SCA, or perhaps ARMA?" Off Jim's questioning look, he explained further, "The Society for Creative Anachronism, or the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts."
"Ah. One of those live action, historical role play societies," Jim frowned. "Not yet. Could be she met those 'unsavory characters' her mother talked about through one of those groups?"
"Could be," Gil noted. "Though it's not immediately relevant, unless one of these was a murder weapon, and I assume none are or you'd already have bagged and tagged them."
"A lot of fluid residue showed up under the light – but all the swab tests came up negative for blood. We'll have to do further tests to determine exactly what's on them." Jim screwed his face up in distaste just at the implications. "Could be some kind of S&M hobby, perhaps."
"Possible," Gil admitted, lowering his voice, "though I don't see any other paraphernalia to suggest the use of these implements in any sort of sexual play, safe or otherwise. The lab will tell us more. You said several things, of which this is one; what else have you found?"
Jim smirked as Gil spoke; probably thinking of his brief association with Lady Heather. Everyone seemed to, when such topics came up, though Gil had hardly been a complete innocent before he'd met her. But then, he was usually very good at keeping his private and public lives compartmentalized; his interactions with the dominatrix had provided a rare opportunity for his coworkers to gossip about him. He wondered what they'd make of his daughter's existence, if she ever came by the lab, and smiled wryly back at the thought. Proven human at last, perhaps.
"You saw Sara bagging the clothes? We ran a light over them, too, checking for residue," Jim replied.
"And found some, I assume," Gil said, pushing himself back to his feet.
"Not just some," Jim said. "There's not a single piece of clothing in there that belongs to the girl, except for the stuff so new it still has creases from the store, that doesn't show at least some evidence of mending and stains. If she's in one of those clubs, she must fight in her street clothes."
And there was another detail that didn't fit. Gil frowned. "Curiouser and curiouser. What did her parents say about that?"
"They had no idea," Jim snorted, throwing up his hands.
"But that's impossible. If she came home with wounds that frequently, or required that much restorative care for her clothes…"
"She must have been taking care of it all on her own, or with her friends," Jim nodded. "Which all adds up to an awful lot of smoke."
And where there was smoke, there was usually fire. Gil sighed. "We need to track down those friends."
"We might have a break, there; the middle sibling he said he took some pictures on his digital camera, the last time they came to pick her up during the day."
"Get them to Archie," Gil said, then opened his kit and dove further into the work.
Buffy debarked her plane in Vegas to find an apology on her cell phone instead of the welcoming party-of-one she'd been expecting. Luckily, she didn't have time to feel disappointed about the meeting being delayed; there was also a second message, from the local branch of the Watcher's Council. They'd apparently lost their Slayer the night before and were in full panic mode. It was just as well the newer G-man in her life was too busy with his job to meet up as planned, because she was, too.
There were a lot of demons in Sin City, the most per capita in the United States outside of a Hellmouth, actually, though they tended to be the kind of pacifists who tried to make with the blendage. That meant that the rare trouble-makers were usually outsiders, the kind who usually flounced through in January or May back home. None of the usual low-grade, homegrown kind of mischief. That was generally good for business … except for the fact that it was impossible to tell when apocalypse season was flaring up until the city was already in the middle of it. Kelly and her backup team had managed to interrupt the whatever-it-was being called up this time and return it to sender, but the whirligig of magic had sucked her in, too, as it was fading.
"God, I hope she's still in one piece," Buffy muttered to herself as she climbed out of the cab in front of HQ. She was never going to get used to being Her Generalship, no matter how long her third life lasted. The costs – and the responsibilities – reminded her of that old myth about the guy rolling the bolder up the hill; just when you thought you could relax, you got knocked right back down to the bottom. But there was no one else she would trust with the role, who wanted it. Not yet, anyway.
The door flung open as Buffy approached it, and a red-headed blur darted down the steps, flinging her arms wide to embrace her. "Buffy! I'm so glad you're here! Well, I mean, the circumstances are on the downer side, but I haven't seen you in ages, and you're looking great! Less starving waif and more successful adult student."
Willow pulled back, smiling into the Slayer's face, frecklier than she'd ever been in Sunnydale and aura practically bright enough for Buffy to see it. Clearly, Rio and Kennedy were agreeing with the powerful witch; she'd lost the last lines of strain around her eyes, too.
"You're looking pretty good yourself," Buffy said, smiling back, savoring the warmth of the quick hug. "Remind me, after the spell thing? I'll spring for lattes and give vicarious college stories; I can probably spare a few hours to catch up before I have to get back to that other thing I'm in town for."
It was a pity they couldn't spend more time on the same continent; she felt practically Scoobyless most of the time in Cleveland, connected to her best friends only by far-flung cell phone calls and the occasional Council meeting. There were just too few Watchers left with any idea what they were doing – and who were even remotely trustworthy with the lives of young Slayers – for her experienced posse to concentrate themselves in one place. It wasn't a good idea for more than one of them to settle in the same town, anyway, not since the last time the demon world decided to try to finish off the Bringers' work. Too tempting – and not the kind of tempting that gave a girl the tinglies.
Willow raised her eyebrows as she turned to lead Buffy toward the house. "Oh? Then he's not waiting for you or anything?" A faint cloud of distress furrowed on her brow, disrupting her buoyant attitude. "Was he mad that you had to run over here? I mean, of course the retrieval spell will work best if I use you and the Scythe as a pattern to find her from, but we could substitute one of the nearby minis if you really need to go. It's not every day you get to meet your, uh, paternal genetic contributor."
Buffy had forbidden her friend to use any variation of 'dad' to refer to Mr. Grissom until she'd actually met him; the term implied more of a connection than the current wobbly nervous curiosity she felt and a few streaks placed just so on a DNA analysis. She was oh for two in the long-term supportive father figures stakes already, and would just as soon not volunteer herself to be let down by a third. Twice burnt, thrice shy, and not ashamed to admit it. And as long as she was still Schrödinger's Buffy, neither claimed nor unclaimed, she didn't want anyone else picking up on the secret through a careless remark.
"Actually, he wasn't there; he's busy, too. They called him in on his day off, so it must be something big," Buffy shrugged. "I'd be mad, except it's amazingly convenient timing; if it had to happen at all, at least we managed to coordinate our schedules." She snorted to herself. "Knock on wood, right?"
Willow stopped short as the sounds of another car pulling up to the curb, and turned around as a big black SUV shut off its engine. "Ah, convenient; yeah, that might be one word for it," she said, cautiously.
"What? Oh, no. No! Not now," Buffy objected to the universe in general. This was Vegas, surely her luck would be at least a little less hateful than usual. "I mean, what are the odds? There's other people that work for the crime lab, right?"
"And how many of those people do you think were called in to work today, the same day one of our girls was reported missing?" Willow rolled her eyes as the SUV's passenger door popped open.
"None," she sighed. "Alright, then; what do you think the odds are that they already think the Council had something to do with it?" Not all Slayers' parents had reacted well to their daughters' new destinies … and that category unfortunately included Kelly's.
Willow winced. "About the same?"
It was him, all right. And Buffy recognized his companion as well: the thirty-something brunette she'd seen standing next to him, hand resting on his arm, on TV several months before. Jury was out, according to Wills, on whether there was anything actually going on there; if there was, they were keeping it pretty far under wraps. There was certainly no hint of distraction in their expressions as they headed for the house, all stern and cop-like and reminiscent of Buffy's earlier musings about duty.
Reminiscent of other things, too, she realized as she looked more closely at the male CSI. He was taller than her, greying hair curlier, and he had a longer chin, but she recognized those cheekbones and the shape of his unsmiling mouth from her own mirror, and there was something about his eyes; the intensity, not necessarily the shape or color, though those weren't far off, either. All in all, it was much more of a gut-punch to take in in person.
She was watching him closely enough that she caught the exact second when he recognized her back: the way his eyes widened slightly and he shifted a hand to touch the other CSI on her arm. He didn't stop walking, though, or frown, or anything else she'd been half-expecting.
"Ms. Summers, I presume," he said calmly when they reached her, expression not giving anything away.
His coworker's attention snapped immediately to his face, then shifted to Buffy's with visible surprise. "Buffy Summers?" she blurted.
"Guilty as charged." The recognition added a touch of whimsy to Buffy's uncertainly churning emotions as she formulated a reply. "Though when you said you'd have to postpone, I was thinking more lunchish and less bulletproof vest. I'm guessing you're here about Kelly Williams, too?"
That didn't seem to take him aback, either; though he'd probably recognized the company name attached to the property from whatever background check he'd done on her, and he was clearly in the work zone moodwise. "We're here on behalf of the Las Vegas crime lab," he replied unnecessarily, then nodded to the woman. "This is Sara Sidle. Can we ask how you know Ms. Williams?"
So much for first impressions. "You can ask, but I can't guarantee you'll believe it," Buffy said, wryly. Then she held out her hand to Ms. Sidle. "Call me Buffy; and this is my friend, Willow Rosenberg."
"Pleased to meet you," Ms. Sidle replied, though her eyebrows added a note of uncertainty.
Mr. Grissom took a moment longer to reply. "I think you'll find I can believe a lot of things, if the evidence bears it out," he said, carefully.
That would be a first, if he was telling the truth. Most of Buffy's current activities were disguised as 'volunteer anti-gang work' or 'mentoring at-risk youth', but enough of Sunnydale's records had survived to make most people jump to the worst conclusion whenever anything with a whiff of badness happened around her.
Although – a sudden thought struck her – he had been a coroner in L.A. Had he seen something there? Maybe he really was willing to look outside the box, if she could prove she wasn't lying? Maybe things would work out better if they were honest with each other from the start.
Maybe. Hope sprang eternal, anyway.
"All right, then," she said gamely, gesturing them into the house. "But don't say I didn't warn you."
"So," Sara said, the moment she had Gil alone, hours after the unbelievable explanation – and impossible display of 'magic' – that restored the missing Ms. Williams to her family.
He looked back at her with a wry, weary smile. "So."
She shook her head. "I guess I should have known no child of yours would ever be ordinary."
He chuckled, acknowledging that with a nod; though she couldn't begin to guess what was really going on in his head. "Have you rethought whether you want to come to lunch with us?"
"Wanting back up?" she teased him, to cover her surprise.
"Always," he said, warmly, reaching out to take her hands.
"Well, then." She smiled back. The case had given her an official excuse to talk with Ms. Summers. And frankly – she was too fascinated, now, to stay away. "Why not?"
Whatever else came of her acquaintance with Gil's unexpected daughter, the least she could say was that it would never be boring.