Heart of Gold
Summary: As Sydney and Nigel work to uncover an ancient city that will soon be destroyed, they are forced to deal with their feelings for each other. (Yes, that means it's S/N shippy.)
Disclaimer: I don't own them; I just enjoy getting inside (and messing with) their heads from time to time.
Feedback: Yes, please! Feed me, feed me!!! (The more I get fed, the more likely I am to write more :)
Note: This story is more or less a sequel to my Relic Hunter fic "The Cauldron of Cerridwyn". You should probably, at the very least, read the last chapter or two of that as this story refers to events that occurred there.
Chapter 1 -- Rumors
"Oh, hi, Nigel. Rosie's in her office."
"Thanks." Nigel grinned at the secretary and tapped on the door of Professor Rosie Eton's office.
"Office hours don't start till three!" Rosie shouted through the door.
"It's Nigel, Ro."
"Oh." Rosie immediately opened the door. She even looked like a Professor of Linguistics, middle-aged, kindly, and slightly rumpled. All that was missing was the tweed. "Come in, Ni. I've got that book around here somewhere. Tea?"
She nodded and moved a kettle onto the hotplate next to her window. "Shut the door. Term-papers were due this morning, and I'm currently in the process of avoiding students who didn't get them in."
Nigel grinned and pulled the door shut. "Sounds like fun. That's why Syd insists that hers get in before term break."
"And still gets dozens of lame excuses." Rosie grinned at him. "Sit, sit. How was Ireland?"
Nigel stared at her and silently indicated his crutches.
Rosie stared at him in quiet surprise. She had not even noticed until he had pointed them out. "Oh, you poor dear!" She walked around the desk and helped him into a chair.
"I'm more mobile than all that, Ro..." Nigel protested.
"Humor an old woman. What happened?"
"Oh, the usual." Nigel shrugged.
"What did you trip over this time?" Rosie asked with her typical motherly concern, pulling a pair of china teacups out of a drawer. "Now where did I put the tea?" she muttered, looking around and scratching her head.
Nigel smiled, knowing that her absent-minded exterior hid a mind that was the envy of most of the other Professors at the school. She spoke dozens of languages fluently and several more conversationally, as well as holding a half-dozen degrees in fields other than linguistics that she had picked up over the years 'for fun'.
"Oh, there it is." She grinned and picked up a tin from her desk. "Right where it belongs. No wonder I couldn't find it, eh?"
Nigel grinned and nodded. "That's what you get for keeping your office in such a state..." he said, indicating the spotless room.
Rosie smiled at and scooped tea into a mesh ball, which she dropped into a teapot. As she poured water into the teapot, she glanced thoughtfully at Nigel. "Nigel, we need to talk."
"Sure, Ro. What about?" He glanced up curiously.
"Nigel, are you aware that you have become a topic of popular speculation on this campus?" she asked, handing him a cup of tea.
"I beg your pardon?" Nigel stared at her.
"Nigel, I want you to understand that the only reason that I'm brining this to your attention is because I worry about you."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Ro."
Rosie stared at him, searching his face. "No, I guess you wouldn't. Unlike most people who work and study here, you don't spend a lot of time on campus. You don't hang out with the graduate students and you don't spend a lot of time with the Professors other than Syd."
Nigel shrugged. It was true, but he could not see what it had to do with anything. "I'm a busy man."
She nodded. "I know, Nigel, but if you did spend more time with other people who spend time on campus, you would almost certainly be aware of the rumors circulating about you."
Nigel looked up slowly. "Rumors about me?"
"And about Syd."
He frowned. "What sort of rumors?"
"Oh, all sorts. Everyone knows you're avoiding her. That's not a rumor, Ni, it's common knowledge."
"I am not avoiding her! I've just been... busy."
"She seems awfully put out by it, all the same."
"Don't be ridiculous, Ro. If Syd weren't happy with me, she'd dismiss me."
"Unless she had a compelling reason for not doing so."
"I beg your pardon?" Nigel asked, putting his tea down and staring at her.
"You heard me. Everyone knows that you're avoiding her for some reason and that she's putting up with it for some reason, both of which actions are extremely uncharacteristic. That's bound to lead to speculation."
Nigel swallowed hard. "Speculation?"
"Yes, Ni." She nodded. "Syd was in to talk to the Dean this morning."
"Oh, my God. He doesn't actually believe..."
"I seriously doubt it, but I have it from his secretary that he has heard the rumors and that this is what he wanted to speak to her about."
"She's going to kill me..." Nigel breathed.
"What happened in Ireland, Ni?" Rosie asked softly.
"Something happened, Ni. Either that or you're both suffering from a fit of temporary insanity."
Nigel sighed. "Why do you even care about these absurdities?"
"Well, it's not my business, to be sure, Ni, but I do care. You're my friend. I like you. You're a good kid."
He nodded and smiled at her. "If I tell you..."
"I'll keep my mouth shut."
"Not even Syd..."
"Of course not, Ni." She smiled reassuringly.
"I kissed her."
"Who?" Rosie frowned.
"Syd. I kissed Syd."
Rosie stared at him with wide eyes. "Oh. So, the rumors..."
"Are lies!" Nigel snapped quickly. "I kissed her, once, on the cheek, because I was tired, confused, and more than a little tipsy from painkillers. And then I started to avoid her because I didn't know what to say."
"And she's been letting that go because..."
"I have no clue. I think I surprised her, or scared her, or something..."
"Poor Nigel..." Rosie stood and walked over to him, resting her hand on his shoulder. "No wonder you've been so out of sorts lately. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know..."
"Well, you can't carry on like this indefinitely. If the rumors don't get you, the anxiety will. Unless Syd fires you first."
"Yes, there's always that to look forward to." Nigel smiled bitterly. "What do I do, though? I mean, if I knew that..."
"I know, Ni." She nodded. "You over-reacted and now you're worried that the situation is irretrievable."
She shook her head. "Rumors on college campuses are like trends in clothes. They come very quickly and go away even more quickly and shortly after they have they start to seem quite ridiculous to everyone. Act normally and everyone will forget about it in a few weeks."
"Act normally?" Nigel asked, sighing. "What about Syd?"
"Apologize for avoiding her."
"What do I say about..."
"The kiss?" Rosie shrugged. "Lie to her, tell her the truth, apologize, don't apologize... That's on you, Ni. You know Syd better than I do. The important thing is that you put this nonsense behind you and get back to your normal life."
He looked up at her slowly. "I haven't had a normal life in three years, Ro, and as far as I can tell, I'm better off that way."
She shrugged. "If you say so. As I said, it's not my business. Just..."
He nodded. "I know, Ro. I'm giving the grad students ideas again, aren't I?"
She grinned. "Uh-huh."
"Well, I'm off to face Syd, then." He rose slowly, feeling weak in the knees.
"Good luck, Ni."
"Don't forget your book."
He smiled and accepted the volume. "Thank you, Ro." Sighing, he muttered, "God, life was so much easier when I was still too awed by Sydney to notice that she was a woman, too."
Sydney stared at the topographical map on her computer screen and spoke into the phone. "Yeah, Jan, I just got the map. How long do we have?"
Doctor Jan Janssen answered in his heavy Norwegian accent, "Three weeks, Syd."
She sighed. "That's cutting it close."
"Can you come?"
Sydney paused. "Um... I'm not sure, Jan. Can I get back to you?"
"Syd, we don't have long before the town is destroyed. We had to fight for the three weeks we got. Every minute counts."
"I know, Jan. This is just... not a great time." She frowned and shook her head. "Look, I'll get back to you this afternoon, but I can't commit us one way or the other right now. Not without talking to Nigel first."
"Then talk to him!"
"He's not in the office right now, Jan."
He sighed. "Very well, then, Syd. Call when you know."
"I will, Jan."
"Even if he can not come, will you?"
Sydney sighed. "I don't know, Jan. I'll have to get back to you."
He sighed again. "Very well. I hope everything is well there, Syd."
Sydney sighed and nodded. "I'll talk to you in a few hours." She hung up and cursed quietly. She rose. "Karen?"
"Yeah, Syd?" Karen asked, leaning into the office.
"When Nigel gets back, tell him that I need to talk to him. Now. I don't care what appointment he's going to be late for this time, I need to see him yesterday. I don't care if you have to force him into my office at gunpoint."
Karen nodded slowly. "Syd, is everything okay with you two?" she asked gently.
Sydney shrugged. "I'm going to have to get back to you on that. Oh, and I'm canceling my office-hours today."
Karen nodded again. "Sure, Syd." She looked at Sydney in confusion as she closed and locked her office door. She sighed and shook her head. "What the hell is going on with them?" she muttered, returning to her work. Of course she had heard all of the rumors, but she knew Sydney and Nigel. They could not be true. Sydney and Nigel were two of the most professional people she had ever worked with.
"Hello, Karen..." Nigel muttered, entering the office.
"New book?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yes. 'A Survey of Cuneiform in Sumerian Legal Documents'. Belongs to Rosie Eton in Linguistics."
"Exciting." Karen frowned. "Um, Syd wants to see you."
"Um, yes, well..." Nigel began.
"Now, Nigel." Karen rose and walked over to him. "Look, I don't know what's up with you two, and I don't really want to, but Syd is still your boss."
He nodded uneasily. "I'm aware of that, Karen."
"Not aware enough, obviously." Karen sighed. "Everywhere I go on this campus anymore it's 'what's up with Nigel and Professor Fox?'. I'm getting sick of it, Nigel."
Nigel frowned. "You aren't the only one, Karen. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to talk to Syd." He walked around her, nearly tripping over his crutches. Straightening, he walked to Sydney's door and knocked. "Syd?"
The door opened far enough to admit him. "We need to talk, Nigel." Sydney closed and relocked the door as soon as he was in the office.
"I know we do, Syd."
"Sit." Sydney pointed to a chair opposite her desk. She walked to her desk and picked up a bundle of papers. "It has been... suggested that the two of us go over this."
Nigel frowned. "What is it?"
"It's the University's policy on..." Sydney made an angry face, "fraternization." She folded her arms over her chest and stared at Nigel.
"Syd, I don't know how those rumors got started, but I swear..."
"Nigel, I'm not accusing you of having anything to do with the rumors. I wouldn't believe that if the Dean had told me that he'd heard it directly from. All I know is that the timing could not have been worse." She handed him the papers. "Just... go over it when you get the chance."
He nodded. "Syd..."
"Better still." She pulled the papers from his hand and dropped them in her garbage can. "Much better. Don't you agree?"
Nigel sighed. "Syd, I'm familiar with the policy and neither of us has done anything to violate it, Syd. You did tell them that?"
"Of course I did. And if anyone seriously believed otherwise, we'd probably both be out of work by now. But that is not the problem."
"I know, Syd, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done what I did. It was irresponsible and unprofessional. It was really quite unforgivable of me, Syd, and you have every right to be furious with me. If you want my resignation, I'll understand."
"What?" Sydney stared at him. She shook her head "Nigel, no. I need... Without your skills, I can't do my job. I wouldn't accept it if you did resign."
"That's... good to know." Nigel smiled.
"But we do still have a lot to work out. Like why have you been avoiding me since it happened?"
Nigel bowed his head. "I was afraid that you would be angry."
"More angry about having to grade three-hundred mid-terms by myself, Nigel!" Sydney glared at him, shaking her head. She laughed and smiled at him. "Nigel..."
He smiled, relieved. "I'm sorry, Syd. I should not have done what I did and I shouldn't have compounded the problem by running away afterwards."
"Damn straight, Nigel." She hesitated. "I just have one question."
Nigel frowned uncertainly. "Why what?"
"Why did you kiss me, Nigel?"
"Oh." Nigel nodded and considered. "I was... well, I was glad that you weren't dead and weren't going to die. Among other things."
"Nigel, do you..." She glanced up, startled, at the sound of someone knocking rather insistently on her door. "What, Karen?" she demanded, jerking the door open.
Karen recoiled slightly, looking startled. "Professor Janssen is on the phone again..."
"Right." Sydney nodded and forced herself to smile. "Tell him I'll call him back in ten minutes."
Karen nodded slowly and backed away from the door. "I'll do that, Syd."
"Thank you." Sydney nodded and closed the door. She turned back to Nigel, who looked as startled as Karen. "Sorry. Long day."
"You can say that again..." Nigel agreed, nodding.
"So, there was something I needed to talk to you about."
"Weren't we just discussing it?" Nigel asked quietly.
She shook her head. "Something else, actually. Something important. Look." She picked up a printout of the map that she had been e-mailed.
Nigel stared at it. "Looks like... Turkey, isn't it? Along the Black Sea?"
She nodded and sat down. "Yeah. The government is building a dam there. In a few weeks that whole area will be under water."
Nigel nodded and put the map down. "And?"
"They recently uncovered a pretty well-preserved Greek city. Here." Sydney pointed with a pencil.
"Right in the middle of it?"
Sydney nodded. "Yeah. We've been invited to join the team who's going to be doing the excavations."
"How long will we have?" Nigel asked.
"Two weeks on site."
"That's rushing things a bit, isn't it?"
Sydney nodded. "Yeah, it is, but it's as much as we can get. Apparently it's a fairly poor, rural area and they need the revenue that the dam will bring in more than they need more Greek artifacts."
"When do we leave?" Nigel asked.
"You want to go?" Sydney asked.
He nodded. "Of course I do, Syd. This is what we do."
She smiled and nodded. "Great." She picked up her phone and dialed from memory. She replaced the receiver and activated the speakerphone. "Yeah, is Jan there?"
"One moment, please."
"Not the Jan Janssen?" Nigel asked. Along with his wife, Else, Jan Janssen was one of the world's leading authorities on Greek antiquities.
Sydney nodded, grinning. "The very same."
"Jan, it's Syd."
"Ah, Sydney. I had just called your office. Your secretary seemed a bit distracted."
"Yeah, things are... hectic around here. Sorry."
"So, can you come?"
"Yes. We can both come."
"Wonderful news, Sydney. I'll make the travel arrangements with your secretary."
"Thanks, Jan. We'll see you in a few days." She hung up the phone. "You'd better go home and pack."
Nigel stared. "You waited to confirm for yourself until you knew if I could go?" he asked softly.
Sydney shrugged, not really looking at him. "They needed another Linguist way more than they need another digger, Nigel."
Nigel stared at her for a moment, but when she refused to meet his eye, he left.
"Hey, what's up?" Karen asked when he emerged from the office. "Syd seemed pissed."
"Not really. She's just distracted. The Dean is giving her a hard time about something or other..." Nigel returned to his desk and pulled a bottle of pills from the drawer. "Damn, my foot is killing me..." he groaned.
Karen frowned sympathetically. "Let me get you a glass of water."
He smiled distractedly. "Thanks, Karen."
"You okay, Nigel?"
"Huh?" He looked up, surprised. "Oh, fine, Karen. Just... fine."
Karen frowned and brought him a glass of water. "If you say so, Nigel."
Nigel took a drink and swallowed a pill, making a face at the bitter after-taste in his mouth.
"Those aren't too strong for you, are they?" Karen asked quietly.
Nigel took another sip of water and shook his head. "I don't think so. I'm taking them less than the doctor ordered, anyway. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, you just seem... kind of distracted since you came back from Ireland."
"Oh." Nigel nodded. "You're right. Must be the pills. I, um, I should talk to the doctor about it before we leave for Turkey." Smiling weakly, Nigel rose and pulled on his jacket. "I'll see you later, Karen."
"Yeah, Nigel. Take it easy." Karen watched him go, frowning with concern.