Chapter 7 -- Resolution

"Are we there yet?" Wil muttered with a yawn, handing Nigel another roll of rubbings.

"Soon, Wil..." Nigel assured her gently. "And when it's gone..."

Wil frowned. "It's gone forever." She shook her head and sat down next to him. "Such a waste."

"We've done good work here, Wil." Nigel patted her shoulder.

She nodded. "I know, Nigel."

"What's got you down, then?"

"You wouldn't really understand, I think. It's just who I am."

Nigel smiled gently and gestured for her to sit. When she had, he wrapped a fatherly arm around her shoulder. "I understand better than you think, luv. You love the work. You hate to see it end."

She nodded. "You too?"

"Well, I wouldn't admit it to anyone, but it hurts a little every time a Hunt ends, even if we get what we're looking for."

Wil smiled up at him. "Then I guess you do know."

He nodded. "I also know that there's always another Relic waiting to be found."

"That's a hopeful thing."

Nigel nodded. "Yes, it is. Hope is important."

"Yes, it is. In all things."

"You're being enigmatic again." Nigel smiled and shook his head. "Stop it."

"But I'm so good at it..." she teased, rising. "Look, I've got to run or Thorpe will have my hide. I'll see you at the wrap-party tonight?"

"I'll be there." Nigel nodded. "Won't actually drink anything..."

Wil laughed and gave Nigel a hug from behind. "You're pretty cool for a guy, you know that?"

"Thank you, I think." Nigel smiled uncertainly.

Wil grinned and patted his shoulder. "It's a compliment..." she assured him, leaving.

Nigel smiled after her, shaking his head at the young woman. His attention was distracted by a commotion outside. Sighing, he picked up his crutches and carefully pulled himself to his feet.

"Ah, of course..." Nigel muttered, nodding.

They were removing the statues today, loading them onto flatbed trucks. The procedure seemed to be taking the combined effort of every able-bodied person in the camp. Considering that half the Turks did not speak English and no one other than the Turks spoke Turkish, the coordinated effort was deteriorating into mass-confusion.

"Oh, Nigel, thank God." Sydney handed him a bullhorn. "Help!"

Nigel smiled and turned on the bullhorn. "What do I say?"

"Tell everyone to stop what they're doing."

Nigel repeated the order in English and Turkish. "Glad I brushed up on the language before we left..." he muttered to Sydney.

Sydney grinned. "Just tell them to form up into three equal-sized groups."

Nigel grinned and began conveying Sydney's orders. The dozen or so statues were quickly secured to the trucks, much to everyone's relief.

"Good job, everyone!" Sydney called.

Nigel repeated the comment in Turkish before handing the bullhorn back to Sydney.

She smiled at him. "Now get off your feet, Nigel."

"Syd!" he protested, shaking his head. "I can't spend all day every day on my... off my feet."

Sydney grinned at him. "Humor me. We want you in good shape for the wrap-party tonight."

"God, not another party..." Nigel groaned.

Sydney laughed and patted him on the shoulder. "Look, Nigel, I've got to go. Jan and Else need my help with some of the frescos."

"Have fun. Call if you need help." Nigel smiled and returned to the tent. A graduate assistant followed him into the tent with another handful of papers. "Oh, thanks, William."

"No problem, sir." He piled the papers carefully on the table that Nigel was using and left.

"I'm going to be working on these things for a month..." Nigel muttered, shaking his head. "Oh well, at least I won't get bored." Smiling, he sat down again and resumed his interrupted work.

***

The mess-tent was packed that night. It was the first time that everyone involved in the dig had been inside at once, and even Jan Jansen needed a bullhorn to be heard.

"You've all done some really outstanding work here in the past few weeks. With a few minor exceptions, everything has gone much better than we could have hoped for." He paused. "Of course, we all know that the real find of the entire trip was made within our first few days here. Where's Jennifer?"

Near the back of the tent, Jen tried to melt into the crowd, only to be dragged forward by Lane and Wil.

"Speech!" Nigel called from his seat, grinning.

Sydney laughed and patted his shoulder. "Yeah! Speech!"

The entire tent fell silent as Jen groped for words. "Um, I guess there's only one thing that can be said about Antigone, and that's, um... wow." She grinned and handed the bullhorn back to Jan, vanishing into the crowd again.

"You're too modest..." Nigel told her, grinning, as she dropped into a seat next to him.

She shrugged. "I just don't like being the center of attention."

"Well, then, don't make any more finds like that last one." Nigel smiled at her. "Champagne?"

She shook her head. "It wasn't really my find anyway. I wouldn't have gone back there if you hadn't said to. It should be yours. Or Lane's."

"But it isn't." Nigel smiled reassuringly. "It's yours. Congratulations."

She smiled and bowed her head. "It's all so strange."

"Life is a strange thing..." Nigel informed her, smiling. "And just when you think you've seen it all, you're surprised with something new. You ask me, it's part of the inherent charm of the thing."

Jen grinned.

Wil walked up to them. "Hey, cutie." She patted Jen on the shoulder. "See that guy over there?"

Jen looked and nodded.

"He wants to dance with you."

"But..."

Grinning, Wil pulled Jen from her seat and towards the young man, who was grinning in obvious embarrassment. Nigel watched, shaking his head.

"To be young again..." Lane muttered, refilling his glass as she walked by.

"I'd invite you to dance..." Nigel began.

Lane grinned and nodded. "I understand. I doubt I'll be at a loss for partners later on, if I do want to dance. The male to female ratio here is promisingly high."

Nigel smiled and nodded. "Yes, though it is rather stuffy in here."

"I'd noticed." Lane nodded.

"You think anyone would notice if I left early?"

Lane nodded discretely in Sydney's direction. She was watching them out of the corner of her eye. "She might."

Nigel glanced at Sydney in surprise. She turned around and began talking to Doctor Thorpe. Nigel frowned thoughtfully.

"Get out of here. I'll make your excuses if anyone asks."

"Thanks, Lane." Nigel smiled and rose. "I appreciate it." He slipped out of the tent and walked to the ridge overlooking the city. He stood there, staring at it, for several minutes. Shaking his head, he sighed deeply.

"What's wrong, Nigel?" Sydney asked softly, coming up behind him and resting her hand on his shoulder.

"This time next week, the whole city is going to be on the bottom of a lake..." Nigel muttered without looking at her.

"Oh..." Sydney nodded and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Try not to think about it. That's what I do."

He smiled over his shoulder at her. "Thanks, Syd. I just hate watching history getting destroyed."

She nodded. "Yeah, me too." She smiled reassuringly at him. "But our work here saved a lot of history that would have been lost forever otherwise. We did good."

Nigel smiled and nodded, bowing his head. "It could have gone more smoothly, but you're right."

Sydney grinned and shrugged. "You've had a tough month, Nigel, but you've really been above and beyond on this."

He smiled, blushing slightly. "Thanks, Syd." They stood in silence for a few moments, staring at the city. "Why'd you leave the party?"

She shrugged. "Bored. You?"

"It was crowded and stuffy in the tent. I prefer this arrangement." He gave her a sideways grin. "This is how it's supposed to be."

Sydney grinned, bemused. "Really?"

"Definitely." He nodded. "Just the two of us, like always."

Sydney smiled and shook her head.

Nigel grinned at her. "You and me, Syd. Nothing in the world we can't take on."

"Except occasionally each other..." Sydney muttered.

"I know I can be an idiot sometimes, Syd..." Nigel replied.

She shook her head. "Actually, I was talking about me."

Nigel smiled. "Well, then, we can both be idiots at times. But, personally, I think it's part of our inherent charm." He smiled and brushed his lips against her cheek.

"Nigel, not again..." Sydney whispered, pulling her head away marginally. "You don't mean it. It isn't you talking. It's the drugs. You don't want to do something you'll regret."

Nigel reached up and lightly her face. "What if I promise you that I won't regret it, Syd?" he asked her quietly. "Because I won't..." He leaned forward and gently kissed her.

Sydney hesitated for a moment before pulling away. "Get back to me when you've been off the painkillers for awhile. Then we'll talk." She backed away, looking confused and distressed.

"Syd, I'm sorry!" Nigel called after her. "Please come back!"

"I can't deal with you right now, Nigel..." Sydney called over her shoulder, leaving at a half-run.

Nigel stared after her, shaking his head. "Bloody hell, Nigel. Now you've done it..." He rubbed his hands over his mouth, shaking his head in amazement. "What were you thinking?" he groaned.  Muttering angrily at himself, he started for his tent.

***

Nigel shuffled through the corridors of Trinity University feeling and looking miserable. This time, he had not needed to avoid Sydney: she was avoiding him. He wondered if she would fire him herself, or have Human Resources do it for her. On their third day back, he was beginning to suspect the latter. Her absence was becoming so distracting, that he had taken to listening to her lectures from the hallway outside of the classroom.

"This is Antigone..." Sydney explained, pulling up a picture of the statue on her projector, her heart only half in the lecture. "We found her during our recent excavation in Turkey..." She glanced up suddenly, surprised to see Nigel's reflection in the half-opened door. She hesitated, shaking her head. "Um... I think we're going to call it a day here... We'll finish this next week..." She gathered up her papers and hurried from the classroom. "Nigel?" she called, looking around. She shook her head. "Seeing things, Syd?" she muttered, glancing at her watch. She returned to her office. "I'm going home early, Karen."

Karen looked up, startled. "Okay, Sydney. Feeling okay?"

Sydney nodded. "Jet-lag."

"Oh." Karen nodded. "See you on Monday."

"Yeah, Karen." Sydney nodded. "Have a nice weekend."

"You, too." Karen nodded absently as Sydney left. "You can come out now, Nigel..." she muttered when the door shut.

"What makes you think I was hiding?" Nigel asked defensively, pulling himself to his feet.

"Um, the fact that you started cowering behind your desk like that the minute you heard Sydney opening the door."

"I dropped my pencil!"

Karen shook her head. "Sure you did, Nigel." She sighed. "Look, I don't honestly know what you two are fighting about, and it's not really my business. But... damn, Nigel, you two can't keep going on like this. It's messed up."

Nigel sighed, agreeing totally. "So, what would you suggest I do, Karen?"

"Kiss and make up..." Karen muttered as the phone started ringing. "Hang on. Ancient Studies. No, I'm afraid that Professor Fox isn't in right now. Can I take a message?" Karen was so absorbed in getting the message that she did not notice Nigel's rather visible response to the idea of 'kissing and making up'. She hung up the phone and glance up at Nigel, who had had time to compose himself. "Where was I?"

"You were going to tell me how to..." He shook his head uncertainly.

"Oh, right, you and Syd." She nodded. "Who did the stupid thing?"

"Stupid thing?"

"People as close as the two of you only fight when someone does something stupid. Who did the stupid thing?"

Nigel sighed and raised his hand, not looking at Karen.

"Wow, that's something you don't see every day. A guy who knows that he's at fault." She smiled at Nigel. "Why can't all guys be like you?"

"What, walking around with one or both feet in their mouths all day?" Nigel grumbled.

"Gee, when you put it like that..." Karen smiled at him. "Since you're a guy, I'm going to go ahead and explain the obvious to you."

"The obvious?" Nigel asked cautiously.

She nodded. "Step one, screw up. Step two, apologize! It's not hard, Nigel. I mean, whatever you said, it's not like you meant it, is it?" She stared at the now-sputtering man. "You meant it? What did you say?"

He shook his head. "You wouldn't understand. Actually, it... I wasn't... In a way..."

Karen stared at him uncertainly. "Okay, so you don't want to talk about it. Was it an insult?"

He shook his head firmly. "No, it was nothing like that. I have nothing but respect for Syd."

"So what was it, then? Can you give me a hint at least here?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Karen, but I really can't." He sighed. "Um, what I... said to her... The thing is, Karen, I don't think she believes that I meant it."

"That's the problem?"

Nigel nodded. "Well, one of them, at any rate. She thinks it was the painkillers talking."

"I thought you told me you had stopped taking those?"

Nigel nodded. "I have."

"Does Syd know that?"

Nigel started to nod, then paused. "No. I don't think she does."

"So, you go talk to her and tell her."

"Just like that?" Nigel asked, frowning.

Karen rolled her eyes. "News flash, Nigel. Women are not nearly as complicated as guys seem to think. You screw up, you make good, it's over."

"Why don't more men know this?" Nigel asked slowly.

Karen grinned. "Well, the Sisterhood has to keep some things secret. After all, how else would we get flowers and chocolate?" she asked in a grave and mysterious voice.

Nigel laughed, shaking his head. "So, if I apologize to Syd, that'll be the end of it?"

Karen nodded. "Easy, huh?"

"Um... what if... what if she's still not happy with what I... said."

Karen sighed. "Well, that's your problem, since you won't even give me a hint to help you out. Explain to her exactly why you said it and exactly what you meant by it. Maybe she just... misunderstood."

Nigel nodded slowly. "Thank you, Karen. I think I will try that. Um..." He paused. "Should I... buy her flowers or chocolate?"

Karen shook her head. "Not unless you're hoping to score." She stared at him thoughtfully. "You're... not?"

He shook his head hastily. "Of course not!" he squeaked.

Karen grinned. "Sorry, Nigel. Just teasing you."

"Well don't..."

"Hey, I'm sorry." Karen smiled sympathetically. "Hey, get out of here, Nigel. I can cover for you, too." She smiled as he opened the door. "Good luck."

He turned around, smiling gratefully. "Thank you so much, Karen. For everything."

She grinned. "Any time. Just, um, don't tell the other members of the Sisterhood that I clued you in on any of our secrets."

"Boy-scout's honor." Nigel grinned and left.

Of course, once he actually arrived at Sydney's place, it took him several hours to nerve himself up enough to get as far as the front door. Even then, he hesitated to knock, earning himself several strange and suspicious glares from Sydney's neighbors as he lingered there. Finally, with a sigh and a deep breath, he lifted his hand and tapped lightly on the door.

"Hang on!" Sydney's voice called from inside.

Nigel took a startled step backwards at the sound of her voice, fighting the urge to flee. During the time between leaving the office and knocking, he had thought up several brilliant things to say to Sydney. At the sound of her voice, he had forgotten every one of them. He swallowed hard as he heard the sound of a deadbolt sliding.

Sydney opened the door halfway and glanced out. "Nigel?"

He nodded nervously. "Um, Syd, I... that is, we..." He cleared his throat nervously. "It wasn't the drugs, Syd..." he said quietly.

"What?" Sydney frowned uncertainly at him.

"Um..." Nigel took a deep breath. She was listening. For now, at least. "The things I said and did during the excavations, Syd... You thought it was the painkillers talking. It wasn't, Syd. Not ever." He sighed and continued talking, quickly. "I don't even know why I'm here, really, Syd. It would be so easy to just lay the blame on those blasted pills and have it done with. Get on with life as usual. But... I can't, Syd. It wouldn't be honest, because it wasn't the pills."

"You don't know that, Nigel..." Sydney said softly, looking at him sadly.

"I do, Syd. I stopped taking them the first week of the dig because they were making me feel poorly."

"If it wasn't the pills, what was it?"

"The truth, Syd. It was the truth." He stared at his feet, then glanced back up at Sydney. "I think… I think that we need to discuss some things, Syd."

Sydney stared at him thoughtfully for a moment, then pulled the door open, nodding for him to enter. "I think you're right, Nigel."

The End