Buffy looked over the slayers. Then she began. “Okay, today we are going to be running a series of tests. I spoke with Colonel O'Neill and General Hammond and they both agreed that in order to get an idea of how to best fit us to specific assignments, they needed an idea of what our physical abilities are. So we'll be doing a bit of running, jumping, and lifting. Also they have to do a complete physical to make sure that when we come back from missions we haven't been infested by aliens or anything icky like that. Dr. Frasier here will be doing the physicals. Captain Finn and Lieutenant Graham will be doing the rest of the testing. Please do be on your best behavior.” At this, Buffy looked directly at Autumn, who looked innocently back. “Just do your best and have fun.”
Buffy watched the girls split up, half following Janet Frasier and the other half following Riley and Graham. Hopefully the two men wouldn't figure out that Buffy had told the girls to go at three-quarters speed. Just like she'd done once upon a time when tested by the Initiative, in the form of one Maggie Walsh. Good thing too or she might have run into more than a couple of axe-wielding demons down in the sewers. Buffy followed after Riley and Graham. She was going to have to go a lot less than three-quarters speed. Maybe if she did the slow-motion thing...
Graham was acutely aware of Buffy's presence at his back. When he'd first seen Buffy a few minutes ago, he'd been all but speechless. She'd looked... great. Finn had been completely correct about how Buffy looked these days. She practically glowed with health, looking much better than she'd looked even her freshman year in college and lightyears better than the stressed out girl Riley had described when he'd returned to Sunnydale with his wife. Of course, Graham had been tongue-tied in her presence, his usual circumstance. The only time he'd ever said more than two words to her was when he'd come back to make sure Finn had gotten the help he needed in dealing with his last implant. That day, he'd gotten a genuinely warm smile from her, one that had made his heart beat faster. For a moment, as her eyes had widened slightly, Graham had wondered if a slayer's senses were so acute that she could hear his heart beat faster. One week later...
“Captain Finn, would you mind taking at look at these fitness reports, please?” Janet Frasier handed the clipboard she carried to Riley. “These are the latest numbers our guests have put up in the tests General Hammond ordered last Tuesday. If you could just make sure these make sense. I'm at my wits' end trying to figure out what's normal for these girls.”
“Dr. Frasier, I'm not exactly an expert. I also still have that scenario to write...” Riley protested, only to be interrupted.
“I understand that. You may not be an expert, but you're the closest thing we have. Just take the clipboard and get back to me tomorrow. Thanks so much for your help.”
Riley watched as Janet briskly walked off, having completed her errand. With a sinking feeling, Riley stared the dismayingly thick stack of paper held together by the clipboard. When he'd jokingly told Graham that they were in charge of training the slayers, Riley hadn't really known just what they were in for. Now having just completed the first of four off-world training missions, he was ready to tear out his hair. Buffy had actually been a help instead of a hindrance, more than he'd hoped for. However, the other ten slayers were being unbelievably difficult. Not to mention stubborn. And Autumn... Riley swore he'd find a way to kill the girl if she tried to sleep with... no, rape
another member of his team.
Riley still remembered the 'fun' of finding out he'd slept with Faith after she'd appropriated Buffy's body. She had been sexily aggressive, if insecure. But as bad as Faith had been, Autumn had her beat. He'd woke up the first night out on P3X-2993, to find Autumn straddling him. She'd been naked, and persistent as hell. Riley had been enveloped in a whirlwind of legs, breasts, and lips. It had been Vi who'd finally rescued him. She'd casually opened the flap of his tent, grabbed Autumn by the hair, and tossed her out the door. Since Autumn had been grabbing Riley in a particularly sensitive place, he'd been less happy with her intervention than he otherwise might have been. As he lay there groaning in pain, Riley had heard a series of surprisingly loud thuds and grunts. The next morning, Autumn had sported a black eye and a swollen lip. Not that it had phased her in the least. She'd tried something similar the next night with Graham with similar results. Riley wondered if he should talk with Buffy about her.
“Hey, Finn, how goes it?”
Riley turned to see Graham had come up behind him. “Hey, Graham. Could be better.”
Graham silently raised an eyebrow. Riley accepted the invitation to explain. “Dr. Frasier just dropped a stack of fitness reports for the slayers. Seems I've been pigeonholed as the resident expert. She wants me to look them over and make sure everything's normal.”
Graham laughed out loud. “That's what you get for dating a slayer. Better you than me.”
Riley shook his head. Ah the naiveté of the lower ranks, he thought. “Actually Graham, since I'm busy with the training scenario for P3X-4991, I'm going to have to delegate this one. Since you're my second-in-command...”
Graham glared. He looked from Riley's face to the inches-thick stack of forms on the clipboard Riley held out to him. “Finn, I was kidding last week when I told you I hated you. However, now
I really do hate you. I was looking forward having the rest of the day off. Tomorrow we have P3X-4991.” Graham shuddered at the thought of going back there. Although at least now I know, he thought to himself.
Riley sighed. He wasn't looking forward to that
planet again either. But such were the joys of Marine life. “No one's getting time off until this is done. However, General Hammond assured me that all of us would get five days leave once this whole training and certification thing is done.”
Graham sighed in defeat and took the clipboard from Riley. “Fine. I'll get started on it.”
Riley clapped his teammate on the shoulder. “Thanks. I'll see you later.” He watched Graham walk off, holding the clipboard like a poisonous snake. Oh well, thought Riley, hopefully he won't be too bored.Later that day...
“Riley, got a minute?”
Riley looked up at Graham standing in the door. His second wore his characteristically solemn look, but something more was present. “What's up?”
“I finished reviewing all of the fitness reports.” Graham hesitated, reluctant to voice his suspicions. Finally, at Riley's expectant look, he continued, “There's nothing definitive, but...”
“Miller, spit it out.”
“Sorry. Here, look at these numbers.”
Riley took the offered clipboard. He glanced at the top page, then asked, “What am I looking at?”
“You remember when Buffy first joined the Initiative?”
“Sure, what's that go to do with anything?”
“Well, you remember how Professor Walsh got her to take those tests?”
Riley grimaced. “Yes, I do. Buffy complained about it up for a month after the professor tried to have her killed. Said it was the second hint she had that Walsh was evil.”
“What was the first?”
“The professor said something about Willow. Buffy chewed her out over it. Anyway, what's the relevance of any of this, Graham?”
“I wasn't privy to any of the results from those tests. I was hoping you were.”
“Sure, I remember them. But it wasn't much. I think Buffy did a shoulder press, standing long jump, and a vertical leap. She wasn't exactly eager to demonstrate all of her abilities. Oh, and Walsh got some top speed numbers from that little 'test' where Buffy ran you guys around Sunnydale.” Riley grinned at Graham's rueful expression. He'd always suspected that this was the event that had turned Forest sour about Buffy. He was glad that Graham didn't feel the same way.
“What were those numbers?”
“Well, Buffy lifted 1400 pounds on her shoulder press, jumped twenty-four feet in her standing, and twenty-two feet in her vertical. I think Walsh clocked her in at thirty-six miles per hour during the training scenario.”
Graham frowned. “That's what I was afraid of.” He pointed to the top page of the clipboard Riley held. “Look at those numbers.”
Riley focused on the report in front of him. He ran his finger down the left column until he hit standing long jump. The number was twenty-two feet. Right below that was the vertical jump. That read twenty feet. The other numbers on the page were concerning various other jumps as well as other measures of athleticism. But at the bottom, Riley found a top speed number of thirty-six miles per hour. He flipped to the second page and found Buffy's weightlifting numbers there. He ran down the list until he found Buffy's shoulder press, which was 1350 pounds. “Okay, what gives?”
“All of the girls had numbers more or less in this range. It didn't make me think anything of it until I saw Buffy's. I just remember her being... more. Does a slayer slow down when she gets older?”
Riley briefly considered. “Giles once told me that Buffy had improved dramatically in her strength and speed since he'd first met her. This was back in September of 2000. I noticed how much she improved when she started training aggressively with him for those months after Dracula. Buffy was actually scarily better than she was when she was with us. I don't see how it's possible she could have lost this much ground. What do you think's going on?”
Graham steadily met Riley's eyes. “I think the same thing you do. She was deliberately holding back. Maybe all of them were. I just don't know why.”
“It's pretty obvious, isn't it? She doesn't trust us. That's reason enough for her to hide things. Crap. This was the last thing I wanted to report back to Dr. Frasier. She'll take it straight to General Hammond.”
“I have a suggestion.”
“Go talk to Buffy. Ask her about it.”
Riley smiled sourly. “I would, but for one small problem.” At Graham's curious look, he continued, “I asked her out for drinks last night. She shot me down.”
“You asked Buffy out for drinks? When you barely have time to write up that training scenario? Exactly why was I looking these over for you?”
Riley had the grace to look embarrassed. “I'm sorry, Graham. I just wanted to... Hell, I wanted to see if Buffy had any feelings for me still. I thought there was some sparkage on P3X-2993. Maybe it was the two moons. Or maybe she was just pissed off at Autumn. We shared a look.”
Graham looked skeptical. “You shared a look? What are you? Twelve? Talking to her has always been your downfall, you know?”
“You're right. Anyway, I don't think she'd tell me the truth if I asked her. Why don't you go talk with her?”
Graham looked at Riley with disbelief. “Finn, you're not doing this.” At Riley's steady look, he spluttered, “You are
doing this. Daaammmnn, you're cold.”
“C'mon, Miller, help me out. The last thing I need to do today is talk with Buffy.”
Graham sighed. “Okay, where's she at today?”
Riley looked relieved. “Thanks, man.” He glanced at the clock. “She's probably done flaying Colonel O'Neill in their 3:00. She should be in the commissary about now grabbing an early dinner.”
Graham glared. “She just met with the colonel? Finn, if I don't survive this, you are going to suffer. Even if it's just by not having me around to watch your six. I'm out of here.” He walked out shaking his head and muttering under his breath. “Keep her calm. Don't let her get upset.”
Riley held back a laugh as his best friend left. He genuinely hoped Buffy wouldn't bite Graham's head off. She and the colonel were still getting along like oil and water. Ever since the airport dust up that Riley had heard about over the grapevine, their arguments had stayed barely on this side of civil, with the victories mostly on Buffy's side. The colonel wanted more flexibility from Buffy and her slayers. Buffy, on the other hand, was being her usual stubborn self, and not being particularly receptive about his suggestions. And she hadn't even completed her training. Riley dreaded the day he suspected was coming where a completely trained Buffy told Colonel O'Neill to take a jump in the lake because she wasn't going to help with whatever project he wanted done. Well Graham could handle it, he thought. He needed to get back to his training scenario. The last thing he wanted was to get caught in the same mess as Buffy and the others...Level 17 Dining Hall, Cheyenne Mountain...
Buffy balanced her overfull bowl of fruit salad on the crowded tray she carried. Now if she could just fit another glass of milk onto her tray. Realizing there wasn't room, Buffy decided to just carry it in her other hand. Thank God for slayer strength, Buffy thought, as she held her heavy tray out ahead of her. Looking around, she spotted an empty table in a corner. She'd just put her tray down when a shadow fell over here. Looking up, she saw Graham's solemn, watchful face. “Hey. Err... it's good to see you.”
Graham intently studied Buffy's face. Wow, she looks good, he thought absently as he worked up the nerve to discuss the results he held in his hand. Finally, he realized he was staring and blushing, sat down.
Buffy looked over at her table partner. Graham had been acting a little odd around her for the last week or so. Maybe even longer than that. At first, Buffy hadn't really cared, but now she was starting to wonder if she had done something to upset him. Maybe if she brought it up first, she could get to the bottom of the situation. “So, what brings you around? The lasagna?” Smiling, she held up a forkful of the aforementioned food. Taking a bite, she chewed the stuff, which could only be called lasagna by someone in a charitable mood. Oh well, she thought, it's still better than anything I can make. Then she realized that Graham still hadn't replied. Raising her eyebrows to him, she waited.
Graham sweated as he tried to figure out a way to bring up the fitness results. Realizing that Buffy was waiting for him to respond to her innocent question, he blurted out, “Uh, no. I have something to talk to you about.”
“Okay, shoot. Actually, should I say that to you since you're a Marine and all?” Buffy enjoyed teasing Graham. While he didn't show a sense of humor any more than Riley did, she often could tell from the faint twinkle in his eyes that he appreciated her humor. Not so much today though.
“That's okay. What I really need to talk to you about is this.” Graham brought out the stack of fitness reports and tossed them onto the table.
Buffy looked at the inches-thick stack of paper. “Okay, that's a bit esoteric. What's the what, Graham? You trying to bury me in paper?”
“These are the reports that show the test results from you and the other girls' fitness reports.”
“Young women, Graham, young women. When you call us girls, we get all fluttery.” Buffy noticed the increased heat along Graham's neck and face. Okay, he's definitely blushing, she thought in amusement. I wonder when he got so sensitive to being teased.
“The young women's test results. Anyway, there's something off about them.”
“Buffy, they just don't make sense.”
Buffy finished chewing the bite of lasagna as she contemplated her answer. “What doesn't make sense?”
Graham felt like he was about to explode. “Look, Riley gave me these reports because he had them dumped on him by Dr. Frasier for 'review.' I immediately noticed that your speed and strength have both gone down from when you were involved with the Initiative. So unless you have a good explanation as to why this happened, like getting senile or something, I'm going to have to take this to Dr. Frasier, who'll take it straight to the general.”
Buffy stared at Graham. “Did you just call me senile? Oh my God! It's my hair isn't it? First that airman calls me ma'am, now you think I'm ancient. I think I need to make an emergency appointment with my beautician!”
Graham sighed. “Buffy, cut the crap. I don't buy the ditz act for one minute. I haven't since the first week I met you. I'm serious. What's up with the test results?”
Buffy's thoughts were going a million miles an hour. Truth or lie? Hmmm, choices, choices, she thought. Finally, she responded, “I fudged them. And I told all of the girls to do the same.” There, she thought, that should be honest enough for him.
Graham stared at her open-mouthed. The last thing he'd expected was the truth, remembering how hard Riley had worked to pry things out of her back when they dated. Maybe she's turned over a new leaf, he thought. “Why would you do that?”
“Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I don't trust Stargate Command? Or the Air Force? Or the military in general? Pick any of them. They're all valid and applicable.”
“Buffy, if we're going to work together, you are going to have to trust us. Not the military or the Air Force, but us. Me, Riley, Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter. We're just trying to do our jobs and by doing so, save the planet. We don't have secret agendas. We...”
Buffy interrupted him. “Graham, don't act that naive. You answer to politicians. The same politicians that made the decision to create the NID. Do I have to go further?”
“Buffy, even the NID isn't the boogey-man. They have their problems, but so does every government agency. Most of what they do is solid, even Colonel O'Neill would admit that. As far as the rest of us, we're just trying to do our best.”
“You didn't suffer two attacks or pull a young woman out of a box where those bastards had put her prior to torturing her. Or had two of your friends shot by people who are supposed to protect you. So don't tell me that these guys are innocent. I don't want to hear it. These girls are mine! I will do whatever it take to keep them safe. Including faking on some ridiculous fitness test. You and Riley know what we can do. We're ready to kick ass and you're still babysitting us. Testing us. Well when you start treating us seriously, maybe I'll start to treat your tests seriously.” Buffy continued eating, ignoring the guy at her side. She hadn't meant to vent quite that much, but felt better for saying it. She just wished she could have said it to General Hammond or someone a bit higher up than Graham.
Graham sat, thinking about what Buffy had said. She had a point, but she also needed to learn that she was part of a team. Luckily, he had a solution. “Fair enough. I can understand why you might feel that way. We do take you seriously. Even General Hammond. But the general recognizes that however skilled you might be, there is still stuff to learn before you go on your first real mission. And I agree.”
Buffy stared at him mulishly. Now for the hook, he thought. “I can prove it. How about a little wager?”
“You're due to start your second training deployment tomorrow. If everything goes smoothly and nothing happens, I'll find a way to bury the fitness reports. I won't tell the doc or General Hammond anything.”
“And if something does go wrong?”
“How about this? If you don't agree with me that you needed the training, I'll still bury the reports. But, if you do agree with me that the training was necessary, then I expect you back in the gym along with the rest of the girls giving me your all. One hundred and ten percent.”
“Be all you can be, huh?”
“Nope, that's the Army, ma'am.” Graham grinned at Buffy's wince. It felt good to get a little of his own back.
“You've got yourself a deal, Graham.” Buffy stuck out her hand and shook Graham's before going back to eating. Boy was he in for a shock. Buffy was going into general mode. She would sit on the slayers, especially Amber, and make sure nothing went wrong. Then he would have to do what he promised...
Graham sat there watching Buffy eating. She's so hot even when she's chewing, he thought morosely. He should be jubilant. He'd gotten what he wanted. But when Buffy realized how badly she had lost, she was not going to be happy. And one Graham Elijah Miller was going to be right in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of unhappy slayers. Not a recipe for a good time...