Chapter Ten—First Year: The Assignment
Buffy jauntily walked into her room. She'd somehow made it all the way from the Visitor's Center where Colonel O'Neill had dropped her off to her room without running into a single upperclassman. How cool was that? Now, however, she was in for one hell of an inquisition, based upon the look on Connie's face.
“Spill, Cali. What did Colonel Secret Agent want?” Connie's eyes glinted with amusement at the put-upon expression on her roommate's face. Did Cali seriously think she could have dinner with a high ranking officer and not get the third degree, Connie wondered?
“Colonel Huh? Oh, I get it. Ha, ha. I wonder if I'm supposed to discuss it. I mean, can you be trusted with such information...” Buffy's words trailed off as she was hit by a flying pillow. Grinning, she grabbed her desk chair and moved it across to where Connie lay stretched out on her bed, straddling it. “Okay, now where was I?”
“You were being hopelessly pompous. Now dish.”
“He offered to be my officer sponsor for now until after I graduate, when I'll be assigned to work under his command in Cheyenne Mountain.” Buffy stopped at this point, the words still too new to be real. And because Connie was having a conniption.
“He WHAT?!” Connie shrieked, bolting upright on her bed. She stared in absolute astonishment at Cali. I can't believe this, she thought. No officer would do this for a smack. It just wasn't done. Although, if any smack deserved this kind of recognition, it would be Cali Summers. Connie was once again aware of just how good her roommate was. She silently vowed to do her best to become if not Cali's equal, at least the best she could be.
Buffy finally continued, somewhat self-conscious about her news. “I know. You could have whacked me with a sledgehammer. I was that surprised.” Buffy caught the odd look Connie wore at that comparison, but ignored it and continued, “Anyway, he seemed sincere. Colonel O'Neill talked with me about my major, letting me know what would work best with his command.”
“Wow. What are you going to major in?” Connie knew Cali was focused on something to do with space, while her own specialty was Systems Management. The closest she would ever get to space would be if she ended up doing an audit of something headed that way.
“Space Operations. The Colonel pretty much decided for me when he 'recommended' I take it to prepare myself for joining his command. He also wants me to get my SECRET clearance next year so that I can spend second-year summer at Cheyenne Mountain in the upper levels. Then he wants me to get my TOP SECRET after that and join his actual command down in the Mountain itself my last summer here.” Buffy was conscious of Connie's stare. The last thing she wanted was to draw the taller girl's jealousy. Hopefully she didn't feel that way, but still it worried Buffy.
Connie silently whistled. “He's got it all figured out. What about flying? I know you were talking about getting your wings in fighters. That still on?”
Buffy frowned. “Well, not immediately. But I could take flight training after a couple of years at the Mountain. I'm sure Colonel O'Neill would sign off on it.”
“Damn, Cali. Sounds like you got it made.” Connie noticed the slight tightening of Cali's mouth. Something wasn't good, no matter how rosy this all sounded, she thought. “What's is it? You don't have it made?”
Buffy sighed. “Well, there's a catch.”
“Colonel O'Neill assigned me homework.”
“Yes. I have to write a report. And not a short one. Fifty pages worth.”
“Holy shit! On what?”
“Reasons Behind The Fall Of The Roman Empire: From A Citizen Of The Empire's Point Of View.” Buffy quoted from the sheet Colonel O'Neill handed her at the end of dinner.
“Reasons behind... okay, I'm not even going to try to repeat that. You aren't kidding, are you?”
Connie shook her head. “Damn, Cali. That's going to be a killer. Well, at least it's just one report.” At Cali's silent shake of her head, Connie asked, “It's not just one report?”
Buffy shuddered. “I have to write one report a month
for him. Every month. For this one, I have to read like four books. That's on top of what I'm already doing. Maybe Colonel O'Neill is a closet sadist.”
Connie snorted. “All superior officers are sadists. I can't believe you have to write a report every month. That's like...”
Buffy held up her hand in a gesture to stop. “Don't. If you finish that sentence and there's some number in it that I have to think about, I'll probably have to hurt you. The less I think about it, the less I'll despair.”
“I wonder why ancient Rome? I mean of all the things he could've assigned, that's gotta be about as unlikely as snow in Miami. You know?”
“Yeah, I do. But still it's there. Besides, it once snowed in my home town of Sunnydale.”
“Sunnydale's like a couple of hours north of LA, right?”
“How could it have snowed there?”
“Freak weather conditions. They never figured out what happened.”
“Ooookay.” Connie decided to change the subject. “So have you given anymore thought about what to do about Lloyd Merryman and John Sheridan.”
“John who?” If John Sheridan was who Buffy thought he was...
“I finally figured out where I'd heard that voice. 'Sher' is John Sheridan. Ranked number one academically in his class.”
Buffy chewed her lower lip as she digested the news. That could actually work out to her advantage... “That's fine.”
“Yep. Connie, what are the two things that the Air Force doesn't tolerate?”
“Insubordination? And, mmm...” Connie was struggling to come up with another item in her impromptu pop quiz.
“Cheating.” Buffy supplied.
Connie frowned. “Cali, you aren't that naïve. They put up with all kinds of crap. Harassment. Cheating. You name it. As long as you don't get caught...”
“What if you did? What if you got caught cheating? And that was why you were doing so well?”
“Maybe. They might just hush it up. Especially if the potential officer was considered solid, otherwise. Do you seriously think Sheridan and Merryman are cheating?”
“Maybe. That's what we need to find out. Also, what if the potential officer was gay? And
a cheat? Would they hush that up?”
Connie's eyes gleamed. “No, they wouldn't. Butch, are you proposing that we trump up a hypothetical gay romance between our two rapists?”
“Why, Sundance, that is exactly what I'm proposing. The thing is, neither of these alone would be enough to get them automatically booted. They would have a terrible time in the modern-day Air Force if it were discovered that they were carrying on an illicit romance between the two of them. And if it was discovered that they were cheating...”
“The Powers would be happy as larks to use that to kick them to the curb.” Connie grinned, just thinking about the humiliation of their prey.
“Exactly.” Buffy's smile was fierce and merciless as she contemplated the end of those two jerks.
“How are we going to find out? It's not as if we can just get into their offices and dorm room, you know.” Connie felt a cold feeling in gut at Cali's level look. “Shit! Cali! Do you seriously mean to search their rooms
? What if you get caught?”
Buffy smiled reassuringly. “Don't worry, Connie, I won't get caught. I'll be in and out lickety split. They'll never know I was there. And if I'm successful, we'll have part of the evidence to get rid of those two.”
Connie nodded, despite the uneasiness she felt. I really hope nothing goes wrong, she thought...Eight days later...
Buffy hurried along, worried about being late for class. The last thing she wanted to get was a demerit and lose the privilege of going home for Thanksgiving the day after tomorrow. She smiled as she contemplated the huge dinner Joyce was planning, even if it was just going to be the three of them, Buffy having invited Connie along at the last moment. Buffy was feeling pretty good about her plan to get Merryman and Sheridan before they got her. When she'd first told Connie about her plan, it had been all bravado despite whatever Connie might have believed. But over time, the plan had firmed up. Connie had done the first step the past weekend. While Buffy had stayed in the home, cleaning and polishing for the both of them, Connie had gotten a ride into town. While there, she'd managed to get into the most notorious gay bar in Colorado Springs, Hide-n-Seek. She'd grabbed several match books as well as a menu, basically anything that had their name printed on it.
Buffy planned to plant the stuff in the room the two first-class cadets just happened to share. Buffy figured that when she went to search their room for evidence of possible cheating, she would kill two birds with one stone and plant the gay evidence. If for some reason, she was unable to get into their room to search it, she did have one other avenue to accomplish the job. Buffy was very reluctant to go that route though. The last thing Buffy wanted to do was to use Sher's attraction to her to plant the stuff. She would do it if she had to. It wasn't as if she didn't have the ability to manipulate men. She had been practically born with the ability. First her father, Hank, then later boys like Pike and Xander, and finally men, like Angel and even Giles were putty in her hands. But the idea of using her sexuality to manipulate a rapist like Sheridan left a bad taste in her mouth, despite the dark irony involved. Besides even Buffy might be helpless if she somehow let the bastard drug her, like a certain group of frat boys had done to her back in high school.
Of course, if she found GHB, rohypnol, or ketamine in their room, she had other options, from involving the military police to using them to drug the boys themselves, stripping them, and taking pictures of them in compromising positions. Still, Buffy figured that the cheating was the best avenue to explore right now. It was entirely possible that John Sheridan was actually that smart, while still being a disgusting human being. But in her mind, the two didn't mesh. After all, it wasn't merely intelligence that got you the top spot in your class, but instead determination, dedication, and sheer grit. Everybody in the Zoo was smart. But only one could be the top of their class. Buffy somehow doubted that Sher was that dedicated, based on his after-hours hijinks. And as far as Lloyd Merryman was concerned, Buffy figured that he did the least he had to in order to get by, making cheating a distinct possibility. And even there, he probably wasn't dedicated enough to memorize the tests, giving himself a higher class rank. Irregardless, Buffy was going to find out the week after Thanksgiving whatever lay in their room...
Colorado Springs, CO...
Joyce smiled as she took the last two pies out of the oven. Now all she had left to bake were a hundred or so peanut butter cookies made using chunky peanut butter, Buffy's favorites. Setting the pecan pies down next to the two pumpkin and two cherry pies she'd already made, Joyce hoped that Buffy had fully recovered from that time when at age twelve, she'd eaten an entire pecan pie, formerly her favorite. After spending the next six hours worshiping at the porcelain altar, Buffy had sworn off pecan pie forever, saying it didn't taste nearly as good coming up as going down. Joyce had decided that enough time had passed that Buffy should be recovered from her pie trauma and ready to eat pecans again. Besides, Joyce told herself, she made one darn good pecan pie.
Joyce mentally went over the list that she'd made up of for the dinner. Turkey was a given, as was the dressing made from corn bread. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh peas, giblet gravy, and cranberry sauce made from real cranberries would all be at the table. Joyce was even making fresh yeast rolls, shamelessly spoiling Buffy. Besides, Buffy was bringing a guest, her roommate, Connie, who Joyce had briefly met during Parents' Weekend. Apparently, Connie could not afford to go home for Thanksgiving, given that she had to fly all the way to Miami, so had planned to spend it on base. When Joyce had heard that, she'd told Buffy to invite her along. It wasn't as if there wouldn't be enough food, even with Buffy's slayer appetite. Not even Buffy could eat a twenty-two pound turkey, a gallon of smashed potatoes, two gallons of dressing, a half gallon of sweet potatoes, forty fresh yeast rolls, six pies, and over one hundred peanut butter cookies in a couple of days.
Joyce was really looking forward to catching up with Buffy after her meeting with Colonel O'Neill. Buffy had briefly alluded to it during their Sunday phone call, but hadn't gone into any details. Still, Joyce had sensed her repressed excitement over the phone. Smiling wryly, Joyce sternly repressed her brief flash of jealousy. Buffy had always needed a strong male figure in her life, even more so than most teenagers. It was only after Joyce had found out about her calling that she'd realized why. After her first angry reaction to being fooled for so long, Joyce had actually been thankful for Rupert Giles' presence in Buffy's life. Without a doubt, he'd kept Buffy alive during the two and a half years he'd been her watcher.
Joyce hummed as she started placing peanut butter cookie dough onto baking sheets. After this, she just had to start the actual dinner itself...The Zoo, the next day...
Excited, Buffy grabbed Connie's arm as she saw Joyce's Jeep Grand Cherokee heading towards the parking lot. “There's Mom! Grab your stuff!”
Connie surreptitiously flexed her fingers after Buffy released her arm. Damn, but Cali was strong, she thought. And how had she seen her mother's SUV so far away? Connie reached down and grabbed her duffel, carefully packed with Connie's few civilian clothes. It was going to be weird wearing civvies after going so long in uniform. Cali had laughed and said she was going to wear the shortest skirt she had in her closet. Connie figured that would last until Cali got her first icy draft then she'd be back to wearing jeans.
Joyce pulled up next to the curb where the two girls waited. “Ready to go, ladies?” After receiving two affirmatives and giving the girls a moment to put their bags into the back, Joyce pulled away, heading back towards Colorado Springs.
Connie decided to go ahead and get the thank you's out of the way. “I just wanted to say thanks so much for inviting me for Thanksgiving, Mrs. Summers. I really appreciate it. I was not looking forward to the horrors of dining hall turkey.”
Joyce laughed. “I can see how home-cooked would be better. Although Buffy seems to like the food well enough.”
Buffy put on her most piteous expression, which Connie could see from the back seat. “The food is okay, Mom. But I really miss your cookies and pies. It's just not the same.”
Connie grinned from the back seat. “Wow, Cali, if you could bottle that expression, you could be rich. Did it work often in getting your way?”
Joyce smiled, but with a slightly flinty look in her eyes. “Let's just say it worked a LOT better on men than women. Hank became Captain Waffler every time Buffy pouted. At least until right before the divorce.”
Buffy frowned, remembering the fights and her father's descent into unreasonableness. Shaking her head, she decided to put it behind her. “Well, at least Giles wasn't pout-proof. Or Xander.”
“I haven't heard you mention them before, Cali. Who are Giles and Xander?” Connie became conscious of an awkward silence after she asked her question. Maybe I shouldn't have asked, she thought, feeling the silence continue before Cali finally broke it.
“Giles was my high school librarian, kinda a mentor to me. He was killed in the explosion. Xander... well, Xander was Xander. He was this amazing guy who had the biggest heart. He was my first friend in Sunnydale and we went through a lot together. He also died that day.” Buffy shook her head at Connie's stricken expression. “Don't sweat it, Connie. I can't ignore the past. I'm not going to forget those guys or Willow. But I'm not going to sit in the dark eating ice cream and miss them either. They'll always have a place in my heart.”
Connie shook her head. “That's one of the things I admire about you, Cali. You seem so indomitable. You know exactly what you want and go after it. I wish I were like that...” Connie stopped, puzzled as the two women in the front of the SUV burst into laughter. After a moment, she continued, “Okay, obviously I said something funny. Anyone care to clue me in?”
Buffy turned and looked back at her roomie affectionately. “Sorry about that, Connie. If only you knew me in the past. I used to be this bubble-headed cheerleader whose only thoughts were about boys and clothes and not necessarily in that order. You would have hated that girl.”
“So what made you change?” As soon as Connie asked her question, she knew it was another charged topic. Joyce's posture as she sat in the driver's seat betrayed an underlying tenseness. But it was Cali who claimed Connie's attention. Cali whose eyes looked like those of the grizzled noncom who had helped recruit Connie. Old eyes. Eyes that had seen too many horrors, until what they had seen spilled out into the real world in images of death and destruction. I'm being silly, Connie told herself, but Cali's eyes told a far different story than a blonde cheerleader and prom princess. Was it the horrors of her graduation or the stresses of her participation in the Take Back The Night Program? By her own admission, she was getting over the graduation thing. What lay in Cali's past that was so horrific, that her eyes looked so cold and bleak?
Buffy was aware of the way the atmosphere in the SUV had become tense, but felt unable to dispel it. Or more accurately, unwilling to do so. She felt like she'd been putting on an act for months now and was unwilling to tell a joke or act the ditz just to put someone else at ease. Besides, Connie should have known better. One of the first ground rules they'd established when they first became roommates had been don't ask questions. Buffy had jokingly told Connie that right after they met. Of course, like so many things told jokingly, it wasn't really a joke, but deadly serious. And Connie had taken it the way Buffy had meant it and kept away from personal questions for the most part. Until now. Until they had arrived at a setting comfortable enough that she'd forgotten. Now let her pay the price. Silently Buffy turned back to the stare out the front of the vehicle, leaving Joyce to pick up the threads of conversation if she wanted.
Joyce managed small talk with Connie during the remainder of the drive. She could sense the burning curiosity of the girl. Curiosity Connie must have ruthlessly repressed while rooming with her daughter. The same daughter than Joyce wanted to put over her knee and spank. Joyce knew that talking about the destiny that she'd been forced to embrace bothered Buffy, but sooner or later she needed to, as Cordelia had once put it, “Get over it.” Instead, Buffy tended to shut down, her version of moping. Well, unfortunately, you couldn't spank your all-but-grown daughter, but you could have a serious talk with her, which Joyce planned for later.
“So here we are. Buffy, if you would take Connie upstairs and get her settled in the guest room.” Joyce waited a moment for Buffy's nod before heading towards the kitchen to do one final check of her baked goods.
Somewhat recovered, Buffy smiled at Connie then gestured towards the stairs, visible through an arched doorway. Buffy followed as Connie headed towards, then up the stairs. Buffy hoped she still remembered where her bedroom was. She and Joyce had only been in the house about a month when Buffy had left for BCT. Nothing really felt familiar, not like their home on Revello Drive. Fortunately, Buffy found that even four months wasn't long enough to forget how to find her way around as she easily pointed Connie to the last door on the left, which lead to the guest bedroom. Her own bedroom lay one door closer to the stairs. Essentially both rooms were identical, minus their contents. She left Connie there to settle in while she headed back downstairs.
Connie surveyed the room she was going to be spending the next four days sleeping in. While the rest of the house appeared to be beautifully furnished with a nice mix of antiques and modern furnishings, her room was a bit on the generic side. Still, it beat her dorm room. At least she had her own bathroom, Connie thought, spying the shower stall through the half open door.
Connie headed back downstairs, following the scent of delicious food. She heard Cali and Joyce talking and paused for a moment at the door.
“...and he's giving me an assignment a month. Nasty ones too. At least the first one was. And it was about the Romans. Weird, huh? I've been wondering if it doesn't have something to do with...”
Connie heard Cali's voice tail off, just when it was getting interesting. She entered the room, glancing briefly at Cali, who looked innocently back. Weird. There was no way that Cali could have heard her standing at the doorway, yet Connie still got the impression that she'd stopped because she knew someone was listening.
Buffy focused on the food in front of her. They were going to have roast beef sandwiches tonight as a simple meal before tucking into the huge turkey dinner tomorrow. Buffy actually wished she could eat turkey tonight, but at least Joyce was letting her eat some pie. Although it was the dreaded pecan pie. Not that it appeared to be a problem anymore from the way her mouth was salivating at the smell of the baked pies on the sideboard. It was amazing what the years could do with bad memories...
Buffy had been talking to Joyce about the assignment that Colonel O'Neill had given her. She was just about to share her insight into why she thought the colonel gave her an assignment with an emphasis on ancient cultures when she'd become aware of Connie listening in. Buffy wasn't too sure that inviting Connie to stay for the holidays was the smartest thing she'd done. She had been looking forward to letting down her hair and not having to hide her abilities for the first time in months. Now she had to continue to act normal. Whatever that was.
Joyce was very aware of the subtext in the room. Connie appeared intensely interested in her daughter, her curiosity an almost palpable force. Combined with Buffy's poor history at hiding her so-called “secret” identity, Joyce was surprised she didn't already know Buffy was the Slayer. Connie probably did know that Buffy was special based upon her frequent compliments. Joyce almost wished that Buffy would just confide in the girl, but she understood why she didn't after what had happened to the last group who'd known. Hopefully, there would come a time in the future when the trust between the two girls would overcome Buffy's painful memories.
“Okay, Connie, if you'll grab the plates and silverware and Buffy, if you'll grab the condiments and the salad, we can go ahead and have dinner...”Later that evening...
Buffy slept in her room among her stuffed animals. The dream slowly wormed its way into her subconscious...
Buffy watched the dark-haired girl tenderly kiss the blonde girl, before the allowing her shy partner to duck her head again. There were several people in the room, including an older man, dressed in tweed, who screamed Watcher, a somewhat scruffy-looking man in his late twenties, a blond boy who appeared to be in his late teens, and from the way he was dressed, a complete nerd, a sharp-featured young man who looked very intelligent, and a young woman who looked familiar. Then Buffy recognized Anya, the former vengeance demon, who had given them so much trouble last year. The group was carrying on a subdued discussion, but Buffy did not hear anything, the scene presenting itself like a silent movie. But she didn't need sound to feel the tension in the room, the desperation in the way each person sat, dejection coloring their features. Something bad was coming...
Buffy woke up with a start. Breathing heavily, she lay there a moment before breaking into a string of curses that would have impressed her classmates to no end. I really, really hate the Powers, Buffy thought, trying to figure out the significance of the dream. She had to talk with her mom about this, which meant getting away from Connie, at least for a little while. Maybe she'll pig out on turkey and the triptophan will get her, Buffy thought hopefully...