Chapter Fifteen—Christmas Break
Buffy was bored. It was Christmas Eve and absolutely nothing was going on. She'd had a great lunch at Mitchell Hall. They had laid on a full Christmas dinner for those who were still here. Tomorrow they would be closed down, to allow all of the civilian waiters and cooks to be home with their families. Luckily, Buffy would be doing the same.
The past few days had actually been busy. Buffy had volunteered to help with a food drive sponsored by the Zoo. That had meant manning a station in front of a Flagship Kroger's store in Colorado Springs in full dress uniform asking for donations. Whether because of her uniform or because people felt sorry for her, she had cleaned up. She had even had several guys, many of them obviously still in high school, go through and donate several times, apparently just so they had a reason to talk to her.
She hadn't set a record, but she'd done much better than the year before. Unfortunately, Major Sherwood, the officer in charge, had managed to set up some publicity for the event. Publicity that Buffy had to deal with personally. She'd gotten her photograph taken for the local paper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, standing in front of three dozen 55-gallon drums all full of canned food. Buffy hadn't thought that was fair, since she'd only been responsible for part of that food, but she was overruled by Major Sherwood. He seemed pleased to have Buffy be the face of the Academy. After the beating they were starting to take in the local papers and on television, Buffy couldn't blame him.
But then the local TV station had arrived, KKTV News, looking for a quick human interest piece.
“I'm Michelle Terrago, here at our local Kroger's to bring to you a wonderful Christmas story. Cadets at the Air Force Academy have been sponsoring a food drive to help the Care and Share Food Bank, which helps local families with Christmas.”
“Cadet Summers, how much in the way of donations have you garnered?”
“Well, you can see behind me the three dozen or so 55-gallon drums we've collected. They're all full of canned goods, every bit of which are heading to the Care and Share Food Bank. It should help some of the local families have a better Christmas, as well as adding to the emergency store of food they keep on hand.”
“Cadet, how did you get involved with this drive?”
“I learned about it from Major Sherwood, who stopped by my Military Science Class. I thought it was a good thing, so I volunteered.”
“Cadet, it's wonderful that you're working so near Christmas. Did you have plans for Christmas?”
“My mother lives here in Colorado Springs, so I am spending Christmas with her.”
“That's wonderful. What does your mother do?”
“She owns Joyce's Antique's. That's over on...”
“I think that's enough for now, Cadet Summers, Miss Terrago.”
“Major Sherwood, Cadet Summers, can you comment on the massive investigation that is just finishing up at the Air Force Academy? I heard severa...”
“Sorry, no comment. Come along, Cadet Summers...”
Buffy had been happy she'd gotten the plug in for her mom's store, especially when she spoke to Joyce later on the phone, . Joyce said that apparently a lot of people coming in the past few days had seen it, that being at least part of the reason they'd come in. Her mom had cleaned up.
Buffy sighed. She might as well see if she could get another tour in today. It was still early after all. Getting up, she got dressed and headed off to see Lt. Colonel Mitchell...
Buffy ignored the cold as she did yet another circuit around the Terrazzo. It wasn't snowing, but there was quite of bit of snow still on the ground. And it was bitterly cold, although that was muted quite a bit by the steady marching with the rifle in her hands.
A tour consisted of marching in a square around the tour pad at the northwest corner of the Terrazzo, while wearing service dress, white gloves, and carrying a rifle. You had to get a uniform and rifle inspection at the start, which if you failed, you didn't get credit for the tour that you had to still march. Buffy had passed easily enough, since she had more than enough time to make sure everything was immaculate.
She'd been actually quite happy when they had let her exchange her drill punishment for marching tours. Drill punishment involved forcing her to drill twice a week with another squadron in addition to any drill her own squadron did. Worse, it could last any amount of time, based on the mood of the cadet sergeant in charge. Buffy'd had her own cadet sergeant keep them out in the cold for three hours straight, most of it at attention. Which sucked. At least the tours could be done on your own schedule, within reason. Buffy had to do two a week, and usually did both on Saturday after SAMI (Saturday Morning Inspection). They only lasted fifty minutes, after all, so weren't any big deal. Once the weather heated up, she wasn't so sure she would be so blasé. Buffy had actually planned to adopt an old trick that Gator had showed her of wearing a cut off shirt under her Service Jacket to keep cool. If she ditched her bra too, Buffy didn't think she would have any problems staying cool. She wondered if Gator had any tricks for her shoes. You wore out the soles on a pair after twenty-five tours, which could get expensive.
She finally got the signal from Lt. Colonel Mitchell that she was done. Sweet! That put her two ahead, so that when she came back the day after Christmas, she wouldn't have to march any that week...Christmas Day...
Buffy waited in the predawn darkness for Joyce. It was 0600 hours and sunrise was still an hour away. Buffy didn't care, though. She was looking forward to a home-cooked breakfast, followed by a huge Christmas Dinner of ham and other goodies. Joyce had told her that there would be a special desert, so to bring her appetite. Buffy had assured her it wouldn't be a problem.
Buffy thought she saw headlights in the distance. Yep, there was her mom's jeep. Grabbing her bag, Buffy prepared to head out. The only reason she was bringing the duffel bag so that she could hide the presents that she'd bought her mom. Well, also so that she could load up with any non-perishable left-overs, which should include all of the deserts and lots and lots of cookies. Not that her mom stinted her there at all and was bringing an average of fifty per week on Sundays when she visited. Also, Buffy planned to grab a lot of perishables as well. She could hang them in a bag outside, keeping them fresh. They might freeze, but that wouldn't be a deterrent to chowing down on them.
Joyce pulled up next to her. Buffy tossed her empty duffel in the back and got in. “Good morning, Mom.”
Joyce smiled at her daughter. “Good morning. How are you feeling? Plenty Christmasy?”
“Yep, Cadet Christmas-Buffy reporting to duty.” Buffy gave her mom crisp salute, causing Joyce to a laugh.
Joyce tried to study her daughter in the darkness of the car's interior. No easy feat, and she was unable to come to any conclusions. Joyce just hoped she was happy. “So, looking forward to opening presents?”
Buffy squealed, “Oh, yes! I can't wait. I do want to eat first. So I guess that's waiting a little. I can wait a little.”
Joyce smiled, then frowned. “I just wish I'd known earlier about how much food you need...”
Buffy, sounding embarrassed, interrupted, “Mom, you know I hate to talk about it.”
Joyce, genuinely curious, asked, “Why? Why does it bother you?”
“It's like this. I went from eating one, maybe two meals a day, to needing to eat like a linebacker. Probably two linebackers. It's embarrassing.”
“Do you feel embarrassed eating with Colonel O'Neill?” Joyce's soft question was partly inspired by jealousy, and partly by interest. The man in question had called her the other day and arranged to pick up a book from her. One of those that Buffy had 'inherited' from Rupert. Joyce had made arrangements for him to pick it up the day after Christmas. It was the earliest that their schedules had coincided.
“Actually... no, I don't.” Buffy sounded surprised by her own answer. Joyce glanced over at her daughter again. She wore a pensive expression. Joyce made a little humming noise, inviting more. After a moment, Buffy responded.
“The Colonel just... he makes me eat. Okay, he doesn't make me make me, but he 'encourages' me to eat. He says I'm too skinny. Plus he obviously wants me to be all right and... I don't know. It's complicated.”
Joyce smiled. Buffy was still a daddy's girl at heart and probably always would be. First with Hank, then Rupert, and now Colonel O'Neill. Each had a unique position in Buffy's heart. Joyce just hoped that the Colonel didn't disappoint her daughter like Hank had done. Even Rupert, during the Cruciamentum, had nearly broken Buffy's heart, first by not taking her to the ice show she wanted so desperately to go to, then again by drugging her. Rupert had redeemed himself, but Joyce couldn't help notice that they hadn't been as close afterwards.
“That's fine, sweetheart. I'll just have to use the same argument.” Joyce grinned at mock shocked sound that Buffy made. Turning into her driveway, she pulled up to the house and parked.
Buffy grinned with anticipation as she looked at the various presents beneath the tree. She'd just finished pigging out on waffles with real butter and real maple syrup. After eating nearly fifteen of them, Buffy wondered how her mom had been able to afford to feed her for the past year and a half. Before that, Buffy had mooched off of Willow. But after her mom had found out about her abilities, she'd started to buy tons more food. Now looking at all the presents, Buffy wondered the same thing.
“Mom, you shouldn't have. That bike you got me was supposed to be an early Christmas pre...”
Joyce waved her hand in a shooing motion. “Don't worry about it, Buffy. Besides, I had a really, really good year.”
Buffy smiled, happy for her mom. “That's great! I know you were worried about opening a new place here in Colorado Springs, which isn't the biggest town...”
“I was, but I shouldn't have been. Business has been great. Plus I got the website up and running. And the referral service has worked great as well. It also didn't hurt you mentioning me on the news. I'm actually going to shut down a few days after January 1st to go on a buying trip. I did get some people coming in and selling, but the majority, by far, were buyers.”
Buffy, remembering just how much stock Joyce had had in her shop as of Thanksgiving, stared at her in surprise. Joyce's answering smile told Buffy that she had had a very good year indeed. Buffy settled down to opening presents.
“Oh my God!” Buffy exclaimed, staring into the package she held. It had been extra squishy, so she figured it was clothes. But not just any clothes. The package was full of bras and panties from Victoria's Secret. “I love you, Mom!”
Joyce gave her a wry smile. “Try them all on later. I'm pretty sure I know your size, but I just want to make sure everything fits. And that you like them. I had gotten you a gift certificate, but after you told me you were confined to the base until at least May, I cashed it in.”
Buffy hugged her. “Thanks so much. I love them. It's going to be great wearing something other than basic white underwear.”
Joyce gave her a hug back. “Now open the rest...”An hour later...
Buffy stood amidst her bounty. In addition to getting the bras and panties from Victoria's Secret, she had also gotten an Olympus 2.1 megapixel digital camera, a printer for her dorm room, three pairs of running shoes, several pairs of running shorts from the 'official' Air Force store, and a pair of Concoran Boots in her size, five and a half. Getting up, Buffy hugged Joyce again. Then she got out the presents she had gotten her mom.
Joyce hadn't wanted to open her gifts from Buffy until after Buffy had opened all of her gifts and Joyce had taken pictures. Now it was Buffy's turn at the helm of a camera. Joyce had gone ahead and charged the digital camera she'd bought Buffy and it was ready to go. Buffy got ready to take a picture as Joyce opened her first present.
Joyce stopped, staring, as tears formed in her eyes. Buffy slowly lowered the camera, worried. “Mom, don't you like it?”
Joyce looked up at her, then gave Buffy a soppy smile. “I love it so much. Thank you, sweetheart.” With that, Joyce held up her gift. It was a large picture frame filled with pictures of Buffy in her uniform, Buffy in her fatigues, Buffy in her gi, basically Buffy doing everything from her daily life, all the way back to BCT. There was a large manila envelop attached to the back.
Buffy snapped a couple of pictures, then went over and hugged Joyce. “I love this. I was just lamenting that I hardly had any pictures of you in your uniform. Now I have a lot.”
Buffy grinned. “Not just that, but the envelope back there has even more. Along with negatives. In case you get bored with these. Or want to play around with them.”
Joyce gave her another hug. “Thank you so much, sweetie.”
Joyce opened her next gift. It was a coffee mug that read: “Air Force Mom.” She grabbed her last gift. It was a pink Air Force hooded sweatshirt. Fingering the soft material, Joyce smiled. “I'll wear it all the time, Buffy.”
“And drink out of your coffee mug, too.”
“And drink out of my coffee mug, too.”
Joyce gave Buffy one final hug. “Well, let's get everything cleaned up. Then you can help me with the ham...”
Buffy sat back, stuffed. She'd eaten at least three pounds of delicious ham. Joyce had laid on a large meal, although not as large as at Thanksgiving. In addition to the ham, there was a large pan of roasted potatoes with thyme, an avocado, tomato, and mozzarella salad, a large pot of green beans, deliciously spicy black bean soup, yeast rolls, cranberry sauce made from real cranberries, and a rich brown gravy.
“Ooohh, I'm so full.” Buffy moaned.
Joyce laughed in amusement. “So no room for that special desert?”
Buffy's eyes lit. “Maybe just a little room. I already saw all the pies, cakes, and cookies. What else did you make?”
Joyce merely smiled and disappeared into the kitchen. When she emerged, she was carrying a large covered tray. Setting it down, she pulled off the cover. “Ta da!”
It was an enormous peach cobbler, probably over two gallons. Buffy had smelled peaches when she'd walked in earlier, but had dismissed it after not finding any. “That looks so good.”
Joyce said, “Get yourself a helping. I have vanilla Häagen-Dazs to go with it.”
Buffy grabbed a clean plate and dug into the cobbler. The top was that perfect golden brown color, covered in caramelized sugar and butter. The best part, though, was inside. Joyce made her cobblers in a non-traditional manner. Instead of making them shallow, almost like a pie, she made them using an enormous bowl more than ten inches deep. She then layered the entire inside of the bowl with dough, then laid a layer of her peach pie interior, then another layer of dough, then another layer of pie stuff, until she completely filled the bowl. She hadn't made one of these in almost two years.
Buffy was glad she'd decided to do one today. She took a bite of the thick, syrupy cobbler, tasting the brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. And of course, peaches. Then her mom was back with a half-gallon container of ice cream. Häagen-Dazs, her favorite. Also, vanilla, perfect for peach cobbler. Buffy loaded up a huge helping of ice cream onto her plate as well. Carefully, she combined the two flavors. Yum! She was in heaven...
Joyce carefully drove back to her house. It was 10:30 PM. She'd just dropped Buffy off at the base. They'd had a great day, mostly talking about what was going on in the other's lives. Buffy had caught her up on the entire scandal at the Academy. It hadn't been something she felt too comfortable talking about when Joyce visited her there, so they had decided to wait to talk about it later. It had made Joyce mad all over again, but at the same time proud that it had been Buffy that had busted it up.
They had talked about other things as well. Slayer things. Buffy had already told her about her dream on Thanksgiving. But apparently she'd had more. All starring roughly the same cast. Buffy had told her that it was possible she might need to go to Sunnydale at some point. Joyce had cringed at the thought. Getting out of that town's miasma had been the best thing so far about Buffy entering the Academy, even including her grades.
Joyce still couldn't get over Buffy pulling a 4.0. That had been so wonderful! Joyce had always known her daughter was smart. When Buffy used to pull the dumb blonde routine, it had bothered Joyce that she wasn't living up to her full potential. Now Joyce knew it had mostly been because Buffy's time and attention were being consumed by being the Slayer. It just made her that much more happy that Buffy had done so well.
As she pulled into the driveway, Joyce thought about her day tomorrow. She was going into her shop, hoping to have another great day. Plus she was expecting Colo... Jack to pick up the book.
Joyce had made another smaller cobbler just for him, along with a pint size container of Häagen-Dazs to go with it. She was going to give it to him tomorrow. She hoped he liked it...
With easy grace, Jack guided his car over the icy roads. He was headed for Joyce's Antiques to pick up a book for Daniel. And maybe to talk some more with Joyce Summers. Smiling behind dark aviators, Jack thought about the woman whose daughter he was currently sponsoring. Joyce was lovely, intelligent, and kind. All qualities that should make sure she steered clear of one Jack O'Neill. Still, he was glad she wasn't.
Wake up, Jack, he told himself. It's just picking up a book. There's nothing more to it. Yet he'd deliberately decided to show up near 1700 hours on the off chance Joyce might be interested in getting dinner. With him. He quickly inventoried his outfit to make sure it was up to snuff for a dinner at O'Malley's: Dockers, boots, white undershirt, checkered flannel shirt, and his leather bomber jacket. Jack figured he would pass inspection, plus he was comfortable.
Pulling up near her shop, Jack quickly found a parking spot. He strolled towards her shop. Opening the door to the sound of a tinkle, Jack walked in. He didn't see Joyce anywhere. There were quite a few interesting items items inside, although it was more Daniel's scene than his. Jack walked over to the counter. He spotted a coffee mug that made him grin. It said “Air Force Mom” on it. Jack shouted, “Hello? Anybody here?”
Joyce came out of the back, hopping on one foot as she slipped on one of her shoes. Her cheeks were flushed and she looked slightly embarrassed. “Hi, Jack. Sorry, I was just sitting down and massaging my feet. Today has been murder.”
“Busy?” Jack asked sympathetically.
Joyce nodded. “That and then some. Half of the people wanted to exchange their gifts and the other half wanted to buy more. Overall, it was one of the best days since I've been open, I think. I'll know for sure after I close out.”
Jack casually leaned against the counter. “I like your taste in coffee mugs.”
Joyce glanced at the counter top and smiled. “It was a present from Buffy.”
Jack grinned. “I figured that. So, have you eaten?”
Joyce looked surprised, then pleased. “Well... no, I haven't. I was too busy to catch lunch, and I just didn't think to eat breakfast.”
Jack smiled. “How about this? I take you down to O'Malley's and buy you dinner. Then you can finish up here after that?”
“You've got a deal, Jack.” With that Joyce bustled around, locking up. Then the two of them headed out...
Jack grinned at Joyce before taking another sip of his Beck's. “So what did you do?”
“I gave her the 'You need to be more responsible speech.' Actually, I'm glad she didn't pick up the dress. Shortly after that, I got rid of it. It wasn't too flattering. I don't mind looking my age, but who wants to look ten years older?”
“You couldn't look that even if you were dressed in rags.” Jack gave her a flirtatious smile. The look she gave him back was one of mock affront, which she spoiled by giggling. The woman giggled and Jack even found that attractive.
“Still, it's been a challenge raising a daughter alone.”
“Especially one with as much energy as Buffy.”
“You have no idea.”
“I wondered why your daughter never went out for any kind of sports in school, Joyce. She's amazingly athletic.”
Joyce grimaced. “Buffy was a cheerleader at Hemery High. Also Fiesta Princess, etc. Pretty much everything you would expect from the most popular girl in school. But when we moved to Sunnydale... I don't know. She changed. She befriended some kids who were social outcasts. Great kids, mind you, but unpopular. She did try out for the cheerleading squad there and even made it. Then something happened between her and one of the popular girls and Buffy got kicked off it...”
“And she got involved in the Take Back the Night program.” Jack finished. He would never have figured Summers for a cheerleader. She had that absolute physical confidence of a top athlete. Jack didn't really consider cheering to be a sport, although he knew some who would disagree.
“Exactly. That killed her remaining social life, while putting quite a strain on her grades. Thank God for Rupert Giles.”
“Who was that?” Jack asked, wondering if he had heard the name before. It sounded vaguely familiar.
“Rupert was Buffy's high school librarian and a mentor to her and her friends. He was a wonderful man, very educated. He had all of the belief in the world in Buffy. He's also the one who got her involved in s... Take Back the Night. He was deeply involved himself. Buffy's friends, most of whom had neglectful parents, were looking for something to believe in. That's why they became involved.” Joyce's expression was serious as she talked about Buffy's former classmates. It must still hurt, Jack surmised, based upon her expression, losing those kids the way they had.
“They sound like great kids.”
“They were the best. I loved them all. It really hurt when they...”
Jack covered Joyce's hand where it lay on the table in front of him. He gently squeezed it. She looked at him with gratitude at his attempt to comfort her.
“Anyway, I'm just glad for Buffy. I couldn't be more proud of her pulling a 4.0. this sem...”
Jack started. “Wait. Summers pulled a 4.0? Seriously? Why didn't I know about this?”
Joyce gave him an arch look. “I know she emailed you, Jack. Don't you check your account?”
Chagrined, Jack frowned, then shook his head. “Not often enough. I'll need to make a point of checking it a lot more frequently. You ready to leave?”
Joyce sighed. “I need to get back to it. And you need to get that book...”
“Joyce, really, you shouldn't have,” Jack repeated as he took another bite of the delicious cobbler liberally covered with ice cream.
Joyce smiled at Jack. He really was a good looking man, she thought. Standing there, wearing Dockers and a leather jacket over a flannel shirt, he was a treat for her eyes. His shock of salt-n-pepper hair made him look quite distinguished. He had plenty of laugh lines around his eyes from smiling, which was even more attractive. Best of all, he had a great butt, Joyce thought, having taken the time to study it in depth as he leaned over the counter and ate his cobbler.
“It wasn't any problem. I had lots leftover after making a giant one of these for Buffy.”
“She's a very lucky young woman.”
Joyce nodded. “I agree.” Jack looked momentarily puzzled, then continued eating. Joyce wasn't going to tell him that she had meant that Buffy was lucky to have a man like Jack take an interest in her. He'd probably figure it out eventually. He was an intelligent man under his humor...
Buffy looked up from where she was doing the finishing touches on her report, “The Fall of the Incan Empire: How the Spanish Were Able to Divide and Conquer.” Connie stood in the door, looking sleek and fit. Jumping up, Buffy squealed, “Connie! You're back.”
“Damn skippy! It's good to be back, too. I missed you. And the Zoo.”
“Pull the other one.” Buffy eyed Connie skeptically, then spoiled it by laughing. The two smiling girls hugged. “So, what did you do? Did you spend the entire time in Miami? Were there boys? How was the ocean? Was it warm?”
“Lots. Yep. Definitely. Very swimmable. Yep.” Connie rattled off answers to all of Buffy's questions with a smile.
Buffy sighed and sat down. Pouting, she complained, “You're so lucky. I was here the entire time. And it was cold. Freezing.” Dramatically, she shivered to illustrate her point.
Callously, Connie said, “Too bad.” Ignoring Buffy's sputtering, she sat down. “So what did you get for Christmas?”
Buffy's eyes gleamed. “Victoria's Secret.” Proudly, she pushed out her chest, which was a bit more emphasized by what she wore underneath under tank top.
Now it was Connie's turn to pout. “Daaamnn, girl. That's sweet. How many?”
“Ten bras and twenty pairs of panties.”
Connie's eyes bugged out. “Jesus. Your mom must love you. That's pricey.”
Buffy laughed. “She told me that she had a very good year at her shop.”
“What else did you get?”
Buffy picked up her camera from her desk and took Connie's picture. She looked surprised in the little LCD screen. “One digital camera.” Buffy then turned and cleared some junk off of her desk. “One laser printer. No more sharing the squadron printer.”
Connie whistled. “Sweet!”
“Let's see, what else? Mom got me three pairs of Nikes, five pairs of running shorts, and a pair of Concoran Boots.”
Connie looked stunned. “The ones with that you only need to shine every three months and even then it only takes twenty minutes?”
Buffy nodded solemnly. “Those very ones.”
Connie sighed. “You're so lucky, Cali.”
Buffy looked at her friend. “Didn't you get some good loot, too?”
“Not bad, but nothing like that. However, I did get this.” Connie pulled out a case from which she produced a guitar. “Sweet, huh?”
Buffy stared. “Wow, I didn't know you played.”
Connie laughed. “I'm not great, but I do all right. It's something to do when you have time on your hands...”
Both girls finished together: “A whole five minutes a day!”
Buffy laughed and urged Connie to play. Watching her friend get out her guitar, Buffy decided that it was a good day, even if classes started tomorrow...
Jack sat down and leaned back in his seat. He had finally tackled his backlog of emails, finding the email from Summers in there amongst the chaff. That almost encouraged him to start on his backlog of reports. Almost. He was just contemplating heading over to bug Carter when the door to his office flew open.
“Jack! This is amazing!” Daniel stood in the doorway, carefully clutching the book that Jack had retrieved for him the other day. From looking at him, Jack decided that he hadn't slept since receiving the book more than seventy-two hours ago. An impossibility. Then again, Jack thought, getting a whiff of him, maybe not. Behind Daniel, Jack saw Carter standing patiently. Apparently he hadn't been the only person pulled away from their work by Daniel. Jack ignored the stray thought telling him that he hadn't planned to do anymore work that day anyway.
“Hey, Carter. What's amazing, Daniel?” Jack asked, impatient.
“This book. Pax Romana
. Did you know it's a thirteenth century copy of the work? It's the oldest extant copy I've ever heard of.”
Jack frowned. “So it's old, big deal.”
From behind Daniel, Carter cleared her throat. As the two men looked at her, she pointed out, “That means, sir, that the book is about eight hundred years old.
Jacked nodded. That was pretty old. Still... “So what?”
Daniel shook his head. “Don't you get it, Jack? It's in Latin! Classical Latin! How does a eighteen-year-old girl get her hands on a book like this? It's priceless. How does she read Classical Latin? I read it, but only because I had to learn it in order to do archaeological work on sites from that era.”
Jack was getting a bad feeling. “How should I know? It's Summers' book. Ask her.”
Daniel looked feverish. “That's exactly what I intend to do. When did you say you were meeting Cadet Summers again?”
Jack groaned. Carter was giving him a sympathetic look, but he could tell she agreed with Daniel. She wanted to know. “None of your business.”
“Jack! Sam got to meet her! Why can't I?”
“Because.” Jack knew he sounded childish, but he didn't care. He didn't want to drag Summers around for the appraisal and approval of his team.
“Sir, if I may make a suggestion?” Carter asked, her voice calm.
Jack eyed her with dislike. “I don't want to hear it, Carter. So just keep your oh so reasonable suggestion to yourself.”
“Like I did in General Kerrigan's office?” Carter innocently met Jack's eyes.
Damn! Hoisted on his own petard. Jack grunted. “Fine, make your suggestion.”
“Why don't you have her over the week after next on Sunday. We can have a cook out and everyone can meet her. I know Teal'c's very curious about her as well.”
“Teal'c is?” He was? Jack contemplated Carter's suggestion. As always, it was exactly what he should do. Sighing, he acquiesced. “Fine. That's fine. I'll do it. Now, take Daniel home and don't let him back onto the base until tomorrow.” He ignored Daniel's jubilant, “Yes!”
Carter looked unhappy. “Actually, sir, I was working on...”
Jack gave her a fierce stare. “I don't care. Do it. That's an order.”
With a last unhappy look, Carter grabbed Daniel and led him out of Jack's office. Moodily, Jack watched her go and thought about what he was going to tell Summers. I guess that BBQ is going to come a few weeks early, he thought absently...
Buffy focused on being absolutely still as she stood at attention while her room was checked. It was SAMI time again. Thank God the room was immaculate. The last thing she wanted was to get in trouble and not be able to go to Colonel O'Neill's BBQ tomorrow. The two of them weren't meeting tonight for dinner. Instead, they were meeting tomorrow for a BBQ, one in which she would meet some of the Colonel's friends as well. Buffy still remembered the conversation:
“Cadet Summers, we won't be having dinner tomorrow night after all. Instead, we'll meet on Sunday at my house. I'm having a BBQ. Don't worry, there'll be plenty of food.”
Buffy could hear his smile even over the phone. “Yes, sir.”
“I'm sending Major Carter to pick you up. She volunteered since I was going to be busy grilling.”
“No problem, sir. What time should I be ready?”
“Be waiting for Carter at 1000 hours at our usual spot.”
“Sir, will there be any one else there?”
“Definitely. You'll get to meet a few of my friends, Summers. Don't worry. It's going to be fun. Oh, and don't wear your uniform. Wear some Air Force sweats. Be comfortable. Got it?”
“Cadet Summers! Cadet Perez! Your room is acceptable. Wait here at attention for the next inspection team.”
Great, Buffy thought, she had at least one more inspection. She tried to remember if there was any scuttlebutt about a visiting dignitary that needed to be shown around, including inspecting cadet rooms. Buffy couldn't remember any. Well, them's the breaks...
Sam pulled into the lot by the Visitor's Center. She spotted Cadet Summers standing near the steps up from the sidewalk. Even in her sweats and jacket, she must be freezing. Sam quickly pulled around and the girl jumped in.
“Thank you for the ride, ma'am.”
“You're welcome, Cadet.” Sam smiled at the girl. “Your first name is Buffy, isn't it?”
Curious, Sam asked, “Is that short for Elizabeth?” It seemed an odd diminutive, but Sam had heard it once before.
Buffy blushed. “No, ma'am. My parents named me Buffy as my official name. They are from California, ma'am.”
“Thus the nickname?”
Buffy smiled. “Yes, ma'am.”
“Do you mind if I call you Cali?”
“That would be fine, ma'am.”
Sam smiled. She still liked the girl. She had a great deal of poise for a young woman her age. There was the faintest shadow in her eyes, but that didn't surprise Sam. Anyone who had witnessed something as horrific as all of her classmates being blown to pieces would show some vestiges of it.
“Ma'am, may I ask a question.”
“Who else is going to be at the BBQ, ma'am, besides the Colonel, yourself, and me?”
Sam spoke in a reassuring tone of voice, “Just two other people. Dr. Daniel Jackson and Murray Simmonds.”
“Thank you, ma'am.”
Sam continued making small talk. By the end of the ride, she knew Cali's favorite color, pink. The pig's name was Mr. Gordo. Cali's mother's name was Joyce. She was looking forward to taking both Jump school and Glide school this summer, but only if Colonel O'Neill couldn't get her into the Airborne School in Fort Benning, Georgia. Sam was more than a little astonished by that one. She hadn't even suspected that Jack was working on pulling strings for Cali.
They soon pulled up to Jack's house. Both of them quickly got out and moved towards the house. Sam opened the door and ushered Cali inside...
Buffy stepped into Colonel O'Neill's house. The inside was surprisingly homey, all wood and warm colors. She liked it a great deal. She hadn't made it ten feet inside, when the Colonel appeared, wearing a pair of khakis and a warm flannel shirt. “Welcome, ladies. Come into my humble abode.” He passed Major Carter a beer. “What are you drinking, Summers?”
“Ice tea would be fine, sir.”
“Come into the kitchen and I'll pour you a tall one.”
He was as good as his word, filling a glass so large it could have doubled for a pitcher. Buffy could barely hold it with one hand, it was so large. She took a deep swallow of the sweetened concoction, liberally flavored with lemon. “Thank you, sir. That's excellent.”
“Now you get to meet the other guests.” With that, the Colonel ushered her into the another room, that obviously doubled as a game room. A large pool table dominated the room and two men were playing. One looked like a younger, cuter version of Giles, even to the wire rimmed glasses. His eyes shown with good humor and intelligence. The other was a huge black man who looked like he could shrug off an anti-tank round. Oddly, he was wearing a large Stetson hat, pushed low on his head.
“Daniel Jackson, you are indeed skilled. You have defeated me this day.”
Jack interjected, “Hey kids, our other guests are here. Daniel, Murray, this is Cadet Buffy Summers. You can call her Cali for short.”
Murray stepped forward and bowed. “I am honored to meet you Buffy Summers. O'Neill has told me of your battle prowess. Defeating so large an opponent was truly worthy.”
Buffy stifled an urge to curtsy. Murray made her feel odd. “Umm, thanks, umm, Murray.”
Daniel smiled and held out his hand for a shake. Then he said, “It's nice to meet you, Cali. I admit, I've been dying to meet you ever since Jack gave me your paper to read. Thank you so much for allowing me to read the book you used. Pax Romana
is a fascinating work.”
“You're welcome, sir.”
He smiled. “You can call me Daniel, Cali. I'm not an officer.”
Buffy took another deep drink of ice tea.
“So how long have you been reading Classical Latin, Cali?”
Buffy almost spit out her ice tea at Daniel's question. Swallowing, she thought quickly. “I'm not that great at it, sir, but with the dictionary I have, it wasn't that bad.”
“Still, it's quite an accomplishment. Who was your teacher?”
“Our school librarian, Mr. Giles, taught us to read some Classical Latin, as well as a little Sumerian and some Ancient Greek.” Buffy could tell that her simple statement had caused quite a reaction with the others in the room. Well at least with Daniel and Major Carter. Murray was so impassive it made it hard to figure out what he was thinking. The Colonel just looked bored.
“Dannyboy, this wasn't why I brought Summers here. No more grilling unless it's a pork sausage, got it?”
“I'm just trying to find out more about her, Jack. Do you mind my questions, Cali?”
“Bah. Come with me, Summers. We'll leave the eggheads here. Murray, you hungry?”
Together they walked back into the kitchen. Jack started dragging amazingly fragrant food out of the oven that he had obviously grilled earlier. Then he pulled a huge bowl of potato salad out of the refrigerator. Finally, he pulled out a platter of hot rolls out of the warming pan at the bottom of the oven.
Jack grinned at the expression on Summers' face as she smelled everything he'd cooked. Or grilled rather. She nearly moaned, then looked embarrassed. “It's okay to salivate, Summers, so long as you don't drool. That wouldn't be considered polite.”
Jack grabbed a plate and started loading it, starting with a huge mound of potato salad. Then he put on a quarter of a grilled chicken and three large sausage links. Looking at it thoughtfully, he added six rolls. Then he doused the entire thing with BBQ sauce. There, that was about right.
“Good guy, Jack, are you going to eat that much?” Daniel had followed them into the kitchen and was looking surprised at what Jack had loaded up.
Jack shook his head. “Nope, she is.” He handed the plate to a surprised Summers.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don't thank me, Summers. Eat it. You're still too skinny.” Jack grinned at her flustered expression. “Take it over to the dining room, Summers. Through those doors. Don't forget your tea.”
“Yes, sir. I won't, sir.” With a grin, she disappeared into the dining room.
Jack grabbed another plate and loaded it up for himself, taking about half of what he'd loaded up Summers with. “Load up, everybody, before Summers and I eat it all.”
Everyone else grabbed a plate and started putting food on. Jack headed into the dining room. Summers was already seated and had eaten two of the sausages he'd piled her plate with.
“How is everything?”
She visibly swallowed what she had. “Excellent, sir.”
“Good.” They ate companionably in silence. After a couple of minutes, Sam and the others filed in. Teal'c carried two plates, both loaded as full as Summers'. Jack saw her glance at Teal'c, then do a double-take, obviously surprised at his appetite. Jack almost smiled at her. Like she wasn't going back at least once and possibly twice for more.
Daniel itched to talk to Cali, but one glance at Jack dissuaded him. He had a look on his face that said, 'don't push it.' Instead, Daniel focused on making small talk. He also watched Cali eat. She seemed determined to match Teal'c bite for bite. Neither spoke much and both cleared their first plate about the same time. Except Cali had to get up to get seconds. With a quick “Excuse me, sir.” she got up and crossed with her plate back into the kitchen.
She was gone nearly five minutes and when she came back, she had her plate piled with four sausages, two chicken breasts, and another large helping of potato salad. She'd also refilled her glass of tea.
Teal'c finished his second plate about the same time that Cali finished hers. Daniel felt like scratching his head. He couldn't swear but he thought that Cali had actually eaten more than than Teal'c. Then they both surprised him by heading into the kitchen for more...
Teal'c walked in ahead of the Tau'ri female. He selected additional meats, then more of the 'spicy potato salad' that O'Neill had made. It was excellent. The amount he now had should fill him completely.
He commented as he watch Buffy Summers fill her plate a third time, “For someone so small, you have a tremendous appetite, Buffy Summers.”
“Thanks, I think?”
Teal'c had watched her carefully. He had seen what O'Neill had meant when he told Teal'c about just how skilled a warrior she was. Buffy Summers moved so lightly it was as if she barely even touched the ground. It was quite impressive. Teal'c wished he could see her in battle or perhaps spar with her himself. He would be careful not to injure her if O'Neill allowed them to spar.
Buffy Summers had finished filling her plate with a serving far larger than Teal'c's. Then she did something surprising. She seemed to feel the weight of his gaze. She turned her head and for just a moment, Teal'c met her return gaze. There was something supremely dangerous in the eyes he stared into. Teal'c decided that he had never before met so fierce a gaze, not even with Master Bra'tac. Then her eyelids dropped, veiling her gaze, and she headed back into the other room. Thoughtfully, Teal'c considered what O'Neill had told him about Buffy Summers...
Shit! Shit! Shit! Buffy silently cursed as she headed back into the dining room. She'd just given herself away. In a major way, no less. Damn Murray or whatever his name was. He'd freaked her out and she'd lost it.
Buffy had been minding her business filling her plate when she gotten an odd feeling. Looking up, she'd met Murray's eyes. There was a familiar look in them, one that Buffy had seen in the eyes of far too many demons since she'd become the Slayer. It was a look of challenge, one that asked, “Can I take you?”
Without thinking, Buffy had responded to the challenge the same way she'd responded to so many before, with a gaze that allowed the Slayer to peek out. He'd only gotten a glimpse of her darkness, but Buffy'd seen Murray's look sharpen. He hadn't been the least bit intimidated, which surprised Buffy. But then he was one of the largest... men that Buffy had ever seen. There was still something off about him. He made her uneasy, now more than ever.
She quickly sat down and finished her plate, ignoring Murray when he sat down a moment later. She wasn't going to let her conflicted feelings interfere with the best BBQ she'd ever eaten. Buffy listened to the easy chatter going on around her as she ate. She decided not to go back for any more since she was very full. When she'd gone back for her second plate, Buffy had stayed in the kitchen for a few minutes and eaten five sausage links on the spot. They were just so darn spicy and good!
“Summers, you have any room for desert?”
Buffy quickly looked up as Colonel O'Neill spoke to her. “Yes, sir.”
He smirked. “I thought so. I'll be right back.”
Buffy decided that she didn't like the way that Daniel was eyeing her after Colonel O'Neill left. he smiled and asked, “So, Buffy, how did you get your hands on an eight-hundred-year old book?”
Buffy smiled and told the truth. “It belonged to our school librarian, Mr. Giles. He loved old books, the older the better. He wanted me to have some of his collection. I have that one and a few more.”
Daniel looked avaricious. “Do you think that I could get a chance to read those, as well?”
Colonel O'Neill showed up at that moment carrying a large cake with nineteen candles. “What did I say, Daniel? No bugging my smack. Now let her blow out her candles.”
Buffy stared at him in shock. The Colonel smiled. “What can I say? Joyce mentioned your birthday is on Wednesday, so I figured we might as well have an impromptu party. Just don't expect me to sing.” He paused a moment, then frowned. “What are you waiting for? Blow them out, Summers.”
Obediently, Buffy blew out the candles, getting them all. The Colonel disappeared for a second, but almost immediately was back. With ice cream and a knife. Colonel O'Neill set a bowl of ice cream in front of everyone. The largest went in front of Buffy. She stared into the bowl, then back up at Colonel O'Neill. “Sir, is this...”
“Mint Chocolate Chip. Joyce told me it's your favorite. No biggie, Summers. I like it, too. Dig in, while I cut the cake.”
“Yes, sir.” Buffy didn't need to be told twice. She finished the bowl in record time, then started on the huge slice of cake that the Colonel set in front of her. It was Chocolate with cream cheese icing. It was delicious. After she was finished, Buffy took a quick look around. Everyone was still eating, even Murray. With a quick “'scuse me,” she headed back into the kitchen. Listening to make sure no one was behind her, Buffy walked over and quickly devoured three more sausages in record time. Oooohh, that's good, she thought. She was beyond completely full. Buffy rinsed her bowl and plate and placed them in the empty dishwasher.
Seeing the mess around her, Buffy started cleaning up. She'd just gotten the counter cleared and all of the food put away into the refrigerator, when Colonel O'Neill walked in.
“Good God, Summers. Stop before you make me feel guilty. You're the birthday girl here. Birthday girls sit on their butts and relax. They don't do the dishes.”
“Sir, my mother...”
“Summers, I'm sure Joyce is a wonderful woman, but listen to me on this. Now march back into the dining room. I want to see that new report of yours.”
“Yes, sir.” Buffy quickly washed her hands and hurried back into the dining room. She got her paper out of her backpack and started to hand it to the Colonel.
He shook his head and said, “Why don't you read the abstract to us, Summers? That'll give you a chance to work on your public speaking skills.”
What! Buffy stared at him for a moment, knowing she wore a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face. Quickly composing herself, Buffy opened her paper to the appropriate spot and began to read...