Sorry about the long hiatus, folks. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed. I am truly thankful for you all. I'll do my best to update this and other stories as I can. Still busy with the restaurant, but I am writing a bit as I can squeeze out the time. Now, onto the story!
Connie raced through the dank sewers towards the sounds of fighting. The dull thuds and explosive grunts grew louder. Connie could see a reddish tinge to the only light there, almost as if the air itself were bleeding. Splashing through foul smelling things better left unnamed, she raced on. Emerging into a larger room Connie saw her roommate, Cali Summers, fighting three vampires, somehow keeping them all at bay, but her defenses seemed to be wavering. Starting forward, Connie knew she had to help her friend.
Then the worst happened. Just as Connie prepared to launch herself into the fray, a vampire managed to sweep Cali's legs, making her fall squarely on her back with a muffled, “Ooomph!” All three vampires descended upon Cali instantly, fangs flashing as they buried them in whatever part of the girl that was nearest. Screaming like a banshee, Connie ran towards the group. Then she stopped, paralyzed in horror, as one of the vampires slowly rolled off her roommate to expose Cali's dead, staring eyes. He turned his cruel, hungry eyes towards Connie, who stood there in apathy as her death watched from a few feet away. Connie never stopped staring into the still eyes of her friend even when the fangs broke the skin at her throat and she began to die...
Connie awoke with a start, aware of her heart pounding in her chest, the fear thick in her mouth like taffy, making it almost impossible to breath. She'd had the dream again. It was always the same. Oh, it was always something different that killed her, but in every dream, Cali died. She fought against impossible odds, while Connie struggled to find a way to help her. Then Cali slipped or fell, while whatever was battling her, killed her, in various horrible ways. Cali was left ripped and torn and bleeding her life away. Afterwards, Connie often died, knowing she had failed her friend. Worse, sometimes she lived, knowing the same thing.
Sitting up in bed, Connie stared at the other bunk where Cali slept. She wondered why she had been so eager to know Cali's secret. It had been a blissful ignorance, being unaware of the secret war being fought for humanity by a small group of heroes. Now, her heart felt encased in ice, as Eve's knowledge destroyed her innocence. Connie would never again be able to see the night as harmless. Not knowing what hid in it; fed within its protective embrace.
She swung her legs out over the edge of her bunk and got up. On silent feet, Connie walked over to Cali's bunk and stared down at the sleeping girl. Then she leaped back as Cali's eyes opened and she sat up. Cali said, “We have to talk.”
Buffy stared at her friend as she switched on the light. She noted the way that Connie blinked rapidly to adjust to the sudden illumination. From the way she stared, then looked down, Buffy figured that Connie, in turn, had noticed the way Buffy's own eyes didn't even blink as they instantly adjusted to the changing light level, yet another perk of being the Slayer. It would be nice if another perk of the Slayer was being able to read minds, because Buffy didn't have the slightest idea what to say to her roommate. Finally, she patted the bed next to her and said, “Want to talk about it?”
Connie slowly sat, keeping a careful three feet between them. They sat in uncomfortable silence a moment before she carefully asked, “Talk about what?”
Buffy decided to be blunt. “Your nightmares.”
Connie gave her a sharp look before looking away into space. “What nightmares?”
“The ones that have woken me up every night for the past week. Connie...”
“I don't want to talk about it.”
Connie looked challengingly at Buffy, who started to reply, then stopped. Finally, after a long uncomfortable silence, Buffy said, “I'm sorry.”
Connie sighed, long and hard. Softly, she said, “You don't have to be sorry, Cali. I'm the one who wanted to know, always prodding and prying. You didn't make me do anything.”
Buffy shook her head in denial. “Maybe, but I could have held out. It was just so... lonely to not have anyone know what I am. To talk to about it.”
Connie stared at her. “Don't you mean who you are?”
Buffy stared back, unable to formulate a reply. She had thought she'd come to terms with being the Slayer and for the most part, she had. But some times she still felt like a freak. Times like now.
“You're not a freak.” Connie smiled at Cali's look. “That's what you meant, right? And you're not some thing. You're a person. A good person. And my friend.”
Buffy tried to keep her tone neutral as she replied, “Yet I'm the reason you're having nightmares.”
Connie nodded. “You're right. You are the reason I'm having nightmares.”
Buffy felt a coldness inside herself at Connie's words. She'd done this, exposed another person to her world. It was at least as bad as when she'd dragged Willow and Xander into her world three years ago. Probably worse, since they'd at least had some inkling that something was really wrong with Sunnydale. She needed to make amends. “Maybe you should request another roommate. That might be the best...”
“Cali, you're an idiot.”
Connie watched the bleakness in Cali's eyes be replaced with surprise at her bald statement. She clarified, “I'm not having nightmares about me. I'm having nightmares about you.”
Cali shook her head. “All the more reasons for me to move out if you're scared of me...”
Connie interrupted, “Can you shut it for a second and let me finish?” She waited a beat, then continued, “I'm not having nightmares about you because I'm afraid of you. I mean, I admit that finding out you're as strong as any ten of the guys here was a little weird, but I'm about as afraid of you as I am at Bambi.”
Connie smothered a grin at Cali's offended look. She held up a finger in admonishment as Cali started to speak, then as Cali subsided, continued, “I'm not afraid of you, Cali. I'm afraid for you.”
Puzzled, Cali asked, “What do you mean?”
Connie deliberately kept her tone even as she explained, “My nightmares have been about you dying. You're the star in them, not me. You keep getting killed by various horrible things and I can't save you. I'm not even a help to you. That's what been keeping me up at night.”
Cali looked, by turns, surprised and touched. “You shouldn't worry about me. I'm tougher than I look.” She looked deep into Connie's eyes as she said it, as if trying to convince her by force of will.
Again, Connie felt the force of Cali's personality. It was as if she had her own gravity field, the way she could sway a person with a few words and a glance. Still, she wasn't convinced. Trying to find a way to put her feelings into words, Connie softly said, “I can't help worrying about you. I really care about you and it scares me to think about the things you fight. Or used to fight.”
Cali reached up and touched Connie's face, her eyes gentle. “Hey, it's okay. I won't try to tell you I'm invincible, but I have been kicking Evil's ass for the last four years. It's been Buffy... well, a lot, Big Bads, zero.”
Connie was extremely aware of the warmth of Cali's hand, now cradling her jaw. She felt disappointed as Cali released her hold and let her hand fall to her side. Not wanting to examine those
feelings, she teasingly asked, “Big Bads?”
Cali grinned. “That's what the Scooby Gang called all of the various wanna-be world-enders that seemed to pop up every few months. Usually, I made with the Slayage, it was over, and then after a while the next one would pop up. It was a thing.”
Connie grinned. Listening to Cali talk was always fun, but especially so when she forgot to edit her Valley-speak. “What kind of creatures were these 'Big Bads?'”
Cali looked thoughtful for second, then said, “They ranged from the Mayor, who wanted to turn into a big snake to the Master, this really old vamp.”
“A big snake? That's it?” Connie started to giggle at the thought of a guy wanting to be a snake. Of course, since he was a politician, he was probably most of the way there already.
Cali hedged, “Well... he was actually trying to become this ancient demon who was like, 150 feet long, but he looked like a snake.”
Connie stared, her jaw dropping. “A hundred and fifty feet long? What did you kill him with, a rocket launcher?”
Cali shook her head. “Nah, we used that on the Judge. I don't think it would have even scratched the Mayor. No, to kill him, we blew up the entire high school after I lured him inside.” Her look grew sad, then she shook it off. Then Cali looked up over at Connie, apparently finally seeing the stunned look in her roommate's eyes. “You okay?”
Connie swallowed. “Uh, yeah, I'm okay. Of course, now instead of having nightmares about Freddy Krueger or the Creature from the Black Lagoon killing you, I'll dream about giant demon-snakes, or something that needs to be killed with a rocket launcher, doing it.” Connie paused, and looked over at her alarm clock. “Shit! I have to be up in like three hours! I'm going back to sleep.”
Leaping up, Connie ran and jumped into her bed. She buried her head into her pillow. After a moment, Cali's light went out. Then it went back on. Plaintively, Cali asked, “You've really been dreaming about the Creature from the Black Lagoon killing me? I mean, seriously? 'Cause I could take him easily. Connie? Connie, you still awake? Connie...”
Jack sat across from the second name on his list, one Randolph Pierson. His first interview, with a cadet named Andrew Greeley, had been an unqualified disaster. Staring up at the senior cadet standing at rigid attention in front of him, Jack kept the bored look intact on his face. At least this one doesn't look like a complete dweeb, he decided, liking the cadet's clean-cut looks. It also didn't hurt that Pierson was into martial arts or that Cali had said something positive about him in a random aside during one of their dinners together.
Finally, after another three minutes had passed, Jack decided he had sweated the kid long enough. “Be seated, Cadet Pierson.”
“Thank you, sir!”
Pierson quickly sat in the chair across the desk from Jack, looking back at him with intelligent eyes. Mmmm, Jack thought, let's see how well he takes the pressure. “Cadet, I understand that we have a mutual acquaintance.”
Cautiously, Pierson asked, “A mutual acquaintance, sir?”
Jack smiled a shark's grin as he homed in. “Yes. One named Cali Summers. Ring any bells?”
“Cadet Pierson, exactly what is the nature of your relationship with Cadet Summers?” Gotcha, Jack thought, as the first signs of panic appeared in the eyes of the young man across from him. That's what you get for hanging around my smack.
“Hey, Westerman! Wait up!”
Ed Westerman turned around at the shout, eyes narrowing at the sight of Senior Cadet Jerry Street hurrying towards him. Street was a bit of an ass and not exactly his favorite person to be around. Still, to be polite, Ed stood in place, waiting.
“What's up, Street?” Ed kept his expression neutral to mask any hint of his feelings towards the other.
A broad grin spread across Street's face as he replied, “I wanted to talk to you about that little smack you've been seeing.”
Mystified, Ed asked, “What smack? What the hell are you talking about?”
Street gave him a 'Yeah, right' look and said, “Look, I know you don't want to lose a good thing and since she's a smack, you have to keep it on the QT, but I wanted to know if I could have her number for when you're done with her. I mean, compared to most of the girls at the Zoo, she's pretty much a goddess. I really dig that tight little body and those green eyes.”
Ed felt his face redden as he finally figured out who Street was referring to. Based on the description, it could only be Summers. In a strained tone, he replied, “I'm not seeing Cadet Summers. Go bother someone else with your BS, Street.”
An ugly expression appeared on Street's face. “Asshole. What the fuck's the matter with you, Westerman? You think your going to keep a sweet piece like that to yourself? Hell, you're out of here in May same as me, so why not share? From what I hear, Summers is one sweet ride...”
Ed grabbed the smaller man by the neck and shoved him against the nearest wall. Ignoring Street's ineffective attempts to break loose, he leaned in close enough to see the scared look in the other's eyes. “Listen to me carefully, fuck up, cause I won't be repeating it. If I hear you spreading any of your filthy rumors about Cadet Summers, I'll have you brought up on charges. Even if you beat it, no one's going to want a dumbshit like you under their command. No more flying. You'll be lucky to get assigned to base maintenance. That is, if I don't go tell Summers' sponsor, Colonel O'Neill, what you're saying. Oh, you didn't know he was her sponsor? Too bad. He'll probably have you killed. Now shut the fuck up and don't cross me again. Or else. Got me?”
Street's face, which had whitened during Ed's diatribe, grew positively ghostly at the mention of Jack O'Neill. There were too many rumors about the man, including that he was still deeply involved in Black Ops and had friends in high places, to be able to ignore a threat like that. Staring down at Street, Ed gave him an unpleasant smile, then pushed him away.
Almost falling, Street stumbled away as if being chased by the hounds of Hell. Fucking coward, Ed thought derisively, as he watched Street flee. Then a nasty smile appeared on his face as he decided what to do about the assholes from whom the rumors about him and Summers had to have originated.
Ed hadn't been so out of it that he was unaware that something had been said by Jacobs and Murphy, the two cadets living across the hall from him when they had seen Summers helping him to his room. If nothing else, the way she had stiffened as she half-carried him into his room would have been evidence enough. She'd even avoided looking him in the eye as she'd left, most unlike her.
Ed was a little foggy on what had happened with the girl he'd picked up, but he figured that he owed Summers one. Maybe a big one. Being who he was, he would never pay back a favor by giving her special treatment. Hell, he'd be the first in line cheering if they booted her ass out of there. Any smack who couldn't take it needed to be gone. But he hated owing anyone, anything, so he figured that if he caused the other two cadets some misery coupled with a little public humiliation, he could call it even.
Of course to do so, Ed needed to figure out exactly what to do. Then it hit him, the perfect solution. And to top it off, Summers would be the instrument of his revenge, allowing her to see that he didn't owe her jack anymore. Yes, Ed decided thoughtfully as he slowly began to walk again while working out the details, that would work just fine.
Ed hammered on Summers' door hard. It was time to get this over with, even if it was nearly 2100 hours. There was a long pause, and he was about to knock again, when Summers' roommate, Conchita Perez, opened the door. She took one look at his expression, stepped back, and barked, “Atten-HUT!” She snapped so rigidly to attention that her braless breasts bounced inside of her t-shirt.
Ed kept his amusement off his face as the other figure in the room leap to her feet and also went to rigid attention. Idly, he critiqued her form and decided that she at least looked
Air Force. For a smack. He also noticed the way Summers' warm-up bottoms hugged her ass, but instantly dismissed that thought just as he'd done with Perez's boobs. Ed was here to deal with an unpalatable situation, not to ogle a couple of female smacks.
“At ease, Cadets,” Ed stated, waiting as both girls went to rest position. He stepped forward into the room, absently noting its neatness. “Summers, I need to talk to you.” Ed waited a moment, and when Perez didn't appear to be leaving, continued, “Alone.” He watched the other girl's eyes widen in acknowledgment and she immediately walked to her desk, threw some books in her smack bag, grabbed her coat, and left. Ed glanced back as the door closed behind her.
Turning back towards the interior of the room, Ed met Summers' eyes. They bore a wary expression, although her face gave nothing away. Ed stepped forward until he was right in front her. Damn, she was short, he thought, noting that he was over a foot taller than her. It didn't help that she wasn't wearing shoes, instead only white socks covered her feet. It was the first time he had noticed just how short she was, probably because she was usually so confident that she appeared taller than she actually was. Out of uniform, Summers also looked extremely cute, an idea he found more than a little disturbing. Enough of this, Ed thought, time to get down to business.
“You know why I'm here,” he stated bluntly, then awaited her reply.
“Sir, no, sir!”
Ed sighed. “Cut the bull, Summers. We're not out on the Quad so you don't need to 'by the book' me. I know what happened the other night, so you don't need to try to act all innocent.” There, he thought, that should get his message across.
Summers stared up at Ed, her expression blank. “Umm, si... Cadet Westerman, I...” She stopped, then with a small head shake stated strongly, “Sir, I do not have the faintest idea what you're trying to say unless you're threatening me to stay quiet about the other night.”
It was starting to occur to Ed that maybe she really didn't understand what he was trying to say. He decided to try again. “Don't be stupid. Look, Summers, I owe you from the other night. What happened with that other... cadet. Do you understand me now?”
She looked doubtful. “Sir, I think so. Do you mean when the other evening—”
Ed interrupted her. “Let's not go into details.” He still didn't know exactly what happened, but something
bit him and the last thing he wanted to find out was that it was the hot girl he'd been making out with. That was just too creepy. “But I do owe you, so I'm here to pay you back.”
Summers gave Ed a cool glance, then quietly said, “Sir, I'm not sure what you're suggesting, but I don't need any help here—”
Ed exploded, “And I'm not offering you any. Like I would lift a finger to help you make it here. You live or die by your own merits, Summers. That's it.” Ed started to run a hand through his hair, then stopped, reluctant to show his agitation. Taking a deep breath, he finished with, “No, what I'm suggesting is involving those two asses who said something when you were helping me to my room.”
For a moment, Ed could have sworn Summers was ready to kill someone; she looked that angry, but then her expression disappeared behind a mask. “I don't know what you mean, sir.”
“Yes, you do. What did they say? Something about you being a slut? Trying to sleep with every senior cadet? We can stand here all night, but you're going to tell me.” Ed studied the mutinous expression on her face, his own a calm mask. You can't out-stubborn me, Summers, he thought with satisfaction. After a moment, his persistence paid off.
“They said I should be nicknamed Thirstie for all of the Firstie I'd been doing.”
Ed felt his mouth form a reluctant grin. At her angry look, he shrugged. “What? It's actually pretty funny. Still, I'm not going to let some fucktard from another squadron dis my smack.”
Summers looked away for a moment, but not before Ed saw the hurt look in her eyes. He decided to have the 'Talk' with her. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he turned her back towards him. Staring straight into her eyes, he said, “Look at me, Summers. I'm just going to say this once. And if you repeat it back to anyone, I'll deny it. You're going to make a good officer. You have all of the basics down. Everyone in your class respects you. You're a natural leader. You work your ass off. But one thing you need to stop doing is this: Stop being a fucking girl.” Ed paused a moment to see if what he was saying was sinking in.
Summers looked by parts pissed off, flattered, and confused, so he continued, “What I mean is, no one cares that you busted that cheating scandal. At least no one who matters.” He shook his head as she started to speak. “Don't worry how I found out. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, the ones that got expelled can jump out of a C-130 without chutes. Now, something I heard over the vine doesn't sit well and that's you sleeping with Sheridan to get the evidence to bust him. That's not how an officer behaves. You should have found another way. Stop.” This last Ed said because Summers looked ready to defend herself with something he could give a damn about hearing.
Ed paused a moment to collect his thoughts, then continued, “I don't want to hear it. There's always another way. One within the code of conduct of an officer. Stop wiggling your ass to get your way and you'll be an asset to the Air Force. And be careful of your relationship with Pierson. No one's going to turn a blind eye to that after the shitstorm that you stirred up. They catch you sleeping with him and you're out, Colonel O'Neill or no Colonel O'Neill. That's all I have to say about that.” Ed stepped back, bothered by his awareness of just how attractive Cali Summers was. Be an adult, he told himself angrily, and get your head on straight.
Buffy was by turns incredibly mad, extremely flattered, and absolutely surprised. The last thing she'd expected from her Squadron Commander was a compliment, even one as backhanded as the one he'd given. That it had come with a lecture was less surprising. That he was at least partially right was the part that actually made her maddest. That he knew about her being the source of the cheating scandal shocked her. And it was none of his damn business what her relationship was with Gator!
Still, a little voice in the back of her mind sounded off, he's trying to look out for you. And he was. In his usual domineering, don't-give-a-damn-about-social-graces way, he was trying to look out for her. And he did think she was a good potential officer, which made her smile on the inside. Buffy gave herself a mental shake. Time to get back to the subject.
“Sir, thanks for your feedback. Why are you here?” There, she thought gleefully, that should be blunt enough for even Ed Westerman.
Apparently it was because he immediately explained. “I owe you for the other night. And no, I don't want an explanation. Anyway, since I'm not going to help you with your career here at the Zoo, I had to figure out another way to pay you back. And I think I've found it. Those two knuckleheads from the other night? How'd you like to make them pay for what they said about you? Interested? Okay, we're going to nuke them. Or rather you're going to.” He stopped for a moment, reading her face.
Buffy tried to keep her face expressionless, but apparently he perceived her doubts. “Yeah, I know. It's just a nuking. We've all had them. But there's nukings and then there's nukings
, if you know what I mean?” He grinned a maniacal grin, causing Buffy to involuntarily grin back, then continued, “Okay, so here's the deal...”
As Buffy listened to Westerman, she had to suppress a giggle. Definitely too girlish. But Westerman's plan appealed to both the Slayer and girl sides of her. And whatever else you could say, Buffy was still a girl. Even Westerman was probably aware of that. On the other hand, there must have been at least a hint of how pleased the Slayer side of her was, because for a moment, Westerman had an uneasy look in his eyes, completely at odds with his usual confidence. Yes, Buffy thought in amusement, this is going to be fun.
Somehow Dave Jacobs kept his face blank as Colonel Newman, the Zoo Disciplinary Officer, continued to shout into his face, “And General KERRIGAN saw you both as well. How could you both be so stupid as to alienate both your own classmates as well as most of the Fourth-Class? You've wrecked Class Unity! Whatever you did to cause this, fix it! Do you understand me?”
Both Dave and his roommate, Taylor Murphy, exclaimed, “Sir, yes, sir!”
Colonel Newman gave them both a disillusioned look, then said, “You're both dismissed. Get out of my sight.”
Dave scrambled up, hastily saluting, before almost running out the door. He managed to get out ahead of Murph, who stepped on his heels in his own hurry to leave. They both walked in silence until they made it out of the building, then Murph exploded. “Goddamn it! Fuck! I'm going to kill that little bitch! I swear!”
Dave, who usually let his roomie take charge, shocked himself with his next words. “Don't be a douche. You're not doing shit.”
Murph gave him a surprised look that quickly turned to contempt. “Like you? I never should have listened to you. We should have them up on charges. That went beyond any nuking. You know it; I know it; and they know it. Now I'm going to have to do something about it or else those little shits will think they've won.”
Remembering Summers' whispered words, Dave felt almost ill. Was Murph that stupid that he didn't understand what the potential consequences were? But he hadn't been facing her. He hadn't see the look in her eyes as she'd made her threats. The girl was completely crazy. And Murph was going to get them both killed. Desperately, Dave scrambled for a way to convince his roommate to let the matter lie. Then inspiration struck him.
“So you're planning to take on Westerman now, huh?”
Doubt touched Murph's eyes. “What does Westerman have to do with anything?”
Dave was inspired as he explained, “You don't think someone like Summers came up with this on her own, do you? She obviously had help, otherwise we wouldn't have caught alone, with no other Firsties nearby. Class Unity may not be worth much, but this is the one thing that it has always been good for. And it would take someone like Westerman to arrange for everyone to be 'gone.'”
Dave thanked God that Murph looked worried. No one in their right mind crossed Westerman. The man was a by-the-book asshole, but at the same time, if you did something that he felt wronged him, he could also be a bit of a psycho. At least that was his reputation. While Dave actually did think that Westerman was involved in planning what Summers and her accomplices had done, that wasn't his worry. The two of them had had their run-ins, but at the end of the day, nothing had really come of it, Westerman's reputation just that and nothing more. Well, probably.
No, it was something else that bothered Dave, that made him want to put this behind him. That something else had been Summers. It hadn't been the words that had been said, relatively innocuous threats. It hadn't been the tone of voice, full of humor at what she had helped do to them. But there'd been a look in those eyes, visible through the holes in her ski mask, that had chilled Dave's blood. Green eyes, high on adrenaline, that had silently communicated to him a simple desire, 'I want to hurt you.' The naked violence in those eyes had nearly unmanned him. To his shame, he'd looked away, unable to face that threat.
Murph finally answered, dragging Dave from his silent reverie, “Okay, you're right. I don't want to fuck with Westerman. But I'm telling you this: If I ever get the chance, I'm going to get back at both of them.”
Guts churning, Dave nodded. That's fine, Murph,
he thought. You just do what you need to do. Me, I'm just going to keep my head down, fly straight, and by this time next year, I'll be in the cockpit of a fighter jet. I hope. And I'll never run into Summers again.
At the knock on her door, Maggie Walsh looked up from the diagram she was currently working on. Her creation was on the loose and killing people. That he had escaped was bad enough, but he'd almost killed her
on the way out. Only Riley and that damned girl had kept her alive. Still, as long as he was out there, her life was in tremendous jeopardy. The last thing she needed were these constant interruptions. But she was still the base commandant, at least until Washington found out about what had happened.
Finally, she called, “It's open.” After all, she thought, can't get into the habit of inviting anyone in.
Walking in, Colonel McNamara gave her an approving nod before speaking. “I thought you might want an update on the Summers situation. I have set up the false orders that will execute right at the end of classes that are going to take her to the Army base outside of town using our cut-outs in the NID. I have two of my best men meeting her there. They'll be taking her directly here. No one will be able to trace her after her arrival in Sunnydale. Just another AWOL cadet.”
Maggie managed to stifle a sigh. She really couldn't find the energy to care about Cadet Summers. The girl had barely interested her then, and interested her even less now. As far as she was concerned, Cadet Summers was just one more girl who'd been mildly affected by the supernatural energies of the Hellmouth. However, she needed to keep up appearances. “Fine, Colonel. Just put her in one of the cells by herself when she arrives. No reason to take any chances with her. Now if you have nothing else, I really need to finish this.”
McNamara looking disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm, but nodded and left. Maggie turned unseeing eyes back to the computer screen. Cain, where are you?
“...and then we rubbed shit all over him. Human, pig, dog, who knows what all. Cali got it from Westerman. That was almost as nasty for us as it was for those turds. At least for those of us who actually did it.” Connie sent an arch look Buffy's way, but she ignored it, more interested in their audience, one Gator Pierson, who looked, by turns, astounded, disgusted, and uneasy.
Quietly, he asked, “Are you sure that was a good idea, Cali?”
Buffy lay on her bed, smiling at Gator, who slouched in her chair by her desk. He looked really cute when he smiled, she decided thoughtfully. Except now he was frowning. “Sure it was. I mean, payback on a Firstie? With no repercussions? How often do those opportunities come along?”
“You need to think carefully before you go along with Westerman. I've known him for four years and his rep isn't exaggerated. He's done some crazy stuff that's gotten him in nearly as much trouble as you. It's a complete mystery how he managed to become Squadron Leader.”
Buffy stared at Gator in disbelief. Westerman? By-the-Book Westerman? She started to open her mouth, but Gator waved her to silence. “Anyway, I'm just saying, don't get used to following his lead outside of your duties. He'll get you into more trouble than even the Colonel can get you out of.”
Buffy nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, I'll keep that in mind.” Then she saw that Gator looked to be getting ready to leave. Deliberately, she slid into a sitting position using the innate limberness that seemed part and parcel of the Slayer package, one that always seemed to make Xander drool. Gator's eyes followed her movements closely, but then he deliberately away, leaving her vaguely disappointed.
“I need to get out of here. Cali, can I talk to you by the door a sec?”
Buffy stood up in a boneless, swaying move and followed him to the door. Gator stopped short of the door and waved her to stand in front of him. Confused, Buffy stood between him and the door, half expecting him to kiss her. Instead, he leaned in and asked in a low tone, “What can you tell me about Colonel O'Neill?”
“Uhhh, he's my sponsor?” 'Great answer, Buffy,' she told herself in disgust.
Humor flashed momentarily in his eyes, but he wasn't diverted. “Let me explain. He tapped me yesterday about joining his staff up at the Mountain. Space telemetry. He was pretty persuasive. The thing is, Cali, you know I want to be an astronaut. The last thing I can afford to do is to waste three to four years in a dead end job that doesn't advance my career. You know this guy. Does he really head something that might help me towards space? And I can't believe I'm asking a smack about this. Even you.”
Buffy looked at Gator's confused expression. What should she tell him? Hell, what could
she tell him? She decided on safety. “He's the most amazing officer I've met since I joined the Air Force. He is everything that I expect an officer to be based on our military classes, but don't often see from the faculty. I met part of his team and they all are great people.”
Gator just shook his head. “That doesn't tell me anything, Cali. I'm sure he's a fine officer and it would be an honor to serve with him. But I need to know more.”
Buffy stared up into Gator's dark eyes. She felt herself start to melt. After a moment, she decided to abandon safety. “The Colonel is for real. His assigned mission is a cover of some kind. I'm almost sure of that. Not from anything he's said, but it just doesn't make sense to bench someone like him. He would have had to mess up, and he hasn't. So something's going on. And if he's recruiting people like you, it can't be by accident.”
Gator's eyes sparkled with excitement, a change occurring so quickly that Buffy realized that she'd been had. “That's what I figured as well. I already told him yes.” He leaned in as if to kiss her, but instead avoided her mouth, moving around to whisper in her ear. “This means I'll be around the area for some time. So, Cadet, what do you think about dating a dashing young officer?”
Buffy felt herself flush as Gator's warm breath caressed her ear. “That would be acceptable, sir.” She wanted to kiss him so bad it was almost a physical pain. Then he was standing straight again, his eyes glinting in amusement. Tease, she thought darkly.
He slid around her and opened the door. “Later, Connie, Cali.” And just like that, he was gone.
Buffy slowly closed the door and leaned back against it, fanning her heated face. Glancing over at her roomie, she caught the teasing expression on Connie's face as she mouthed, “Wookie.”
Laughing, Buffy jumped on her bed and threw a pillow at Connie. The two of them whacked each other with pillows for a few minutes before finally collapsing on their beds still giggling. Grinning, Buffy sat up and casually mentioned, “Gator thinks he'll be assigned up at the Mountain as part of his space ops training.”
Connie squealed, “Ooohhh! Maybe you'll get to finally scratch that itch then.”
Buffy shook her head dolefully. “Yes, in about two months.”
“Don't worry, it'll pass faster than you can imagine, as busy as they keep us. Besides, you can always...” Connie made a vaguely obscene gesture that made Buffy blush.
Connie shrugged. “Just saying. Anyway, you have bigger fish to fry than that.”
Confused, Buffy asked, “What do you mean?”
Looking her directly in the eye, Connie quietly stated, “I'm not stupid, Cali. I know you are planning something for Spring Break. To deal with those vampires in the Springs. And I'm telling you, I'm in. You're not doing anything without me. So whatever you have planned, count me in.”
“Don't even bother. You'll be wasting your time. Now clue me into your master plan, Butch.”
Buffy stared back at roommate. The mulish expression on Connie's face told Buffy that she was serious. And she could really use Connie's help. At least it would be a lot easier with two. But did she have the right to expose the other girl to a dangerous situation? To ask her to risk her life?
Connie got up and crossed the distance between them. Sitting down next to Buffy, Connie stared her right in the eyes and stated in a firm voice, “Listen to me. I'm not a victim in this. No one's taking advantage of me. I choose this. So deal with it.”
Connie's eyes held so many emotions that Buffy couldn't sort them all out. But chief among them was a look of absolute determination, followed by one of caring. Deserved or not, Connie cared about Buffy and was going to help her one way or another.
Buffy blinked back tears. “Okay, Sundance, consider it dealt with. As far as my plan, here goes. I thought we would in on the Saturday that begins Spring Break.” With a grim smile, she continued, “No point in waiting any longer than we have to. The longer we wait, the more people die.” Author's Note:
Stay tuned for our next exciting chapter: Chapter 22—Vamp Killing 101 or How I Spent My Spring Break by Connie Perez