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Life's Ending, Life's Beginning

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Lt. Buffy "Cali" Summers, USAF". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: After the events of graduation go horribly wrong, Buffy leaves Sunnydale for another future

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > Buffy-Centered > Theme: ActionbecuzitswrongFR1831164,5184352108507,5462 Oct 076 Mar 14No
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Chapter 23—Reports! Reports! Reports!

Buffy stared at the report in front of her. It was almost done. Thank God. It had been the worst yet. Hell, Connie had literally cringed when she heard the name: Proto-Indo-European Language Origins During the Period 7000-4000 BCE. It had taken her literally weeks of research. She'd had to order books that the library didn't carry. One of the assistant librarians had looked at her like she had horns growing out her forehead until she'd told him it was for a report for her sponsor. Then there had been sympathy. A lot of sympathy. And a failed attempt to ask me out, she thought in amusement.

By now, the report had consumed nearly eighty precious hours of her time. And with Recognition coming up in less than a month, that wasn't time she had. Still, she had been surprisingly effective in compiling the information for this paper. I'm becoming Research Girl, Buffy thought proudly. But without the donuts, she decided mournfully. With a shake of her head, she focused back on the matter at hand. Now if she just added this final section on PIE ablaut sequences, it should be complete.

Done. Buffy laid her whirling head down on her desk. What a way to spend Friday night, she thought. But tomorrow there was SAMI and her meeting with Colonel O'Neill. And he was expecting this report. Oh, and her afternoon was being taken up with an intramural soccer match for the league championships.

Soccer had turned out to be one of the more fun and pleasant things so far this semester, much better than basketball. At first, Buffy had feared it was going to be boring, what with her having to take it extremely easy on the people she was playing against. Team sports, like the aforementioned basketball, tended to be that way. Instead, it was fun. You got to run up and down the field a lot chasing after the ball, which really worked to burn off excess energy. It even helped that she was chasing stuff, the ball (or other people). Somehow it seemed to help sooth the Slayer within. Which, after the events of Spring Break, was doubly important.

And Buffy wasn't even close to being outed. She had gotten so good at passing the ball that everyone just thought she was a talented player, not someone with superpowers who could score, goalie or no goalie, regularly from mid-field. All in all, it was a fun way to spend most Saturday afternoons. Much more fun than writing reports, she thought darkly, staring at the report now in the process of being printed.

The first two reports she'd written hadn't been bad. Even the next one hadn't been that tough, although starting with The Han Dynasty: Expansion and Regression Over Four Hundred Years, they had started to become more and more time consuming. The following one, A History of the Angkor Civilization from Hunter-Gather to the Classic Period 3600 BCE-1327 AD, had been tough just because of the sheer amount of information that was needed to be gathered.

This last report, however, had gotten out of hand. Buffy had decided that she was going to talk to the Colonel about the reports he was assigning. It had started to interfere with her studies. She wasn't going to be pulling a 4.0 GPA this semester, although a 3.68 was still within reach. Good, but not great. Hopefully, he wouldn't think she was being a whiner. Buffy would rather do two reports a month than have him think that. Sighing, she started grabbing pages off the printer.



Joyce walked through her shop, duster in hand, trying to focus on business. But it was a slow day, business-wise, and she couldn't help but wonder what was up with Jack. She hadn't heard from him in nearly a month. She had tried to call him, both at home and work, and hadn't been able to reach him. Joyce kept getting his answering machine at home and pretty much the run around at his work. If she got one more “the Colonel's unavailable” she was going to go up there and take an axe to somebody, Joyce thought angrily, slamming down the duster onto the counter. And she knew how to use an axe as a certain peroxide-headed vampire had found out.

Snit abated, Joyce gave the duster a guilty look, then sighed. Oh, my God, she thought, I'm acting like a teenager over some boy. But she couldn't help it. Maybe it was just a strong case of like, but she definitely felt some powerful emotions for Jack. She couldn't help but remember their last date together back before Spring Break.

Five Weeks Ago

Joyce stared across the table at her date. Jack seemed unusually distracted tonight. She wondered if it was because of something that she'd done or maybe that he was rethinking their entire relationship in light of being Buffy's sponsor. Don't over-think things, Joyce, she told herself, you're not seventeen anymore. He's probably just having a tough week at work. Still, it had been a long time since she'd last had a relationship with an actual adult that was so much fun. Not that they spent that much time together, primarily only getting together once every week or so. But that was actually one of the attractions.

Joyce had long since outgrown any romantic dreams of someone coming in and sweeping her off her feet. That was a dream that a divorce and a grown daughter had pretty much squashed. Now she was more about having someone she could talk to on a regular basis about personal things. And the sex wasn't bad. Okay, the sex was amazing. She couldn't believe how much she enjoyed being with Jack. He was a tender and considerate lover, but underneath his cool exterior beat an incredibly passionate man. Joyce could feel herself getting flushed just at the memory of one of their lovemaking sessions.

Anyway, the fact that she and Jack only saw each other on a weekly basis or less, made the heat of their relationship even stronger. And Joyce would be loath to lose that. Making up her mind, she finally spoke, “Penny for your thoughts?”

Jack had looked at her a few times over the course of the night with his usual charming smile, but it had lacked a certain warmth that now bled in. With a twinkle in his eyes, he flirted, “A penny? I'm pretty sure that with inflation, my thoughts are worth at least a buck.”

Joyce smiled and leaned slightly forward, resting her chin on her hands. “Oh, really? I'm not sure that I'm prepared to pay that much for a budget analysis.”

His smile deepened and with a certain huskiness in his voice, Jack murmured, “Trust me, I'm thinking more transportation than anything else.”

Joyce blinked. “Transportation?” Okay, she thought, that was an odd non sequitur.

“Exactly. I don't think either of our trucks are private enough to get busy in and I'm not sure I can wait until we get back to your house.”

Joyce could feel herself blushing furiously. Hiding her face in her hands, she peeked through to see Jack grinning at her. He looks happy, she thought. Okay, maybe she could let herself get swept off her feet just a little. Forcing her blush down, but unable to keep an answering grin from stealing across her face, Joyce raised her hand for the waiter. “Check, please!” She felt sorry for the poor waiter who didn't know what to think when he came to the table to find both of his customers laughing like loons.



Joyce sighed. Maybe she would talk with Buffy when she saw her on Sunday. Buffy should have a meeting with Jack on Saturday night, unless he missed it. Joyce shied away from the thought. Because if he missed his meeting with Buffy, then there's a real problem. And something happening to Jack was not anything that Joyce wanted to contemplate.



Buffy waited for the Colonel's car, report secured in her backpack just to make sure nothing happened to it. Something wasn't right. She checked her watch just to make sure she wasn't wrong. He was late. Colonel O'Neill was never late. It was something of a pet peeve he had. Buffy had learned that she had better be on time or else. It had only taken one stern look at a watch when she had arrived with less than a minute to spare early on for Buffy to make sure she was early.

Finally, after she had been waiting nearly twenty minutes, she saw a blue sedan pulling up. Okay, he's going to be upset about having to apologize, Buffy thought in amusement. But it wasn't Colonel O'Neill staring at her from the driver's seat as the car pulled up next to her.

Major Carter's blue eyes met hers as she gestured for Buffy to get in. Slowly, she moved forward, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. While nothing she 'knew' was concrete and based on facts, Buffy had more than enough hints that whatever the Colonel was involved in was dangerous. And now he was missing their appointment. Unfortunately, she had to pretend not to know anything about what might be happening.

Buffy briefly saluted before climbing into the car. “Major Carter, is everything all right? I was expecting Colonel O'Neill, ma'am.”

“The Colonel's had to leave the country on urgent business, Cadet. He asked me to take you to dinner. If it's okay, we'll go to O'Malleys as you and the Colonel had originally planned.” Major's Carter smiled sincerely at Buffy, but there was just the slightest strain in her voice and eyes that Buffy caught.

Not letting on that anything was wrong, Buffy hid her disappointment. “Of course, ma'am. I am glad everything is all right with Colonel O'Neill.”



Sam Carter managed to make small talk with Cadet Summers while eating dinner, but she couldn't have said what she talked about. She could have been blabbing secrets about the Stargate Program for all she remembered. Most of her focus was on the particle beam accelerator she was trying to develop that would help them recover the Colonel from Edora. Sam hated to waste the time she could be working to talk with the Colonel's smack, but it was something he had requested of her a few weeks before their last mission. It was a request she couldn't say no to.



“Carter, I have a favor to ask you.”

Sam looked up to see Jack O'Neill standing in the doorway to her lab, insouciantly leaning against the doorway, his usual sardonic smile in place. Although maybe his smile seemed just a little less sardonic than usual. He seemed somewhat lighter of heart since they had managed to free Skaara from Klorel's control. Although, it might just be dating someone that did it instead. Sam chided herself for being catty. She was genuinely glad that Jack had someone in his life. Really. It was just that sometimes, she did think about what might have been.

“Carter, you in there?”

Sam blinked as she realized that she had been staring and still hadn't answered his original question. “Sorry, sir. I was just thinking about the Tollan's ion cannons. It would be nice to have some of those for our own.”

Jack snorted. “Might as well ask for the moon while you're at it. Now about that favor.”

Sam hesitated, then stated, “I'm sorry, sir, but I do not have time to write your reports for you. Besides, the General has that memo out forbidding anyone to help you.”

“For crying out loud, Carter, would I ask you to write my reports for me?”

Sam merely widened her eyes slightly in response. “Yes, sir, you would. You actually have on three separate occasions asked me to write your reports for you. I can provide you with dates if you want?”

Jack's eyes twinkled with amusement. “You're dangerously close to insubordination there. But that wasn't the favor I was going to ask you.”

“Sir?”

Jack suddenly got serious. “Look, we don't talk about what we do here, the risks and dangers.” He met her eyes squarely as he spoke.

Sam slowly nodded. “No, sir, we do not.”

“Most of the time, it's no big. You and I are single, Daniel's... well, single. And Teal'c's Teal'c. So, if we don't come back, we won't be missed that much.”

Sam shook her head. “I don't agree, sir, but I understand what you are trying to say.”

He looked relieved. “Good. I was wondering if something happened, you would look after my smack for me.”

Sam was flummoxed. “Your smack?” That hadn't been the request she was expecting.

She must have done a poor job of concealing her astonishment since Jack became defensive. “Yes, my smack. I want you to look after Cali for me. Take over as her officer sponsor. Make sure she makes it through the Zoo. Maybe even help get her assigned here.”

Sam was uncomfortable at the turn that the conversation had taken, but she could tell that Jack was completely serious. “Why me, sir?”

“Hell, Carter, there's no one I trust more.”

In a reasonable tone of voice, Sam pointed out, “What about Daniel?”

Jack shook his head. “Danny-boy's not Air Force. He doesn't know what it takes to make it through the Zoo, let alone to be an officer. You would probably do a better job of looking after Cali than I do, having more in common with her. So, will you do it?”

Slowly, Sam nodded. “Yes, sir, I will. Thank you for trusting me. I won't let you down.”

Jack nodded briskly, sardonic smile back in place. “See that you don't.” There was an awkward silence for a moment, before he directed, “Go ahead, Carter, get back to working on a big, honking space gun for us. It'll probably take all of your geekiness to figure it out.” With that, he left.

Sam wore an offended expression on her face for a moment, but internally was relieved that things had gone back to normal. As she considered Jack's request, Sam wasn't sure she was the right person to look after the young woman, but she would do her best, if the situation came up.



“Major Carter?”

Sam started, looking over to meet Cali's knowing eyes. She managed not to react with a blush, but it took all of her self-control. “Yes, Cadet Summers?”

Cali looked serious as she asked, “Did you want any more of the bread?”

Bread? Sam looked at the loaf of bread sitting in the middle of the table, halfway gone. Quickly adding it up, she realized that it was the fourth such loaf they had received. All had been brought without prompting by a strangely knowledgeable staff. Of which Sam had eaten all of one fourth of one loaf. That meant the remainder had been consumed by Cali. And with nary a bathroom visit, so it was staying down. And to think, Sam had thought her bulimic. Instead, she was just a bottomless pit. Where was the girl putting it all? “No thank you, Ca... Do you mind if I call you Cali?”

Cali smiled. “No, ma'am. I mean, I do not mind, ma'am.”

Sam smiled back. “Great. Go ahead and can the seven, Cali. I'm sure that Colonel O'Neill doesn't require you to speak without contractions.”

The girl's smile widened. “Thank you, ma'am. No, the Colonel doesn't. Something about it being too Disney, ma'am.”

Sam snorted as she caught the reference. Disney = Mickey Mouse = Bad. “So how did your report go this time?”

Cali's smile faded and she became serious. “Ma'am, that was one of the things that I wanted to speak to the Colonel about. I have the most current report that is due, but I have a big problem.”

Her attention fully on the girl on the other side of the table for the first time tonight, Sam waited for her explanation.



Buffy wondered how to start. Her plan for the explaining things to Colonel O'Neill had fallen by the wayside as soon as she realized that she would be eating dinner with Major Carter. Add in the distraction of knowing something had happened to the Colonel while having to pretend that she bought the story about him being out of the country, made thinking on her feet even more difficult. But she had to say something, and even though Major Carter currently wore a patient expression on her face, everyone had their limits.

Okay, Buffy thought, here goes nothing. “When I first began writing these reports for the Colonel, I wasn't sure about their purpose, but I did so because I trusted that he had a reason for it. I've even enjoyed writing most of them. But beginning in February, the reports began to change. They required more time and more original thought.” Buffy trailed off, unsure how to continue without sounding like she was whining.

Major Carter's thoughtful expression never changed as she asked, “Cali, how long did this last report take you?”

Relieved at just having to answer a question, Buffy stated, “Approximately fifty hours of research, plus another fifteen to type and proofread it.” Well, Buffy thought, it was only cutting thirty hours off of the research, and another ten off of the typing. Of course, twenty-five hours was only because of Slayer typing speed. And she wasn't even going to think about nights lying in bed and thinking about some of her researched material and where to put it in the reports.

The Major looked thunderstruck. “And you're still doing two Squares a week as punishment?”

Buffy nodded. “Yes, ma'am.”

“And taking UA, soccer, and basketball? And the usual nineteen hour load?”

Buffy nodded. “Yes, ma'am.” Wow, Buffy thought, she actually looks impressed.

Major Carter nodded decisively. “How are your grades, Cali?”

Buffy winced slightly. “Currently, I'm carrying a 3.37, but I think I can get that back up to a 3.68 if I can get the B's I have in Physics and Calculus back up to A's.”

The Major nodded. “Are you taking any history or English courses, Cali?”

Buffy nodded. “Yes, ma'am. I'm taking both.”

“And your grades in those?”

Ugh, Buffy thought. “I have low B's in both, ma'am. I don't think I can get those grades back up to A's no matter what I do. It isn't mathematically possible.”

Her eyes knowing, the Major asked, “What happened?”

Buffy shrugged apologetically. “I just didn't have enough time to do justice to research papers in those classes. And my grades reflect that.”

“Okay, this is what we're going to do. Beginning this month, you're not to do a paper until after finals. I am going to take the papers you have written so far to your English and history professors. I am sure once they realize what you have been doing they will have no problem giving you credit for these assignments.” Major Carter paused. “Is something wrong, Cali?”

And she would be the girl who whined and got her grade changed, Buffy thought. No thanks. “Ma'am, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but I don't want to be the type of person who takes unfair advantage.”

Buffy could feel Major Carter's approval from across the table. “Cali, Colonel O'Neill always intended you to receive extra credit for these assignments. Unfortunately, he never got around to talking to your professors. However, I am certain that he would want this for you. So, while I appreciate your honesty, I will be moving ahead with this solution. It's what Colonel O'Neill would ha-want. I am certain he will approve this when he gets back.”

The Major reached over and took a long drink from her ice tea. “Besides, if anyone says anything, just hand them your reports to read. I don't think they'll have anything to say after reading even one of them.”

Buffy's guts were clenching. She had been right, Colonel O'Neill was in trouble. The Major had slipped and almost said, “It's what Colonel O'Neill would have wanted.” Past tense, as if he were dead. Clenching her fists underneath the table cloth, Buffy wanted to go up to the Mountain and do something. You'd better make sure he's okay, she thought darkly, aiming her thoughts at the Powers That Be. Otherwise, I'm going to do something that'll derail all of your plans.

“Cali, are you all right?”

Pulling herself from her introspection, Buffy nodded quickly. “Yes, ma'am. Thank you for your help.” You'd better remember what I'm thinking, she thought again, leaving the 'or else' unspoken. Or rather unthought. Buffy was starting to confuse herself. She was sure of one thing, however. She'd find a way to help the Colonel if she needed to.

“You're welcome. Now, I wanted to give you some hints for surviving Recognition.”



Sam drove at a sedate pace back towards the Mountain. The last thing she wanted was to slip on a patch of ice, go careening off the road, and need to be rescued. As she drove, she pondered the mystery of Buffy “Cali” Summers. That the girl was ridiculously dedicated was a given. That a great deal of that dedication was aimed at Colonel O'Neill was obvious. Sam was just glad that Cali had the sense to ask for help when things became too difficult.

Sam was bothered by a couple of things, however. First, she had a suspicion that Daniel had deliberately assigned Cali extremely difficult assignments without informing the Colonel. Sam wasn't sure of his reasoning, but she suspected it might have something to do with those old books that Cali had mentioned during their BBQ. As far as she knew, Daniel had never had a chance to get his hands on them. And he might not realize that he was putting his life in his hands by messing with Jack O'Neill's smack.

The other thing that bothered Sam about the whole thing was the vague feeling that Cali had lied to her. Not about exaggerating the research. More that she had downplayed the amount of time she had actually put in.

Sam hadn't read every one of Cali's reports. She just wasn't that interested in the subjects that Daniel had assigned Cali. But during the BBQ, when Cali had read her abstract from The Fall of the Incan Empire: How the Spanish Were Able to Divide and Conquer, Sam had actually been interested. And it didn't hurt that Daniel had raved about Cali's paper being of grad student quality. So Sam had read it.

The paper had been well-researched, well put together, and contained a few points that were so insightful, that Sam had been extremely impressed by Cali's clarity of thought. It had also had the feel, both from its heft and from its quality, of an extremely time-consuming endeavor. Sam had dismissed the thought at the time out of some vague feeling that Jack would make sure to keep Cali focused on her studies. But that appeared not to have happened.

Pulling into her parking space in the staff lot, Sam hesitated a moment, then opened the robin's egg blue cover of the report. Turning on the overhead light, Sam began to thumb through Cali's work. The density of prose and the sheer number of pages coupled with the long list of sources in the bibliography, made Sam fairly certain of one thing.

Cali hadn't written the report in a mere fifty hours. It would take longer than that just to read and review all of the source material. And typing this monstrosity would consume far more than fifteen hours. Sam's own experience in typing up after-action reports bore that out.

Sam wondered why Cali had lied to her. That Cali had written this, Sam had no doubt. There was no way the girl could have found something this esoteric available on-line, even if Daniel hadn't already said that each subject was unique and individualized for Cali. Maybe Cali had thought she wouldn't be believed if she named some fantastic figure.

Sam sat and thought about everything she knew about the girl. Tallying it all up, the total turned out not to be that much. But she could find out more. Maybe talk to Teal'c about why he was still so eager to spar with the girl again, when he'd beaten her once already.

Closing the report on her lap, Sam came to a decision. She would go back and read the other reports. She would also talk with Daniel to get her best estimate of how long each of these reports had taken to research and write. Of course, all of that would need to wait until she found a way to rescue the Colonel.

The Colonel. Sam grabbed all of her stuff and hurriedly closed the door to her jeep. At that moment, she had her insight and stopped, frozen. The plasma phase relays design was so obvious, that she couldn't believe that it had escaped her for so long. Taking the night off had helped clarify her thinking, she decided. With any luck, they would have Jack back within a few more weeks at most, rather than the months they had originally projected. With a determined stride, Samantha Carter headed into the Mountain, all other thoughts forgotten.



Colonel McNamara sat at a table, his drink untouched in front of him. Meeting like this in a seedy bar in Los Angeles wasn't exactly his thing. But he couldn't travel all the way to Washington with the current 'situation' in Sunnydale. The last thing he could afford was to have something happen while he was gone and for Walsh to rub in the inefficiency of the Marines yet again. He might snap at the next snide words she said.

Colonel McNamara considered his NID contact, Harry Maybourne, seated across from him, obviously enjoying his own drink. Untrustworthy shit, he thought contemptuously. But he needed Maybourne, if he was to somehow slip Summers past Jack O'Neill's watch.

When McNamara had first planned for Cadet Summers to spend some time in the Initiative holding cells, he hadn't counted on Jack O'Neill being her sponsor. Who sponsors a smack? But O'Neill was sponsoring a smack. This smack. And keeping a close eye on her. Too close to give her fake orders to the Army base outside of Sunnydale, only to intercept her before and bring her into the Initiative. After all, scuttlebutt had it you didn't want to mess with Jack O'Neill.

McNamara didn't know that much about O'Neill. Mostly just his black ops reputation. Although supposedly he was involved in something up at Cheyenne Mountain. After all, who would assign someone like O'Neill to Deep Space Radar Telemetry? One of the biggest problems with a cover was you had to make it logical to the personnel involved. O'Neill's was utter idiocy.

But McNamara needed to get around him. Otherwise, he left a deadly threat untouched in the U.S. Military. So he needed information and Harry Maybourne was just the man to give it to him.



Harry kept his face impassive as he heard out Colonel McNamara. What a load of crap, he thought. HSTs? Fairy tales, more like it. But he could always use another favor. Especially since he already had the information the Colonel needed. “I can help you.”

McNamara waited a moment and when Harry didn't continue, asked, “I take it there's a catch?”

Harry smiled like the crocodile from a certain children's book. “No catch. Just I scratch your back and you scratch mine.”

McNamara frowned, but nodded. “I'll owe you a favor. What do you have?”

Harry leaned in still smiling. “Jack O'Neill is currently unavailable with no ETA as to when he'll be back. But it won't be soon. So whatever little play you have planned for Cadet Summers, you can go ahead.”

McNamara's answering smile was grim, well-suited to his personality. “Perfect. Thanks for your help.”

Harry waved it off. “No problem. Have a good day, Colonel.”

Gathering his things, McNamara replied, “You as well, Colonel. You as well.” With that, he left.

Harry slowly finished his drink, savoring every drop. He briefly considered checking up on the Initiative, to see what exactly they did do. He did, after all, do business in Sunnydale on exotic tech. And it would be good to make sure his source stayed “uncorrupted.” But to find out, he would need to use up some of those precious favors. And Harry needed those for his next project. Just like he needed a certain Air Force Colonel.

Harry had wondered about the relationship between O'Neill and Summers. Jack getting busy with a piece of young tail? Unlikely, no matter how attractive the tail. Then he had learned that Jack was seeing the girl's mother. Then it clicked. Surrogate daughter. How she had wormed her way past Jack's defenses, Harry didn't know or really care. But she had. And he could use that. In the defense of his country and the human race. Plus, the operation was going to be fun.

Harry dropped a five onto the table beside his empty drink and got up to leave. He just loved it when a plan came together.



“Hey, Mom!”

Stepping out of her car in the Air Force Academy's visitor parking lot, Joyce looked up at the shouted greeting, only to be enveloped in a whirlwind of blue. One extra-strong hug later, she stepped back from her daughter, looking her over. Buffy continued to look good, her face and body visibly glowing with health. Joyce once again thanked whatever god had answered her prayers for a better life for her daughter. Because it had been granted. Of course, there was the slightest shadow in her eyes, but Joyce was already certain she knew the source of that. It was the same as lay behind her own worries. And she would discuss this shortly with Buffy, but first things first. “Hi, sweetheart. I've missed you.”

That earned her another hug. “I've missed you, too. What did you bring me?”

Joyce grabbed the large box of cookies she had wrapped up. “Peanut butter cookies.”

Buffy looked concerned for a moment. “Made with crunchy peanut butter?”

Joyce nodded seriously. “Made with crunchy peanut butter.”

Buffy grabbed her arm. “Sweet! Let's go into Arnold Hall and watch some TV. I'll give you an update on what's happening in the world of Buffy.”

Laughing, Joyce acquiesced. Following her daughter's quick, decisive steps, they were soon at the aforementioned Arnold Hall. During the walk, Joyce had heard about Buffy's soccer team winning the league championship, what classes she was enjoying most (Behavorial Science), what class she was enjoying least (Physics), and about how everything was okay between her and Connie these days. Heading inside, they quickly found a private place to talk. At that point, Buffy's attitude changed from lighthearted to serious.

“Mom, I need to talk to you.”

Heart sinking, Joyce asked, “Is it about Jack?”

Buffy nodded. “The Colonel missed our meeting last night. Major Carter came in his place. She let slip something. She spoke about him in the past tense.”

Joyce held back unhelpful tears. “Do you think he's dead?”

Buffy shook her head, her expression fierce. “No.”

Joyce asked softly, “How can you be sure?”

“Two reasons.” Buffy took a deep breath. “First, even though the Major spoke about the Colonel as if he were dead, she wasn't certain. And she assured me that he would be back soon. My guess? It's something top secret. After all, he is a big black-ops guy. Which makes me suspicious about why he's up in the Mountain in the first place. I figure they lost contact with him on some mission, but the Major thinks they'll get him back, maybe without losing that possible liability”

“Plausible deniability,” Joyce automatically corrected, feeling reassured. “You said there were two reasons.”

Buffy's fierce expression became actively threatening. Her voice, when she spoke, was as cold and merciless as winter, “I told the Powers that I wouldn't tolerate them hurting him. If something happens to him, I'll derail all of their plans.”

Joyce was frightened by the emotion in Buffy's eyes. It was a determination so intense, that it transformed the young woman from just another girl to akin to a force of nature. In a calming tone, Joyce said, “Buffy, please don't do something you'll regret. I'm sure things will work out.”

Looking directly into Joyce's eyes, her expression unchanging, Buffy grimly stated, “So am I. Because if it doesn't, it won't be me regretting.”
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