Chapter Thirty-One—Truth and Lies
Chapter Thirty-One—Truth and LiesShe moved down the corridor quietly, walking in shadow. Surrounding her, the usual sounds of a busy hospital were deadened. It was as if it were resting, conserving its strength until tomorrow, when it would again be needed as the world awakened and new perils beckoned.
She approached the correct door, confirmed by the two figures standing guard. Their erect posture and watchful demeanor suggested any attempts to get past them and harm their charge would futile. And it would have been to anyone else. But not to her.
She activated the katra in her hand and watched, impressed, as it did exactly as advertised and the expressions of the two men became dreamy and unfocused. Stepping forward confidently, she walked right between them and opened the door they'd guarded.
Immediately, she took in the scene within. Well lit, a hospital bed dominated the center of the room. A small figure lay sleeping within, blonde hair peeking out beneath white sheets. On the wall opposite, a small TV displayed some infomercial with talking heads yapping in the foreground while a sleek, futuristic piece of equipment stood on a table behind them, its purpose as unfathomable as the Sphinx.
In an instant, she decided on surprise. She reached out and turned off the lights, leaving the room bathed in flickering light from the TV. Crossing the room on feather-light feet, she reached up and turned it off manually. Now the room lay mostly dark, with the only light coming in from between the curtains and from under the door.
Perfect. She carefully sat in a chair by the bed, relaxing in anticipation. Soon, she would spring her surprise. She would be in control. She would-
Kennedy's melodramatic thoughts were interrupted by the painful sensation of her head hitting the floor as she and the chair she had been sitting in were thrown over by the impact of the figure landing on top of her. She could feel the weight of the other pressing her down as they straddled her and was just about to throw them into the wall behind her when she felt the razor sharp edge of a blade against her throat, just nicking the skin. Kennedy froze as a thin trickle of liquid ran down her neck.
From above her, a cool soprano voice commanded, ”Don't move!”
“Like I'd dare.” Kennedy hated the petulance in her complaint as she lay there on the floor, the ringing in her ears lessening with every moment. She felt absolutely humiliated as a hand lightly traced her features. Then both the hand and knife were gone. A moment later, the lights came on.
Blinking owlishly, she stared up at the slim blonde figure wearing only a light blue hospital gown that towered over her. Wordlessly, the other offered her a hand, which, after a moment, she took, gripping it tightly as she was effortlessly hauled to her feet.
For the first time, Kennedy got a good look at the other girl. The blonde stood three inches shorter than her own 5'5” and several pounds lighter. With her erect posture, however, she gave the impression that she was the taller of the two. Her figure was slender and deceptively delicate, looking as if a stiff wind would blow her away. Short blonde hair formed almost a pixie's cap over the other's head. Her face was lovely, although tired lines dragged down the corners of her mouth and eyes. Cool green eyes completed the look, the expression within them dismissive as she pointed to the chair which was back upright and said only a single word, “Sit.”
Gingerly, Kennedy did so, observing as the blonde carefully sat down opposite her. Immediately guilt surged within her. Of course the blonde was hurt. How could she not be? Considering the sheer number of opponents she'd battled, at least some kind of injury was to be expected. It didn't make her a whit less terrifying as Kenny remembered pools of blood filled with hacked up body parts. She was still the boogeyman that Kennedy had already conjured up.
The girl opposite her sighed and ended their stalemate. “Who are you?”
Kennedy sat up straighter and stated forcefully, “I'm Kennedy the Vampire Slayer. I'm here to find out why you are in Sunnydale.”
In an almost exasperated tone of voice, the other muttered, “Of course you are.” The blonde ran a hand through her hair. “I'm Buffy Summers. As to why I'm here, well, that's not something I can talk about.”
Kennedy hated when she was treated as a nonentity, something that only seemed to happen when she was dealing with those who knew this gi... Buffy. From most demons to a certain bartender/snitch, none of them had been that intimated by her,
instead looking over her shoulder as if for someone about to come through the door behind her. Someone short and blonde. Someone named Buffy. Of course, it made sense that the Buffy they worried about would feel the same way. Still, it irritated Kennedy immensely and made her want to rattle the other. Hence her entrance. Which, of course, had blown up in her face.
Then a snap of fingers brought out of her reverie. Startled, Kennedy jumped and met the dangerous eyes of the girl seated in front of her. “Pay attention. I asked how did you get in here? I know there's MP's on the door.”
Smugly, Kennedy pulled the Katra out of her pocket and waved the glowing stone at Buffy. “I used this. It put the whammy on them. Cool, huh?”
Buffy, who up until now had appeared to treat Kennedy as an annoyances, suddenly went still. The first inkling that Kennedy had that she'd done something to truly piss off the other girl was when she said, “You stupid girl. Those men are on duty. They’re out there to protect me. How do you think it's going to look if they're standing there asleep on their feet and someone comes by? Especially their CO?”
Kennedy stammered, “B-but you don't need protection!”
Buffy almost growled as she spoke, “That doesn't matter. Yes, if there was a problem, maybe I'd have to protect them. But they're standing out there prepared to give their lives to keep me safe. They’d do the same for you
if it was necessary. So 'putting the whammy' on them is disrespectful and spits all over the oath they took to defend the Constitution and this country.”
Kennedy could feel her heart hammering, both from her own emotional turmoil and the threat her inner Slayer was reading from the other. After a moment of fidgeting, the other Slayer told her sharply, “Stand down. I'm not going to attack you. But we do have to fix your mess.”
Kennedy opened and closed her mouth as she felt herself relaxing slightly. She got out, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean t-”
Buffy waved her off. “Let me think.”
Kennedy sat there staring as the other girl figured out a solution. She truly hadn't meant to cause any harm. Doing what she did to the MP's was a reaction to dealing with both the corrupt forces of Sunnydale's finest and the leadership of the Initiative. Kennedy had never even thought about what would happen to someone who was honest in their devotion if they were derelict in their duty.
Kennedy was more than a little shocked and impressed at how quickly the other girl had taken charge. Even more than getting her ass handed to her at the start, Buffy Summers had put her in her place, turning the tables completely on her. She-
Her thoughts were interrupted as Buffy spoke, “This is what we're going to do. You're going to open the window over there. That will be how you got in. Then you're going to turn off the voodoo on the MP's out there. After that, I'll call them in and let them know you’re here. You will leave out the door when we're done. What's your last name, by the way?”
Kennedy, hating the sulky tone of her voice, said, “Da.. Stallings. Hey, they might hear what we're talking about if they're awake.”
Buffy looked at her like she was an idiot. “Then keep your voice down. Now go open the window. And clean the blood off of your neck while you're up.”
Kennedy did so, glancing outside to see a tree close enough to have climbed. How had the other girl known it was there? Quickly grabbing a tissue and cleaning herself, she tossed it into the trashcan. She returned to her seat to find that Buffy had slipped back under the covers and was sitting reclined, propped up by pillows. Kennedy reached into her pocket and squeezed the Katra, deactivating it. She nodded to Buffy.
Not another moment went by before Buffy crisply requested, “Staff Sargent? Can you come in here for a moment, please?”
The door immediately opened and a tall soldier entered. His eyes widened at the sight of Kennedy and his hand rested on the baton at his waist. “Ma'am, who is this and how did she get in here?”
Buffy, sitting straight and looking surprisingly commanding considering she was only wearing a hospital gown, explained, “This is Kennedy Stallings, a friend from Sunnydale. She heard that I was here and decided to come see me. As you can see, she felt like the window was a better entrance than the door. I wanted to let you know she was here and of the potential hole in the perimeter.”
The MP walked over to the window with long strides. Taking a glance through it, he closed and locked it, checking to make sure it wouldn't open. Then he walked up to where Kennedy sat.
With shaking hands, Kennedy pulled her license out of her back pocket and handed it to the tall soldier. He carefully looked it over before comparing the picture there to her face. After a moment, he handed it back, his cool eyes dismissive. Forcefully, he said, “For your own safety, please come in through the door next time.”
He then turned back to Buffy. “Thank you, ma'am, for bringing the problem to my attention. I truly appreciate it.”
Buffy nodded. “You are welcome, Staff Sergeant. Have a good night.”
Kennedy waited until he left before whispering angrily, “He made me feel like a tool!”
Green eyes, every bit as dismissive as the MP's, looked at her. “If the shoe fits...”
“I didn't come here to be insulted.”
“Why did you come here? I can't think of anything we need to say to one another.”
Kennedy wanted to shout, but held herself to loud whisper, “You owe me an explanation as to why you're in my town, interfering with my business.”
The disinterested light in Buffy's eyes disappeared at Kennedy's words, replaced by something feral and dangerous. In a deceptively low voice Buffy asked, “I owe you? I owe you?
I'd ask how dare you take that tone with me, but I won't bother as it's clear that you're just a brat. You come sneaking in here in the middle of the night, why I don't have the slightest idea, and you make demands? Where the hell do you get off?”
Kennedy gnawed the inside of her lower lip in chagrin, meeting the fierce green stare of the other Slayer. This was not going at all the way she'd imagined. Notty was going to be furious. His instructions had been clear: Go in, talk to Buffy, thank her for her help, and, if possible, find out the why and how of her showing up in Sunnydale. He'd stressed to not be confrontational, especially as the other Slayer was genuinely dangerous and not to be trifled with. He'd seen that corridor the same as Kennedy, after all. And if she was an assassin, the last thing they needed to do was give her reason to come after them. Now she'd messed up big time, and the girl sitting opposite her was staring back with an expression that clearly indicated she thought of Kennedy as only a step up from dog shit, if that.
Silence dominated the room as two Slayers stared at one another. Finally, Kennedy broke it, blurting, “I'm sorry! I saw what you did in the Initiative and I just wanted toimpressyouandnowImessedupandI'mgoingtobeinsomuchtrouble!”
Buffy's expression, which had started out cold and angry, had undergone several changes over the course of Kennedy's apology, ranging from shock to surprise and now hovered somewhere around confused bemusement.
“Breath," Buffy commanded. She met Kennedy's eyes and seemed to read the nervousness there. “Relax. I'm not going to bite.”
Kennedy nodded slowly. “Okay, but you can't blame me for being nervous. How would you feel being in my shoes and facing the Council's Slayer assassin?”
Buffy's green eyes almost seemed to glow as she demanded, "What did you just say?”
Kennedy audibly gulped. “You would be nervou-”
Emphatic. “No.” Buffy's eyes bored into Kennedy's. “What did you say about me being the Council's assassin?”
“Notty and I figured it out. When the Council wouldn't answer any questions about you. Why not? You were supposed to be 'dead'.” Kennedy did air quotes at the last word. She continued, “There was even another Slayer called after you. Yet there you were, operating here in Sunnydale, all the way up until last June. Even if there wasn't another Slayer called between us, I was called in May. When Notty and I got here in late August, we almost immediately started hearing rumors about the 'Slayer.' It wasn't hard to figure out from there.”
Kennedy was conscious that Buffy's gaze had gone through several permutations during her explanation, but seemed to have finally settled upon incredulity. The other girl opened and closed her mouth several times before finally asking, in a rather dry tone, “You took all of that info and the best explanation you could come up with was that I was some kind of Slayer assassin? While attending the Air Force Academy full time? Seriously?”
Kennedy had a sinking sensation in her stomach as she began wondering just how wrong they were. Before she could ask another question, Buffy spoke, “I mean, haven't you ever heard of Occam's Razor?”
Kennedy froze, confused. “What?”
Buffy's face lost a lost of its coldness as she animatedly explained, “Occam's Razor. It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Another way to say it is that the simplest explanation is often the correct one. I mean if you failed a test, which would be more likely: that you needed to study more, or that the professor changed the answers because they didn't like you. See what I mean?”
Kennedy understood what Buffy was saying, but couldn't figure out how it applied here. “I don't see-”
The words hung between the two girls like a wall. Buffy's eyes had a strange, distant expression in them that made her look years older. An expression that Kennedy's grandfather had used before about soldiers he's served with popped into her memory. He's seen the elephant. There had been a similar expression in his eyes as he told her stories of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, of the battles he'd been in and of the friends who'd died, as if he'd lost something there that was never to be recovered.
Buffy's smile was mirthless. “The usual way. I was sixteen. I'd only been in Sunnydale a few months. I'd been the Slayer less than a year. A master vampire was trying to escape the Hellmouth and I was trying to stop him. He killed me.”
She'd died? That still provided more questions than answers. Kennedy pointed out the obvious. “You're still alive.”
Buffy nodded absently. A fond smile broke out on her face, transforming it and making Kennedy catch her breath. If she wasn't already in love and if the other girl didn't intimidate her so much, she would be seriously attracted. Buffy continued, blithely unaware of Kennedy's thoughts, “I had this wonderful friend. Brave and stubborn. Loyal, too. He followed me down there. After the Master bit me, he left to drown in a pool of water. Xander found me and gave me CPR. After he revived me, I ended up fighting the Master again. This time I kicked his ass. But I was dead long enough for another Slayer to be called. I met her several months later. Kendra was her name.”
Kennedy sat there stunned. Two Slayers existed because the first had drowned and been revived. She still had questions, however. “I don't understand why the Council thinks you died.”
Buffy eyed her, but finally explained, “I was there when the high school blew up. They probably figured I died in the blast.”
How could that be? Kennedy knew that wouldn't work and tried to explain it to the other Slayer. “But they have spells and seers to find Slayers. It would take something ridiculously powerful to block that.”
Buffy's nodded. “Yeah. I'm pretty sure they took care of it. Like they did with the Academy.”
Kennedy shook her head in confusion. “They who?”
In response, Buffy's eyes glanced upwards. Kennedy stared at her blankly, then she followed that glance until she was looking up as well. Higher powers? Was Buffy talking about the Powers That Be? If so, she understood how they could do it. Dubiously, she eyed Buffy. “Seriously?”
Buffy wearily nodded. “Trust me, you don't wanna know.”
No, she probably didn't if it was them. “Is that why you joined the Air Force-”
With finality, her answer was just one word. “Yes.”
Kennedy wanted so badly to ask Buffy exactly why they wanted her in the Air Force, but even she could see the other girl wasn't going to say anything further on the subject. She doubted that she would have gotten anything further from her even if she hadn't messed up regarding the MP's. Buffy seemed well able to keep secrets.
Just then, a thought struck Kennedy. Diffidently, she asked, “Earlier you talked about the vampire that killed you. You called him the Master. Did you mean a master vampire? Or the Master?”
Buffy gave her an odd look, but answered, “The Master. You know, the head of the Order of Aurelius.”
Holy shit! Buffy Summer had killed Heinrich Joseph Nest, the head of the Order of Aurelius. Kennedy shouldn't be surprised after seeing that hellish corridor. Anyone who could take on at least forty demons and kill them could certainly kill any vampire, even the Master, the oldest one known. “That's amazing!” Kennedy gushed, then turned red in embarrassment at Buffy's raised eyebrows.
Tentative, Kennedy began again. “I saw what you did down there in the Initiative. I've never seen anything like it. I can't even imagine how good you are, how awesome the fight was-.”
Buffy, who had seemed to relax a bit as their conversation went on, now sat completely erect, as if she had a metal rod running down her spine. She fixed Kennedy with a steely look and declared, “It wasn't awesome. It was hard and ugly. But hard doesn't matter when you have people who are depending on you for their lives. You dig deep and find a way to win. Not for yourself, but for them. Because they deserve that from you. That's something you're going to need to figure out, Kennedy.”
Kennedy startled. “Me?” She wanted to look away from what she saw in the other's eyes. Buffy stared at her as if she was trying to read her soul.
“You. You're the Slayer now. You're the only thing standing between humanity and the things that want to end us. You need to step up. Push yourself. Think before you act. Be the best Slayer, the best person, you can possibly be. Just never forget what you're fighting for. You lose sight of that, and you won't last.” This last was said in such an emphatic tone that Kennedy knew that Buffy believed in it with every fiber of her being. She thought it definitely sounded like something that she could buy into.
Hesitantly, Kennedy asked, “Do you mind if I stay here for little while and we talk? I'll try not to ask you about anything too sensitive, but I could really use some advice.” She wouldn't be surprised if the other girl told her no.
Kennedy held her breath as Buffy considered her request. She only let it out when she nodded. “I wanted to ask how you deal with...”
Jack walked steadily towards Cali's room. He was filled with a restless energy that hadn't allowed him to sleep. So after showering and eating, and filling in General Hammond over a secure line, he was back at Sunnydale General. He'd only stopped by a late night burger place to pick up something just in case she was hungry. Two burgers and two shakes from a drive thru that could double as Fort Knox and he'd been on his way. Maybe if he checked on Cali again and satisfied himself that she was really all right, he could at least catch a catnap in the chair by her bed. Plus, if she woke up, he could talk to her about the favor he'd strong armed out of the President. And feed her again.
Jack approached Cali's room, noting with approval that the two MP's there, a different set than earlier, seemed no less alert. It was 0200 hours, and while it wasn't the most difficult time for a sentry, it was close.
The Staff Sergeant on the right checked his credentials. However, instead of waving him through, he said, “Cadet Summer has a guest, sir. I just wanted to give you a heads up before you went in.”
That was when Jack heard it, low murmurs coming from within Cali's room. He immediately opened the door and stepped in. Instead of the scene of interrogation that he'd been half-fearing, despite knowing that the guards would have prevented any such act, Jack appeared to have stumbled into a teenage sleepover. Cali and another girl sat cross-legged on her hospital bed, facing one another and giggling madly. At least they appeared to be doing so until he burst in. Twin exclamations greeted him.
“Who's the old guy?”
Buffy sat facing Kennedy, carefully chatting about the old days in Sunnydale. The girl wasn't so bad once you got past her prickly exterior, kind like a bratty younger sister. While Buffy was an only child, she'd had friends with siblings who'd behaved remarkably similarly. Buffy didn't think that they'd ever be friends, being too dissimilar, but they could have a certain mutual respect, driven through shared experiences. Although, truthfully, Buffy found the other girl's lack of discipline and focus more than a little irritating, like an itch you couldn't quite reach.
Buffy had been more than a little amused by Kennedy's reaction to her. It had been difficult not to give her own reaction away as Kennedy's body language showed just how intimidated she was. Especially at the bravado Kennedy, herself, showed as an overreaction to many of Buffy's stories, especially those dealing with the Order of Aurelius. It had reminded Buffy a bit of Faith, who too had tried so hard to impress the girl who'd intimidated her. Ultimately, a boasting Kennedy had revealed that she'd killed Spike, which made Buffy feel a bit relieved and nostalgic at the same time. While she hadn't gone into many details, Buffy got the impression that Kennedy had been handed her ass by Spike at least once.
Buffy had casually mentioned the times she'd fought Spike, finding him a worthy foe and giving Kennedy her kudos for beating him. After all, she, too, had almost lost to the peroxide pest the first time they'd fought. It had only been her mom coming to her rescue with a fire axe that had saved her. So Buffy could definitely relate.
Something that had clearly added to Kennedy's emotional turmoil was the revelation that there hadn't been one, but rather two
Slayers called since Buffy's death and Kennedy's own calling. Each Slayer had barely lasted a year, which clearly made Kennedy not only feel her mortality, but wonder at Buffy's four years as a Slayer. Buffy had pointed out that half the times she'd survived could be directly credited to the help from her friends. Since Kennedy had friends who helped her as well, and hadn't that been a shock to find out, she had a leg up on the other two Slayers who hadn't. Still, Kennedy's shell-shocked expression had shown a touch of despair at the revelation. Unfortunately, it was something that she was going to have to face, just as Buffy had long ago, that all Slayers, no matter how good, had an expiration date.
Finally, Buffy realized that it was the fight down in the Initiative that had cemented Kennedy's feelings towards her. Only another Slayer would know just how dire the battle had been and be able to judge another's skills from the results. Thinking back on it, Buffy
still didn't know how she'd survived. A great deal of it had been just a stubborn refusal to die. Still, some of the things she'd done should have been impossible. But Buffy had done them anyway. Kennedy likely knew at some visceral level that such survival was impossible, and instinctively deferred to the other slayer who had survived.
Buffy also found it amusing that Kennedy's Watcher, the same hardass who had taken her call, had been Impressed with a capital I. Kennedy had glumly revealed that he already was planning a new training program for her that would soon have her doing half a dozen impossible things before breakfast.
Seeing the affection there, Buffy had carefully described the Cruciamentum to Kennedy, watching as her eyes widened. She'd made no judgments or suggestions regarding 'Notty,' letting the other Slayer make her own decisions, but had mentioned the need for awareness and care. Buffy had also told Kennedy about Faith's death at the hands of the Watcher's Council, warning her despite what appeared to be a healthy suspicion of them. Fortunately, that had taken care of the 'heavy' stuff, allowing them to talk about lighter subjects from then on.
Buffy had listened to anecdotes from Kennedy's first year adventures. She found them amusing and interesting, especially in how differently Kennedy had handled things than Buffy would have. Or even how the Buffy she'd been before would have. It brought home just how much the Air Force had changed her as Buffy realized that now she thought of multiple back up plans as normal when before she had just 'winged' it. She mused that if she fought the Judge today, none of the vampires accompanying him would have made it out alive, not even Angel. And she would have had three more ways to kill the Judge ready to go just in case the rocket launcher failed.
In turn, Buffy had told Kennedy bits and pieces of her own time on the Hellmouth, though she'd avoided any of a myriad of touchy subjects that resonated too much to share with just an acquaintance, even if the other was a Slayer. She had told Kennedy a little bit about life at the Zoo. Kennedy, for the first time, had giggled and acted like a teenage girl, as she listened to the weird and wonderful adventures of a fourth year cadet. Buffy had almost giggled herself as she told a story about fourth year cadets being thrown like dwarves down a mattress-covered hallway as part of cadet hijinks. Kennedy's surprise and subsequent revelation that she had dreamed of that exact event, had put some of her own dreams of Kennedy's life in perspective.
When Kennedy had asked Buffy why these higher powers had her dream of Buffy's time at the Academy, Buffy had suggested to her with a completely straight face, that they were likely grooming her as a replacement just in case Buffy failed. Kennedy's utter horror had finally pushed Buffy over the edge and she'd giggled like fiend at the other's dismay. If there was a hint of hysteria in Buffy's laughter, neither girl commented on it. Of course, it was at that exact moment that Colonel O'Neill walked in.
Buffy sat up straighter as she saw her superior officer enter. More than a little surprised at his presence, she barely managed a “Colonel?”
“Who's the old guy?”
Buffy winced at Kennedy's irreverent question. Of course the Colonel had the aplomb to field it easily. Sharp eyes checked both girls out as he casually responded, “The 'old guy' is Colonel Jack O'Neill. I'm Cadet Summers' officer sponsor. Who might you be?” At the same time, he held out a hand to shake.
Kennedy gave Buffy a slightly uncertain look, but still cheekily said as she shook his hand, “Nice to meet you, Colonel. I'm Kennedy. I'm a friend of Buffy's.”
Buffy interjected at this point. “Colonel, Kennedy was just leaving.”
Kennedy slid off the bed and was past Colonel O'Neill before he could comment, saying over her shoulder, “Nice to have met you, Colonel. Get well soon, Buffy.”
With that, she was gone. Buffy met Colonel O'Neill's intent eyes as they focused with laser-like precision on her. She was extremely glad that she'd cottoned onto Kennedy's entrance being at the expense of the MP's outside because she was quite certain that the Colonel would not have been even the smallest amount forgiving of what he perceived to be dereliction of duty. Worse, if he'd suspected they were drugged or something similar, it would have put Kennedy and her visit under a microscope that would have almost certainly brought things out into the open that she couldn't afford. Including the fact that she was the Slayer.
Buffy had finally figured out that the Powers That Be did not want her outed as a Slayer at this point. She wasn't stupid and had put all of the pieces together from the TOP SECRET nature of the assignment to the discretion of the familiar doctor who had treated her, having seen her chart and knowing it was a polite fiction at best. The capper, of course, had been her injuries.
While the more grievous injuries were still giving her trouble, like her arm, ribs, and knee, all of the more minor ones, most especially those in more visible areas, had healed unbelievably fast. While Buffy could heal very minor cuts in just minutes with deeper ones taking just a few hours, even she couldn't heal hundreds of them and the accompanying bruises that quickly. It was as if her healing had been redirected towards her least important injuries, while leaving her more important ones for later. It had sucked royally as Buffy had been in a lot of pain and slept far more than she usually required.
Fortunately, it appeared to be over and Buffy was now healing normally. Well, normally, that is, for a Slayer. Her arm, only a green stick fracture, would be healed in three days or so. Her ribs and knee would likely take twice that, but afterward, no one would ever she'd been hurt. Any of the remaining more trivial wounds would be gone by the day after tomorrow. All in all, it was tailor-made for hiding it from Colonel O'Neill.
While Buffy didn't always follow the wishes of the Powers, she had decided that in this case, the potential downside outweighed the upside. The Colonel might overreact to any revelations she made to him or he might not. Regardless, Buffy couldn't be sure she could trust everyone that he trusted. She had to believe that the Powers had a reason for the secrecy. And there were two other reasons she was reluctant for Colonel O’Neill to discover the truth about one Cadet Buffy Summers.
The Colonel was the first adult that Buffy felt like she could trust, other than her mother, that Buffy could remember. Even Giles, an overall strong and decent man, had betrayed her
to do what he saw as his
duty. That act had hurt Buffy more than she could fathom. If he had lived, she might have been able to truly forgive him and for them to regain their closeness, but Giles' death had put paid to that. And so Buffy was left with another adult, another man, who hadn't been there for her when it mattered.
Buffy knew that just like Giles, Colonel O'Neill would not hesitate to sacrifice Buffy to his duty. But what he would not do was to lie to her or trick her to do so. Instead, he would likely tell her all of the facts and expect her to do what was necessary, to do her
duty, even if it meant her death. That was something that Buffy could respect. Especially when she suspected that if she were going to her death it would be because she was following where the Colonel was leading. He simply wasn't someone who expected less of himself than he did the men and women who followed him.
At the very least, the Colonel respected her. If there was more there, well, they would both likely dance around that very difficult subject. While Buffy looked up to him, he treated her in a way that she'd never had from anyone in her life. He valued her judgment and her abilities, her intelligence and courage. He valued her
. It was something that Buffy would only give up if there were no other choice.
The other reason was just a deep seated fear that if she were to try to rock the boat that the Powers were sailing, they choose to do something to the Colonel. Clearly, his was a dangerous job. Buffy remembered him being missing for all that time. It would take no more than a nudge here and there for something to happen to him. Buffy already suspected the Powers had made certain he was out of the way so that Buffy was clear to go to Sunnydale. She was reluctant to find out how much further they might go if they thought if necessary. To prevent this, Buffy only had her obedience and the threat of just how she would react if they pushed her too far. It would be an ugly situation and mutually assured destruction wasn't the best bargaining tool even if you were a powerful nation.
A teasing voice interrupted her dark thoughts. “I'd offer you a penny or your thoughts, but with inflation the way it is, you'd probably just sneer at me.”
Buffy couldn't prevent a broad smile from spreading across her face. Softly, she teased back, “No, sir. The Academy taught me to never sneer at a superior officer. No matter what they say.”
Colonel O'Neill smiled back at her. “Words to live by. So how are you feeling, Cadet?”
Buffy's smile faded as she thought about the various aches and pains that she'd pushed to the background. Of course as soon as she thought about it, they all came rushing back. Meeting the Colonel's eyes, Buffy honestly said, “I've felt better.”
“Well, you look a lot better than you did earlier.”
“Thank you again, sir.”
Colonel O'Neill just waved her off. “None needed.” After a moment, he continued, “I couldn't sleep so I figured I would pop in and check on you. Is there anything you need? More pain meds? Food?”
At that moment, Buffy's stomach rumbled. At her sheepish look, the Colonel laughed. “Well, that answers that question. I've got that covered.” He set the two bags on her tray table and pulled out the burgers and shakes. “Eat up. You're too skinny. Afterward, we'll talk about a few things that you need to know about. Oh and you'd better enjoy them. I had to go through a drive thru that was built like Ft Knox to get them.”
“Yes, sir!” Eagerly, Buffy grabbed the nearest burger and unwrapped it. In and Out Burger, her favorite. When the Colonel had first mentioned food, she had thought he might have gone to Doublemeat Palace. Despite their ads, they had never tasted quite right or filled her up. In and Out, on the other hand, was topnotch. Ooohhh, and chocolate shakes! She briefly smiled around a mouthful of burger at the Colonel's comment about where he got them. Drive thru's in Sunnydale were mostly pretty tough to minimize staff snatching.
Buffy was aware that Colonel O'Neill was watching her the entire time she was eating. Instead of bothering her, she actually found it reassuring. It felt like when her mom waited up for her after patrol with cookies and snacks. Not wanting to talk, but just reveling in the fact that Buffy was still alive. Slurping ever so slightly on the last of her second shake, Buffy looked up to meet his eyes with a smile.
“Don't worry, I'll make sure you get breakfast before we leave.”
The Colonel nodded. “We'll all be flying out at 1100 hours. You're going back with us, cadet.”
Buffy was more than a little surprised at that. She'd expected to catch another Space-A flight or fly commercial, taking a few days to get back. That way, she'd be mostly healed by the time she got back. Flying back with the Colonel and his team, she would need to be extra careful.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Like I'll be letting you out of my sight until I drop you off at your mother's house. Cali, you can use the rest of this term and next for leave. You won't be expected back until the 7th of July for last term and SERE Training.”
Buffy froze. “Sir?”
“What about my parachute training at Fort Benning with the 507th? It starts on the 16th of June, sir.”
Colonel O'Neill blinked. Then blinked again. Finally, he got out, “Cadet Summers, do you mean to tell me that you still intend to attend Airborne Training for second term despite the... events of the past few days?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
The Colonel's gaze sharpened to laser-like intensity. “Cadet, you have been through a very difficult time. I do not think at this time that it would to your benefit to engage in something as strenuous as Airborne Training when you are less than one hundred percent. I would like you own assessment of the situation and your reasons for proceeding.”
Buffy started to come to attention, or at least as much as she could while seated, but he waved her off. In a careful tone, she said, “Sir, I have an excellent understanding of my physical abilities as well as what I am and am not capable of. I know the physical requirements of the course. I have already performed the APFT to standard and will be able to do so again when reporting. I have fourteen days before said training begins. I can use that time to rehab and should be very close to one hundred percent when Airborne Training begins. As regards the mental stress, I was actually looking forward to it as a kind of vacation, sir. It is going to be fun. I cannot imagine a better choice for recovery than participating in this training.”
Colonel O'Neill scrutinized her carefully. “Cadet Summers, I will consider it on the following conditions. First, you must pass a physical from a military doctor before reporting. He needs to clear you unequivocally for duty. Second, I want to personally see you perform the APFT. Third, I will need to see a a run of no less than five miles with a pace of eight minutes a mile. Fourth, I want you to see a shrink that I know.”
Buffy blinked. Carefully, she asked, “A psychiatrist, sir?”
Colonel O'Neill nodded. “Yes, and before you say you're fine, that you don't need to talk to a shrink, let me just say this. Sometimes it helps to talk about difficult issues. If nothing else, she will be able to give you some exercises to work off stress, if you don’t want to talk with her. Unfortunately, you can't talk about specifics of what you saw, but she's cleared TOP SECRET and can hear how it started and the aftermath of getting injured.”
Buffy considered, then nodded. “I can live with those conditions, sir.” After all, what choice did she have? It did make her feel good that the Colonel was looking out for her, even if he didn't need to.
Colonel O'Neill nodded. “Now that's the worst thing we had to talk about. I do, however, have something else to talk about. This may not be the best time or place to bring it up, but neither of us seems ready to sleep just yet.”
“”I am good, sir.”
He rubbed his hands together. “Good. Okay, here's the skinny. I have been able to move forward with certain plans at a rate faster than I expected and I wanted to tell you how this will affect you. DSRT is bringing in officers at an accelerated rate. Accelerated to the point that this year, beginning in August, we are bringing in three first year cadets who will finish their schooling while working with us. Officer Classes and Military Training will occur through actual duty shifts while they will finish any remaining academic classes via correspondence with Academy visits once every four weeks to allow them to access to professors for questions and feedback. They will graduate on time and be commissioned as 2nd lieutenants at that time. However, they will have a brevet rank of 2nd lieutenant while working in my command.”
Buffy's eyes were huge. The Air Force almost never frocked an officer. To be doing so now, meant that whatever was going on in the Colonel's command was truly important. Actually, she wasn't even sure this qualified as brevetting or frocking as the person it was being done to wasn't even an officer.
“I understand, sir.”
The Colonel's eyes gleamed with amusement as he said, “But you wonder why I'm telling you this. I'm telling you because I want to have you do the same at the end of third year.”
Buffy was shocked. “Third
Colonel O'Neill nodded solemnly. “Yes, Cali. As a second
year cadet, a year earlier than any of your classmates. So at the end of next May, I want to move you into the Mountain and have you work in my command as a brevet 2nd lieutenant. All of the points I already made will apply to you.”
Buffy stared, her heart pounding. After a moment, she got out, “I understand, Colonel.”
“I want you to take some time to think this over. It is a big change and you would have to work hard to earn the respect of your peers. Also, you will miss out on a number of Academy social events and traditions, which I regret. So give me your answer after the end of the second summer term.”
Buffy came to attention as much as she could sitting there. Eyes straight ahead and head erect, she stated, “Sir, I accept your offer. You can count me in.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy could see the smile that tugged on the corner of the Colonel's mouth. “I never thought you would say no, Cali. But I'll still offer you the chance to again say no at the end of second summer term in five weeks.”
Buffy allowed her eyes to slide his way and smiled involuntarily at the proud look on his face. They shared that look a long moment, then Colonel O'Neill continued, “To facilitate this change, you will be working on your SECRET and TOP SECRET clearances successively. So first, there will be an interim SECRET clearance investigation. Afterward, the SSBI will begin for your TOP SECRET. That means there can't be any skeletons so come clean when the Department of State Office of Personnel Security and Suitability comes calling. The timing could be tight, as SECRET can take thirty to forty-five days and TOP SECRET can take six to nine months.”
Buffy doubted it could be done in that length of time. The Colonel must have read her face because he laughed. “Relax, Cali. I'll let you in on a little secret. I investigated your background back when I first agreed to sponsor you. With all of the background information we already have on you, I'll be surprised if it takes even half that time. It will probably take you longer to sign all of the nondisclosure agreements required.”
Buffy relaxed back against the pillows in relief, although not sure if she should be concerned that she'd already been investigated or not. “Thank you, sir.”
He waved her off. “No need to thank me. Actually, you'll probably hate by the time you get through fall and spring semesters.”
Buffy actually grinned as she teased, “More papers, sir?”
Colonel O'Neill shook his head. “You're going to be far too busy to write papers. No, Cadet Summers, what you will be doing is taking an additional six credit hours along with the usual nineteen. Each semester. I also need you to complete your course load with nothing lower than a B minus.”
That was insane! The course load was already huge compare to an ordinary four year college. Adding six more hours to an already overloaded schedule along with drill and inspections, was going to be beyond tough. Grimly, Buffy nodded. “I can do it, sir.”
“I don't doubt it a bit, Cali.”
Buffy was curious about one thing. Deciding to be direct, she asked, “Colonel, how much of what's happening is a direct result of what happened down there in that base?”
The Colonel's eyes glittered a moment with anger. He took a deep breath before saying, “I was already planning to do this with you after your third year as a cadet. Same as the others. But to answer your question, I moved my plans up a year because of that.”
Buffy sat there numbly as she pondered whether the entire thing had been set up to achieve this result by the Powers That Be. Finally, she decided it didn't matter as there was nothing she could do about it. And there was something else she wanted to ask the Colonel.”
Diffidently, Buffy asked, “Colonel, will we still be having dinner together on Saturday evenings?” Trying not to sound too needy, Buffy continued, “That was something I missed while you were gone.”
Colonel O'Neill nodded. “Of course we will. I'll be checking to make sure you don't have too much piled on top of your shoulders.”
Buffy nodded with a confident smile. She could do it. More than anything, she wanted him to be proud of her. “I can handle it, sir. I'm tougher than I look.”
Colonel O'Neill suddenly looked haunted as he sat there. After a moment, he spoke in a quiet tone, “I know you are. You're tougher than boot leather. Understand something, Cadet Summers. You are not to push yourself too hard. As what 'too hard' is, we'll be reviewing on Saturdays. Is that clear, Cadet?”
“It is clear, sir!”
I wrote the first section through the lens of Kennedy's attitude and from her POV so if Buffy comes across a little ooc it's because Kennedy views her as a total hard ass. Just as Buffy views her as a brat.
Next time, expect Buffy jumping out of a plane. Also, more men in black...