Chapter Eight—First Year: The Aftermath
I recently changed Buffy's sponsor to Senator Kinsey. AllenPitt came up with that suggestion. Thanks very much. Also, Jurph from “another” board also helped with certain information about the Air Force.
Jack stared, stunned into silence. His cadet had just pounded the marine. Even having seen it, Jack couldn't credit it. Man, he thought, she could give Master Bra'tac some pointers. If Jack were a more suspicious person, he'd think she was a Goa'uld or something. However, just looking at the girl's face, full of astonished pleasure as her teammates pounded her on the back and high-fived her, put paid to that idea. Not everything's about the damn Goa'uld, Jack thought. Some things were about someone doing something amazing. Cadet Summers was extraordinarily skilled. But it was her speed that had won the fight. Except for the cheap shot, Wilson had never even hit her. Jack was vaguely aware of handfuls of cash being slapped into his hands as one disgruntled officer after another handed over his winnings. Even the most disgruntled though, had clapped and cheered as Cadet Summers had taken down her opponent. Jack stuffed money into his pockets until he couldn't fit any more. He straightened and folded some bills and managed to stuff them into his back pocket. Okay that was it. At least he hoped so. Truthfully, he couldn't even remember everyone with whom he'd bet. Which would have been a problem if he'd lost, Jack thought. Since I won, well, if someone missed paying me, I'm not going to be exactly destitute.
Since things were calming down ringside, he decided to head over and congratulate Cadet Summers. Halfway there, Jack ran into Colonel McNamara. “I'm sorry, Colonel O'Neill, but I'll have to owe you the money. I don't have that much cash on me.”
And you didn't expect to lose, Jack thought, seeing the puckered, lemony face the other colonel wore. He looked extremely unhappy. Jack thought Cadet Wilson lucked out not having McNamara as his supervisor. Not that he wouldn't get enough grief from his friends and classmates. “That's okay, Colonel, mail it to me when you can. Please excuse me, I need to go over and tell my cadet what a great job she did.” With that, Jack walked off.
With brooding eyes, Colonel McNamara watched the flyboy depart. He still didn't know how Wilson had lost the match, but he had his suspicions. In all of his years as a Marine, McNamara had never seen anyone move that fast. He'd had a ringside seat for the blurring punches the smack had hit Wilson with. McNamara wasn't sure anyone else had seen anything out of the ordinary. With the things he dealt with on a day-to-day basis, something like a hundred-pound blonde beating up on his two-hundred-and-twenty-pound marine made him extremely suspicious. He planned to grill the young man once he was completely awake. He had two days' leave left before he needed to get back to Sunnydale. Hopefully, he would get to the bottom of it. At worst, he'd have wasted his last two days of leave. At best, Walsh would have another lab subject. Straightening his hat, McNamara headed back to his hotel room
As Jack approached, one of the cadets spotted him and his eyes widened in surprise. He quickly called “Atten-hut!”
Jack stifled a grin as the handful of cadets putting up gear snapped to attention. Well, he thought with amusement, at least the Academy still teaches cadets the basics. His amusement vanished at the slight wince from Cadet Summers as she snapped to. She had taken a serious elbow-strike to the side while her defenses were down. Jack just hoped those ribs were just bruised. “At ease, cadets. Great job on coming in second. We'll get those Marines next year. Cadet Summers, I want to congratulate you as well on a great win. By the way, how are the ribs? You took a pretty hard hit out there and incidentally disobeyed a direct order.”
Buffy froze, her face wearing a 'deer in the headlights' look. Then at Colonel O'Neill's inquiring look, she quickly responded, “Fine, sir! I didn't mean to disobey, sir. Just that jar... err, Marine, got my back up. I wasn't going to let him win that way, sir.”
“Relax, Cadet. I was kidding. Even us colonels do that occasionally. Now let me see those ribs.”
“Sir, Captain Billings...” Buffy stopped at the colonel's stern look. Rats, she thought. Self-consciously, Buffy opened her gi. She had a black sports bra on that covered more than a bikini top, but it was one thing for a fellow cadet to see her in it and another thing entirely for two superior officers now, to do so. Thank god I didn't wear a normal bra, she thought, although now I wish I'd worn a t-shirt under my gi. Buffy had decided to go ahead and err on the side of caution, despite doubting she'd have any reason to disrobe here.
Jack winced as he saw her ribs. That's gotta hurt, he thought, having experienced something similar on more than one occasion. The area where the hit had landed was already turning a nice shade of purple. Jack touched her ribs, very gently prodding the area. Cadet Summers winced slightly, but otherwise didn't let on that she was in any pain. Tough kid, Jack thought approvingly. Despite the appearance, Jack figured the ribs were only bruised. Otherwise, he doubted even someone as tough as Cadet Summers would have kept from flinching at his touch.
Standing barefoot next to him, Jack was again conscious of just how small Cadet Summers was. And skinny, he thought disapprovingly. “Okay, Cadet, zip it up. I don't think anything's broken unless you have an even higher tolerance for pain than I think you do. Still, when you get back to the Academy, I want you to get this looked at.” He smiled at her mulish expression. “That's a direct order. Probably the same order that Captain Billings gave you.” At her nod, he continued, “Now onto the other thing I wanted to discuss with you.”
“What's that, sir?” Buffy was wondering what Colonel O'Neill wanted. In between advice on how best to handle Wilson, Captain Billings had given her a brief run-down on one Colonel Jack O'Neill. Apparently he'd been some kind of Special Ops spook back in the day. Now he worked in Cheyenne Mountain, coincidentally the place where Buffy had to go. Deep Space Radar Telemetry didn't sound like anything like the Stargate, but Buffy had to wonder why someone like Colonel O'Neill would be working on so dull a project. The colonel had impressed Buffy a great deal. He had a blunt, forceful manner that nevertheless gave hints of a wry sense of humor. He'd been every inch the professional officer when he'd come over to congratulate her. She'd seen the concern in his eyes as he'd probed her ribs carefully. That he was wrong about just how much pain Buffy could take wasn't his fault. She was the Slayer after all. Buffy had been surprised that he'd noticed her reaction at all when she'd come to attention. Good powers of observation, she guessed. I could do worse than to use him as a role-model, Buffy thought, remembering the surge of pride she'd felt when he'd congratulated her.
“Well, to feed you for one. Has the food quality gone down at the Academy, Cadet?”
Buffy almost choked. “No, sir!”
“Huh. Well, I want you to eat more of it. You're too thin. Now back to what I was going to tell you. I won quite a bit betting on you, so I wanted to say thank you. I'm taking you out to a celebratory dinner, Cadet. I'll get permission from the Academy's commandant for you to go off-base.”
“Yes, Cadet. Dinner. You know, where you use those little metal thingamajigs to eat with. That kind of dinner. I wanted to speak with you about your major and what career path you expect to follow once you graduate. So be prepared to discuss this and take notes. How does that sound?”
Buffy figured when a full colonel asks you how something sounds, you had better say just fine. So she said exactly that. “Fine, sir. Err... when?”
“You have Parents' Weekend coming up?” At Cadet Summers's nod, Jack concluded, “We'll call it the weekend after that. Saturday evening, assuming nothing comes up at my command. Actually, I won't need your commandant's permission then, will I.”
“No, sir. That's Deep Space Radar Telemetry, sir?”
“That's me, Cadet.”
“Do you have to change a lot of plans over DSRT, sir?”
“You never know when an egghead will fly off the handle and do something odd, Cadet. And I have a lot of eggheads reporting to me up there. Congratulations again, Cadet Summers.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Remember, infirmary and food. In that order.”
Buffy watched Colonel O'Neill walk away. Self-consciously, she noticed the sidelong glances she was receiving from her teammates. Buffy didn't think it was often that a full colonel was interested in the doings of a smack. She hoped that she didn't screw up dinner. At least being in the military simplified one thing. Before, Buffy would probably have taken hours trying to figure out what to wear. But when you only had uniforms, it made it pretty easy to pick out an outfit. Colorado Springs Airport, the next day...
Colonel McNamara prepared to board his flight. He wasn't due back from leave for another day, but he wanted to speak with Professor Walsh. The investigation into Cadet Summers had proved... unsatisfactory. After questioning Cadet Wilson, McNamara had begun to doubt what he'd seen. The cadet had indicated that he was beat by a superior fighter, but one that was hardly superhuman. He also seemed to think he would win a rematch. McNamara doubted that, but Wilson's very confidence blunted the worst of his suspicions. He was honest enough with himself to wonder if it was his own prejudice against women that made what Cadet Summers had done seem so out of the ordinary. He didn't think so, but he would be extra careful in his judgment because of this.
He'd accessed her Academy file as well. She burned down a gym in high school and spent a few days in an asylum. Finding out that she had moved to Sunnydale after that had also served to whet his suspicions. Her involvement with what amounted to vigilante groups made him wonder if she was aware of the darker side of Sunnydale. He'd also found out that she'd had a powerful sponsor in Senator Kinsey, and had gained admission to the Academy partially upon letters of recommendation written by the deceased former mayor, chief of police, and principal of Sunnydale High. The former made him extra wary of her and the latter was suspicious in and of itself. McNamara wondered if she was one of the senator's 'pets.' If so, he would have to rethink or even abandon his approach. Once he was back in Sunnydale, McNamara thought he could talk Walsh into giving him some additional time and resources, but for now, he was done. Three days later...
Buffy walked to class, trying to keep an eye out for Second and First-Class cadets. She'd been 'stood to' about ten times a day ever since winning that match over the Marine. So far, the impromptu inspections had taken three forms. The first were upperclassmen who wanted to congratulate her. Which was cool. The second were those who were curious about the notorious Fourth-Class they'd heard about. Which wasn't too bad. The third group was the problem. Those were the senior cadets who felt it their duty to put uppity smacks into their places. It didn't help that Buffy couldn't summon the faintest bit of apprehension towards them, a fact that apparently she needed to become much more adept at hiding.
Unfortunately, every cadet felt it their duty to grill her on her knowledge of the Air Force, the Academy, their history and traditions. Despite practically memorizing pretty much all of her Academy literature, as well as whatever other info she could get her hands on, when you're quizzed that often, there was always something they knew that you didn't. Buffy had received a record amount of demerits that she had to work off either through running, doing push ups, or by doing some assignment. She absolutely detested the last.
Buffy spotted one of her primary tormentors, First-Class Cadet Lloyd Merryman. She'd met the cadet for the first time two days ago. He fell into the third group.. Buffy wasn't sure why he was such an ass, but knew she hadn't made it better by her demeanor when he'd yelled questions into her face. The clincher had come when he'd yelled, “What was the score of last weekend's football game, Cadet Summers?!”
As Buffy had started to answer, Merryman had yelled at her, drowning out her reply. “Cadet, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!” They'd both finished at the same time. He'd glared at her, obviously expecting her to start again. “Cadet, YOU WILL answer me!”
“Sir, I did answer!” Buffy managed not to roll her eyes at him. She probably shouldn't be even slightly ironic, but Merryman's manner had her back up. The one thing Buffy had struggled with since entering the Academy were the jerks who enjoyed using the Four-Class System to bully others.
“Cadet Summers! YOU WILL answer the question!” From the offended look on his face, Buffy had just seriously pissed off one First-Class Cadet Lloyd Merryman.
Ugh, Buffy thought, I think he just spit on me. She managed not to wipe off her cheek. “Sir, The Fightin' Falcons beat Colorado State, 45-17!”
“Cadet, I want an immediate answer when I speak to you! YOU WILL run two miles at drill today! Is that understood?” Merryman's eyes seemed to gleam as he gave Buffy her punishment. Two miles was extremely high for a minor demerit punishment. Ridiculously so.
Buffy kept her cool as she contemplated how easy it would be for her. “Yes, sir!” With that, Merryman had sauntered off.
Now, he was lurking near her engineering class. Buffy gave the matter a moment's thought, aware she was only a couple of minutes from being late. Deciding on a course of action, she put her plan into effect...
First-Class Cadet Lloyd Merryman stood ten feet from the door of the classroom. He figured to have another little chat with Cadet Summers. Their last meeting hadn't gone the way he'd expected. Instead of breaking down into tears, like the last five cadets he'd bullied, she hadn't even broken a sweat. Instead she'd been dryly ironic in the tone she'd taken when he'd told her to answer. There had also been a quickly hidden contemptuous look in her eyes when he'd chewed her out. Lloyd had enjoyed giving her two miles for her mouth. The penalty was just barely inside of regs, although usually reserved for more heinous offenses. He'd even shown up to her drill that afternoon, looking forward to seeing her stagger through it. Instead, she'd calmly run the four miles total she'd been assigned as penalties at an easy seven-minute-mile pace. She hadn't even bothered to take off her pack! She didn't look to be breathing hard at the end.
Lloyd started as someone brushed by him from behind. He hadn't even heard anyone come up behind him. Lloyd caught just a glimpse of a cadet with short blonde hair, her cap tucked under her arm. It was Summers. He was about to address her, but she'd opened the door to her classroom. Any kind of action against her with class starting up would be a serious no-no. If he had time, he would catch her after class. For now, he had other things to do: namely, conduct multiple inspections of various cadet facilities.
Lloyd was conscious of receiving some odd looks as he headed towards Vandenburg Hall, the first stop on his inspection tour. He was passing a group of female First-Class cadets, headed by Cadet Jennifer Walters, when one he didn't recognize stopped, gave him a look, and touching her butt, making a neighing sound. They all burst into laughter. He stared at them in astonishment. Lloyd wondered what their malfunction was. He had a hint when he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of another cadet slowing down and looking at his back. Lloyd quickly stuck his hand behind his back. Feeling paper, he grabbed a sign that had been posted on his back. Smoothing out the paper, Lloyd read the sign: “HORSE'S ASS HERE.”
Lloyd was beyond angry. When he figured out who'd done this, he was going to make them regret it. He briefly wondered if Cadet Summers was responsible, but dismissed the thought. No smack would be that bold. Although if he did find out she had anything to do with it, he would make sure she washed out of the Academy by spring...Cheyenne Mountain, Thursday afternoon...
Jack dialed the number a second time. The first time he'd called, about an hour ago, it had been busy. Now it was ringing. “Captain Tom Billings.”
“Captain, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill. We met this past weekend.”
Tom was wary as he responded, “Of course, Colonel O'Neill. What can I do for you?”
“This is an unofficial call. I hoped you could help me with some information.”
Tom wasn't actually reassured. “Of course, Colonel. I'll answer anything I can for you.”
“Great. I had some questions about that cadet of yours, Summers.”
“Cadet Summers? What do you need to know?” Tom was getting tense. He didn't like the fact that a full bird colonel with Jack O'Neill's ties to the intelligence community was asking questions about a smack. His smack.
Jack could almost feel the tension communicating itself across the telephone lines. He silently cursed for being too busy to actually go in person. But SG-1 could be called off-world at any moment. Not exactly the best time to head out to the Academy. “Relax, Captain. I was just wondering if she went and saw a doctor at the Academy infirmary. I saw her ribs after the match and they looked bruised at the very least.”
“She's fine, Colonel. She went and saw Dr. Haskell. Clean bill of health. She was back to practice by Tuesday.” Tom was feeling better. He'd heard that O'Neill had won a bundle on Cali. He hadn't been privy to the conversation that had occurred between them after the match, but it had seemed harmless.
Back to practice after only one day of rest? That didn't sound right to Jack. “Captain, I don't want to second guess you. But I've had extensive experience with injuries. Cadet Summers' ribs did not look like they'd have recovered in less than a week, if that. You're telling me she was fine after only one day of rest?”
Tom was starting to get angry. Controlling himself rigidly, he managed to say, “Colonel, I saw her ribs. They were still bruised a little, but there wasn't a hint of anything worse. X-rays on Monday showed there to be no fractures. Her physician also checked for separation and cartilage damage. There was none. Just a nice rainbow color. When Cali told me she was raring to go, I was fine with that. However, I did restrain her to only teaching and Tai Chi this week. Just in case.”
Jack felt like an ass. “I'm sorry, Captain Billings. I'm being a pain in the ass, aren't I?”
“Colonel, I would never say that to a superior officer.”
Jack laughed. He heard an answering chuckle from the other end of the line. “Well said. I'm glad Cali is okay. That brings me to the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. I arranged last weekend to take Summers out to dinner the weekend after Parents' Weekend. I want to talk to her about her career choices. Did she mention it to you?”
“No, sir, she did not. Colonel, while I appreciate the compliment you're paying my cadet, isn't this a little early to start thinking about recruiting? I mean the wash-out rate alone...”
Jack interrupted. “You think Cadet Summers will wash out, Captain?”
Tom hesitated, then capitulated. “No, sir, I do not. She's on her way to becoming a great officer. She will be a credit to the Air Force.”
“That's how I see it too. I pulled her file on Tuesday, and read it. She's had a pretty rough high school experience. Losing her father and her entire high school graduating class to a gas explosion at graduation. She had those police issues her junior year of high school as well. Two murders?”
“Colonel, I'm also aware of what's in her file. All of her instructors were briefed on Cadet Summers because of the potential for emotional problems. Granted I got a slightly later brief than the others because this is an intramural sport rather than a signed-up-for prerequisite. But I asked questions. Sunnydale, where Cali's from, is a hotbed of gang activity. Cali was involved in Take Back The Night groups all through high school. I know she was cleared of any involvement in those crimes. She had letters of recommendation from both the mayor and chief of police of Sunnydale because of those activities. That's what I call officer material.”
“Still, she also told us about her problems as a sophomore. Burned down her high school gym, didn't she? Not to mention, she also spent time in an asylum. I was wondering how she even got into the Academy. She was a late applicant, as well, wasn't she?”
“She passed a complete round of psychiatric tests, Colonel. More than any other cadet has in recent memory. She easily passed BCT. She's made friends. As far as how she got in, scuttlebutt was that her sponsor put the pressure on.”
“Her sponsor? Who is that?”
“Senator Robert Kinsey, Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee. He's pretty high-powered when it comes to the civilian oversight of the Air Force. Are you familiar with him?”
Jack felt his stomach sink. “Yes, I am.”
Hearing an undercurrent of some undefined emotion, Tom asked, “I take you don't think too much of him.”
“You could say that, Captain. I had some difficulties with him at my command up at the Mountain. Gotta love the bean counters. They want every light bulb counted.”
Tom chuckled, “Yes, they do. Well, I hoped I've answered your questions, Colonel.”
“Actually, I have a couple more. I noticed Cadet Summers has taken three sports this year: Racquetball, fencing, and unarmed combat.”
Tom was puzzled. “Yes, Colonel, that's right.”
“One of the most important aspects of any officer or potential officer is his or her ability to be part of a team. Most of the sports available at the Academy are team sports. Yet Cadet Summers has deliberately chosen to avoid team sports, to focus on sports that force her to rely on her own abilities only. I am concerned that Cadet Summers either doesn't trust herself as part of a team or doesn't desire to be part of a team. Either issue will result in her failing in this Academy and as an officer in the Air Force. How would you address my concern?”
“Colonel, I'll need permission to speak freely.”
Jack was puzzled. “Of course, Captain. Please, be completely frank.”
Tom wound up and let fly. “Cadet Summers, Cali, came into my Advanced Unarmed Combat Class and in one day, impressed me enough for me to ask her to help teach this class. I've seen how she interacts with her classmates, all of whom are upperclassmen. The patience, dedication, and humility she has shown. Cadet Summers is courageous, loyal, bright, and a good communicator. She has managed to take her teammates farther than they'd ever gotten under my leadership. I don't know what else we want from one of our officers.”
Jack was surprised to receive such a glowing endorsement from Captain Billings. “Captain, you've only known her for a short time. What makes you so certain?”
Tom snorted. “You're right, Colonel. I've only known Cali for a bit more than three months. But what I've seen from her! She's hungry to learn. I've rarely seen anyone like her. You pat her on the back to compliment and praise her, and she's surprised every time. That tells me how bad her experiences in the educational system must have been. I've gotten so many hints from her along those lines. About three weeks into helping me, she asked me if I thought she should speak to her engineering teacher about a problem she was having. It was as if she couldn't imagine Dr. Hwang would be happy to help her. I told her to talk to him. The issue was resolved satisfactorily, and she hasn't had a problem like that since. Sir, I think you should ask her about her experiences in high school.”
“I'll do that, Captain. Still, it seems a bit of a coincidence that she didn't pick one team sport.”
“Colonel...” Tom hesitated. His idea seemed absurd.
“Go ahead, Captain.”
“I believe that Cadet Summers doesn't believe it's fair to compete in team sports. I think she'll avoid them because of just how talented she is physically.”
“Ooookay, Captain. I'm just a United States Air Force colonel. That was a bit too zen for me.”
“I mean, Colonel, that she is better than the people she would be playing with and against. I've seen her move. Cali's reflexes are probably the best I've ever seen. For a girl her size, she's amazingly strong. She runs like the wind and has an amazing vertical. I saw her showing one of my first-class cadets a spinning jump kick. She got an unbelievable amount of air on that kick. She's got incredible stamina. Cali's been getting a lot of gigging because of her wins last weekend. She's had to run an average of five miles a day. She could have used her rib injury to avoid punishment. But she didn't. She ran them with her pack on after drill. At a sub-seven minute mile pace. That's on top of all of the push ups. She really is an amazing athlete.”
Jack was dumbfounded. Cadet Summers... that shrimp
was that athletic? Who would've thought it? Well, he'd seen odder things off-world, just not here. “That's an interesting theory, Captain.”
“I had planned to talk to her later about this. Encourage her to do team sports in the spring. Well except for Unarmed Combat. I don't want to give up my best student.”
“I think that would be wise, Captain Billings. I appreciate how frank you've been with me. You've given me a lot to think about. If you ever want to speak to me about Cadet Summers, please give me a call.”
“Thank you, Colonel O'Neill. I hope you have a successful meeting.”
Jack hung up slowly. Well that had been interesting. Of all the answers he'd expected to receive, Senator Kinsey being Cadet Summers' sponsor wasn't one of them. That made him more than a little uneasy. It seemed unlikely that she would be a plant. As a matter of fact, Jack wondered if she had ever even met the senator. He knew from his own experiences with junior officers that a lot of them never met their sponsors, instead communicating solely by letter and phone. So the world changes. At least he'd gotten a glowing endorsement from Captain Billings, which was the main thing he'd been looking for. He sat thinking a moment, then heard the klaxons going on off indicating the an off-world activation of the Stargate. As Jack grabbed his sidearm and coat, he hoped it was the expected Tok'ra group. Otherwise, it was going to be another long, tortuous shift...Colorado Springs, CO
Joyce smiled at her customer, Jorge Ramirez, as she totaled up the purchase of the beautiful New England copper warming pan for him. “I know your wife's going to love this, Jorge.”
“Gracias, Ms. Summers, gracias. It is truly lovely. I love so much the old things of our country.”
“I do as well.” With a final smile, Joyce finished with him. Glancing at the clock over the mantel, she saw that it was after 6:00 pm. Closing time, Joyce thought. She strode to the front of her small shop and turned the deadbolt.
Quickly working through the sales slips for the day, Joyce totaled everything up. It had been an excellent day. Besides the copper warming pan, Joyce had also sold a set of brass fireplace tools, one Han dynasty vase, an antique clock, a early American rolltop desk, and a beautiful set of antique calligraphy tools. In total, the items came to a little over $8,000, of which almost a third was profit, well, a little less than that after paying for overhead. It was an excellent day, though not the best she'd seen. Not bad for a single mom, Joyce thought. Especially one who was about to see her daughter for the first time tomorrow.
Joyce had missed Buffy dreadfully since dropping her off for BCT in July. The letters had helped, but nothing equaled actual time spent with your child. Joyce had devoured every letter, searching between the lines for hints as to how Buffy was doing. Every bit of her mother's intuition had said that Buffy was happy. Really and truly happy. In her wildest imagination, Joyce had never dreamed that Buffy would be a good fit for something like the Air Force. What had happened to the little girl who'd dreamed of being a professional skater because she so loved how pretty the skating outfits were?
She'd grown up. But then Buffy had to grow up, Joyce mused. Just as Joyce had to. Finding out your daughter was the latest in a long line of female warriors chosen to fight and die at an early age was something that either broke you, or made you stronger. Joyce had nearly broken that terrible night her daughter informed her of the existence of vampires and her sacred duty to fight them. The fight and subsequent flight had badly hurt them both. The thing that had hurt Joyce the most was knowing she'd driven her daughter away. The drink she'd taken that night hadn't been the last Joyce had drank, but it was the last time she drank to excess. Joyce had vowed to never again fail her daughter.
Joyce thought that for the most part, she'd succeeded, squashing a guilty image of handcuffs and a police car. She'd been there for Buffy throughout her senior year. Joyce had interceded where she could and done her best to make Buffy's life comfortable. Her pride at Buffy's SAT scores had been tremendous. The thought of her daughter escaping the trap she lived in to go to college at Northwestern had been one of her happiest moments. That dream had died, crushed like so many by the Hellmouth. Then out of the tragedy of graduation, among the death of so many people both she and Buffy had loved, had come another chance for Buffy. A chance at an education. A chance at a life away from blood, slime, and death. A chance at living past thirty.
Joyce hadn't known what to expect when she'd started researching the Air Force Academy. There had been reams of information for parents about the Academy and the experience it gave its students. Joyce had absorbed all of it. She wanted to do everything possible to help Buffy excel. The things she'd learned from various sources had quelled a lot of worries Joyce had about the Air Force. An old friend had answered many of her questions. Buffy had every chance to obtain a first-class education. Buffy could even become a doctor or lawyer. Of course one glance at Buffy's expression as she stared at a promotional video featuring the Thunderbirds and Joyce had known how futile that would be. Buffy would never be that sedentary, Joyce thought with a maternal smile.
Joyce considered her own life. The question of what to do while Buffy was off at the Academy had an easy answer. Sell her shop and house in Sunnydale. Buy another house and open a new shop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she'd be close enough that Buffy, whenever she had leave, would be able to visit. It was funny how lighthearted she'd felt after leaving the shadow of Sunnydale. Joyce had never had many friends there. Now here in Colorado Springs, she'd already made a half dozen friends among the various business owners who shared the small shopping center containing her shop, Joyce's Antiques. All had been complimentary at finding out Joyce had a daughter in the Academy.
Smiling, Joyce checked off the things she'd done to get ready to visit Buffy. The sign in the door of her shop let prospective customers know she'd be closed through the weekend. The mountain bike Joyce had purchased for Buffy to ride around the area surrounding the Academy was in her sport utility. Joyce knew Buffy would be excited over that. Her letters had hinted how helpful it would be to have an alternative way to get around the area since she couldn't own a car until she was a second-class cadet. Joyce had also loaded Mr. Gordo for Buffy. The last thing she had to pack were the two apple pies she'd baked last night. That would wait until tomorrow. Saturday morning...
Joyce waited anxiously near her vehicle for Buffy. They had agreed to meet here in the parking lot by the Visitors Center. Joyce had hinted that she would be bringing items for Buffy as an enticement. Joyce was glad of the warm woolen coat she wore as she waited. Colorado in October was colder than California in January. She caught a glimpse of blonde hair and started to take a step forward, only to be almost bowled over by a whirlwind. Joyce hugged Buffy back almost as hard as she was being hugged. The key being almost. Joyce managed to wheeze out, “Buffy. Can't breathe.”
Buffy relaxed her hug. “Sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to squish you. It's sooo good to see you!”
“Step back and let me take a look at you.” Joyce moved Buffy back to arm's length. Her daughter practically glowed with health. There was none of the weariness that had bowed her shoulders for so long. Her face was astonishingly lovely without even a hint of make up. Buffy's blonde hair was even shorter than it had been when Joyce had dropped her off in July. What was scary was that Buffy had indicated that it had been cut again just prior to BCT. Buffy'd had four months now to grow it out, so just how
short had it been? Buffy wore a deep blue skirt and jacket, a lighter blue blouse, and her head was topped with a matching blue cap. Her uniform was neat as a pin. She looked every inch an Air Force Officer Candidate, Joyce thought fondly. “You look wonderful, Buffy. Just like an officer.”
“Do I? I hope I look more Catherine Bell in JAG
than than that drill instructor lady in Private Benjamin
.” Buffy's face crinkled into a smile as she joked.
“Definitely Catherine Bell. But hotter.” Joyce nodded vigorously at Buffy's doubtful expression over this last.
“Okay, you ready to rumble, Mom?”
“Absolutely, but first, let me show you something.” Joyce walked around to the back of her Grand Cherokee and opened the tailgate. She saw Buffy's eyes widen as she took in the black Trek 9000 mountain bike. Joyce winced at Buffy's squeal.
“Oh my God! Mom! It's great! Thank you so much!” Buffy couldn't believe that her mom had bought her this. It was so nice. It even had shock absorbers!
“Well, I can see you like it. It doesn't seem that long ago that you wanted a car. Now you've worked your way up to a bike. Maybe you'll be ready to ride a trike by the time you're thirty.” Joyce laughed at the priceless look on Buffy's face. It was equal parts chagrin and amusement.
Buffy wore a rueful grin as she acknowledged the validity of what her mom had just said. She was excited by a bike. Now she would be able to get around much easier than before. Her range had just increased to a radius of thirty miles, or more. Not that she couldn't have run that far in just a couple of hours. Just it would have looked a wee bit suspicious. So new bike. Yay!
“Good one, Mom. What else do you have for me?” Buffy nodded towards the medium-size box sitting next to her bike.
“I try. Let's see. One stuffed pig, aka Mr. Gordo. And two apple pies, your favorite.”
“Mom, I love you. And not just cause you brought me Mr. Gordo and pie. It's so good to see you.” Buffy hugged Joyce a second time. This time the hug was gentler and lasted longer. She managed to blink away happy tears.
“Okay, sweetie, why don't you grab your new bike. I'll carry the box. We can drop off this stuff in your room and you can show me around.”
“Sure thing, Mom.” Buffy easily lifted the bike and set it on the ground. After Joyce grabbed the box, they walked together towards Buffy's dorm, Buffy walking the bike there.
“So, what have you been up to?” Joyce asked as they walked together.
“I don't know where to start. Okay, I'll begin at the beginning...”Three hours later...
“So this jarhead was like 'We'll stop this just as soon as Cadet Summers says that I can beat her.' I really let him have it, Mom. Don't worry, no one suspected I was the slayer. Not even Colonel O'Neill.” Buffy grinned as she contemplated how much fun the match had been.
“Colonel O'Neill?” Joyce queried.
“He's the guy who made the Marine apologize the first time. Then he backed me to win with some of the officers there from the other services.” At Joyce's raised brows, Buffy quickly explained, “He didn't want me to fight. When I made it so there was no choice, he chewed me out. He was really worried about me. Afterward, he checked me out.”
“Why would he need to check you out?”
Buffy realized her mistake. Uh oh, she thought, seeing the expression on Joyce's face. “Weellll, you see, I kinda slipped on the mat where Wilson's sweaty body landed earlier. It was waayyy gross, by the way. When I was down, he caught me in the ribs with an elbow. I wasn't expecting a cheap shot like that. It cost him two points, too, although I think the ref wanted to disqualify him. He probably got in big trouble back at Annapolis. Anyway, Colonel saw me wince and made sure I was okay. He told me to go to the infirmary as soon as I got back, which I did. Oh, and he invited me out to dinner on him.”
Joyce felt the first stirrings of alarm. “Buffy, how old is Colonel O'Neill?”
Buffy knew immediately what Joyce was really asking. “Ewww, Mom. He's like Giles's age. Very old and gross. Although, you
might think he's cute.” Buffy wore an innocent expression at Joyce's mock glare. Giggling, she continued, “Anyway, it's not like that. He wants to talk to me about my career. He even wants me to bring a notebook and be prepared to take notes.”
“Is that common? I mean for officers to do things like this?”
“Kinda sorta. Usually it doesn't happen until at least Third-Class or even Second-Class. To have someone like Colonel O'Neill take an interest in you is awesome. That means they see a lot of good qualities in you and want to groom you to join their or possibly a friend's command. He works out of Cheyenne Mountain, too.”
Joyce frowned at the last statement. That her daughter still had some vestige of her sacred duty was disturbing. The danger posed by the Stargate gave Joyce the odd nightmare, even if the messenger whose name Buffy'd said was Whistler indicated the worst danger was still five years away. “What does he do there?”
“Deep Space Radar Telemetry.”
“That seems a bit... tame for you.”
“I know, but I figure it's got to be a cover. You know, Top Secret and all that stuff. He probably doesn't work on the Stargate, but maybe he knows someone who does. Anyway, I am soo looking forward to dinner with him.”
“You're making me jealous,” Joyce kidded. She did feel slightly threatened by the close ties Buffy had forged with her teachers. Buffy had waxed on about every one of her teachers, although she had special praise for Captain Billings, her Unarmed Combat coach, Lieutenant Colonel Richards, her Military Theory professor, and now Colonel O'Neill, her possible advisor. Joyce knew how glad she should be that Buffy finally had teachers who cared about developing her potential, something that had never happened in high school. She was very glad on some level, but on another, the green-eyed monster fanned the flames.
Buffy looked Joyce straight in the eye. “Mom, I love you. I am so proud to be your daughter. I could never have done all of the things, survived all of the things I've been through, without you. Never be jealous of anyone. You are the most important person in my life.”
Joyce felt her eyes tearing up. She grabbed Buffy in another hug. “I love you too, sweetheart. I'm so proud of you. You're the most important person in the world to me.”Sunday afternoon...
Joyce watched her daughter's face, rather than the celebration, as the formation of jets roared overhead. Buffy was definitely going to interested in flying. Joyce had met all of Buffy's professors now. Each had something personal and complimentary to say about her daughter. After more than two years of dealing with Principal Snyder, Joyce was finding this amazingly refreshing.
Buffy grinned, enjoying the precision flying going on above them. It was a wonderfully relaxing day since she was 'at rest' over the entire campus because of Parents' Weekend. She could even be at rest on the Terrazzo, meaning no running. Of course, she still had to do the standard 'Good morning/afternoon/evening, sir/ma'am/Cadet ___' to every upperclassman and officer, but it wasn't that big a deal. And she finally got to stroll the Ho Chi Minh Trail, normally off-limits to Fourth-Class cadets unless there was a thunderstorm.
Joyce winced at a particularly low maneuver brought the noise level to extreme. Even Buffy winced a bit. Joyce still remembered the shock she'd felt when Buffy had greeted another cadet with, “Good morning, ma'am! Strong and mighty!” The other cadet had given just a nod in return. When Joyce had asked, Buffy had explained that was her class greeting, based on her graduation year, given to unknown upperclassmen. It seemed complicated to Joyce, although it appeared Buffy found it simple. Another cadet had received, “Good morning, Cadet Halloran! First look, then kill!” After that cadet was out of earshot, Buffy explained that since Cadet Halloran was in her squadron, you greeted him with the squadron greeting versus the class greeting. Apparently, Buffy had even had a special BCT squadron greeting where she was the 'Big, Bad, Barbarians.' Still it was better than the 'Dirty Demons.' Joyce was still having a hard believing that Buffy had adapted so well to the Air Force. Of course, the proof was right in front of her eyes.
Finally, the aerial displays finished. Buffy led Joyce back to her car. There, she pulled Joyce into a tight hug. “Thanks again for the bike, Mom. I'll put it to good use, although that'll probably be in the spring.” Buffy gestured to the snow already on the ground. She'd actually had to get her greatcoat earlier because of the temperature drop.
“See that you do,” Joyce admonished teasingly. “I'm going to miss you all over again.”
“Well, Thanksgiving is coming up very soon. I get four days off for that. I'll be home to be stuffed with turkey and dressing and pie. Don't forget the pumpkin pie.”
Joyce stroked her daughter's cheek. “I'll make two pies, okay? Just come home.”
“Two? Yum. I'll be there. Bye, Mom, I love you.” Buffy smiled bravely as she said goodbye. She was already missing Mom. Thank goodness Thanksgiving is just a over a month away.
“I love you too, Buffy. I'll see you at Thanksgiving.” With that, Joyce climbed into her Jeep and started it. Putting the truck into gear, she slowly back out. As she drove off, she found herself watching as her daughter's figure grew smaller in the distance. Part of her was bursting with pride. The other part of her wanted nothing more than to turn around, grab Buffy, and head home with her for good. Fortunately, the pride part won. Joyce smiled as she thought about Thanksgiving. Turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie. And maybe she'd try that pecan pie recipe again. It had been six years since The Incident. Maybe Buffy had developed a taste since...