A/N: In honor of Ship Day, here is the first installment of the next story in the Stars series. I hope you like! HAPPY SHIP DAY!
Jack felt his phone vibrate against his leg, and reflexively knew who it was. The clipped voice on the other end confirmed it. "Hey, Ronnie. What's up?"
It was a sad state of things, that Ronica called him more often than Sam did. But Sam was busy, and Ronica understood that Jack worried. Sam's summer political tour with her father had been extended at the last minute, preventing him from getting the chance to see her before he was sucked into the inner sanctum of the Air Force Academy. A few months into the term gave him a bit more freedom, but not enough to make the trip up there to visit. His first lib was coming up soon, but he'd be lucky if he got the chance to tell Sam in time.
He'd briefly entertained the notion of blowing off his own classes and going AWOL, but his pride always nixed it before it got any farther than daydreaming. He couldn't abandon his own dreams and chase after her… not and still be able to look her in the eye.
So he accepted Ronica's updates, and held them close.
"Nothing new since last week."
Jack paused in his stride, drawing to a stop. He drew a breath to speak, but then blew it out again. What could he say? How could he say it? More importantly, how could he say it without coming off as a—
"Something on your mind?"
Dammit. "Yeah," he groaned, rubbing a hand against his temple. "I just—is…" He sighed. "Is Sam catching flak about her dad?" Ronica didn't answer right away. "Something she said last time we spoke, made me wonder if…" If something had happened, if someone had done something to get under her skin.
"Well," Ronica hemmed, "a little. Frat guys mostly, trying to shake her up a bit."
"Sons of…" His growl sounded as useless as he felt.
Ronica seemed to read his mind. "It's nothing she can't handle," she assured him. "I think even the Young Republicans on campus are more aggressive than these guys. And they're not outright antagonistic or anything... They're just immature, and it's wearing her down a little. It's just one more thing she has to deal with."
Jack ground his teeth together. He should be there. He should knock their friggin' teeth in—
"And before you fly off the handle and storm over here to defend her honor, try and remember that anything she can't handle, I can." Jack could hear her smile. "She's in good hands."
A chuckle trickled from him, a flash of levity brightening his darkening mood. "I know… But…"
"But you care." A warmth pooled in her voice, and Jack felt his mood lifting even more. Regardless of how the President felt about him, he had the Ronica stamp of approval. "It's just a change, Jack. She's adjusting."
Yeah. Party Central, Colorado was a far cry from the disciplined student body of her high school. At least those stuck-up snobs had had discretion—well, that or they were self-involved enough to not give a hoot that they rubbed shoulders with the First Daughter.
"But you know…" Ronica chirped, her voice suddenly devious. "If you were able to make your way up here on your next lib," which was next week, Jack deduced she knew, "I don't think she'll complain."
The cab fare from the base to Denver was as obscene as the cabbie's language. But as Jack forked over the cash, he felt the thrill of excitement humming through every fiber of his body. It was like he could feel her getting closer, even though he had no clue where exactly on the campus she was.
The cab sped away as soon as the final bill was in his palm, and Jack hefted his go-bag higher on his shoulder. He checked his watch. Almost seven. Ronica would be shooting him a message soon…
His phone buzzed. General's Park, along Hutton Street, fifteen minutes.
Oh, crap. He pulled out his creased print out of the campus map he'd brought with him. Five blocks. He could make it, if he ran. And run he did, putting on all the speed he could manage. The thrill hummed louder, drowning out his murmured apologies as he bumped into other pedestrians.
His pack thudded against his back, urging him faster with each passing step. He dashed across a final crosswalk and he was there, the green leaves of the park beckoning him deeper. He slowed to a walk, catching his breath, which returned rather quickly. His heart, on the other hand, continued to race, thundering in his ears.
He saw Ronica first, her figure tall and steadfast in the growing shadows. She and another agent kept careful watch, and her lips curled upwards when she saw him. But she said nothing.
Sam sat six feet away, her back against a tree with a heavy textbook spread across her lap. An open bookbag sat next to her, and she remained oblivious to the gazes sent her way from the gaggle of guys lingering next to a nearby water fountain. The Frisbee in their midst belied their original intent, but had clearly proven an inadequate substitute to ogling.
Jack let the wave of protectiveness—and yeah, okay, jealousy too—swell and wash over him, but then let it keep going, feeling it drip away until all he could see was her. He stood there, for a long minute, watching her as well. For a split second she seemed exactly how she did the last time he saw her, that same gawky teenager with legs a little too long for the rest of her, and the intent focus that seemed incongruous to her age. But then he looked deeper, and saw the fullness of her cheeks, the more pronounced curves where her waist sloped to her hips.
She'd blossomed, and suddenly he was looking a woman, while he still felt like a lovestruck teenager.
Blue eyes blinked, finally rousing from her study. Her gaze lifted straight to his, having felt his attention, freezing when his presence registered. Then her slackened features lit into a beaming smile, the brightness of it stealing all of the lingering sun.
He tried to grin, only to find he already was, and his lips could spread no farther. In a surge of motion they both moved towards each other. Sam's books spilled onto the grass in her scramble to get to her feet, and Jack nearly tripped his way over the curb in his haste to get to her.
His bag hit the ground as his arms wrapped around her, sweeping her up before she could even take a step. Her laugh rang out in the crisp autumn air, enveloping him as warmly as the arms she circled around him.
"Oh, my god!" Her arms tightened around him, nearly crushing him. "Jack! What're you doing here?"
"Came to see you," he murmured, pressing his lips to the top of her head. Her hair was soft against his skin, tickling his jaw. "Missed you."
"I missed you too…" The words rumbled against his chest, sending shivers coursing from his ears on down to his toes. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I could have met you…"
"You did meet me," he teased. "And the surprise was worth the drive."
She hummed, almost a moan as she sank closer against him. A moment later, her head lifted, and she rose on her toes to peck a kiss to his lips. He captured the peck, his hand framing her cheek to deepen the kiss.
She grinned when they broke apart, which he returned with a tight squeeze. Looking over her shoulder, he saw the malingering males trickling away, with more than a few nasty looks sent his way. Satisfaction flared for an instant, but then it fell away as he put them from his mind.
"How long do you have?" she asked, almost shyly.
He grinned. "I have to be back on base Sunday night. 'Til then, I'm all yours."
They pulled apart, but his hand slid into hers, her palm soft and warm against his. "Good," she delivered firmly. All these months had been far too long. Now that he was here, he wasn't sure he'd be able to handle such a long separation again. At the moment, he wasn't even sure he'd be able to tear himself away in time to make it back to base on Sunday.
They gathered her things, and she guided them out of the park. Her hand remained in his, and when they paused on the edge of the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change, she leaned against him. Her arm snaked around his waist, and his arm fell naturally around her shoulders.
"Those last few weeks were hard," she confessed. "I nearly went out of my mind, knowing you were starting school and I couldn't see you..." Her head resting against his shoulder. "I don't think I wanna do that again."
He responded by craning his head to kiss her brow. "Yeah. Let's not." It really had been too long. But things were definitely starting to look up.