Buffy pushed back from the table with a sigh of repletion. “Wow, that was the best lunch ever.” Cricket chirping silence was her only answer. Looking around, Buffy became conscious that she was the center of all eyes, ranging from Tony Stark, billionaire extraodinaire to David, waiter extraordinaire, who had just finished serving the most amazing food ever
Spider-Man, always ready with an irreverent comment, voiced one now, “Gee, Buffy, there might be some lobster tail left over in the catering truck. You know, under ice? The emergency kind, just in case of an increase of twenty guests, or one Asgardian.”
Ignoring the nods of agreement coming from Logan and Luke, Buffy protested, “I didn't eat that
Spider-Man's grin was visible from him having pushed up his mask to eat. “I'm sure that Reed could write some type of quadratic equation to describe the n-space of your stomach based upon how you were able to stuff twenty-two lobster tails into a space that couldn't possibly accommodate more than four. Not to mention all of the bread...”
Buffy shook her head at his simplicity. The food was so much better than that! “Just” bread indeed. “Crusty, buttered French bread!”
“Roasted potatoes! All buttery, with rosemary and chives!”
“Grilled asparagus with cream sauce!”
“Maine lobster tails, flown in fresh!”
“...chocolate stuff for dessert...”
Buffy corrected him. “Chocolate mousse for dessert! With an almond truffle sauce that's simple to die for.”
Chewing on an old stogie, Logan chimed in with, “Yeah, kid, we all ate it too. Only you ate as much as the rest of us.” Pause. “Together.” Shit-eating grin.
Buffy shrugged. “I was hungry?” It was an exaggeration, but not that much of one. She'd probably eaten half as much as the rest of the group. After all, some of these guys could put it away, too. However, Buffy had felt like she could eat for days and had just done so, putting a huge dent into Tony Stark's fancy lunch. Now she just had to put up with the kidding.
Reed, his eyes bright with laughter, stated in a serious voice, “While n-space can be stretched to accommodate almost any amount of mass, I'm not sure even it would do as a comparison for Buffy's stomach. I'm afraid we'll have to cut her open to figure out how it's all fitting.”
“Eeep!” Spider-Man dove behind Luke, peeking out over his shoulder. “Don't do it, Reed! She'll explode for sure!”
With a sigh of exasperation, Buffy pouted. “Tony, are you going to let them treat your guest this way?”
The man in question merely raised an eyebrow at the empty table in front of them, then shrugged. “After your third helping, I was going to offer to pay you in food should you take the security job. After your twelfth, I was just glad I repressed that impulse. It would suck going from billionaire to pauper in just a few weeks. Of course, smart thinking like that is probably how I became a billionaire in the first place.” With a teasing grin, he nonchalantly ate an olive out of the martini he was drinking.
Buffy glowered at him. “Ha.”
Steve interceded, “Okay, guys, that's enough teasing. She gets that she's welcome.” The smile he turned towards Buffy made her self-conscious in a different way. She wasn't sure what, if anything, to say to her rescuer.
Tony interrupted the charged silence. “Well, that's all I have for today. Tomorrow, we'll practice as a team to try to take Buffy down. Then, we'll try that Alpha scenario.”
Buffy grinned at the assorted groans that answered Tony's plan. She noted that Steve wasn't one of the one's groaning, instead seemingly looking forward to trying it. His usually serious face wore a thoughtful, almost smile as he seemed to be considering how to go about planning for tomorrow.
The meeting began to break up after that. Logan merely left without saying anything. Spider-Man and Luke made their goodbyes, followed by Tony, leaving Buffy alone with Reed and Steve.
“Buffy, I'll be warming up the quinjet. Please be ready in five minutes.” Reed called this last over his shoulder as he headed towards the exit.
Buffy looked at Steve, who looked back at her. She wondered if he wanted something, or was just being polite. Buffy had already figured out that he was a bit old fashioned in his views, even without consulting her memories of exactly how he had arrived in this time. He had to be almost fifty years old, but looked like he was twenty-five.
Steve was beginning to feel flustered at his inability to get the words out. He'd never had this much difficulty talking to a potential team-mate before. “I was wondering if you wanted to stay here for a while. I could show you around and give you an idea of the training facility's ins and outs. Plus, having an idea of what the Alpha Scenario is about would be good.” Silently, he congratulated himself on managing to get everything out without stumbling over his words.
Buffy shook her head. “Sorry, but I can't. I promised Reed and Sue I would babysit their kids tonight. I'm taking them to see Toy Story
, followed by ice cream, then bed.”
At least she looks regretful, Steve thought. “No problem. I have a lot of things to get ready for tomorrow, anyway. I want to prepare the team for the training event...”
Buffy pouted at him. “What you really mean is that you want to make sure they're all ready to pound the crap out of me, right?” Her pout turned into an infectious grin as she said the last part.
Steve couldn't keep from grinning back. “Something like that, yes.”
She just continued to look up at him with those mysterious green eyes. Steve had to remind himself just how young this girl was. 'Too young for you,' he told himself, repressing the pang of dismay that thought engendered.
Buffy's eyes twinkled at him, then she gave him a little wave. “Gotta go.” She hesitated for a second, then stage whispered, “Ask me again another time.” Then she was gone, leaving Steve staring at the space she'd occupied a moment before.
Did she think he was asking her for a date, he wondered? Because he most certainly was not doing that. Steve had merely been planning to acquaint her with the various ins and outs of the training facility, especially since this was where she would most likely train in a regular basis. And he wanted to help her perform as well as possible when they went in and ran through the Alpha Scenario.
Still, as he sat down and prepared a plan to most effectively attack Buffy, he couldn't get a vision of haunting green eyes out of his mind.
Sue asked, “Buffy, you know how to call us using the new communicators right?”
With the patience of Job, Buffy replied, “Yes, Sue. You showed me fifteen times how to use them. I have been picture perfect the last fourteen. Go! Eat! Dance! Have fun! And stop worrying. Everything's going to be fine.”
With a last concerned look, Sue took Reed's outstretched arm and strode out the door. Buffy gave the exquisite designer gown Sue wore one final envious look, then settled down to the serious business of babysitting. After all, how challenging could it be to keep two kids occupied?
“Buffy, he hit me!”
Buffy whistled shrilly, stopping the latest brother-sister squabble. “That's enough. Now I want the two of you to go and stand in the corner for one minute.”
“Aww, Buffy, that's not...”
Buffy held up a finger and glowered. With put upon sighs, both Franklin and Valeria stood at the corners indicated. Both kids looked at the clock on the wall above Buffy's head which showed hours, minutes, and seconds. Of course they could both tell time. And read. Scary smart was the best way to put it. Still they were normal kids in more ways than not.
Like how they'd managed to get bubblegum in Buffy's hair. She wasn't sure what she was going to do to get it out. Did Sue even have any peanut butter at the apartment? Actually, was the place where they lived even considered an apartment? It was far more penthousy than apartmenty.
Then Buffy had a bright idea. Over Myrky's protests, she summoned him and smacked him lightly on the floor. With a flash, she was fully armored. Smacking him again caused her armor to disappear and her normal clothes to reappear, minus the smudges of nameless food items. Buffy was just checking her hair to make sure it had removed the gum, when she was enveloped by two perpetual motion machines masquerading as kids.
“Buffy, that was awesome!”
“Oh oh oh, do it again! Do it again!”
With a sigh, Buffy grabbed her charges and tickling them mercilessly, began to get them ready for the movie.
Steve thought he had a scenario written that should allow the Avengers to take out their opponent on the morrow. Buffy. It had taken him three times as long to write this up as it should have. He didn't understand what it was about her that so occupied his thoughts.
At first, he'd wondered if maybe he was just focused on someone taking over Thor's life. But after thinking about it, Steve had decided that he'd said his goodbyes to Thor months ago when he'd first believed Thor to be dead.
No, it was the girl, herself, who occupied his thoughts. Steve hit save followed by the send button, which would deliver it to all of the other Avengers so that they could be prepared tomorrow. Everyone, with the exception of Logan, would most likely read it. That way, there'd be little additional coaching needed for everyone to work together. Eventually, even that coaching wouldn't be necessary as each member of the group learned the strengths and weaknesses of every other member.
Once done, Steve settled down to thinking about Buffy. The first time he'd seen her, coming out of the quinjet next to Tony, he'd been taken aback by her attractiveness. The girl had been gorgeous, with a delicate beauty that called to him. And he couldn't figure out why. Steve found his inability to pinpoint why he was so attracted almost as disturbing as the attraction itself.
The usual women that interested him were strong, take charge women, who could also take care of themselves. His off and on relationship with Natasha Romanov was a case in point. Currently it was off, but if she had contacted him, Steve would have gone to her without even considering. That is, before meeting Buffy. Now he wasn't sure.
Buffy. She was petite and delicate, nothing like the usual statuesque beauties whose company he enjoyed. But she shared their strength. Remembering how she'd manhandled all of them individually, Steve had to repress a smile. He hadn't thrown up since he was a gangling fifteen-year-old shortly after a spinning carnival ride. Yet, Buffy had him so dizzy he hadn't known which way was up. Of course that had been like the carnival ride times one thousand.
And how she'd dealt with Tony. Steve had been incredibly angry when Tony had fired his chestplate repulsor at Buffy. The blast would have killed anyone less able than her. None of their current team could have stood up to that, not even Luke, although he would have probably survived. So for Tony to use such a powerful weapon on a new metahuman was dangerous and reckless. Even if he had prior knowledge of how tough she was from the Fantastic Four.
Steve shook his head. He was going to have to sit Tony down and discuss
things with him. He had no problem with whoever held the reins of leadership. Steve had been both a leader of the Avengers as well as just a member for many years. But the one thing he expected from whoever was in charge was that they lead by example, something Tony needed to work on. Well, no point in putting it off. He would talk to Tony first thing tomorrow morning.
Tony put the finishing touches on his latest armor creation. It had been in the works for months. He called it Tin Man. It was a virtual redesign of his armor after the SKIN disaster, where Ultron had taken over his armor and made him and his armor jump through hoops. That should never happen again. Security was vastly improved with his newest armor. The communication protocols used made it virtually hack proof. Plus, improved scanning through GPS and a particle mist which could also mark targets made it a much more effective combat system. Additionally, there was the “Blockbuster” setting where he could combine his chestplate unibeam with his repulsors to deliver a devastating blast. Combined like that, it should be about four times as powerful as the blast that had hit Buffy. The blast that hadn't had any real effect. It hadn't even singed her hair
! Despite melting the surrounding pavement into molten glass!
Tony wasn't stupid and resented being treated as such. When Buffy had casually offered that the “bolt thingy” had hurt, it had taken him about two seconds to figure out that she was offering him a salve for his ego. Which wasn't needed. Tony knew he had an ego. Hell, it could even be said that “ego” was his middle name. But he hated it when someone pandered to it. Tony was good enough at anything that he put his hand to not to need idle compliments. Especially insincere ones.
The “Blockbuster” setting might or might not be enough. If it wasn't, he had another suit in the works. Tony hoped that he would not have to use it because of the legacy the real Thor had left him. The item hadn't been meant for war. But one thing that Tony had learned was that you do what you have to in order to get the job done. And if Buffy turned out to be dangerous, he would do whatever was necessary to remove her from the equation.
Cain watched the girl shepherd her two charges out of the movie theater and down the street. Since she didn't seem to be planning to immediately jump into a cab, he would follow her for now. Especially considering just how iffy he felt about this job.
When first approached about snatching the Richards' kids, he'd refused. The new life he'd started building for himself was going well. He was accepted by the X-Men
of all people. Almost he'd reported the offer, but had figured that merely telling them no would suffice. But the person behind it wasn't used to taking no for an answer. Cain had his suspicions of who that was, but he couldn't be sure. And it really mattered now. Sam, his friend, had been kidnapped, specifically to put pressure on him to deliver the Richards' kids to the go-between. That they were also offering what could only be described as a king's ransom didn't matter. He needed Sam to be all right. Nothing else really mattered. Not even two kids whose only crime was their last name.
Cain came to a decision. He'd do it. He would deliver the kids. He would live up to his side of the bargan. And the other person had better live up to theirs. Because if anything happened to Sam, there'd be hell to pay. Then whoever was behind it would find out why he was called the Juggernaut. Right before he stomped them into paste!
Buffy whistled idly as she led the two sugar-high kids towards a taxi stand she'd seen on the way here. While she could have whistled up a taxi that was cruising down the street, it was just easier to grab one from the stand. The movie had been a complete success. Buffy had never even heard of Toy Story
, but she wasn't sure if that was because it didn't exist where she was from or because she didn't really have time for movies while conducting a battle of wits with a hell goddess. It had been atypical of movies aimed at kids. Much, much better than your run of the mill kid's movie.
Holding two little hands in hers, Buffy thought about the bluest eyes she'd ever seen in her life. Steve Rogers. It sounded so All-American. As corny as Riley Finn and look how badly that had ended. The difference was that Steve's blue eyes had seen all the things Buffy's had and maybe even a little bit more. And he hadn't become jaded. He was still a gentleman and all around nice guy. And maybe a bit of a patriot. Thinking about the man who'd asked her for a date in the corniest way possible, Buffy smiled. “Tour of the training facility,” indeed. Still it was better than dragging her into a broom closet to make out. Or getting locked in a room with your boyfriend by poltergeisty spirits interested in you boinking yourself to death.
Buffy's thoughts were abruptly interrupted as something pinged on her Slaydar. Something nasty was coming. And it was close. Uh oh, she should have been paying better attention. Buffy turned to see a massive figure heading her way down the sidewalk, effortlessly dominating the smaller forms around him, who scrambled to stay out of his way. The guy was big
, standing close to ten feet tall. Buffy didn't even want to guess how much he weighed, but it was probably a lot more than she did. She couldn't really seen what he looked like since he was wearing a huge overcoat and hat.
The immense figure stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, waiting for her. Buffy stopped twenty feet short of him, staring him down. He seemed unimpressed by her Slayer glare. She would have pouted at the unfairness of it all if it wouldn't have made him even less impressed. Finally, he spoke.
“Gimme the kids and I'll let you go. You can even go call the Richards and tell 'em that their kids have been snatched. That's the only offer you're going to get. I advise you to take it.”
Buffy shook her head. No matter how many times she heard some baddie talk, it never changed. In a sugary sweet voice, she chimed, “You forgot to say pretty please.”
For a second, the figure ahead of her looked taken aback. Then he whipped off the coat, showing an inhumanly muscular form. Buffy had seen the occasional demon that might have given him a run for his money on overall size, but none of them possessed that sense of massive power just waiting to be used. Rust colored armor covered the figure's massive torso and legs, while tree-trunk sized arms were left bare. A flattish domed helmet completed the ensemble. He roared, “Little girl, I'm the Juggernaut. Give me the kids now!”
Buffy blinked. “Wow, I think I could smell your breath all the way over here. Do you practice that roar in front of a mirror? No? Well, that's probably because you're so ugly it would shatter.” She heard the kid's giggling at her sides, but couldn't spare the time to hush them. Buffy hadn't been sure what to do with them, but after a moment Myrky gave her an idea.
The Juggernaut seemed to have had enough of waiting, so he started forward. Buffy held up her hand. “Wait. WAIT
He stopped. “Why?” Honest confusion colored his voice.
Smiling sweetly, Buffy continued to hold up her hand for a second, before tapping the communicator on her wrist, sending an emergency signal to the entire Fantastic Four. Then she summoned Myrky, which immediately appeared in her hand. With a whispered, “See you in a bit, kiddos,” she whirled the hammer around, creating a vortex that sucked them into it and deposited them next to the front desk of the Baxter Building lobby, probably startling the guard there. Buffy then slammed her hammer into the ground, and fully armed and armored, answered the Juggernaut, “So I could foil your dastardly plot.”
Rage twisted the features visible beneath the helmet that covered most of the Juggernaut's head. Then he shook his head, muttering something that to Buffy's enhanced senses, sounded like, “Let it go. Let it go. It's not worth it. Let it go. One. Two...”
“Ooookay. Anger management, much?”
Startlement spread across his features. “How did you know about that?”
Buffy shrugged. “Hank, who used to be my dad, had issues. So what's the what?”
“Are we going to fight or what?”
Juggernaut shook his massive head. “No. Not worth it.”
Buffy shook her head. Did he think she was born yesterday? “Just like that you're going to give up on kidnapping Franklin and Valeria?”
“Of course.” Juggernaut's voice was flat and inflectionless as he agreed with Buffy.
“Silly me. I almost believed you. What I actually think is that you are going to head over to wherever you think they are and try to take them again.”
Cold eyes that were done joking around stared down at her. “There's nothing you can do to stop me. So take your stupid girly costume and your toy hammer home. I'm done being patient with you. Any more crap and I'm going to hurt you.”
Buffy smiled as she readied her hammer, feeling the surge of might in her muscles. Then without warning, she hurled the hammer into Juggernaut's face, striking him in the jaw. The sheer unexpectness of it staggered him and almost took him off his feet. With a cold look of her own, Buffy challenged him, “Why don't you try?”Author's Note:
Next Chapter: Buffy vs Juggernaut!