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Iron Buffy

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Summary: Buffy went as one Tonya Stark and now struggles with her memories. After all, you can't really make a flying suit of armor, right?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Marvel Universe > Iron ManjanusiFR18456,4816219438,43513 May 1030 Jul 11No

Chapter One

I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Marvel, unfortunately.

I actually had this idea at the same time as 'Aesir of Sunnydale' but in the end I decided to write that one. However, I got inspired after stumbling upon Pepper Potts' armor and seeing the new Iron Man movie. I just couldn't let it rest after that. I had to write this, though my main effort is still the sequel to 'Aesir of Sunnydale'.

The story is not beta'ed and I'm going for a more broad strokes story here and thus a faster pace. For that reason, I'll try to make the chapters somewhat self-contained with at least some kind of ending for each. Of course, that presupposes there will be more after this one and I haven't really decided on that yet. Guess that will depend on how many people want to see more.

As for the Iron Man canon I will be using, it's a mix of the movies plus quite a bit I'll be borrowing from the comics to flesh things out. In other words, not really any kind of canon but it will look like movie-verse most of the time.

Having said all that, I think it's time we get on with the story. Don't hesitate to let me know what you thought of it!


Illustration

Chapter 1

Sunnydale High

Buffy sighed again as the teacher droned on. The blond wasn't listening, too caught up with the mess Halloween had left her with. Ford had managed to distract her a little from it, but then that had turned out to be a whole other mess. One that ended up killing her childhood friend. 'Stupid Snyder, volunteering us first then giving us detention. Having the memories of a princess has got to better than this!'

But because they didn't it make it to the store until was practically sold out, they hadn't had a whole lot of choices. Buffy should have smelled the rat when the shopkeeper offered a discount on those three costumes. She didn't blame Xander for his suggestion to stick the label of a female version of Tony Stark on the pantsuit, it had fitted with his Captain America costume and helped to convince Willow to go as Shadowcat. Then again, a generic female mobster probably wouldn't have survived being hunted by Spike.

Things might have worked out for Halloween, the aftermath was another story. Both Xander and Willow were dealing not only with some pretty gruesome memories from their superhero persona's, but also with the simple memory of having had superpowers. Xander had thrown himself into martial arts training to try and deal with it, Willow's reaction was more scattered. Her wardrobe had gotten more trendy, her speech featured a few more “likes”, and sometimes she forgot she couldn't walk through doors. Buffy had a few new nightmares too, but being the Slayer meant she'd already seen her share before that fateful night. It wasn't those memories that were the problem, though.

“Is that, like, math?” Willow wondered as she looked down at her notebook interrupting Buffy's reverie.

The Slayer looked down at what she'd doodled while her mind was elsewhere. Fighting the urge to cover it up, she shot her friend a smile. “I... I'm still decompressing from geometry,” she lied. No need to burden her friend with this, she had enough on her plate already.

It earned her an understanding look from the redhead and an offer to help her with her homework which Buffy declined. The truth was, she found her science classes almost laughably easy since Halloween. And that was what was bothering Buffy. Tonya Stark was fictional and so was her knowledge, yet her mind wouldn't let go. Every time she saw a piece of technology, her mind came up with numerous ways to improve it using science from a comic.

Half her diary was already filled with scribbles and equations for devices that were complete science fiction, and she just couldn't get her brain to shut off. Buffy felt like she was slowly going insane. There had to be a way to get her brain to shut up, to get it to understand that the memories were fake and the ideas not applicable to the real world.

'Before I end up in my Mom's basement making stuff that doesn't work, vowing I'll get it right next time,' she joked bitterly and then Buffy froze as the solution came to her. 'That's it! I just have to prove it and the one way to do that is to try and make one of these inventions. It won't work, and maybe that will finally put it all to rest.'

Having finally found a solution, Buffy got down to figuring out how to do it. She was going to need a place to work, somewhere quiet where she wouldn't be interrupted as well as material to work with. But where in Sunnydale could she find all that?

Calax Research and Development
The place had been quickly abandoned again after Moloch's defeat and the typical Sunnydale reaction had insured nobody had come near the place since. Which meant there was a lot of equipment there as well as the tools Buffy needed to construct what she wanted.

Electricity had been a problem, until she found the back-up generator which was even now puffing away as the blond put the finishing touches on what was supposed to become a miniature arc reactor. She'd chosen that particular device because according to her memories, Tonya had managed to build one in a cave and Buffy wasn't much better equipped. Even better, it was also clearly a piece of technology that wasn't going to actually work in real life.

Buffy had only started on the reactor two days ago, and had spent more time scrounging for parts than on the actual assembly. It was worth it though, her mind had quieted down a lot since she'd begun, that alone was worth all this effort. On the downside, finding out she now knew how to use welding equipment and what was what on a circuit-board was pretty unsettling. But now the thing was almost finished, all that remained was energizing the reactor to get it going. 'And when it doesn't, my mind is finally going to be mine again.'

She was already beginning to debate how long she'd let the generator pump electricity into the reactor before shutting it off when the device before her started to glow. Her face turned into a picture-perfect representation of surprise as it was illuminated more and more by the blue-white glow of a working arc reactor. “Impossible,” Buffy whispered. “It can't work,” she objected.

And yet, right in front of her, that was exactly what it was doing. Her hand disconnected the device from the generator on its own, but the arc reactor simply kept humming along. 'Now don't get ahead of yourself, you might just have built some fancy capacitor,' the blond reminded herself. Still, her hand was shaking a little as she grabbed a sensor and attached it to the device. The reading she got dashed her little theory, the arc reactor was putting out more energy in a few seconds than the generator could deliver in total on a full tank.

“It's real?” Buffy marveled as she looked down at the glowing piece of actual, working technology. If this was real, if Tonya's knowledge was real then... 'The things I could do for the world, for my friends.' The vision of her friends safely encased in an Iron Man suit was dizzying. They could help her fight demons all they liked in that, nothing would be able to harm them. Hell, she'd be a lot safer in one for that matter.

Reality came back to her. Sure, she had what was quite literally the heart of the Iron Man armor but how many could she make just with what was lying around here? And what about all the other components that made up the armor? She was pretty sure the computer technology it required wasn't invented yet. So Buffy would have to create all that first. And that required expensive equipment. What it all came down to was simple; she needed money and lots of it.

The answer to that problem, however, was equally simple. Tonya Stark wasn't just an inventor, she was a businesswoman too and Buffy knew everything she'd known. Of course, this would be a little more difficult than simply setting up Stark Industries and start pumping out products. For one, Marvel would probably sue if she called her company that and for another, she was still a minor.

Luckily, this all didn't affect her first step in a meaningful way. Get some patents and sell them to a few different companies. Nothing groundbreaking, but it should get her enough to start up her own company. With a little help from her friends.

Sunnydale High
“What's up Buffster?” Xander asked as he took a seat on the table. “Why'd ya want to assemble the Avengers?”

“Does it have anything to do with why you're gone so much lately?” Willow chimed in. Buffy made an unhappy face at that, because it was true. Stage one had consumed more time than she'd liked, but her final deal had gone through yesterday and she now had enough money to start up what was going to be called “Summers Industries”. The part of her that was Tonya just couldn't resist putting her own last name there if Stark wasn't an option.

“I am certain she will explain everything, if you give her the chance,” the last person in the library opined. Her Watcher had recovered mostly from the whole mess with Eyghon. It had caused a strain on his relationship with Ms. Calendar which was the reason the teacher wasn't present for this.

“I'm going to and yes,” she turned to Willow, “that's why I called this meeting.” The Slayer went quiet for a moment as she tried to figure out how to begin. Somehow, the blond had overlooked that little detail. “Okay, you know I went as Tonya Stark on Halloween.”

“So? Your costume returned to normal just like ours did, right?” Xander checked.

Buffy nodded. “My suitcase doesn't turn into Iron Man armor anymore,” she confirmed. “But I got the same deal you did, I've got all of Tonya's memories and knowledge.” She retrieved the arc reactor she'd built a few weeks ago out of her pocket and put it on the table. “And it turns out it's real, it works,” she revealed to her stunned audience.

Willow eyed the device carefully, making no move towards it. “What is that?”

“It's an arc reactor, it's what powers the suit. This is just a prototype but it still puts out three gigajoules a second.”

That earned her a wide-eyed look from the redhead. “Three gigawatts!” she choked out. “But that's, like, impossible! That's more energy than most nuclear power plants produce and you're like carrying this around in your jacket-pocket so its not like heavy and what's fueling this reactor because the laws of thermodynamics are like pretty clear on that and you can't like break the laws of nature just whenever you-” Willow babbled.

“Willow, breath,” Buffy reminded her friend. “It works, trust me. And that's just one invention. I've got loads of them up here.” The blond tapped the side of her head.

Xander finally reacted. “Did you just finish making your own Iron Man armor and you're inviting us to see the test-flight?” His voice sounded very hopeful, almost ecstatic even.

Buffy felt very bad for disappointing him, not to mention a little embarrassed, because the truth was nowhere near as impressive. “Ah, no. I spent the last two weeks filing patents and making a few business deals.”

“Oh,” was all Xander said looking a little uncertain.

“I can't just make armor, Xan. Tonya had a multi-billion dollar company behind her when she built her armor and a tech-base that's twenty years ahead of where we are,” she ranted. “Which means I have to start from square one and do it all myself.” Catching herself, she took a deep breath before going on. “But I was hoping you three would help me.”

“I'm afraid I don't see how I could be a help with such an endeavor,” Giles responded as he cleaned his glasses. “Technology is not my area of expertise. Also, you do still have a duty as a Slayer not to mention as a student. A project like this might consume too much of your time for little if any gain for the foreseeable future. Are you certain you want this?”

Buffy bit back her first response, reminding herself that she actually had a few immediate goals in mind. “How about a grenade that releases a cloud of holy water vapor? Or light-weight, flexible armor that you can wear under your clothes? Or a blood-clotting serum that closes any open wound in seconds? Giles, I've got all those designs rattling around my noggin but I need resources to actually make them. And to get those resources, I need money. Lots of it and that's where you come in,” she told Giles.

“Me?”

“You. I want you to be the CEO of Summers Industries. The mature, trustworthy face of the company. On paper, I'll be working for you and if this takes off, the company is going to need more employees which you'll be able to boss better than little old me. For now, anyway. And no,” Buffy quickly added forestalling his objections, “this week's little alcohol-fueled breakdown didn't faze my confidence in you. Tonya has got some experience with those herself so I can... sympathize,” Buffy finished.

Giles looked uncomfortable after the mentioning of the Eyghon-incident. “I-I'm... flattered and all, but...” he paused for a moment and looked at her. “Are you sure?”

“Giles, I can help more people like this. Not just in Sunnydale, but across the world. And being able to buy every shoe I could ever want in the process is a nice bonus,” she joked.

“Very well, I'll be your figurehead.”

“Excellent, which brings me to you,” she said to Willow.

“Me?” she squeaked. “What could I do? You're, like, a lot smarter than me now,” she remarked with a hint of jealousy.

“But you're still my best friend,” Buffy reassured her. “And this isn't a contest, you're still one of the smartest people I know.”

“One of the smart- Oh, right, Giles is the other...” Willow noticed the look the librarian now gave her and her voice faltered as a blush made her face glow with embarrassment. “Shutting up now.”

“And you know computers,” the Slayer went on. “There's a lot to do and I was hoping you could share the workload a bit. If I don't have to do all the programming myself, I can get more done on the hardware side in a shorter amount of time.”

“I don't really see what I can do, I can't type fast enough to be your secretary,” Xander quipped but Buffy could see he was feeling a bit left out.

“Actually, I was hoping you would help me with the construction efforts. I can design the tech and make the components, but having someone I can count on to install the finished devices would speed everything up immensely. And later on, I was hoping you'd be up for a gig as the company's test-pilot.”

That perked the boy up. “Cap was an ace-pilot, don't know how much of it stuck,” he cautioned.

“Not a problem, I wasn't planning on building any airplanes,” the blond revealed. “Guess pilot is the wrong word, but just calling you a, uhm, tester doesn't really capture what I want you to do. I just want you to know, all of you, that I want you involved in this every step of the way. If this goes like I hope it will, well, we'll all be rich for one and Sunnydale is going to be a lot safer.”

Revello Drive 1630
Willow recognized the quiet humming that greeted her as she followed Buffy down the stairs into the basement. The computer she was confronted with, though, wasn't anything like she'd expected. Seeing the mess of wires, motherboards, keyboards, hard drives, and monitors displaying lines and lines of code really brought home something had fundamentally changed with her friend.

“What kind of processing power are we talking about here?”

“Nowhere near enough,” Buffy responded ruefully. “I managed to do some gross modifications but I still only barely managed to get a gigahertz of processing power out of them.” This time Willow managed to keep her surprise internal. “And that's not enough to run JARVIS at full capacity.”

“Jarvis?”

Buffy nodded. “That's what Tonya called her AI. I'm trying to recreate it, but with this setup all we'll get is a limited intelligence with no personality and no initiative.”

“Buffy, there are, like, entire teams at MIT and Stanford who are working on AI's and they're probably decades away from what you're proposing,” the redhead said slowly.

“Yeah, but they're starting from scratch while I just have to copy Tonya's work. You don't need to be a genius for that, which is why I want you're input on my work. See what I'm missing.”

Hearing Buffy selling herself short like that managed to rouse Willow from her befuddlement over the prospect on working on an actual, functional AI. “Buffy, you're not stupid and you're not just following instructions from your memory.” She pointed at the computer rig. “You took all those components and not only made them work together but you improved them too. Sure, you got a leg up from having the knowledge of a genius but using that knowledge requires that you have intelligence. So this is the last time I want to hear you claim not to be smart when the evidence that you are is sitting right in front of us.”

Her little rant earned her a small smile from Buffy. “Well, looks like you're mind is made up so no point in arguing, huh?”

Seeing that she had succeeded, Willow turned back to the computer when something else occurred to her. “How did your Mom react when you started to build this in her basement?”

“Hmmm, she hasn't said actually. I told her you got me into this, and that I'm still learning but she's been sneaking in here a lot these last few days. I think she's afraid I'm hacking into government databases or something,” she joked.

Willow frowned. “You hooked this computer up to the internet?”

“I didn't, but I can't exactly tell her I'm actually building an artificial sentient in the basement. Oh well, once Giles is done purchasing the CRD complex we can move this stuff out of here. That should put Mom at ease. Now, let's get to work.”

Summers Industries
Willow's help had sped things up even more than Buffy had expected. Her friend had picked up enough to actually start helping to write code rather than simply check Buffy's work. So now JARVIS 1.0 was ready and installed in the former CDR complex. They'd finally acquired it, complete with inventory, but right now over half of the complex was still unused.

The AI's first time booting up seemed to take forever and the Slayer found her eyes wandering to the sealed off clean-room where a pair of robotic arms were busy with the delicate work of manufacturing the first batch of Summers microprocessors. And those arms weren't the only ones busy assembling devices according to her specifications. She was going to need all of them for the tech she wanted to develop not to mention JARVIS. It was hard to predict how fast the AI's intelligence would expand because it was predicated on the interaction between its learning subroutines and outside stimuli, so it was best to have the upgrades lined up as soon as possible.

“JARVIS 1.0 online, good afternoon Ma'am,” a British voice intoned through a loudspeaker. It didn't sound anything like the voice Tonya remembered though Buffy had done enough tweaking that it didn't sound like Giles anymore either, even though he had provided the original voice sample. She could have recreated the original JARVIS voice, but this AI would never be that AI and it was best to make that separation clear in her own mind.

“Good afternoon to you too Jarvis, can you give me a status-update on your systems?”

“Yes.”

Buffy waited but the AI said nothing more. “That means I want an update on the status of your systems,” she finally grumbled.

“Yes Ma'am. All systems are operational and functioning at nominal capacity. Currently, 64% of my processing power and 70% of my memory is in use. Progress on prototype CPU is at 28% of completion, progress on prototype repulsor is at 91% of completion, progress on-”

“You can stop there,” Buffy cut the AI off. It was good to hear JARVIS had interfaced seamlessly with the arms, she'd modified them for that but she hadn't known if it worked until now. “Jarvis, be concise. I don't need to know how much computational resources you're using unless you require more to continue functioning. And I don't want to know the progress of a project unless it is complete, or there's some unexpected change with it,” she explained patiently. He was like a puppy, if you wanted the AI to have good habits you had to start right away. Later on, when his judgment had developed, JARVIS would know when to step out of those boundaries. Most of the time.

“Yes, Ma'am,” JARVIS acknowledged.

“Okay then, I've got a project for you. Open the file marked OS_specs. I want you to write an Operating System that will operate smoothly with the minimum specifications in the file while meeting all the criteria in it too. Got that?” That was one of the main reasons she'd focused on creating JARVIS first. Once you had an AI up and running, it relieved a lot of the programming chores.

“Accessing,” JARVIS announced. “Understood, Ma'am. How much of my resources may I allocate to this task?”

“No more than fifty percent, I want you available to me and my friends when needed.”

And speaking of her friends, the door slid away to reveal Willow. “Aw, I'm too late?”

“Only by a minute, sorry I didn't wait but you didn't miss much. And I really wanted to set Jarvis to work as fast possible. We do have make something to sell after all.”

“What's the project?”

“An operating system for the new laptops, the current ones can't really get the best performance out of them. I'll be using it for the armor too when we're finally ready to make it. I'd like you to supervise Jarvis, correct his mistakes.”

Willow frowned. “Mistakes? I didn't think he could make them.”

“In the early stages, he'll make a lot,” Buffy recalled from Tonya's memories. “He's a fast learner, and he doesn't make the same mistake twice but right now he does need someone to check his work. I'll lend a hand but to be honest, I want to use my time here on developing the hardware.”

“Uhm, okay. I'll do it,” Willow agreed. “Say, speaking of time. How are you, like, holding up? I mean, you're busy all the time. I don't think you've been to the Bronze since you told us about... well, all this.”

“I'm fine,” Buffy assured her friend. “Between school, slaying and this I just don't have any time left for Bronzing. But that's okay, I'm really enjoying making stuff. Going to be even more fun to actually try some of these puppies out.”

“I noticed you're not mentioning Angel,” Willow pointed out.

“I've seen him plenty,” Buffy said defensively. Willow simply looked skeptical and hummed. “During patrolling,” she added sheepishly. “It's just been very hectic lately,” the Slayer supplied before the redhead could dig any further. “Now if that's everything there's some anti-vampire equipment that needs testing. Bye!” she shouted over her shoulder as she walked out of the room. The door closed before Willow could respond.

Restfield Cemetery
A few days later Buffy still felt a little bad for bailing on Willow like that, but there had been a development she honestly didn't want to talk about. Or think of, for that matter. It had started not long after she'd come clean with her friends. As she put Stark's ideas and skills to practice they stopped bothering the blond so much leaving her able to function. Unfortunately, this had left room for Tonya's other memories and foibles to come to the fore.

It had given her a few new nightmares, but if that was everything she wouldn't be complaining. The real problem was that Tonya Stark differed only in a few ways with the Tony Stark from the comics. Buffy knew as much because she'd gone over Xander's comic collection after she'd made the arc reactor. The big one was where and when they built their first armor. Tony had done so during the 60's in Vietnam while Tonya had done it in Afghanistan in 2006. 'Which reminds me, I need to tell the guys about Google. If Tonya's memories are right, we're just in time to get in on that.'

Besides the timing, though, the only differences were little things like a lack of facial hair and Tonya was a bit better at saying no to a glass of whiskey. The blond was grateful for that, she had no desire to end up an alcoholic.

What the Starks did have in common was that both were womanizers. And waking up from a dream of her, uh, Tonya's date with Maxim's Christmas cover models feeling exactly what Tonya had felt was... confusing for one. And for two as well. It unhappily tied in with Willow's pep talk on how she was doing more than just copying. That she was actually using Tonya Stark's know-how like it was Buffy's. Because it led to the question of what else of Tonya's was becoming Buffy's. 'I need to get laid,' Buffy lamented than paused as she ran that by her again. 'I mean date, I need to go on a real date. With Angel,' she added.

She gave the cemetery another survey through her sunglasses. The sun was down but thanks to a few modifications to the glasses Buffy could not only see the graveyard as clear as if it was day, she could tell who was a vampire too with a look. The sunglasses were mainly meant for her friends to give them an edge, but so far the Slayer was finding them pretty useful for herself as well. She'd never been great at sensing vampires, having to use clues like a dated outfit or extreme paleness to spot them. 'Which hasn't always worked,' she admitted to herself with a hint of embarrassment. 'Case in point, Angel.

But technology provided the answer as a vampire's lack of body-heat made them easily distinguishable in the infrared spectrum. Which her sunglasses were made to pick up and display in a comprehensible fashion to the user. Like now, as she was following a loner back to his nest. 'Where I can test these babies out,' she thought with a smile patting her bag. 'The Mark 1.1 Antioch. Guaranteed to smite your foes in a most holy fashion,' she quipped.

Walking up to the door to the crypt, Buffy pulled one grenade out of the bag before letting it drop to the grass. Not even bothering to look inside after she opened the door, the Slayer threw the armed Antioch inside and then closed it again. She'd set the delay for three seconds and it went off like clockwork turning the occupants' puzzled grumbles into pained yelps.

'Too bad the water loses whatever makes it holy so fast after getting vaporized,' Buffy lamented. She'd learned that after performing tests on some captured vampires. She hadn't zipped the bag up, so now her hand could easily dip in and retrieve the repulsor prototype from the bag. Like most of what she'd made so far this was just a proof of concept than a functional weapon with no way to quickly recharge it after five shots and no way to adjust the output. But she really wanted to know if this was effective against a vampire so she'd fitted a trigger and a stock and put it in the bag.

Kicking the door open, Buffy stepped into a room that was not just more humid than the outside but also a bit warmer. She spotted the grenade right away, because while it had run out of water the heating element was still going strong making the device lit up on her display. The vampires on the other hand, were dark figures slightly colder than the surrounding air but heating up quickly.

'Oops, forgot I was still wearing these.' She corrected that mistake and now she could finally see the damage with her own eyes. All four of the bloodsuckers were sporting blisters on their hands, faces, and any other exposed bit of skin. The real disabling damage the vaporized holy water had done, though, was on their eyes. The vampires were stumbling around blind and in pain, only two reacting to her entrance by turning their milky-white eyes in Buffy's direction.

“I don't suppose any of you would be willing to fill-out a brief questionnaire about this experience?” She asked in a bright voice.

“Bitch, I'm going to drain you dry for this,” one of them spat out.

“I'll put you down as a no, then,” Buffy quipped before taking aim at the speaker and pulling the trigger on her repulsor. The Slayer grunted as the prototype kicked against her shoulder but it did more than that to the vampire. He took the blast straight to the chest catapulting him over the sarcophagi and into the wall. It didn't dust him, though.

The other three now started to move, snarling as they did, but only two had picked the right direction. Not intimidated in the least, Buffy calmly walked up to the sole girl of the group and fired the repulsor again at point-blank range. The beam of light and force tore straight through her and sent the talkative vampire who'd just gotten to his feet behind her into the wall again. The vampire with a hole in her chest didn't even have time to notice the lack of a heart before she collapsed into dust.

Not pausing, Buffy aimed for the other vampire that had gotten the right direction and dusted him just as easily. She took a different approach with the vamp who was only now finding out where she really was, aiming for his head rather than his torso. The range was greater than with the previous two shots so it didn't blast through him. Instead, his neck snapped with an audible crack as the vamp's head did an almost 180 degree loop before his body followed in a tumble.

The lack of movement afterwards confirmed it for Buffy, that shot had snapped the demon's spine. 'Only got one shot left,' she mused as she approached the talkative vampire ignoring the lamed one for the moment.

“What, what did we do to piss you off, witch?” the bloodsucker choked out with blood dribbling down the corners of his mouth.

“Bravo, I think you just set a new record for cramming the most faulty assumptions in a single, short sentence,” the Slayer replied placing the repulsor on one of the stone coffins. 'Can't risk blowing a hole in the wall, so that means doing this the old fashion way.' She took the stake out of her waistband.

“What do you mean?”

“Let's count them. Assuming I did this out of anger is one, that this is personal is two, and that I used magic to do it makes three. Calling me a witch because you thought I used magic is really more of a conclusion so I might have been crowning you assumption-king a little too quickly,” she revealed before plunging the stake home.

Having made short work of the final vampire, Buffy went over to where the grenade lay and put her sunglasses on her nose again. 'Still hot, but not as bad as when I came in,' the blond concluded. 'The heat might still have been enough to ruin the mechanism, which means it can't be refilled. Hmmm, maybe I should use a different dispersal method. Some kind of powder perhaps?' Her mind occupied with that, she retrieved the grenade and repulsor on autopilot before making her way out of the crypt.

Revello Drive 1630
Hearing someone open the window behind him, Angel dropped the stuffed animal in his hands and turned around. At the sight of Buffy he couldn't help but blink. The reason for that reaction were her sunglasses. They were big and cheap, but even that wasn't enough to hide all of the wires or the small cameras on the frame. The girl he knew wouldn't be caught dead in them. Or make them, which Angel was certain Buffy had done.

“Hey, uh, are you here for some quality time with Mr. Gordo?” the blond greeted him.

“Who?”

She indicated the stuffed animal after setting down the bag she was carrying and before shrugging of her coat. “The pig.”

“Oh, no,” he said shaking his head. “I'm here to see you. I, I don't get to do that much lately.”

“Sure you do. We saw each other two nights ago,” she responded defensively.

“Three, actually,” Angel corrected her. “And you went straight home after patrol.”

Buffy shrugged. “I was tired.”

“Because you're so busy,” he finished for her. “You're always busy with one thing or another since Halloween. And now you're hold up at 'Summers Industries',” he couldn't help the little bit of snark that crept into his voice as he said the name, “whenever you're not patrolling. And even when you're not, you go on about refraction-rates this and adaptive algorithms that.”

“Well excuse me for wanting to tell my boyfriend about my day. Here's a suggestion. Why don't you try visiting me during one for once! My lab isn't exactly bathing in sunlight.”

“That,” Angel began with a shout before calming down and starting again. “You know why I can't visit you there. It's a good thing you blocked off all sewer entrances but the drawback is that I can't come in either. But this isn't why I came here. The, uh, I noticed that photo of you ice-skating.” Angel winched, he'd planned on being a lot smoother than this.

Buffy looked at the indicated photograph. “My Dorothy Hamill phase.” She shook her head ruefully. “My room back in LA was pretty much a shrine to her, you know. Dorothy dolls, Dorothy posters, even had the Dorothy haircut... Not her actual hair, because that would be weird,” she finished awkwardly.

“Right, well, uhm, there's a rink out on Route 17 and it's closed tomorrow. I was wondering if you wanted to go?”

The teenager opened her mouth, then closed it again gaining a pensive expression. “Sure, why not. I mean, I wanted to start my analysis of the 1.1 Antioch and the repulsor, and see how far along Jarvis is with the rewrite of the operating...” she broke off suddenly. Angel didn't know why, he thought he'd managed to hide that she'd lost him back at repeller. Or was it repuslor? “I'll go,” she sighed. “And I think Willow can start the analysis anyway, she'll like the challenge.” That thought seemed to cheer Buffy up again.

Summers Industries
“I'm sorry to disturb you ma'am, but we appear to have an intruder,” Jarvis announced causing Buffy to look up from the battery in front of her. It was the last component needed for the new laptop after she'd worked out most of her frustration with their botched date by finishing the cooling system. She wanted to give the first laptop to Willow, especially after hearing how she turned down that job offer. But something must have gone wrong during construction so now she had to take the thing apart to find the flaw.

“Show me,” she ordered the AI. On a flat screen you wouldn't find anywhere else in the world, the crisp image of a black girl Buffy's age was shown stalking down a dark hallway. “Is she human?”

“Undetermined at this time. Analysis of her thermal signature indicates she is not a vampire, however the subject showed above human strength when she broke in.” In the right corner of the screen a video was displayed showing the girl breaking the lock on the door. Buffy recognized it as part of the unused section of the former CRD-complex.

“So this is assassin number two,” the blond mused.

“Unknown,” JARVIS answered.

“I was just thinking aloud, you didn't have to answer that. Uhm, show me her location on the map.” The image of the Tarakan disappeared to be replaced by a diagram of the building, a red dot slowly moving towards the section of the plans that were designated as occupied. “Has Xander finished installing the sonic scrambles in that section?”

“He has, ma'am. Records show they came online two days ago.”

“Great, then you have my permission to use them once our assassin is in range. Oh, and I want you to contact the gang and let them know about our guest.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

***

Kendra groaned as she woke up with a dull headache throbbing beneath her temples. The last thing she remembered was sneaking into the female vampire's lair. It had all gone splendidly, even if it had been strange for a vampire to hole herself up in an active factory. Then there had been a loud sound that drowned everything and Kendra had fallen into darkness.

Forcing herself to stand up and show no weakness the Slayer quickly discovered she was no longer in the corridor. Instead, she was looking at a solid steel door barring the way out of the small, featureless room Kendra found herself in. She was moving towards the door to test if it was shut when a voice came from the ceiling. “You woke up sooner than I thought,” a woman's voice noted. Looking up, Kendra finally noticed the camera protected by a bubble of glass or plastic in the right corner. “Which means you can answer my questions faster, excellent.”

Standing a little more erect, Kendra mentally prepared herself for what obviously was coming as she looked straight into the camera. “I will tell you nothing, demon. Do your worst.”

“That's just a camera honey. You know, it sends these moving pictures to me and it can transmit my voice into your cell. The technology's been around for a while.”

“Do not mock me, demon,” Kendra said unable to keep her voice from getting heated. “You know I was not referring to the machine, but to you.”

“Wow, you're telling me your employer lied about your target to you?” The demon clucked with mock disapproval. “Not very nice of him. Or is it a she? Anyway, I'm not a demon. I'm the Slayer.”

Kendra didn't even think of hiding how preposterous she found that idea. “That is impossible, because I am the Slayer. And after you kill me, another will take me place and finish you off. So do your worst, demon.”

The demon, however, didn't seem particularly fazed by the revelation its lie had been found out. Indeed, she persisted in it. “Nice try, but that works better when you're not talking to the real Slayer. Now, I'll try again. Who hired the Order of Taraka to kill me?”

“Excuse me, Ma'am,” a British, male voice broke in over the loudspeaker but obviously talking to the demon. “But voice-stress analysis indicates she is speaking the truth.”

There was silence for a moment. “That's impossible!” the demon finally said. “Run a self-diagnostic and then redo the analysis.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

Now there was the vague sound of a door opening coming to Kendra from the speaker followed by a third voice, another man. “Hey Buffy, I got your message about a second assassin.”

“Hey Xander,” the female demon responded. “I caught her but now Jarvis says she really believes she's the Slayer and... and I forgot to close the channel to the holding cell. Dammit,” and then all the sound was cut off leaving Kendra alone to ponder the demon's antics. 'Did she really think I would fall for this charade?'

The walls did not answer, so the Slayer simply waited until her captors chose to contact her again. The manner of that contact took her by surprise, though, because she'd expected them to use the camera again. Instead, the door opened and an older man looked into the cell. Her body tensed right away, but Kendra kept herself from pouncing when she realized the bespectacled man was human.

“I'm Watcher Rupert Giles. I do apologize for the mix-up but I'm afraid we are dealing with a situation here so we have to be careful. So I'm going to have to ask for some proof that you are indeed the Vampire Slayer.”

Kendra hadn't expected that, not at all. “Excuse me?”

Airport
“So what are you going to tell your Watcher?” The other Slayer asked, and even now that sounded very strange to Kendra even in her own mind. Then again, everything was so very strange here in Sunnydale. Rescuing vampires with souls, a Slayer using what looked like a ray-gun right alongside her trusty stake, friends who both knew of and helped out with the slaying.

Kendra shook her head to clear it a bit. “I am unsure. I do not think he will believe me if I tell him everything.”

“But you are going to have to tell him something,” Buffy finished before rummaging through her bag and retrieving a canister. “Here, I just finished it and I think you'll find it useful.”

“I can't possibly accept another gift,” Kendra said holding her hands up. “You already gave me that portable computer.” Which she could only barely operate even after the detailed explanations from Buffy and her friend. She also didn't really see how much use it could be for her. If she wanted to contact Buffy, Kendra would just ask her Watcher to call the blond's Watcher. As for research, that was really Mr. Zabuto's task. Perhaps she could give the computer to him, he might appreciate the gift.

“And don't think I noticed how uncomfortable you were with it. I get it, you're more of a books-girl and that's okay. But you're a Slayer too and I thought you might like a tool to make the job go easier.” And she held the canister up again.

“You always do that, make our calling sound like a job when it is who we are.”

“I guess I do, it's just... “ Buffy shook her head and changed the subject. “But back to this,” she indicated the canister. “Meet the Mark 1.2 Antioch anti-vampire grenade. You press the button twice and five seconds later it disperses a cloud of holy water. Doesn't kill them, but it does blind and disorient them. This is the first version you can refill and re-use, just make sure you stick it into an electrical socket after each use to recharge the heating element. And email me if you got questions or something breaks,” she finished her little speech by handing the grenade over to an amazed Kendra who didn't resist this time.

“This works?“

“Oh yeah, I tried the Mark 1.1 a few days ago and it took these vamps completely by surprise. I do recommend not being in the same room as the grenade when it goes off, the water gets pretty hot.”

“I... very well, I accept your gift.”

“Great,” Buffy enthused and then she stepped closer as if to hug her. Kendra quickly took a step back and the blond stopped as well. “Uh, oh, right, no hugs, sorry,” the other Slayer mumbled blushing for some reason. Giving her a nod of farewell Kendra left this very strange place.

Summers Industries
Xander, Willow, and Buffy were sitting in the only conference room of the complex that was actually used as such listening to Giles. Holding a meeting like this was boring and too corporate for all their tastes, but it had its uses so here they all were, on a Saturday no less. “Starting next Saturday I'll be commuting to Los Angeles every other week so I won't be here, but please don't hesitate to call if something does come up Buffy.”

“Of course we will. But why are you going?” she wondered

“Ah, you'll remember we decided to set out legal and financial departments up there, so we wouldn't have anybody not in the know here. And while they are finally adequately staffed with people that are not trying to steal either information or simply money from us, they do require more supervision than I fear Jarvis can provide. Especially in light of how Willow's encryption program has now really taken off, I'm told sales are soaring.”

“It's not really my program,” a blushing Willow corrected. “Jarvis did, like, all the work, I just told him what I wanted.”

“That's the point,” Buffy countered. “It was your idea, and besides that you did more than just sitting back and letting Jarvis do the rest.” Willow ducked her head but she did smile. “So take the praise, and use that bonus to take out your new boyfriend,” the blond teased causing the redhead to blush even more. Oz seemed like a good guy, and he'd see to it that Willow could finally move on from Xander. 'But it means she's spending less time with me too,' she couldn't help but think. The Slayer didn't dare to think why, exactly, that rankled as much as it did.

“Right, getting back on topic. Uhm, Buffy, Centurion Security Services has shown some interest in these, ah, Vision-glasses of yours but the, uh, slapdash nature of the prototype I showed them has left them unsure if we can deliver a usable product. How far along are you with the production model?”

Buffy simply grinned. “Well,” she started coyly before placing a box on the table and opening it. Within the carton box were six sunglasses, all of them showing the Summers Industries logo on their frame. “I'm this far along. Here's two to show off to Centurion and these four are for us. I tinkered with the display so it now integrates the low-light feed with the thermal one so you don't have to manually switch between them.”

Xander was the first to try his out. Putting it on he was quiet for a second before rearing back in surprise. Buffy figured he'd just gotten a nasty glare on the display from the fact that this room was in direct sunlight. That should clear up in a moment because the glasses automatically adjusted to the amount of light available. “Whoa, didn't expect that.” Taking it off, he flipped it over and examined the device. “Hey, where did you put the batteries?”

“It doesn't run on batteries. I put thermocouples in the parts of the frame that hook behind your ears so effectively the glasses are powered by your own body-heat. It takes a second for the current to start running though.”

“Impressive,” Giles remarked. Then he gave the Slayer a searching look. “Is this the reason you've been so busy? I noticed you're spending almost every hour not in school or on patrol there since Kendra left. You've also placed quite a few orders for material and other components.”

“I'm fin-” She cut herself off, grimacing at the annoyance that simple question had ignited. He deserved an explanation, they all did. “Meeting Kendra was a little... weird,” the blond said more calmly. “But no, the glasses and the holographic CAD were just side-projects. The reason for all those orders is that I'm finally working on my first suit.”

Xander perked up at hearing that, coming half out of his seat as he leaned over to the table towards her. “You are?”

“It's not going to be anything fancy,” Buffy warned him. “It's still only half-done and I've had to do a lot of compromising. I wasn't able to miniaturize the repulsors enough to fit them in a glove for one, so I had to go a different route to control the hands. It's going to be almost as bulky as that gray clunker Tonya used to escape that blasted cave and not a whole lot more advanced.”

She called up the design on the screens in front of the Scoobies. “It won't have any weapons, except for those repulsors and we already know they're not that great against vampires. Its armor will only stand up against small-arms fire and it'll ice up if you got too high. The only bright spot is power, the arc reactor I'm going to put into it will provide it with plenty of that. This suit isn't meant for actual combat, it's more of a training-craft.”

“It is putting a significant dent in our resources,” Giles cautioned her. “I know as well as you do that is what this all is for ultimately, but we still have to balance means with expenses. Things should clear up by Christmas, we managed to get your new portable computer out just in time,” her Watcher noted. “Though why you wanted to send the first few for what is essentially no charge to these googol-people I still don't understand.”

“You can just say laptop,” Buffy chuckled. “And it's Google. Trust me, investing in them now is going to earn us a pretty penny down the line. A for the suit, we can really use it. I made sure there was enough room so we can all fit in it, and as promised you'll be the first to try it out,” she said looking at Xander.

He, in turn, pumped is fists in the air and simply yelled, “Woohoo!” And on that note, the meeting ended quickly thereafter.

***

Joyce had almost convinced herself that she'd imagined what she saw in her kitchen by the time they entered this futuristic part of the building. There were several screens showing diagrams, text, and things Joyce didn't even know the name of. Machines whose function Joyce couldn't guess. Workbenches littered with all manners of devices and tools, with a table free of everything in between them forming a counterpoint to the clutter. But the strangest sight was her daughter moving through the room like she belonged there with the form of Joyce's boyfriend slung over her shoulder like he weighed nothing.

“Buffy, how? Why? When?” Joyce tried every question, only to break off and try again when the question just didn't seem to encompass what she really wanted to ask. “What's going on?” she finally settled on as she stopped in the middle of the room. “You, you hit Ted with a frying pan! And... and...” her voice faltered again as the memory of metal under bloodless skin flashed before her eyes.

Buffy didn't say anything at first, dumping her load on one of those machines. It had a flat surface surrounded by a ring on one end and only with Ted lying on it did it finally dawn on Joyce that it looked like an MRI machine. It also brought Ted's face back into view complete with the missing part of it. There should be blood, but there wasn't. There should be bone, but all Joyce could see was metal and little light bulbs.

“Jarvis, do a scan of this thing and display the results on the CAD,” her daughter ordered speaking into empty air. “File the results under “Ted” for now.”

Before Ms. Summers could ask who she was speaking to, a reply came. “Yes, ma'am. Please stand back and I will begin.”

Her daughter did as prompted and the machine Ted was in came to life. Buffy only witnessed the process for a moment before turning around to address Joyce. “I already told you back at the house, he's not human. Or alive.”

“Because your sunglasses said so,” she finished cautiously. It only elicited a huff, then her daughter took of said sunglasses and tossed them to her inviting her to take a look for herself. Feeling slightly curious despite how ridiculous it all sounded she put them on. At first, Joyce saw nothing. Then she gasped as the world became a lot more informative a moment later.

Dark, shadowy corners couldn't hide anything from her and with one look Joyce could tell the exact temperature of her daughter as well as the screens and the room itself. Turning her vision on Ted brought another surprise, his skin had taken on a smooth, plastic-y texture that looked unnatural. Raising the glasses, Joyce checked with her own eyes to see if something hadn't happened to him. But he looked perfectly normal to her unassisted eyes.

“The glasses work with more than the visible light spectrum. I think that whoever made this thing's skin only took normal human senses into account. It's actually pretty good for something that's clearly not organic, but I'm betting you never saw Ted sweat or blush. Not that I want to know if there even was an opportunity for you to see that, 'cause, ewwww,” Buffy finished eloquently making a face.

“I have finished scanning the object, Ma'am. Rendering now,” the same voice announced followed by a sculpture of light springing up from what she had believed to be an empty table. Seeing that distracted Joyce completely from her daughter's less than flattering declaration.

It also brought home just how fantastic their surroundings were. “Buffy, what is this place? What are you doing here?” She knew her daughter was no dummy, but Buffy had never shown any interest or aptitude for engineering or science.

“That's kind of hard to explain, but, uhm... You know how I said I vampires existed and then I said I knew they didn't exist after you sent me... away?” Her daughter didn't give her the chance to answer. “I lied.”

Joyce finally looked away from the free-floating hologram to frown at Buffy. “What do you mean?”

“I lied when I said that I was cured. That I knew vampires didn't exist. Because they do, and so does magic which is the reason I managed to design and build all this,” the blond swept her hands out encompassing everything in the room, “since Halloween.”

Joyce had a hard time how you went from vampires and magic to, well, to this. Her mind felt sluggish as it tried to wrap itself around the concepts bombarding it at the moment. “I don't understand,” she said in a small voice.

“I went as this fictional genius for Halloween and a mage turned everybody in their costumes. Afterwards, I still had that knowledge and as it turns out, it works. So with the help of my friends I started Summers Industries and you're standing in our research and development facility.” Buffy finished with an expectant look directed at Joyce.

She, in turn, simply didn't know what to say. “Summers Industries,” Joyce repeated dumbly.

And then Ted got up. “That, that, that wasn't nice yyyyyoung lady. I-I wont stand for behavior like that in my house,” Ted stammered out as he got up. Buffy didn't show any fear or surprise as she turned around to face the thing. “I am, I am, I am just noooooot wired that way.”

“Then you're in luck, 'cause I got the upgrade for that. It's called Buffy's fist 2.0!” she quipped just before punching Ted in the gut.

***

Buffy gently led her mother to a chair so she could rest a little. She'd been acting weird ever since the Slayer caught her making out with Ted. 'And after tonight, isn't that prime grade blackmail material,' she mused. But seeing Ted come online again just now and then put down with even more fake-skin missing had finally broken something in her Mom.

'I shouldn't have sprung everything like this on her, why didn't I wait until Ted had left and then captured him?' She didn't know, but she had her suspicions. It had always hurt how her mother didn't know what she was up to and so had come to the conclusion that she was a troubled girl. Once she started up Summers Industries and had to hide that as well from Joyce, the feeling had gotten worse.

It didn't help that Tonya Stark had never had a close relationship with either of her parents. Her mom had died giving birth to Tonya and her father had been cold and distant until his death when Tonya was about Buffy's age. That part of Buffy felt like this was a second chance to connect. And didn't want to waste a second of it.

All of that was probably what egged Buffy on to reveal everything when she was confronted by the sight of Ted. And now her mother was reeling, though given her behavior that evening Buffy was starting to think Ted had done something to her Mom. 'I should've taken the time to at least build that medical scanner,' she berated herself. But there was only so much hours in a day and Tonya hadn't had much grounding in the medical sciences. Stark Industries might have made many medical breakthroughs, Tonya had only known the basics of most of them. So Buffy had decided to leave most of it dormant for now until they could hire some outside talent to develop the ideas into practical applications.

She didn't leave her mother's side as the woman closed her eyes and simply rested for a while. This time Buffy had made sure Ted wouldn't get up again by yanking out its power-supply. Originally, she had wanted to shut him down by linking him up with Jarvis, but the only data-port she'd found looked really weird. She would have to whip up a custom job just to interface her computer with Ted and that would take time. So digging into the mystery that was her Mom's ex could wait until morning when she knew her mom was going to be fine. Hopefully with everything.

***

Xander couldn't help but feel a little exposed in this body-suit as he slipped into Buffy's first Iron Man armor. Buffy had said the suit was for monitoring his vitals during the trial and Xander hadn't thought much of it. That was before he realized the test would be held not just in front of his friends, but all the adults as well including both Miss Calendar and Buffy's mom.

Don't get him wrong, he was happy for Giles that Ms. Calendar had come back. Giles, though, hadn't reacted so well when he'd found out Buffy had told her mother everything. Mrs. Summers hadn't been happy either, for that matter. But the librarian, with help from the rest of the Scoobies, had managed to convince her that moving away wouldn't make the demons go away, that they were everywhere. But the end result was that Buffy could spend less time here because Joyce had been adamant she do better in school.

That was the reason the first suit was only finished now, a day before Buffy's surprise birthday-party. The suit itself, with its arms stretched out straight to the sides, wasn't what Xander had expected. For one, it wasn't the red-and-gold he knew from the comics but unpainted, shiny metal. For another, it was one piece that you stepped into after which the various parts tightened up and the front-torso piece swung down.

Taking a deep breath, Xander put his first literal step into the armor as he put his legs into it twisting to face the same direction as the armor did in the process.

“Sorry it's such an acrobatic act simply to get into the suit, but it was easier to construct it this way,” Buffy apologized sitting before a screen showing various read-outs.

“It's no problem,” Xander assured him before ducking his head so he could slip it into the helmet. With the power off, he couldn't see anything which meant he was going to have to put his arms in the gloves blind. 'Maybe I should've done that first and then put my head into the helmet. I'll try that next time,' he resolved as his left arm slid into place followed a little awkwardly by the right. “Okay, I'm in. You can close her up,” he said into the radio he wore around his right ear. The suit had a com too, but it wouldn't work with the power off.

“Alright, here goes,” Buffy responded right before he heard the hinges whine of the chest-piece swinging down. Clicks, rattles and more whining could be heard as the upper-thigh pieces slid into place followed by the upper-arm parts closing around his limbs. Finally, the neck sections which had been wide enough he could put his head through it tightened up and light entered the darkness.

Xander watched the display with some trepidation, all the more so because he only got half of what he was seeing as the system booted up. “I've locked the repulsors down for this test, so if you get any errors about it you can just tell the armor to ignore it,” Buffy advised right before the world came back into view.

“Whoa,” escaped Xander's lips as information began to crowd the edges of his sight. One glance told him Buffy was right, a small representation of the armor did show that the chest-, hand-, and foot-repulsors were off-line. There was also a small window informing him of his remaining power, what the temperature was outside and inside the suit, and a few other read-outs of his environment. Schooling his tone, he reported, “it's working. What do you want me to do first?”

“I want to try the eye-tracking software first. Please look at me, then Giles, and then at something on the workbench in front of you,” Buffy said. Xander looked and as he did a round circle popped up centering right where he looked. When his eye settled on Buffy's half-turned away face, she was looking at a computer screen and not him, another window popped up featuring a short rundown of who Buffy was. Next he tried Giles and the same thing happened. His gaze couldn't help but wander briefly to Miss Calendar and this too prompted a window to open.

When his eyes wandered over to the workbench and the items on it, things went wrong. One window after another began to clutter his view until Xander couldn't see a thing. Luckily, the Slayer had been keeping an eye out and the next moment his vision cleared. “The delay was too short,” she explained. “I lengthened it, and shortened the time the info stays after you've looked away. Try again,” Buffy instructed.

It went better this time, and after that Xander finally got to the moving part. It started with wriggling his fingers, but Buffy soon let him take his first step. Taking his arms of the braces so he could hold them at his sides, Xander took a deep breath before gently lifting his right leg up then moving it down. And almost tilted over to the right as a result barely catching himself in time.

“Be careful, Xan. The armor moves with you, which means you don't have to carry its weight. Just think of it as an extension of your body, you know, like you put on a lot of weight,” Buffy advised.

“And you're still willing to try the suit even if it puts so many pounds on you?” he joked before taking another step. And then another, gaining more confidence and fluidity with each one. It still felt a little odd, since the suit's arms were a little longer proportionally to the rest of the armor in comparison with Xander's own proportions.

At last he completed the journey to the workbench, all 7 grueling yards of it. “Time to test the armor's dexterity. Start by picking up the apple, please,” Buffy requested.

“No problem,” he told her. Picking it up Xander was amazed that he could actually feel the apple, sense the pressure of the armor's fingers against the fruit. When his fingers started to sink into the apple, Xander tried to pull back on how much force he used but it wasn't enough. The fruit literally exploded in his hand, covering it and his faceplate with chunks and splatters.

“Don't worry, I was expecting something like this,” Buffy consoled him typing away. “The problem with this control-scheme is that the feedback is finicky, impossible to get right the first time around. That's why I need to run these tests. Let's move on to the next test and after that we're done for today.”

Hearing that, Xander looked over his shoulder at the blond. “You mean I won't get to try and fly?”

“Not inside you don't,” she scoffed. “And not before I've had a chance to fine-tune the controls. So, get to the writing.

“Ah, so that's what the paper and pencil are for. And I guess I'm supposed to screw the nut on the bolt?”

“Got it in one. Now start writing your lines, young man.” It was disturbing how mature Buffy managed to sound when she said that.

Revello Drive 1630
'Happy birthday to me,' Buffy thought sarcastically as JARVIS digested the data she'd just sent from her laptop. She'd only been able to connect with the SI mainframe from home after Mom knew about everything since it was kind of hard to explain away the equipment she needed to install for this. And where she got the laptop, of course.

Now she could get lost in her work even at home, which sounded just great right now because her birthday had gone abysmally bad. 'Even worse than Tonya's when she was dying from Palladium-poisoning.' Buffy made a face at the memory, especially because that fiasco had been partially of Tonya's own engineering. Buffy's pile-up felt more like the universe hammering her.

First there had been the Judge's arm, which had ended the surprise party before it had even started and then Angel had announced he had to leave and take the arm with him. They'd still been saying goodbye when the arm got stolen again and worse, they hadn't been able to stop the Judge from being assembled. They'd barely escaped and Buffy had ended up spending the night with Angel.

''I suppose that qualifies as my part in the screw up that was last night,' she concluded sadly. After that aborted goodbye she just wanted to be close to him, Buffy just hadn't figured out how close until they were half-naked. Guilt had been a factor. She'd felt guilty for not spending much time with him lately, and guilty about all those dreams she was having because she did care for Angel. She really did.

'So why was the sex so... okay.' It had been her first time and Buffy was pretty sure Angel had enjoyed himself. It had been good for her too, but the Slayer knew from Tonya's memories that it was supposed to be wow. She loved Angel, so shouldn't their first time together be more? Or at least equal to those one-night stands she recalled?

'Then again, it obviously didn't mean as much to Angel or he would have stayed with me,' she concluded. And her friends hadn't seen him either, she'd checked when she told them the Judge was up and about. So now Buffy was in her room getting JARVIS to work on figuring out how to make Adamantium. Not true Adamantium, but the much cheaper Adamantium steel variant which should fit her needs well enough. She knew what resins went into making the alloy, but not the exact proportions or in what order you put the various resins together. JARVIS would have to model all the possibilities or they would have to sink a large amount of money into the project trying them all out. As it was, it would still take a lot of processing power and time.

Looking back at the screen, Buffy finally saw that Jarvis had begun running simulations. With the AI occupied like that, there wasn't much else Buffy could do from here. She checked outside. 'Sun's going down soon. I'll try his home again, maybe he's back.'

Summers Industries
“There must have been some thing, some event that triggered this change,” Giles pondered pacing in front of the assembled Scoobies. A change that had almost gotten Willow killed if Ms. Calendar hadn't saved her. “Buffy, you were with him last night, did you notice anything?”

Buffy pressed her lips together, she knew exactly what he was talking about. She didn't know why or how, but somehow their lovemaking had turned Angel evil again. So now they had to deal with both the Judge and three-quarters of the Scourge of Europe. “I.... It doesn't matter. We need to focus on stopping the Judge right now. Angel can wait until after. That includes how you knew he'd turned evil when the rest of us didn't,” Buffy finished looking directly at Ms. Calendar. The teacher, in turn, looked very unhappy at all the attention that revelation earned her but she nodded after a moment.

“Uhm, but we don't know how,” Willow pointed out, her eyes darting between the blond and the school teacher. “All the books say no weapon forged can harm him. Like, what does that leave us?”

Buffy's gaze was drawn to the mark I suit like a magnet, and it clicked. “That leaves out progress.” The others looked over to the suit. “The armor isn't forged, and neither are the repulsor blasts it fires,” she elaborated already walking to the suit of armor. She slipped out of her shoes, and climbed into the armor. “Jarvis, activate the mark I armor,” she ordered before her head disappeared into the helmet. If her friends were protesting Buffy didn't hear it over the sounds of the armor closing and adjusting to her height.

The armor enclosed around her like a trusty old glove. This was her first time in it, yet it felt so familiar. The boot up sequence took some time, but finally she was looking at her concerned friends through the suit's optics. Hardly thinking about it she started to walk having none of the problems Xander had. It could have been the adjustments Buffy had made after the testing, but she knew better. 'It's just like riding a bike. You never really forget,' she mused.

“Huh, I'm not sure my van can take the weight,” Oz said.

“No problem, I wasn't planning on getting to the factory by land.”

“You're not thinking of flying this contraption there?” Giles checked. “Buffy, I know how upsetting this must be for you-”

“No you don't,” Buffy ground out. “You have no idea what...” she cut herself off and started walking again. “I can do this. I've done, I mean, Tonya has done this thousands of time. Everything works, so I should be fine if I stay low and every second counts. Angel knows what we've been doing here and he knows we know where the Judge is. We need to hit him hard before they move the evil smurf. I'll stay in contact but I can't wait any longer.”

It would have been more dramatic if she could have just rocketed away, unfortunately there was a ceiling and several more floors in the way so she had to settle for walking out the door. Only when she was outside, and after doing a check of the control surfaces, did she finally activate her repulsors and take off into the air.

Abandoned Factory
“There's nothing here, they already left,” Buffy reported looking around for any clues where the birds had flown too. She was glad the guys couldn't hear the ticking of the metal of her gauntlets as the cooled down. The blond had found she'd made a design-flaw with the hand-repulsors in her quest to make them small enough to fit. Flying required their low-powered but continuous use and she had skimped on the cooling just a little too much. So the heat built up, Buffy had actually felt it with her fingers who were in the armor's forearms. She was glad her hand hadn't been in that glove or she would have had to make a visit to the hospital after this.

“Okay, we need to think this over,” came Xander's voice over the com. “Let's see, if I had a six feet tall smurf that can incinerate people with a gesture, where would I go?”

“Uhm, the Judge is probably still not at full strength,” her redheaded friend supplied. “He'll need people for that, like, lots of them.”

“Which means Angel is looking for a crowd,” Giles summarized. “The Bronze?”

“Closed tonight,” Buffy countered.

“This should be easy, there aren't a lot of places in Sunnydale where people just line up to get massacred,” Xander complained.

“Uh, guys,” Oz started tentatively. “If it's lines you're looking for, the Mall would be the best place.”

Pulling up a mental map of Sunnydale, Buffy grimaced as she realized that was on the opposite side of town. The guys at Summers Industries were actually a lot closer than she was. Especially since it would be prudent of her to wait a little longer to give her hand-repulsors more time to cool down. “You guys can get there faster than me. There's a box in my lab labeled 'AV Supplies'. It contains four repulsor pistols, they aren't strong enough to kill a vamp but it will knock his socks of. Use those and some Antiochs to clear the exits. I've got no doubt they'll have their minions guard them to keep the people inside from just fleeing. If you see the Judge, run.”

There was silence for a moment, then Giles short reply came through the com. “Willow is retrieving them now. Do be careful, Buffy. I very much doubt that armor will protect you from the Judge's power.”

“That's why I'm planning on shooting first.”

Sunnydale Mall
“Lock the exits, boys,” Angel ordered. His minions were still running down the stairs when he turned to the Judge. “It's all yours,” he told him with a smile. The crowd hadn't noticed them yet, even when the Judge had incinerated that one man. They didn't miss it when the Judge threw off the blanket and stepped forward. Not that it mattered, before they had even time to think of fleeing, streams of flame soared from the Judge's hands and into the nearest humans, jumping from there to those that had been further away. Pretty soon, everybody was linked to the Judge by a ribbon of flame.

Angel's smile got wider as the entire crowd froze in place. 'Que the bonfire!' He was distracted from the impending massacre by the sounds of a door crashing open followed by a brief struggle that was ended by a weird whining noise. Looking over to the source of the noise, Angel was confronted by the sight of Buffy's friends overpowering the vampires guarding that particular door.

The whelp was now staking one of the downed vampires while the mousy one was busy throwing a canister over the heads of the frozen people at the minions blocking another exit. Vapor began to hiss out of it and the morons started to scream as the holy water engulfed them. “Useless idiots,” Angel cursed.

That, however, couldn't hold his interest. Not when the librarian was pointing yet another of Buffy's toys at the Judge. It looked like a kid's toy as it was covered in green plastic, but Angel started to get nervous as he could see the muzzle. There was some kind of energy building up inside the gun. His soulful counterpart had never visited his girlfriend's workplace and Angel was starting to fear it was going to bite him in the butt now. The raygun whined, then shot a white beam at the Judge connecting with his arm. The limb was swatted aside knocking into the other arm in the process and stopping the incineration process prematurely.

The Judge, though, didn't have a scratch . Angel laughed as the worry drained out of him as swiftly as it had bubbled up. “Looks like Buffy's little inventions aren't so great after all. And speaking of her, where is my lover anyway?”

Beside him, the Judge ceased examining the spot on his arm hit by the team and squared his shoulders as he glowered at the Scoobies. He didn't get the chance to add his two cents because glass and wood suddenly came crashing down on the refreshment stand in the center of the court. Amidst the falling the debris was an armored form. It landed in a crouch on a counter which came apart under its weight. The armored figure wobbled a bit but didn't lose its balance and then it straightened out.

The thing was made of silver-gray metal and pretty bulky, though it was just a tad shorter than the Judge. There were glowing circles on its chest and palms, giving off the same light as the weapon Giles had used just a few seconds ago. The helmet had two dark, rectangular vision-ports, and not much else in the way of features. 'That's what she was working on all this time? Oh, you foolish, whiny moron, couldn't you have at least pretended to be interested?' he asked rhetorically. Right about now he could really kick the souled Angel for landing him in this mess. Actually, he always felt like that.

“Right here,” Buffy said. The suit distorted her voice to the point it sounded almost male, but Angel just knew it was her. Around them, the dazed humans were starting to realize something really weird was going on and they were starting to move to the now cleared exits.

The Judge didn't really notice, too busy eyeing the armored figure. “So the knights of this era can fly,” the horned demon mused. “No matter. Your armor will not protect you from my judgment and no weapon forged by man can harm me,” it stressed.

“That was then,” Buffy responded as the circle on her chest started to whine like Giles' gun. Angel wasn't concerned though, he already knew it wouldn't work on the Judge. “This is now.” The whine increased in volume and the circle started to glow brighter. A beam of light surged outward engulfing the Judge's head before Angel could even blink. And it didn't stop there, it went straight on smashing through the wall behind them and it kept going.

The beam lasted less than a second before disappearing, revealing what remained of the Judge's head which was nothing. Behind the demon there were some specks of flesh plastered to the wall. The headless body remained upright for a short while longer as if it hadn't realized yet it was missing something vitally important then collapsed forward.

Wide-eyed, both Angel and Drusilla looked as their superweapon flopped down the stairs. “Fuck,” Angel summed up before diving over the railing to follow the now panicked crowd out of the Mall. “This just isn't fair,” he concluded.

***

Buffy trudged after Angel, wanting to get a clear shot at him but he was almost out of the Mall when Buffy finally risked it. A repulsor-blast rammed into his shoulder sending the vampire spinning off his feet. She didn't blast him again, but started to close the distance. By the time the Slayer had reached the vampire he was already getting up, but more importantly there weren't any innocent bystanders.

“You know what the worst part was, huh? Pretending to love you. If I'd known how easily you'd give it up, I wouldn't have even bothered,” Angel sneered.

“I know you're not Angel. So don't bother,” she informed him.

“You'd like to believe that, don't you? But either way, you made me the man I am today!” he shot up as he said this, planting his fist in her stomach. And Angel didn't stop there, raining blows on her armor that Buffy felt even through the metal. But feeling was not the same as hurting, while Angel was forced to stop his attack, shaking its bruised knuckles as he stepped back.

Moving faster than a person in a metal suit had any right to, it was Buffy's turn to gut punch her ex-boyfriend. Then she took a step back to let him fall to his knees and pointed her palm at Angel's face, charging the repulsor up. The vampire was gulping unneeded air in, his smile growing as the seconds ticked away and the death blow refused to come. 'It's not him, it's not him,' Buffy kept reminding herself staring at her boyfriend's smiling face. But it was no use, her hand refused to trigger the beam that would end Angel's existence.

“You can't do it,” Angel crowed. “You just can't do it,” he repeated as he got back up again still cradling his stomach.

Buffy snarled, she didn't want to admit it. But it was obvious Angel was right. Resigned, she powered down the repulsor. Her hand closed into a fist as a triumphant Angel turned around and started to walk away. Which was the reason he didn't see her other hand coming from the side and swatting him into the wall to her right. The vampire's feet never touched the ground as he bridged the intervening six yards.

Not even giving him the time to gather his wits Buffy was on top of him in a flash, punching him in the nose. “That doesn't mean I'm just going to let you go,” she hissed before punching him again. “I've got this nice cell with your name on it. Don't worry about the lack of furniture, it's only a temporary arrangement,” she quipped before giving him a few more punches until he finally lost consciousness. “One way, or another,” Buffy finished more for her own benefit than his.

Hefting her load up onto her shoulder, Buffy walked out of the mall. She wouldn't cry. She would not.

Summers Industries
Angel was cursing up a storm as he struggled against her, but he couldn't stop Buffy from throwing him into the holding cell and by the time he'd managed to drag himself up the very sturdy-looking door had slammed shut. He still pounded on it anyway. “You can't do this to me, bitch! Do you hear me? You can't do this!”

When pounding the door didn't seem to work, he started to look around. That was when Angel noticed the camera behind a glass dome in one corner of the cell. As soon as he jumped up to hit that, a high-pitched sound split his already aching skull in two.

Forgetting all about the camera, the door, and the world outside this cell Angel collapsed to the floor cradling his head. “She can't do this to me,” he whispered before blessed darkness took him away.

***

“Jarvis, flag anything Angel says or does that might be important for Giles' attention. I don't, I don't, don't show me the security feed unless I specifically ask for it,” Buffy ordered the AI as she walked out the holding area. In the hallway, Buffy stopped as the trip back to her lab suddenly seemed far too long to her. Leaning against the wall the Slayer's shoulders heaved inside the suit as she couldn't hold back the hot tears any longer. They fell and kept falling with the blond unable to wipe them away since the faceplate couldn't be removed.

Slowly, the armor slid down and her arms snaked around her knees. 'God, what I wouldn't give for a bottle of scotch right about now. I don't... Angel didn't deserve this. I should've... I can't, I just can't... I can't run away anymore,' Buffy resolved.

TO BE CONTINUED
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