Disclaimer: See Chapter One
A/N: Thanks so incredibly much for all the great feedback and rec's, they're loved. Also, things might be slowing down a bit from my once every two weeks(ish) update schedule due to the holidays coming up. I'm a little bit ahead writing wise right now and hope to stay that way so I can make sure there aren't any major delays but I promise nothing. I've got a big family and the holidays are brutal in the time consuming sense because I end up at about 40 to 50 different houses or establishments due to holiday stuff.
I'm not even going to touch the 800 or more cookies my mom makes every year for various reasons that I have to help with. (I'm not kidding, if you count the ones for her church thing we made over 1200 last year.)
Now on with the show.
The storm was heading in which meant she was going to have to as well. It wasn't that she really wanted to avoid the house or Pepper but there was something to being on the beach, to feeling the sand underneath her feet and in between her toes. If she shut off her mind, put all of the pain and guilt in a box and locked it away for just a little while, she could breathe again. She wasn't just moving because her body wouldn't let her just lay down and die, she was in a moment.
Where there was only sand and sea and her. Where, for just an instant, breathing didn't feel like a burden.
And when she was out in the water, riding the waves, part of the ocean, she felt almost alive.
She felt the rain start, not much more than a drizzle and looked down at the waterproof watch she'd ordered. It wasn't even four in the afternoon but already she knew she'd stayed out a lot later than she should have. She had the Indian to work on and if she upset Jarvis' tutoring schedule she'd be in for no end of snark for the next two days at the very least.
Plus she was hungry.
She headed up the long stone staircase, the rain getting worse as she went. By the time she made it into the house she was as wet as she'd been when she finished surfing about a half an hour before. “Buffy?” Pepper was camped out on one of the chairs in the living room, laptop before her and the window lit up with information. “I thought you'd be in hours ago. The truck came with the things for your bedroom. We can start moving things out to paint tomorrow.”
She headed for the stairs, mask in place. “Ok, that works. I'm gonna grab a shower.”
Getting showered didn't take long, she mostly just needed to get the sea water out of her hair so the salt didn't turn it into some crunch-ified mess, and getting dressed in comfortable clothes took even less time. So she was heading back downstairs with the intent of keeping Jarvis happy and getting some work done on the Indian in under half an hour.
Yes, she was actually trying to keep a computer happy but she had a good reason, he controlled everything in the house. And the last thing she needed was for him to cut off her coffee supply or to refuse to help her finish off the Indian. And she was getting close, it actually looked kinda like a motorcycle now instead of something that belonged in a dump.
So there was no provoking Jarvis.
“Buffy, come look at this.” she wasn't even down the stairs before Pepper gestured to the glass wall full of its space age screens. One day she was actually going to ask how it was done. Or maybe not, her head would probably explode from the sheer geek speak that was likely be the result. She focused on the screens as she moved into the living room. “What is all this?” there were names, dates, a weekly calendar and about a thousand other things on the screens.
It looked like a day planner on steroids had blown up or barfed, she wasn't exactly sure which.
“I've been able to make arrangements for five different things on the list. However, you won't begin any of them until after the Fourth of July.” she kept looking at the screens and frowned. Were those blueprints?
“Ok, so two weeks of freedom to finish the Indian before I start having to play Princess Stark of the Empire of Doom and I can't believe I just said that.” she had clearly spent way too much time around Xander.
Not that she planned on doing it anymore.
Buffy Summers was dead and that was it. End of story.
And she was reminded of why every time she closed her eyes and saw blood and fire. And when she opened them the reminder was still there, lies lies lies.
A mental head shake. She'd made a choice, a deal with Pepper, Buffy Summers was dead and in a couple of months she'd be walking around in the world as Elizabeth Reynolds Stark. But, she would be doing it on her own terms, her own way. Pepper could have her learn anything she wanted provided the redhead kept up her end of the deal, but she was not going to cater to a bunch of people whose good opinions she didn't give a crap about. “Are those blueprints?”
“Yes, they are.”
A frown. “You're having a building built for me?” she kinda knew the answer to the question but she was hoping she was wrong. “Overkill much?”
“Yes. Several of the instructors have requested specialized equipment and settings.” a blink. This was just downright stupid and she said as much.
“It's an investment in your future, Buffy.” she didn't snort, honest. Yeah, and any second she was going to wake up and discover she was back in the land of normal, not.
“It's a waste of money.” it was. The building looked huge and had to cost a lot. Didn't these people understand that something so extravagant was a waste of money? That there were people who had to fight just to keep their homes and put food on the table?
And she was about to point it out when Pepper's hand came up. “I know you think it's a waste and I understand why you feel that way, Buffy, but you have to look at the bigger picture. You're the future head of a company that employs over two million people worldwide. If you can't keep this company going they will all lose their jobs.” she blinked. And then blinked again.
And then reality decided to hit her upside the head like a semi truck on steroids and full of week old fish left out in the desert. Two million people? Two million. That was a city, a big city. Like bigger than Sunnydale kinda big.
“Buffy, don't be scared. You're going to have help and James could find Tony any day now.” ok, don't be scared. Seriously? Seriously. Not helpful. It was one thing to have to save the world, it was a hell of a lot different to be responsible for their jobs. A breath, focus.
“James Rhodes, he's been your father's best friend since...” Pepper frowned “Actually, they were friends before I started working for Tony.” she shook her head. “The point is that it's a good investment.” and then Pepper got that look and she did what she'd been doing for weeks, she let the mask fall off and turned and headed down to the shop.
Hello blank slate. Hello empty.
She could pretend, was trying to pretend for Pepper's sake, that she cared about any of it but the will had been knocked out of her. She glanced out of the high windows of the shop as she came though the glass door, it was still raining and she suddenly almost wished the was just far enough on the side of insane to have kept surfing.
“I see you've taken time out of your busy schedule to perhaps continue with your studies.” oh goody, an annoyed Jarvis. Just what she wanted.
“Well I was planning on building a doomsday device and taking over the world but I realized I've got nothing to wear.” she headed for the Indian and its spread of parts, well this was so gonna be fun.
June 22, 2010 LA California
For three weeks it'd been going on, the pressure getting to Lilah. Her complete inability to make any progress on the Slayer Situation was starting to get noticed and all it did was make him want to smile.
He wasn't smiling now, Lilah was. And he needed to know why and what had changed. He looked down at the file he'd managed to get his hands on a second time. Really, did she really think he was inept enough to fall for the obvious files she left for him to find? How sweet.
The file was thicker now, but not by much, maybe ten sheets and he flipped it open. The pictures were self explanatory, Lilah was having the girl followed. It was just the most obvious thing to do. It kept tabs on someone who could be an issue and allowed her leverage if she ever needed to ruin the teenager's reputation.
And as he flipped to the printed pages he understood just exactly why Liliah had been so cranky for the last few weeks. He knew Liliah would have a dozen different strategies and contingencies in dealing with the slayer, he did and it wasn't even his assignment. And if he was right then his only real competition had just found herself cut off at the knees.
Summers, Stark, whatever you wanted to call her had a record. Not one that was anywhere near the same ballpark as most of the clientele of Wolfram and Heart but that wasn't relevant. What mattered was the splash factor it could create, the negative press it could generate for a teenager facing off against the Board of Directors of Stark Industries. He was certain Virginia 'Pepper' Potts had already begun preparing for the onslaught of press attention that Tony Stark's daughter was about to have dropped onto her head.
It was one thing to have damage control, it was something else for nine tenths of everything that might qualify for the damage control to simply disappear. He reread the pages. It was all gone. Every record of Summers burning down the Hemry High School gym, her stay at a mental hospital, every record or tie to her in Sunnydale that suggested she was anything but a normal teenager was gone.
Paper and digital. Even Facebook and Twitter.
Even the copies of records that Wolfram and Heart had gathered for the file had disappeared.
He blinked, Lilah was screwed. Half of her options had just disappeared in a way he hadn't thought possible, still couldn't wrap his head around. Who, besides the Senior Partners themselves, had that kind of power?
And yet, Lilah had been smiling.
June 24, 2010 Sunnydale California
“I just don't..” Oz's hand came up and she stopped, still frustrated. It'd been a month since Buffy had just left and there hadn't been a phone call, text message, Facebook post, nothing from Buffy. Sure, Buffy's phone had been smashed, she found it crushed in Buffy's jacket pocket when Xander had brought the blonde to her house, but she was sure Buffy could afford a new one now that she was a billionaire's daughter.
“Breathe.” she gave Oz a look over his hand but did what he asked, enhanced her calm. Which wasn't too great. Sure, Kendra was back in town, for good even. Sure, the vampires and demons had apparently decided Sunnydale with a Slayer on what Cordy had called a revenge rampage wasn't a great place to be but they still hadn't heard anything from Buffy.
At all. Even about her.
And she'd been checking. Tony Stark having a daughter was a 'big deal' even without him missing but there hadn't been one word, one post about Buffy. Nothing.
She'd been freaked out the week before, now she was trying to hack into the computer security at Tony Stark's house to make sure Buffy was even there. Giles said she was, he'd even gotten a phone call from Mr. Stark's assistant who was acting as Buffy's guardian until he was found, saying that Buffy was alright. That she was “Still grieving but working with a private tutor to catch up on schoolwork and taking driving lessons with Mr. Stark's driver.”
Which so wasn't of the reassuring. “But..”
The hand pressed a fraction more firmly against her mouth and she met Oz's gaze. “Buffy needs time.” he pulled his hand down.
“It's been a month.” she tried not to pout but she was worried.
“And it could be a year.”
A sigh, she didn't want to admit he was right but, he kinda was. Buffy was broken, she'd seen it even if she didn't want to admit it out loud. “What do we do?”
“Be here when she's ready.”
June 26, 2010 Malibu California
There were boxes, about half of them empty, broken down and sitting by the double glass doors of her bedroom. Those had been the easy boxes to unpack, they were the ones that had only shown up over the last day or so. New bedding, towels, art for the walls and a bunch of other stuff- those were easy to unpack because they were just random things. Stuff bought to keep Pepper happy.
The room looked a lot different now, the walls were almost the same shade as the ocean outside and the new bed was made out of metal, hand created by a local artist, with curtains a pale shade of green. The whole room had a different feel to it. The hand painted screen stood in one corner, more art than anything and the big circular rug was a nice contrast with the pristine white floors. It had color now, personality. It had shelves and knick knacks and bedside tables and two funky new chairs hanging from the ceiling.
It didn't mean the room was hers.
At least not until she unpacked and put away her clothes. She looked at the stacks of boxes on top of and all around the center island of the massive walk in closet. She had roughly five times as many boxes as she'd had before thanks to Jarvis. She fought not to scowl at the cardboard that was mocking her on more than one level and failed. The stupid AI knew her size and her taste in clothes and had taken it upon himself to make sure she had an 'adequate' wardrobe.
Translation, enough clothes to actually fill up the closet. And hangers that filled up three of the boxes sitting on the floor. And she was so not going to consider the constant, and she really wasn't kidding either, sound of construction going on outside the house for what was supposed to be her 'learning' space in a little over two weeks either.
“Feeling indecisive are we, miss?”
Must resist urge to kick a computer's ass. “I can turn my stereo on. I wonder how long it will take me to download every Justin Bieber song ever?”
Complete silence. Yeah, that's what she thought. She focused on the stacks of boxes. She so didn't want to open and unpack them because the minute she did it became official, this was her room in her biological father's house in her new life with a new name and a mountain of new responsibilities and expectations.
Ones she didn't want.
But, that stupid and always there but, she'd made a deal with Pepper and she always kept up her end of a bargain. She could pretend, keep the mask up if she had to for Pepper's sake.
A sigh, she moved over to a random stack and opened the box.
She'd made a deal.
It didn't mean any of it really mattered, that it wasn't all a lie.
July 1, 2010 Malibu California
She hadn't moved for two hours, she knew because every few minutes she'd look at the clock. And the reason she hadn't moved was because she knew the instant she did she was going to seal her fate as far as getting yelled at by Pepper was concerned. Sure, she'd gotten her driver's license three days before but not one that was supposed to let her ride motorcycles.
And there was a motorcycle, a completely restored and freshly painted nineteen forty four Indian Chief, sitting right in front of her just waiting for her to test it. She knew it ran, she'd started it, but that was one thing.
Actually getting on it and riding was another.
Because if she did, well then, it was finished. It was done. She'd taken something broken and forgotten and changed it. Turned it into something that looked like it belonged among all the over priced cars and in a life that was a lie. She'd already made her bedroom 'hers', made the deal with Pepper, finishing the motorcycle was the last step.
The motorcycle looked like it fit now, like it belonged. Sort of. It looked beautiful, like a piece of art in its own way. But a piece of art from a different world, time. But it did fit. But did she? No, not really. But days, weeks, of doing nothing but working on the old thing, of being left with nothing but her thoughts and Jarvis tutoring her had given her time to...
Think? Mourn? Get over it?
No, not really. She still felt like there was a hole right through her. Her mother was still gone. Murdered by someone who wore the face of the man she'd loved. She'd still cut a swathe of bloody vengeance for it too. Buffy Summers was still a lie. She was supposed to be so many things that had never been real. And Elizabeth Reynolds Stark, she was someone that had never really existed. A name on paper and nothing else. Her mother had never ever called her Elizabeth, actually she remembered her mother saying once that she'd disliked the name. Elizabeth was the name of a rich, overbearing snob, a name that would have fit the daughter of a genius billionaire. The daughter of Tony Stark would have been spoiled and a genius and wouldn't have had a single care besides what to buy next.
Except her mother had known it, known what kind of life she'd have had if one path had been followed instead of another. Her mother had tried to give her a normal life. A different life and a different name. She wanted to be angry about that, the lies, but she couldn't. She just didn't have it in her. All the fire, the emotion in her was still dead. It'd bled out of her as she'd watched Angelus' blood pour over her hands and felt it spatter her face.
As she'd done everything a Slayer wasn't supposed to do.
Buffy Summers, the vapid cheerleader, had died the day Merrick had. Buffy Summers, Slayer had died the moment she'd cut off Angelus' fingers. When she'd sliced him from navel to neck and screamed because he'd taken the only thing that truly mattered more than life to her.
And what was left? Take it all away, her mother, her friends, her calling, her entire life, and what remained?
And a life that was stark and hollow, full of too much money and fake people and a father she'd never even met.
Buffy Summers was dead. Elizabeth Reynolds Stark had never truly existed. She'd never had the chance to. Because a lie had taken over. And now, it was all that there was. A name that existed only on paper and a life that was full of things that she could have been if one road had been followed instead of another. A life that held hundreds of expectations that she couldn't, would never meet.
She couldn't be what the world expected the daughter of Tony Stark to be. But she could be what she was, the daughter of Joyce.
She could be exactly whoever she chose to be. But who that was, what that was, she didn't know. She knew what she wasn't, who she was and could be, well, now that she'd walked away from being the Slayer she had her entire life to figure out. And Pepper was so intent on helping her 'find' the girl that had never existed, on helping her find a way to live in a life that didn't feel like it was hers.
Take it all away and what was left?
And the motorcycle that hadn't fit.
She stood up, grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair and headed for the one thing that was just like her. And when she reached it, she found herself smiling, truly smiling for the first time what hadn't just been forever but a lifetime.
Ever try riding a bike? Sure, everyone has a some point or another.
Riding a motorcycle wasn't anything like that.
First off, motorcycles weigh a lot more, which, really really important. Secondly, and almost as important, they go faster. And there's a lot more to it than get on and go. You have to have some knowledge about how to use a manual transmission, especially on a motorcycle that's nearly three times your age.
Getting out of the garage wasn't too hard, getting off the property, not so much either. But the big winding hill....yeah, hello learning under fire. And some colorful cursing in French that she hadn't even realized she could do until it started coming out of her mouth.
Ok, and a lot of honking, cursing and swerving from other drivers too.
But twenty minutes into her little adventure that was going to end up with Pepper probably wanting to kill her she figured out how to manage pretty well.
Ok, well enough to not end up a splatter on the sidewalk but she'd only ever been on a motorcycle as a passenger and Pike's little thing was nothing compared to the mass of metal and power under her for her first attempt at riding alone.
She didn't have a helmet, which was probably not the smartest thing ever, especially for her hair, but once she got a feel for handling the Indian it didn't matter. She felt...free.
More than that. She felt alive, whole. She felt like everything was right. The whole world, all of it, the past, the lies, the holes in her were just gone. Like everything just melted away.
And the smile, it stayed.
*****Word of advice, look into Slayer history and you might get an idea about some of my future plans. And some answers about stuff that I've only hinted at so far. All will be revealed though, you just might have to wait a story or three to find out.