Disclaimer: See Chapter One.
A/N: Sorry about the delay everyone but between the holidays, my birthday and some other RL stuff (a nasty bug that's kicking my entire town's butt) updates have kinda gotten away from me.
July 4, 2010 Malibu California
“Come on Pepper!” she was sitting on her new surf board, feeling the water under her as she fought not to laugh at Pepper trying to get out far enough to actually catch a small wave.
“I'm- I'm trying!” the wave caught the redhead on the board and pulled them both under for a heartbeat and Pepper came up sputtering but still on the board. They'd spent most of the morning with her teaching Pepper the basics of surfing as best she could and she hadn't laughed so hard in months.
Happy had laughed, was probably still laughing, so hard he'd fallen off one of the beach chairs. She idly glanced to the beach and the open Beach Bar and saw him messing around with the massive BBQ again. He'd bowed out of trying to surf so he was on grill duty for their little Fourth of July party.
A party of three but she was still having fun. And fighting not to laugh as Pepper got closer and closer to her. She wasn't that far out from shore, maybe eighty yards, but she was pretty sure that the smaller waves were going to be more than enough of a challenge for the redhead.
And there were some really good waves coming in, ones that she was planning on going after as soon as she got the chance. “Are you ready to give it a shot?” Pepper finally made it close enough almost reach with her hand and she wasn't going to laugh at the sight of the usually high powered assistant looking so completely out of place.
Besides, she'd already done it. About a hundred times.
“I need a minute. Maybe twenty.” the redhead looked winded, huh, She didn't find it that hard to get out to such a small distance but then she wasn't exactly normal and Pepper did tend to spend most of her time behind a desk.
A look out at the water, the waves were going to last for a good long while so they had time. “You go on. I'll just sit here for a bit.” Pepper motioned with her hand and if she hadn't known any better the redhead was resisting the urge to just lay down on the board and take a nap.
Old people, no stamina.
July 6, 2010 Ridgewood Ranch Malibu California
She'd passed on having Happy drive her to the ranch where she was supposed to be learning to horseback ride and both he and Pepper had still been giving her looks as she'd gotten on her newest motorcycle, one that wasn't old and that Jarvis had ordered for her without her telling him to, a black Suzuki Hayabusa, and headed out to repay her half of the deal since Pepper had started to learn to surf. She was pretty sure she'd offended Happy a bit by refusing to let him drive her but she wasn't some little kid on the first day of school and there was no way she was living up to the spoiled princess cliché and having a driver take her everywhere in an overpriced car with tinted windows and a security detail. Plus she had a new toy and she wanted to ride it again since she'd only taken it out once for an hour to get a feel for it.
She was not becoming that cliché.
No freaking way. She'd gotten her license, both of them in fact, and she intended to use them. She was perfectly capable of driving herself. Just not in one of Tony's spaceships until she finally caved and bought a much less expensive spaceship of her own. And if she could get Jarvis to help her do it she was planning on spending a lot less money on her own car and then fixing it so it had the reaction time of one of the spaceships Tony had.
But she wasn't all that concerned with it as she looked through the plastic of one of her two new helmets at the entrance of the Ridgewood Ranch. Pepper had given her the name of the owner and asked her to please be nice to the man and she intended to. Pepper was sunburned all to hell and was moving very slowly even two days later thanks to apparently being very out of shape for something like surfing.
And being a redhead out in the sun all day had left its mark even with the liberal use of sunscreen. She wasn't kidding, Pepper looked like she belonged on the menu for Red Lobster.
Still, they'd had a nice Fourth of July. Happy had cooked on the grill, she had taught Pepper to surf, and they'd spent the whole day just hanging out and enjoying the beach. It'd be kinda fun actually, especially when they'd buried Happy up to his neck in the sand and then taken funny pictures.
It'd been normal.
A shake of the head. Pepper had done her half and now she had to do hers as she headed up the long driveway. It took her a bit of time to reach the end of it and she was kinda surprised by how impressive it was and yet so unlike the other houses around Malibu she'd seen. The house looked more like it belonged in Texas than in the land of snotty with a big wrap around porch made of wood with rustic chairs and benches scattered around.
Some McMansion it wasn't.
It was as far from Tony's Jetsons style house as you could get.
But there was more than just the house, she could smell and hear what could only be stables and she could see three other buildings from where she parked her new motorcycle as out of the way as possible on the circular driveway.
“Can I help you?” she turned in the direction of the male voice and found an eyebrow go up under her helmet. She'd heard the phrase 'growing them well on the farm' but she'd never believed it. To be fair though she'd never actually been to a farm before either. Tall, broad shouldered, dark short hair, good looking- hello salty goodness.
And hello not even close to somewhere she wanted to go. She turned back to her new motorcycle, pulled off her helmet and sat it down on the seat before facing the guy. “I'm looking for John Taylor.”
The guy stopped about five feet away and gave her a look from head to toe and was kinda surprised from the looks of it. She was guessing a teenager on a motorcycle asking for the ranch's owner wasn't too normal. “I'm his son Declan. What can I help you with Miss....” the question hung in the air.
“Buffy. I'm here for riding lessons.” she was pretty sure she had helmet hair and ran her fingers through it just to be safe.
“I'm sorry we aren't expecting...” he stopped, blinked and then looked like he'd been smacked by a fish to the face. “Buffy. You're Elizabeth Stark.”
“That's the theory.”
He gave a snort and a shake of the head. “You're really not what I was expecting.”
And then it was her turn to snort. “Join the club.” well, it was true. She fit the stereotype of mind blowingly rich girl with an even richer daddy about as well as she'd fit the stereotype of Slayerdom. “Just call me Buffy.”
He blinked at that, a bit taken aback she guessed. And there it was again, the bad influence of Jarvis. She was going to turn into some kind of smart person soon at the rate things were going. “Ok, Buffy.” he smiled like he found her name funny, which it so wasn't. “I'm going to be the one taking you out today. My dad planned on it but we've got a mare in foal right now and she's having some trouble.”
She had no clue what any of that meant but since he knew about her coming then she guessed he'd signed whatever paperwork Pepper had been forcing all her new 'teachers' to sign to keep her existence quiet. “Ok.” she looked over what he was wearing and hoped the comfortable jeans, plaid button down shirt and comfortable knee high boots with no heel she was wearing were going to work. She unzipped her new and stylish, thank you Belstaff even if you're overpriced, leather jacket and pulled it off, tossing it over the motorcycle. “Let's get this done.”
His lips quirked and he looked amused. “Follow me.” he turned and started heading for what she guessed was the stables based just on the overwhelming smell. Slayer senses might have perks when it came to eyesight and hearing but she wasn't all that fond of the smell aspect as they started walking.
“Have you ever ridden before?” he glanced over at her, still looking kinda amused. Though it could have been at the fact that she had her nose scrunched up against the smell. She gave him a look. “I'm gonna take that as a no.”
Ok, good looking but clearly not Sherlock Holmes.
“What made you want to learn to ride?” Declan was doing something to one of the horses' saddles, messing with straps or something, it all looked way too complicated to her. Too many straps and layers and adjustments on something that was moving the whole time and could bite.
She was keeping a safe distance, leaning against an empty stall as he'd called it, demons she could handle but she couldn't exactly slay a horse. “I don't want to.”
He looked at her over the big brown horse's back. “Then why do it?”
A shrug “Honestly?”
He adjusted another of what seemed like endless straps “Well, yeah.”
Another shrug. “I made a deal.”
He gave her a look, a raised eyebrow. “Care to elaborate on that?”
Why not tell the truth, he'd clearly signed the papers if he knew her legal name. “I don't fit.” she looked at the ground and then back up. “I didn't know who my real father was until about a month and a half ago when my mom...” a deep breath “....she died.” she looked anywhere but at him, she didn't want pity. “She was normal, owned an art gallery in a small town and now...”
“Being a missing billionaire's daughter isn't normal.” she looked up at him and was surprised not to find pity but something else, understanding maybe. “I'm done. Come on. It's time to ride.”
She eyed the horse, why did this seem like a very bad idea? Probably because it was.
“Don't worry, he doesn't bite.” a smile. Which irritated her a little. She wasn't afraid of a horse. She went over, slowly. She wasn't afraid, she was cautious. Really.
And once she got next to Declan and the horse she suddenly felt very very short. He towered over her and she couldn't even see over the horse's back with the saddle on. “Ok, what you're going to do is grab here.” he gestured to the the little piece that stood out on the saddle front. “And put this leg...” he patted her right thigh and she didn't twitch, honestly. “....in the stirrup. Then you're going to push off and put your other leg over.”
She gave him a look. “And then what?”
He smirked at her. “Then I get on my horse and we ride.” the smirk turned into a grin. “There's nothing to be scared about, there's harder things in the world to do.”
She glared at him and in a quick movement threw herself up into the saddle just to prove she wasn't scared. “Like what oh horse whispering man?”
She couldn't tell if he was impressed or pleased with himself for getting her on the horse before his eyes went dark for a heartbeat and he shook his head. He headed for the other horse, a big black one that was only a little darker than his hair. “Lots of things.” he got on the horse. “Grab the reins.” he showed her what he meant and she picked up the leather that was loosely draped around the piece she'd held on to in order to get up on the horse. “They work like a steering wheel. With about the same effect.”
She gave a nod, simple enough. “You use you're heels and the reins like this to make the horse move. Just remember less is more until you're ready for a gallop. If the horse gets spooked or bolts clench your knees to hold on and pull back to stop.”
A frown. “So basically an airplane with legs.”
That got her raised eyebrows. “You fly?” well look at that, she'd managed to surprise him twice.
“I'm learning.” she smiled. Her first flying lesson had consisted of going up with Tony's pilot Mike and simply watching as he explained some basic things to her but he had given her homework that she was going to have to do later. Apparently she needed to know things about physics before she was going to be able to even try and start the real flying lessons. She tapped her heels to the horse's sides and did a tiny rippling motion with the reins and the horse started moving, leaving Declan behind her.
A chuckle. “Yeah, I think you've got it.”
They'd been riding for about an hour, Declan going over the basics and she guessed giving her time to get comfortable with about a ton of potentially dangerous animal under her. Which she was, kinda. It wasn't like they'd done much, the horse pretty much steered itself and she just held on while Declan explained what things were on the saddle and around the ranch itself.
Translation, lots of information she was probably never going to remember and had no clue what he was talking about.
Which was probably why he'd given up talking after about twenty minutes in and they'd gone from uncomfortable silence to that blankness she knew all too well. Actually, she'd gotten pretty good at it.
“So what's the deal?” his voice caught her off guard a bit.
“What?” a look over at him. And once again she decided it was so not normal that he could look so comfortable on something that could kill a person if it kicked them. Not her probably, but a normal person.
“You said you made a deal, what kind?”
Oh, that deal. “Pepper, she's Tony's assistant, made me a deal. For everything she picks that I learn or do that I don't want to I get to pick something for her.” a shrug. “She kept up her half so now I get to keep mine. Hence me going all Annie Oakley.”
A nod. “So what did you have her do?”
A smile, a real one. She'd actually had fun trying to teach Pepper how to surf. “Surfing.”
Another surprised look and a bit of a smile. “Surfing, really? You don't seem like the surfing type.”
A raised eyebrow. “Oh, and what type to I seem like?” yeah, challenge thrown down.
A chuckle. “I don't know.” he met her gaze. “When I found out who you were after all that stuff with the lawyer that showed up I'd have said someone like Paris Hilton or something.” a quirk of lips. “Or maybe some kind of geeky genius.” he shook his head “But that motorcycle and you said you're taking flying lessons and you surf so...” he let it fall off.
A smile, a real one. “Not what you were expecting. Yeah, I get that a lot.” a frown “Or I used to. I haven't...”
A look from him, one she couldn't identify. “Your mom died and you just shut down.”
A frown, glanced over. How could he? “How do you...”
The trail turned and she was forced to pay attention to the horse under her for a minute. “My mom died in a car accident when I was twelve.”
She blinked at him, he seemed so normal, well adjusted. How could he be? How could anyone just get over loosing a parent? But then she thought about it. Declan looked like he was over twenty but not twenty five so he'd had, what, about ten years to get over it? She hadn't even had ten weeks. “I'm sorry.”
He shook his head. “It was a long time ago.” he gave her a half smile. “I'd like to say it gets better, that you won't miss her every day, but it's not true. It never stops hurting. But one day you'll wake up and you'll find you don't mind living with it any more.”
“I somehow doubt that.” the hole was still there, cut through her. Just like the blood on her hands and the nightmares every time she closed her eyes. It was never going to go away and she deserved it. She'd broken every rule and the cost had been her mom's life.
And she'd become just as much a monster as Angelus the second she'd taken that first knife to Spike's chest. Cut out Angelus' tongue. Set Drusilla on fire and made them watch as she turned to ash.
“You'll see.” he gave her a grin. “Now, you ready to try something else?”
And yet another mental head shake, put it all in a box and play nice. Put on the mask and pretend. “Such as?”
His grin got bigger and her eyes widened as he reached out and smacked the hind end of her horse, hard.
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