Disclaimer: You know the drill.
A/N: Thanks so much for the reviews and everyone's patience. I had RL jump up and need my attention for a bit but hopefully there won't be too many more delays before I get this story finished but I promise nothing.
July 7, 2010 Malibu California
She waited, watched as Happy drove them up the long driveway to the house. She knew something was coming, it had to be the instant that James spotted the crews working on the Education Space for Buffy. She'd told him before that he needed to see what was at the house before she could really explain things and she was sticking to that, but when he turned to her she suddenly realized that he'd jumped to the wrong conclusion.
“No, James, he's not here.” she saw the million things behind Tony's best friend's eyes shift to a million other things that could possibly explain why there was construction going on on the property and knew that not one of them would be right. Couldn't be.
Because the truth was something that still threw her occasionally and she'd had weeks to get over it. Only now it wasn't so much that Tony could have a daughter but that the two could be so amazingly alike and yet so drastically different at the same time when they'd never even met.
“What's going on here, Pepper?” he looked almost distrustful. A shake of the head, small. “It's not anything you might think.”
He gave her a look. He still hadn't given up on finding Tony, would probably never give up until a body was found. “Then what is it?”
The car came to a stop in the circular driveway and she moved to get out. “You won't believe me until you come inside and see.” and she was pretty sure what they'd see the second they made it into the workshop. Buffy had been back from her flying lesson for less than an hour which, if what she knew about the teenager's habits held true, that meant they'd find the blonde blasting music while working on one of the now seven motorcycles that had begun to overtake Tony's cars in the shop.
“Pepper.” James got out of the car and followed as she entered the house and headed straight for the stairs to the shop and then headed down. She wasn't surprised at all by what she saw on the other side of the glass wall and door, it was exactly what she'd expected. She turned when James reached the bottom of the stairs and watched him as he took in the teenager working on one of motorcycles that had just arrived while munching on pizza.
“What is this? Who is she?” she glanced back at Buffy as she pulled her tablet from her purse and held it out.
“Her name is Elizabeth Reynolds Stark. She's Tony's daughter.”
Shock followed by disbelief didn't cover James' expression “Tony doesn't have a daughter.” she glanced down at the tablet and James followed her gaze. It seemed like it took forever for him to really register the first image that was there, a copy of Buffy's birth certificate, but once it did sink in he began going through the file at a pace that was almost scary. She had copies of everything there, from the birth certificate to the copies of the paperwork from Joyce Summer's attorney.
Finally though he looked up and she could see it behind his eyes, a million thoughts, questions. “You have to find Tony.” he had to, Buffy had already lost everything and was finally beginning to rebound but it wasn't enough and wouldn't be before the outside world crashed down on the blonde's head. Tony would probably never qualify as the world's greatest father but he was a distraction that could work in Buffy's favor with the press.
July 7, 2010 Undisclosed location
Forty three days and even with the progress reports he'd been getting from Coulson about the Slayer Situation and he found himself kinda impressed by the kid. Based on the files he had, which were extensive, and the evaluation by the psychiatrist, what he'd expected and what was on the screen in front of him were actually kinda surprising.
He'd expected the blonde to rebound from the trauma of Joyce Summers' death, the kid had fire and guts.
He hadn't been expecting Virginia 'Pepper' Potts to do a quarter of his work for him. Or for the blonde to agree. Because if there was one thing the blonde was, it was independent. “You've got this dealt with.” it wasn't a question, Coulson was his second in command for a reason.
“Alternative instruction by the Rong Clan has been arranged.” he kept watching the blonde as Coulson gave the sitrep. She was working on a different motorcycle than the last time he'd checked in on her, a Harley from the looks of it. And she had three more old motorcycles sitting at the edge of the camera's range. And two more brand new ones sitting on the opposite side. “Hard copies from LA?”
“Destroyed. Miss Stark now has a clean record.” he gave a nod, good. “Woldram and Hart?” they were an issue, but one that had to be handled at a later date. He didn't have the resources available to deal with them, yet. “Romonov handled it.” A raised eyebrow, but not a great shock. Nothing less than a spy would have been able pull it off. No surprises then. He had enough of those in other areas. “I do have a concern though.” he turned, gave Coulson a look. “Willow Rosenberg, she's been digging.”
The redheaded computer genius from Sunnydale, the best friend if he remembered right. The girl had potential. “Keep an eye on it.”
He turned back to the screen. The kid had made her first move, now all he had to do was wait to see where it led.
July 8, 2010 Malibu California
Pulling into the driveway of the Ranch she could hear music blasting from the black F150 in front of her. Something about rule number seven says don't touch the women but they can grab whatever they want to.
She followed the big truck and found herself smiling at the song. Welcome to his house indeed. She'd actually hadn't hated the riding lesson two days before even with Declan smacking her horse and causing it to run as fast as it could. It'd taken her about half a minute to get over the shock and panic of a speeding animal underneath her and then she'd actually had fun. Though she had told him how much he sucked for doing that to her.
It was strange, he was so easy to be around, so normal. She'd forgotten about things like that.
She had riding lessons twice a week and it was time for lesson number two. She'd had cooking lessons with Pepper the night before and apparently she'd be starting the dance and martial arts stuff just over a week. Which meant she needed to come up with a plan for keeping the slayer ability thing hidden soon. She'd have already done it but she'd been a bit busy. Between Jarvis time, four new motorcycles, the other stuff Pepper wanted her to do and at least attempting to sleep a couple of hours a night with all the construction still going on she hadn't really found the time to come up with a plan.
And she wasn't going to be getting any time in the next couple of hours as she pulled the Hayabusa to a stop while the truck pulled farther into the driveway area. The music cut off as she was sitting her helmet on the back of the big black ultra modern motorcycle.
“Hey Buffy.” she turned, found Declan reaching into the back of the truck and pulling out a couple of bags, groceries from the look of it.
“Hey.” she started heading over. “Need some help?”
“I got it.” his arms were already full by the time she reached him and she gave him a look before stepping up onto the tire of the big truck to see into the bed. There were at least four more bags. She shifted her weight so she wouldn't fall and reached out and grabbed the leftover bags. “Don't be such a guy.”
“I'm pretty sure I am one.” he gave her a grin.
She hopped down, bags in tow. “You know what I mean. Why can't guys just ask for help?” he started heading for the house and she followed him.
“I think the pot just called the kettle black.”
She frowned at his shoulders. “What's that mean?”
He slowed, let her catch up to him on the steps of the porch. “When's the last time you asked someone for help?” she tried to come up with an answer, honest. “That's what I thought.”
“I've asked for help before.” a thought hit her. “I asked Jarvis for help last week.”
He opened the front door and held it for her. She looked around the house and blinked. Wood floors, warm colors, bright and inviting-it looked like a real home. “Jarvis, sounds like a butler.” he passed her. “Kitchen's this way.”
“He's not a butler.” well he wasn't. He didn't butle anything. “Not really.” she sat the bags down on the kitchen island. “He's a computer. A really really freakishly advanced computer. He's got a personality and he's snarky and he runs the house.” he was giving her a look. “But its not like he cleans or anything. Just helps me and Pepper with stuff, I guess.”
And the look continued as he started pulling stuff out of a bag. “Sounds like a butler to me.”
She started unloading stuff on the counter too since she had no clue where any of it went in the big kitchen. A snort. “I haven't had a butler before but I'm pretty sure they don't help you rebuild motorcycles or pick out half your wardrobe or help you avoid private school.”
He stopped, orange juice in hand, and kinda blinked at her. “I'm not sure where to start with that.”
She gave him a hopeful look. “So don't. I'll unload, you put stuff up?”
A nod. “Works for me.” he started moving though the kitchen, putting things up. It took about three minutes and about a quarter of the groceries before the silence and movement broke. “I've gotta ask. Rebuilding motorcycles? Cause the one outside looks new to me.”
A shrug. She'd never thought she'd even go near a motorcycle again after Pike but she'd just sort of gotten drawn in by the Indian. “It is new. Jarvis picked it out. But I've got more back at home.” whoa, home. She'd just called Tony's house home. When the hell had that happened?
“What's wrong?” Declan faced her, looked worried. Which was freaky and a look she'd gotten so over in the last month and a half.
A shake of the head, which so did not help. “Home. I just called Tony's house home.” he gave her a look and she was sure he was going to say something she didn't want to think about.
“Declan?” the call came as the front door opened, a rough male voice. He turned in the direction of the voice and heavy footsteps on the wooden floors. “In the kitchen, dad.”
It took about ten seconds for the swinging door to open and for the owner of the voice to come through. John Taylor, she was guessing, did and didn't look like his son. Both were tall and broad shouldered with plenty of muscle but Mr. Taylor had darker eyes, a scruffy beard with a few gray hairs in it and longer hair with a lot more gray than his beard had at his temples. But just like his son he was dressed in worn jeans, heavy work boots and a plaid button down shirt. He blinked at her for about half a second and then put his hand out to shake. “You're Miss. Stark then, I take it.” his voice was rough and deep. She'd read something once about someone having a voice like whiskey and cigarettes, his voice was exactly what she'd imagined it'd sounded like.
She took his big work calloused hand and shook. “Buffy. Nice to meet you.” she gave him a smile, she could and would play nice.
He gave her a smile and his whole face changed, became warm and inviting. Like some big scruffy teddy bear. “Pleasure's all mine.” he let go of her hand after a firm but surprisingly gentle shake. “That your bike out there?”
A nod and she kept the smile on. “One of them. I've got a forty four Indian Chief I finished restoring about a week ago and I just started on a Harley Soft tail.” she gave a shrug when he gave her a strange look. “I've got a three more to finish before the end of the summer but Jarvis thought it was a good idea if I had something to ride around on every day that hadn't been in the Stark family since World War Two.”
He looked a bit surprised. “That's pretty impressive for a girl your age. When did you start riding?”
She tried not to look sheepish. “About a week ago.” her eyes ended up on the pretty hardwood floor of
the kitchen. “I kinda fixed the Indian and then took it out and taught myself how to ride.” she looked up, ready to defend herself. “I've got my license now though, and a helmet. Pepper wouldn't let me go back out without them.”
Which earned her a chuckle. “Sounds like someone I know.” Mr. Taylor looked over at Declan.
A grin as she turned to Declan. “What'd he do?”
Which earned her being grabbed by the shoulders and penguin marched away from Mr. Taylor. “Time to ride. Dad, you can put the rest of this up, right?”
She so wasn't laughing. “But I wanna know.” he pushed her through a screen door and out onto the back of the wrap around porch.
Mr. Taylor's voice carried from behind them. “I'll tell you later. You kids have fun.”
She gave Declan a look as he kept marching her down the stairs, or tried too. It was kinda ruined by the whole looking back at him over her shoulder thing. “You're no fun.”
He finally let her go once they reached the gravel path. “I'm lots of fun.”
A snort. “So says the guy who spends his days riding around on something that's dangerous on both ends and complicated in the middle.”
They kept going on the path. “Kinda like a motorcycle. And I do other stuff.”
He gave her a grin. “You manage to saddle your horse on your own and I'll show you.”
They reached he stable and she gave him a sour look. “That's cheating.”
His grin only got bigger as he headed inside.
******Reviews are love and I need them right about now. Also, go watch the new Iron Man trailer and see if it makes you squee as much as I did.