I have no rights to or within the Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Iron Man/Marvel franchises, copyrights, characters or trademarks. This is for fun, not profit.Summary:
Five times that Buffy runs into Tony, four conversations they have, three times Buffy admires Pepper's shoes, two times Tony offers Buffy a job, and the one time that she accepts.Additional Notes:
Fulfills the "gender play" square on my Kink Bingo Card and the "hostages" square on my Hurt/Comfort Bingo Card.
The first time that Buffy meets Tony Stark, she is fourteen and he is very, very drunk, or possibly high. She is sitting at her father's desk and touching up her makeup when the door bangs open and a dark-haired man in an oil-stained t-shirt stumbles into the room. He is far too pale.
"Garbage," he chokes and then starts making an alarming series of coughing noises. Buffy, who is utterly uncaring of this stranger's damage, yanks the little wastepaper basket out from under her father's desk and hurries across the room. While he yaks into the bin, she looks out the window. The view, so high over L.A., is really spectacular. And even if it were not, staring into the smog is so much better than watching some old guy puke his guts up.
"Thanks," the guy eventually says.
"No big," Buffy says without turning around. "You done yet?"
"Got a weak stomach?" he jeers and Buffy turns around to shoot him a scathing look. He laughs. "Protecting my dignity, are you? Well, don't. I haven't got any left."
"Not everything is about you,"
Buffy snaps. "Maybe I don't want to have some lightweight's stomach contents burned onto my retinas."
"Oh, harsh," he chortles. He squints at her. "Do you know Pepper?"
"Never mind," he says, waving a hand as if he can brush the question out of the air. He glances at the office's door, which is still hanging ajar, and then looks her up and down, slowly. The hint of a leer creeps into his expression. Buffy scowls at him.
"Henry Summers, Head of Marketing?" he asks, arching his eyebrows at her. "Couldn't your parents think of any other names?"
"Hank," Buffy grits, "is my dad."
"Who are you? How old are you? And why're you here?"
"I'm Buffy Summers." "Buffy?"
he chortles. "Who names their kid Buffy?"
Buffy grits, pushing down the irrational urge to stab him to death with one of her high heels. Buffy suspects that murder stains are the sort of stains that never come out. "She named me for my dead aunt."
"Sucks to be her," drawls the freak. Buffy throws the nearest thing, a block of post-it notes, at his big forehead. Hard. "Ow! You threw something at me! And it hit me! And it hurt!"
"And I'm fourteen,"
Buffy continues, talking over him, and the old guy winces. Buffy feels a quick, fierce thrill of victory. "And it's bring your daughter to work day. Don't you read the office memos?"
"No," he says with the ghost of a grin. "I write them. Well, my PA does. I'm Tony Stark and this is my building. Your dad works for me."
"Whatever," Buffy says scornfully because there is no way
that Tony Stark would be throwing up in her dad's wastepaper basket. Yeah, this is a Stark Enterprises building. And yeah, Tony Stark is a falling down drunk, billionaire playboy, and a shameless slut. But she reads People
magazine, like, religiously
and she has never, ever seen a picture of Tony Stark looking like shit. This guy looks like he aspires
to look like shit.
"I like you," the guy says with a grin. "Come see me when you're eighteen."
"Tch, you wish,"
Buffy scoffs. "I'm outta your league, buster. But, from the way you smell, that's no big. I bet soap and water are out of your league, too." "Damn,
that's a good one. Seriously, come see me when you're eighteen. Pepper'll probably be burned out or have wised up and moved on by then. I'll need a new PA."
Buffy, who has recently discovered a whole new well of aggression in herself, is just about to use her dad's letter opener to show this old freak in no uncertain terms how she is going to assist
him, when a redheaded woman bustles into the room. She is wearing an expensive charcoal suit, a lavender blouse, and four inch red Gucci heels that Buffy just knows
that she is going to dream about.
Turns out, the freak really is
Tony Stark. Airbrushes really work wonders,
Buffy thinks, awed by the duplicity of photojournalists and paparazzi everywhere, while the redhead apologizes for anything and everything that her boss might have said or done in the entire five minutes that they were alone together.
"It's no big," Buffy says breezily. "He offered me a job. Whenever some Pepper chick gets sick of deflating his head, it'll be my job."
The woman blinks, Stark grins at her, and the woman says, "I'll keep that in mind."
As Buffy watches the redhead shepherd Stark out of the office, Buffy thinks, Yeah, I'll take that job when hell freezes over. Because, seriously? No amount of money is worth that.
The next time Buffy sees Tony Stark, she is fifteen and the Slayer. He is once again, really, really drunk, or possibly high. She is patrolling the alleys and doorways around the clubs (because, even with a fake driver's license, no one seems to believe that she is old enough to be allowed inside,) for vamps and their entrees. She sees the couple down an alley, knows a snacking vamp when she sees one, and stakes the vamp ho before the guy even realizes that she is gnawing on his neck. The vamp goes poof and Buffy gets her first really good look at the victim. He looks bewildered. And very, very familiar. Ugh. Him again,
she thinks, waiting for Stark's survival instincts to kick in and send him running, and possibly screaming, into the night. While Buffy hates being taken for granted, it makes it easier to stick to Merrick's rule about not getting involved with the would-be victims. Most
people notice when Buffy stakes their would-be murderers. Tony Stark makes a clumsy grab at her, stumbles, and moans, "Don't stop." This guy has the survival instincts of a depressed lemming,
Buffy thinks grimly, eying the blood on Stark's neck and the collar of his shirt. He'll probably just stand here and wait for the next vampire to finish him off. "Men,"
Buffy snorts with a good, cathartic roll of her eyes. She grabs his hand and presses it against the freely bleeding gash in his throat. "You're such pigs.
Keep your hand here. And press down hard."
"Animal play?" Stark mumbles, obediently pressing his hand to his throat. "I guess we can. I have dog and fox tails in my toy box. No pig's tail, though. And no pictures."
Buffy moans. "Stop talking. Just- Just stop. Now."
"Gonna gag me?" Stark says with an unfocused leer, apparently still unaware that his ancient, skanky brunette has been replaced by a kickass, underage blonde. For a moment, Buffy is tempted to leave him to his own devices because any jerk who thinks women are interchangeable deserves
to get eaten. And then two weeks from now, I'll end up having to stake him because I couldn't be bothered to take three minutes and call his ride. And I'll have to stake whoever he bites during those two weeks. And I'll have to stake whoever they bite too,
Buffy thinks while Tony Stark slurs about the filthy, nasty things he wants to do with her. Buffy starts going through his pockets for his cell phone. I'm not calling for him. I'm calling for all those people who'll get bitten if I leave this moron in this alley.
When she finds his cell, Stark giggles and calls her something in German. Or possibly Italian. Either way, it sounds dirty. Ignoring him, Buffy scrolls through his phonebook. For such a rich and popular guy, Tony Stark's phonebook is depressingly empty. After about a half-second of thought, Buffy picks one of the four entries at random. Three rings later, a male voice snarls, "What?"
"Is this, er, Rhodey?" asks Buffy. "Are you a friend of Tony Stark's?"
"What -- Yeah, this is Rhodey," the man says. His voice is rough with sleep. Next to Buffy, Stark is starting to get handsy. "Hey, who is this?"
"Buffy. Hold on," Buffy says, and tucks the cell phone into her waistband. She maybe mashes a few numbers in the process. Buffy uses both of her hands to quickly turn Stark around, making him kiss the alley's wall. She pins him in place with one hand at the small of his back. The wall looks nasty but it cannot possibly be any worse than some of the other places that Stark's mouth has been. Stark wriggles and moans, not sounding displeased by the arrangement.
Rolling her eyes, Buffy brings the cell phone back to her ear and says, "Okay, I'm back."
"Who are you? Where's Tony? What do you want?"
"Hey, relax, I'm doing a good deed here. He was out in an alley with some ho-bag. I came out the backdoor, she ran, and he... Honestly, I'm not sure that he's noticed that she's gone. He's pretty messed up. And his neck is bloody. Anyway, somebody should come pick him up."
"Sorry," the man says tightly. He sighs. "Look, I'm in Colorado right now so I'm going to have to make a few phone calls. A slim, redheaded woman named Pepper and a huge man with short brown hair named Happy are going to come pick him up. Soon. Can you stay with him until then?"
"Really soon?" Buffy asked distrustfully. "Because he's, like, writhing against the wall and moaning. It's disturbing."
"Really, really soon," Rhodey promises. "Hold on. Don't hang up."
Rhodey finds out where Buffy is and keeps Buffy on the line while he makes a couple of calls with another phone, probably his landline. Buffy listens through the cell connection as he calls first some guy named Happy and then some woman named Pepper.
"Isn't she his professional head-deflater?" Buffy asks when Rhodey picks up his cell phone again.
Rhodey snorts. "Something like that. Hey, how do you know about Pepper?"
So Buffy tells Rhodey about that time in her dad's office and, by the time that she is done, a long, sleek limo is pulling up at the entrance to the alley.
"Hey, is this them?" Buffy says and describes the people picking their way down the alley. An enormous bear of a man in a black suit and shiny, black shoes is helping a slim woman in a pencil line skirt, a rumpled white blouse, and black four inch heels pick her way down the trash strewn alley. By then, Stark has finally passed out.
"Yeah, that's them," Rhodey says. "Listen, thanks kid, for looking out for him."
"No big," Buffy says carelessly. Inside, she feels a warm glow of pleasure at being acknowledged, even if it is not for the slayage.
She hands Tony Stark over to his minions, makes a series of flimsy excuses, and escapes them to continue her patrol. Those vamps are not going to slay themselves, after all. (But sometimes they slay each other. Vampires are lousy at self-control and anger management.)
Between ending her night with a vicious brawl and reporting to Merrick shortly after sunrise, Buffy forgets all about saving Tony Stark's life. She only remembers when a check for a couple thousand dollars arrives by certified mail a few days later. Since her parents are still in Ireland and Dawn is at school, Buffy signs for it, deposits it in her account, and more or less forgets about it. Money is no object when she has her daddy's credit cards.
Four months later, after Merrick has been turned and staked, Buffy just wants out. She uses her fake ID and half of that money to buy a fast, secondhand motorcycle for herself for Christmas. Buffy rides it all the way to Las Vegas.
Buffy has been in Las Vegas for nearly two weeks when she runs into Tony Stark a third time. He is, once again, falling down drunk. This time, however, he is wearing a business suit and a pair of strippers. He looks
like Tony Stark. Buffy is wearing chunky motorcycle boots, blue jeans and a fitted pink t-shirt. She looks cute and, maybe, eighteen. Maybe. They are both in one of the larger casinos.
Buffy knows better than to expect him to remember her or thank her or anything. She knows
better. It still hurts when he looks through her.
She punishes him by stealing his wallet.
Buffy keeps the cash and gets rid of the wallet and cards. She and Pike live off of Stark's cash for another four days. Then she buys a bus ticket back to L.A. and gives her motorcycle and the rest of the cash to Pike. Buffy is back in L.A., back in school, and planning the Spring Fling (and her last stand) when she hears that Tony Stark has been kidnapped by terrorists. She spares a prayer for him (and herself.)
Buffy next sees Tony Stark during that summer after (she was murdered)
sophomore year, when she is sixteen and angry.
She is patrolling the clubs for vampires again (but mostly drinking and dancing and daring
the forces of evil to fuck with her). And yeah, this summer she must look older because the bouncers are letting her in with a long, slow up and down and only a cursory glance at her (fake) driver's license. (Dying apparently makes you older in a way that people, other people who are not the damn Scoobies, can see and appreciate.)
So Buffy is in a club that she has no business being in, dancing like the world is going to end, when she sees a mark leave with a vamp and thinks, Fuck it. I don't do that anymore. I died. The destiny is someone else's.
Then she remembers that she is sixteen and angry enough to tear down the world. Buffy shoves her way through the crowd for (the best) kind of stress relief.
"Cover it up!" Buffy shouts as she follows her prey into the men's room, ignoring the shrieks of a couple of guys at the urinals. She strides past the urinals and the unoccupied stalls to the handicapped stall.
Buffy kicks that door off of its fucking hinges.
There is a split second where the vamp and the mark both look at her, the predator and the prey wearing the same, dumb bovine expression. Buffy flicks a stake at the vamp's generous chest and the vamp goes poof.
Buffy scowls, frustrated and furious at the banality of the kill. The coil inside of her, the one that pulls tighter every minute of every day, ratchets itself tighter again and Buffy thinks, Fuck it. I'll find another one, a better one. One that I can fight.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" slurs Stark, who is bleeding and fucked up again.
"We were just getting to the good part!"
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Buffy snarls. She is across the stall and slamming him into its metal wall inside of two steps. "Do you want to die? Is that it? Or don't you care?"
"You don't know me," he snaps, trying to pry her fists out of his thousand dollar shirt. "You don't know where I've been, what I've been through."
"I do so
know you! Every time I see you, you need to be rescued!" Buffy yells, yanking Stark up onto his toes. It leaves Tony Stark looming over her but Buffy refuses to give a shit. The bigger they are, the harder they fall and all of that. "And every time I help you, you just turn around and keep doing the same stupid shit! You don't ever learn!"
"Shut up," Stark snarls, shoving at Buffy futilely. No mere human could make
a Slayer do anything. Bearing witnessing to his pathetic struggles is almost as irritating as bearing witnessing his death wish had been. Almost.
"Make me!" Buffy snaps, giving Stark a gentle shake. It rattled his teeth.
The movement makes the outside of Buffy's left fist drag across the rounded edge of something rigid, warm, and metallic. Whatever it is, the thing is protruding from Stark's chest.
"What the hell is that?" Buffy demands as she yanked Stark's shirt up. "It's a demonic egg-thingy or a parasite or something, isn't it?"
What she actually sees is something round, vaguely clunky looking, and glowing white.
There is a breathless moment in which Buffy stares at Stark's chest and Stark stares down at her, his face pale. In the silence, Buffy can hear the distant thump of club music and, much more closely, the soft hum of whatever the hell is in Stark's chest. Technological, not demonic,
Buffy decides as she tentatively raps a knuckle against it.
Stark goes wild. "Don't!"
He roars, his chest hitching and heaving under her hand. He is struggling in earnest now, his eyes wild and his lips pulled back from his teeth in a furious rictus.
"Like that," Buffy encourages, over Stark's gasping pants and the sounds of his elbows banging against the stall's metal wall. It is painfully obvious that Stark has never won a fist fight in his life. Buffy approves of his willingness to at least try to save himself. But Stark is beginning to look truly terrified, and not a little like he is thinking of some other, scarier place and time, so Buffy hastens to say, "Not that I'm going to take your... uh, glowy-thingy. I could. But I'm not. Because I am not a bully and your glowy-thingy is not lunch money."
And then, partially to reassure him that she means it and partially to reassure herself that she is not cruel, Buffy pats Stark's shoulder.
Stark is still staring at Buffy, looking flabbergasted and slightly lost, when a very deep voice says from the vicinity of the bathroom's doorway, "I don't know what's going on in here but you two need to get the hell out of here. Understand?"
For a moment, Buffy is surprised that anyone would order a victim of assault to leave with his assaulter. Then she remembers that she is small, blonde, and cute while Tony Stark is older, bigger, and a man. They probably think that he's letting me pin him in place. That this is some sort of weird sex thing,
Buffy decides as she turns her head to the side, just far enough to look at the speaker. Standing near the bathroom's door was a very tall, very wide man, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. He had two equally tall, wide men standing behind him.
"What if I don't want to? What if I want to stay right here?" Buffy asks dangerously. Her anger, always simmering since her death, builds at the idea that anyone expects her to do as she is told. Obedience and duty had already gotten her killed once. Buffy will never obey anyone ever again.
She could totally take them.
"Do you feel the same way?" asks the group's leader, directing the words and a mocking look towards Stark. Behind the speaker, his minions exchange amused sideways looks.
"Ah, no," Stark says. "You are all very, very large. And more than vaguely menacing looking. I find that very, very persuasive."
"I can take them," Buffy insists, letting go of Stark and edging back from him. She is going to need the room to maneuver. "All of them."
"Now who has the death wish," Stark jeers.
Buffy sees red.
She clocks Stark in the face and then leaps at the nearest of the bouncers. The men, although human, are still a better fight than the vamp ho was. The coil in Buffy's heart, which had been tight and painful, eases under the familiar rhythm of (carefully executed) violence.
In the flurry of blows, counter blows, and acrobatics, Buffy is utterly surprised when Stark grabs her wrist and yanks her towards the exit. Honestly, she had assumed that he had escaped the bathroom as soon as her attention was diverted by the brawl.
Buffy stumbles after him, allowing him to pull her past the queue of men beginning to form at the bathroom door.
"What do you think you're doing?" Buffy hisses, yanking her wrist out of his grip.
"Listen, I get being pissed at the world," he snaps as he grabs her wrist again. "But getting bailed out of jail sucks. Trust me. I've been there, done that, vomited on the t-shirt."
When he moves to grab her wrist again, Buffy lets him. She lets him pull her through the thumping dance area and out of a side door, into the sweltering night air. They are three blocks away when Tony Stark begins to laugh.
"What?" Buffy demands, feeling defensive. She considers hitting him again, despite the bruise beginning to bloom on his cheek.
But Stark just flaps his free hand at her and says, "Are you hungry? I'm hungry."
"I could eat," Buffy says warily. "Why?"
"Let's get something. Cheeseburgers, maybe," he says, sounding gleeful at the very idea of them.
Buffy should probably shut him down, call one of his four friends, and get them to drag his ass home. But he is offering her free food. And Tony Stark seems to be a vamp-magnet.
"Okay," Buffy says."MickeyD's?"
True to her predictions, Buffy gets to stake two more vamps in the twenty minutes that it takes them to walk to the nearest open McDonald's. Stark, who is still more than slightly drunk or high or whatever, never notices.
Inside of the restaurant, Stark orders two of everything on the menu, to go. Even by Buffy's standards, that is a lot
of food, more than she bargained for. Instead of complaining, she watches Stark pay the boggling teenager behind the cash register and then helps Stark pushes tables together in the seating area for their feast. The restaurant's employees bring their foods out to the table in large white bags, filled up with whatever portion of the menu they have just finished preparing.
At each delivery, Stark, who talks more than he eats and tends to gesture with his right hand, regardless of what he is holding in that hand at any particular moment, nods and says 'thanks' and offers them a cooling hash brown or french-fry.
Buffy, who eats more than she talks, tries to follow the general gist of Stark's conversation, gives up, and lets the cadence of his speech flow over her like she is sitting in French class. When Stark stops talking, rests his head on the slightly sticky table, and passes out, Buffy is both surprised at the abruptness of it and unsurprised that he passed out, because hello,
And yeah, his name should be explanation enough for anyone, anywhere, ever.
Buffy finishes her cheeseburger and a handful of fries, sucks down a few gulps of her chocolate shake, and then goes to retrieve Stark's cell phone. It is in the same pocket as last time, which makes rooting through his pockets both easier and less potentially gross.
Tony Stark still has precisely four names in his cell phone directory.
Because she had such good experience with him last time, Buffy selects 'Rhodey'
again. Rhodey picks up on the second ring, shouting, "Tony? How long does it take to visit the john?"
In the background, Buffy can hear the heavy thump of bass.
"Are you still at the club?" Buffy asks. "Because we got thrown out of there."
"I should've guessed," Rhodey sighs. "Where are you? And who
"Just a girl. Anyway, we're at a McDonald's. Stark was having a cheeseburger craving before he passed out on the table. He probably needs someone to pick him up, take him home, and put him to bed."
Buffy gives him directions to the McDonald's. She is just polishing off one of the salads when a sleek sports car pulls up to the curb. The man who gets out of it is tall and good looking in an older guy sort of way. (Of course, Buffy's creature of the night maybe-boyfriend had recently celebrated his bicentennial so she should maybe keep the stones to herself, glass houses and all.)
"Rhodey?" Buffy asks when the man makes it clear that he is heading towards their feast table.
"Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes," he corrects. Frowning, he adds, "You aren't the woman that Tony went to the john with."
"She, uh, ran away?" Buffy offers then stuffs a handful of fries into her mouth. She tried to look innocent.
When Rhodes sighs and turns his attention toward trying to rouse Stark, Buffy turns hers toward her milkshake. When the guy finally gives up on getting Stark on his feet, Buffy offers him a chicken sandwich. He takes it, unwraps it, and flops into the seat across from Buffy. His first bite is fiercely aggrieved.
"Don't worry, I'll help you get him into the car," Buffy says. At Rhodes' disbelieving look, Buffy adds, "I'm stronger than I look."
Rhodes claims Stark's chocolate shake, Stark's share of the fries and hash browns, and lets himself be coaxed into telling Buffy what it is like to be an Air Force officer. It sounds cool enough.
And, yeah, when the time comes, Buffy helps him gather up Stark's leftovers and manhandle Stark into the sports car.
"Are you sure that I can't give you a ride, anywhere?" Rhodes asks and Buffy shakes her head.
"I've got a few friends to call on before I go home tonight," Buffy says. Those vamps are not just going to throw themselves onto the nearest picket fence, after all. And even if they were so inclined, there is a severe shortage of picket fences in the greater Los Angeles area. A never-ending supply of sharpened wooden slats is one of the few advantages that Sunnydale has over the city.
That night, Buffy goes out and hunts the forces of evil, just like a Slayer should. It is a little more work without Tony Stark to act as bait but still far more satisfying than anything else that Buffy has done since she left Sunnydale.
When she gets home shortly after dawn, Buffy collapses into her bed. That morning, she sleeps well for the first time since she was murdered.
Four months later, Iron Man explodes onto the world stage. Buffy, who is busy with her own things, pays just enough attention to him to note that he is human and thus not her problem.
Buffy ignores most of his antics.
Buffy is working in a greasy dead end diner and going by Anne when the daily soap operas are interrupted by an important news bulletin. She pays it about as much attention as she pays the cook's soap operas, which is to say none at all, until she hears a voice say, "I am Iron Man."
Buffy looks up from wiping down the countertop.
Tony Stark is wearing a pair of ridiculous sunglasses and smiling his most arrogant, self-satisfied grin.
Somehow, Buffy is not surprised.
After Buffy saves the work planet's slaves, they stay together for a night in the fake hostel. The others begin to leave in the morning, trickling away in twos and threes, after stopping to thank Buffy, to promise to help others, do the right thing, pass her message on. Some of them change their names to things like Andrew, Elizabeth, Summer, and Betty. There is suddenly a tribe of people with the last name Summers. The goodbyes are mushy and sincere and embarrassing. They makes Buffy feel warm and bright and happy in a way that little has in a very long time.
Eventually, only Lily and Buffy are left. Buffy gives Lily the name 'Anne',
her place in the apartment, and most of her cash. She packs up a changes of clothes and most of her weapons, leaves everything else to Anne, and walks Anne to the diner. There, Buffy persuades the day manager to hire the new Anne in her place. All that is left is to walk to the bus station, buy a ticket, and go back to Sunnydale.
Anne insists on walking her.
They are within sight of the bus station when they runs across Stark and Miss Potts, exiting a pricy sushi restaurant. Stark is wearing a suit that probably costs more that Buffy's mom makes in a year. For once, maybe the first time since Buffy had first laid eyes on him, Stark is clean, sober and smells like something pleasant. He is also wearing an entire, unwrinkled suit, including the jacket, tie, and shiny shoes. Miss Potts is impeccably dressed, as per usual. They both seem very happy. Good,
Buffy thinks, as the couple makes the short walk between the restaurant's door and an idling limo. It's good to know that moron doesn't always need to be rescued from himself.
Buffy is busy lusting over Miss Potts' shoes, which are purple and fabulous, when Stark's eyes flick over Buffy, then away from her, and then back to her in a double take.
Stark grins at Buffy. Feeling shy, Buffy tucks a bit of hair behind her ears and smiles at him in return. When he stops walking, so does Miss Potts.
"Hey, do I know you?" Stark asks.
"No," Buffy says, surprising herself. She ignores Anne's sly, knowing look. "We haven't met."
"To my knowledge, you've met Miss Summers three times," Miss Potts corrects. "The last time you got into a bar fight together, went to McDonalds, and ordered two of everything on the menu. When you passed out, she called Rhodey to come pick you up."
"Tattletale," Buffy accuses Miss Potts, ignoring Anne's poorly stifled laughter. "How'd you find out about all of that, anyway?"
"The bar had cameras in its more populated areas," Miss Potts admits, completely unashamed. "So did the McDonald's."
"Creepy," Buffy decides. To Stark she says, "You were falling down drunk or stoned or whatever every time so it doesn't count."
"She's also saved your life," Miss Potts says. She smirks when Stark winces.
"Why am I not surprised?" Anne says, nudging Buffy with her elbow and grinning fondly. "She's saved my life, too. I'm Anne, by the way."
"We could start a club," Stark says glibly as he holds his hand out to Buffy. "Thanks, by the way."
"No big," Buffy says, taking his hand and shaking it. "And we've met four times. I stole your wallet once in Vegas."
"Vegas?" Stark says, looking surprised and delighted. "What were you doing in Vegas? You're a bit young for the nightlife."
"I was running away from home," Buffy admits comfortably. Off of Anne's look, Buffy adds, "It seemed like a good idea at the time?"
"But not in retrospect?" Stark asks, sounding genuinely interested.
"It might've been okay," Buffy says slowly, thinking about the life that she could have led with Pike. "Different, but okay. But once you start running, it's hard to stop. And that wouldn't've been okay. It's why I went back."
"Is that why you're leaving this time?" Stark asked, nodding to Buffy's duffle bag.
"Actually, I'm going back again," Buffy corrects, hitching her black duffle bag over her shoulder. "I just quit my job and gave up my bunk."
"Home doesn't seem to be working out for you. Why don't you try something new?"
"Like what?" Buffy asks suspiciously. She pretends to ignore the way that Anne is staring at her.
"I need a new Personal Assistant," Stark explains. He studiously ignores Miss Potts' quick, surprised glance. "I've been through seven of them since Pepper here left me to become Stark Enterprises' CEO. What do you say?"
"I can't type," Buffy says blankly. "And I haven't finished high school yet."
"There's not a lot of typing in the job," Miss Potts says, her attention glued to Stark's profile. "I'll handle his public image and all of the big picture items. One of my assistants will answer his e-mails. She'll forward you everything that you need to know or add to Tony's schedule. You'll be in charge of Tony's day-to-day life. Mostly you'll keep Tony's schedule, get Tony places on time, deflate his head, keep people from killing Tony, and keep Tony from accidentally killing himself. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try to wrangle Tony into a suit from time to time."
"Getting your GED will give you something to do while I'm in the workshop," Stark offers. "Same with your university classes."
Buffy thinks of her mom, the Scoobies, and That Night. She thinks about poor Kendra, who died before she had ever really lived
and passed her burden on to another poor girl, just as Buffy had done to her. Just as I'll do again if I go home, if I don't take Stark's offer,
Buffy thinks and asks helplessly, "Why are you doing this?"
"Because you won't take Tony's shit," Miss Potts says promptly. She flashes Buffy a bright smile. "I have absolute faith that you'll get him where he should be, on time, and alive. And maybe in a suit."
"Because you saved my life," Stark says quietly. "Twice. For no reason. I need to have someone like that, someone that I can trust, as my assistant, even if she can't type and hasn't finished school yet." The Hellmouth was meant to be Kendra's, not mine,
Buffy thinks, chewing her lower lip. It can belong to whoever comes after her. The Scoobies will help her. And she'll have her own Watcher or maybe even Giles, if he won't come with me.
"Buffy, if you hadn't left home, no one would've saved me or the others," Anne says quietly. "People need help everywhere." And I'll help people wherever I am,
Buffy promises herself. She finally allows herself to think the rest of that thought, which will probably be wherever Tony Stark is. And heaven knows, Stark needs a lot of rescuing.
"You have a famous art collection, right?" Buffy asks Stark. "And a huge old book collection?"
"Yes," Miss Potts says with a pleased smile. "Are you interested in those things?"
"We do?" Stark asks Miss Potts. To Buffy he says, "We, ah, do. Of course, we do!"
"Sometimes," Buffy admits with a smile, pleased at the idea of bringing Giles around one way or another. "Yeah. Sure. I'll do the job."
"Excellent! Pepper will set you up with the right clothes and help you find another apartment, some place close to my house, of course, and--"
"I can't afford the first and last month's rent on anything," Buffy admits, embarrassed. "I've only got a few hundred dollars."
"Don't worry," Miss Potts says. Her smile is comforting. "There's a signing bonus. You'll get that today."
"Oh. Okay. Wait a second?" Buffy pulls her wallet out, keeps forty dollars for herself, and presses the rest of her cash into Anne's hand. "Here, you'll need this."
"Buffy, I can't," Anne says, her hand closing around the wad of bills. "You worked hard for this money."
"At the crappy job that you just inherited from me," Buffy reminds her. "Seriously, keep the money. Do something awesome with it."
Anne nods and tucks the money into the front pocket of her jeans, her expression serious. Buffy hugs her gently.
"I'm going to do the right thing this time, Buffy," Anne whispers into the shell of Buffy's ear, hugging Buffy back. Buffy suspects that Anne is squeezing as hard as she can. It feels nice. "Wait and see."
"I know you will," Buffy says even though she knows no such thing. But she hopes. "I'll keep in touch."
Anne turns down a ride from Stark and Miss Potts. When she gets into the limo with them, Buffy watches Anne until she is out of sight. Then she turns around and asks Miss Potts, "We're going to go shoe shopping too, right?"
"Right," Miss Potts says with a wide smile.
"You want shoes? Shoes?"
Stark asks, sounding surprised. "I've pictured you more as a brass knuckles kind of girl."
"I prefer to use what's available in the moment," Buffy says breezily. "I don't like to be hemmed in."
"Noted," Stark says to Buffy then turns to Miss Potts and says with a wide grin, "She doesn't like to be hemmed in."
"You're going to regret having said that," Miss Potts says to Buffy.
"It's okay. I like a challenge."
Miss Potts laughs.