A/N: My computer broke with Window's last update on Thursday, so I spent all day yesterday fixing it and most of today recuperating (read: drinking mimosas to make up for blowing a day and a half of vaca time on fixing my computer). Thankfully, all my work is being done via OneDrive so I can keep going from my office and not get in trouble, so nothing was lost, it was just the emotional drama of completely stripping my computer and starting fresh (and not going on a last minute beach trip to spend the time doing that).
This chapter in particular, was written ages ago, but when I sent it to my editor, I hated it, and she ended up not looking at it before I completely rewrote everything. I admit, the finished product makes me a lot happier.
Returning from Ibiza had meant throwing themselves even deeper into the designs Tony had come up with to help with slaying. Conceptually, he wanted to make it safe for someone of normal strength to defend themselves against the vampires and demons of the world, and Buffy couldn't help but want to help. After her conversation with Tony, the people she'd left behind in Sunnydale weighed heavily on her mind. From the looks Tony gave her from time to time and the pile of work he'd dug up for them to tackle, she guessed he understood and was helping in the way that only he could.
"Is the case ready?" Tony asked across the workshop/garage, from where he sat at his part of the project.
"Almost, just smoothing out the rough spots," Buffy answered from the other end where she was working with Dum-E to reshape metal into the small curved ball shape they figured out would be good for the device.
"You have disturbingly steady hands," Tony pointed out, handing her the tiny screws. "Can you put these together?"
"Sure," she answered, taking his seat and pulling on a headband with the magnifying glass.
"So this super strength thing, how'd that happen?" Tony asked, scribbling notes on one of the other plans they'd been working on. Then, giving her a narrow-eye looked, he asked pointedly, "What made you think 'I have super powers, I think I'll go fight vampires'?"
"I'm the slayer, it's a package deal," she rolled her eyes, and thought vaguely about the possibility of a name tag reading 'I'm the Slayer, ask me how'
"The Slayer," he rolled the word around, testing it out a few times, but sounded a bit incredulous the whole time. "What exactly is the Slayer?"
"The Slayer is the one girl, given the strength and the power to fight the vampires and other forces of darkness," she recited.
"Like a chosen one kind of thing?" he shot back immediately, and she shrugged, because she'd never felt very good about the whole destiny thing.
"So if you're this mythical 'Slayer', why were you retiring?" Tony finally asked the question she'd been expecting all day as she leaned over the table to work on the tiny parts he'd handed her.
"When one girl dies the next one is called," she told him carefully, not pausing in her work. "The girl after me, Kendra, was killed.”
"But that means you-"
"I was revived," she cut him off, before handing the completed piece over. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, got a whole pile, think you're up to it?" he grinned, not taking the question bait, there would be time for that later, more important was getting this finished and tested.
"Let's do it," she grinned as well, as he started dragging her rolling chair over towards the drafting table to explain what she needed to be doing.
Tony didn't quite let things go and had demanded a full explanation of how Slayers worked, and she'd found it was nothing short of impossible to answer all of his questions. He was still pretty convinced slayers had to be a genetic mutation and that the whole called by the death of the predecessor thing couldn’t be true. She could understand, demons could be explained as simply other intelligent species, nothing necessarily mystical, but magic, well, even she'd found that hard to believe once upon a time.
"That'll be Rhodey," he told her on a Saturday afternoon a couple weeks after Ibiza, as a doorbell interrupted their continued work. "He's going to warn me about you."
The grin on his face told her a lot about his thoughts on the topic, and she cracked a grin, before heading upstairs. She would have to head him off to find out just what he knew. While she'd opened up about her past and what had happened, she wasn't quite certain she was ready to give up the freedom of not being Buffy.
"Hey, Rhodey," she greeted him, opening the door, but blocking him from walking right in.
," there was a pointedness to the way he said her name, like he knew she was faking it. Then without pulling any punches, he glanced at the house and told her, "Good way to hide."
"Pepper's idea, in plain sight," she answered succinctly, she wasn't going to tell him any more than necessary.
"Pepper's idea?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow and sounding surprised. "Does she know?"
"Depends what there is to know," she answered edgy, not about to share more than she needed to.
"You're the slayer," he pointed out clearly.
"Where'd you hear about that?" she wasn't ready to give ground just yet.
"My old unit, we handled issues like yours from time to time, so they kept us updated about slayers, just in case we ever came across them. Heard one ran away a bit ago," he explained. "Two and two."
"And what's your plan for two and two?" she asked, getting straight to the point, as she crossed her arms in front of her chest and made it clear she'd deliberately blocked his path to the door.
"From what I heard, a Slayer went AWOL from her unit," he answered seriously, keeping steady eye contact. He was definitely military through and through, AWOL was obviously a no go for him.
"Unit, what unit?" she snapped immediately. "Slayers are under the Watchers' Council. The Watchers' Council mostly just sits back and watch while slayers die. I already did, it's not my turn anymore."
"You died?" he asked, catching the salient part of her mini-rant. "You're practically a kid."
"I was called at 15, slayers are always young. Who would expect a tiny girl?" she answered, not relaxing her stance or tone in the slightest. If he was going to call the Watcher's Council about her, she was going to make him feel guilty as shit about it first. "Usually, they kidnap potentials from their families and raise them in a strict training system. They never even get to be kids, they're just always trained to be fighting machines."
"And you?" he asked carefully, mulling over what she'd said.
"Got lucky. They missed me. So when I was called, I still had family and friends, and when I died, I had someone who knew how to do CPR," she explained. "I'm not going back, just to put them in more danger."
"You didn't choose to be the slayer?" he asked with disbelief written all over his face.
"Of course not, no one chooses to be the Slayer. You're chosen
," she rolled her eyes.
"Alright," he nodded, then stepped forwards to go towards the house.
"What are you going to do with this?" she demanded, moving just enough to show she was blocking his path.
"Do with what? I don't know anything," he shrugged simply, before smiling, and she relaxed and nodded. "I've gotta tell Tony something though. He doesn't know the meaning of letting things go."
"He knows about the slayer thing," she told him, and the look of surprise on his face made her laugh.
"Hiding in plain sight," he nodded slowly, finally seeming to get it.
"I can't wait to hear what the military's saying," she grinned, leading the way down to the workshop.
"That's the stupidest thing anyone's ever told me," Tony exclaimed and Buffy gave up her attempts at keeping serious. Between Rhodey's incorrect information to Tony's constant interruptions, it wasn't like she'd had much of a chance before. "How can anyone get away with kidnapping kids that regularly?"
Rhodey had taken the whole thing a lot easier, but at least he'd already had an intro, albeit a completely wrong backstory that totally missed all the parts where the Watchers' Council was awful and horrible and just throwing girls into the field like cannon fodder. Tony hadn't quite gotten to that part yet. it was why she'd avoided discussing the Council in their previous talks. Having to admit out loud that she was just a pawn in the whole thing wasn't something she was particularly proud of, no matter how well she liked to think she managed on the whole.
"So this council, you called them watchers, what's the council's name?" he asked, already off thinking about something else, his brain obviously skipping to the parts he could handle at the moment, as he started typing something into JARVIS.
"Why?" she asked, narrowing her eyes, watching him carefully.
"Seriously?" his head snapped up quickly, catching her eyes. "You don't trust me?"
"Oh, I trust you. I don't fully trust the Council. Especially if they're going around telling everyone we sign up by choice and that me running away is like running away from the military," she snapped, still fuming over the false details Rhodey had shared with them before she'd provided corrections.
"The Watchers' Council," Rhodey filled in, obviously ignoring the glare she sent him.
"Oh," was Tony's only response to Rhode's answer, ignoring her own, as he typed away on the computer. "They were part of the initial investors when my father was growing Stark Industries. Currently they're at a fifteen percent share hold. Not much, not enough to do anything, but more than any other single group or person besides me."
"I should go then. Tell Pepper that I'm really sorry she couldn't finish her trip," she couldn't help the sigh that followed, this was too much, one more thing that made being Buffy really suck. No matter what she did, she was constantly putting friends at risk one way or another.
"You're not going anywhere," Tony pointed at her, his tone firm. "But this does mean we should get that UV ball finished and get the other projects really started. I'm crazy enough that they'll believe I've run into things, and their involvement's been silent from the beginning."
"You sure?" she didn't really believe him, but they had made it half the summer so far.
"Of course," he grinned. Then, turning on his friend, his grin turned to one that clearly betrayed that he was up to something, "What's the military think about investing in more unique research and product development?"
"I think I can find you a very good market," the other man grinned, seeming to pick up on something she wasn't getting.
"Care to explain?"
"Distract them, make it seem like Rhodey and I figured it out on our own, no slayer at all," he grinned, getting up from the computer and going back to the work table where he'd been carefully rigging up the UV prototype. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to get this done tonight."
"Tonight?" she asked surprised, the project had been going slowly, but they also hadn’t been rushing things.
"Tonight," he nodded quickly. "It was great seeing you, Rhodey, let's not do this particular version again."
"Sounds good, Tony," Rhodey grinned, before patting Buffy on the shoulder and leaving.