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Posted August 12, 2012

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Fan Fiction: Pulling Back the Curtain

Title: Pulling Back the Curtain

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Rating: PG-13.

Spoilers: Post-series for Buffy, no comics; post-Avengers for the Marvel Movie Universe

Summary: Tony's had his scruff up like a wary cat since her first day in the office. 1500 words.

She finds him one day after he's snarked his way through another in-house meeting, hands in his pockets, standing in front of a window with a thousand yard stare. Buffy doesn't think Tony's actually looking at the cityscape, though-- or if he is, she decides as she walks up behind him, all he's seeing is the damage still left over from the invasion. For all he's like twice her age and has seldom met a vice he won't try at least once, she's discovered they have a surprising amount of things in common.

"Don't you get tired of it?" she asks, bluntly.

He doesn't startle; she hadn't made any effort to mute the click of her heels. Instead he draws a slow breath, then turns dark, fathomless eyes on her. Usually he directs that gaze over a pair of sunglasses, muting it and giving it a touch of wry humor; here in the bowels of his own building, he's foregone those lines of defense. Buffy doesn't fool herself that she's seeing the real Tony Stark -- if anyone does, he reserves that for Pepper and his AIs, and maybe Bruce-- but she knows what it means that she's seeing even this much, and it's the reason she's asking the question.

Did Fury know she'd fit in so well, she wonders, when he asked her to come here? Probably; he's like Xander that way, and not just because of the eyepatch. He notices things most people overlook. And by wedging her into the Avengers' support crew instead of adding her ego to the main team, he's managed to hit multiple stones with one bird. Not that she'd realized that at first.

"Tired of what?" Tony replies, flashing a self-deprecating smile. "The endless rounds of R and D meetings? You ought to know; you're the one who keeps adding them to my schedule. It's a shame adoption's been so slow on the virtual collaboration front; it's not as though we don't have the technology to make it practically seamless. I could cut my office time in half."

"More than half, don't lie," Buffy retorts, dryly. "And they know it, too. No one wants to be the first person you fool with a Life Model Decoy, and you can't tell me you'd never be tempted."

Tony snorts at that. "I plead the fifth," he says. "But even a cardboard cutout embedded with a recorder would contribute as much as I do to most of these meetings."

"A cardboard cutout wouldn't be able to sign your paperwork, virtually or otherwise," she replies, rolling her eyes at him. "But you're mostly here to shore up your stock and your image with the company, and you know it. You're also dodging the question, which was pretty much my whole point. I get the airhead thing. Believe me, I do. But doesn't it ever bother you that so many people take it at face value?"

He cuts a sidewise look at her before turning back to the window, expression shifting subtly. There's a darkness lurking in the curl at the corner of his mouth now, a hint of a shadow that speaks to a familiar bleakness that's haunted her for years.

She doesn't plan on giving him the full story today. But if she's going to stay here much longer, she has to tell Tony something. Otherwise, he'll never forgive her when the secret finally comes out. And it will. They've been lucky the Chitauri scared the demons out of the city for awhile.

"I know I got started a little late in the intervention game," he replies, derisively. "But image management? I've been doing that since I could speak in complete sentences. You think I do anything without considering what other people will think? I just don't actually care most of the time."

"Or you do care, you just reject them first before they can return the favor," she parries. "Hurts less that way, doesn't it?"

Tony's attention snaps back to her face, sharply incisive, the way it probably looks when he's inside the armor. "Where did Fury even find you?" he asks, frowning. "I know you've had training; I've seen you sparring with the Deadly Duo, and there's no way an ordinary school counselor could have made that shot with the paint bomb, no matter how much time you spend in the gym."

Buffy's fully aware that with the Slayer stuff taken out, her real résumé does not look all that impressive. There's no way he hasn't come to a few conclusions about that, but apparently he wants her to spell it out herself. "Enhance your calm, Mr. Stark," she says, lightly. "As far as SHIELD's concerned, I'm just a Cali girl with a few sparkly talents. He might have pointed me your way, but I'm not now, never have been, and never will be one of Fury's agents."

"And that's supposed to inspire joy-joy feelings?" he retorts in kind, raising his eyebrows. He's had his scruff up like a wary cat since her first day in the office, probably expecting her to turn SHIELD colors one day like Natasha. "If you're not on their leash, who do you answer to? And don't insult me by denying it. You have a blacked out military file, and there aren't many ways a girl goes from that to standing here in a designer suit and three inch heels."

"Four," she demurs automatically; as serious as the conversation is, she can't resist correcting him. "On Ms. Potts' recommendation."

Tony glances down, visibly measuring her height; probably just now realizing she deliberately dresses tall enough to look him in the eye. "And just how did you get Pepper in your court, anyway?" he asks, pressing his lips together.

He could be pushing harder. But Buffy feels the line being drawn, regardless. Pepper or no Pepper, whether he likes her or not: either she tells Tony the truth, or she gives her two week notice.

She sighs. "Fury gave her my full qualifications; and she knows I only answer to two people other than you. Me, and her. I have a blacked out file because my ex worked for an Army project that experimented on certain kinds of people, and they weren't exactly asking permission. I might have got involved in the cleanup. Sound familiar?"

He flinches at that; he's picked up on the rest of what she isn't saying without having to ask. Even if he hasn't heard of Slayers, he has dealt with mutants, and she's heard enough about his own experiences to know he can identify with the rest.

"Ongoing?" he asks, shrewdly.

She shrugs, glancing up at the lens of the room's security camera. "Ask me sometime when I'm off the clock, and I might feel up to sharing details."

His eyes glitter with speculation, and she knows JARVIS will be getting a workout. Good luck to him; even an AI is going to find it hard to trump Willow's security. It's enough of an answer to settle Tony's nerves, though, as she'd thought it might. "Well, you've certainly kept that quiet. How long did it take Fury to offer you a consultancy?"

"A decade or so?" Has it really been that long since the Initiative folded? "I had other things to finish, first."

He blinks. "And exactly how old were you when this Army thing went sideways?"

"Why, Mr. Stark, don't you know it's bad manners to ask a lady her age?"

His expression contorts; then he settles with a rueful laugh, jingling something in one of his pockets. She welcomes the fidgeting; it's more like normal Tony, and that means he's not going to fire her after all.

"To answer your question, then-- it's a tool, like everything else. I'm only 'on' when I have to be; people say things in front of Playboy Stark that they never would Iron Man or Tony the Engineer." He snorts. "I am who I need to be when I need to be, so I can do what has to be done. So it's not a question of getting 'tired' of anything. It is what it is."

"And that's why I'm here," she replies, simply.

Part of it, at least. She thinks of biceps and a bow, and other questions that haven't been asked yet, even of herself. But if Fury called up now and asked her to choose between SI and SHIELD....

It makes her brain hurt to think about plotting those kinds of checks and balances for her organization so far in advance. Old One-Eye's a bastard, all right, but she can't fault his reasoning.

Maybe it's time she asked Tony for an assistant of her own? Dawn would die. And it would free Buffy up for more of the ISWC duties she's been avoiding lately.

Tony smiles at her, wry and acknowledging. "Noted. Will that be all, then, Ms. Summers?"

She nods back, pulling her professional demeanor back into place. "That's all for now, Mr. Stark."


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