Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Marvel Crossover AU (Self-Made Hero: The Infinity Mirror)
Summary: The last official member of their little team will take some work to retrieve.
Word Count: 1704
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“Maybe we should make the Exoskel less obvious. Maybe disguise it as one of those huge ugly watches that scream ‘I’m expensive, pay attention to me now’?”
“Yes, Entil’Zha. That will definitely be less conspicuous.”
( In Pepper's case, though, they tend to be people hurting. )
Tony Stark doesn’t remember computers this awful. That’s the first order of business, Xander decides. Building himself a computer that doesn’t totally suck. He doesn’t want to lug a fifty pound slow machine up to the second floor, and besides, touchscreen glass monitors are so much cooler.
In a rare concession to practicality, he goes for clear plastic instead, but has a working prototype in two months. Completion of the two AIs (Zathras, more limited, more social, White Star, the voice of reason, also known as Delenn, and/or sarcastic Russian, also known as Ivanova) takes more time; he needs to invent storage capacity for the two and ends up relying heavily on magic. Fortunately, Jenny’s happy to help, which means he’s not working blind since she knows stuff, and her social circles have been playing with the idea for a while.
He’s set on money for a while, as well: he’s slowly releasing minor computer upgrades to various companies. If he keeps up the steady pace, they’ll make it to flat screens eventually. He’d give the upgrades for the good of mankind, but as much as he hates to admit it he does need the money, especially after Uncle Rory fires him. He has to submit the income reports, and yeah, he’s pretty sure that in any other town, they’d worry about him becoming an entrepreneur at the age of seventeen, but this is Sunnydale, home of the ‘don’t ask questions about it and it’ll turn out fine’ mental paradigm.
When she finally arrives, Star greets her immediately. “Something is clearly wrong with Ranger One, Willow.”
Her creator is lying on the grating, groaning, hands pressed tightly to his head.
Willow pulls the hands away from his head and he curls up even more, mumbling to himself constantly.
“Xander.” She has to repeat herself several times, and eventually she gets through to him. He glances at her eventually, eyes vague and lost.
“It’s so quiet. Make the quiet stop. I’m so alone,” he moans, tears tracking down his face.
“Xander, I know it’s hard but you have to concentrate. Talk to me,” she insists, instantly sitting down and letting him cradle his head on her lap.
“Not Xander,” he manages finally. “It’s Tony. It’s Tony and I’m—I’m alone, there’s no one…there’s always someone around but they’re all gone, even Xander, and I don’t know how…that bitch Glory,” he gasps out and hides his head in one of her knees, sobbing loudly enough he’s still shaking and there’s tears all over her jeans.
She revises her priorities immediately. She needs to get in contact with either the teenage one or the one designated as ‘MCU Tony’ in her databanks. Admittedly she’s not always able to tell the difference with regards to her creator, but she has actual physical numbers for two of the ones out in the multiverse, and, though magic might not be their forte, neither of them would leave Xander on his own. They could provide a distraction or some sort or even engineer their way out of the situation, because that is what her creator does. That is what Tony Stark does.
“Are you expecting an attack?” Star asks quietly. She’s still yet to sound fully human, but she’s getting there. Her ‘brother’s’ death did wonders for getting her to grow up, and he’d never wish that on anyone.
“Always,” her creator grunts harshly and growls in frustration as the wrench slips in his hands.
She runs the numbers. He’s been conscious for approximately 38 hours, which is a few too many, given what data she has managed to gather about humans. She has some knowledge about what they’re up against, but electronic data about the subject is difficult to find and Xander is reluctant to talk.
An alert begins to ring. She brings it up as a task and then clears her throat. Perhaps those designated his ‘friends’ could help her in this endeavor. “Willow’s calling, sir.”
He groans and tries to wipe away the oil from his face. It only makes more of a mess. Not that she’s going to vocalize that. He stands and sways a little. Dizziness matches the symptoms, which means that he very well might pass out. That would be a problem, as she is probably incapable of remote piloting the Paladin Mark 14. The line of suits is still new. For now, anyway.
He waves at her, which she interprets hesitantly as a request to connect the two. Willow’s face appears on the screen, anguished. That is worrisome. Star has what she tentatively identifies as a fondness for the redhead. “Xander?”
“I’ll tell you what I told you…before.” White Star notes the pause. She’s not sure if Willow hears it, how closely a human can analyze another’s voice patterns. The condition was worse than she had noticed. Instantly, she’s putting more surveillance protocols into place so the same will not happen again. “I don’t have any nanotech around.” He goes to lean against the railing, pretending that it’s casual to hide the fact that he is likely dizzy. Pretend to hide the weakness. “I made a prototype. That was far from finished, so I destroyed it. I’m not messing with that until I know I can get it right because it’s too dangerous if I don’t. They might get evil ideas, or mess up one thing in the appropriate cell that destroys everything, or, y’know. Something. So, no, I can’t just wave a hand and make it all go away.” His voice gradually gains in volume until he’s suddenly all but shouting at Willow. He takes a deep breath and his eyes unfocus for a moment.
“Xander?” The woman actually notices her friend’s predicament now.
“Willow,” he responds, trying to appear strong.
Willow blinks. “Buffy’s taking care of Tara. I’m coming there.”
“I’m fine. You should take care of her.” He looks a little lost, like he’s confused as to how he got to that point.
Star uses an override code. “My creator is lying. I suggest you come here.”
Xander groans but doesn’t reprimand her, which is when she knows something is certainly wrong.
“This is really cool,” she admits. Later, the terror of the evening will probably catch up with her but she’s currently running on an adrenaline high, and it’s true that it is kinda cool. “I never thought I’d be working for a superhero boss.”
He glances at her, startled, and smiles. It’s sweet and shy. “Would you like to see my lab?”
“Is that a come-on?” she asks, because she can read him in this mood, and knows he’s easy to fluster when he’s like this.
Also, it’s fun.
And a distraction from the fact that she could have died from attending an international company event.
True to form, he blushes a little. “What? No! It’s…it’s completely normal. Well, no, actually it isn’t, it’s my lab, but…”
“I’ve been in your lab,” she points out, and he shakes his head.
“My ‘show it off to the world’ lab, yes. Not the secret lab. That is an extension of the normal lab.” He trots downstairs, and she follows, and he waves a hand and says, “White Star, let’s show her where all the magic happens,” and a female voice answers, “Secret lab open, sir.”
And then she’s gaping, because there’s an actual suit of powered armor in there and it’s too cool for words. She runs up to it, examining it from all angles, leading to a gentle chuckle.
That’s enough to let the words start coming again. “This is so awesome! How does it work? What’s it like? My boss is a superhero and this is probably one of the best days of my life.”
He’s still staring at her, bemused. “You are going to spoil me,” is what he ends up saying eventually. “Seriously, I’ll want to keep you.” Even he realizes that sounds a little dumb, judging by the look on his face, but rolls his eyes and steps forward anyway. “If you want a show, then who am I to say no?”
He thinks about White Knight. It would match White Star, and all that. Plus it sounds cool. But there’s the added issue that there’s a dark undercurrent to the connotations of the word later, when the internet becomes prevalent, and he doesn’t care for them.
The idea doesn’t go away entirely. It resurrects when he’s trying to figure out a legal name change, when he wants ‘Harris’ to be forgotten.
“Hey, White Star. Do you have a moment to spare?” It’s Willow. She’s been more hesitant around Star, not that the AI blames her. White Star has always been associated with battle, not friendship, and after the death of her brother AI, a hesitance to get close when it might result in more pain following loss is only logical, based on the parameters presented.
“I am capable of multitasking.” She’s pretty sure it’s a joke, but it’s hard to tell. She’s still working on those subroutines.
Willow smiles. It’s a hesitant smile, from what observational data she has, but she’s good with that. “It’s been a while since I’ve worked with just tech, and I’m getting rusty.”
Her personality matrix comes up with a laugh from somewhere. “I would consider that to be a mistake, yes.”
“Every year,” Willow says, getting to the physical keyboard and booting it up, “…I would hack into the governmental databases, just to see what’s the what. Now seems like a decent enough time to do it. Besides, so much has changed, maybe there’s a file on us or something.”
“I’m not sure how Xander would react,” Star remarks. He would either get really excited and join in or be worried about his friend and AI. Or would that be ‘friends’? She pauses. “…Should I keep this ‘off the books’?”
“Might want to, yeah.” But Willow looks focused and happy, and that’s better than previously.
“I have to say, this seems better for you—and more fun—than what you’re usually doing,” Star remarks, and Willow throws her head back and laughs.
“All right, all right already, I get the message.” She smiles and pats the monitor. A silly gesture, but a comforting one. “Thanks for worrying about me. And for Xander worrying about me, too.”
“Sometimes it hurts, but it’s well worth it, Willow,” she remarks, and gets started on helping out her friend.
He bases White Star’s voice on some mixture of Ivanova and Delenn and trusts her with his very life. He’d trust the two to have his back, so it’s not much of a leap from there to here. Plus it’s funny to hear Russian black humor at the oddest times.
“Come on, come on!”
‘Zathras is not responding,’ White Star informs him. She sounds weird, but he’s kind of her brother, and it’s not like they’re just AIs. They’re Stark AIs (not like Ultron, thank goodness) and they’re magic-enhanced, so it’s like they’re real entities. Real people.
It’s kind of sad but they’re currently closer to him than his human friends.
White Star had informed him of a break-in. So he’d flown off in the middle of a conversation with Buffy and Willow, which he’ll pay for later, but right now, he’s got things to do, places to go, he’s a busy man.
He blasts a hole in the roof. He’ll fix that later. Right now he needs…
Not to see that giant demon in his living room. It’s all fur and horns, and it’s definitely not green, but he gets the image of the big guy in his head for a few seconds and has to shake it out. He thinks it’s on the monitors briefly before he discards the idea as stupid. It’s in your head, get it together Xand.
It’s almost enough to distract him from all the destruction. Because there’s destruction. There’s destruction up the wazoo. His heart breaks.
The foundry’s nearly gone. He can replace it, but that’ll cost a lot. No upgrades for a while. And he doesn’t have the power to just fix it with magic, and he’s not about to ask Willow to go all ‘Eye of Agamotto’ on him, because he can feel where she’s going and doesn’t want to contribute to that particular natural disaster.
Most of his equipment is sparking. That includes the self-created tower that houses Zathras. It’s cut in two, and there are definitely pieces too missing or destroyed to replace. He’ll have to wait for the assessment, but it’s entirely possible that Zathras was just…gone.
He’d been trying to keep a low profile. He hadn’t let Zathras spread out onto the net like Jarvis because he was fairly certain that the United States government, at the least, was keeping an eye out for strange AIs appearing in the net. Zathras is in every piece of electronic equipment in the warehouse, but by the looks of things it’s entirely possible that every single piece is destroyed. Perhaps not beyond repair or recovery, but…he’s not optimistic.
He blinks tears out of his eyes. His landing’s a bit wobbly, largely due to the fact that the metal catwalk is barely hanging in there by a few bolts. It tilts dangerously.
“I’ll ask you to step away from the highly expensive equipment.” No reaction. “You break it, you bought it. Let’s talk damages.”
It growls. He tries one of his handy ‘apps’ frantically, and gets a translation from Star.
‘Metal Man easy target. Good offering,’ she says, even mimicking the growl.
He can’t wipe away the tears. He knows that. He doesn’t have time to be all emotional and mourn a friend, either. He can avenge him, though.
“Trust me, I’m not easy,” he snarls, and hits the Repulsor jets.
Caleb’s the bad guy. The supervillain. And he probably never saw the magic armor suit coming, so it’s up to Xander to hit the guy with everything he’s got.
The repulsors don’t phase him. Even a light-laced Unibeam doesn’t stagger him much. Neither does the flamethrower, though admittedly that’s slow enough to dodge. That needs to be fixed for next time. The tasers do give the murderer a little pause, but mostly seem to tick him off.
And then the man catches him by his head in midair, and the thought races through his mind: Powers imparted by the First Evil are seriously cheating.
“You’re the One Who Sees, aren’t you?” the man asks calmly, and that gets Xander’s mind racing. That’s probably a reference to a prophecy, somewhere; he should look it up when they get…
‘Warning. Primary systems offline,’ White Star informs him, the slightest hint of panic in her tone.
“W-wait, what? How’s he interfering with the tech—”
‘I think he’s interfering with the magic, which in turn depletes…’ she begins, and everything happens all at once.
He throws everything he has into shielding. Every ounce of his energy goes into reinforcing the shields. Which flicker and die.
Caleb grins. And suddenly he’s not just the supervillain. He’s terrifying. Glory was bad. This priest is worse. “Let’s see what we can do about that,” he says, as if Xander hasn’t even spoken, still quiet and calm and menacing, and reaches out with the hand not holding him in place.
He pulls off the facemask like it’s nothing. The Exoskel flickers and dies. Xander attempts to keep a defiant look on his face, but Caleb reaches out with one thumb and pokes it into his left eye socket.
He can feel the blood flowing down his cheek. His brain’s suddenly aflame with all the pain signals, and Stark’s brain doesn’t help the matter since all thoughts are echoed and amplified and he’s screaming.
He’s been lucky, all this time. Giant bruises. A dislocated shoulder (that had been his fault, he’d overjuiced the repulsors, but given that it was Glory he hadn’t been taking any chances). On one memorable occasion, a cracked collarbone. Plenty of concussions. Nothing prepared him for this. The pain won’t go away. Meditation isn’t helping, but it’s not like he can even begin to relax and let the magic flow through him. Every second brings another pounding wave of agony, and he can feel every single nerve on fire. He can smell the bright tang of blood. The sound’s the most disgusting thing he’s ever heard. It’s everywhere, invasive, surrounding him, but it’s not comforting like his suit. This is a world with all hard edges and cold stares.
Caleb throws him into a stack of barrels. The impact barely registers. Why should it? He’s used to being thrown into things like a rag doll, and there’s a more important ongoing nerve signal, anyway.
White Star is saying something, frantic, but there’s a ringing in his ears and he can’t quite make it out. There’s what might be screams. Maybe it’s just him. It’s hard to tell. He can’t summon enough energy to reinforce the dying wards. Can’t even manage to lift a finger.
Arms pull him up, frantic but strong, and someone joins in on the other side, lifting him like his armor is nothing.
The pain is too much, overloading his brain. So he makes the strategic decision to pass out instead.
“W-what are you doing?” Buffy asks on walking in on Xander staring fixedly at a table with holograms. Whatever it is, she can’t tell just by looking. It’s been harder to read Xander since. Mostly what he’s doing, but sometimes how he acts.
“Me ‘n Zathras were trying to figure out how they played Dejarik. So far, no happy.” He shrugs. “At least I’m getting hologram practice. See, tech hasn’t advanced to the point that we can really use holograms willy nilly, but they’re useful for a visual, so I’ve been working on adapting an illusion spell. That’s going well at least.” He anticipates her next question. “I ran the spell and changes by the G-Man, yeah. I’m not suicidal. Or reckless. …Most of the time.”
“That’s getting really freaky,” she admits, earning another goofy grin. “Zathras?”
“Zathras very pleased to be meeting you,” an unfamiliar voice joins them, and she blinks.
“Meet one of two AIs I’m developing—and yes, Buffster, I’m being careful, to the point of a self-destruct as a last resort option. I haven’t forgotten Moloch. The other is White Star and she’s kinda the combat expert. I figure it’s better if I’m not having to decipher Zathras’s speech during battle no matter how cool it sounds.”
“Zathras be making suggestion, hmm, yes. Is not enough information for Zathras or Ranger One to play this game,” the program adds.
Xander sighs. “Yeah, but chess is boring.”