Buffy made her way into the base quietly and quickly, muttering to herself about how she had opted to climb a mountain instead of getting Tony or Thor to fly her up and drop her off. No, she just had to be as stealthy as possible and take the hard route. HYDRA had been taking Slayers along with the other enhanced people and experimenting on them. The last five raids the Avengers had been on had managed to save the Slayers at those bases. This was the biggest raid they were on and while Tony and the others were there to retrieve Loki's staff, Buffy was going in the back way to save Rona.
"Summers, how's your progress?" Tony's voice came through the comm in her ear. Up until that point she'd been doing a bang up job ignoring the chatter in her ear to keep a look out for any HYDRA agents not off fighting her team mates.
"Almost in." Buffy answered quietly as yet another explosion happened. "Thanks for the distraction."
"Anytime, sweet cheeks. Hey, Summers, did you hear your boyfriend go old timer on me?" Tony asked.
"Well, he is kinda old." Buffy said.
"Does it bother you that you're dating someone old enough to be your grandpa?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Considering the fact that at least two of my exes remember the Industrial Revolution, I think I'm doing pretty good with the age gap between Steve and I."
"Touché, Summers. It's still bordering on weird, but touché."
There was a guard up ahead of her and she hit him with a tranquilizer dart.
Tony had created her a new suit that was better than her S.H.I.E.L.D. one. This one was shaped just like her last one, but was dark blue with silver and red seams because she apparently needed to match Steve. The material was a lot more breathable as well as durable and the breastplate had turned into a flexible, bullet proof corset of sorts. It zipped up instead of laced up, but the point was that it went all the way around her torso and kept her safe from being shot in the stomach again.
He'd also installed new hardware in everything. Her right wrist launcher had tranq darts to knock out her enemy. Her left wrist launcher had tiny flash bang grenades and a couple of UV bombs that Tony had specially designed for her on the rare occasion when she went hunting vampires. They were also good flash bombs to startle her enemy. Her right thigh holster had her throwing knives and at her left hip was a gun and extra clips. Steve and Natasha had wanted her to have a more modern weapon to use.
Her scythe was in its holster and once again, it would only come loose for her or Steve. Tony and Willow had added some extra oomph to the scythe and her gloves by copying the tech he'd given Steve and his shield. She could now call her weapon back to her if she dropped it or threw it. Willow had had to step in with some magical assist as Tony had found out the hard way that the scythe didn't want its mystical energy to be tampered with by modern technology. Along with calling her scythe to her with her gloves, she could also call Steve's shield to her if she needed to and vice versa. They were truly a dynamic duo.
Except for right now, though. Buffy and Steve were in the middle of an argument and neither of them was backing down. All the Slayers at Slayer HQ had been given trackers to wear on their wrists and were required to wear them at all times. Steve was highly opposed to it while Buffy thought it was a good idea to keep the girls safe. The trackers also functioned as personal panic buttons so if anything was wrong, they could activate an alarm and help would be on the way. While he agreed with the panic button, he didn't think they needed to be tracked. Some of the Slayers agreed with Steve and had refused to wear them, most of them citing that they weren't slaves to be monitored. Rona was one of them, of course.
"Seriously, Buff, how are you doing?" Natasha asked.
"Well, I'm in the compound. They've left some guards in here, but my tranq darts are working great. Hey JARVIS, can you verify Rona is close to my location?"
"There's a door fifteen feet ahead on your left, Miss Summers. There are holding cells there five floors down. Miss Clark should be there." JARVIS said.
"I'm sorry, but there's no tracker on her. I can't get her exact location."
"Now see, if she was wearing one, I could go right to her."
"Bet she's regretting that now." Natasha said. She was on Buffy's side of the argument.
"Probably." The only reason they knew Rona was here was because her partner had seen her get taken and had slipped away before they got her, too. Willow had managed to magically track Rona to this base.
"So, this radio silence between you and Cap," Barton said. "How long is this going to last?"
"It is very disconcerting." Thor said.
"Why is our argument even a topic of conversation?" Steve asked.
"It's kind of like when mommy and daddy are fighting and the kids are hiding in their rooms waiting for it to blow over." Tony said. "I don't want to hide in my room."
"You invented those trackers…."
Buffy ignored them as she took out two more guards and found the door JARVIS had mentioned. She walked over to it, but a force field stopped her. "Ow! Damn it!" She shook her hand where the shield had shocked her. "I can't get in the door."
"It must be covered by the shield." Tony said.
"Stark, we're going to need to get inside." Steve said.
"Captain America…. More like Captain Obvious." Buffy muttered.
"You're comm's still on, Buffy."
"I'm closing in, Summers." Tony appeared in front of Buffy just as more guards appeared around the corner. Buffy took on two of them as Tony shot them with energy from his gauntlets. "JARVIS, am I closing in?" He said as Buffy kicked the last of the guards over the railing to her left. "Do you see a power source for that shield?"
"I haven't seen anything beyond trees, snow, and unconscious bodies." Buffy said.
"There's a pathway below the north tower." JARVIS said.
"Great. I wanna poke it with something." Tony took off again, leaving Buffy standing there alone. There was a loud explosion near her and the shield shimmered in front of her. "Drawbridge is down, people!"
Buffy opened the door and headed down the stairs. She was almost out of tranq darts, so every guard she came across got knocked out the old-fashioned way. A holding cell finally came into view, but there was no one in it. "Guys, Rona isn't here."
"They knew you were coming." Tony said.
"They knew all of us were coming. Hence the welcoming party."
Tony hissed like a cat. "Reel in the claws, kitty. I'm not the one you're arguing with."
Steve appeared behind Buffy and she almost kicked him through a wall. "Whoa!" He backed up, holding his shield in front of him to protect himself.
Buffy let out a breath. "Damn it, Steve, you know you can't sneak up on me like that. I almost put you through a wall."
He took his helmet off. "Any sign of where Rona might be?"
"None. What do you want to bet that von Strucker has her wherever he is?"
"If he knew we were coming, then I'd bet you're right."
"How'd those words taste?"
Steve shot her a glare, but before he could respond, Tony said, "I'm at a computer bank. You guys find Strucker, I'll work on finding where they're hiding Loki's staff."
"Divide and conquer." Buffy said. "Solid plan."
"We're locked down out here." Natasha said.
"Then get to Banner." Steve said. "Time for a lullaby." He turned to Buffy, but she was already moving away. She was headed in the opposite direction that he had come in. There was a flight of stairs that led up and down. Buffy stepped into the stairwell and closed her eyes, reaching out with her senses to see if the Slayer in her could find the Slayer in Rona. Steve joined her a moment later and waited till she opened her eyes. "Anything?"
Buffy shook her head. "I can't find her."
"You found the others this way."
"Again with the Captain Obvious!" Buffy shook her head. "JARVIS, can you call Willow and see if she can get a more accurate position of Rona in this place?"
"Of course, Miss Summers." JARVIS said.
Buffy spotted two guards coming up behind Steve and she grabbed his shoulder, pushing him down as she shot her last tranq dart into one of them. Steve shot his leg out from his crouched position and caught the second guard in the shins. As he fell, Buffy grabbed him and flipped him over herself and Steve, knocking him out. Just then, Strucker came running up the stairs.
"Baron Strucker." Steve said, stopping the man in his tracks. "HYDRA's number one thug."
"Technically, I'm a thug for S.H.I.E.L.D." Strucker said.
"Then technically, you're unemployed."
Buffy sighed and grabbed Strucker by the neck, lifting him off the ground. She walked him over to the wall and slammed him against it. "Where's my Slayer?"
"Honey, anger." Steve said to her. Obviously he wanted a united front in front of the enemy.
"Honey, he's been experimenting on my girls. I get to show a little anger."
Steve shrugged. "Ok, but he's turning red."
"Oh, we don't need to start worrying until he turns purple. He's not there yet." Strucker started to hit her arms as he struggled to breathe. "Ok, that's just annoying. Stop that." She used her other hand to slap his hands away from her arm. "Look, I'm going to let you go and you're going to sing like a pretty little canary." She let Strucker go, but kept her hand pressed against his chest and pinning him to the wall so he didn't run. "Where is my Slayer, Strucker?"
He wheezed through his windpipe for a second. "I don't know what you're…."
"If you finish that sentence with 'talking about', you're going to have a broken nose. Where's Rona?"
Strucker sighed. "Very well. I know when I'm beat." Buffy noticed Strucker's eyes dart behind her quickly. She slammed him against the wall again and turned just in time to see a young girl with long brown hair throw her hands out. Mystical red light shot out from them and Steve went flying back down the stairs. Buffy was thrown into the opposite wall and away from Strucker. She got up and turned on the girl, but the girl disappeared behind the doors she came in through, slamming them behind her.
"What was that?" Steve asked.
"Definitely not Rona." Buffy said. "Guys, we've got an enhanced girl with magic hands. Don't engage." She turned back to Strucker. "One more time, Sparky. Where is my Slayer?" Strucker just smiled at her. "Whatever. Steve, you can have these honors." She headed down the stairs Strucker had come up.
Steve stomped on his shield. As it flew up, he kicked it into Strucker's face, knocking him out cold. "Guys, we got Strucker." He said.
"Yeah? I got something bigger." Tony said. He was silent for a moment before saying, "Thor, I've got eyes on the prize."
"Good. Grab it and get back to the jet." Buffy said. "I'm going to keep looking for Rona."
"I'll talk to some of the prisoners out here. See if they know her location." Natasha said.
"Thanks, Nat. JARVIS, any word from Willow?"
"She didn't answer her phone, Miss Summers. I left a message. I could try again."
"No, that's ok. We're here now and the place is clearing out. We'll find her. Tony, did you find anything that might lead us to Rona?" There was silence on the other end.
"Stark, did you copy?" Steve asked. He'd followed her down the stairs.
Buffy stopped and held up her hand, listening to something Steve couldn't hear at first. Finally, he heard what she heard. Someone was screaming for help below them. Buffy continued her run down the stairs, skipping whole flights as she sped up. After five flights, she rounded a corner to find a large room with lab equipment and a set of twin cells behind thick glass with Rona in one of them.
"Buffy?" Rona cried.
"Steve?" Buffy said, gesturing to the glass. He motioned for Rona to step back and threw his shield at the glass. It cracked, but didn't shatter. After a couple more throws, the glass finally broke and shards rained down between them and Rona.
"How are you here?" Rona asked as they helped her out of the cell.
"My day job. Can't you tell by the outfit?" Buffy shook her head. "I hope this teaches you a lesson. Those trackers are meant to protect you. We could've saved you a lot sooner if you'd had yours on."
Steve rolled his eyes, but chose to ignore the comment otherwise. "What did they do to you?"
The younger girl was covered in lacerations and bruises, but no extremities seemed to be missing. "I don't know." Rona allowed Buffy to sit her down on a chair they found. "I don't even know how long I've been here, Buffy. I wasn't always conscious and I can't tell if it's day or night."
"We need to get you back to the quinjet and get you checked out. Can you walk?"
"Yeah." Rona stood up.
"We've secured the base, so no one will be trying to stop us." Buffy said.
"Good. I don't feel up to fighting."
Buffy nodded and slipped an arm around Rona's waist, helping her to walk. "By the way, Rona, this is Steve. Steve, Rona."
"Sorry we're meeting under these circumstances." Steve said.
"It's all good." Rona said. "I'll be the envy of the girls back at HQ that Captain America helped rescue me."
On the quinjet back to New York, Rona had allowed Natasha to administer a sedative and she was sleeping peacefully in one of the seats. Barton was laid out on a stretcher. He'd been hit by an energy bolt in his torso. Bruce was sitting off in a corner by himself listening to music to keep him calm. Tony was driving the jet while Natasha wandered between Barton and Bruce. Buffy and Steve stood with Thor looking at Loki's staff.
"We'll get her on a plane back to London HQ as soon as Dr. Cho checks her out." Buffy said, gesturing at Rona.
"Her injuries seem minor." Thor said.
"Slayers heal quickly physically, but mentally…. There's no telling what they did to her."
"If she is half the Slayer you are, this will be but a passing nightmare."
"Thanks. I appreciate that. And also…. That kind of makes me worried at the same time."
"You don't think she'll be ok?" Steve asked.
"I think Rona has always had a problem dealing. She has a history of walking away from HQ whenever she doesn't agree with something. Like the tracker she should be wearing."
"Can we not have that argument right now? If she was tortured as bad as we think, she'll definitely have a problem dealing with this. Maybe we should bring Sam in to talk with her. He's good with PTSD cases."
"I think I'll let Dr. Cho check her out and then talk to Giles. Maybe a mind wipe is the way to go here."
"A mind wipe?" Thor asked.
"It's what we do for the girls who don't want to be Slayers. Willow learned how to take the Slayer energy back and wipe the girls' minds so they don't remember being Slayers."
"That's a bit extreme for Rona." Steve said. "She's been an active Slayer since the battle in Sunnydale. That would be twelve years of her life gone."
"I know that. I'll speak with Giles and see what he thinks is the best option."
"I don't think wiping her mind is the way to go."
"Maybe not. It was just the first thing that popped into my head."
"Thor, report on the Hulk." Natasha said from her seat in front of Bruce, cutting off any more argument between Buffy and Steve.
"The gates of hell are filled with the screams of his victims." Thor said confidently. Buffy nudged Thor with her shoulder as Natasha glared at him. "Uh…. But not the screams of the dead, of course. No, no…. Wounded screams. Mainly whimpering, uh a great deal of complaining…. Tales of sprained deltoids and, uh, gout…."
"Good job." Buffy patted Thor's arm.
"Hey Banner," Tony said. "Dr. Cho's on her way in from Seoul. Is it ok if she sets up in your lab?"
"Uh, yeah." Bruce said. "She knows her way around."
"Thanks. Tell her to prep everything. Barton's going to need the full treatment and the little Slayer needs some tending to as well."
"Very good, sir." JARVIS said. "Miss Summers, I've sent a quinjet to Slayer HQ in London and Mr. Giles is on his way now to retrieve Miss Clark."
"Thanks, JARVIS." Buffy said.
"You're welcome, Miss Summers."
"JARVIS, take the wheel." Tony backed out and walked over to join Buffy, Steve, and Thor. "Feels good, yeah? We've been after this thing since S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed. Not that I haven't enjoyed our little raiding parties."
"No, but this brings it to a close." Thor said.
"As soon as we find out what else this has been used for," Steve said. "And I don't just mean weapons. Since when is Strucker capable of human enhancement."
"Banner and I'll give it the once over before it goes back to Asgard." Tony said. "Is that cool with you? Just a few days till the farewell party. You're staying right?"
"Yes, yes…. Of course." Thor said. "Victory should be honored with revels."
"Yeah. Who doesn't love revels? Captain?"
"Hopefully this puts an end to the Chitauri and HYDRA." Steve said. "So, yes…. Revels."
"Summers, you down for revels?"
"Who doesn't love a good party?" Buffy retorted.
"Good." Tony and Steve walked off towards the front of the jet leaving Buffy with Thor.
"You and the Captain," Thor said. "The discord between you two is upsetting."
"I know. It is for me too."
"What exactly is the argument about?"
"He thinks the trackers on the Slayers are an invasion of privacy, but I don't see it that way. I'm just trying to make sure all the girls are safe. Especially with HYDRA using them for experiments."
"Can you not come to an agreement?"
"We will eventually. I get why he's so cautious about it. After everything HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. put us through, it's completely understandable that he doesn't want the girls tracked 24/7, but I can't see any other way."
"May I be of some service to you both in resolving this matter?"
Thor paused. "I'm not certain, but I will think of something." He gripped her shoulder and smiled reassuringly. "Fear not."
Buffy shook her head as he walked over to speak with Bruce. "Miss Summers," JARVIS said in her earpiece. "Your sister left you and Captain Rogers a message. Would you like me to play it back for you?"
"Very good. Playing message." Hey guys! I've got a couple of days off and I thought maybe the three of us could go out for dinner and drinks one night before the party. I haven't seen you guys in a while. Call me back. "That's the end of the message."
"Thanks." Buffy said.
"Would you like me to return the call?"
"Not right now. I'll call her when we land."
"Very good, Miss Summers."
Buffy walked to the very back of the jet and sat down on the floor, leaning back against the wall and closing her eyes. Dawn would be finishing up her residency soon and moving to Chicago. She'd gotten a job offer there and had decided it was the best course for her to follow. It was close to family and close to the guy she'd been seeing on and off since college. It amazed Buffy how much her little sister had grown up.
"We'll be landing soon." Steve said, walking over to Buffy.
"Good." Buffy nodded, not opening her eyes.
He sat down across from her and leaned back, mimicking her position. "I don't like to fight with you."
"You don't like being relegated to the guest bedroom."
"I don't like that either, no, but I want this argument over with because I miss you."
Buffy opened her eyes and sighed. In all honesty, she was tired of the argument too and wanted it over with. "I miss you, too."
"Can we sit down and talk without it turning into another yelling match?"
"I'm not promising that it won't, but I do want to talk. The rest of the team is getting weirded out by us fighting."
Steve chuckled. "I noticed."
She stopped him from getting to his feet. "Oh, hey, uh…. Dawn called. She wants to have dinner."
"That would be fun. I think we'll have some time while Stark and Banner work on the staff. Do you want to invite her to the party?"
"I think Tony already did."
The quinjet came in for a landing and Steve got to his feet. He held out his hand to Buffy and she allowed him to help her up. They got out of the way so Barton and Rona could be transported to the back. As soon as the back of the jet opened, Helen Cho's team came and collected the patients. Maria Hill came on as soon as everyone had cleared out. "Lab's all set up, boss." She said to Tony.
"Oh, actually they're the boss." Tony said, pointing at Buffy and Steve. "I just pay for everything…. Design everything…. Make everyone look cooler…."
"And we've thanked you for that about twelve hundred times, Tony." Buffy said.
"I thought beating up on bad guys and saving the day was a pick-me-up for you, Summers. Don't let Steve bring your mood down. He's just a crotchety old man."
"What's the word on Strucker?" Steve asked Maria, ignoring Tony.
"NATO's got him." Maria said.
"The two enhanced?"
"Wanda and Pietro Maximoff." She handed Buffy a tablet with a video loaded and ready to watch as they headed out of the jet. "Twins. Orphaned at 10 when a shell collapsed their apartment building. Sokovia's had a rough history. It's nowhere special, but it's on the way to everywhere special."
"What about their abilities?" Buffy asked.
"He's got increased metabolism and improved thermo-homeostasis. Her thing is nuero-electric interfacing, telekinesis, ento-manipulation…."
"And in the English speaking parts of the world that translates too…?"
"He's fast and she's weird."
"Aren't we all?"
"Well, they're gonna show up again." Steve said as the elevator door opened.
"Agreed. The file says they volunteered for Strucker's experiments. That's nuts."
"Right. What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on him to protect their country?"
"We're not at war, Captain."
"They are." The elevator doors closed and they began to descend. Buffy looked over at Steve and he gave her a crooked smile. "Do you think we need our suits, still?"
Buffy laughed slightly. "No. I think we can go civilian for our sit down. First, I need to check on Rona and talk to Giles since he'll be here soon."
"Ok. I'll check on Barton and join you when Giles gets here." The doors opened and they got off, heading for what Buffy had dubbed The Super Suit Suite.
Buffy and Steve sat across from each other at their dining room table in their apartment at Stark Tower. Their search for an apartment together outside of the tower had been halted, so all of the brochures and applications were on the table. They rarely had a chance to eat here, so the dining room had become their little apartment search hub.
The meeting with Giles hadn't been very smooth. Giles had suggested the mind wipe as well as the course of action for Rona's well being, but Steve had been thoroughly opposed to it. The whole thing had simmered until it began to boil over. Giles managed to calm everyone down by leaving the decision up to Rona. If she felt the mind wipe was what she wanted, then it would be her choice.
Now Buffy and Steve had retreated to their quarters and were going to try to hash out their differences on the trackers.
"We're not spying on them." Buffy insisted. "I don't care what they do in their private life. We're just keeping track of where they are to keep them safe."
"And what happens when someone decides to hunt Slayers again?" Steve asked. "To wipe them out one by one? It's happened before and now you've got the buffet line open and waiting for the next horrible thing that decides the Slayers need to be eliminated."
"Tony and Willow worked incredibly hard to make sure that system is safe. That there were multiple layers of protection to keep the information secret. They're the only two people in the entire world along with JARVIS that could hack their way into that information."
"Nothing is completely safe!"
He took a breath. "They have personal lives, Buffy. Families and friends that aren't a part of being a Slayer. The girls don't need to be tracked 24/7."
"A Slayer is always a Slayer whether or not they're with their families and friends. There's no days off. Bad guys don't schedule their plans with the good guys. If something was to happen to one of them when they're supposed to be off duty, how would we know to react? How would we have known about any of the girls that HYDRA took without those trackers? Rona was incredibly lucky that her partner saw her get taken and was able to escape getting taken herself."
"What about Willow and her…. Magic?" He was still a little put off by the fact that magic was real and that Willow could do some pretty insane things with it.
Buffy sighed. "Steve, all I want is for those girls to be safe. Or as safe as being a Slayer can be. Willow can't keep track of them magically all the time. That's too much on her. If I can put precautionary measures in to aide me in keeping those girls as safe as possible, I will."
Steve smacked the table with both hands and stood up. "We just keep going around and around and not getting anywhere!" He walked across the room and stared out the floor to ceiling windows. The view from here was amazing and they spent a lot of time in front of these windows.
She stood up and moved across the room, standing near him to look out over the city. "I think you think that I don't understand where you're coming from. But you're wrong. I know what it's like to be used and abused by a higher authority. More times than I should because fool me once…."
"I don't think that you don't understand. I know you do. I'm upset because I can't see how you can think it's a good idea after everything you've been through."
"It's the best idea I've got." Buffy turned to look up at Steve. "Tony wanted to microchip them so they'd have to always have it on. Angel, Giles, and Xander thought it was a good idea, too. Willow was on the fence, but I vetoed that idea. Adamantly. It's not fair to them. At least with the wrist bands, they can take them off when they want a break and we'll at least know their last known location if they get taken without it."
His brows drew together. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"Because as soon as I brought up the trackers, we were in an argument. I don't always fight fair and I was so pissed off at you for being so pissed off at me. I didn't want you to know that I had been thinking about it all along."
"I still don't like the idea of the trackers."
"I know what can go wrong with it, but it's the best thing I've got until we can come up with something better."
"Everyone." Buffy reached out and took Steve's hand. "Look, I'm sorry that I didn't include you on the tracker business. When Tony came up with the idea, he had already started working on it. He brought Willow in on it and they asked me what I thought. I may spend more time with the Avengers these days, but those still are my Slayers out there. My first priority is to keep them as safe as possible."
"I want them to be safe, too." He squeezed her hand. "They're a part of you, Buffy, and believe it or not, I care about them as well."
"I know you do."
"And I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have been so angry with you about it. I know that you're doing the best you can with them and I don't want to make that any harder on you."
"Why couldn't we have had this conversation earlier and saved us weeks of arguing?"
"Because we were in the midst of the HYDRA raids and didn't really have much of a chance to do anything else to calm us down from everything. And now that we have Loki's staff and we shut down one of HYDRA's biggest bases, a weight has been lifted off our chests and we can breathe again."
Steve nodded. "Makes sense." He looked down at her and turned so he could move closer. "So, the party that Tony's throwing can be a celebration that we're back on the right track?"
"Yes. I think it can."
"Can I take you out for a dinner beforehand? Just the two us?"
"I would love that."
"Come here." Steve pulled on her hand and she fell into his embrace. She laughed as he lifted her off her feet, swinging her around as he kissed her.