Paper clips are very handy!
Tony walked into Pepper's room at twenty past three. She raised her eyebrows at his attire. He didn't not kid when he said he wanted to "make Maria feel at home." He was wearing a black shirt, black leather pants and a black leather overcoat. He was also really wearing an eye patch covering over his left eye. She was just thankful he didn't shave his head to get the complete look. Her on-and-off-Tony-induced-affair-with-migraine had resumed. "It's the first time you're early for a meeting ever. We should hire more high-ranking ex-SHIELD agents so you can turn up to meetings."
"Really? Who else? Do you want to hire Steve and Clint? I can't wait to be their boss." Seeing Pepper's astonished look, he said, "Oh, you were just being sarcastic." He dragged a chair and sat at the right side of Pepper.
"What are you doing?"
"Being your right hand man."
"Could you please just let me lead the interview? You just observe. Please don't mess this up! I really don't want you to leave this room in a body bag or several."
"Relax, Pepper. Maria can't kill me. She's a civilian now so she has no license to kill. Besides, if she tries something, l'll just call the Iron Man armor to protect me." He patted the suitcase next to him. She just noticed his bracelets. "I'm safe."
"Well, don't tell me that I didn't warn you. Now, please be quiet as I need to read this report."
Thankfully, Tony complied.
A few minutes later, Happy knocked, came in, and announced, "Ms. Pepper, your half-past-three-appointment has arrived."
Maria Hill walked in with her head held high. She looked stunning and intimidating at the same time in her dark-three-piece-suit and five-inch-stiletto-heels. Pepper rose up to shake her hands. "Thank you for coming, Maria."
"Thanks for having me, Pepper. What's he doing here? I thought our interview was going to be one on one." Only Maria could insert disgust and contempt in a very polite tone. Pepper needed to learn that trick from her.
"Oh, he's just observing. I told him that he needed to learn to interview, can't just leave it all to me." Maria raised her eyebrow and even Pepper herself couldn't believe what she said. She kicked Tony's chair and hissed, "Rise and shake Maria's hand."
Tony quickly rose and shook Maria's hand with both hands vigorously. "Welcome to the Stark Industries, Agent Hill."
Maria stared at Tony's eye patch then hid a smile. She pulled her hand from Tony's grasp. "I'm not an agent anymore in case you forget. Maria is sufficient." Pepper was surprised that she let Tony call her Maria. She guessed it would be weird if she addressed her Maria and Tony Ms. Hill.
Maria continued, "Mr Stark, I'm sorry that you had an accident with your left eye. I hope it heals soon. It'll be hard to operate the Iron Man suit with only one eye."
Tony was bewildered and reached out to touch his left eye. He just remembered about the eye patch. "Oh this, yes, very unfortunate. Dummy sprayed some gas into my eye. Doctor said it should be OK in a few days."
"Well, at least Dummy spared your right eye. Very considerate of him."
If only looks could kill, both Tony and Maria would be dead by now. Pepper quickly said, "Please have a seat, Maria. Do you need any refreshment?"
Pepper sat and pressed a buzzer and ordered the drink. She glanced to her right and saw Tony cross both hands behind his head and leaned back on her chair looking like he owned the place, which of course he did. She could feel tension in between her neck and shoulders so she drew deep breaths a few times as taught by her yoga instructor.
"Let's start. Why are you interested in Stark Industries?"
"Well, to be honest, with my skill sets, my options are CIA, FBI, or NSA. I think they're very suspicious that I may be HYDRA. So my options are private industries. Stark Industries being the leader, of course, is very enticing."
Tony looked very pleased with that. He asked, "May I know what you skill sets are?"
"I believe those have been listed in the CV I submitted to Pepper. I could command a team. I work well under pressure. I think outside the box. I…"
"No, not those boring skills. Could you kill a man with a spoon? Natasha has threatened me a few times. I'm not sure whether she could but I'm not that curious to find out."
Maria replied, "I don't think that question is relevant to the job that I'm applying for. I'll just give you a few hints. Paper clips, rubber bands, or toothbrushes work fine, too." She smiled and picked up a paper clip from the table.
Tony blanched and drew his chair a few inches back. "Your turn, Pep."
Pepper smiled. To think that she worried about Maria. She should have been more worried about Tony's health.
"Why should we choose you rather than other candidates for this role?"
"I've been working in a large organization where chaos is the nature." She smiled benignly at Tony. "I've the ability to observe what need to be done and give suggestions accordingly. I'm willing to stand my ground even if it's against the common norm. From what I heard about your interaction with your previous shareholders," this time she smiled at Pepper, "you need someone who is not afraid to go against the tide as long as I stand by my beliefs."
Pepper remembered her time with Obadiah Stane and nodded. She added, "Besides, paper clips help."
"Indeed. In fact, I can teach you a few skills using paper clips if you're interested. I promise you they're very handy."
Tony yelled, "Hell, no! Not you too, Pepper. It's bad enough that I live with two master assassins in the tower. The red head could kill me in 100 ways just using a spoon. I don't need another master assassin in the office. If you have the skills, Pepper, I won't be safe even in your office or in the bed..." Pepper coughed. "… In the boardroom or anywhere else."
Maria asked, "I'm confused why you're so worried. I just meant I can teach her how to fix paper jams and how to adjust an office chair using paper clips."
Tony stared at her incredulously. "Don't tell me that SHIELD had paper jams! You guys are like robots."
"Well, we did have paper jams more than I'd like to admit. Since SHIELD is no more, I guess it's OK to say it. I can show you both how to fix it now if you want me to."
Pepper quickly interrupted, "There is no need."
Maria smiled. "OK, next time then. And Mr Stark, there're actually 127 ways, not 100."
Thankfully, there was a knock on the door. Pepper asked the person to come in. Happy brought a tray. He put water in front of Maria, coffee for Pepper and to Pepper's chagrin, a bottle of beer for Tony.
Tony patted him on his shoulder. "You're the best!"
Happy walked out.
Pepper asked, "Isn't it too early for beer ? And at an interview?"
"Relax, Pep, It's already past 5 o'clock somewhere in the world. It's only one beer, I won't get drunk. Besides, I'm not the one being interviewed."
Pepper saw a lost cause when she saw one. She directed her gaze at Maria. "Let's continue. What do you think are your weaknesses?"
"Well, people say that I'm stickler for the rules. As I said before, it's not really the rules but what I think is right, which of course is not easy in this time to decide. I really don't know how to fix this but I don't think this weakness needs fixing. People say I'm not friendly enough or don't have a sense of humor." Maria looked at Tony when she said that. Pepper was not surprised that Tony suppressed a giggle, she shook her head. "However, if you want people with a sense of humor or friendly, then I'm not really suitable for this job in the first place. Some people say my drawing sucks but it's neither here nor there as you aren't hiring me for my drawing skills."
Pepper couldn't really disagree with her points as those were a few of the reasons she trusted Maria in the first place. "I guess as long as we don't ask you to draw then we're safe."
Tony asked, "What did you draw? Was it that bad? So you're human after all."
Pepper would like to put her face to her palms if she were not the CEO. "Please ignore him, Maria. We in the Stark Industries usually do unless we need his signatures."
Tony said, "Hey!"
Pepper ignored him. "What are your short term and long term plans with Stark Industries?"
"My short term plans are to get contracts for Stark Industries with all these government organizations. I know you're the leader in term of technology but I know slightly more about the ins and outs of these government organizations. I haven't worked out my long term plans but most likely I would build a team to check on credibility of our clients even if they're part of the government."
Pepper raised her eyebrows. "Can you actually do that?"
Maria smiled again. "Yes, it might not be too legal but don't worry, I'll stick to the law, at least the letter of the law."
To think she had no sense of humor… Pepper could see why she had risen to the position of Deputy Director of SHIELD after merely a few years of joining. She was practically the right hand woman for Fury. Even Tony was impressed given he opened his mouth slightly and hadn't closed it.
"Well, no more questions from me but I think you may want to ask me questions instead."
"Not so fast," Tony quickly interrupted. "I have a few questions of my own."
"Tony, I've heard what I need to know from the interview. There is no need!"
"But Pep, I want to test how quick Maria thinks on the spot."
"I know how well she does that. She survived SHIELD for so long."
"But Pep, I prepared some questions."
Pepper looked apologetically at Maria. "You can ignore him. Do you have any questions for me?"
"That's OK, Pepper. I don't mind answering a few questions from Mr Stark."
"There is no need to. It's enough for me."
"I want to get the job based on my own merits, not from some connection with people in higher places so I'm really fine answering his questions."
"Your interview answers are enough for my decision."
"That's really fine, I can answer his questions."
"OK, don't say I didn't warn you." Pepper whispered, "Your funeral," under her breath. She was sure Maria heard it because she actually smiled and sat up straighter.
Tony rubbed his hands and his eyes had this mischievous glint that Pepper recognize too well. She looked at Maria and surprisingly Maria also had the posture of preparing to strike, quite literally for her case, for any challenges Tony threw. She seemed to be measuring Tony. Oh no, this can't be good!
Then quite suddenly Maria relaxed. She said, "Let me drink my water first." She moved her chair forward and bumped into Tony's suitcase. She quickly straightened the suitcase up. "I'm so sorry, Mr Stark." She then picked up the water and drank.
She seemed to take a deliberate time to finish her water. She then finally put her glass down and faced Tony. "I'm ready!"
Pepper thought it looked like watching a matador and a bull but she wasn't sure who the matador was. It really would end in tears.
"Thanks for being willing to answer my questions. First question, Thor and Hulk were in a fight. Who would win?"
This time, Pepper really put her head on her palms and her migraine was back with a vengeance.