Post Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Of course, he would attend that one meeting that she’d rather have him avoid.
The last thing Tony needed was the Board telling him how Stark Industries should have stayed away from anything S.H.I.E.L.D. The recent S.H.I.E.L.D=HYDRA reveal had hit Tony hard. She had hardly seen him for days as he went through every bit of data dumped in the internet. They had spent the last couple of days rooting out all unsavoury individuals from the company and had every employee vetted. This had led to removal of certain key personnel from the company which the Board did not take too well. However they had a bigger bone to pick with her when they realized that Stark had become the unofficial asylum for the homeless S.H.I.E.L.D agents, curtsey of Maria Hill and Tony’s endeavour to privatize world security. The following ‘discussion’ with the Board had been loud, unpleasant and had left her feeling distressed. It had been a long time since she had felt the Board to be only a business- minded, market- grabbing entity.
True, S.H.I.E.L.D had failed the world and Tony had been right not to trust the organization in the first place- that part being affirmed by Hill’s “the deaths of Director Fury and Agent Coulson were highly exaggerated” statement- but the idea had been global protection which was still alive- as proven by all those agents who rallied against HYDRA. The mess left behind needed to be cleared up and they all had a role to play however unpleasant it may seem. She realized Tony took it personally due to his father’s connections with S.H.I.E.L.D and for that she had been hoping to tide away this meeting without him being present. The Board’s adverse demeanour would only make the matters worse.
But there he was, presiding over the meeting diligently, allowing every member to vent and rant without any objection. He gave her a smile when he realized she was watching him. Her man had a plan, the Board was probably digging their own grave. She made herself comfortable on her chair and decided to simply watch it play out- the days wherein Tony Stark decided to attend meeting without external force were- to put in polite terms, explosive.
“… and moreover hiring these thugs without consultation is plain and simple lunacy. Is our HR department a decoration? Have we stooped so low that you are employing criminals now? We may have agreed with the appointment of Ms. Potts as the C.E.O but don’t forget whose name is on the building. It’s the Stark reputation at stake here!” snapped Mr. Wright shooting an ugly look at Pepper’s direction.
Tony leaned back, expression pensive, “Would you like a glass of water Paul? That was quite a speech you gave there.”
Paul Wright sputtered indignantly, “Speech? Those are legitimate concerns of…”
“Yes, Yes concerns. I get you. I was just being polite,” Tony interrupted, “However, moving on. I believe the Board has listed out the concerns regarding our association with S.H.I.E.L.D and the direction of our company is taking in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D’s demise. I’d like to address your grievances and all I ask from you is that you allow me speak without any interruptions. Any queries, suggestion or rebuttals will be taken up after I’ve said my part,” Tony said gravely.
“Let’s start with our previous business dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D. They were as we all know good business. We took a contract, fulfilled it and were paid handsomely for our work. It is a pain to see that work in the wrong hands. I had sworn after Afghanistan that we were done supplying weapons to the wrong hands. However it seems our judgement has been erred and we find ourselves in the same place as we were all those years ago. We may not have made the guns, but we did make the engines that carried them. We have our Legal department looking into the contracts which when produce before any concerned party will show that Stark Industries supplied non lethal technical know- how to S.H.I.E.L.D who on paper was a global security organization. I can assure you that there won’t be a backlash from our dealings with S.H.I.E.L.D. This is my personal assurance to you. If anyone is still not satisfied, let me remind you that it was this Board that agreed to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s contract stating and I quote, “we may have stopped weapons manufacture, but with S.H.I.E.L.D we can ensure high quality defence tech for the world. This is way much bigger than the US Army. ” Oh and not to mention the revenue generated from S.H.I.E.L.D which you all have the details of,” Tony said in a firm voice.
“Moving on, my father Howard Stark was a part of SSR. He was there to see the atrocities committed by HYDRA during WWII. So if I find any HYDRA sympathizing employee no matter how high up or important; they leave. This matter is not open for discussion,” he continued. “As for employing former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents; it will be done by Ms. Potts. Inputs from HR will be entertained only when asked for. Frankly speaking, I am all for getting rid of the HR department because they were the ones who allowed HYDRA sleeper agents into our company. So as I see it, our HR is made of highly incompetent people and in this delicate situation the only person I place my full trust on is Pepper Potts. Her decision is final.” Tony caught Pepper’s eye and extended a slight nod.
“And those ‘criminals’ as you put it, those agents were the ones who fought against HYDRA and are now without a job, home and security for doing the right thing. Dad was one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s pioneers and by taking those agents in I am making sure that all of Dad’s hard work is not going down the drain. S.H.I.E.L.D was formed for protection and now when the protectors need protection we are not going to step back. The world needs S.H.I.E.L.D just like it needs the Avengers. They are not going anywhere. There are unknown threats out there and with S.H.I.E.L.D gone those who are in any position to help are going to have to do their part. You are right it’s my name out there not Wright’s or Collins’ or Chen’s and I say that this is Stark Industries new direction. We take responsibility. After all we did supply them with the tech, didn't we? I believe Ms. Potts already had this discussion with you. You should have listened to our C.E.O. You forget this very Board had approved her position and over the years her work and expertise have never steered us wrong. And yet you accuse her of not thinking for the best interest of our company. Do bear in mind while she may not have the Stark name yet, there is no one in this room more eligible to run the company than Pepper Potts. Her work speaks for herself and she deserves your complete respect. Those who understand and are willing to work for our vision, they will always have a place at Stark. However if you find yourself unwilling to go down this path; then our journey ends here. Stark Industries will be branching out towards privatizing global security and if in this process I have to liquidate the mother company, I won’t hesitate.”
Tony looked around at the stunned faces of the Board members. “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe you have a lot to think about. Take the day. We shall meet again tomorrow; same time and you can let us know of your decision. ”
With that Tony hopped off his chair, offered Pepper his arm and walked out the door leaving behind a room full of statues.
They ended up having lunch in Pepper’s office.
Tony brushed bread crumbs out of his goatee and asked, “Think it’ll work? Or are we going to have to start afresh?”
“Let’s hope so. You have given them a lot to think about and they are good people after all. Things worked out after Afghanistan didn't they?” Pepper replied leaning back against the cushions.
“This is bigger than Afghanistan Pep,” sighed Tony. He ran his fingers through his hair till Pepper pulled them free and linked their fingers together. “This time there are more people working towards a common goal. It will work out. We have to believe in our vision,” she consoled.
They ate in silence till Pepper poked at him.
“You said yet.”
“Huh?” Tony asked straw dangling from his lips.
“In there you said I may not have the Stark name yet.”
He stared at her. “We can hyphenate?” he finally supplied.
“Tony!” came the indignant cry.
“You want to keep Potts?” he asked helplessly.
“Are you proposing?”
“Do you want me to?”
Blink- Lost. Blink- Confused.
“You started it. Saying stuff like that in a Board meeting,” Pepper exclaimed.
“Ok. Ok. So I proposed, I think?”
“You think? How can you-”
“Hey it’s not like I’ve had tons of experience in this proposing thing!” Tony faltered when Pepper glared at him. “Which, is a good thing,” he smiled sheepishly.
Pepper groaned and hid her face in her hands.
Tony nudged her. When she didn’t respond, he tugged at her hands. “Hey Honey, look up would you. I got you something.”
Pepper peered through her fingers, “What?”
“It’s your ring,” he said dangling it in front of her.
“Tony it’s a key ring.”
“We’ll buy the rings together. Former experiences suggest it’s safer that way- Meanwhile, you can have your engagement present,” he smiled.
Surprised, Pepper reached out her hand; only to have Tony say, “I think you have to say yes first.”
“Did you think I’d say no?” she asked shrewdly.
“If you were sane,” he smirked.
“I’m sure my sanity gave up a long time ago and I would not have it any other way,” she said fondly.
“That’s yes enough for me,” Tony smiled as he placed the keys in her hand. “Here’s the keys to your new stable,” he said with a flourish.
“You bought me a stable?”
“Only a horse. Why? Did you want a stable full of them?” Did he mess up again? How many four- legged steeds did you need?
“You bought me a horse? As an engagement present?”
“Didn’t you once tell Barton that you always wanted a horse when you were a kid?”
“So you got me a horse?” and she threw her had back and laughed. “Oh Tony,” she smiled as she cuddled up to him and pressed a kiss on his lips, “Best present ever!”
“Thank god!” Came Tony’s relived sigh as he wrapped his arms around her, “We’re engaged.”
“Yes Tony, yes we are.”