The tiny niggling worry in the back of Pepper’s brain burst forth at the sight of ‘Natalie Rushman’ reporting for work. If SHIELD was so worried about Tony’s disappearance that they were re-activating an old cover for the Black Widow to be playing bodyguard, Tony could be dead and the Iron Man suit could be in anyone’s possession. Thankfully, Nat acted as if nothing was wrong, so Pepper could compartmentalize JARVIS’s inability to pinpoint Tony’s last known whereabouts and concentrate on Stark Industries.
Be that as it may, when Natalie escorted a tiny, well-dressed blonde into Pepper’s office without an appointment, the CEO’s first thought was, “Tony?”
“Alive,” the woman grumbled as she sat in the visitor’s chair uninvited. The Widow leaned against the front edge of Pepper’s desk facing the stranger. It looked casual, but it was so out of character for Natalie Rushman’s created profile that Pepper knew that this woman was a lot more dangerous that she appeared. The Widow was making herself a physical barrier between the stranger and Pepper. The woman pulled an iPad out of her purse, activated it and handed it to the Widow. Nat accepted it, glanced at the screen and handed it back to Pepper, only taking her eyes off the stranger for that split second. Pepper’s breath caught when she saw Tony hooked up to machines and tubes, but breathing on his own. “He’s in our infirmary. We brought him home during battle clean-up.” For that act alone, Pepper would offer her as many Stark computers as she wanted, below cost.
“Tell me where to land the plane and I’ll take him off your hands immediately,” Pepper offered.
“Do you have a treatment for Ryrrvech venom?” The woman sounded annoyed at the rhetorical question.
Pepper had never heard of such a thing, but surely the best doctors that she could buy would be able to…
Nat spoke. “I was unaware that an effective counter agent existed.” If the Widow didn’t know than SHIELD didn’t know…
“It helps that he’s a magic-null like his father.”
Pepper blinked at the information. Magic-null? And this woman would not have been born before Howard Stark died. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Buffy Summers,” Nat introduced, “Virginia Potts, power of attorney for Tony Stark. Pepper, Ms. Summers is the battlefield leader of an organization based in England.”
Pepper wasted a moment on Ms. Summers’ decidedly American accent. “Ms. Summers, thank you for rescuing Tony, any bills accrued should be sent directly to me.”
“The dumb-ass injected himself into a fight that he didn’t understand and nearly got one of my people killed.”
Pepper refused to wince at typical Tony. This was going to be expensive. “Yes, well.”
Summers wasn’t done. “He also distracted the enemy long enough that one of my squads wasn’t completely obliterated. The one who saved his ass got hurt and is asking for a Stark party when both of them are up to it.”
Pepper blinked, waiting for more demands. When none were forthcoming, she leaned forward with a genuine smile. “Of course, where would be most convenient for you, Malibu? Or England?” she guessed based on JARVIS’ calculations.
Summers wrinkled her nose. It was so unprofessional that Pepper ignored it for later. “Faith will want to show some skin and it’s cold in England this month, so Malibu.”
“Wonderful. The thirtieth?”
Summers nodded and stood. “Sure. You’ll get Tony and his suit back in two weeks. Natasha, SHIELD is not invited to the party. Make sure Fury knows it.”
Pepper wasn’t terribly surprised that Summers knew the Widow’s true name, occupation and boss. “I’ll have several Stark jets waiting in Heathrow for all of our guests on the twenty-ninth,” she offered.
“Works for me.” She leaned over Pepper’s desk to shake hands and Nat stilled ever so much. Pepper ignored the implied threat assessment and gave Summers an honest smile.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you.”
“About the suit,” Pepper began. After all it was a dangerous weapon and the intellectual property of Stark Industries.
Summers shook her head. “It’s as much about your protection as Andrew’s geeking out. We’re still trying to get all of the venom off it. A second exposure could kill Stark.”
Pepper opened her mouth to argue, but Nat shook her head slightly. SHIELD wasn’t worried about it being left in Summers’ hands for an extended time period. They could trust Summers or they could trust Tony’s computer security.
“Very well. Please do send me a bill. I am well aware of the cost of hazardous clean-up.”
Summers agreed before leaving. She was barely out the door before Pepper grabbed the two nearest tumblers and Natasha’s preferred vodka. “Start talking,” she ordered.