Pepper vs. the Fraternity (Wanted)
DISCLAIMER: see end of chapter
* * *
The ebony coffin shone in the sunlight. Pepper’s eyes wandered over the people at the service so she wouldn’t have to stare at the coffin. She thought she might throw up (again) if she kept looking at it, thinking about it. So she stared at the senators, ambassadors, military officers, and business partners that surrounded the gravesite.
Hundreds of people in attendance, and nobody else had known Tony. Not Tony the human being. All they knew was the image, the legend, the power he’d had that they wanted to use to advance their petty agendas. And she despised them all--even Rhodey, because he was there for the suit as much for Tony’s memory.
“...we commend to Almighty God our brother Anthony Edward Stark; and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Pepper jerked her attention back to the priest, then let her eyes bounce from face to face of the crowd again. Yes, she despised everyone there, herself most of all.
* * *
Three months ago:
“Tony, I think the Chicago thing might be premature.”
“I think we need to reevaluate what the effect of bringing two heavily unionized companies into our portfolio will be, middle- and long-term.”
Tony put his torx driver down on the workbench and swiveled around from the workbench to face her. “Pep, this is part of the new leaf.”
“Pepper, this is the right thing to do. Chicago. Expansion. Clean energy. Medical technology.” He took her hands in his.
Pepper felt her blood pulse through her body. She stared into Tony’s eyes, dimly aware that he had continued talking. “Wait, what?”
“I said, it will be a good move for us. A bold new step.”
“So, to be clear, you’re backing me on the Chicago acquisitions?”
“Yes, Tony.” She wondered if she sounded as breathless as she felt.
* * *
Pepper stood and adjusted her black sun hat with the annoying veil. At least she didn’t have to fight her sensible heels on the cemetery lawn. Four of SI’s best security people formed up around her as Pepper started towards the car.
Pepper knew the workplace relationship clichés, had heard all the rumors, seen the freaking skit on SNL. But Tony had needed someone so badly. Someone who wasn’t his mentor, or stockholder, or floozy of the week. So she had poured her heart and soul into not just helping him, but trying to help realize his visions, to help him be a better person. And now? Regret over so many missed opportunities and so many things left unsaid.
To top it off, he had willed her the company. She had a controlling interest in Stark Industries. She—Virginia Potts—was the majority shareholder in the leading clean-energy tech company on the planet. And not just the stock: he had named her as interim CEO. The board was going to flip! They were looking for someone like Obadiah.
Pepper focused on the present again when someone blocked her retinue. She looked at the unassuming man in black and felt her blood pressure rise.
“Miss Potts, I know it’s not a good time-”
“Not now, Coulson.”
“Miss Potts, concerning the suits-”
“I said not now!” Pepper strode around Coulson and her bodyguards hurried to keep pace.
* * *
Pepper had grown up in the 80s; she knew the whole Japanese ‘business is war’ shtick. And everyone knew about Chicago’s history of violence and organized crime, but she had never expected work-related violence now that Obadiah was gone. Now, two executions in as many weeks, tied to the Stark Industries expansion into the Chicagoland area.
First the head of a medium-sized electronics firm, who provided great quality control and reasonable prices despite the union, was shot—apparently from a moving L train. Then the president of a medical equipment development company was executed while commuting to work in a bulletproof limousine. Shot through the open sunroof, forensics said.
The two companies that SI had been working to acquire had both been thrown into disarray with their corporate heads murdered. Civic leaders were up in arms and the media had a field day with it. Pepper was stressed beyond belief, while Tony...
* * *
10 days ago:
“Tony, don’t go.”
“I’ve got to. This guy, Pekwarsky, says he has information for me about the murders.”
“Please, I’m begging you, don’t go.”
“Don’t worry, Pepper. Besides, you know what a careful guy I am.” Tony smiled at her and laid out his miniature hand-repulsor next to his briefcase.
“Don’t go quoting Harrison Ford at me, mister! Can’t you take some of the Strategic Homeland guys?”
“SHIELD? No, Pep. If this Pekwarsky guy sees a Fed like Coulson, he’s gone. And I need this info. The assassin is targeting Stark Industries, so it’s personal.”
“I just want you to promise me you’ll be careful.
Tony grinned. “For you, I’ll be extra careful.”
“Tony...” Pepper reached out a hand and cupped the side of his face.
“We’ll talk when I get back. Not about work, not about the company. About you and me.”
* * *
And now Tony was dead, murdered by some punk kid. Happy was in the hospital, in critical but stable condition from the train wreck that had been caused by a shootout between the kid with a gun and Tony, without armor, just a stupid mini-repulsor.
Pepper—finally—had a name. The Fraternity. The file from Pekwarsky recovered from Tony’s body (too little, too late) said somebody had turned loose an ancient cult of assassins because they didn’t want Stark Industries in Chicago.
She’d gone through the data with JARVIS and it looked like AIM was the most likely candidate to hire the Fraternity. But for a 21st century organization of assassins, the Fraternity was surprisingly low tech. JARVIS said they had only one computer on-site, and it was not networked. So someone had to go into the fortress of a bunch of assassins and access the computer in person.
“Miss Potts, the new suit is ready,” JARVIS said.
Pepper closed the files and stood up from the terminal in the workshop. “JARVIS, import all my preferences from the house computer and the simulator into the Rescue suit."
She’s Pepper Effing Potts and she’s going to crush the Fraternity. And when she finds out who hired them she’s going to destroy them, too.
* * *
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thomas Clarke’s vision of Pepper suited up
was my motivation for this part.
DISCLAIMER: Iron Man is property of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby. Wanted is property of Marc Platt, Jason Netter, Iain Smith, Jim Lemley, Chris Morgan, Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Mark Millar, J. G. Jones.