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05/14/2019 10:25 PM 

Bitter Pill

Bitter Pill
It had been a year since Tony returned to Earth and walked away from the Avengers Compound.   The Earth was still in chaos because half of the population was gone.   Vast cities that were bustling metropolises were barely even able to keep the streets clean.  Cars were littered all over the place.  Garbage lay over the streets unmolested since the snap had removed half of the world from existence.

Some recovery efforts had been underway.  In cities like New York and San Francisco, there were vast memorials being erected to the memories of the missing.  Mourning was the general mood of the world at large.   The fact that the Avengers lost stung the world bitterly.  Was there enough strength to even go on?  Was Pepper fooling herself that they could even attempt such a thing?

Days like this made Pepper Potts draw on inner reserves that she’d not even known existed.   The fact that Tony was back did wonders for her own personal strength levels, but he was just a shell of himself.  He barely even talked to her. He withdrew from everything even more than before.   She worried about him a great deal.   Pepper was thankful that Captain Marvel brought him home.  Now if she could just get that old gleam back in his eye, she’d feel like everything was substantially better.  For now, all they were doing was existing.   She stayed with him in the cabin because she didn’t want him to be alone.  In all honesty, she didn’t want to be alone either.

On this particular morning, she stood in front of the mirror looking back at her reflection.  She was haggard from all the stress over the past year, but someone had to pick up and move on with what was left of Stark Industries.   Slowly she pulled together her ginger locks behind her head into an acceptable bun.   She was dressed smartly in an ivory blouse and an ebony pencil skirt.  Her matching pumps made her stand higher than she normally did.  She inhaled sharply looking at her reflection as she lingered for a bit longer.  Did she really have the strength to do this?  She had no time to answer that question because the sounds of a helicopter filled the air.   She knew who that would be and she was ready.   Moments later she heard the sound of a knock at the door.   “Come on in Happy!”  She shouted.  Pepper never went anywhere without keeping Happy in the loop.

The steps of Tony’s oldest friend opened the door and walked inside.  “Your ride is here Pep.  You want me to come with, or no?”   Happy looked even more haggard than  Pepper did.  He had streaks of gray that were developing in his hair and at his temples.  There was the shadow of a beard trying to come along in the process too.  Chin stubble even had some flecks of gray.  

Pepper greeted the man with a hug soon picking up her handbag and her mobile.  “No.  Stay here.  I don’t really want him left alone.  Somebody has to go and it should be me.”   She was still technically the CEO of Stark Industries, so she had to make this appearance.   “And the world goes on.”  Pepper whispered to herself as she glanced down at nothing in particular.   She rose her gaze to meet Happy’s again with a sad little smile on her face.   “I’m not even sure where he is right now.  I just know he’s here.  He barely even sleeps and refuses to even talk about anything that happened.  See what you can do Happy.”   She pled with him silently.

His smile was just as gentle.  “Sure thing Pep.  Now you best go.  The board members are anxious to hear something from you.  I got him.  I promise.”  There was genuine concern in the man’s eyes for Tony.  For the longest time it was just Happy and Tony before Pepper even came along.  She was relieved he was here.   Pepper said nothing else.  She simply exited the cabin and climbed aboard the helicopter. Watching from the helicopter, she watched as the cabin grew smaller.  She hated leaving Tony like this, but she had to go.  This was a new world and someone had to pave the way for the way things were now.  Reconstruction was going to take time.  It seemed that time was all that they had anymore.

++++++

Arriving at the Helipad at Stark Industries, Pepper was greeted by a man who worked under Happy.   She was lead inside to the conference room.   Half the members of The Stark Board were gone.  She naturally knew that half of the people had disappeared in the world because of what had happened.  Just seeing it here in the Stark boardroom made Pepper face a hard cold reality of what the world was like outside of Tony’s sanctuary in the woods.     She greeted the board members who were all gently smiling.  They were polite to Pepper.  She could feel that stifling propriety of the room.  She responded with her  typical professionalism and demeanor.  

After a few moments of those greetings between the men and women in the room, Pepper decided to take charge as she always did.  “Please, ladies and gentlemen.  We do have a lot to talk about in terms of the future.  Please have a seat, everyone.”   She laid aside her handbag and her mobile.   “With everyone still reeling over what happened, it’s up to us to stand up and start to bring calm back to the populace.”

A silent younger voice came from the rear of the room.  “A world that Stark and the Avengers destroyed on us?”    The voice was cold, calculating and oddly familiar.   Pepper focused in on the young man who had brown hair and steely orbs.   “It’s up to Stark Industries to clean up the mess that he made?  Haven’t we done that already?”

Pepper narrowed her gaze at the young man she’d never met before.  “Yes, it’s true that Stark did pick up the tab especially after the Chitauri Invasion.  The rebuilding of the city was not an inexpensive ordeal Mister-?  I don’t believe we’ve met before.”

The smile gave Pepper a cold chill.  It was one she’d seen before.   Her emerald hues widened when she realized exactly who it was she was in the room with for the first time in ten years.   He couldn’t help but answer with a sarcastic tone.  “I see you finally remember who I am, Ms Potts.  It‘s been a long time.”

The other board members there were looking back at Pepper quizzically and back at the young man.  One of the older men in the room asked a question of Pepper.  “Ms. Potts, who is this young man?”

He stood slowly to his feet.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Ezekiel Stane and it’s time for a hostile takeover.”   He rose his right hand slowly.  In that hand was a small device that began to glow an electric blue.   “Now all of you, get out!  Ms Potts and I have some catching up to do.”

Pepper remained seated as Zeke’s order was followed to the letter.   She remained calm and focused on the young man in front of her that she knew to be the son of the man that she and Tony took down ten years prior.   “Ezekiel, please we can surely be rational about everything.”

Once the last board members were escorted out of the room, Zeke started to laugh at Pepper.  “Rational?  Was it rational when you and Stark destroyed my father?  Was it reasonable when my father had a company that he built and nurtured to be taken from him by a man who had suddenly had an attack of conscience?   The time for talk is long gone, Ms Potts.  It’s time for a few scores to be settled.”

++++++

An urgent message came across Happy’s mobile where he was with Tony.   He took one look at the message and felt his entire countenance turn a ghostly pale.   He didn’t want to show this to Tony, so he tried to hide it.

A man named Ezekiel Stane is in the board room at Stark.  He’s holding Ms. Potts hostage.  He‘s demanding to see Mr. Stark too.  Please Mr. Hogan.  What do we do?

"I am trying to do the job that you were meant to do."
credit: james kriet

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