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A New Strategy

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            Tony sat on the lumpy old couch in his lab sipping a snifter of scotch as he stared at the Avengers going about their day on the security feed that linked directly to the lab.  The witch sat smiling shyly as she leaned over and took something off the Vision’s plate.  Tony sighed in disgust.  Vision had helped defeat Ultron, but the loss of Jarvis sat heavily on Tony’s shoulders, and watching as he flirted with the monster that ultimately led to Jarvis’s sacrifice—well, if he could take it back, he might have done so.

            “Friday, give me sound for the moment,” Tony said, swirling the liquor around in the crystal glass before gulping the rest of it down.

            Laughter filled the lab, breaking the intense silence that had reigned for the last three weeks.

            “No seriously, when do we break into the lab to make sure he’s ok,” Sam asked, once the laughter had stopped.

            “Who cares,” the witch muttered with a shrug as she dropped a piece of bread in the toaster.  Tony laughed when a visible shock struck the brat causing her to yelp.  Friday was already as protective as Jarvis had been, and just a bit more vindictive.

            “We’ll get Stark to look at that,” Clint reassured the woman as she sucked on her fingers.

            “Tony needs time to lick his wounds,” Widow said simply, sipping her juice.

            “Yeah, well, that seems a bit dangerous according to precedent,” Clint muttered, cutting his omelet.

            Rhodes strode into the compound kitchen dressed smartly in his dress uniform, not pausing as he smacked the backside of Clint’s head.

            “You know he can likely hear every derogatory thing you’re saying in HIS compound, Clint?  And in case you’ve forgotten, until a serious case of PTSD that his teammates completely ignored--where’s your vaunted profiling skills now, Widow—and some tinkering from the witch and an alien artifact, Tony’s shit ALWAYS works.  That’s why you guys are sitting here in his property and wearing armor and using weapons that he designs.  How quickly were you begging Tony to upload Friday into the Compound once you moved in again?”

            “Hey, Rhodes.  That was out of line, we know,” Sam said with a smile, hoping to ease the tension.  “We’re really just worried if he’s ok down there, you know.”

            “Speak for yourself,” the witch mumbled.

            Rhodey looked pointedly at Steve.

            Steve rolled his eyes and then said softly.

            “Hay, Wanda.  That’s enough of that ok.  I know you have real reasons not to like Tony, but he’s done a lot to make sure you got a Visa in the United States,”

            “And dodged a life sentence in prison for terrorist activities while acting as a Hydra volunteer and the henchwoman of Ultron.  There’s that too,” Rhodes mumbled with the same attitude the witch had displayed.

            “That’s enough, Rhodes,” Steve said sternly, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

            “My bad,” Rhodes said grabbing a glass of juice and snatching his toast as he turned to leave the kitchen.  “I thought that’s how you guys did things around here,” Rhodey smirked and left the others chatting darkly about the Colonel.

            Tony smiled and shook his head before switching the feed off.  The others may have thought he was down here sulking, but he had a very real concern that was even more pressing now that Ultron had fallen through.  If the Avengers thought they could sit around the kitchen acting like the secure facility that housed a paramilitary fighting force meant to protect the Earth was a college dorm—Tony knew it was time to get busy.  Whoever and whatever had sent Loki, because Tony was sure the God had been a part of a reconnaissance mission to assess what the Earth could do to counter an alien threat, was coming back.  And Steve could tear apart as many logs of firewood as he wanted, but the leader of that alien army wasn’t going to be impressed by a spangly outfit, a shield, and some hand to hand combat.

Chapter Text

            Rhodey walked towards the lab while stuffing the last of his toast in his mouth.

            “Friday, you gonna open up this time?”

            The door opened and Rhodey walked in, sitting down beside Tony on the couch without looking at him.

            “We done now,” Rhodey asked, still not facing his old friend.

            “Done with what,” Tony asked quirking an eyebrow, finally facing Rhodey.

            “Blaming ourselves for things that were out of our control,” Rhodey replied with a shrug.

            “Blaming ourselves,” Tony asked with a soft smile.

            “You know that it’s always you and me together,” Rhodey said seriously.  “Jarvis is gone.  Lots of people died.  And at least one of the people responsible is upstairs pretending it’s all your fault while sleeping in a house you built.  You think I’m leaving you alone now, Tones.  With a team like that?  No, baby,” Rhodey said, and pulled Tony in against his side.

            “You thought I was hiding,” Tony mumbled into Rhodey’s neck where his lover had squished him against him.

            “Aren’t you?”

            “There’s no time for that, Rhodey,” he replied.  Sitting up.  “I’m a scientist, and I’m no quitter.  I had a hypothesis, ran a test, and it failed.  It’s time to hit the drawing board and try something different.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I will not back a team that hinges its most basic battle plans upon sticking their heads in the sand.  Cap’s not the strategist everyone swears he is. Not if he isn’t willing to do anything but avenge.  At some point, our job needs to be protection.  That ‘everytime we try to win a war before it starts, people die’ is a load of crap.  Like the military popped out fully formed just in time to fight WWII.  No, that’s not how it works.  I was raised in this business, of building militaries and not just weapons, long before the Avengers were even an idea.”

            “That’s valid.  And you know he was just a show pony—a peg in that machine that he doesn’t want to think about anymore?  Sure he got some field experience, but that doesn’t equal the might of military training, history, and strategy that goes into real officer training.  He may be a great street fighter, but that doesn’t win wars.”

            “Agreed.”

            “So, what’s stage two, Tones?”

            Tony smiled and stood up.

            “Baby girl, pull up the Protectors file for your Daddy,” Tony said with an intense look at Rhodey.

            Rhodey stood next to Tony and watched as a number of holographic files burst into the air around him.

            “Right,” he said seriously.  “It’s time then.  Tony, it’s time to put in a call to Pepper.  She’s been a good CEO, but you know that we need Tony Stark now?”

            “I once got onto Bruce for hiding.  I told him that he needed to strut, because the Hulk was just as much a part of him as Bruce Banner.  Well, Ladies and Gentleman, introducing The Merchant of Death,” he said, taking a bow.  “It’s time to get back to basics.”

Chapter Text

Tony sat in the board meeting listening to Pepper rattle off the most recent stock quotes. As usual SI was up and leading the market. As usual, the board wasn’t happy enough with that.

Tony slammed his feet flat on the floor suddenly and flipped up his shades as he looked around the room.

“I have an idea!” Pepper rolled her eyes.

“Thank you, Tony,” she started.

“Not done yet, thank you, Ms. Potts,” Tony said, standing and beginning to pace around the room.

“Well, let’s hear it,” William Anderson, a long time board member chuckled as he waited for the fireworks. Pepper pretended that she had to run interference with the board, but they knew who buttered their bread and it wasn’t Pepper Potts. More to the point, Tony was always fun to watch.

“We had a portal open up and spit out aliens in the middle of New York,” Tony said, gesturing wildly with his arms.

“Oh, god,” Pepper muttered, hiding her eyes behind a hand.

“Yes,” Tony said, stopping and pointing at Pepper excitedly. “I’ve been hanging out with a god too! Yes! So . . . aliens . . . and gods . . . from, Scandinavia,” Tony asked befuddled, and William laughed. “No, Asgard” Tony shouted excitedly. “That’s right, more aliens, but alien gods. Right!”

“Where are we going with this,” Olivia Merriweather asked drily. William always hated that old biddy.

Tony stopped and looked at everyone with steel in his eyes. William froze, all of the joy and excitement that Tony's showmanship effortlessly builds falling away in that moment when he saw the man that Howard Stark should have been. It was more than excitement to see Tony truly shine, it was a gift. Tony was more than a legacy, and it only took a single look into that man’s eyes to see that he was building universes, not just weapons and tech.

“What do you suppose I could come up with after a merger with an alien nation?”

**
“What was that, Tony? You can’t just spring crap like that on me in the middle of a board meeting! This is exactly what I’ve been talking about. I can’t deal with this constant drama. I honestly don’t know how Rhodey puts up with it. He must be a saint!”

“Ms. Potts,” Tony said coldly after he had let her rant and insult him, calling him a child and several less than stellar names. “You will sit down and be quiet now,” he said dangerously as Rhodey was walking into the office.

“And I’ll thank you not to bring me up as a weapon against my lover, Potts. I don’t know about you and yours, but I expect loyalty and support from my partner and he expects it in return,” Rhodey said, slipping into a chair across from Tony.

“I’m sorry, but”

“Ms. Potts, I am not going to ask you again,” Tony said, the threat hanging.

“You’d do well to remember that I am your boss, Tony Stark. I’m the CEO of this company,” she said, just as dark and dangerous.

“I’m not speaking to you right now as either Tony Stark your friend, or as Tony Stark the head of R&D at SI. I’m speaking as a majority share-holder to his CEO about the proposition that I just took to the board.”

“You’re shutting me out? After you gave me this company. After what Obie did to you,” she hissed.

“Not at all. If you had taken that stick out of your but for five seconds while I was pitching this to the Board you would have known that I’m proposing a split and a transition. We split the communications and media into a subsidiary of SI, retaining that name for the off-shoot, while the parent company will be renamed Stark Solutions, focusing on energy, medical technology, space exploration and travel, and”

“Weapons! I can’t believe you! After everything we went through to make the move away from weapons” Pepper shouted, gripping the arms of her chair in a white-knuckled grip.

“Satellite positioning and imagery,” Tony finished.

“For weapons!”

"That option will be there with minor changes in the necessary configurations," Tony shrugged.

“Are you finished,” Rhodey asked, as Pepper stared angrily back at Tony.

“How can you support this,” she huffed crossing her arms and legs while shaking her head.

“Pepper, I am a life-long military officer. My career is preparing for war and maintaining weapons. And I watched the man that I love fly a nuke into a portal because we had no other recourse to win the battle that landed right in our laps. Tony is proposing we look for the solutions to handle situations like that alongside other technological growth that needs to happen so that we are a force to be reckoned with instead of an intergalactic joke that got lucky.”

“Do you know what the scepter made Thor reveal on the helicarrier before the New York battle,” Tony said seriously. “He described humans as tiny and petty with the sort of mocking sneer that you might use right before stepping on a bug. I refuse to be the bug, Pepper. You can all stick your heads in the sand and mock and belittle and say that it’s my ego—but NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING!” Tony shouted the last and threw a paperweight across the room, shattering the frame of one of his paintings. “I don’t care about SI’s stocks in any other capacity than that it gives me the funds to build a way to protect the people that I love. And if you stand in the way of that, then you can find out what it means to be on the other side of Tony Stark,” Tony finished, standing and walking out of the room.

The echoing silence he left behind was stifling. Pepper finally cleared her throat.

“Did . . . did Tony just threaten me?”

“Not if you get on board,” Rhodey said with a shrug, and followed Tony out.