I realized it was taking too long to get to Tony's reaction to the Board meeting and that Coulson isn't actually a viewpoint character, so this chapter has to go (Pepper's part will turn into a oneshot and the info in Coulson's section will show up later through Fury's POV.)

Halfway down the stairs, the sound of whatever Obidiah was playing faded, leaving Pepper in a pocket of silence when she stopped in front of the door to Tony's workroom. She shifted the items she was carrying to one hand and tapped in the security code to open it.

She was using the items as an excuse to go down and check on Tony. The man had not come up for air all day and had ignored the three pages she had sent him over the last half hour. Usually she wouldn't bother to chase him down until she hit five, but Obidiah had started eyeing one of the items-- a brown, paper wrapped box-- and though she was sure Obidiah knew about the Arc Reactor, Tony had been quite clear that the old one should be tossed and not handed over to R&D.

She was also pissed at Obidiah for the direction the Board Meeting had taken, though she knew that Tony was the one to blame for that. If he had been there, the Board might not have taken the stand that they had.

Poor Happy, she thought as she pulled the door open, I owe him a drink after letting me rant about that this afternoon.

Except for some electronic clicks and whirs coming from the corner Tony was working in, the workroom was silent. She wasn't sure why that still troubled her.

“I've been buzzing you,” she said as she set the pile in her hand on a clear corner of a worktable. “Didn't you hear the intercom?”

“Yeah, everything's...” He blinked and looked up as if surprised to see her actually in the workroom. “What?”

You were answering my pages, you just forgot to turn the intercom on, didn't you? Pepper was too tired to be exasperated by that though and simply said in response, “Obidaih's upstairs.”


As she crossed the workroom, Pepper gave Tony a curious look. The sash she had seen earlier was now strapped diagonally across his chest, the circular section hooked to the arc reactor and glowing brightly. Several wires lead down from the sash to a device that encased Tony's right arm and there was something covering Tony's palm that glowed almost as brightly as the Arc Reactor.

She waited for some other response than great, but when he remained focused on the device, using a small screwdriver to fiddle with the elbow joint, she tried something that needed an actual response to get his attention. “What would you like me to tell him?”

“Great. I'll be right up. Okay.” He pull the device free of the stand, grunting as he straighten and shifted to balance the extra weight. When he lifted his arm, the image of a young Tony Stark holding out his hand like a gun and going bang pop into Pepper's head.

She frowned slightly. “I thought you said you were done making weapons.”

“It isn't. This is a flight stabilizer.” When he seemed satisfied with his stance, he said firmly, “It's completely harmless,” and slapped a button on the worktable.

Having no idea what the device was supposed to do, Pepper was prepared for the flash that erupted from Tony's palm that blew several objects off the worktable while at the same time sending Tony flying in the opposite direction.

Pepper closed her eyes and ducked, covering her ears as a crashing sound echoed through the workroom, then quickly looked up to see if Tony was still in one piece.

“I didn't expect that,” Tony said where he sat with his back against the shelving unit that had stopped his unexpected flight. He brushed off a few electronic components that had landed in his lap then scowled at the mess scattered around him.

Still trying to work out what had just happened, Pepper shouted, “Completely harmless?”

Tony shrugged. “Yeah, well, I'm still working out the thrust ratios.” He looked at the glowing circle set into the palm of the device strapped to his arm and muttered, “And okay, Newton's Third Law here. Keep forgetting to adjust the ratios to current weight with gear.”

“Would you like me to remind you of that next time, sir?” Jarvis suddenly asked.

“No, I think getting thrown into the wall twice will keep me from forgetting that fact again, thanks.”

Twice? Pepper waited for some kind of explanation of that comment, but when Tony remained sitting on the floor staring at his hand, she gave up and asked cautiously, “Should I get Happy?

Tony nodded as he used the heel of his shoe to drag a scrap of paper that had been blown to the floor towards him. Pulling out a pen he started scribbling equations on it wrong handed. She hoped he didn't want her to transcribe those notes for him-- she had discovered long ago that it gave her a headache trying to read his handwriting whenever he was forced to use his left hand.

“Yeah, that might be a good idea. Ask him to bring the icepack too.”

“Right.” She took a deep breath. “Are you sure you're all right?”

This time he did look up. Pepper realized with a jolt of surprise that Tony was actually having fun doing whatever this was that he was doing, though his expression retained a serious edge to it. Thinking back, the last time she could remember seeing him like this was when she had come down to harangue him about the MIT speech just before everything had gone to hell.

He gave her a reassuring smile and pushed himself to his feet. “I'm fine, Pepper. Tell Happy to come in the back way and let Obie know I'll be up in a few minutes.” He started unhooking the device. “I've almost got this thing figured out.”

Pepper felt her irritation return as she sighed and headed back upstairs wondering what exactly “a few minutes” meant to this version of Tony Stark.

Coulson waited until eleven rolled around before making his call to the London office about the Saxon file. Pulling out his cell, he glancing down to bring up the number but then paused when the words ARCHANGEL appeared on the cell's screen.

He frowned. He had forgotten that his cellphone, along with almost every other cellphone, now ran off the Archangel network, a constellation of 15 satellites that Saxon Enterprise had put into orbit in the last year. After a moment's consideration, Coulson turned the cell off and dropped it into a drawer. He'd have to remember to pick up a SHIELD satphone when he left the office-- all of those still ran off the Iridium constellation.

After typing the number into his desk phone, he listened to the distant click of the encryption programs coming online and made sure he was facing the minicam mounted to the top of the phone as a male voice said, “SHIELD London.”

Though the phone's screen remained dark, Coulson knew the agent on the other end was seeing a live shot of him with his name and rank displayed across the bottom-- but protocol required a voice verification before the call could go any further.

“This is agent Coulson, FININT, SHIELD LA. I need to know where the Contessa might be today.”

“She just arrived. One moment.” Coulson blinked in surprise as the line switched over to the ubiquitous hold music that even SHIELD had been unable to improve on. Leaning back in his chair, he looked at the schedule on his computer. The Contessa was listed as being out of the office for the next three days.

He then looked down at the current time in London and thought, What would have brought Val in at seven in the morning? Shutting down the schedule, Coulson restored the report on Harold Saxon and waited for the head of SHIELD's human intelligence division (HUMINT) to answer her phone.

Almost two minutes passed before his screen blinked on. “Morning Val,” Coulson said as the woman on the other side of the call sat down at her desk. A tall and elegant dark haired woman, La Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine was one of the few agents from the former SHIELD that Fury had called back into the fold when the UN revived the organization. Her network of agents were the envy of the intelligence gathering world.

As she pulled a few manila files to the center of her desk, the Contessa looked at her camera and smiled. “Evening Phil. I see Nick's cracking the whip again.”

“Not unexpected. I may have a new development in the SI case.”

“I heard. Harold Saxon.” She looked away to turn on her computer. “Nick contacted me two hours ago to give me a heads up that you discovered some inconsistencies in our files regarding Saxon. I'm wondering why you didn't call me directly when you found those problems, Phil.”

Coulson took no offense to the rebuke in Val's voice; he should have called her. “I wanted to make sure I had all the information straight before making any accusations.”

“Fair enough. I haven't had a chance to review any of the files for myself but I had them pull Saxon's file, the SE file and a record of the SI Board of Directors meeting for me if you want to go over them now.”

“How did you get a copy of the Board Meeting so soon?” Though Coulson wasn't surprised that Val had one, he was surprised at how quickly that had happened.

“Al knows a member of the Board and treated him to an early dinner in exchange for a copy of the minutes. The SI Board is pretty pissed at Stark right now so it wasn't a hard deal to make.” A self-satisfied look crossed her face.. “Also, since the CIA has been quietly nudging Al all week for some crumbs regarding SI, we used this as an opportunity to get a few markers lined up that we can call in on a later date and made sure they got a copy right away. I still get first dibs though. Your copy should be arriving by courier in about an hour.”

Coulson found himself smiling; he could easily imagine the type of maneuvering that had been going on. Both Val and her husband, Al MacKenzie had worked for the CIA back in the '90's during the year and a half SHIELD had been shut down and Coulson knew the CIA was just as interested in what was going on at SI as SHIELD was. They'd be using every trick in the book for a break in their case. He wasn't surprised that Val and her husband had taken advantage of that. The CIA didn't stand a chance against those two.

“Since it appears that Harold Saxon's file is incomplete, let me see what we have on Saxon Enterprise first.” She flipped open one of the files; probably the original SE file from the archives that would include the raw data and any handwritten suppositions by various agents that might not have been transferred to the official file.

“According to our records, Saxon Enterprise was formed in 1972 when Saxon Technologies, a telecommunication company that Saxon's father, James Stoker, created merged with Farrel Plastics after that company had been forced into bankruptcy.”

Coulson glanced at his notes. “That brings up the first of my questions. Where did the name Saxon come from if the father's surname was Stoker? There was nothing in his file explaining that.”

“That was his mother's maiden name. She died in childbirth. Saxon legally changed his last name as a way of remembering her once he became an adult; at least that's how the story goes.”

“So we have a bit on James Stoker then? I couldn't access anything from my end.”

There was a pause as Val taped something into her computer. A frown appeared. “No, we don't. I just remember that from an interview Saxon gave a few weeks ago. Truthfully, Saxon Enterprise wasn't a big enough player for us to notice much more than its existence and who ran the company until the beginning of last year. That's when SE started launching satellites into orbit and got the Valiant contract from UNIT. That's also when Harold Saxon inherited SE, announced his marriage to the daughter of Lord Cole and put his name up for consideration for the post of SecState for Defense.” She traced a finger down her screen. “SE itself is being run by a Thomas Wilkenson, who's file, now that I look at our records, appears to be larger than both of the owners of SE combined.”

The frown on Val's face grew deeper as she flipped open another manila folder. “What the hell?” She shuffled a few pages. “Going by the date stamps, we didn't even start a file on Harold Saxon until March of last year.”

“That impossible.”

A dark look crossed over Val's face. “Yes, it is. Obviously someone's been tampering with my files.” Coulson felt a moment of pity for whoever that might be; no one messed with Val's files if they valued their skin. There was a pause as she returned to the SE file and scanned a few more pages. “Well, this may be a problem.”

Coulson waited as Val spread the pages of the file out. “In 1990, the plastics division of Saxon Enterprise was sold off to the Roxxon Corporation.” Val tapped a fingernail against her desk, and her expression became distant as she said softly, “You may not want to mention that in your report unless you have a good reason to, Phil.”

“Why not?”

Val sighed as she rested her chin on her hand and looked at him through her minicam. “Nick was convinced that Roxxon had something to do with the collapse of the original SHIELD and the death of Howard and Maria Stark back in '91, though he never had any proof to back that accusation up. This could have the potential of coloring Nick's thinking.”

Coulson frowned. “Why would Roxxon have had anything to do with the collapse of SHIELD?”

“Nick never explained that to me.”

“Did anyone investigate the possibility he might have been right?”


Vall looked away and pursed her lips. Sensing he might have crossed a line of some kind, Coulson scanned his notes and said, “It's probably a mote point. I haven't come across any records of SI dealing with them.”

Val shook her head as she took a deep breath and gathered up the SE file. “Well, you wouldn't. Roxxon would be a subcontractor to an SI supplier.”

Subcontractor? Coulson glanced at the top drawer of his desk where the cellphone was hidden. That means something... He couldn't quite grasp what the connection was though and shook his head to get his thoughts back on track.

“This isn't helping me much, Val,” he said as he stared at his report.

He saw Val straighten and shut the SE file out of the corner of his eye. “No, I'm sure it's not. Let me track down who's had access to these files and see what M12 has on Saxon. Four hours?”

“Four hours will be fine. Thanks Val.”

“You're welcome,” As she leaned forward to turn off her phone, she gave him a look. “And not that you'll do it but I suggest you use those four hours to get some sleep, Phil.” She then cut the connection before he could respond.

Coulson gave the blank screen a rueful smile then turned back to his computer to continue his report with the information he had. He could always correct it later.


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