Black Ops Social Call

November 16, 2015:

Agent Romanoff pays her version of a social call to Howard Stark

//THINK //


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's curious that Agent Romanoff is here at all. Her usual job involves no one knowing where she is aside from perhaps Fury and a tiny team. Surely the woman grabs a coffee or gets the mail at some point every day, but even knowing that, it's a bit of a stretch to see her at a contract meeting. She's even in a nice suit that appears to be made of no tactical materials whatsoever, unless a nice herringbone silk is tactical.

She's not saying much. The actual negotiator has done the majority of the talking — apparently SHIELD is interested in having some research done with THINK. Procedural, mainly. They're looking for better techniques and methods for chemical and biochemical analysis, and they want to negotiate for the possibility of SHIELD scientists researching alongside THINK scientists. It's fun stuff, but definitely not secret agenty. Nevertheless, there's Natasha, sitting with a tiny smile and sipping at a cup of tea.

It's the kind of meeting that Howard likes to be hands-on with. Anything involving THINK's tech and its resources is something he wants to give his personal okay, even when it's with a known entity like SHIELD. Or rather, when is SHIELD really a complete known entity?

The meeting has been very technical so far. Lots of talk about patents and division of resources. There's a list of chemicals with long formulas that Howard won't work on because of their potential to be lethally weaponized. He gets very engaged when people speak the same language as him - which SHIELD knows. They sent along one of their experts, someone who can stand up to the mental probing the elder Stark is known for.

Howard does keep glancing Natasha's way. He knows she doesn't normally come along to these things. So when the meeting heads to a close and everyone is standing up, he asks, "Agent Romanoff. Can I have a word with you before you go? Steinlen, why don't you show our guests around the materials science lab? That new piece of equipment that Doctor Yu ordered just arrived. She should have it up and running."

One terribly clever person comfortable with scientific jargon. One quite good researcher. And one secret murder-agent. What sort of message is SHIELD trying to send? But Natasha seems just slightly amused by the whole thing. When it all ends — it takes a good hour at least — she unfolds and rises as the others gather their tablets and such.

Natasha lingers, though, ambling to Stark's side and nodding to the rest. "I'm sure you can take it from here," she says, leaning against one of the chairs as the others file out.

"Mr. Stark," she says, her tiny smile growing somewhat. "Always a pleasure to see you."

"Moonlighting as a PA, Romanoff? Or did you get demoted for zapping a senator?" Howard arches a brow and watches as the party leaves the room. "I can't help but feel like Fury is trying to send me some kind of secret coded message by sending you along for this relatively routine transaction." He crosses the meeting room and hits a code on a small cabinet that pops open to reveal bottles of liquor. Only the boss gets to drink on the job. He picks up a glass and motions with one towards her.

"Tch. Don't be ridiculous." Natasha detaches herself from the seating area and ambles toward Howard, nodding her acceptance of the glass. "I wouldn't get demoted for zapping a senator. Do you think that Director Fury would descend to threatening you with my furious vengeance if you didn't accept a brain-exchange deal? Really?"

Howard arches a brow. "My dear Agent Romanoff, doesn't my file say that I enjoy exaggerating my own importance?" His tone is wry. He tips a shot of single malt into the glass. It's a sixteen year old - not conspicuously expensive, but a fine choice. He hands the glass to her, then leans against the board room table. "So why are you here? You know you can make your own appointment if you wanted to talk to me. I don't avoid my meetings like Tony does."

She accepts the glass with apparent approval but doesn't slug it down: she breathes in the aroma of it, savoring that as much as she savors the first tiny sip. It's barely any, just enough to evaporate on her lips. "I know. If you promise not to let it prejudice you, I'll tell you." Natasha leans forward, a little grin on her face: "Agent Withers was a little petrified of negotiating with you, if you want the truth. I'm known as maybe the only SHIELD agent who can 'handle' — " She finger-quotes with one hand. "Howard Stark. Through my wily arcane techniques of treating someone like a human being."

Howard's brows arch and he grins wide. He seems pleased by this. "If you're not bullshitting me, that's positively delightful. But you can tell Agent Withers that I'm only a hard case when I'm not convinced I want to do the deal, or if the people I'm dealing with try to push something past me. But SHIELD would never do that, right?"

"Scout's honor." Natasha doesn't even bother trying a scout salute. "I did tell Withers how to 'handle' Howard Stark. I think he's just a little intimidated. Also, the assumption around a lot of agents is that girls get better traction with you. I tried working on that whole perception of you as a retrograde misogynist who slaps his secretaries' asses, but it can be curiously hard to shift some opinions." She takes a longer sip of her scotch, settling into it as if breathing it in. "I'm also here to assure you. The deal's legit, Mr. Stark, and it's important to SHIELD. We want to make sure we tap the best of the best. Increasingly, they seem to want to work for you. I'm actually a little worried about the deal just because I think I know what's going to happen."

"I'm certain my son's younger exploits did very little to polish up the Stark name in their eyes. I was married for twenty years, but all people remember is the tales of my thirties." Howard chuckles and shakes his head. "Well, I suppose I did it to myself. There was a day when I gave diamond bracelets to the women I broke things off with. In retrospect, that's incredibly tacky and insulting, but I really did mean it with all the best intentions."

He rolls his eyes at the memory of his younger self, then swallows a mouthful of the scotch. "Wise on Fury's part. He doesn't want to lose access to my brain trust. Surprise surprise, some of the most innovative scientists want to work somewhere where they can talk to their partners about what they do, and no one orders them to do questionable things with their projects. There was a time when the scientists were attracted to you because no one could match your gear." He sips again. "I'm messing with that formula. Hell, I own the patents on a lot of that specialty gear."

"Which is, unsurprisingly, why we want in. You have great gear, and you give your researchers unprecedented freedom. With THINK in business, we're having to lean on adventurousness and patriotism. You give us a run for our money on the bleeding edge, I'm not going to lie, but we get out into the fresh air a little more." Natasha's smile broadens slightly. "I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But I'm going to admit, this… there's nothing particularly nefarious about it. Surprise, surprise. So how've you been?"

"So the answer to the mystery is, Fury knows I like you, and a junior agent thinks I'm the boogeyman. And you all need me on-side so you can keep taking advantage of what we're doing here in a less direct fashion. That about the size of it?" Howard remains amused by the whole situation, in a rather warm way. "I have to say, that's disappointingly low on the spy/intrigue scale. I thought you didn't leave HQ for less than a 5." Someone's been catching up on Netflix.

"Oh, I've been well enough. Still recovering from the whole mess in Sokovia, bit by bit. There's a few residual glitches. Got to meet up with Dum Dum, aka the Dugan Mark VIII. I am quite disappointed that you didn't come to me as soon as he was activated. No one knows that tech like I do." Because he invented it. But for once, it seems like he's being mildly modest by not pointing that out.

Natasha's eyes crinkle. "That, and your secretary knows how I like my tea. And you're always a joy to talk to. Most men I meet aren't. I guess that's always been true, but I think they really are getting slightly denser as time goes by." She takes another small sip of her scotch. Evidently she's nursing it. "You've got a handle on the structural reasons, in other words, but the truth is: you're a friend, I hope, and you're busy, and it was nice to see you."

She tilts her head as he goes on, though: "Dugan Mark VIII? Are you — can it actually be that I don't know what you're talking about?"

Howard lets out a low whistle. "Re-eaally? Did I hit on something past the famous Widow's pay grade, finally?" He finishes off what's left in the glass and sets it aside. "To the first point, of course we're friends. I don't have many. You've kept my secrets even when Fury would probably prefer you don't. That puts you in my good book." He wags a finger. "To the second, well, the Howling Commandos were the first guinea pigs of the LMD program. I needed people who I could trust, and who trusted me."

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