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How to Win Friends and Influence People

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Maria Hill doesn’t interview for jobs. She proves her competence quickly and efficiently, and then people hire her because they’re terrified that she might work for someone else..

On the day of her “interview” with Stark Industries, she turns off the air conditioning in Stark Tower when it’s ninety-two degrees outside. Then she walks straight past security and rides the elevator up to the CEO’s office on the top floor.

“Maria,” Pepper says, looking up from her desk. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”

Tony says, “How the fuck did you get up here?”

“Don’t listen to him,” Pepper says, and Maria wonders how many times a day those words come out of her mouth. “What brings you to the office on this very hot day in July?” Pepper smiles wryly at the fan perched in the corner of her desk, but Maria knows she’s ruffled; at a company of this caliber, not being able to control the A/C is an embarrassment.

Maria gives the fan a cursory glance, just to prove that she’s noticed the inconvenience, and resists the urge to swipe her sweat-soaked bangs off her forehead. “I’m your new head of your cyber security,” she says.

“Yeah, already we have one of those,” Tony says, arms crossed over his chest. “Thanks for playing.”

“T0xic Vap0r? Otherwise known as Frederick Smeltings III, recently of his mother’s basement?” Maria addresses her answer to Pepper, who actually makes the hiring decisions. “He’s done a fine job securing your servers. I couldn’t hack them and I’ve been trying for two weeks. But he allowed your elevator security system to be infected with malware.”

Pepper crosses her legs and leans back in her chair. “Tell me how.”

Maria doesn’t look at Tony but she can feel his eyes lock onto her like lasers. Stark Industries is still his baby, and the fact that anyone could hack it is a personal insult.

“When I was unable to breach your servers, I infected your favorite Chinese restaurant’s website with malware instead. You brought the code past your own firewall as soon as you ordered. And by the way, the company who monitors your climate control system is still using Windows XP. By now, you’ve spent several thousand dollars on technicians looking for a mechanical fault that doesn’t exist, your computers are in danger of overheating, and your employees are looking for any excuse to leave the building. It could be enough to cost you a business deal at a critical juncture.”

Maria pulls out one of the chairs in front of Pepper’s desk. “May I?” she asks, but she sits down without waiting for permission. “Recruiting Mr. Smeltings was a stroke of genius. For securing confidential files, his work is unparalleled. But he doesn’t know how your air conditioning system works, and I doubt he realizes that today’s vending machines are electronically monitored, made in China, and possibly already infected with Chinese code. You need someone skilled at detecting and containing unorthodox threats.”

Pepper smiles faintly. “SHIELD and Stark Industries haven't always enjoyed a positive relationship. Why come to us, Agent Hill? Why not one of our rivals?”

“You’re not evil,” Maria says. It had been a bad fucking day when she’d realized she trusted Tony Stark more than almost everyone else in the world, but she’s a practical woman. Stark Industries has the best data network on the planet now that SHIELD’s gone, and how else is she going to keep an eye on the world?

Tony snorts. “You sure about that?”

“Yeah,” Maria says, addressing Tony for the first time. “You’ve had a personality cult for a long time. If you wanted to use it for nefarious purposes, you would have already. And you know what it’s like to dedicate your life to an organization and discover it’s infected from the inside and it’s been working against you without your even knowing it. Do you really think that HYDRA had nothing to do with Obadiah Stane’s betrayal?”

She reaches across the desk and shakes Pepper’s hand, then Tony’s. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I look forward to joining your team.”


Maria rides the elevator to her new office with Tony Stark. They’re standing next to each other, staring ahead at the gold mirrored door, when Maria says, “You might not wear the suit anymore, but you’ll be called on to defend the world again soon.”

Their eyes meet, and Tony nods infinitesimally. Maria pretends not to see the fear in his eyes. “When the time comes, I’m here for you and Pepper,” she says.