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When Tony was seventeen, his parents died.

His mother left him everything and told him to live his life the way he wanted.

His father left him everything and forced him to live his life the way he wanted.

 

The stipulations were as follows:

Until Tony was eighteen, he would continue to receive an allowance from his trust fund just as he had since entering MIT. He would receive nothing from his father’s estate. All expenses of homes, property, businesses, staff, etc. would be paid from the estate as they currently were.

At age eighteen he would receive his full trust fund with no strings. Minus the shares of Stark Industries that had been depositing dividends into the trust fund his entire life. Those shares would be added to the shares that Howard and Maria had owned, and would be held in a non-voting trust with the dividends to be deposited into Howard’s estate until Tony was twenty-one.

At age twenty-one Tony would receive his father’s estate, complete with its shares of Stark Industries - provided he became acting CEO of the company. If he did not, the shares would remain in the non-voting trust forever, and Tony would draw an allowance from that trust fund for the rest of his life. The remainder of his father’s estate would go to various causes and charities listed in the will.

If, after assuming the role of CEO, he attempted to resign, step down, or otherwise hand over the company to anyone, or likewise dispose of his shares in Stark Industries, the shares would be placed once more in a non-voting trust, and the dividends would go to various causes and charities listed in the will. The remainder of his father’s estate would be revoked and would likewise go to various causes and charities listed in the will.

Obadiah Stane, his father’s friend and trusted partner, received nothing. The board of directors would vote on an interim CEO until Tony reached age twenty-one.

 

“What? What did you just say?” Obadiah Stane leaned forward in his chair. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’ve read exactly what Mr. Stark has stipulated in his will.” The lawyer looked over his half-glasses at the other man. “I can read it again if you'd like.”

“This doesn’t make any sense! Howard wouldn’t hog-tie Tony like this, he knows – knew – he’s not interested in the corporate side of the business.”

The lawyer looked at where Tony Stark sat. The young man had been quiet since he’d come in for the reading of his parents wills. Maria Stark’s will had been simple and straight forward, she’d left everything to her son to do with as he pleased. No stipulations. No strings. Howard Stark’s will, on the other hand, had been meticulously detailed. Every asset had been listed and stipulations for their disposition spelled out. There was no wiggle room, no way to contest it – he knew because he’d been the one to draw it up.

“Tony? Tell the man.” Obadiah prompted.

“I really – “ Tony cleared his throat. “I really don’t want to be CEO, I never have. I just like building things.”

“I understand.” The lawyer leaned back in his chair. When he drafted the new will Howard Stark had insisted upon six months ago, he’d known that Stane would protest. Stane had expected to be given a substantial amount of Stark’s estate – and, undoubtedly – control of Stark Industries. “In the meantime, an interim CEO will be put in place by the board of directors.”

“The board is going to appoint someone? Now I know you’re putting me on!” Stane glared across the desk. “I was Howard’s partner, and COO of Stark since before Tony was born – and they’re going to appoint someone else to watchdog the company until he’s twenty-one? You’re saying they’re going to kick me out of the company that I should rightfully be running?”

“That’s up to the board, and Stark Industries is Anthony’s company.” The lawyer said smoothly.

“Obadiah is right.” Tony shook his head. “I don’t – I want him to run it. He’s worked with my father all these years – he knows everything. I don’t know anything about how to run a company of any size, let alone one the size of SI.”

“I understand, Anthony.” The lawyer said gently. “That’s one reason why your father stipulated that you won’t become CEO until you’re twenty-one. For now, you’ll continue to draw your allowance from your trust fund, which will mature when you are eighteen. At that time you’ll be given full control over it. You have four years to learn how to manage a corporation the size of Stark Industries.”

“Four years?” Obadiah laughed in disbelief. “Hell, Howard and I worked together for over forty years, and I don’t think either of us had it down pat. It’s – hell, it’s like riding the same damn bucking bronco today that you just broke yesterday. You expect the kid to get it in four years?”

“Given Anthony’s intelligence? Yes.” He lifted a page of the will, looking for a particular endowment. “Howard has provided for Anthony’s education in business management at UCLA, so that he will be fully prepared to assume control of the company should he chose to do so.” He looked once again at the somber young man sitting across from him. “Anthony? You don’t have to make any decisions at this time, you have four years to make your mind up. UCLA should be a breeze after MIT. You can have fun, meet new people, and get a handle on things.”

“Or I could just turn it down now.” Tony said softly.

“You could.” The lawyer agreed. Even without his father’s estate or the shares, Tony Stark was wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams. His mother had settled several million on him in cash and assets, and his trust fund was likewise worth over a billion dollars. Compared to Howard Stark’s estate, however, both amounts were pocket change.

“Tony, no! Don’t be hasty! The man’s right – we’ve got plenty of time here.” Obadiah reached over and cuffed Tony on the shoulder. “Hey, you know I’m going to be right there to help. You’re not alone.”

“Thanks, Obie.” Tony swallowed hard. He was still numb both from grief and from the scotch Obadiah had pressed on him in the limo on the way over. Up until now, he’d been mostly a beer drinker, but the scotch had went down like water and had taken the edges off the pain that had threatened to crush him since he’d first gotten the phone call asking him to come identify his parent’s bodies.

“If that’s all, I’m going to take the kid here home so he can get some rest.” Obadiah stood up. “Come on, Tony.”

“There is one final bit of business before we’re finished here.” The lawyer put out a hand to stop Tony as he began to rise out of his chair. “And it’s a private matter between Anthony and myself.”

“Oh, come on! What the – “ Obadiah held his hands up. “Whatever, whatever. I’ll be downstairs, Tony.”

After the door closed behind Stane, the lawyer took out a sealed envelope. “Your father wanted you to read this. Privately.”

Tony took the envelope and looked at it. The bold writing on the front was definitely his father’s. He’d seen it on thousands of blueprints and designs and a handful of birthday and Christmas cards.

“I’ll be in the reference library if you need me, and I’ll have a copy of your parent’s wills and the information on UCLA sent to the house.” He squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “I know it’s hard, son, but in time…” He sighed softly. “Just give it time.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

Tony waited until the other man had left to open the envelope. He pried it open along the seal as carefully as possible. Inside was a sheet of paper with two lines. His heart, already broken, shattered.

 

In the limo, Obadiah handed Tony a glass of scotch as he got in. “Your father left you a love letter?”

“Get real.” Tony downed the scotch in one gulp. True to its aged perfection, it didn’t even burn on the way down. He held his glass out for more and after he’d downed that one as well, he tossed the envelope to Obadiah. “Read it.”

“Tony, this is private, your dad didn’t want anyone else to see this.” He eyed the opened flap.

“Maybe that’d be true if he said anyting meaningful. Like ‘I love you, Tony’, 'I've always been proud of you, Tony', or just fucking something!” He picked up the bottle and drank straight from it, the numbness was better than how he felt.

Obadiah slid the paper out of the envelope. Reading it, his eyebrows went up. After several moments, a smile curved his lips.

 

Tony, protect yourself. Trust no one.