Chapter One: Discoveries
Tony Stark was bored and irritable.
He had just had to endure a long day of repetitive meetings with a bunch of stuffy old bastards who wouldn't know progress if it bit them in the ass and held on tight. Right now he needed to talk to someone who actually spoke English before his head imploded from the utter stupidity he'd been subjected to. That meant he was currently seeking out his favorite physicist/ giant green rage monster, who apparently didn't want to be found.
Growling, he stalked the halls of R&D to no avail, loosening the silk tie of his immaculately pressed and tailored suit before giving into temptation and calling upon JARVIS.
"JARVIS, where is Bruce?"
"Doctor Banner is in the cold lab on the floor below you Sir."
Temporarily mollified, the billionaire stalked toward the elevator allowing the tension to ease from his shoulders as his mind contemplated just what Banner was doing in the cold lab and casually jabbed the call button. The elevator arrived promptly and within minutes Tony found himself punching in the cold labs security code, stepping inside as the glass paneled door swooshed open. He felt a small smile cross his features as he spotted his quarry in the far corner hunched over a microscope and seemingly oblivious to his arrival.
Well that just wouldn't do.
Feeling mischievous Tony walked as silently as he could across the room, picking up the first pointy object (a pippet) he found along the way and moved behind Bruce poised and ready for a sneaky attack.
"Whatever you're thinking about doing Stark, don't."
The physicist's voice was wry and he still hadn't looked up from his microscope, causing the billionaire to scowl.
"Wouldn't dream of it Big Guy..." He replied sulkily, tossing the pippet on the workstation. "...How did you know it was me?"
Bruce let out a small, soft chuckle and finally looked up from the microscope but still didn't turn to face the other man, instead scribbling a few observations down on a nearby pad of paper.
"You mean besides that odious aroma you call cologne?" There was an indignant sqwark from Tony "JARVIS informed me."
Again there was that soft chuckle and Banner finally turned around folding his arms across his chest, looking like he'd just spent the last several hours hunched over equipment and equations.
"Don't take it out on JARVIS even if he hadn't told me it was obviously going to be you." His tone was long suffering.
Tony grinned at finally having the man's full attention.
"So you're psychic now? Didn't know that came with mean green's territory. Although it could be useful, we might finally be able to find out what Natasha is actually thinking."
Bruce rolled his eyes and unfolded his arms, settling his hands against the desk behind him and leaning back.
"I haven't suddenly become the 'Widow Whisperer' Tony and besides you're the only person who visits me in the lab, I think I made Thor's brain implode the one time he braved it and the others know better." Bruce replied equal parts exasperated and sad.
There was an awkward silence that lingered just a beat too long for the billionaire's liking so Tony quickly broke it, his gaze drifting to the microscope that Bruce had been looking at.
"So what are you working on?"
The physicist gave a genuine smile, the awkwardness forgotten and his eyes twinkling with interest.
"Well a cryogenics lab commissioned your R&D to try and create a serum that reduced muscle atrophy in cold-sleep patients. They were having a bit of difficulty with some of the molecular structure stabilization and asked if I'd take a look."
Tony nodded admittedly intrigued by the idea, he'd never really taken an interest in cryogenics but he had a feeling the idea Bruce was working on had other applications besides cold-sleep patients.
"Sounds interesting... Let me guess, it was the little brunette with the ponytail who asked you?"
Bruce rolled his eyes and turned back to the microscope ignoring the question entirely, this however didn't deter the billionaire in the slightest, a cheeky grin breaking out over his face as he sidled up to the other man and swung and arm around his shoulder.
"It was, wasn't it..." He crowed cheerfully and he put on a fake falsetto "Oh Doctor Banner could you please help me with this, pretty please. She is totally crushing on you..."
"Tony, did you actually come in here for something other than interrupting me?" The physicist asked, voice stern.
Stark stopped his performance backing away and pushing his hands into his pockets.
"In all honesty... No. I've just had a miserable day dealing with idiotic bureaucrats and people more interested in lining their pockets than doing something productive. I need some normal."
Bruce had to laugh at that, since when had anything associated with him been considered normal? But then again Tony Stark was almost a force of nature perhaps even more so than the Hulk, so it sort of made sense that he'd want to be around similar forces to make himself feel normal.
Well that was one theory anyway.
"I tell you what Tony help me finish up here and we'll go down to the basement and blow off some steam... By which I mean blow some stuff up."
Even though he couldn't see it Bruce could feel the grin spreading across Tony's face and heard the rustling of cloth as the billionaire stripped off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.
"Sounds like a plan Brucey-Boy. What do you need me to do?"
"Just record these observations and transfer them to the cryogenics company's database."
Tony, although not overly thrilled with essentially being a secretary set himself to the task at hand. He pulled up one of the holographic monitors and furiously began typing in data, skimming over and double checking (It was a force of habit he'd never been able to shake) the equations Bruce had written. Like he expected it all looked good and the billionaire smiled happily, an odd feeling of pride settling in his chest. This would have taken the other members of R&D days, possibly weeks of intensive research and Bruce had pinpointed the problem and solved it in mere hours. Honestly persuading him to stay had been one of his best idea's ever both personally and professionally, not that he would ever admit it to anyone.
The two men lapsed into silence both lost in their own little worlds Tony lost in the world of databases and programs and Bruce in cryogenics and biology. Tony quickly finished the task Bruce had assigned him and was restlessly tapping his finger against the rim of the glass of water he'd just poured for himself staring at the screen before him. He had a wealth of information right at his fingertips and he wasn't investigating or doing any digging of any kind.
Well this just wouldn't do.
After all as CTO it was his duty to know who his company was dealing with.
A mischievous smile crossed the billionaire's face as dexterous fingers flicked across the screen. He was almost disappointed by how easy it was to break through their security firewall and he was soon perusing his way through various projects, financial backers and other random pieces of nonsense. So far it was nothing out of the ordinary and altogether rather dull. That was when he spotted a familiar looking logo sitting at the bottom of list attached to a completely nameless file.
Well that was interesting, what interest would S.H.I.E.L.D have in a cryogenics laboratory?
He tapped on the file and instantly a warning box flared up denying him access, he spared a quick glance at the physicist who was still engrossed in whatever it was he was looking at and realizing he still had some time Tony set himself to work.
His fingers worked across the screen, pulling apart the various encryptions surrounding the anonymous file. After half an hour he was starting to get more than a little frustrated, it seemed there was no end to the defenses and he couldn't even tell how close he was to his quarry. This one file had more in the way of protection than most government servers and he should know, he'd hacked most of them at one time or another; both for business and for pleasure
By this time Bruce had finished his work and had walked over to see what had captured his friends attention. When he caught sight of the various warning boxes and bits of computer code flying in streams across the screen he let out an amused but exasperated sigh.
"Tony, please tell me you didn't hack into the cryo-labs server?"
"Okay I won't."
There was a disapproving shake of a head and Bruce ran a hand through his hair trying to pick his next words.
"You do know that's illegal right?"
"Legality has never really been forte of mine..." Tony bit his lip in concentration as he worked through a particularly complex piece of code. "...Besides this is to do with S.H.I.E.L.D, admit you're curious to know what Fury's hiding in a cryo-lab? I bet it his sense of humor."
The physicist couldn't quite suppress the chuckle and he couldn't refute Tony's words, he was curious to know what S.H.I.E.L.D was hiding. They were kind of notorious for having secrets shrouded in secrets and it was always good to have something that they could later hold over them if things ever did end up going to shit.
"Yes! Got ya' you ridiculous excuse for a defense program!"
Tony crowed in victory as the screen opened before him and Banner and both men looked confused.
There was only one file.
Bruce adjusted his glasses and frowned, he didn't like this it somehow didn't feel right like they were on the tip of an iceberg about to plummet into the cold depths.
"HO_ST_EN001, well that doesn't sound all that exciting."
Tony's voice sounded genuinely disappointed and his finger hovered file icon as he rose the glass of water to his lips. Without any hesitation he flicked it open eyes scanning the screen as a wealth of documents opened before his eyes, which widened exponentially as the glass slipped from his grasp smashing on the floor.
"Tony... What the..."
Bruce started but stopped as he caught sight at the angry yet flabbergasted look on the billionaire's face. He quickly turned to the open files and immediately he felt his mouth fall open in utter shock.
"Holy shit..." The physicist murmured.
Tony pulled away a snarl firmly affixed to his face and stalked out the lab like a predator, full of anger and intent. An intent that involved a certain manipulative, one-eyed bastard. He had never felt so angry and betrayed in his life, including that whole incident with Obidiah. After all he had done for S.H.I.E.L.D, this, this was how they repaid him? Fury was going to crash and burn for this, Tony swore it and Anthony Edward Stark never went back on his promises.
Meanwhile Bruce stood in the lab completely shocked and bewildered by what he'd just seen before taking off after his friend in the hope that he'd be able to stop him doing something he'd regret.