Chapter Eleven: Laying Down the Law
Tony strode through the corridor with a poised and purposeful air around him while Steve and Bruce followed behind him at their own pace. He hadn't thought it possible for him to hate Howard any more than he already did but he'd just managed to graduate himself to the top of the billionaire's 'total fucking scumbags' list.
To say he was livid with the older man was an understatement; he was fucking furious and Howard was about to learn exactly what that entailed. In the past being Howard Stark may have meant something but right here, right now it stood for diddly squat; literally nothing.
The billionaire had pulled away from the others by the time he reached his destination; the laboratory door slid open as he approached and he was unsurprised to find it completely immaculate inside. Bruce had always been a stickler for cleanliness; 'a clutter free work-space equals a clutter free mind' although Tony guessed the physicist meant that as an ironic joke more than anything else. The door to the medical bay loomed before him as much a mental barrier as a physical one and he had to take a steadying breath before giving the order to open.
Before entering Tony spoke to his AI.
"JARVIS this door is not to open for any reason once I'm inside unless I say so; understand?"
"Of course Sir." The stiff British voice replied.
Knowing that he no longer had any excuse or reason not to the billionaire stepped forward into the medical bay.
The room was quiet as he entered, Howard was lying on his side facing the wall and if he noticed Tony entering he didn't announce the fact that he had.
Well that wouldn't do at all.
Picking up the metal breakfast tray perched on a nearby cabinet Tony slammed it to the floor using most of his strength; causing a sizeable clatter and making the older man dart up from his prone position in shock.
"I'm sorry, did I disturb you?" Tony asked cheekily, a look of mock innocence on his face.
Howard remained stony faced and didn't reply, his eyes narrowed in distaste.
"Actually fuck that..." The billionaire amended suddenly turning into the ruthless business man he was known to be "... I really don't care if I disturbed you or not because you and me need to have a little talk about some house rules."
The elder Stark looked as if he was about to say something but Tony held up his hand to stem the flow of words. At this point in time he honestly had no interest in what the other man had to say.
"Nope, not interested in you flapping your gums. For once you are going to sit there and listen to what I have to say."
Howard frowned clearly not happy with being told what to do and he couldn't resist the urge to speak his mind, despite what the younger man had said.
"I see you're still the self-absorbed, arrogant little upstart you always were." Howard retorted.
Tony rolled his eyes and sat himself in one of the chairs at the end of the bed, staring down his father with an unfathomable look on his face.
"This is me honestly not giving a fuck what you think Howard, now shut up like a good little boy and listen to the big boy in the room..."
The billionaire stretched out his legs like a cat, not breaking eye contact.
"... So house rules, unless you want to go back in the freezer. Rule one: No making Bruce angry, you really wouldn't like him when he's angry."
Howard gave an indignant snort of laughter clearly not believing Tony's warning but he didn't let his tongue run away this time.
"Rule two: You are to show respect to every member of this household, not just Capsicle."
Again this 'rule' was met with a look of exasperation which the billionaire expertly ignored.
"And... Rule three: You are not allowed to touch, look or even breathe on my stuff or leave this room unescorted, if at all."
There was a quiet finality in Tony's voice that more than one business associate had learned to fear, Howard however was completely unfazed and looked more insulted than anything else.
"Do you honestly expect me to comply with any of those rules?" The elder asked a fierce look on his face.
The billionaire just about resisted the urge to roll his eyes and tried to not to let the man's abrasive nature rub him the wrong way. It wouldn't do for him to lose his cool now; he had to prove that he was the bigger man here as much as he wanted to do otherwise.
"I'm not asking, I'm telling you you'll comply."
"You always were such a brat..." Howard retorted "... Throwing a tantrum if you couldn't get your own way. I'm not surprised to see you haven't changed one bit."
Tony bit the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood in order to stop the scathing comment on the tip of his tongue from escaping. He'd said he would be the bigger man and god fucking damn it he was going to be.
"I'm a lot different than you remember." He answered stiffly.
The older man shot him a disbelieving look and folded his arms across the chest, his whole posture screaming 'disapproval' and the small child trapped inside Tony's mind flinched involuntarily. There were just some things that could never be unlearned once they had been beaten into you enough.
"No, you're not. You're still that pathetic disappointment always running to mommy but in the end she saw it too, didn't she?"
The comment was like a whip lashing across his heart and the billionaire's jaw tensed. He had known this would be difficult the man sat before him knew all of his insecurities. Hell Howard was the cause of most of them and he had no qualms about ruthlessly exploiting them, whether it be for his own gain or sick amusement. But Tony thought he'd had this under control; apparently he was wrong and he knew he'd soon start to lose this battle of wills if he didn't pick his game up.
"At least I didn't make her miserable."
A sick, cocky smile slid across Howard's face and he let a hollow laugh escape his lips; the sound grating like nails down a blackboard. Tony realized his mis-step almost instantly but by then it was already too late.
"I made her miserable? If Maria hadn't fallen pregnant with you she could have moved on with her life; done whatever she wanted. It was you who kept her trapped in that life not me... It was you who was the source of her misery. The same way you make everyone around you miserable."
The words burned; the younger man felt them brand themselves under his skin. He'd known he'd been the reason his mother had stayed for so long until she'd gotten so used to the life she couldn't break free. But he'd never thought he'd been the one to cause her suffering, Tony had always tried to protect her and make her happy.
Had he really been doing harm than good?
No. He wouldn't believe that; couldn't believe that, Howard had always been the one breaking things and hurting people.
But the billionaire could feel his conviction wavering and he needed to remind himself of the depths this man had sunk to.
Tony had always been curious when his father had brought 'guests' home, his childish curiosity almost overwhelming but survival instinct always kicked in at the last minute. He knew his father would be displeased with him if he caught him snooping around and that fear often stopped his more reckless actions.
Not tonight though.
Tonight he was going to find out what happened behind those closed doors.
The six year old snuck along the corridor having already evaded Jarvis in the maze of bedrooms and now the only thing standing between his curiosity and an answer were the large doors leading to the reception room. Feeling as though his victory was assured the youngster lent his head against the door trying to catch a snippet of what was being said inside.
All he could hear through the wood was a series of inarticulate groans and a sound that sounded suspiciously like someone was being slapped. A sound he unfortunately had some experience with and he felt the phantom linger of past pain wash over him. Was someone being hurt inside the room? Was his father being hurt in there? He knew that he could possibly get into big trouble for this but that was not going to deter Tony; it sounded like someone was hurt and he was going to do the right thing.
He creaked the old door open; slowly to ensure that it didn't make a sound and popped his head into the opening.
The room was dimly lit and now that the door was open he could make out the noises better. There were definitely two distinct sets of moans; did that mean there were two people who were hurt? Concern overwhelming his flight reflex the youngster ventured into the room, his dark eyes scanning the room for the source of the noises.
In the corner of the room he could see the familiar and imposing figure of his father. He was braced across one of the large lounge couches that adorned the room and underneath him was a woman that was most certainly not his mother.
Tony felt the bottom of his stomach drop out as the realization of what was happening dawned on the youngster. He wasn't an idiot he knew that adults had sex but he'd been under the impression that this was something that only people who loved one another did.
'An expression of love.'
That was how his mother had described it to him, with that small sad smile on her face when he'd asked her about it.
He'd never seen that woman before and it certainly wasn't the same one that his father had brought last week, so how could his father love this woman?
The answer to the question was simple.
The answer made Tony feel as though he was going to throw-up but he just couldn't stop himself from watching as the bodies of his father and the mystery woman undulate against one another. He watched wide-eyed and slack-jawed as they reached the climax of their activities; the shock rendering him completely immobile as hurt and betrayal raged through him.
How dare he.
How dare he.
His father was married to his mother, which meant he was supposed to love her; he was supposed to cherish her. He was not meant to be messing around with some random woman!
Raw anger replaced the numb shock and combined with the hurt and betrayal it was a potent, explosive force.
The youngster dashed forward filled with righteous fury and tackled Howard aiming for the knees like he'd been shown. The man; caught by surprise buckled to the ground and quickly found himself set upon by a furious Tony. He reigned down punches on his father like a whirlwind screaming all the obscenities he knew at the older man. Howard however recovered quickly and kicked the young child off of him, eyes wild and face flushed.
Behind them the woman watched on in horror, her eyes bugging out of her head and clothes akimbo. Tony spat at her with pure venom and then rounded on his father.
"You bastard how could you do this to mom! You're meant to love one another! You scumbag."
Howard turned to the woman and uttered a firm 'get out.' The woman needed no other prompting and quickly fled from the room leaving the two Stark's alone. The older man stalked forward a look of the purest anger on his face and grabbed hold of the small child by the throat and violently slamming him against the nearest wall. Tony's head bounced off the wall with a sickening thud.
"What the fuck did you think you were doing? I've told you a thousand times not to come in here you little shit!"
The stench of alcohol on his father's breath made Tony want to gag; not a particularly great situation to be in when there was a hand clamped around your throat. He flailed wildly; his short limbs attempting to hurt Howard by any means but attempts were ultimately futile.
"Fuck'n... Che't'n... 'umbag." Tony gasped out.
The hand around the young boy's neck tightened and the youngster instantly stopped squirming; the pain and lack of oxygen causing to see spots before his eyes.
"Now you listen and listen well you little fuck, the only reason you're even here is because of a mistake . The only reason I married your mother was because of a mistake . You don't have the right to lecture me about love and family when you weren't wanted and are the by-product of mistakes . You ruined both of our lives!"
Tony could feel tears prick at his eyes as pain lanced right through his heart. Even though he knew that his father was more than a little inebriated he could sense no deceit in Howard's words, something he'd long ago learned to pick up on. He half choked a sob and went limp; any fight left in him extinguished by the sudden epiphany he'd be shown.
He'd ruined his parents lives, what kind of monster was he?
It was here Howard let the child drop to the floor with a thump and after adjusting his clothing simply left the room; leaving a traumatized Tony shaking on the floor.
It was several hours before anyone found the youngster and Jarvis pitched an absolute fit when he saw state his young master was in. He scooped up the still catatonic child into his arms and quickly rushed to Maria's bedroom.
Tony's mother let out a gasp when she saw them and instantly pulled the child into bed with her; whispering comforting words into his ear and stroking long, nimble fingers through the soft hair. After a short while the youngster came back to his senses, whimpering softly and burying his head in his mother's soft nightdress,
They sat in silence for a moment and then Tony tentatively asked.
"Mom, am I a mistake?"
Maria's eyes went wide and she wrapped her arms around her son.
"Why do you think that?" Her voice was soft yet sorrowful.
The young boy could bear to bring himself to tell her what Howard had said, the very thought of it sickening him to the core.
"Just because…" He replied dropping his gaze to the floral quilt pooled around his body.
"Baby, you are not a mistake. You may not have been expected but you were never a mistake. Now get these silly notions out of your head."
Tony snuggled close to his mother, the smell of jasmine washing over him and calming him to the point where he was on the verge of falling asleep in the crook of his mothers arm but before he succumbed he had one last question.
"Mom do you love dad?"
The woman sighed softly her hand still carding through her son's hair and when she answered it was in the same soft sorrowful tone.
"Yes, I do. Even if sometimes it's difficult."
The youngster lifted his head to meet his mother's gaze and he could see the pained, shadowed look on her face. It was at that moment Tony realized two things, one: His mother knew about his father's; no not father anymore, Howard's illicit activities and two: it hurt her more than she would ever let on. Howard's words came crashing back into his mind and he had to wonder if there was any truth to the face that he was the only reason his mother was here. In that moment the child made a vow to himself, he would protect his mother and do everything he could to make her happy because if it wasn't for him she would already be so.
Back in the here and now Tony could feel his head and his heart ache from reliving the memories of days gone by, in front of him was the man who had caused so many problems and yet still he couldn't find it in him to abandon the man. Howard however had no such qualms and was happy to tear down the man sat in front of him.
"Still got nothing to say?"
The billionaire felt his mind freeze and he grappled with the mental block.
"Howard that's enough."
Both men jumped at the new voice in the conversation and turned to the doorway to see Steve standing there a look of horror on his face, tucked in behind him was Bruce face carefully neutral. The soldier strode into the room and stared down at the elder Stark his mouth drawn into a thin line.
"That's enough, I can't listen to you tear Tony down anymore and not say anything. You may have issue with him but he is my friend and has proved himself more times than I care to count, has saved my life more times than I care to count and if that isn't deserving of your trust or respect then I don't know what is. I don't know what happened to you to turn you into this bitter man sat in front of me but you are not the Howard Stark I once knew."
With that Steve grabbed hold of Tony's forearm and pulled him upwards. Too shocked and numb to do anything other than comply Tony let the blonde drag him from the room gaping at the man.
"You… You stood up for me…"
The soldier gave a soft smile.
"Yeah I did."
"Why?" The billionaire asked genuinely confused.
Steve shrugged "I heard what he said to you, Bruce pulled up the camera feed and well… What he said wasn't fair and I'm pretty sure that all of it wasn't true. You may be a prick Tony but you're not pathetic and you don't make everyone around you miserable."
"Seconded by the way." Bruce interjected, shooting a tired smile Tony's way.
For a few moments the billionaire just stood there looking confused as he processed the information and then a small grateful smile spread across his face before turning into a devious smirk.
"You called me your friend."
There was a cheeky lilt to Tony's voice and Steve couldn't help but raise an amused eyebrow in response.
"Bruce! Steve called me his friend that means I get to torment him now!"
The physicist coughed into his sleeve to hide the laugh that was dying to erupt from his throat as Tony threw his arm around the soldier's shoulders as Steve blushed slightly.
"Don't push your luck Stark" Steve answered tartly.
Tony didn't reply but just grinned wider.