Chapter Thirteen: Painful Truthes
It was a rather subdued duo of S.H.I.E.L.D agents the re-entered the tower. Natasha and Clint were still trying to work their way through the rather disturbing revelation they had already discovered in the 'Project Ragnarok' files and although they were professionals to the core they were dreading sharing this information. The elevator door slid open on the communal area and both of the agents were happy to see it blissfully empty or at least so they thought.
"How did it go guys?" Steve's voice sounded tired.
The pair walked into the area as the blond sat up from the prone position he'd been taking up on the couch. He shot them a weary smile as he shuffled across giving Natasha and Clint space to sit down beside him. They took the pro-offered seats with an ominous silence that the super soldier couldn't say he was comfortable with.
The two assassins looked at one another and sighed handing the case to Steve, who looked at it with an honesty curiosity that belied it's contents.
"Does the name Obidiah Stane mean anything to you?" Natasha asked.
Blond eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
"It rings a bell but I can't think where from." He replied honesty.
"Stane was Howard Stark's business partner, his closest friend and a major share-holder in Stark Industries until his death four years ago."
Clint stated as he stood and walked to the wet bar, pouring a copious amount of some indiscernable liquid into two tumblers before heading back and handing one to Natasha; which she graciously accepted. Beside her Steve started to recollect the briefing packet Fury had given him when the initiative had initially formed and found himself frowning as the pieces slotted together.
"He's the one who had Tony kidnapped isn't he?" There was a dark edge to the soldiers voice.
Both Widow and Hawkeye nodded, rolling their tumblers around in their hands restlessly.
"So what does he have to do with all this?"
The pair looked weary and Natasha downed her drink in one before pulling up the files to show Steve what the problem was. Blue eyes went wide with shock before hardening like diamond; the muscles in his jaw flexing as he ground his teeth together in anger.
"That son of a bitch..."
Neither Natasha nor Clint could argue with the statement.
"Have you told Tony yet?"
Again the duo shook their heads and Steve repressed a sigh instantly understanding why they hadn't gone straight to Stark with the information. This had the potential to break the billionaire and the more people prepared for the fallout the better. But Tony had to know that the two spies were back by now and was likely to come searching for the answers at any minute.
So pre-emptive strike it was then.
"Come on you two, no time like the present." Steve's voice was authoritive.
They both looked at him like he was crazy but didn't disobey. The three of them stood and headed to the elevator; Steve asking Tony's location as he pressed the call button.
"Sir is currently residing in the workshop with Doctor Banner..." JARVIS replied "... He was enquiring as to when Agents Romanoff and Barton were to make an appearance." while Tony was fairly bouncing
Which roughly translated into; he's been bitching like a three year old so can someone please hurry up and get down here before he blows something up and/or pushes Doctor Banner too far.
It honestly amazed them how much could be red in what the AI wasn't saying sometimes and wondered if the billionaire had intentionally programed him like that.
The elevator sped down to Tony's workshop and stopped with a jolt before the doors slid open allowing them access to candyland. The billionaire was seated at one of the many workbenches littered around the room, Bruce hovering over one shoulder watching with interest. They didn't even notice the three of their team-mates enter and it wasn't until Steve gave an overly loud but polite cough that either man turned around.
The physicist for the most part looked relieved while Tony was fairly bouncing up and down on ine chair with barely contained excitement. Upon finally becoming aware that they had visitors the billionaire leapt from his seat and strode toward them a triumphant look on his face.
''So Wonder-Twins, how'd it go? Did my baby do me proud?"
Both Natasha and Clint bit back a groan at the awful nickname but they supposed it could have been a lot worse. Natasha handed tire case to the billionaire a small smile on ne face and a cheeky glint in her green eyes.
"Yes your baby did you proud Stark although I was more intrigued by it's designation."
For a brief moment Tony blanched and tne Widow looked smug as all eyes turned on the billionaire.
"I take it JARVIS told you?..." Stark rolled his eyes then gave a soft snort of laughter. "Of course he did... Damn traitor."
''You did not give me any instructions regarding information on the device Sir. I assumed that informing Agent Romanoff of it's details would not be something that you would object to." JARVIS replied tartly causing the congregation to simultaneously crack a smile.
The billionaire threw up his hands in mock frustration.
"Sass... Sass and snark is all I get around here."
"Welcome to our world Tony." Bruce retorted, shutting down the holo-screens.
"Sass and snark, all I'm saying."
The group just shrugged and watched as Tony withdrew the bot from the case and hooked it up to JARVIS's core processor. The download took seconds and less than a minute later the entirety of 'Project Ragnarok' was laid out before them. The billionaire squinted as he skimmed through the opening pages and Steve, Clint and Natasha waited for the penny to drop.
There was a crash as the mug of coffee slipped from Tony's grasp and colided with the floor.
"You are fucking kidding me..."
The billionaire rounded on the rest of his team; eyes wild and angry. Bruce recoiled slightly looking confused while the rest of the Avengers just stared solemnly at their friend knowing the betrayal the man was experiencing.
"Tony..? What's in there?" The physicist asked genuienly concerned.
Tony was actually shaking with rage; fists balled at his sides unsure whether to lash out or retreat. In the end he decided on the first option.
The crash of metal echoed around the shop as various pieces of the Iron Man suit were flung fom the work bench. Bruce stepped forward to stop the other man but stopped when Steve placed a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. The random destruction continued scraps of tech and circuitry flying everywhere as the billionaire unleashed his fury on the room. After a few minutes the man seemed to burn himself out and collapsed on a nearby chair dropping his head into his hands.
"Get out." Tony's voice held no room for argument.
The rest of the team bar Bruce looked at one another and hesitantly made their way toward the door, the physicist hovering uncertainly; unwilling to leave his friend at an obviously fragile moment.
"I thought I told you to get out Banner."
The physicist snorted "You honestly think I'm going anywhere after that?"
Tony lifted his gaze and glared half-heartedly at the other man while Bruce folded his arms across his chest.
"Fuck. Off. Banner."
"Nope, not going to happen."
"Go the fuck away." The billionaire snarled slamming his hands down on the metal work-surface in attempt to intimidate the other man.
The physicist merely rolled his eyes and stood his ground.
"You think that's going to work, really?"
Tony just continued to glare, trying to incinerate the other man through sheer force or at least will him out of the room so he could break down in peace. The staring contest continued and Tony felt his grip beginning to slip, he could see the grey patches at the corner of his vision get bigger and the shop suddenly seemed far, far too small. He dragged in a breath feeling his whole body shake; he'd never been good at dealing with stuff like this. Betrayal was something he fought to avoid as much as humanly possible but it still happened, kept happening, even when the fuckers were supposed to be dead. Especially since death seemed to be more of a lifestyle choice rather than a permanent fixture at the moment.
He was drawn from his thoughts as a warm hand placed itself on his shoulder and a calm reassuring voice told him to breathe.
Breathe? Wasn't he breathing? He distinctly remembered taking in a deep breath and ouch there was the carbon dioxide build up right now. Slowly he exhaled and the room seemed to swim back into focus and a concerned looking Bruce along with it.
"Uh…" He gasped awkwardly
The physicist didn't say anything in return, didn't move, just kept staring, silently; his hand a firm, grounding presence on his shoulder. After a few more minutes the attack had passed and Tony found that he could breathe much more easily. He looked around the chaos that was now the shop and tried not to wince, he'd really to town on some of the equipment.
"Um... Well that could have gone better." He started lamely.
Bruce shrugged and backed away. "I've seen worse, believe me."
The billionaire flashed a small guilty grin and stood up, stretching somewhat over-dramatically whilst surveying the rest of the damage and pointedly ignoring the brown eyes he could feel boring into his back.
"Do you feel better?"
The question was earnest bordering just on the right side of concern and Tony felt himself grimace. He really didn't want to talk about feelings right now, not when there were so many bubbling just beneath the thin veneer of control he'd managed to wrestle within himself. Dear fucking God, how did Bruce deal with this shit every fucking day?
"Not really." He replied honestly, because if anyone deserved honesty it was the man stood in front of him.
"That's to be expected I guess, to be honest I would have been more concerned if you'd said yes." Bruce replied, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
The billionaire stood silently trying to ignore that the last twenty minutes had even happened and turned back to the screen, pushing down the dark thoughts circling around his mind. Bruce seemed quite content to let him do so; knowing that the other man would talk to him when and if he felt like it. He'd been in this place himself many times before after all and he knew that it wasn't best to push until absolutely necessary.
And besides distraction was quite often a good way of helping to deal with these kinds of things; as long as you didn't become too distracted.
"So what have we got here?" He asked casually even though he already knew the answer, trying to gauge where Tony's head was at more accurately.
The billionaire didn't speak, a near miracle under normal circumstances; just read through the files in stony silence ever vigilant that he was under the physicist's watchful gaze. The more he red the more angry he was becoming and it was taking all of his willpower not to lash out and break something again.
How could anyone use someone like this?
If it had been anyone other than that scum sucker Obidiah he wouldn't have believed it possible for someone to be so inhumane but the bastard had certainly proven himself callous enough to pull a stunt like this. He'd stolen the arc reactor right out of his chest after all; putting his business partner in the freezer to experiment on must have been a breeze in comparison. He hadn't had to do any of the dirty work, just signed away another man's life all in the name of 'progress and prosperity'.
"They made him a fucking lab-rat that's what." He choked out, fighting down the conflicting emotions warring within him.
Bruce took a step forward hoping that his closer proximity would distract the other man. He could see the other man starting to crash again and tight now they needed Tony, needed him to stay focused on this and not go flying off half-cocked to make those he deemed 'responsible' for this pay. Although admittedly in Stane's case it was already a bit too late in the game for that, Tony had already seen to that but the physicist suspected if he had the opportunity the billionaire would happily kill the man again.
Tony growled as the information danced before his eyes, temper and destructive urges flaring wildly. He'd never been one for self-control and now that miniscule thread was close to snapping.
Realising that this situation was quickly derailing he decided to fall back on an old coping mechanism, that although not favorable would certainly help to calm the maelstrom of emotions and rapidly darkening thoughts.
"I need a drink."
He didn't wait for a reply, standing quickly and exiting the shop leaving a frowning Bruce behind. The man could frown all he wanted it wasn't going to stop Tony for a second, he needed the mental vacancy that inebriation brought right now in order to bring everything into perspective.
At least that was what he was telling himself.
He made it to the penthouse in record time and descended on the bar like a man possessed. The first two shots slid down his throat like molten honey and after that a lot of it became a blur; a cold, empty blur that tasted like oak and smelt vaguely like vanilla. Time seemed to ebb by, like a thick soup and by the time the billionaire realised he was no longer alone in the penthouse he'd drank more than enough to not care.
Tony frowned into his glass absently noting that is was once again empty. He'd honestly figured that Bruce would have followed him what he had not been expecting was Captain fucking America to be standing in front of him watching him get wasted.
"What?" He snapped back in response.
Steve looked uncomfortable but his face hardened in resolve.
"Mind if I join you?"
The billionaire almost dropped his drink in shock at the request but there was a weary earnestness around Steve that he just couldn't refuse.
"Sure thing Cap, free country and all that jazz."
Steve took a seat and pulled a bottle of premium vodka toward him, pouring himself a generous amount and knocking it back like water. Tony couldn't quite believe his eyes and gawked openly at the soldier, he'd always thought that Steve was the epitome of, well 'goodness' and seeing the other man drinking somehow didn't sit right with him. Steve seemed to notice the stares and grinned awkwardly.
"I don't really drink that often... I don't feel it but sometimes the action can be calming."
Tony couldn't imagine not being able to feel the affects of the alcohol in his system and as much as it pained him to admit it; it was a life he wouldn't be able to function in. He grimaced in sympathy for Steve's predicament.
"Can't imagine that personally, but then again I'm not immune to alcohol."
"I know." Steve replied without condescension.
The silence stretched between the two men as both of continued to imbibe, each of them tiptoeing around the questions that they desperately wanted to ask. Finally the tension snapped and the billionaire gave into temptation.
"What you said... To Howard..."
The soldier didn't even hesitate in his response.
"I meant every word I said Tony, I thought I already told you that."
There was a slight up-turn of lips mimicking a smile.
"Little bit of reassurance goes a long way Cap..."
Steve snorted lightly and rolled his eyes. "Don't you mean an ego-boost there Stark?"
Tony shrugged and took another long swig of his drink.
"Ego-boost is such an ugly phrase Captain, for shame."
"Ooo back to last names are we? I'm hurt."
The billionaire stuck out his lip in a mock pout and the blonde couldn't help but laugh in response before sighing deeply. It was so easy to mask over what was happening with this playful banter and although Tony was acting like nothing was wrong; the fact he was here drowning his sorrows in extremely expensive booze spoke volumes. Tony seemed to sense the shift in the other man and let out his own long suffering sigh.
"Should have known this wouldn't last." He turned on the barstool to face Steve fully. "Come on then hit me with it."
The soldier looked uncomfortable but didn't shy away from Tony's piercing and surprisingly sharp stare and when he answered his voice was low and solemn.
"What... What did they do... To Howard I mean. I saw the files but most of it... Most of it was just gobbledygook to me."
There was a brief moment where Tony honestly considered not answering but he saw the stiff set of Steve's shoulders and realised for the first time that maybe he wasn't the only one taking this whole situation badly. He caught the other man's gaze and saw the same burning desire for vengeance he felt himself.
"The short version... They pumped him full of the serum to boost his healing properties and then decided to use him a breeding ground for every known virus and some unknown ones in order to create vaccines. But if Stane's involved I have a feeling that the 'vaccine' part of the whole thing is just a ruse of some sorts."
Tony's jaw twitched "They used him to make biological weapons."
Steve hoped he looked as sickened as he felt because that was about one of the most ghastly, disturbing and vile things he'd ever heard. The billionaire looked just as revolted as he did and Steve couldn't stop the curse escaping his lips even if he'd wanted to.
Tony couldn't have put it better himself.