Chapter Fifteen: Past Wounds
The walk down the lab was awkward; the silence palpable, almost suppressive and it was something Tony despised immensely. Bruce was still pretty shaken from his encounter with Ross and he honestly couldn't blame the man for feeling like that. Admittedly the billionaire didn't have quite the experience Bruce had in torture but he'd experienced enough to know that some wounds never fully healed not matter how much you thought they had.
And in all honesty if he'd been in Bruce's position....
He would have let the Hulk tear Ross to shreds, consequences be damned.
The bastard had more than certainly earned it.
Of course he'd never tell Bruce that particular piece of information, the man had more than enough issues with his alter-ego as it was. The last thing he needed now was to drive the already skittish man closer to fleeing, he needed all the allies he could get at the moment and in Bruce he not only had an ally but a friend, someone he could you know trust.
And admittedly trust was thin on the ground at the moment.
He pushed aside those thoughts and focused on what needed to be done because in all honesty Tony had no idea how he was going to approach this. It wasn't every day that you had to tell your father; who had been cryogenically frozen and presumed dead for the last twenty five years, that he could be a walking, talking time bomb of mass destruction. Oh and the people that did this to him kind of wanted him back as well and were prepared to take on and smear a group of fucking super-heroes to take him back.
Actually that had sounded pretty good, maybe he'd go with that. That was of course if Howard believed him in the first place, the billionaire was aware that Steve had talked to his old friend but the soldier hadn't indulged what they'd spoken about or how much he'd brought the other man up to date.
Fuck this was a mess.
And it looked like it was only going to get worse because they sure as shit didn't look like they were going to get any better.
They finally reached the lab and the awkwardness that had been strung between the two men became grim resolve, neither of them wanted to go in there and talk to the man but knew it was their responsibility. Tony quickly placed his hand on the panel; opening the door before his nerve gave out and as it slid open he took a deep breath and allowed 'Tony Stark; genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist' to take over.
Howard was sat in a chair with a scientific journal in his hand reading silently to himself, clearly immersed in the material and the billionaire noted with some amusement that it was Bruce's paper on anti-electron collisions. Tony had honestly forgotten he'd had that laying around the place. He turned to the physicist to see if he'd noticed the old codgers choice of material and was rewarded with a look of shock and an unmistakable tinge around the ears. Suddenly all of the trepidation seemed to melt away and Tony knew it was now or never.
He coughed, loudly.
Howard looked up from his reading with a mildly irritated look the didn't disappear when he saw who his guests were. However unlike usual he put his reading to one side and gave them both his undivided attention even if it was marred with a slight scowl.
Tony had to admit that threw him for a loop, he couldn't remember the last time his father had addressed him by his given name and not some degrading insult. However he would not give him the satisfaction of being addressed by his proper title, the old man had lost that privilege many years ago.
The elder Stark's expression was unreadable but Tony thought he may have seen a flicker of hurt in the dark eyes or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on his behalf.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
There was a slight sarcastic edge to Howard's tone but compared to his usual biting tone it was practically mellow. It appeared the dressing down he'd been given by Steve had actually made the man stop and think about what he was doing, something that Tony hadn't actually thought was possible.
The billionaire took a deep breath.
"We need to talk." He replied honestly.
Howard looked slightly taken aback and there was suspicion glowing in his eyes but he didn't voice it, instead he remained silent and gestured with his hand for his son to continue. Tony bit back the flash of annoyance and reminded himself that this was the most civil the man had ever been with him; that, and he had a job to do.
"We're here to brief you on the situation and see whether or not you have any useful information to add."
The older man's face turned slightly grim.
The billionaire couldn't quite suppress the urge to flash a rough, cruel smile at the other man.
"The situation where you could possibly be a walking, talking chemical weapon and the people that made you like this want you back bad enough that they're willing to launch an aggressive smear campaign against a group of super-heroes."
Clearly Steve hadn't caught him up all that much because the look of shock and confusion of Howard's face was fucking priceless and it took every ounce of Tony's resolve to not burst into slightly hysterical giggles.
"The people who did this...? ...Super-heroes?... What the hell is going on?" The older man's temper was starting to resurface and Tony felt his own anger begin to boil, time to get this done.
"You already know that you've been stick in a cold sleep for the last twenty-five years. What you didn't know was that while you were asleep the fuckers that took you pumped you full of a variant of the super-soldier serum that increased your healing rate and used you as a human germ farm to create 'vaccines' and in all likelihood chemical and biological weapons."
The billionaire practically spat the last words in disgust before turning his gaze back to Howard. The man's face had gone ashen and his eyes were wide with horrified anger, maybe the blunt approach hadn't been the wisest.
"They... They..." The indignant rage was preventing him from speaking and Howard's whole body was trembling with it.
Tony winced, all previous traces of hilarity evaporated in the blink of an eye.
"Yeah, they did and that isn't even the worse news. It appears that the nano-machines that they used to pump you full of all that shit are only stable in a cold-sleep environment; hence the walking talking weapon line, they could go loco at any minute or do absolutely nothing at all; we just don't know."
In hindsight the billionaire really should have expected what happened next, it was after all a reaction he frequented himself. Howard stood quickly and threw the neatest thing that came to hand at the wall with every ounce of his strength, a scream of frustration piercing the air. The pitcher of water exploded in a cacophony of sound and shards; liquid staining the walls as it was forcefully ejected from its previous sedate state. The elder stood there for a moment breathing heavily and glaring at his handy work before collapsing back into the chair and dropping his head into hands.
"Who, who did this to me?" Howard's voice was low and rough.
For the briefest of moments Tony genuinely considered lying to Howard and saying that they didn't know; not out of spite but out of sympathy and for the first time since he came back from Afghanistan Tony hated the man he had become. The man sat before him didn't deserve his sympathy or his empathy but he couldn't stop himself, the innate whatever the fuck this was just wouldn't let him.
Steve would probably call it his morality or his conscience or some other such bullshit. All he knew was that it was a pain in the ass and he hated it right now.
"We know that the World Security Council is involved they are the ones threatening us but they're mostly ghosts, just names on paper. There are a few people that we do know about though..."
Tony trailed off as he clamped down on the still present feelings of anger and betrayal and Howard's gaze shot up the same feelings burning in the wizened eyes.
The commanding tone of Howard's voice made the billionaire shrink a little inside, suddenly feeling like that tiny, frightened child again. He had to remind himself that this anger was not directed at him; it was directed at the bastards that had done this to Howard. It didn't however stop Tony's voice coming out meek and cowed as he uttered one word barely loud enough to be heard.
The difference that one word made was startling; the anger seemed to just burn out replaced by betrayal and an unfathomable sadness. Tony wondered if he'd looked like that when he'd discovered the truth, a quick glance in Bruce's direction confirmed that the answer was probably yes.
"You're lying, you have to be Obie wouldn't do this to me."
The accusation held no real strength and the lost and utterly devastated tone made the billionaire's heart flip unpleasantly. He wholeheartedly understood what the other man was feeling right now having dealt with Obidiah's own betrayal several years earlier and he knew that Howard wouldn't fully believe him until he saw the proof of his treachery.
"JARVIS pull up Project Ragnarok document 2X4B."
"As you wish Sir."
Howard jumped as the AI responded clearly not expecting the other voice, he stared at the ceiling curiously before turning to the holographic screen. Tony watched as the man red through the document his emotions flickering between anger, hurt and betrayal. Eventually he settled on an expression that could only be described as pissed.
"That son of a fucking crack-whore! And to think I was going to give him control of the company, where is the fucking traitor? I want to fucking kill him."
Behind him Tony heard Bruce give a little gasp at Howard's blatant dismissal of his son but the billionaire merely shrugged in response. It wouldn't have surprised him if Howard had intended to leave the company to that back-stabber Stane, he'd always threatened as much. Honestly out of everyone he'd been the most shocked when he'd been announced as successor to Stark Industries and Obidiah had just placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled.
Had he been plotting his downfall even then?
Don't go there Tony, now is not the time.
He shook his head clear of the past and focused his attention on the man sitting in front of him, who was looking up at him expectantly.
"You're a little late to the 'lets kill Stane' party, he's been dead for about five years."
There was a icy coldness to Tony's reply that took all of the wind out of Howard's sails and he stared at his son waiting for the answers to a million and one questions that wouldn't be answered unless he asked.
So he started simple.
"What happened to him?"
Now that was the million dollar question. The billionaire was aware that the world at large thought that Stane had perished in a light aircraft accident and that only his betrayal was written in his S.H.I.E.L.D file (He'd personally made sure of that.) Did he really want to reopen old wounds?
"I killed him."
The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop them. There was an awkward silence as the impact of the words settled on all those present and Tony found himself needing to elaborate.
"Until about five years ago I was exactly the little shit you always said I would be, I was spoilt and privileged and I didn't give a fuck about practically anyone. Then this happened..." He pointed to the Arc reactor embedded in his chest. "...And I couldn't be that man anymore."
The elder Stark stared at the blue circle of light emanating in Tony's chest with wonder.
"Is that... An Arc reactor?"
Tony nodded feeling uncomfortable under the scrutiny.
"The how is easy, I made it...The why is a little more complicated and has a lot to do with our mutual friend Mr. Stane..."
The confusion was evident on Howard's face so Tony continued.
"I was doing a weapons presentation in Afghanistan and while there I was kidnapped by a terrorist group using Stark weapons, weapons I had designed against the people I intended to protect, all it took for me to see the truth was a shrapnel wound to the chest. This powers an electromagnet to keep it from killing me."
The billionaire began pacing the room unsure of how to word the part of the story.
"I managed to escape; built something pretty cool along the way and when I got back I found someone in the company was double dealing; eventually found out it was Obidiah when he tried to kill me again by pulling this out of my chest, after that I had no choice I had to take him down."
Both Bruce and Howard watched the man pacing with nervous energy unsure of what to say, Bruce because he knew how difficult this was for his friend and Howard because he couldn't apologise for a dead man's mistakes. The physicist took a step forward and placed a hand on Tony's shoulder stopping the man's pacing.
"That's enough Tony you don't have to say any more."
The billionaire looked grateful for the interruption and offered a shakey smile. It was never easy to bring up the past especially when it involved the death of someone you had once trusted and respected. Tony was suddenly grateful that Bruce had come along, he knew where to prod him into talking and when to get him to stop blabbing and if anyone knew about the right time for discretion it was Bruce. Finally after a few moments Tony seemed to gather himself and turned back to Howard, content that the billionaire was back in the right place Bruce stood back and let him continue.
"But I'm getting away from the point here, the point is those fuckers are coming for you and we're not going to let them take you."
The elder Stark frowned.
"You keep saying we, who are you talking about?" He asked.
This time when Tony smiled it was much more genuine.
"Well remember those super-heroes I mentioned, not even a joke and the council have just succeeded in pissing us all off by being a bunch of dickwads."
Howard didn't looked convinced by Tony's adamant proclamation and the billionaire just smirked.
"Don't look so worried old man, the Avengers have your back."
"The Avengers?" There was a hint of humour in the rough voice and Tony was suddenly reminded of the last person who asked him that question and how well that particular encounter had ended. Hopefully this time he wouldn't end up falling out of a twenty story window.
"Yeah, that's kind of what we call ourselves, Earths mightiest heroes and all that jazz."
It appeared that karma was a cruel, ironic bitch.
Almost as soon as the words left the billionaire's mouth the whole building shook violently sending Tony and Bruce flying to the floor and a loud boom could be heard from the bowels of the tower. The lights flickered on and off as the Arc reactor fought to manage the power disruption and Tony cursed under his breath.
"JARVIS! Status report!"
"The tower is under attack Sir, a rocket propelled incendiary device was fired directly into your workshop and I believe you were their intended target. Also there are several heavily armed squads working their way through the internal stairwells and toward the Avengers communal areas." The AI rattled off as he continued to assess the devastation.
From across the room he heard the physicist suck in a breath between clenched teeth and for the briefest moment Tony thought he was on the verge of a transformation. Although the Hulk would be useful in a fight, now wasn't the time to make an appearance and then there was how the big guy would react to Howard's presence.
Yeah he could see that going over just fabulously.
"Banner you okay over there?"
When Bruce looked up a second later the billionaire didn't see a hint of green as he retorted.
"Yeah... Just peachy."
Tony stood quickly and extended his hand to the physicist; which Bruce quickly grasped and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
"I thought they said we had until noon?"
The physicist gave a derisive snort of laughter.
"Since when have the Council ever been honest about anything? The time limit was a ruse to make us lower our guard and we fell for it."
They gave each other a quick knowing glance.
"You know what? These assholes are really starting to piss me off." Tony growled.
"Couldn't agree more, I think perhaps it's time you suited up. I've got things covered here."
Tony nodded in agreement and immediately headed toward the door a snarl on his face.
"J where is my nearest suit?"
"The Mark V is in laboratory three, might I suggest you make haste Sir one of the units is close to accessing this floor."
The billionaire growled under his breath, like fuck those Fuckers were getting anywhere near his R and D floors; he would rather chew his own leg off. He made it to the laboratory in record time and grabbed hold of the suitcase that contained the mobile version of the Iron Man suit, pressing the button to begin the activation sequence.
He smiled grimly as the mechanised suit sprang to life and wrapped itself around his torso and as the face plate lowered the door to the laboratory was blasted inwards and the assault team filtered in. Tony raised his gauntlet the whir of the charging repulsor catching the attention of the would be assailants.
"Hello ladies..." Tony uttered, his voice oddly ominous through the suits synthesiser. "It's show-time."
The sound of the repulsor firing was the last thing the assault team heard.