Chapter Sixteen: Battlefield: Avengers Tower
No one had been expecting the first explosion, in all honesty they hadn't been expecting the Council to use such an aggressive show of force but in hindsight they probably should have. They were trying to make an example of them; prove to the world, to the Avengers themselves that they weren't infallible and that they held all the power.
It was a cowardly and pretty pathetic attempt in Natasha's honest opinion.
Across the room she could see similar expressions on both Steve and Clint's faces, they were no strangers to intimidation tactics and to them that was all this was, an intimidation tactic. One that wasn't going to work.
"JARVIS where was that explosion centred?" Natasha asked, getting to her feet and brushing down her clothing.
"The explosion was centred around Sir's workshop." The three Avengers sucked in a breath "It was vacated at the time with the exception of Dum-E, who is currently working on damage control."
Clint, Natasha and Steve let out the breaths they'd been holding. For the briefest of moments they had forgotten that Tony wasn't in the workshop like usual and the relief was simultaneous; quickly replaced with searing anger. The first attack usually spoke volumes about an assailants priorities, the fact they'd targeted the billionaire first meant they saw him as the greatest threat to their operation or at least the most troublesome element. It was unsurprising when they thought about it; Tony was unpredictable a complete wild-card and when he'd set his mind to something damn near unstoppable.
But they'd missed and now they were not only going to have to deal with a determined Tony but a pissed off one as well.
"A squad of seven unmarked men are currently making their way to your location carrying tactical weapons." JARVIS said, pulling the three of them from their thoughts.
Hawkeye frowned his hand twitching slightly with the need to hold something; his bow was still in his room and they had only just finished their debriefing when the explosion had hit the tower. Beside him Natasha and Steve were looking just as put out, their own equipment locked away in the safety of their own quarters. Well let it not be said that they couldn't improvise.
Steve immediately ran to the kitchenette section of the communal area while the two assassins leapt toward the bar. Within minutes they had created a make shift arsenal of weapons ranging from simple kitchen knives to a nasty array of Molotov cocktails made from Tony's extensive (and expensive, Widow had already spied a $500 bottle of vodka and bemoaned it's fate) alcohol stash. They had also procured a set of tea towels to act as face masks and found a few pairs of safety goggles hidden in the dishwasher (they weren't going to ask about that). Ready to stave off the initial attack Natasha and Steve took cover behind the large couch, while Clint retreated to the rafters and waited for the assault.
Slowly the door to the communal area creaked open and the sound of heavy boots trying to take light steps filled the air. Natasha counted in her head, waited until all seven sets were in the room and then nodded to the boys.
The next few minutes were absolute chaos.
From his position Clint launched a bag of flour into the mass of enemies with enough force that it exploded. The white powder erupted into the air startling the group and obscuring their vision just long enough for Natasha to stand; a lighted Molotov in hand and lob it into the chaos before ducking down and covering her ears, motioning for Steve to do the same.
The lighted bottle soared through the air in a graceful arc right into the heart of the flour cloud and as the naked flame contacted with the cloud the room went deathly silent before the whole thing exploded.
It wasn't a large explosion, at least not by the Avengers standards but it was big enough to shatter the windows and immobilize their opponents. Steve cautiously emerged from their cover hole gesturing for Natasha to hold back while he scoped out the area. He had to admit he was impressed, who knew a bag of flour could do so much damage? But it wasn't over yet, from within the dust cloud and debris Steve could pick out the sounds of people coming around and regrouping.
"Let's go!" He ordered and both Widow and Hawkeye obeyed.
The ensuing fight was quick but no less brutal for its speed, all three of them had taken the attack on their home as a personal insult and were making sure the intruders knew that. Steve felt a grim sense of satisfaction as he felt one man's jaw break as he knocked him clean out and he knew better than to reprimand Natasha when she got a little 'slice-happy' with a fish knife. It wasn't enough to do any real damage but it was certainly more than enough to get the point across and by the end thanks to their combined efforts the group was a whimpering, snivelling unconscious mess on the floor.
Feeling somewhat vindicated Natasha bent down and plucked a comms device from one of the men, relishing the shudder and whimper as he unconsciously tried to draw away from a perceived threat.
Serves the bastards right. The assassin thought viciously, popping the bud into her ear.
All squads, repeat all squads Iron-Man is in the vicinity; use of anti-tech weapons is a go, repeat use of anti-tech weapons is a go.
Well it seemed like Tony was having some fun but the message was far from over and it was the next part that had Natasha slightly worried.
Three birds on intercept route be advised and ready for immediate evac on signal.
Fuck, they were bringing in reinforcements.
"Cap, I think we've got a problem. They're bringing in reinforcements."
The blonde's eyebrows knitted together as he frowned and Clint huffed in annoyance folding his arms across his chest.
"Well that sucks."
"No shit, way to state the obvious Cap." Hawkeye retorted, rolling his eyes.
Natasha glared at Clint, wishing that for just once in his life he could take something with the seriousness it deserved. As usual the archer ignored it entirely and started picking through the unconscious men's things, pocketing a few flash and chaff grenades he found stashed about their persons.
"JARVIS can you put me through to Tony?" Steve asked, a disapproving look on his face as he watched Clint's pilfering.
"Of course Captain Rogers."
It took a few minutes but soon a familiar voice filtered through the speakers.
"This is the real-life replica of Tony Stark available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and kicking the ass of secret organisations. What can I do you for?" The billionaire's voice was easy going but there was a steely edge to it.
In the background Hawkeye sniggered and Widow none to subtly elbowed him in the ribs.
"Stark what's your status?" The soldier asked, all business.
"Well hello to you too Capsicle."
There was a sigh from the other end of the comms.
"Just took out a goon squad on the medi-lab floor, I don't know how they got in, never mind that they managed to cloak themselves from JARVIS until they were practically on top of us."
There was definite anger in the billionaire's voice and the rest of the team couldn't blame him. His tech was the one thing the Tony prided himself upon above all else and he hated it when people messed with it.
"He's with Bruce, they're laying low in the lab."
Steve nodded along even though he knew Tony couldn't see him and motioned to Clint and Natasha to get moving as JARVIS gave the all clear. They bolted from the room and made their way to their quarters and quickly geared up, while Steve continued the debrief with the billionaire.
"Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we've got three bogeys incoming, think you can do something about it?"
There was a short bark of laughter "No probs Cap, I'm all over it like a virus."
Steve didn't quite understand the term but he was sure that it meant that Tony was dealing with the incoming intruders. He breathed a sigh of relief quite content to let the billionaire get on with his mission.
"Be careful Tony." He murmured down the comms.
"Always am Cap, Now if you'll excuse me I have some hostile's to deal with."
Bruce paced the lab nervously wringing his hands together as he walked the length and breadth of the small room. Sat in the uncomfortable visitors chair was Howard looking distinctly ill at ease and his gaze glassy. There was a whine from down the corridor, one that was reassuringly familiar to the physicist but made the elder Stark jump slightly.
"What the hell is that?" Howard asked, somewhat alarmed.
Bruce felt a smile breakout across his features.
"That's Tony or if we're being specific that's Tony in his Iron-Man armour."
The windows of the lab shuddered as the red and gold blur streaked past and exploded out of the window at the far end of the corridor. Bruce couldn't help but feel a moment of smug satisfaction as Howard's jaw dropped and his eyes gleamed with wonder and approval, he only wished that Tony had been here to see it.
"I-Is... w-was that what I think it is?" There was no hiding the awe in his voice.
"If you think it was a fully mechanised suit of armour with flight and battle capabilities then yes it was." The physicist didn't even attempt to not sound smug on his friends behalf.
"Does everyone have those now?"
"No, just Tony. It's what he created after he was kidnapped to take back the weapons that had been sold on the side." Bruce replied in a matter of fact manner, running a hand through his hair.
Howard's eyes practically gleamed at that particular information and the physicist could practically see the man's hands itching to get a hold of the suit and tinker with it. Bruce just shook his head in amused exasperation, it appeared the obsessive compulsive need to see how things worked was a heredity trait in Stark men and not just something that was Tony specific. His amusements was short lived as JARVIS came over the loud speaker.
"Doctor Banner may I suggest you change locations? There is another squad closing in on your location."
Bruce didn't even hesitate, he'd learned long ago hesitation usually led to an attempt at capture, which led to death and destruction usually at the hands of the Hulk. He grabbed hold of Howard's arm and dragged him upwards heading toward the private stairwell that lead to the 'Green Room'. The man followed without complaint something that pleased the physicist immensely; it appeared the old man was starting to trust him and he had to wonder just how long that would last if the situation turned really bad.
After a few minutes of light jogging down stairs they reached the imposing door of Hulk's playroom both Bruce and Howard looking decidedly cagey. Hesitantly the physicist placed his hand against the cool metal of the door and waited for a few seconds while the system ascertained his identity, knowing that he was the only one able to open to the door using this method. It was one of the stipulations he'd made when moving in, that only he could easily access this room. It was a stipulation he'd been very glad he'd made, Tony's curiosity about the other guy was unfathomable and those extra few minutes he had to spend breaking in meant he actually thought a little about what he was about to do.
The door slid open without hassle the computer murmuring something about biometric identification accepted and Bruce quickly dragged the older man inside, putting the room into immediate lock down.
Howard gaped at the sheer size of the room, his mouth slack and his eyes wide.
"What is this place?"
Bruce felt a sardonic grin cross his features.
The elder Stark whistled low under his breath, eyes drinking in the technical smorgasbord that had been laid out before him.
"That must be some kid you've got?"
The sardonic smile remained affixed to the physicist's face and his voice was laced with dry humour as he responded.
"You have no idea; I just pray you don't have to meet him."
The silence stretched out between the two men as they waited, Howard being surprisingly tactful and knowing to keep his mouth shut. Bruce didn't speak for fear he'd throw up, his stomach was churning unpleasantly and the faint stirrings of the Other Guy were rumbling in the back of his mind. He had a lid on the Hulk for the time being but he could feel his inner behemoth shift as he realised that the 'Puny Old Man!' was stuck in there with them.
"Doctor Banner, the squad has made their way to the door and are currently attempting to hack the electronic lock; by my estimates they will be through in less than five point four minutes."
Shit. Fuck. Gaping Assholes.
Five minutes was... Not a long time.
It looked like he wasn't going to have a choice in the matter, he'd swore to Tony; his fellow Avenger, his best friend that he would keep Howard safe and he would do that using every means at his disposal. Slowly he began to unbutton his shirt eyes focused solely on the adamantium door some fifty feet in front of him.
"What the fucking hell are you doing?" Howard sounded mortified.
Bruce looked over his shoulder letting a little of the green bleed into his iris's, even in the dim light he could see the other man flinch and it gave him a strange sense of satisfaction.
"Getting ready to show you my party trick and the reason you shouldn't make me angry. Piece of advice; stay out of sight." His voice was dead-pan and slightly gravelly.
The elder Stark looked confused and like he was about to argue with the physicist but Bruce cut him off.
"Listen just stay out of the way!"
He didn't wait any longer, just let the transformation take over and gave himself over to the beast inside. From just behind Bruce Howard watched simultaneously transfixed and mortified as the expanse of green erupt from the much smaller man. Under most circumstances the older man would have thought he had to be hallucinating, but considering all that had happened since he had woke up maybe not. But still it wasn't every day you saw a man triple in size and turn green.
The giant roared at the door, so loud that it made the entire room vibrate and caused Howard to clutch at his ears to dampen the noise. He stared unable to take his eyes off the beast, watched as the acid green gaze flicked to the doors that were slowly opening and quaked as he roared again before charging.
The chaos was instantaneous the squad of men scattered in pure fear clearly not expecting to deal with the rampaging green monster that had once been a man.
"This is squad seven we have been engaged by the Hulk, requesting immediate back up and Hulkbuster uni..."
There was a sickening thud and crunch as the man went flying across the room and connected with the unyielding metal wall. The remaining men finally found some modicum of courage and opened fire the bullets ricocheting off the green skin as if they were raindrops. The Hulk roared again and stretched out his arms before bringing his palms together in a monstrous thunder-clap that sent an almost visible shockwave around the room; sending the rest of the soldiers soaring through the air and crashing into the Green Room's various surfaces.
The behemoth let out a rough snort and grinned mercilessly at the fallen men.
"Stupid men try break Hulk's home, Hulk break them."
From his hiding place Howard couldn't contain the sigh of hysterical relief and instantly the giant turned ready to fight the next assailant. When his acid green eyes fell upon the old man Hulk growled and stalked forward a look of pure thunderous rage on his face.
The elder Stark paled dramatically, fear erupting within him as he became the Hulk's primary focus. He knew there was nowhere to hide, the beast had him firmly in his sights.
"Banner..." That was what the computer had called him wasn't it?
"NOT BANNER! HULK!"
"Uh... Hulk then..."
"STUPID OLD MAN HURT BANNER! HURT TONY! HULK SHOULD SMASH STUPID OLD MAN!"
Howard honestly saw his life flash before his eyes, of all the ways to go bring crushed and beaten to a bloody pulp by a giant green man had not even factored into the equation.
"But Tony say no. Say smash old man bad."
The Hulk stopped in front of Howard and stared down at him, his acid coloured eyes deep and filled with unbridled emotion.
"Hulk no agree but understand. So Hulk only smash little."
An ominous silence filled the room. The older man watched as a giant green hand raised upwards and he closed his eyes waiting for the blow to fall, there was a tense moment where nothing happened and then he felt a pressure on his forehead and he toppled over backwards. Howard's eyes flew open in shock as he stared up at the Hulk who was... smiling? Albeit somewhat rough and viciously but it was still a smile.
"Tony good, Old Man need see it."
Howard swallowed around the lump in his throat unable to form words and for a moment it seemed like everything was fine then the Hulk roared, face scrunched in pain and giant hands clawing at his back. The giant staggered backwards and fell to his knees and as Howard looked closer he could see vibrations running through the massive green muscles.
A sonic attack?
Hulk moaned pitifully and began to shrink; the vibrant green skin slowly fading back to pink, bones and muscles twisting and reforming in a way that made the elder Stark sick to his stomach. Within minutes the behemoth had reverted back into the man and Bruce lay unconscious on the floor his body still twitching and under attack from the sonic device attached to his back.
Howard looked up from writhing mass on the floor to the man standing behind him, a remote clasped in his hand. He was dressed in tactical gear but didn't appear to be armed with anything other than the remote and the firearm attached to his side. And if his eyes weren't deceiving him the pips on his uniform indicated he was a General.
The man flashed a vicious smile.
"I'm going to have to ask you to come with me, I'm afraid."
Howard looked down his nose at the man clearly unhappy with his choice of options.
"And if I say no?" The question was blunt and defiant.
The General's smile widened and his eyes took on a manic gleam as if almost daring the man to disobey his command.
"If you say no then this..." Here his face twisted into a sneer and he actually turned and spat on the unconscious Bruce "... Man will end up as a vegetable and we'll just take you by force."
As if to prove his point a secondary squad filtered in through the door, rifles trained on them and the General raised the remote and pushed the button causing the prone man on the floor to convulse and let out a whimper of sheer agony. Howard grimaced eyes narrowed in anger, he didn't like Bruce but he that did not mean he wished him any harm; especially now he realised that the man meant him no real harm and was kind of on his side.
He'd learnt long ago not to bite the hand that feeds you.
Or in this case the guy trying to save your ass.
Resigned he raised his hands in surrender hoping that this man was a man of his word, even if he did suspect otherwise.
He didn't notice the man circle around behind him or the dart until it was too late. Within seconds Howard had slumped to the floor as he felt the darkness seep in.