Chapter Seventeen: Aftermath
The sound of shattering glass echoed through the speakers of the suit as Tony crashed through the window and soared out across the New York skyline, admiring the early morning sunshine as Steve's words repeated themselves inside his brain. He was still running on anger at the sheer audacity of those fuckers attacking him in his own damn home and that fuelled the adrenaline pumping through his veins.
"J, I want an exact location and ETA on those bogeys Capsicle mentioned."
"Of course Sir, calibrating coordinates now."
Tony watched while JARVIS worked his magic and within seconds the AI had pinpointed the trajectory of all three of the inbound copters. With a ruthless grin the billionaire made his way to intercept manoeuvring around the heavily built up area with ease. He banked around one of the many skyscrapers catching sight of his first target, the Apache was a garish blight but it more than made up for its looks with sheer firepower and deadly accuracy.
But first things first he had to get their attention.
The suit responded immediately sending a barrage of brightly coloured lights at the helicopter and it responded in kind with a hail of gunfire that ripped through the nearby buildings as if they were paper. Tony prayed the buildings were empty; admittedly the odds were certainly favourable considering the early hour but in New York you could never be too sure when someone would decide to hit the office early.
Knowing that he had gotten the Apache's attention the billionaire turned and sped off toward a less built up area with the copter in hot pursuit. He knew he had to try and limit the damage in taking it down (something his pursuers apparently had little concern for.) but to do that he'd have to move out of the range of the tower and by proxy the rest of the team.
Damned moral and ethical obligations.
Tony swooped and flew through a winding set of streets heading toward the bay; the chopper hot on his tail. Finally satisfied that he cleared enough distance Tony turned to face his foe a grim smile on his face behind the visor. The Apache hovered in mid air for a second before ducking to one side and unleashing some of its payload.
A confetti of silver erupted from the Iron Man suit obscuring the missiles onboard targeting and sent it plummeting harmlessly into the bay where it exploded with an impressive boom sending a small tidal wave rocking through the area soaking everything within range. Feeling smug the billionaire turned to face the helicopter noting with some disapproval that it had gone into hiding once again, he knew that if the pilot was experienced than he wouldn't make a move until the last possible moment hiding in the shadows of the warehouses.
But Tony didn't have time for that.
"Where is he J?"
The HUD flashed with a thousand pieces of information as the AI scanned the area and pinpointed the location and having obtained his answer the billionaire flew off; destructive intent on his mind. The helicopter was hovering behind a large shipping warehouse clearly waiting for the opportunity to strike but it hadn't factored in the sheer speed of the armour and before it had chance to respond Tony was already in position and ready to attack. He let loose a small blast from the repulsors taking out the rear rotor sending the Apache into a spin and crashing into the floor. Luckily it had only been hovering a few feet from the ground so the crash was fairly unspectacular and happy that they were now indisposed the billionaire headed back toward the tower.
Or at least that was his intention.
As he flew back into the city outskirts warning lights began flashing wildly and before he knew what had happened JARVIS had initiated evasive maneuvers and Tony felt his world tilt.
"What the fuck was that JARVIS?"
"It appears that the other helicopters have come to aid their comrade Sir." The AI replied wryly, while executing another nausea inducing barrel roll.
"Well isn't that just dandy." Tony replied through gritted teeth.
Another hailstorm of bullets ripped through the air sending the suits sensors into overdrive and the billionaire into a spin as he dodged the barrage of munitions. The copters moved with him; a much more nimble model than the tank like Apache and try as Tony might he couldn't quite manage to shake them or lure them to a less built up spot where he could safely take then out.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" He snarled, dodging yet another missile.
This was getting them nowhere and the longer it continued the less chance they had of successfully fending off the attack.
It was time to take drastic measures, he could deal with the consequences later.
"J, I want a missile lock on those assholes and I want it last Tuesday."
If JARVIS could be exasperated the billionaire was pretty sure that was what the AI would be feeling right now but fortunately for Tony he was incapable of such an emotion and therefore completed the assigned task; admittedly with a much darker tone than usual. He was about to let rip on the first of the helicopters when JARVIS interrupted him again.
"Sir, Miss Potts is on the line."
Of all the times Pep.
"Tell her I'm a little busy J." Tony murmured, firing off the first of the missiles and blowing the helicopter to kingdom come.
There is a moment's silence as the helicopter falls to the world below and Tony winces as it crashes into the top of a multi-story car park, luckily the upper level is deserted so there is minimal damage. But not to the helicopter however the billionaire isn't really that fussed about them.
"Sir, I'm afraid she's insisting."
Tony lets out a tired sigh, really it is too damn early to be dealing with all this at once but he knows if he delays the inevitable it will just make Pepper madder. He quickly runs a scan of the area and zips off after the second helicopter which is retreating back toward the tower; an action that fills him with a sense of dread.
"Put her through J."
"Tony! What the hell do you think you're playing at giving the entire New York branch the day off?" Her voice was shrill bordering on hysterical.
"Er... Pep's this isn't the greatest time to be discussing this."
He was trying to be tactful, he really was but there was so much going on and the helicopter was getting away.
"It's never a good time for you Tony..." The woman snapped in reply, worry evident in her voice. "We haven't spoken in nearly a fortnight and then you pull a stunt like this, I'm tired of being kept out of the loop when all I want to do is help."
Guilt hit the billionaire square in the gut but he pushed it to the side as he soared past the Empire State Building in pursuit. He knew what Pepper was saying was true but he hadn't wanted to involve her in this, he hadn't wanted her to see just how broken he really was. It was the same reason he hadn't really wanted to involve any one else, his demons were too close to the surface with this and he didn't want to be seen as weak.
"I'm sorry Pepper... But this really isn't the best time for this, I promise I'll explain later."
There was a sigh from down the line and when Pepper spoke again her voice was tinged with sadness.
"It's always later with you Tony, what happens if later never comes? Please just tell me what is going on."
Again the guilt twisted in the billionaire's gut and coupled with the anxiety induced adrenaline it made his head spin momentarily. He took a deep breath and began to speak as the targeting system locked on to the last helicopter.
"The tower is under attack" He heard Pepper gasp from the other end of the phone. "We had an early warning so we were able to send a message to the SI employees not to come in. I'm sorry there wasn't time to okay it with you, I had to act."
There was obvious remorse in his voice and the red head instantly picked it up but that didn't stop the slew of questions falling from her mouth, questions Tony fully intended to answer. Finally the suit had a full lock on the last chopper and he was just about to launch when the impossible happened.
The suit shut down.
There were nanoseconds that felt like years as the realisation sunk in and then as if the metaphorical strings holding the suit in place were severed it plummeted downwards. Inside Tony was frozen in horror as his mind worked furiously to figure what the fuck had just happened and more importantly how the fuck to reverse it before he became an Iron Man pancake on the floor. His synapses fired and worked through the various hypotheses while he pushed against the suit with all his strength to try and move the now immobile limbs. The billionaire knew that nothing short of an Electro-magnetic pulse could render the suit completely useless and to achieve that usually involved some kind of nuclear explosion and if that were the case he'd already be dead. Well much deader than he would be hitting the ground at terminal velocity.
So that meant they'd perfected a portable EMP device, the bastards.
It also meant that there had to have been a fourth aircraft somewhere in the vicinity with stealth capabilities Tony would have died to have seen, irony totally intended. it wasn't every day he found something that could fool his sensors.
The billionaire had to laugh at that, here he was about to kick the bucket and the last thing he was thinking of was the tech that had brought him down.
Tony fucking Stark to a fucking tee.
Because he knew there would be no Hulk to save him this time, Bruce was busy completing his own task and the rest of the Avengers were probably kicking all sorts of WSC ass back at the tower. Despite the fact he knew he was about to die he felt strangely tranquil about the whole thing, odd considering the PTSD he suffered after his last free fall and subsequent brush with death.
It looked like he'd finally pushed his luck too far.
Resigned to his fate Tony closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable body crushing impact, enjoying the feeling of the wind rushing around the suit for the last time.
There was a hushed silence as he fell as if the whole world was holding it's breath and then everything just stopped dead and the billionaire had to wonder if this was just some cruel joke his mind was playing on him.
"I do believe that this is a most unfortunate pastime of yours man of iron, one I hope you intend to break."
Tony's eyes shot open at the sound of the slightly gruff but oh so welcome voice and honestly if he could move he would fucking hug the big blond lummox until his eyes popped out. Seconds later he feels cool air brush against his face as Thor pulls away the face plate, exposing him to the elements. The sudden light is blinding and he squints as his eyes adjust to the brightness and focus on his saviour.
"Thor, has anyone ever told you that you have the best timing ever?" The billionaire's voice is a little shaky and filled to the brim with gratitude.
The demi-god looks momentarily confused but then his face broke out into a broad grin.
"Nay friend, quite often my tardiness is a source of much amusement on Asgard. However I am pleased that for once that my entrance into battle was timely."
Tony couldn't have agreed with the Asgardian more especially since he wasn't currently a smear on the New York sidewalk but then his mind skids to a halt as the rest of Thor's statement filters through his brain.
"Shit! Thor we need to get to the tower!"
The Asgardian didn't even hesitate and began swinging Mjolinir letting the hammer fly loose toward the tower when it reached top speed and eliciting a small 'eep' from the billionaire as he clung onto Thor for dear life exceptionally aware of what one small slip would do. They reached the tower in record time; not fast enough to stop the helicopter from unleashing a payload into the upper floors before retreating but quickly enough to witness the resulting explosion. Hell half of New York had to have seen it and Tony felt his stomach try to escape through his mouth as he watched portions of the ceiling and floor collapsed on themselves.
Thor set them down on a nearby rooftop and fumbled around trying to free the billionaire from the armour under Tony's strict instruction. Finally the armour released it's grasp and Tony practically fell out, nausea overwhelming him as he slumped to his knees and vomited on the gravel covered floor. He couldn't bare to look at the tower, didn't dare think what that explosion had possibly done and he found it impossible to raise his gaze to meet the demi-god's when Thor softly called out his name.
"Friend Tony, where are our fellow shield brothers?"
The question burned the billionaire to the core and it made Tony feel weak and, what was that word Thor had used, puny? He felt puny, puny and helpless and in way over his head.
"Tower... They were in the tower..." His voice was barely a whisper.
Once again the Asgardian didn't hesitate, he had spent his life in battles and knew the importance that seconds could make in a life or death situation and so before Tony could even ask what he was doing he had swung himself into the chaos that was Stark Tower leaving the billionaire sat alone on dusty rooftop watching the smoking ruins of what an hour earlier had been his home.
"I think that's the last of them" Natasha muttered, delivering a swift, sharp blow to one of the minions jaw knocking him out cold.
Across the room Steve gave a sharp nod and adjusted his shield while Clint retrieved a few arrows that had imbedded themselves into the nearby wall. Both men had a scowl on their face as they checked their equipment and the Widow tied up their captives with the zip-cuffs she'd retrieved from her room Finally satisfied that the area was secure the remaining Avengers moved out.
"JARVIS where is Doctor Banner?" Steve asked as the moved down the destroyed corridor, eyes alert and body ready to act.
"Doctor Banner is in the Green Room Captain Rogers."
The three teammate's stopped for a second at that information and gave one another a wary look before doubling the pace, practically sprinting toward the armoured room. When the arrived the room was silent, the customized security door was wide open and dust from various debris was still floating in the air. it was obvious there had been some kind of fight but at the moment it was impossible to tell who had been the victor. They entered cautiously, watching out for any more reinforcements that could be hiding in the shadows of the room and made their way to the centre of the dust storm. Steve felt his breath catch in his throat as he spotted the semi-naked Bruce laying face down in the floor and he quickly ran to the physicist's side knowing that his current state meant they had failed their mission.
The man didn't stir but as the soldier placed a hand on his shoulder he noticed the trembling of the man's body and the paleness of his skin even though he was burning under his touch.
"Bruce?" Steve tried again, shaking him gently.
There was still no response from the Doctor, if anything the shaking of his muscles intensified almost as if he was having some kind of seizure. It was as he turned his head that he spotted the small device attached to Bruce's back and he beckoned the two former S.H.I.E.L.D agents over. Upon seeing the device Clint swore colourfully and Natasha's mouth drew into an angry line.
"You've seen this before?" The blonde asked clearly concerned.
Widow just nodded while Clint just snarled.
"Yeah we have, it was a weapon prototype that S.H.I.E.L.D manufactured to subdue the Hulk but as far as we knew it had been abandoned and destroyed when Banner joined the team."
Blue eyes went wide as the severity of what Hawkeye was saying hit home and Steve felt a wave of anger roll through his stomach on Bruce's behalf. It wasn't fair that people so easily dismissed the physicist and only saw Hulk as a monster, as something that had to be subdued or worse eradicated. He knew that he wasn't entirely innocent of that himself but Steve was determined that it was a mistake he would not repeat.
Natasha seemed to sense his thoughts and knelt down on Bruce's other side a grim but determined look on her face.
"Banner, I don't know if you can hear me but I'm going to remove the device. In order to do so I am going to have to run an electric current through it to overload it but it means it's going to run through you as well so if you could stop the Hulk from smashing me I'd be much obliged."
She didn't stop for breath as she plunged her sting into the small black device and shot the current through it. On the floor Bruce writhed as the electricity passed through him, mouth open in a silent scream while Steve held him still enough for Natasha to do her work. After a few agonising moments the device disengaged and fell to the floor hissing and smoking slightly and finally free of the effects the physicist let out a small whimper and tentatively rolled onto his back.
The red head offered a small smile as the green tinted eyes slid into focus.
"Sorry about that I had to get that thing off you." She genuinely sounded apologetic.
Clint moved into Bruce's line of vision looking like he wanted to jam one of his arrows through someone's eye socket.
"A sonic disruptor." He growled "Specifically tailored for the Hulk's physiology."
The physicist closed his eyes and sighed as it all started to make sense and the fuzzy memories began to awaken in his brain. He remembered the fight and then the Hulk cowering and turning to him for help as the disruptor attacked his nervous system and then there was a single voice dominating his consciousness.
"Ross." Bruce's voice was caught between his own and the Hulk's and it caused both Natasha and Steve to flinch slightly.
"We know Bruce and he won't get away with this." Steve reassured, offering his hand to the physicist.
Slowly Bruce reached out and allowed himself to be pulled up, supported on both side by Clint and Steve. With careful measured steps the group made their way toward the open door and out into the corridor. Their progress was slow, the physicist still trying to regain his bearings and it was at this time JARVIS decided to give them an update.
"Captain Rogers I have lost contact with Sir and one of the helicopters is still on route."
The group looked at one another the worry obvious on everyone's faces.
"Shit." Steve murmured "JARVIS how long do we have?"
The AI ignored the request instead favouring to sound the alarm.
'Warning, multiple missiles on direct collision course. Immediate evacuation advised, estimated time until impact fifteen seconds."
Time seemed to slow as the alarm continued to blare loudly about the oncoming explosion and the team huddled together as they heard the first of several loud booms echo through the tower. Above them the ceiling creaked under the strain of containing the explosion and cracks were visible in the concrete.
"Perhaps we should get out of here?" Clint offered, eying the ceiling with genuine concern.
His suggestion was apparently just a second too late because no sooner had the words left his mouth the ceiling caved in around them plunging the four of them into darkness.
Thor landed in the rubble strewn remains of the penthouse and immediately began calling for his comrades in the vain hope that they would answer.
The Asgardian jumped at the sound of the disembodied voice before he remembered where he was; he recollected the man of iron vaguely introducing him before he had returned to Asgard with Loki.
"You are friend Tony's JARVIS are you not?"
"Yes Master Odinson. If you are here in search of your fellow Avengers then they are located outside the Green Room five floors down."
Thor liked this voice, it always got straight to the point.
"Thank you friend JARVIS, I shall assist them forthwith."
"Master Odinson..." The AI almost sounded nervous to Thor's ears.
"Yes friend JARVIS?"
JARVIS hesitated for a second before replying.
"I lost contact with Mr. Stark several minutes ago..."
Thor couldn't hide the small smile nor did he want to, for something was theoretically wasn't alive the computer mimicked life incredibly well and the blonde could feel that there was genuine concern in JARVIS's voice. Well as genuine as an artificial intelligence (he thinks that's what the man of iron had called it) could get.
"Fear not friend, the man of iron is safe."
There was a slight flickering of the remaining working lights that Thor took as the computerised equivalent of letting out a breath in relief and he smiled in response.
"Thank you Master Odinson, I shall impede you no further."
And with that Thor ran toward the stairwell using Mjolinir to destroy the chunks of rubble and twisted metal blocking his path downwards, it took time but finally he managed to cut himself a path downwards and kicked open the door to the Green Room floor. The floor itself was in utter disarray; the ceiling had caved in along most of the corridor making it almost intraversable unless of course you had the strength of ten men to move the debris or could fly.
Fortunately for Thor both were options available to him.
He flew along the tops of the rubble calling out to his shield brothers until a particularly large pile of rubble shifted involuntarily. The demi-god instantly landed and began digging until a familiar swathe of green skin became visible and a mumbled roar shook free the rest of the debris as the giant emerged unscathed. The Hulk was crouched on hands and knees and in the small pocket of space between the giant torso and the floor was the remaining Avengers huddled together.
"Thor? Am I glad to see you."
The demi-god smiled in response before turning to the Hulk.
"Friend Hulk you can move now, the danger has passed."
There was a brief tense moment where it seemed as though the giant was going to attack but then he stood freeing the people from underneath before taking a few steps and collapsing; shrinking back down into Bruce. The rest of the team were instantly at his side checking for any injuries but there were none, the Hulk had seen to that, but the man was clearly out for the count having undergone two transformations in a relatively short period of time. The Asgardian nodded and began clearing a path toward the exit with some help from Clint and Steve and soon enough they had made a small traversable path to the door.
Carefully Thor lifted the physicist over his shoulder not wishing to jostle the man awake after such a harrowing experience. Steve had given him a quick briefing about what had been going on in his absence and as the soldier explained about Ross and the attack on the tower he had felt and overwhelming protectiveness toward Bruce, just as his fellows had.
"Should I ever meet this man he will be sure to know Mjolinir's wrath. Friend Banner is a good man and does not deserve to be hunted like game."
The three conscious Avengers grinned darkly wholeheartedly sharing the sentiment as the stated at Bruce, who was snoring lightly and drooling on Thor's shoulder.
"Come my friends, the man of iron awaits us."