Chapter Eighteen: Licking Their Wounds
It was a decidedly subdued group that congregated on the nearby roof top looking beaten, dusty and completely worn out. They didn't speak, the levity in their silence enough to convey the feelings of failure and anger they all felt and the whole team found themselves unable to meet one another's gaze. In amidst all this Thor looked thoroughly confused, the unconscious Bruce still slumped over his shoulder; this was not the team he had left behind when he had returned to Asgard.
"My friends you are not yourselves, what has happened to enable such a change?"
The other Avengers remained silent before Steve elected himself as spokesman and broke the quiet.
"That is a long story Thor and one I don't think is suited to be told on rooftops." There was a definite melancholy to his voice.
The Asgardian nodded his gaze drifting toward the still smoking tower; such delicate matters were to be aired in privacy not somewhere that the whole of Midgard could hear.
"Is there somewhere we might go then friends? I have a great need to hear this tale. Heimdall merely said you needed aid, he did not have the opportunity to advise me further."
All eyes turned to Tony and he let out a small sigh, he hated being the one with options. He knew they couldn't go to S.H.I.E.L.D it was just asking for trouble even if Fury had helped them out so far, a lot of their agents were loyal to the council and they wouldn't hesitate to take another crack at them. That meant they had to go private sector and there was only one place in New York that would give them the privacy that they needed, even if it meant facing a few more of his demons.
"Yeah, I think I have a place." He answered, jaw clenching tightly.
A short while later the team was congregated outside a somewhat dilapidated building in the centre of the city. It had clearly once been a grand building but time and disuse had clearly taken its toll and it was now a shadow of its former self. Tony approached the door and as if by magic it swung open causing the rest of the Avengers to cock their eyebrows in question, which the billionaire blatantly ignored as he stepped through the door.
The first thing that hit him was the darkness, the suffocating, all consuming darkness that threatened to crush Tony with its intensity. The second thing to hit the billionaire was the dry stench of neglect and he had to force down a gag, not only from the smell but from the rolling nausea this place invoked in him. It was full of memories, good memories, bad memories, ones that Tony had hoped he would never have to face again. He didn't know why he hadn't tore this place down years ago in lieu of something more modern, maybe he had been too sentimental about the place after all it was where he'd spent a large portion of his shitty childhood or maybe he was just scared although it was completely irrational and unexplainable.
Just like always Stark, you really are a piece of work.
A heavy hand dropped on his shoulder jolting Tony from his musing and he turned to see Thor giving him a worried look.
"My Friend, something vexes you."
The billionaire shrugged off the hand gently so as not to offend the Asgardian and turned to the group opening his arms like any good host would to bid them welcome. It was the least he could do considering he'd dragged them to this hell-hole.
"Welcome to Chez Stark, make yourselves at home... which is more than I ever did."
Tony could hear the brittleness in his voice and he fought back a wince, now was not the time for wallowing in self pity no matter how tempting it was. The rest of the team looked thoroughly unconvinced by his 'happy host' performance and he couldn't really blame them but they seemed to take the initiative and began to explore their new base of operations, with the exception of Thor who remained behind Bruce still slung over his shoulder.
"Friend Stark, is there anywhere where I may lay the good doctor?" The Asgardian's voice boomed through the old house.
The billionaire gave a curt but stiff nod and motioned for Thor to follow him which he did without question almost puppy like in his enthusiasm. They stopped at an ornate set of doors which Tony carefully pushed open; as if afraid a ghost would jump out and poked his head inside sighing when nothing accosted him. The room was dusty from misuse but the vivid colours of the upholstery were still visible and it caused the billionaire's heart to clench in his chest. Cautiously he stepped inside to inspect the room further and was pleased, albeit momentarily that his hunch had been right and that this was the most liveable room out of them all.
"In here should be good Point Break." He called out into the corridor and within seconds the Asgardian had entered; filling the room with his massive presence.
Tony moved to the bed and shook down the dusty pillows and duvet, the silky feel of the material beneath his fingers causing a wealth of memories to well up but ignored them focusing on the task at hand. Within minutes the bed had been rendered into a liveable state; not that he thought Bruce would really care. Tony knew the other man had woken up in some exceptionally bizarre places after a transformation and would just be content that he was safe.
Thor moved toward the bed with a gentility that few saw and laid the unconscious man down, smiling as the physicist gave a sleepy sigh and burrowed deeper into the sheets. On the other side of the bed Tony gave a soft snort of laughter.
"Y'know if he were like thirty years younger that would have actually been kind of cute."
The Asgardian laughed quietly at the comment but his face quickly turned serious and he saw the billionaire sigh.
"My friend..." Thor began.
Tony held up his hand to stop the other man speaking and pulled up the stool at the dresser, sitting down rather heavily and scattering s dust cloud. Taking the hint the Asgardian grabbed one of the ornate easy chairs littered about the room and siddled in next to the billionaire his face full of worry and body language tense.
"I know I'm much happier sitting down while we wait for the big guy to wake up."
Thor could see that his comrade was attempting to deflect the conversation away from his desired topic of inquiry and under normal circumstances he'd be content to let the other man play his little game.
But not now.
Not after he'd had to pick his battered and bloodied team-mates, his friends for Odin's sake out of the ruins of a place he considered a second home. He just would not do it.
"Stark." His voice was firm, regal and demanding of respect.
Tony visible flinched and dropped his head into his hands.
"I know, you want the story but it's kind of hard to talk about how royally you've fucked up y'know."
Thor although confused by the statement (he found it hard to believe that the Man of Iron had 'fucked up' to such a destructive extent) he could sympathize with the sentiment. He remembered his first foray into modern Midgard, his own foolish mistakes that had brought him here and the lesson he'd had to learn about pride. Admittedly the situation was somewhat different but Thor knew he had no place to judge the man before him, he was not the first nor last man to make a mistake.
"My friend I just wish to know what grievance has brought you to this point."
The billionaire gave a hollow laugh. "Grievance? Well that's one way of describing this clusterfuck but I guess if you want to know."
Tony quickly launched into the story so far and Thor listened with varying degrees of confusion, horror and pure unadulterated fury etched across his face. The Asgardian's heart ached by the end of the tale, his friend's broken and beaten words revealing a truth, a depravity that he had not previously thought the residents of Migard capable of. He ached to lift up Mjolinir and smite his comrades enemies for the heinous act but right now there was something more important for him to do.
Without hesitation he dragged the surprized Tony into a bone crushing hug.
"I understand your pain my friend. I too have thought someone lost to me who was not and I grieved for them despite the horrors they had inflicted upon me and those I cared about but know that I will do all within my power to reunite you both. I swear on my honor as Odinson, as your Shield-Brother and as an Avenger."
Tony felt his throat constrict slightly at Thor's brutal honesty or it possibly could have been the hug, yeah definitely the hug. But he knew exactly who the Asgardian was talking about; Loki was a rather hard person to forget and it felt good that someone understood the messed up emotions (for the record, ew.) That were running rampant through his mind, that he wasn't wrong for feeling this way and that he wasn't alone it hating someone he was supposed to love and vice versa.
"Alright Blondie, I think this hug just passed into uncomfortable territory; maybe next time go with a bro-fist to show your support 'kay."
The blond chuckled slightly and released the billionaire.
"I shall endeavour to use this 'bro-fist' next time Man of Iron. But fear not my friend you are not my 'type' regardless of my interactions toward you."
Tony literally stood and gaped for a good minute before letting out a snort of laughter at Thor's gentle teasing.
"Bitch please, I'm Tony Stark. I'm everyone's type." The billionaire was in full on sass mode.
The Asgardian let out a quiet laugh of his own relieved to see some of Tony's usual spark return. He was about to retort when a sleepy voice cut into the bantering match.
"You're both gonna be the undertakers 'type' if you don't shut up. Some people are trying to sleep here."
Both Thor and Tony looked up at the bed where a still slightly out of it Bruce having a fight with the hoards of quilts, looking hot and uncomfortable.
"Need some help?" Tony couldn't keep the smirk out of his voice.
Bruce glared from beneath the bed covers and it caused the billionaire's smirk to grow wider and for Thor to hide a small laugh behind his hand.
"Just what did you coat these things in? Super glue?"
Again Tony couldn't hide the snort of laughter, sleepy, grumpy and frustrated Bruce was just too funny and for the first time in what felt like years he felt like his old self again. Feeling merciful he stepped forward and helped untangle the physicist from the dastardly linens and soon Bruce was relaxed and acting more like himself, only half asleep, the exhaustion once again catching up with him.
"Better my friend?" Thor asked, a small smile on his face.
"Mmhmm." Bruce replied, head lolling in a sleepy nod and yawning. "What 'appnd? Is ev'one 'kay? I 'member the ceiling comin' d-d-d-down and then noth'g."
Both the Asgardian and Tony rolled their eyes at the physicist's lack of self concern but decided to address that little issue much later. Right now the man needed rest, it was clear that whatever had happened had clearly taken it's toll and neither Thor or the billionaire envied Bruce's position at all right now. The demi-god stepped forward and laid a broad hand on the man's narrow shoulder, gently pushing him down into the mountain of pillows.
"Our comrades are fit and well Doctor, your warrior self did an admirable job of keeping them safe from the collapse. Now it is time for rest."
Bruce blinked owlishly apparently debating whether to fight against the request and just about every message his body was screaming at him at the moment and Tony and Thor knew he would as well.
"'Ut... uhm... St'ff t'do... got..."
This time it was Tony's hand on Bruce's shoulder and he pierced the physicist with a stern gaze.
"Bruce we're all okay, so for once in your do-gooding life will you actually look after yourself? Because you know I have no objections getting Nat and asking her to knock you out."
Defiance flared in the tired, brown eyes but it was gone as quickly as it appeared and the sullen look on Bruce's face was almost laughable, making him seem much younger.
"Fine." Even his voice was petulant but he closed his eyes regardless.
Thor and Tony shot one another an amused glance and headed toward the door both of them biting the,insides of their cheeks go stop the laughter from spilling out as the sound of snoring reached their ears before they even reached the door. The hilarity of the moment was not lost on either man and they shot each other a wry grin before quietly exiting the room.
The two men walked slowly along the balcony landing, Tony hesitant to rejoin reality and Thor just wanting to be there for his comrade should he ask. The Asgardian was still in the process of absorbing the information that the Man of Iron had given him and it made his chest swell with anger when he remembered the chaos and destruction he had arrived to. They had swore an oath to protect this realm; but who was there to protect the protectors? It appeared the answer to that was no one and it burned Thor to his very soul.
As they reached the top of the stairs the two men had lapsed into a comfortable silence, a silence that was quickly broken as a shrill and slightly hysterical voice ripped through the air.
"Anthony Edward Stark."
Tony's paled at the sound of that familiar voice, hearing the worry and concern cutting deep. Slowly his gaze turned to the door and there stood Pepper chest heaving and body physically shaking from the exertion. Her blue eyes were flashing with a wildness that Tony had ever seen a few occassions and before the billionaire even knew what he was doing he was running down the stairs.
Right into a slap across the face.
Tony staggered back clutching his cheek and eyes wide.
"You... Don't you ever... I-I thought... I thought"
Pepper's voice was on the verge of breaking and the billionaire felt his heart plummet, he'd completely forgotten that he'd been talking to her when the suit had been disabled. Slowly he stepped forward so not to spook the red head and wrapped his arms around her. Pepper fought slightly, weakly pounding her fists against Tony's chest as she finally broke down sobbing into his t-shirt and he just held her albeit somewhat awkwardly.
"I thought you were dead..." She hiccupped, fingernails digging into the billionaire's skin.
Tony grimaced and tightened his hold; muttering apologies into Pepper's hair, trying to reassure her that he was there, that he was okay. Well as okay as could be expected given the situation. After a few minutes the two lovers parted, Pepper taking a deep breath and regaining her composure while Tony stuffed his hands into his pockets and attempted to look casual. He was aware that his every move was being watched by the rest of the team even if he couldn't see them and he just couldn't be dealing with their sappy faces at that moment.
"How did you know we were here?"
Pepper's lips twitched slightly, although there was an irritated look on her face.
"JARVIS, he sent me a message after whatever happened had happened. He said that this was your most logical place to retreat; I admit I didn't believe him but here we are."
The billionaire gave a shrug not daring to meet her gaze, he felt raw and ripped open and he needed space to lick his wounds and pull himself back together.
"Here we are." He replied.
There was a moment of silence before Thor strode forward and dragged the red head into a bone crushing hug.
"Lady Pepper it is wonderful to see you in good health." He boomed, breaking the tension in the room.
The CEO winced as she heard her bones crack under the force of Thor's hug but graced him with a smile once he had released her.
"It's good to see you too Mr. Odinson."
And like that it was like any normal day back at the tower, Natasha and Clint crawled out from wherever they had been hiding and they banded together to interrogate Pepper while Thor headed into what had been discovered to be the kitchen with the aim of finding where Steve had wandered off to. Tony in the mean time just lingered on the edges taking the rate opportunity to just enjoy the moment because he knew that this tranquility wouldn't last.
Nothing good ever did for him.