Chapter Twenty: Visitations
Tony roused the next morning to a crick in his neck and a screaming ache in his back that threatened to render him completely immobile for at least the next few hours or until he got his first dose of caffeine; whatever came first. He'd known falling asleep on a couch,no matter how comfortable, was always a bad idea but the billionaire just hadn't wanted to move and his body had finally surrendered to exhaustion sometime close to dawn.
Groggily he let his gaze wander around the cavernous room and noticed that he was still alone thank god, it was far too early to be dealing with this shit right now. A quick glance at the tablet still humming against his chest confirmed the time and the fact that he'd been asleep for just under two hours. With a small moan of pain Tony stretched his body in an attempt to work out the knots in his muscles but only really succeeded in making the pain worse. Not content with being idle he pushed himself into a standing position with a growl of frustration and made for the kitchen toward his much needed beverage.
The billionaire was purposefully avoiding looking at anything as he walked the familiar path to the kitchen in the hopes of finding some coffee but he couldn't entirely suppress the nostalgia that gripped his heart. This place was filled with so many memories both bad and good, although mostly bad if he were being honest and it was hard not to lose himself in the past. The kitchen door loomed in front of him, much smaller than he remembered and Tony swore he could hear the ghost of his younger self causing havoc beyond the hard wood door. With a slight smile he pushed the door open and headed inside.
Thankfully when Pepper had gotten her minions to procure them takeout last night they'd also been commanded to pick up some essentials (i.e coffee, tea and anything else that the team needed to function after a hard mission) and the billionaire was pleased to see them ready and waiting for him on the granite counter. The pleasure faded quickly when he noticed that it was a store brand instant and not the ridiculously over priced blend he usually drank, however resigned to his fate and in dire need of some caffeine he flipped the kettle on.
"I'm actually surprised you know how to use a kettle, I thought it would be a little too low tech for you."
Bruce's amused but still sleep-toughened voice echoed across the cavernous kitchen and Tony looked up with a small smirk on his face. He had not expected the other man up for several more hours knowing that the after effects of a transformation usually lasted a good while after it had reversed. Not that he was complaining, he was honestly glad that Bruce was the first one up it meant he didn't have to put up quite as much of a facade.
"I did go to college you know.." He retorted with a snort "There were only so many times you could stomach cafeteria food and noodles in a cup became a handy alternative."
The physicist laughed softly understanding exactly where Tony was coming from and took a seat at the breakfast bar eyeing the teabags with as much disdain as Tony had the coffee before stopping himself and laughing again as the billionaire shot him a questioning look.
"I've gotten spoiled, I remember a time when I would have killed for generic brand teabags."
There was a slightly wistful tone to Bruce's voice and Tony couldn't quite stop himself from frowning slightly at it. He didn't like the idea of Bruce living in such frugal circumstances where even a shitty cup of tea was considered a luxury and Tony didn't even want to contemplate what the physicist had drank in such times. Seeing the look on his friend's face Bruce sighed and shook his head.
"Honestly Tony it wasn't that bad." He said softly.
Which in 'Bruce-Speak' translated into it is just as bad as you think Tony and probably worse.
"Enough about me, what's wrong with you Stark?"
The physicist expertly deflected the conversation as he picked up the whistling kettle and poured the boiling water into the cups, placing Tony's to the side so he could pick it up at his leasure. Tony grunted under his breath at the abrupt change in topic and cautiously took a sip of his coffee; pleasantly surprised when it didn't taste like utter crap even if it was a little bitter. He gazed down into the inky depths of the beverage as though it held the answers to the universe before sighing deeply.
"What isn't wrong Banner? Everything about this whole situation is a whole fucking cornucopia of wrong."
His knuckles turned white as his grip around the mug tightened; so much so that Tony thought it would shatter.
"We'll get him back Tony." Bruce replied calmly.
The billionaire grit his teeth "It's not just him Bruce! Everything is going to shit, I've never fucked up more spectacularly in my entire life and trust me when I say that's an achievement. It's bad enough that those fuckers managed to take him back but now with everything else..."
Tony stopped himself realizing that he had perhaps said too much and if the thoughtful, inquisitive and slightly peeved look on Bruce's face was any indication he had said way, way too much.
"Everything else?" His tone was calm but steely and it caused Tony to wince slightly.
Knowing he was trapped once again thanks to his big mouth the billionaire resigned himself to his fate. He'd known that he was going to have to tell them about the goings on in the world at some point (or face the Black Widow's wrath) but he'd been hoping to have had at least three more cups of coffee and have hidden himself away in Howard's old lab for a bit before having to confront that particular problem.
However as usual karma was being a cruel bitch.
"Okay..." He sucked in a deep breath "...So those Council assholes may have ensured that the shit has well and truly hit the fan..."
Bruce quirked an eyebrow as he took a sip of his tea. It wasn't as if he hadn't been expecting further retaliation from the WSC; they had pretty much vowed to drag Tony's and the Avengers name through the mud. What was worrying though was the extent that the billionaire was shaken up and it caused lump of ice to form in the pit of Bruce's stomach, this could not be good and in the back of his mind Hulk roared in agreement.
"What did they do?"
The word was clipped and forced out through gritted teeth before the billionaire gave up and handed Bruce the tablet much like he had done to Natasha the night before and allowed the physicist to draw his own conclusions. Bruce's brows knitted together as he read the articles and watched the various news reports that had been circling from the previous day. The picture they painted was certainly not a pretty one and he felt his grip on the tablet tighten exponentially, the thin, smooth metal creaking slightly. The physicist took a deep steadying breath before handing the tech back to Tony, a flash of green ringing the iris of his deep brown eyes and it somehow makes the billionaire feel a little better knowing that both Bruce and Hulk are outraged on his behalf.
"They are really pulling out all the stops aren't they..."
Bruce's voice is calm but there was definite anger behind it and Tony felt a shudder run through him. The billionaire nodded slowly taking a long sip of his coffee and pulling a face as the bitter coffee hit the back of his tongue.
"Yeah... They're making as it as difficult as possible for me to make a move, or even show my face in public and I don't hold up much hope for them laying off the rest of you guys for long. Not even Captain America will be immune and the media will lap this bullshit up."
Tony's eyes darkened with a raw, fierce anger and his jaw clenched as he bit down on his lower lip. It wasn't often he despaired of the time in which he'd grown up but right now he hated the information age with everything he had, as he sat on the precipice of falling and failing so completely.
"Speaking of Steve..." The physicist said quietly "... Does he know about this yet?"
A dark head shook a no, almost as if the billionaire didn't trust his voice to speak a near impossibility under most circumstances.
"Don't you think we should tell him."
Tony opened his mouth to reply that yes he had been planning in telling Steve but was cut off as the man in question waltzed into the kitchen, hair damp and a towel laid around his broad shoulders. He raised a suspicious eyebrow at the two scientists.
"Tell who, what exactly Doc?"
Bruce froze for a split second before relaxing and shooting the billionaire a questioning look, Tony sighed in reply folding his arms across his chest and looking every bit the spoilt child he often professed to be. After a moment the stare out between the two of them ended and Tony threw his hands up in exasperation.
"For the record I was going to tell everyone." He muttered lowly so that only Bruce could hear before turning his attention back to the Captain. "Okay so there may be a problem."
Steve's arched eyebrow raised further and his blue eyes pierced the billionaire as effectively as bullets.
Tony gave a weak smile that was more of a grimace.
"Yeah... Get the rest of the gang together and I'll explain."
Twenty minutes later found all of the Avengers congregated in the kitchen in various states of sleep and undress while Bruce manned the range making a gigantic pile of French toast. Bruce's reasoning was that although they were considered super heroes (something that still shocked him to no end) they were still (mostly) human and therefore required sustenance to work and optimal efficiency. Not that the others were complaining about his sudden desire to cook, especially if the complete silence from Thor and Clint was any indication.
"So..." Steve started, a chunk of toast hanging from his fork "What is going on."
Tony drummed his fingers on the granite counter seemingly at ease but the tension in his body was obvious to anyone who knew him well.
"Well... The WSC has decided that they want to be a bunch of assholes."
There was a look of obviousness on all of the gathered Avengers' faces and Bruce snorted softly and muttered an 'understatement of the century' under his breath, glaring darkly at the glass tablet that lay harmlessly on the counter. Thor, Clint and Steve all caught the dark gaze and peered at the tablet cautiously as though it were about to explode. Within a few minutes the entire situation had come to light and the rest of the team looked thunderous, almost literally so in Thor's case.
"How dare these mortals besmirch your good name! They play with people's lives as if they were nothing and think little of the consequences."
The Asgardian was literally fuming, little wisps of highly charged air rising from his body as he fought to control his temper and not accidental blow something up. Steve's face was pulled down in a dark frown that suddenly made everyone in the room extremely glad that he was on their side and Clint looked downright murderous at viewing the information, his hand twitching. Tony felt himself smile very slightly. Often in the past people had said that they had his back and then either abandoned him or stabbed him in it, so it was fair to say he had been slightly disbelieving when this ragtag bunch of abnormally awesome people had said that they had his back. Even now after everything they'd been through, the constant assurances he'd still found it hard to believe. But actually seeing it, seeing the looks of pure outrage on his team-mates and dare he say friends faces the truth of the matter hit home; they really were in this for the long haul and would stand by him on this.
He pointedly ignored the little tingle of joy at the thought.
"So Cap, what's the plan?" He asked thickly, swallowing the lump in his throat.
The piercing blue eyes narrowed in thought and Steve was about to speak when a new, gruff voice entered the conversation.
"The plan is that you bunch of miscreants stay out of sight until the council decide that sparing your lives will actually benefit them."
The six Avengers turned to the open kitchen doorway to see a stern faced Nick Fury leaning against the frame. They all resolutely Did. Not. Jump at the intrusion instead putting on the blandest expressions possible and staring down the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, well everyone except Tony that was.
"What the fuck!? Why the hell does everyone think they can just waltz in here like they fucking own the place because I'm telling you right now they fucking don't."
Fury cocked an eyebrow at Stark almost in amusement but didn't move from his position at the door, across the kitchen both Natasha's and Clint's hands subconsciously wandered toward the kitchen knives. The Director was not impressed.
"Stand down Barton, Romanoff. I'm not here to fight you."
Widow and Hawkeye relaxed minutely as if seeming to realise what their reflexes were doing and continued their staring contest with the other man. The billionaire, over tired and clearly exasperated weighed in with another verbal barb.
"Then why are you here Nicky? Because the only reason I can see for you being here is to drag us kicking and screaming to those fuck-monkeys at the council, so have to be honest here you're not exactly filling me with confidence."
To the Avengers great surprise Fury gave a quick snort of laughter and rolled his eyes.
"Stark does your mouth actually have an off setting? Because right now it would be really fucking useful considering I'm actually here to help you."
Tony's suspicion had clearly bled through into the other Avengers as they were all glaring at the Director with thinly veiled contempt and he felt himself sigh. He really didn't have time for this posturing shit. Fury was on a limited time span enough as it was and he knew that very soon the Council would realise he'd left the helicarrier and for what purpose. Well they would, if Stark didn't shut up and let him get on with what he had to do.
"How about no Dread-pirate Roberts and you get the fuck out of here." The billionaire was starting to build up steam, happy to vent on a convenient target.
Nick grit his teeth together in frustration. "I just said I'm here to help you Stark, what part of that don't you understand?"
Stark's dark eyes narrowed with a somewhat manic sheen.
"How about the fucking stupid part where you asked us, asked me, to lay low while my last living family member is probably tortured and dissected by a bunch of fucking crazed politicians because I FUCKED UP!"
The words were out of his mouth before they could stop them and Tony felt his heart, not stop exactly but certainly skip a couple of beats as he realised how vulnerable he'd just let himself become. There was absolute silence as the words sunk in. He gazed at his team-mates, searching for the barest hint of agreement at his proclamation but instead he found equally guilty stares being returned and he understood what they meant at once.
This is our fault as well.
"We all fucked up..." Said Fury calmly speaking the thoughts everyone was thinking. "And you're right laying low is stupid but I had to at least attempt to do this by the book for posterity but believe me when I say I want these assholes taken down as much as you do. They've forgotten what the council was created for and are only out to further their own ambitions."
There is an extreme bitterness in his tone and for the first time since Tony met Fury the man actually seemed to show his age, the creases of his face seeming more pronounced and that single eye just looking so, so tired. It was enough to render the billionaire into abashed silence, no mean feat considering how riled up he'd been mere moments ago. The fact that Fury, the Nick Fury, spy among spies was so affected by the situation as to let actual emotion show really didn't sit well with older man seemed to ignore his silent, curious stare though in favour of folding his arms across his chest in a clearly defensive gesture.
"So what would you have us do now director? Because quite frankly I'm tired of playing nice with these people."
Steve's question is uttered so quietly that everyone jumps almost as if they'd forgotten the man was sat there with them. His eyes were cold, hard and filled with an emotion that none of them could quite put a finger on. It made them feel like their spines were trying to crawl out from under their skin, not that they would ever show it. It was unnerving enough to think that Captain America possessed such a look.
Nick however just kept an impassive mask on his face although there was a slight quirk of his lips the suggested a vicious smirk as he answered, holding out an A5 sized brown envelope to the team.
"Do what you do best Captain, avenge."
Captain America smirked.