Chapter Twenty-Four: Assault
It was a solemn group of individuals that stared down at the hillside at the seemingly abandoned factory, the faint puff of toxic smoke and the hum of electrics leading anyone to believe otherwise. They had traveled the last few miles or so on foot after leaving Happy at the stop off point somewhere close to Harmonie, West Virginia. The Avengers were literally stranded in the middle of nowhere and normally they would have all been in awe of the majestic beauty around them but it seemed tainted by the knowledge of what they were about to do.
"Everyone know what they have to do?" Steve asked solemnly, pulling down his cowl.
"Sure thing Cap." The electronic voice of Iron Man replied, the whine of the repulsors echoing through the empty air.
The rest of the team nodded in agreement their faces set in resignation and determination. Bruce absently began unbuttoning his shirt; wanting at least some form of clothing available to him once he reverted back from the Hulk. He flashed Tony a small grin and handed the article to Clint for storage, before closing his eyes and letting the transformation take over. Once it had ended the Hulk towered over them a feral, toothy smile on his broad face and green eyes darting between the hovering armour and the target.
"Smash?" He asked simply, even though he appeared to already know the answer if the flex of the green fists were any indication.
Iron Man parted his shoulder reassuringly. "Fuck yeah Jellybean, smash!" He snarled venomously as the grip on the giant green shoulder tightened.
Hulk looked at Tony and then at Steve who gave a terse little nod of his head. The goliath's smile widened slightly, a hint of darkness tingeing the edges.
Hulk didn't need to told twice.
He leapt into battle.
When the Hulk landed in the center of the facility and roared the whole factory erupted into chaos as the defense AI sprang into action like an overzealous dog. Overhead the Iron Man armor darted around like a demented dragonfly, repulsors flaring and missiles erupting from every orifice causing explosions and widespread destruction. Hulk grinned watching the 'Metal Man' smash as he himself pummeled a gun turret that had emerged from one of the many metallic surfaces. In the distance he could see the rest of the team filtering in through the opening they had created, weapons drawn and already adding to the chaos.
The giant grinned sweeping his arm to send a group of body armor clad mercenaries flying into a nearby wall as the distinct thud of vibranium hitting something solid echoed through the air before ricocheting back to its owner. Steve caught the shield with a deft, practiced hand and swung it around taking out another goon that had tried to sneak up on him. His face was grim as he felt the crunch of the man's skull reverberate through his arm enough to incapacitate but not permanently harm. The goon crumpled in a heap at his feet.
Another roar sounded.
Hulk might be enjoying himself." Clint noted wryly, letting loose a
volley of explosive arrows with silent, deadly accuracy.
Beside him Natasha rolled her eyes as she moved to flank Steve, taking out another mechanized turret with her widows' bite and watching with cool detachment as the electricity danced over the metal surface. To her right she could see another wave of mercenaries taking position and taking aim at Iron Man with what looked like some kind of electronic disruptor. With a twist of her lips and a practiced flick of her wrists she let fly a couple of her stun disks instantly incapacitating them.
The armor darted past with a mock salute "Thanks for the save Nattie-pie."
Widow responded by flicking him an obscene hand gesture even as she flung a throwing knife with deadly accuracy, the sharp point embedding itself in the shoulder of another grunt throwing his aim off. Iron Man laughed somewhat maniacally, the electronic synthesizer making the noise sound even more sinister and he landed with an almighty thud sending out a shock-wave that knocked another cluster of guards of their feet.
"Intruders. This is your first and last warning to stand down and surrender..." The viciously polite voice of the defense AI intoned "... After which the use of lethal force will be authorized."
Clint snorted over the comms "So what's this then, the company picnic?"
"Hawkeye focus!" Cap snapped sharply.
"It's fine Cap, stop being such a Team Mo..."
Clint's comment was cut short and the sudden silence was ominous.
"Hawkeye!" Natasha's voice was clipped, a sure sign she was concerned.
There was a quiet groan and a huff of air down the line "I'm fine, stupid fucking laser grids... Stark, I swear when this is over I am jamming a god damned arrow in your knee."
The tinny, electronic laugh sounded again "Can't blame me for being good at what I do Robin Hood..." The words were slightly bitter and laced with sarcasm.
"Watch me." The archer shot back tartly.
"Avengers." Growled Captain America, the levity of his voice dampening the usual mid-battle banter
There was a huff of assent from the rest of the team as they turned their focus back onto the fight. The AI had not been joking when it had said that it would be using lethal force, the sudden increase in armaments, personnel and offensive force catching the team slightly off kilter. The only Avenger not perturbed was the Hulk, who was having far too much fun smashing the living daylights out of anything within range. This mostly consisted of the gun turrets bigger brothers as the mercenaries had quickly decided that engaging the Hulk in open combat was a bad idea.
Iron Man had once again taken to the air, sniping the smaller turrets with precision repulsor blasts and laying covering fire for the rest of the team. He was nothing but a deadly red and gold blur in the winding bowels of the ceiling scaffolding, causing chaos for the enemy forces.
"Iron Man... Your six o'clock!"
Widow's warning came a fraction of a second too late; just as the armor turned mid-air it was hit by another localized EMP blast like the assault on the tower and it plummeted to the ground like a lead weight, hitting the floor with a crunch as the momentum sent it skidding along the ground with and ear shattering screech. The remaining mercenaries were on the downed hero in an instant a mixture of automatic, EMP and plasma rifles trained on the still form.
"Get that face-plate off..." One of the men ordered, clearly the leader "... I don't trust this fucker as far as I can throw him and I want a kill shot should I need to take it."
A few of the men looked skeptical at the statement, skeptical that one soldier could take down Iron Man but they were clearly not brave enough to voice their thoughts. Hesitantly one of the mercenaries stepped forward gun pointed with a steady hand as he cautiously felt around the face-plate for the release catch. After a few moments of careful probing the man found a depression near where the ears should be and pushed gently, there was a hiss of hydraulics releasing and the slightly battered faceplate slid back to reveal... nothing.
"What the fuck." The leader breathed, aghast.
"The fuck indeed..." Tony's voice, sounding amused echoed from the speakers. "Surprise motherfuckers."
There was a moment of silence, so deep you would have heard a pin drop. Then the previously dark arc reactor flared back into life, humming quietly, getting bright and white hot rapidly. The smarter of the mercenaries figured out what was about to happen far, far too late for their shouts of 'Get back!' to be effective; while the stupider among them just gawked in confusion as the armor began to judder slightly as the arc reactor overloaded itself to critical mass.
"See you in hell ass-clowns."
The world erupted into white.
Tony grinned as he saw the pillar of white erupt from the far side of the compound and absentmindedly began removing the visor that had connected him remotely to the suit. Thor slowed slightly, turning his head to raise an eyebrow at the billionaire who was draped across his shoulder in an awkward fireman's carry.
"That aurora, it is your doing friend Anthony?"
Tony grinned broadly, with more teeth than was strictly necessary "Sure is Fabio. Those bastards just learned why you don't fuck with Tony fucking Stark."
The Asgardian mirrored his grin "Your vengeance was swift my friend; yet somehow I know that it has not been sated fully."
"Not. Even. Close. Thanks for the lift by the way...You can let me down now though, much as I enjoy being swept off my feet there is a time and a place for it."
Thor let out a quiet laugh, at least for Thor and lowered Tony to the ground. He took a quick moment to regain his balance before he finished stripping off the rest of the armors remote receptors and tossing them aside. Without the arc reactor to power them they were nothing more than glorified scrap and the billionaire felt no qualms about leaving them behind for the bottom feeders, provided they'd had a nice talk with the heavy end of Mjolnir first.
"I do not doubt it friend Anthony." Thor replied a thread of mischief more suited to his brother rippling through his voice.
Finally stripped of the more cumbersome tech the billionaire started forward eyes glued to the small scanner that he had developed in the basement lab what now seemed like eons ago. The Asgardian followed close on his heels bringing up the rear, bright eyes scanning the quiet corridors with a seasoned warriors gaze. He felt a little disquieted by the complete silence surrounding them, the lack of noise an ominous itch in the back of his mind.
It felt... off somehow.
Tony didn't pay any heed to his teammate, his jaw clenched tight as he strode forward through the labyrinthine maze of corridors. The make shift scanner was held out in front of him beeping softly and more insistently with each passing minute and that beep began to mirror his own heartbeat. A steady thrum of 'Where is he? Where is he?' in sync with the small device. All he could think about was finding Howard and blowing this place to kingdom come to punish those for taking what was his; because he was Tony fucking Stark and he didn't take too kindly to that shit.
They reached what looked like an access shaft leading down to the lower levels and the billionaire wasted no time in hacking the electronic lock, eyes shining with a manic gleam as the lock depressed, hissed quietly and then slid open. He was about to take his first step onto the stairwell when Thor placed a broad hand on his shoulder halting him in his tracks.
Tony reared around like a wounded animal and the Asgardian held up his free hand placatingly in a gesture of surrender.
"Steady Man of Iron..." Because Thor was under no delusions that that was whom he was addressing now, the battle hardened warrior usually so carefully hidden under Tony's flippant façade. The man that had fought his way out of the desert with blood and fire and hate. "... I do not like this; it is too quiet as you Midgardians would say."
The billionaire settled himself, focusing on the hand on his shoulder and not the red tinged rage that was causing his vision to blur at the edges.
"You think it's a trap?" He asked bluntly.
"Aye." Thor nodded in return his face suddenly looking so, so much older and more like the ancient deity Tony had read stories of when he was young.
"Then lets spring it, I'm tired of all this pussy footing bullshit."
The other man looked like he wanted to argue but was silenced by Tony's next words, murmured quietly under his breath so that only Thor would be able to hear them.
"It's not as if they have anything that can keep both of us down Fabio, anything else we can deal with."
He felt a small rush of pride at Tony's obvious faith in his abilities and knew that admitting to such a thing was something the Midgardian found difficult to do. It made his heart swell ever so slightly. And as much as he felt unnerved by the situation he also had to grudgingly admit that the engineer was right, there was very little on this world that could truly harm him. Excluding the blunt, brute force of the Hulk the closest anyone had come was Tony himself with his mechanized wonder and as he had seen from the many news statements and other media the rest of the world was very, very behind Anthony Stark... At least for the most part.
Hesitantly, oh, so hesitantly Thor gave a small nod and removed his hand from Tony's shoulder "As you wish Man of Iron. But we should remain vigilant none the less."
The billionaire couldn't really argue with that, it never hurt to remain aware; too little of that in the past had cost him far, far too much and even years later the wounds still ached when prodded. Tony shook his head free of the suffocating thoughts, now was not the time for that particular nostalgia driven pity party. Focused once again he flashed Thor one of his brightest, most vicious grins , a grin the Asgardian mirrored before stepping forward onto the gloomy stairwell.
The journey downwards was for the most part uneventful, they met no resistance from either the hired mercenaries nor the defense AI and if anything it made the ball of unease curl tighter in both Thor and Tony's stomachs. Over head the emergency lighting flickered, a sure sign that the rest of the Avengers were doing fulfilling their roles beautifully and the billionaire couldn't quite suppress the ruthless smile at the thought of the chaos the rest of the gang were causing. He didn't feel the slightest shred of sympathy for any of the fuck-wits that were standing in the Avengers way, they had chosen their side and now they had to lay with it.
Finally the seemingly unending spiral of stairs seem to come to an end and the pair were faced with a long narrow corridor that lead into what appeared to be a science station cum holding area. Both Thor and the billionaire eyed the corridor warily. If there was to be an ambush this was the perfect place to do so an enclosed bottleneck with no additional entrance or exits points; it was a blatant taunt and both of them knew it.
"Ready for this Point Break?" Tony asked casually, but there was an underlying hint of concern.
The Asgardian nodded hefting Mjolnir from where it had been hanging on his belt and readying himself for whatever they were about to face.
"Aye friend, Stay close and I shall keep you from harm."
Tony snorted "That's if you can keep up..." And he took off at a full sprint.
Thor didn't even get the chance to roll his eyes at the action but quickly spurred into action following the speeding man down the long corridor; senses poised and ready for an attack. They made it about halfway before the grinding sound of a heavy door closing over reached their ears in stereo, both exits had been blocked.
They were trapped.
"Fuck!" Tony swore skidding to a halt, Thor close on his heels.
The Asgardian didn't look impressed and held the metal war-hammer out in front of him ready to launch an attack.
"Don't use lightning!" The billionaire snapped quickly, distinctly aware of the metal surroundings and while Thor maybe be pretty much lightning proof he wasn't afforded the same luxury without the suit.
"I did not intend to my friend."
The demi-god replied and before Tony knew what had happened he felt the cool rush of displaced air as something large and heavy soared past his head down toward the far end of the corridor. The billionaire watched as Mjolnir flew at a break neck pace down the remaining stretch of corridor and collided with a truly thunderous clang on the thick metal door. The door shuddered violently but remained firm and unyielding leading Tony to a single conclusion as to its make-up.
Adamantium, fucking marvelous.
He watched as Mjolnir flew back toward them and then all of a sudden just fell out of the air, landing with a bone-jarring crash on the floor. Tony looked confused for a moment and then spun around about to ask Thor 'What the actual hell?'
Thor was lying prone on the floor clawing at his throat; a desperate look in his wide blue eyes as he gasped and wheezed like a dying fish trapped out of water. Tony was pretty sure that it would be a mental image that would haunt his dreams, provided he made it out of this alive.
The billionaire sniffed the air tentatively.
Those cowardly fucking fucks.
His brain was just about to ask the question of 'why isn't this shit affecting me?' When a voice, an obnoxious familiar voice echoed over the intercom.
"I see you friend isn't too keen on our latest threat management measures Mr. Stark. Harmless to humans... Not so much to anything less than Human."
Tony swore in every language he knew both out loud and in the comforts of his own brain. He'd known Ross was involved, he just hadn't expected him to be here.
"Stop it Ross! You're fucking killing him."
The billionaire could hear the sadistic smile over the speakers and it made his vision swim with red.
"I believe that's the point Mr. Stark but I guess you're lucky once again. My orders are to incapacitate not kill, although I have to admit the look on the green lummox's face when he suddenly found himself unable to take the smallest breath was quite satisfying."
He's baiting Tony, Tony knows this but the mental image of Hulk floundering, breathless and helpless causes the coldest fury he has ever felt to knot in the pit of his stomach. He is going to murder Ross, slowly, painfully, in every, single way the man fears and no-one, no fucking one will have an ounce of proof he's responsible because he is Tony fucking Stark and this complete asshat fuckwit of a General needs to learn you do not fuck with his shit or hurt those he considers his. But for the moment he has more pressing matters at hand than the impending bout of homicide he is planning on committing because that alone is enough of an incentive to survive this, he needs to help Thor and get Ross to stop pumping whatever that shit is into the corridor.
"Stop Ross. I'll do what you want."
There is a laugh, low, cold and it makes Tony want to vomit. "I always knew you were a smart man somewhere beneath all that arrogance Stark. You know what you need to do."
The billionaire grimaces "Stop whatever this shit is first and I'll do it."
The laugh this time is a little more steely "I think not, I know how flippant you can be."
Tony bares his teeth like an animal. Ross is a fucking sadistic bastard he was going to make him grovel like a whipped dog for it. If it had been any other circumstance, if he'd been alone he would have played the verbal run around all day but there was someone else on the line here and he couldn't risk that.
He raised his hands slowly placed them behind his head.
"I want you to say it Stark."
The billionaire bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from actually saying what he wanted to and in a low, defeated tone murmured.
"I didn't quite catch that I'm afraid." Ross sounds positively gleeful.
Tony balks and bites down again this time drawing blood. Ross is taking far too much pleasure in this and it is taking every single bit of Tony's restraint not to just flip the guy off. His eyes dart back to Thor who is laying silent, unmoving save for the occasional twitch on the floor and it's enough to quell the tide of emotions.
"I surrender! I surrender you sick fuck! Now stop the fucking gas!" He screeches finger tips digging into the back of his skull almost painfully hard.
"Now, see, that wasn't so hard, was it."
The faint hissing noise that Tony assumed was the gas abruptly stopped and the billionaire felt himself sag with relief, for the briefest of horrifying moments he thought that Ross wouldn't stop. He didn't need another death on his conscience.
The far door slid open and a platoon filtered in, weapons trained on Tony. He could see the mistrust written clear across their faces and he felt himself smirk for a moment, sometimes it was nice to have a reputation even if it was for being unpredictable. They slowly edged forward and Tony turned around exposing his back in a gesture of compliant surrender, it pained him so much to do it but he couldn't risk Ross turning whatever that gas was back on and actually killing Thor instead of incapacitating him, although looking at the Asgardian now it already looked as if the man was on the brink of death. Rough hands seized his arms and forced them down into a pair of handcuffs, and then Tony was abruptly spun around and found himself face to face with General Ross.
Tony couldn't help himself, he reacted.
And spat full in the mans face.
Ross wiped the spittle from his face with a look of utter disgust plastered across it.
The billionaire's satisfaction was only short lived however as a brutal fist connected with his face, not in the right position to knock him out but enough to make his jaw sting like a bitch and make him seriously think about doing something like that again. He mentally shrugged; he'd do it a thousand times over the physical pain was worth every inch of the satisfaction it had given him
"Mr. Stark." Ross cooed all ruthless efficiency, a thin veneer over the bubbling hate and disgust just beneath the surface.
"Ross." Tony answered, purposefully not adding the man's rank. This earned him a punch to the gut and he wheezed slightly.
The General seemed unperturbed by the rough treatment and waved a hand airily.
"See this is your problem Stark, all of your problems. You lack discipline, conviction."
Tony grinned at him, teeth glistening with blood. "This will blow up in your face Ross and like the last time I will be there to tell you I told you so*."
He was honestly surprised at the strength of the punch when Ross's bony knuckles connected with his lower jaw and his vision faded into darkness.
~End Chapter 24~
*This is a reference to the post movie credits scene for 'The Incredible Hulk' film.