Chapter Twenty-Five: Reunited
When Tony regained consciousness it was to a pounding in his skull that made even his worst hangovers seem trivial in comparison. Literally everything hurt and he assumed that meant Ross and his cronies had been less than gentle with him after he'd lost consciousness. He was honestly not surprised by that. The General had already proved himself a more than capable asshole why should the billionaire expect special, or hell even fair treatment?
Slowly, ever so slowly he opened his eyes and instantly had to shut them against the bright fluorescent light reflecting off the metal of the room, holding cell, whatever this fucking place was. It was bright, too damn bright and the billionaire forced down the wave of nausea it induced, now would not be the best time to toss his cookies. He took a deep breath, somewhat hampered by the fact his face was pressed into the floor and after a few minutes Tony tried again to open his eyes. This time the pain wasn't nearly as intense, more a dull thud than someone stabbing him in the brain with an ice pick and he was able to keep them open in a bleary eyed squint.
"So you're awake at last."
The voice was slightly muffled but Tony recognized it instantly, Howard. With far more effort than he felt needed the billionaire managed to rock on to his side, wincing slightly as the handcuffs dug into his wrists under his body weight. He let out a grunt as he forced his stiff limbs to work and maneuver his body into a kneeling position; it was difficult without the use of his arms but he managed it, if not in an ungainly fashion.
He was alone in the cell and for a moment Tony was confused, where had Howard's voice come from? He twisted his head around and saw that one of the walls, the wall connected to the adjoining cell was some kind of transparent material and sat on the other side back to Tony was the man in question.
"Just about..." Tony's voice came out raspy and raw.
The older man turned his head and even from where Tony was kneeling he could see that Howard looked terrible, his skin was pale and drawn, eyes bloodshot.
"You look like shit..."
Howard narrowed his eyes as if to say 'you're one to talk' and remained silent for a moment before answering.
"You don't look much better Anthony."
Tony let out a small snort of laughter and began shuffling toward the glass. It was awkward and uncomfortable but he managed to make it and slumped against the glass, which actually wasn't glass but some kind of transparent aluminum.
"Why did you come here?" Howard's voice was cool and steely.
The billionaire thought about his answer for a second, he was tempted, sorely tempted to just brush it off and act his usual obnoxious self but at this point he decided what the fuck was the point. Howard had to have known the reason he'd come, he just wanted Tony to say it.
"You know why."
The older man's face fell slightly, looking grey and tired and he rubbed a hand across his stubbled jaw in exasperation or frustration Tony honestly couldn't tell.
"You shouldn't have come."
This time Tony did laugh although it came out bitter sounding.
"Not as if I had anywhere else to go old man and besides there were some people here who needed a spanking."
Howard rose an eyebrow again, that single motion saying far more than words ever could and Tony felt his stomach drop. He'd disappointed him, again. Even now it was still a bitter pill to swallow. They fell into stubborn, unyielding silence which was fucking fine by Tony, he didn't want to talk to the old fart anyway instead he should be focusing on how to get the hell out of here. His prison was a simple cuboid shaped cell with a heavy metal door at one end. The billionaire glared at the door, which wasn't electronically locked just barred shut with a lock, a big lock, a lock that didn't appear to be made of the same alloy the rest of the cell was made of. Tony wanted to shudder in revulsion at the insult of that, he built this place to be progressive and modern not stuck in the fucking Stone Age. What he needed right now was brute strength and a little bit of ingenuity.
"Fuck I wish Thor was here." He sighed softly.
"Thor?" Came Howard's confused voice "That big blond man they brought in with you?"
Tony turned a rueful smile on his face.
"Yeah that guy... Turns out, Norse mythology not so much mythology and right now I could do with his brute strength and magic mumbo jumbo."
Howard looked aghast and the younger Stark couldn't help but feel a little smug. It wasn't every day you managed to put that look on Howard Stark's face. Tony held on to that happy feeling as long as he could, mentally sniggering at the image of himself as Peter Pan, because in a minute he was going to really need it.
"Yeah... He would have been able to break these cuffs for me no problem... as it is..." He continued to ramble, starting to shift and twist his arms behind his back a grimace on his face.
This was really going to hurt.
He maneuvered his left hands into position and with a sharp, violent pull Tony yanked his hand through the cuff. There was a sickening crunch as the bones in his hands and fingers shattered and warped allowing the appendage to slip through. The billionaire bit back the shriek of pain, almost biting right through his lip in the process and tried (rather unsuccessfully) to not think about the damage he had just inflicted on his person. Gingerly he looked down at the mangled limb and winced slightly, cradling it close to his chest as he got to his feet and walked or rather staggered to the door.
He grinned weakly, thanking the stupidity of the soldiers; they hadn't even searched him properly for fucks sake apparently more concerned with getting the Norse god into containment than conducting a full cavity search. Like Tony cared, it meant that he now had a way out of this shithole. He kicked off sneaker and pulled out the inner sole revealing a small set of lock picks. It was going to be awkward as hell but he'd pulled off bigger upsets before now and he intended to continue that tradition.
He slipped one of the picks into the lock, using his mouth to keep it steady and using his good hand inserted the second pick into the lower section of the lock. It was difficult; not having both hands to feel the shifting of springs in the lock was a complete pain in the ass but Natasha had been thorough when she'd taught him how to do this.
Finally he heard the lock click and he pushed against the door, resisting the urge to whoop in victory when it swung outwards.
He was fucking awesome.
He peeked out into the corridor and was relieved to see that there were no guards posted; he couldn't help the flash of annoyance at that but there were more important things to worry about right now. Tony moved to the door of Howard's cell and brandished the lock picks once making short work of the lock this time since he'd already done it once. He pulled open the door, a smirk on his lips.
"Anyone call for room service?"
Howard rolled his eyes and walked out of the door not quite ignoring Tony but really acknowledging his presence either.
"How do we get out of here?" He asked.
That was gratitude for you, Tony really should have known better than that. He shrugged in answer to the question Howard had posed.
"Well first we need to find the control room and break open the electronic locks and pilfer our way through their files for proof. Then we bust Thor out and get the fuck out of here."
The older man gave him a slightly skeptical look but didn't argue with Tony's assessment of the situation, which the billionaire assumed meant he agreed with him. Tony ran a hand through his hair before pushing away from the wall and starting down the corridor toward the small cluster of rooms, hoping that one of them was the control room. Howard followed him a look of unease on his face.
"Something isn't right..." He stated bluntly "Where have all the guards gone?"
"Probably dealing with the rest of the Avengers..."
Tony replied smugly because he hadn't believed Ross for a fucking second. He and Thor had been cornered in the corridor; the rest of the team had had the whole compound to use as their playground. There was no way Ross and his minions had taken them down, no way in all the seven hells. The other man however didn't look convinced despite Tony's insistence, still following hot on the billionaire's heels.
They reached the doors and Tony tried the doors. They opened; much to his complete surprise, the first two into what looked file rooms the third into a small control room and the billionaire grinned.
"Bingo." He whistled stepping inside.
The walls of the room were covered in monitors some displaying live CCTV footage while the others showed steady streams of data and information, which kicked Tony's curiosity into overdrive. For the moment however he focused on the CCTV and Tony felt his blood run cold as his jaw clenched with fury.
Dark eyes zeroed in on what appeared to be another complex of holding cells, each one holding one of his teammates strapped to a specimens table like a slab of meat. Various drips and medical instruments protruded from their limbs and even through the shitty cameras Tony could see that their skin was ashen and clammy. Fuck, Ross hadn't been lying and that left a cold, bitter taste in Tony's mouth and pure fury burning through his veins.
Someone was going to pay dearly for this, with blood.
Tony ignored Howard, his teeth grinding together as he tried to get a handle on his temper. If he wanted to help the others he needed to remain calm and not go flying off half-cocked, he could practically hear his mental Pepper snorting at that thought.
The billionaire continued to watch the footage something cold and unsettling lodging itself in his gut, where had all the soldiers gone? Even incapacitated it wasn't a wise idea to leave a group of prisoners unattended, especially a group as dangerous as the Avengers, it was just asking for trouble. Something was going on here, something Tony couldn't quite see and it made him feel slightly sick with anxiety.
Tony rounded on the elder Stark his teeth bared in a snarl. Honestly what the hell was Howard's problem?
"What!?" He barked out harshly.
There was a moment of dead silence as Tony followed Howard's gaze.
When he caught sight of what had captured the man's attention the irritation drained from instantly. Suddenly the complete abandonment of the compound made a whole world of sense and Tony felt the bottom fall out of his stomach. Howard's steely eyes were fixed on a screen displaying energy output readings, nuclear energy output readings, readings that were quickly climbing into dangerous fucking levels, At the rate they were climbing they probably had around thirty minutes, maybe less, before the reactors hit critical and caused a full scale meltdown.
"Oh fuck…" Tony breathed, tongue feeling like lead.
Howard nodded in agreement face unusually solemn but strangely calm in the face of what was rapidly looking like certain annihilation. It was as he was pondering the old man's complete Zen that Tony spotted the even worse news and began cursing up a god-damn storm. Those fucking idiots! Had they not realized what setting of a nuclear blast in this fucking area would do besides destroying a rather beautiful part of West Virginia? Either they didn't and it was just a colossally disastrous side-effect of their 'let's kill the Avengers plan' or they did and they'd accepted that potentially massive loss of life was an acceptable outcome. That second thought made the billionaire sick to his stomach, how was potential loss of life even a consideration? Howard looked at him in confusion as Tony continued to rant, wincing in pain as his fingers flew over the keyboard in a desperate attempt to buy them some more time.
"How bad?" The elder Stark asked.
"Hitler times fucking infinity bad.." The billionaire snarled with something darker than anger "… Because it's apparently not just enough for the fuckers to vaporize everything within a three mile radius…" He was still fighting with the computer overrides to the reactor.
Howard quirked a brow "Not just? What do you mean not just?"
"We're right on a major fucking fault line, if this place blows it's going to set off a massive chain reaction that could level a large portion of the east side of the country." He banged his fists down on the console as the computer blue screened blocking Tony from accessing it any further. "GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!"
There was a moment of silence between the two men and Howard looked completely horrified by the notion, he'd committed his fair share of atrocities; some of them even nuclear related but never with the potential for such complete destruction. Tony stilled, heart twisting unpleasantly because looking at the old man was suddenly like looking in a mirror, he could see the grief and regret at the death brought about by his hands however indirectly it may be. It was an oddly poignant moment for Tony and for possibly the first time in his life he didn't cringe at the thought of being similar to Howard in any way, shape or form.
"What can we do?"
Tony ran his good hand through his hair and tugged gently trying to focus his thoughts. What could they do? Their options were extremely limited and the only chance they had at this point was to try and manually override the reactor. Only problem was that by now the whole chamber would be flooded with radiation and would be a very literal death trap for anyone who entered, with the possible exception of the Hulk. Who as awesome as he was lacked the finesse required for the task at hand, meaning he was practically useless in the situation.
In short they were stuck in a catch 22.
In order to save the many someone was going to have to sacrifice themselves and boy didn't that suck the proverbial balls, radiation poisoning was a horrifically nasty way to die. That was of course assuming they stopped the imminent melt down and at this point even that was a near impossibility. But then again since when had Tony not dealt with impossibilities and it sure as fuck wasn't the first time he'd had to lay himself down on the wire for the greater good.
He took a steadying breath.
He could do this, he could.
He was the only one that could at this point.
Face set he turned to Howard, eyes steely and determined.
"I need you to go and wake up the rest of the Avengers and get them the fuck out of here."
"And what will you be doing?"
The elder Stark cocked an eyebrow, not impressed at being ordered around. He folded his arms across his chest and stood his ground but in his eyes was a glimmer of understanding and recognition, he clearly had some idea about Tony was planning and as terrible a father he knew he'd been Howard did not want to see his son, the man he was now go to his death. Tony hesitated for a second before he flashed the other man his 'Paparazzi prick' smile in an attempt to disarm him. Howard didn't buy it for a second.
"You are not going to stop the reactor manually Anthony it is suicide."
Tony laughed, he just couldn't help himself, he laughed loud and full throated. It figured the one time Howard would choose to be concerned about his welfare would be the one time where there was no other fucking choice. Fate was seriously life's greatest troll. Howard's face darkened and his eyes flashed with steel.
"You are not going Anthony." His voice held no argument.
"Try and stop me old man." The billionaire retorted, striding forward.
A surprisingly strong hand caught Tony around the forearm and pushed him backwards, back into the room and a growl rose in his throat.
"We haven't got time for this Howard!" Tony screamed, eyes wild "This whole place is going to blow and I am the only person who has a chance of stopping it! So stop with the misguided parenting and get the fuck out of my way!"
Before he even had the chance to move forward Tony found himself slamming against the wall, breath rushing violently from his lungs as Howard's creased but determined face bore down on him. He glared up at the older man and pushed back against him but Howard didn't budge an inch, it appeared that he'd inherited a few other perks from the bastardized serum he'd been given.
"Let me go!" Tony just about resisted the urge to spit in Howard's face.
The other man stood still and unyielding, his grip on his son like iron.
"Why are you doing this? We both know how this has to end." Tony said bitterly.
For a moment Howard's eyes turned sad and he looked like the old man he was supposed to be.
"No, no it doesn't Anthony."
The billionaire was about to question what the fuck Howard was talking about when for the second time that day a fist collided with his jaw and he slumped to ground unconscious. His last thought before he blacked out completely was that if he made it out of this he was going to get Happy to train him so he didn't have such a glass jaw. Howard shook his fist, the burn already fading due to the serum and looked down at the unconscious figure of his wayward son, now a man and far greater than he'd ever believed he could be. He'd made many, many mistakes in his life but he could see now that Anthony wasn't one of them and was, dare he say proud of the person he'd grown into. He was sure there was a lot more of his son's story beyond the fragments he'd heard that had shaped him and it was for that reason that he had to do this. Anthony still had so much to give the world and he, well he was the husk of an old, embittered man who should have died nearly two decades ago. He may not have been able to give his son what he needed when he'd been growing up but he could give him this one chance now, one small chance to live and prosper.
Because Anthony wasn't the only one who understood nuclear physics.
He strode to the door, turning back for a last glance.
"Be like Iron, Anthony. Stay strong."
The door clicked shut behind him.