Chapter Twenty-Six: Reparations
The door closed with a rather final sounding click but Howard paid it no heed, he had more important things to worry about.
Like stopping a nuclear reactor from exploding.
There was a brief moment before the man started moving that his thoughts went to the unconscious man lying in the next room. Anthony, Tony, had far more to offer this world than he did. He realized that, had realized that when Tony was just a child and that jealousy (he could now admit) had burned him to his very core. His trip into the future had only made that fact; and his own failings all the more obvious and that was why he could not allow Tony to risk his life in such a foolish endeavor. It was better to let the old dogs have their day.
Howard almost cracked a smile at that thought, he had never been a man of sentiment but his time in the future; seeing the man his son had become and the incredible people he had surrounded himself with had forced a change in his perception, as hard as it was to come to terms with. He shook those thoughts from his head and focused on the task at hand, he didn't have the time for personal introspection. Pushing away from the door he was resting against he moved down the corridor with a confident grace that men half his age would have been jealous of. He'd memorized the route to the reactor when he'd been in the data room with Tony and with a bit of luck he would make it there with plenty of time to manually override the reactor and if he didn't…
The outcome wasn't worth thinking about.
But he was determined that it wasn't going to come to that, he was determined that if he was going to go out then he was going to go out on his own fucking terms and not the whims of others. Howard was a Stark and that was what Stark's did, they didn't bow to the inevitable and made the impossible happen.
The journey through the compound to the reactor was thankfully uneventful due to the obvious lack of soldiers and even with pretty much memorizing the map he'd still had to take several detours when the occasional corridor had been caved in. He hadn't looked too closely at the damage but he had caught a distinct smear of a reddish-brown colored substance that made his stomach twist ever so slightly. He was by no means a pacifist but that still didn't mean he liked the sight or smell of blood. But detours aside Howard soon found himself at the outer chamber to the reactor and he eyed the hazmat suits with slightly dubious eyes before sighing slightly and donning one.
The thick steel door loomed ominously in front of him but the elder Stark pushed down any misgivings he had, he had made it this far and he wasn't about to back down now. It took him a few minutes to hack literally and figuratively through the electronic lock and when the lock finally slid open Howard let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. He slipped on the thick padded glove, zipping it up and reached for the door handle feeling the heat from beyond through the studded metal handle and without any further consideration he opened the door and stepped inside.
Tony regained consciousness with a sharp jolt and winced at the pounding ache in his jaw, honestly this day had been fucking terrible enough without being sucker punched (twice!) and by his bastard of an old man. He was still more than a little surprised at Howard's behaviour, he would have thought the elder man would have jumped at the excuse to be rid of Tony but instead he'd been adamant that he not throw his life away.
Tony let out a hollow laugh even after years of living under Howard's shadow of abuse and neglect he still had a slightly rose-tinted view of the man. In honesty he probably stopped him because he thought he'd fuck it up, that seemed more like the man Tony had come to know and expect.
The billionaire grimaced as he got to his feet and rubbed his aching jaw eyes skirting across the various screens that were still flickering with life. He could just see the older man darting from camera to camera as he made his way across the compound and Tony had to wonder just how long he'd been unconscious for Howard to have already to have made it that far. It didn't settle the anger in his gut and as much as he wanted to follow Howard right now it was not the most advisable course of action. Dark eyes once again skimmed over the security footage of the Avengers and it turned his stomach like nothing he'd ever experienced, he had to get them free and at the very least on their way to safety before he went after Howard. But first things first…
His hands danced across the keyboard as he set up a secure line to one of the many Starktech satellites in orbit and began uploading every piece of data he could get his grubby fingers on. Fortunately for Tony the people Ross had, had working for him had been complete idiots and didn't do a very good job of properly deleting all their files in their haste to escape meaning that with very little effort on his part he quickly retrieved all of their little dirty secrets. He was going to need them after this fiasco and the WSC wasn't the only one who could play political hard ball, at the very least it would keep Pepper safe. But that was for a later time; right now he had other responsibilities to attend to.
Tony quickly memorized the layout of the building and the route he'd need to take before starting out of the door and heading back through the chaos that the Avengers attack had caused. Light's flickered on and off an impending omen of the brewing explosion and on more than one occasion he almost got crushed by a falling piece of masonry; it was only his adrenaline heightened reflexes that saved him from becoming a smear on the ground.
Like the rest of the compound the holding cells/ labs were completely devoid of personnel but there was a sinister feeling lingering about the place that Tony did not like in the slightest. He hacked into the first room and pushed the door open praying that it wasn't empty. It wasn't; Natasha lay on the cold metal slab, pale as death with a rather alarming smear of red down the left side of her face. Cautiously Tony approached (because he wasn't stupid, even in a state such as this Natasha was still deadly and the billionaire valued his ability to breathe) and began unhooking the straps binding her and the IV's that were sticking into Natasha's arm, as far as he could tell they were just saline and other standard medicinal fluids but knowing who they were dealing with it could be completely to the contrary.
With painful slowness the billionaire slid the needle from under the woman's skin, letting out a small sigh of relief as she began to stir. Relief that was momentarily forgotten as her cold hand grabbed the one holding the IV out of sheer reflex and squeezed hard enough to break bone.
"Owowow! Natasha! Stop! Relax it's me Tony, you're safe, I got you." His voice was pained and he fought not to squirm under Natasha's grasp.
Glassy green eyes slid open and focused immediately on the man hovering over her, after a few seconds recognition bloomed and she loosened her iron grip on Tony's hand.
"S-tark... W-what?" Her voice was shaking slightly but was strong.
Tony rubbed his sore hand and shrugged "Don't know how you got here but there are more important things right now, Ross rigged this place to blow... We need to get everyone awake and out of here."
That snapped the Widow to attention.
The billionaire grimaced "Yeah reactor overload, completely inelegant and over the top but its Ross what do you expect."
"Stark..." Natasha ground out.
"Sorry, sorry anyway that's being taken care of... So let's wake the rest of the sleeping beauties up then."
Widow raised an eyebrow at him in question but Tony didn't elaborate further on his comment although she did notice the slight tightening of his jaw. Deciding to drop it for now she began testing her limbs and frowned at the sluggish movements of her body, whatever they'd dosed her with was still in effect.
"Tony, I can't move, I need you to see if you can find some adrenaline shots." Natasha hoped that a quick boost would be all she needed to get everything up and running.
The billionaire obeyed and began rummaging through the many drawers scattered around the room. Finally he found a small vial of adrenaline and a syringe and hurried back to Natasha, holding the items out to her. She reached out and took a loose grip on the vial. This wasn't going to work, she barely had the strength to hold the vial never mind push the syringe into her heart.
"Tony, I need your help. I can't administer the adrenaline; I haven't got the strength to push it into my heart."
It wasn't often that Tony Stark was surprised by something but this certainly counted.
"What?... But I can't, I don't know where... I could kill you Nat."
Natasha smiled "I can position it, I just need you to push it down."
The billionaire couldn't really argue with that as much as he wanted to and gave a terse nod. He took the vial back and filled the syringe before handing it back to the assassin who positioned it over her heart.
"Quick and sharp Stark." She murmured guiding his hand around the plunger of the syringe.
Tony took a deep breath and pushed down hard, piercing Natasha with the needle. She let out a pained huff of breath but remained perfectly still as the billionaire depressed the plunger and shot the hormone straight into Widow's heart. The seconds ticked by and Natasha jerked as it took affect feeling strength flood her limbs and she slid off the table, happy when her legs supported her weight.
"Okay, let's go."
Tony knew better than to offer the woman help, she would probably break him in two but that didn't stop him holding the door open for her.
With Natasha at his side reviving the rest of the team went smoothly and soon they were down to wading their last remaining member. Thor had been abjectly apologetic when he'd come around, getting down on bended knee like some Shakespearian hero which had caused Tony to roll his eyes in exasperation as he hastily forgave him (because he wouldn't get up otherwise.) The billionaire approached the last door and felt his stomach twist slightly, this particular room's camera had been blocked and he dreaded to think the damage Ross had had the opportunity to inflict on his science bro before taking off.
He hacked the lock and as the door swung open Tony had to hold back a gag as the overwhelming smell of blood hit his nose.
"Oh holy fuck." Clint murmured in disgust.
Bruce lay strapped face down on the cold metal table arms stretched above his head. His back was cut to ribbons, skin and muscle peeled back; bleeding profusely from the vile looking wounds. And fuck there was a lot of blood, there literally wasn't a surface not splattered with the crimson liquid; they even managed to get it on the ceiling.
Tony went to move forward fear and disgust warring within him but was halted by Steve's hand on his arm.
"Tony, you can't... The radiation."
"Fuck the radiation Cap, if we don't do something he's gonna bleed to death." He shrugged off Steve's hand and strode into the room.
The billionaire donned a pair of gloves and began trying to clean up the wounds on Bruce's back and staunch the bleeding while the rest of the team began removing the various lines and metal hooks imbedded in his skin. Bruce didn't stir even once as they pulled out everything and it made worry bubble in Tony's gut.
"Just what the fuck have they dosed him with?" Clint asked, face twisted with emotion.
"I fear it may be the same concoction that I was afflicted with." Thor growled, eyes flashing.
Tony grimaced remembering Thor's wide eyed stare as he tried vainly to suck in a breath and Ross had said that he had used the same stuff on the Hulk but to inflict this kind of damage without Mean Green making an appearance meant that there was something else at work here. Clearly Natasha seemed to think the same as she starting rummaging through the vials in search of what they had used, she came away moments later swearing violently in Russian.
"Gamma suppressants... Gamma suppressants on top of the gas; were they trying to kill him?" Natasha's voice was icy.
"It's Ross." Clint growled "I wouldn't put it past him."
There was a look of thunder on all of their faces as that information sunk in.
"Is there anything here to counteract the suppressants?" Steve asked.
Immediately Tony and Natasha flew into action skimming through the mixture of chemicals available and a few minutes later the billionaire let out a whoop of victory as he found just what he was looking for. He grabbed hold of a sealed syringe and ripped it open, plunging the sharp end into the wax sealed bottle drawing the liquid out before he carefully grasped Bruce's arm looking for an artery.
"Sorry about this buddy" Tony murmured as he stuck the needle in.
The moments ticked by and then there was a soft moan as the physicist stirred.
"Gnnngh… w-wwwwhhhh…." His voice was thick with pain and Tony felt himself wince, Natasha was not quite as affected her tone brisk as she spoke to the semi-conscious man.
"Doc, you need to let Hulk out…"
Slowly, achingly slowly Bruce turned his head to meet her gaze, the agony the movement caused clear on his face. His eyes were at half-mast but even below the lids Natasha could see that his pupils were blown wide and the thin ring of iris visible were already beginning to bleed green. The Hulk had just been waiting for the opportunity. The physicist opened his mouth and screamed a mingled roar of pain and anger and a darkness they all knew so, so well as his skin began to knit itself back together flushed the bright gamma green of the Hulk. The transformation seemed to take longer than usual but soon the intimidating figure of Bruce's 'Other Guy' was looming over them, not exactly looking too pleased.
"Hey there Mean Green." Tony greeted "Mind if we just give you a quick look over?"
Sharp green eyes zeroed in on the billionaire and Hulk grunted still hunched as if ready to receive a blow.
"Hulk fine..." The giant grumbled, but he seemed cowed somewhat and it made Tony's stomach twist in pure anger.
"I believe ya' buddy, I do but you know me not happy until I see it for myself. So spin..."
Tony was proud of how calm he managed to keep his voice, truly, truly proud because he felt anything but calm at that moment. The Hulk huffed slightly and slowly turned around allowing the whole team see that the damage had been healed.
"Cool, cool and Bruce?"
Hulk shot Tony a 'really, now' look but still answered.
"Banner sleep, wake up good."
The billionaire felt himself relax minutely and he nodded back at the Hulk, clapping his hands together. He had his team back and that meant it was time to deal with the rest of the situation. Tony had already filled in the team on most of the details as he brought them around to a mixed reaction of anger and disbelief; team now whole once again they all shared a solemn look and moved toward the holding area's exit. They reached the door in a close knit formation with Hulk bringing up the rear.
"Let's blow this popsicle stand!" Clint crowed, although it lacked its usual cheer.
Tony hesitated coming to a stop something in him rebelling at the idea of leaving so soon, he couldn't explain it he just knew that leaving was the wrong thing to do. Steve gave him a look and it was as if the other man was reading his thoughts, blue eyes strangely intense in the flickering emergency lighting.
"Tony no, I know that look, whatever you're thinking of doing, no."
The billionaire flashed a fake grin, one of his 'media darling' grins that no one, not even Hulk fell for, they knew him far too well to be taken in so easily.
"Cap the whole point of coming here was to get him out, I can't just leave him and let this clusterfuck be for nothing."
"Stark…" Clint interrupted "You said yourself that the reactors are on the other side of the compound, there isn't time to make it to him before the place possibly blows and if it does blow we'll be needed to try and contain the fallout. We need to be practical here."
Tony found it odd that Clint of all people was giving him advice on not being reckless, the man was kind of infamous for it but there was No. Fucking. Way. He was leaving Howard behind again for the vultures to snatch.
He just fucking wasn't.
"He's right Stark." Natasha agreed with the archer, her cool green eyes tinged with sympathy.
"But…" Tony hissed.
Tony's eyes moved from Avenger to Avenger and all of them, all of them bar one seemed to share Clint's sentiment, he wanted to scream and stomp his feet like a petulant child but he knew it would do him no good. A large green hand landed on his shoulder warm, encompassing and surprisingly gentle and the billionaire turned his gaze up to the giant green man towering over him, his ire cooling; a strange irony he mused to himself.
"Hulk help Tony."
It took everything Tony had not to just outright gape at the statement and it appeared the rest of the team were having a similar reactions surprise and disapproval written clear across their faces.
"Hulk…" Steve began in his 'Captain America' voice.
The goliath growled under his breath the fingers on Tony's shoulder tightening slightly but not enough to hurt.
"No. Old Man need Tony help. Tony help Hulk, Hulk help Tony…" Here he flashed a grin at the man caught in his grasp and the billionaire suddenly saw something aching familiar in the green face "…Bros."
Tony couldn't help himself he laughed, laughed long and hard his heart light.
"Fuck yeah Big Guy, couldn't have said it better myself." He bumped a giant finger with his fist.
Hulk beamed and carefully picked up the billionaire up holding him close to his chest while the rest of the team moved forward to stop them. Tony paid them no mind holding on as tight as he could, ignoring the shouts and threats from the rest of the team, this was his mess to clean up and he wasn't going to let the old bastard elude him again. Ducking his head under the Hulk enormous chin (as to afford himself at least some protection) he murmured.
"Heigh-ho silver, away."
The Hulk jumped, leaving a furious group of Avengers behind them.