It rained the day they laid Howard to rest.
The service was short and informal but surprisingly beautiful, something that really shouldn't have surprised Tony considering Pepper's involvement in the whole thing; she really did have exquisite taste simple yet refined. Tony had been joined by Bruce, Steve and Clint; the four of them carrying in the coffin to the small chapel closely followed by Thor, Natasha, Pepper and oddly enough Nick Fury. The billionaire had wanted to kick up a fuss at that but after stern looks from pretty much everyone he'd relented remembering that Nick had also been Howard's friend and deserved a chance to say goodbye properly.
After the service (in which no one really said anything because what could you say at this point?) the mismatched group walked outside solemnly while Howard's body was committed to the crematorium and they waited on the ashes. Tony had been adamant about this one thing, he was far too paranoid about people attempting to steal his father's remains; cremation had a nice finality to it that he deeply appreciated.
After a brief period a serious looking person clad in a dark suit appeared from nowhere clutching an ornate urn which he promptly handed to Tony muttering a quiet 'sorry for your loss under his breath. The billionaire just smiled politely and nodded to the man, fighting down the urge to clutch it to his chest like a spoilt child.
The group just stared for a moment lost in their own thoughts and it just grated on Tony's nerves, he hated this stillness it was suffocating. Without even hesitating for a second the strode forward into the silent graveyard; needing some kind of movement, of action. He thought he heard the rustle of clothing meaning someone was about to follow him but abruptly stopped as Pepper's calm, quiet voice murmured that 'He needs some time alone.'
God bless that woman, she'd always been able to read his moods even before they'd become involved and now was no exception. He needed the time to collect himself, organize his thoughts and process his emotions and he damn well didn't want to do it with an audience.
His footsteps echoed loudly as he paced the pathways leading toward the back of the cemetery. The paths were overgrown with weeds and nettles, just more proof of how often people really visited these places but he could understand the reasons why.
No one wanted to be reminded of what they had lost.
His pace slowed as he reached a large angel statue, it appeared to be in better condition than most in the area but thin vines of ivy were still wound around the base. Tony stood silent for a moment before crouching and pulling the ivy away from the bronze plate at the base of the statue, gently placing the urn on the ground.
Here Lies Maria Collins Stark (nee Carbonell)
"Hi mom." Tony murmured quietly not even knowing why he was talking, he didn't believe any of this stuff but talking comforted him "I know it's been a while... Too long really, I... A lot has happened recently. Howard... Dad, he was alive, he survived the crash and Obie hid him for so long..."
The billionaire gritted his jaw, this wasn't what he had come to talk about those were things to deal with another time.
"Thing is I found him, he was still an asshole but we, well mended things just a little. Not at first but slowly, over time..." He choked back a strangled sob "You would've been proud of him... Well us; I'm just sorry you didn't see it, that you were wherever you are alone for all this time. I just hope he's not making a nuisance of himself now."
Tony sighed unsure how to continue, words normally came so easily to him but now they stuck his tongue to the roof of his mouth like glue. Deciding that action rather than words needed to be used he dug his fingers into the soft ground and began clawing a small hole; uncaring of the state it left him in. He was already soaked, what was a little mud on top of that?
Slowly and with reverence the billionaire opened the urn and tipped the contents into the makeshift grave, carefully filling it over when it was full.
"Rest easy Dad, the world will know you died a hero and Mom, look after him."
He stood then, soaked to the bone his expensive tailored suit smeared with clods of mud and just stayed silent, not wanting to break this bubble quite yet and head back to face the rest of reality. He wasn't given a choice though.
Tony didn't recognize the voice, it sounded familiar somehow but it wasn't a voice he could put a name to. Slowly he turned around and as his eyes fell on the figure stood before him it took every ounce of his willpower not to punch the bitch in the face.
"You have a fucking nerve." He literally snarled, fury welling up from deep inside of him.
The woman appeared completely unfazed by his aggressive manner and merely sniffed primly. She held out her hand for Tony to shake.
"My name is Hawley."
Tony didn't shake it.
Why would he shake the hand of the person who had ordered a full scale attack against his home?
She didn't look surprised at his lack of response and drew her hand back in an elegant fashion.
"I've come to talk to you about the incidents that happened recently. I feel that we have had a great deal of misunderstandings and I would like to correct them."
Tony snorted a laugh, he was done being nice and playing by the rules.
He was So. Fucking. Done.
"Misunderstandings? So I'm to assume the attack on my home, the persecution and torture of myself and my friends and the fact that you almost destroyed a fair chunk of America was just a teeny, tiny error of judgement?" His voice was like ice.
Hawley didn't respond immediately her gaze thoughtful and calculating.
"There may have been a few oversights I admit..."
"Oversights?" Tony cut in aghast visibly seething "That's the biggest crock of bullshit I've ever heard, impressive considering I know Fury."
Hawley's lips pursed in anger, her eyes flashing.
"Mr Stark I'm attempting to make peace... "
"Oh no, you do not get to make peace. You forfeited that right when you invaded my home and put people I care about at risk. So here is what I am telling you Hawley and don't think for a second that I won't do it because I'm technically a hero. If you or any other of your bureaucratic scumbag friends attempt to hurt one of mine again I will burn your little club To. The. Ground. And then take great pleasure in salting the ashes. Do I make myself clear?"
The woman nodded stiffly, her expression pinched and soured.
"Good because I am not losing anything else to you, I already lost my father."
Hawley's expression flickered for just a second an evil, knowing look before returning to something resembling neutral. Knowing he had made his point Tony strode past her intent on reaching the others and possibly drowning his sorrows for the next three days. As he strode past the woman however she caught hold of his arm, her grip like iron.
"A piece of advice for you Mr Stark. Don't put so much faith in your friends; it only hurts more when they fall from that high pedestal you've put them on."
Tony wrenched his arm free from the woman and kept walking without looking back but those last cryptic words played over in his mind.
It was several hours later when Tony finally managed to escape to the room he had taken at the mansion, he was more sober than he would have liked but he just honestly hadn't wanted to drink. He'd still felt angry after his encounter with Hawley and he knew that alcohol and anger were not a good mix. With a deep sigh he flopped on the bed, wishing for all he was worth that Pepper had been able to stay but someone had to keep the world turning.
He was just beginning to drift off when his phone began to ring, with bleary eyes he looked at who was calling.
Well that was certainly odd, after all he'd only seen the man earlier that day. Deciding that it was better to get whatever it was out of the way he hit the answer button.
"What's up Fury?"
There was a beat of silence "There's a situation Stark."
"Situation? What kind of situation?"
"Howard's autopsy report just came back, there were some... inconsistencies."
"Inconsistencies?" What the fuck.
"It appears a specialized substance was introduced into his system shortly before his death. A sedative of sorts; powerful enough to kill any human who is subjected to it. As far as were aware there was only one person in possession of it since he's the one who created it."
Tony was certainly confused now, was Fury trying to say that someone had murdered Howard? The thought was absurd; only people Fury trusted implicitly had been anywhere near the man and they had all been on their side. The director's next words made Tony's blood run cold.
"We need you to bring Dr. Banner in for questioning."
This was crazy, Bruce wouldn't have, he couldn't have. Tony's brain refused to process this; it was utter shit. There was no way his best friend could have had a hand in his father's death.
"We need you to bring Banner in for questioning ASAP."
"Fury, this is shit there is no way..."
"Banner is the only one who had access to that particular compound." Nick snapped "Also the camera footage from just before Howard deteriorated has been tampered with using a proximity scrambler. Which considering every other camera in the whole goddamned area was fine meant it was in the fucking room with them. There's enough circumstantial evidence to bring him in for a lot more than just questioning so just get him in now before this blows up in our faces."
Tony just gaped at the phone, his mind reeling. This didn't make any sense. Why? Why would Bruce... No he wasn't believing Fury's bullshit innocent until proven guilty. Without even thinking he was on his feet and racing toward the room Bruce had been assigned determined to get some answers for himself before SHIELD came in and messed things up.
He knocked tentatively on the door and frowned when he received no answer. It was possible that Bruce was asleep so this time he knocked louder fairly confident that the physicist would forgive his intrusion.
Still no answer.
Fear and trepidation curling in his gut he gently turned the handle and pushed the door inwards.
The room was empty.
Tony felt his heart literally stop for a few seconds before he walked into the room, heart aching with the sting of betrayal. He sat down sharply on the bed, the sound of fluttering paper catching his ears. Turning to face the headboard he spotted a single folded sheet of paper, reaching out he opened it and had to bite back tears of outrage at the two words written in Bruce's familiar scrawl.
He'd known, known what was coming and had run and it made Tony seethe, feeling violently betrayed because he knew what Fury had told him was true. Bruce had done it, had murdered his father right under his nose and...
Don't put so much faith in your friends; it only hurts more when they fall from that high pedestal you've put them on.
Hawley's cryptic advice sprang forward and Tony knew without doubt that she already knew about this when they were talking in the graveyard; had known and was already ten steps ahead of them all. Had known his best friend had killed his father and was just fucking toying with him. As the horror of that realization sunk in there was only one word that Tony could think to utter.
Mind numbed by pain and grief Tony stumbled out the room, heart aching. She'd been right, she'd been so fucking right and now he knew what he needed to do.
He didn't need them.
He didn't need anyone.
Without so much as a second glance he walked out the front door.