Chapter Four: Road Trip
Chapter Four: Road Trip
The two men sat silence watching the winding roads of New York pass them by. Bruce sighed, things were still tense between him and Tony after the small spat back at the tower and the quiet which he normally would have been ecstatic about was quickly becoming oppressive. He needed to do something and fast before things became too uncomfortable. When they reached the next set of traffic lights he decided to broach the subject.
"So... Uh, where are we going?"
The billionaire seemed to snap out of whatever trance he been in and he blinked a few times to clear the mental fog.
"Oh... Sorry Big Guy. Um... Well Fury sent me the coord's for a facility up in Litchfield Hills, apparently it's been disused for a while but he found a bunch of suspicious paper trails leading to and from it that he couldn't ignore it."
Bruce nodded. "So we're driving to Connecticut?"
Tony grinned "Yeah... It's a beautiful day; the sun is shining; nothing but miles of open road to race down... That and I know Oscar the grouch doesn't really appreciate flying and I thought I'd need your medical expertise... Biology of the non-sexual variety has never been one of my strong points."
The 'I need your support with this' went unspoken but the physicist knew it was there even as he rolled his eyes at the sex comment. If their situations had been reversed and he thanked every deity that wasn't the case Bruce certainly would have wanted someone with him at the initial confrontation as a buffer, it was a natural, normal human defense mechanism and the physicist understood it completely. And he'd happily be that buffer for his friend; it was the least he could do after all that Tony had done for him. The billionaire had given him freedom, friendship and most importantly a place to belong and although he would never admit it to Tony his ego didn't need any more bolstering he was forever in his debt.
"It's not as if I had anything better to do..."
Bruce's comment was casual and nothing different than his usual response but the is a slight undertone in his voice that Tony picks up on causing a small genuine smile to briefly grace his lips at the hidden message.
The tension between them eased the physicist and the billionaire continued their journey through the winding roads of New York state and up into the Northwest west hill's of Connecticut. The conversation between them was somewhat stilted but the silences lacked the awkwardness from earlier in the journey.
"Is it wrong that part of me really hopes that he isn't here?"
The admission shocked Bruce and he turns a questioning look at his friend; frowning as he notices the other man avoiding his gaze.
"No, not really..."
"I mean he would've hated up here... We're in the middle of horse country and he fucking hated horses, called them 'archaic beasts from the primitive age of man'..." He let out a derisive snort "... He never was any good at dealing with living things, case and point right here."
There was a slight bitterness to his words that he couldn't quite suppress and his grip on the steering wheel tightened, turning his knuckles white. The physicist couldn't really think of a suitable reply that Tony wouldn't take as condescension and therefore chose to remain silent, not wanting to cause another disagreement. He'd heard the stories about the elder Stark's neglectful treatment of his family from Pepper and S.H.I.E.L.D but until the last few days he hadn't been aware of how deep-rooted the issues his friend had were. It made Bruce almost wince in sympathy and understanding; the abuse had been different but at the end of the day abuse was still abuse.
Tony sighed and loosened his grip on the wheel forcing down the raw, unwelcome emotions. He knew it was unfair to burden Bruce his problems but out of all the people he knew the quiet, unassuming man was the one who he felt could understand him the most. The billionaire was well aware that the other Avengers had horrors in their pasts but there was a kinship he shared with Bruce that he didn't share with others; something the other members of the team took great joy in teasing them about. Of course he was going to connect with the only member of the team who he could speak to without having to dumb things down, if the rest of the meatheads were jealous of their 'Super Science Club', Barton's name not his; then so be it; at least he had something. Smiling slightly at the memory of Hawkeye banging on the lab door screaming at him and Bruce for some reason or another Tony felt his mood lift a tiny amount and fixed his gaze on the country road in front of him.
As the sun began to dip below the horizon Tony had to admit this area of the world was quite beautiful; the dying rays of the sun catching the varying hues in the trees and making them seemingly glow and when they'd stopped for gas in Torrington the people had been friendly enough. Bruce also seemed quite enamored with the area, there was a sense of tranquility here even amidst the hustle and bustle unlike other parts of the state. Even though there was a reason behind it the road trip had been a good idea; once the tension between them had been resolved both men had relaxed simply enjoying the journey and the open road. It was just a pity it was about to end.
"Sir, we are within one mile of the coordinates that S.H.I.E.L.D forwarded to me."
"I hear you JARVIS, you know what to do buddy." There was a slight huff of air as Tony gave a small grunt of displeasure.
"Yes Sir. Scanning frequencies for electronic interference now Sir." The mechanical voice replied.
Bruce shifted in his seat suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. He couldn't quite shake the feeling in his stomach that something was about to happen, not bad exactly, just something. The car dipped over the last hill and in the distance they could see what appeared to be an old military facility and in the back of his mind the 'Other Guy' stirred. The physicist took a deep breath and kept his emotions at bay, calmly telling the Hulk that they were safe and that he wouldn't be needed. The giant seemed to relent in his push for control but Bruce could still feel him behind his eyes watching, waiting for the right moment.
The car slowed to a halt a few hundred yards away and both the billionaire and the physicist took a moment before spurring into action. Tony moved to the trunk of the Audi and pulled it open before extracting a familiar looking suitcase from it.
"The Mark Five?" Bruce asked casually.
The billionaire cracked a wry grin a sliver of his usual humor returning. "Yeah... In case we need to make a quick get-away or do some heavy lifting, by which I mean repulsor something in the face."
Bruce chuckled softly "Can't argue with that."
The other man shrugged nonchalantly, it never hurt to be prepared for all situations and the two of them were essentially walking in blind here. Prepared as they were ever going to be the two scientists set off down the dusty path.
The facility though small seemed to loom around them; it's eerie silence and monochromatic paint-job making both men feel uneasy. Tony was rapidly becoming impatient with the whole endeavor, he knew there was something there; he could feel it with every fiber of his being. He just couldn't fucking find it and if it weren't for the fact they were supposed to be flying under the radar Iron Man would have already had an outing.
"Tony! I think I found something!"
The billionaire could've kissed the other man for uttering those words; this place was starting to really get on his nerves. He practically ran over to the small storage cupboard Bruce had been searching through and skidded to a halt in a comic book fashion, peering in the darkened room. The physicist was standing between two metal shelving units prodding at a blank patch of wall a quizzical look on his face.
"What's up doc?"
When in turmoil resort to humor, that's the Tony Stark way.
Bruce ignored the ridiculous phrase and continued his examination of the wall.
"Look here, this paint is a different shade to the rest of the wall. I think... I think there could be a door or something here..."
Tony moved next to him dark eyes narrowed in concentration, then without warning he shoved the two shelving units causing them to topple to the side revealing an electronic panel embedded in the floor.
"I do believe you may be right my dear Doctor." He replied with a wink, kneeling next to the panel.
The billionaire instantly set to work dismantling the panel; relaxing as he delved into the familiar territory of electronic systems and in no time at all he had hotwired the panel into granting them access. There was a slow mechanical grind as the hidden door slowly opened and Tony had to wonder just when his life had turned into a crappy B-movie.
"So... Am I the only one thinking that isn't ominous looking at all?"
The obviously sarcastic statement was met with a quiet, nervous chuckle that lacked any real amusement.
"I think we moved past ominous when we broke into a supposedly deserted army base in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere, I'm honestly surprised that we haven't been attacked by a knife wielding psycho yet."
"We should be so lucky to get a regular psycho Tony, have you seen our recent run of luck?" Bruce retorted shaking his head.
"Ah touché my friend, let me amend my previous statement. Attacked by an alien laser wielding psycho."
The two of the lapsed into silence looking down the darkened passage with more than a little trepidation, in a show of what he hoped was solidarity Bruce placed a hand on Tony's shoulder and gave a small nod. The billionaire steeled his emotions and took a deep breath slipping back into the mask of bravado he wore so well before taking the first steps down the dark corridor. After a few seconds and a quick scan of the area (it was a force of habit now) the physicist quietly followed vainly trying to prepare himself for what could possibly be awaiting them at the end of this long and winding road.
Steve pulled up outside the small deserted base, having passed Tony's Audi a mile back and kicked out the stand to his bike. He had to admit he was thoroughly confused, just what in god's name were Bruce and Stark doing out here? He was well aware of both men's aversions to anything remotely related to the military, both for very different reasons so for them to be somewhere like this sent all kinds of 'wrong' down his spine.
"JARVIS can you guide me to their location?"
"Of course Captain, both Mr. Stark and Dr. Banner are approximately one hundred and fifty two yards north-north west of your current location and are rapidly moving away."
Steve thanked the AI and moved off in order to catch up with his team-mates. The direction JARVIS had pointed him in led to what appeared to be the bases armory, a run-down, decrepit wreck of a building that looked about ready to collapse. However Steve knew not to take things at face value and on closer inspection he could see the newness masked by the old.
The building had been made to look like this and the Captain's instincts, honed by blood and loss began to scream at him.
This place was bad news.
Cautiously he slipped inside the building senses on full alert, the inside was just like the outer shell, a mock up to make you believe there was nothing there except an old building and Steve didn't like it. Within minutes he found the hot-wired electric door and showing none of the trepidation (He'd been frozen for seventy years, very little phased him anymore) the other two men had shown plunged head first into the darkness.
His eyes quickly adjusted to the near darkness as he moved down the corridor, the coolness of the metal under his palms, he moved downwards and soon which reached a large metal door looked as if it had been blown off of its hinges. Through the gloom Steve could make out a familiar blue glow and could hear the soft tone of Bruce's voice. Frowning the Captain stepped into the room.
There was a hum of repulsors as Iron Man turned around and homed in, face-plate raised and a snarl on his features.
"What the shitting hell Cap! What are you doing here!?" Tony's voice was angry and Steve felt his hackles rise.
"What am I doing here? What are you two doing here?"
Tony just continued to glare.
"It has nothing to do with you Rogers; I thought I made that clear enough back at the tower!"
The blonde felt his temper snap and he grabbed hold of the other man furious blue eyes boring into the angry brown.
"What is your problem Stark!? You can't just go gallivanting off on some little adventure! We're meant to be a team here you can't just fly solo as and when you feel like it!"
"Er… hate to point this out Capsicle but Bruce is here too, I'm not exactly 'flying solo'." Sarcasm dripped from every single word.
"That wasn't what I meant and you know it!" Steve shot back eyes narrowed.
The billionaire turned his back and began to walk away clearly not in the mood for the other man's protests and the blonde finally saw red.
"God Damn it Stark do you always have to be so unreasonable? For once will you just listen to the arrogant rubbish your mouth is spouting and think about someone other than yourself!"
Steve instantly regretted the words once they left his lips, Tony stilled a few paces in front of him his whole body language screaming anger and danger.
"Get the fuck out of here." The billionaire's voice was deadly quiet.
"Make me." The super soldier's voice was as steely as Iron Man's and his blue eyes were cold.
The armor spun around and an arm rose repulsor already charging, the whine rippling through the air like a physical wave.
"GET THE FUCK OUT!"
"Tony! That's enough, I'm almost done here and the last thing I need is for you to bring the house down around us."
Bruce's voice cut across the silence full of disapproval and annoyance and the billionaire lowered his arm the bright light of the repulsor fading. Without so much as look of acknowledgement he once again turned his back on Steve and stalked over to where Bruce was fiddling with a cryo-tube. There was a moment of hushed, hurried conversation between the two before the pressure on the door released and a cloud of gas erupted from inside. Concerned for his two team-mates Steve dashed forward almost running into Iron Man's back as he moved. There was a brief moment where all his visual senses were dulled but as the mist began to clear Steve noticed the blurry outline of a person in the tube. He strained his eyes trying to pick out any defining details but it wasn't until the quagmire finally thinned out that he was given an un-obscured view of the occupant.
And instantly felt his breath catch in his throat.
The features were marred by the passage of time but there was no mistaking the man laying unconscious in the tube.