Chapter Five: Dissent
When the three men returned to the tower all hell broke loose.
Bruce had commandeered (read: hot-wired) an old, dilapidated military ambulance to transport the still unconscious man while Tony and Steve had taken their respective vehicles back to the tower. So the first time that all three of them met up after the journey back was in the communal area of the tower.
It was like an atomic bomb going off.
"Why the hell didn't you tell us Stark?!"
Steve's angry voice cut through the air like a whip, precise and deadly, his usually placid blue eyes filled with a fury that no one had thought him capable of. For brief second they could all see the real Captain America, the one who had fought in a war, who had seen good men go to their deaths. The billionaire was not a man easily cowed though and he drew himself up to his full height against the super-soldier, he was Iron Man, he would not yield or be intimidated.
"It was none of your fucking business." Tony replied bluntly refusing to break eye contact with the Captain.
The expletive caught both the billionaire and physicist off guard and it was a testament to just how angry Steve was that he used such a vulgar word. Like Tony, he stood to his full height using his size advantage to cast the other two men in shadow.
"You are both members of this team that makes it my business... Never mind the fact that he was... is my friend. You had no right to keep it from us, I'd expect this from you Stark but I would have thought better from you Doctor Banner."
Bruce met Steve's glare without any fear or anger, he had absolutely no regrets about his actions and he would do the exact same thing again if the situation arose. He had made his choice and thrown his lot in with Tony not because Tony was his friend, even though he was but because it had been the right thing to do.
"Fury suggested that we be discreet." His voice was firm and held finality to it.
This seemed to be the tipping point and the Captain barked out a mirthless laugh.
"Fury? Since when does either of you two listen to anything Fury has to say?!"
Tony glowered and Bruce stood stoically beside his friend.
"Since for the first time in fucking forever he makes a valid point. And don't you dare try the guilt card with Bruce Capsicle. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"But he still went along with it Stark... Once again caught up in something because of your mistakes. You never can leave well enough alone can you? And now you've dragged all of us into this mess." Steve spat, his words like venom.
"I never asked you to get involved soldier-boy." The billionaire murmured under his breath.
"It doesn't matter, you got me involved and now the Avengers are on clean-up duty for the billionaire playing at being super-hero... Again."
It was brief only there for a second or so but there was a flicker of hurt across Tony's face at Steve's callous words and the physicist caught it, the action making him frown. In the back of his mind he could feel the 'Other Guy' beginning to stir at the perceived threat to his friend. This needed to stop. Now.
"Captain..." His voice was a deep growl "...The decision to help Tony was mine and mine alone. I had the opportunity to walk away and I chose not to. I am not some weak minded fool who blindly follows when beckoned, my friend needed help and I freely offered it so I do not appreciate the insinuation that I was coerced by Tony or by anyone else. Nor will I stand by while you tear him down for no reason other than a convenient target. I understand you're hurt right now but Tony is not the person you should be taking it out on."
Both the billionaire and the super-soldier turned to Bruce a look of shock on their faces; never had they heard the other man speak so bluntly or with such animosity in his voice. Tony shot him a look of gratitude once the shock faded while Steve looked somewhat sullen at the dressing down he'd just received. The super-soldier knew that the other man was right, he'd let his feelings of betrayal cloud his judgment and he'd lashed out at the nearest available target. He was no better than the bullies he so despised.
It was at this point that Natasha and Clint walked into the conversation and stopped dead at the tense atmosphere that surrounded the three men. The two assassins looked at one another and shook their heads, clearly unwilling to get involved in the argument. Instead they walked across to the large plush couch and crashed down. As if taking a leaf from their book Tony took the opportunity to excuse himself from the room with the intention of going for a shower and Bruce escaped down to the lab to check on their latest house guest. Steve however joined the assassins hoping to at least find some more agreeable company than the two rebellious scientists.
The widow shot him an unreadable look as he practically collapsed into a nearby chair, head falling into his hands. The blonde hadn't realized up until that point what a colossal headache he had, the stress and confusion at the situation finally taking its toll.
"I take it, it didn't go well?" Clint asked his voice unusually serious.
Steve merely groaned in reply, clutching his head tighter.
"That bad huh."
Natasha had remained silent throughout the whole exchange and what Steve, Tony and Bruce didn't know was that both she and Clint had been waiting behind the door listening to the argument between the three men. The animosity had been at a much higher level than usual and the fact that all three men had sounded ready to flay one another alive was unsettling, even to her. She reached forward and placed a cool hand on his shirt-clad shoulder.
"Steve what happened out there?"
The startlingly blue eyes met hers and for that brief second she could see the skinny, runty kid from Brooklyn staring back, out of his depth and out of his time. It was almost painful. Then a moment later the steel was back and so was the Steve she had come to know so well. He took a slow steadying breath to collect his thoughts before answering, talking, arguing with Tony always left him a bit scatterbrained.
Twin sets of eyebrows rose.
"Tony's old man? What does he have to do with this?" Clint asked clearly confused by the Captain's cryptic message.
The Widow and Hawkeye were rendered speechless and just stared slack jawed at blonde's revelation. Under any other circumstances the super-soldier would have been proud to have garnered such a reaction but as the situation was it only filled him with regret, this whole scenario was a mess and it only promised to become more so as time passed. The assassins recovered quickly and shook their heads in disbelief, Natasha uttering the words that all of them were thinking.
Bruce practically ran into the medical bay, the blood pounding in his ears and the Hulk pushing from behind his eyes. How dare Steve speak like that to them, to lay blame where it wasn't due and make such unfounded and untrue insinuations. They really hadn't wanted to keep this whole debacle from them but there really hadn't been any need to involve the rest of the team, he and Tony had been in full control of the situation. He took a deep steadying breath forcing the anger back down into its cage and willing his heart rate to slow, the last thing that anyone needed was the other guy on the scene. After a few minutes the green had receded and Bruce felt somewhat centered, at least enough to do what was needed of him.
Brown eyes gazed sidewards toward the man lying comatose in the medical cot.
Tony really was the image of his father, there was absolutely no mistaking that the two men were related to one another but there was something wrong about seeing the familiar features on another person and it made a bitter taste well up in his mouth. He wanted to hate this man, wanted to hate the pain he had put his friend through, yet at the same time he was immensely curious about the older man. Howard Stark had been a great innovator of his time, apparently at the cost of family ties and so Bruce was curious to know his reasons because they could possibly prevent Stark senior from having a new asshole ripped by more than one person. There were quite a few people who were protective over Tony Stark's well being, himself included.
Sighing the physicist realized that he'd better get to work; he could deal with those questions and his own feelings toward those who abuse, another time.
With the care and precision expected of him Bruce moved to the bedside and began to examine the other man. Back in the military facility he'd only had the opportunity for a quick exam to ensure that it was safe to move the elder Stark but now he had the time and the limitless resources he was going to do a thorough job of it. He started with a full body examination and found a few recently healed injuries on the man's body.
How very odd.
Cryo-sleep was supposed to completely halt a body's functions and according to the almost non-existent records the man has been locked in there since the day he'd had his accident. If the cryo-tube had been faulty then Howard would be dead already, old age having taken it toll so that couldn't be the reason for the healing. Bruce's brow furrowed utterly perplexed by the completely unheard of conundrum he'd been faced with. The only idea he could come up with was that someone had developed something similar to the serum he'd been working on for R & D but that was highly improbable; the technology to do such a thing had only recently been developed.
He had to delve deeper into this, it could be of massive benefit to medical science.
He acted with care and professionalism taking all manner of samples from Howard, constantly aware of the man's comfort level even though he wished he wasn't. Throughout the whole procedure the man didn't stir but Bruce hadn't expected him to, he honestly didn't expect the man to come close to regaining consciousness for at least a few days. He set up the analysis of the samples and then utterly exhausted from everything that had happened he crashed out on the simple fold out cot Tony had installed after finding him sleeping at his desk one too many times. Already half asleep by the time his head hit the pillow he mumbled a request to JARVIS for the AI to wake him up in a few hours if nothing happened in the meantime.
In the penthouse Tony was feeling similarly aggravated. For the first time in a long time he was glad that Pepper was away, he didn't want her to see him like this, a broken shell of his usual self. He picked up the nearest decanter and poured a large helping into a glass, eyeing the amber liquid with a mixture of longing and disdain, dark eyes reflected back.
His dark eyes.
A sudden wave of anger overcame him and he threw the glass across the room with all of his strength. It smashed against the stonewashed wall the liquid dripping down onto one of the marble sculptures Pepper had insisted on buying in order to make him seem more 'cultured'. He almost laughed at the thought; he'd never been particularly interested in culture and why Pepper persisted with it he'd never know, in that respect she was a lot like his mother.
Tony grimaced, throughout this whole clusterfuck his mind had been focused on Howard and no one but Howard. Not once had his thoughts strayed to his mother and now that they had it was like he was back in Afghanistan having open heart surgery again, the pain was agonizing and all consuming.
Why had Howard been allowed to survive and not her? It was completely unfair and he was well aware of how childish it sounded but in Tony's mind it was the absolute truth of the matter. Maria had been good, not perfect by any means but she had always put her family first, no matter how vile, unruly or unbearable they were being.
The memories flooded back now, released from the mental box they had been locked away in for the last twenty five years.
He remembered the last time he had seen her on the day of the accident, her lips pursed in disapproval and eyes filled with regret. He could feel the sting of his cheek where she had struck him; he'd deserved it, he'd been drunk and mouthing off at Howard he couldn't exactly remember what he had been saying but it had been nasty. Then after that he'd gone to strike the man and his Mom had just moved between them and slapped him across the face.
She'd never struck him before that moment and he could still picture the smug look of triumph on Howard's face.
After that things got a little blurry, he'd gone on the bender to end all benders and even to this day he was surprised he was still breathing after the varied and excessive amount of 'substances' he'd imbibed. The next memory he had was Obidiah finding him a cheap motel room still wasted off his face and telling him that his parents were dead.
He stayed in that motel room for three days after that.
The billionaire came back from his memories blinking back tears, tears that still refused to be shed even after all this time. It was the one thing his father had drilled into him; Stark men were strong and never showed their emotions.
"Sir, Doctor Banner is requesting the Avengers' assistance."
Tony frowned. "What's the situation JARVIS?"
"It appears that your guest has regained consciousness Sir."
Jaw clenched tightly he muttered the only word that sprung to mind.