Chapter Six: Waking
"...Ctor Banner, Doctor Banner."
Bruce woke to the sound of JARVIS's dulcet tones his head groggy and feeling full of cotton. He groaned and rolled over eyes seeking out the digital clock across the lab; just how long had he been out? His eyes zoned in on the bright red numbers and he bit back a noise of frustration, fifty-seven minutes; fifty-seven God-damned minutes, the AI better have an amazingly good reason for waking him or he was going to ask Tony to do some 'maintenance'.
"What is it JARVIS?" He asked, voice rough from sleep.
"You asked to be informed if a situation arose."
This caught the physicist's attention and it was if a switch had been flicked in his brain, the grogginess and lethargy instantly banished, replaced by alertness and rampant curiosity.
"What's going on?"
"It appears that your patient is regaining consciousness."
Bruce wondered for the briefest of moments if the AI was joking but then he remembered that a sense of humor hadn't been included in his programming.
"What?!" He croaked out.
"According to the vital readings and the increase in brain activity it appears that your patient is about to regain consciousness."
Oh holy fuck.
How was this even possible? Even under normal circumstances it took at least forty-eight hours for a person to wake from a cryo-sleep, at least that is what he'd come to understand from working on the anti-atrophy serum. For a person to regain consciousness after around twenty hours was completely unheard of and admittedly somewhat worrying. He clambered out of the cot rushing into the adjoining room and it was just as JARVIS had said, the man was starting to wake up.
"JARVIS can you send a message to the rest of the team that I may need assistance."
"The message has been sent to all available Avengers Doctor Banner." The AI replied.
"Thank you JARVIS." Bruce said sincerely.
The doctor set to work and examined the older man again; even in the space of an hour the man had progressed far beyond what was considered normal for a human, in fact this rapid healing was more reminiscent of... Him. That thought sent a shudder down his spine and Bruce was suddenly glad he had requested assistance, his gaze flickering to the samples still being processed in the adjoining lab.
On the bed the elder Stark was moaning softly, eyes flickering behind the closed lids and hands clenching in the cool cotton sheets. There was a moment where the man appeared to stop breathing and then the flickering eyes stilled and shot open. For the briefest of moments the physicist froze, pinned to the spot by the familiar yet at the same time completely foreign stare.
"Where?" The man's voice was crackly with disuse.
Bruce snapped out of his daze and rushed to Howard's side.
"You're in New York Mr. Stark."
The dark eyes narrowed in suspicion as Howard propped himself up on his elbows to get a better vantage point, the distrust obvious in his body language. His gaze swept around the room taking in the unfamiliar machinery and then zeroed in on the door that lay just beyond Bruce.
"Where am I really?" Stark's voice was getting stronger by the second.
The physicist tried not to bristle at the accusation in the man's tone and answered as calmly as he could.
"You're in New York Mr. Stark."
"Liar, I've been to New York and there is nowhere like this in the city. So are you going to tell me the truth you scum bag or do I have to make you."
There was no hint of hesitation in the older man's tone and Bruce didn't believe for a second that the man wasn't serious in his threat. The physicist was aware that to ninety-nine percent of people he looked like a complete pushover and easy prey but he had dealt with far worse things than an elderly ex-billionaire.
"I told you Mr. Stark you are in New York, I do not make a habit of lying and I do not intend to start now." He replied tersely, already starting to feel tired of the exchange.
The other man didn't look remotely appeased by his answer and the physicist could see the cogs working behind Howard's eyes, frantically searching for an answer.
"Let me the fuck out of here. Right. Now..."
Well that explained where Tony got his foul mouth from.
"Bruce... You okay there big guy?" Tony's voice sounded from behind the shut door.
Thank the deities for small mercies.
"Yeah... I'm fine; our guest however is awake and rather angry."
Bruce could have sworn he heard his friend mutter 'no change there then' under his breath before the door slid open allowing Clint and Tony access to the room. On the bed the older Stark's face darkened, although there was flicker of surprise in his eyes as Tony came into view but it quickly disappeared and the man was back on the attack.
"I see you called in your little minions Bruce, hoping to intimidate me were you? Well it won't work, you won't use me and when I get out of here I'll make you pay."
Whether it was some memory that triggered inside his brain or the fact that his 'old man' was threatening one of the people that he sort of considered his family; Tony didn't know but the next thing he knew he was seeing red and was flying across the room.
The sound of his fist hitting the old bastards jaw was the sweetest music he'd ever heard.
Bruce's voice rang out through the red fog but he ignored it completely, reveling in the hedonistic lull of pure violence. He continued to whale on the man lying in the bed, the crunch of bone beneath his fist oddly satisfying in ways he couldn't really describe. It wasn't until he felt Clint's arms around his chest pulling him away that he started to regain his senses but he truly couldn't find it in him to feel any regret at his actions. The bastard had deserved it for threatening what was his and it had been long overdue.
"Clint get Tony out of here before he makes things worse." Bruce sounded exasperated and he pinched the bridge of his nose.
The archer complied dragging the billionaire from the room, who was still fighting against the restraints. Outside the medical bay Clint let go of Tony and let out a deep sigh.
"Feel better Stark?" He asked, folding his arms across his chest and blocking the door with his body.
The billionaire straightened out his t-shirt and gave a vicious smile, looking exactly like the mad inventor he was sometimes likened to.
"Not really but the bastard deserved it."
Clint couldn't really blame the guy, he'd read Stark's file and knew that there were certainly some unresolved daddy issues there; how couldn't there be when Howard Stark was your father. But the way Tony had reacted and the sheer lack of remorse at lamping his father made him think that there was a lot the files had missed out. The lack of control had been disconcerting and while he knew that the billionaire liked to fire on all cylinders he always had some modicum of control, there, when he'd attacked it was like he hadn't even been there.
"So... What was all that about?"
For the briefest of moments the billionaire looked ashamed at his outburst but the next second the cock-sure Tony Stark was back with a vengeance. A perfectly groomed brow rose in response to the archer's question, his mouth set in a firm line and Clint resisted the urge to groan. Honestly why were people so difficult?
"Okay, Okay... I get it Shell-Head; none of my business. I know when to take a hint. But Stark, for what it's worth you know we're here for you right? You're a member of this team and that means we look out for one another no matter what."
For a moment Hawkeye thought that the billionaire was about to rip him a new one but then the shoulders sunk low and Tony looked more worn than Clint had ever seen him.
"I appreciate the gesture Bird-Brain but I'm afraid that I'm gonna have to decline that wondrous offer of show and tell." His voice was cold and defensive.
The archer fought down a scowl and uncrossed his arms trying to use his body language to show he wasn't a threat, that he honestly had Tony's best intentions at heart.
"Listen Stark... Tony, I hate to repeat myself but I'm gonna just this once. Talk to someone about this, don't care who it is but don't let whatever this is eat you up inside."
"Yeah, yeah lets all make fun of poor little Tony who can't even deal with his family issues." Tony replied sarcastically, air quoting the word issues.
Clint grit his teeth together and forced himself to keep a neutral look on his face, honestly the man could try the patience of a saint.
"Do you think any one of us has a right to mock you Stark? We've all got issues and you know it... So ask yourself this why haven't you used that information against us?"
Tony found himself unable to come up with a retort to that. He knew that Clint was right, there wasn't a single member of the team who didn't have some kind of emotional baggage and he did indeed know about the vast majority of it. Boredom and genius level hacking skills had seen to that. He had more than enough ammo to turn every single member of the Avengers into a gibbering mess if he'd wanted.
But the point stood, he didn't.
It wasn't a case of not having to do it; it was more because he didn't want to do it. He actually gave a shit about (admittedly some more than others) and respected this rag-tag group of people who had forced their way into his life over a year ago. Apparently to the extent where he was conscious of their feelings and that thought made him want to pull a face, because… Ew feelings. So if he felt this way... Did that mean?
"You guys actually give a shit." There was a hint of wonder in his voice.
It was a statement not a question and Hawkeye nodded in reply even though it looked like it pained him to admit it.
"Took you long enough to figure it out bolts for brains... But yeah we do, just don't y'know spread it around. I'd like to keep my head where it is thanks."
The billionaire felt a genuine chuckle bubble in his chest for the first time since this whole situation had been brought to light and he patted the archer on the shoulder.
"I suppose I can keep your little secret Barton, although it would be funny to see Natasha's reaction."
Clint mock paled and shrugged off Tony's hands but there was a wicked grin on his lips.
"Try it Stark and I'll let her know about those 'secret' camera's you have hidden in the gym."
This time it was the billionaire's turn to pale but he brushed it off with practiced ease and Hawkeye was pleased to see a much more recognizable Tony back in control.
"You say potato and I say potatoe." He crowed hands doing most of the talking for him.
The archer rolled his eyes but smirked none the less.
"I say secret cameras and Nat will say secret cameras; so let's work this whole thing out."
The two men burst into laughter at the complete and utter lameness of the joke and Tony had to admit he was relieved to have some of the normalcy back. After finding Howard and all that shit with Steve it was nice to just be able to just forget it for five minutes and shoot the breeze. The moment was broken seconds later when Clint returned to his usual crass self.
"Uh no offense dude but you kinda smell."
The billionaire glared half-heartedly and did a tentative sniff, okay so maybe bird-brain was right but he certainly wasn't going to let Clint know that he was right. Things like that went to a man's head. Okay, time to go on the offensive. He shot the man an evil grin and draped himself across the archer's shoulders.
"What's the matter Merida? My manly stench too much for your delicate senses?" He teased.
Hawkeye pulled a face and pushed the billionaire off trying to put as much distance between himself and Tony as possible.
"That 'manly stench' as you put it is enough to even gross out the Hulk, so I'd say there is nothing delicate about my senses what so ever." Clint retorted, wrinkling his nose distastefully.
The billionaire winked, sauntering down the hallway and throwing up a half-hearted wave as a farewell, he didn't rush because now that the archer had mentioned it he felt absolutely disgusting but of course he wasn't going to let Clint know that.
"Whatever you say princess."
Bruce just stared at the door and shook his head; of all the things he'd been expecting Tony flipping out and attacking his father certainly wasn't one of them, he turned back to the man on the bed who was rubbing his face and wincing. With a deep sigh the physicist walked over to one of the containment freezers and pulled out an ice pack.
"Here this will help." He said, tossing it casually to the man.
It landed on Stark's lap and the older man glared at the pack disdainfully before picking it up and dropping it in the waste paper basket next to his bed. Bruce shrugged, he honestly hadn't expected the other man to accept his help but he'd kind of been hoping he was wrong.
"Suit yourself Mr. Stark but I'm not here to cause you any harm."
There was a dry, sarcastic laugh from the elder "No, you'll just get one of your henchmen to do it for you."
Bruce allowed himself an indulgent smile, it wasn't often he had the opportunity to play the asshole card but with the day he was having he could certainly see the appeal right now. In the back of his mind the Hulk secretly agreed, this 'puny old man' was starting to annoy him. He stepped forward and looked Howard straight in the eye not flinching when the man glared back.
"Listen to me Mr. Stark and listen well, I do not need any 'henchmen' as you so inaccurately put it to cause you any harm, I am more than capable of doing that myself and it would make what my team-mate just did to you look like the teddy-bears picnic. But so far I haven't, out of respect of my team-mate's wishes. Make no qualms about it when the opportunity arises I will let you see my angers full strength." Bruce spoke with complete conviction, utterly done with his bullshit.
Howard maintained eye contact but the physicist could see the uncertainty in the older man's eyes and secretly he felt pleased about that. Howard Stark wasn't the only one who could be a dick and it was about time he knew it.
"I seriously doubt you could do much Bruce. You look as if a feather would blow you over." There was a slight waver in the man's voice.
Bruce couldn't stop the rusty laugh escaping his lips; honestly did this guy ever give up?
"Think what you might Howard but you of all people should know that looks can be deceiving."
With that he left the room, taking extra care to triple encode the lock on the medical room's door, he certainly wasn't going to take any chances considering who he was dealing with here. The last thing they needed was to have a pissed of Howard Stark running amok causing havoc, one Stark alpha male was more than enough to deal with as it was. If only there was someone who could talk to the older man, make him see reason… Bruce groaned and slapped a hand to his forehead blaming the lack of sleep on not seeing the solution sooner.
Of course there was someone Howard would trust, he'd spent years of his life searching for him after all. Now all he had to do was hope that Steve would respond.
"JARVIS can you inform Captain Rogers that I need to speak with him at his earliest convenience."
"Of course Doctor Banner." The AI replied.
Still grumbling over his lack of foresight Bruce sat himself down at the desk and pulled up what analysis of the samples had been completed thus far. His measured gaze swept down results and the physicist felt the breath catch in his throat as his mind tried to put the pieces together.
"What the hell?"
This shouldn't be possible but somehow, somehow it was.