Chapter Nine: Avengers Assemble
The next morning each of the Avengers present in the tower woke up in completely different way.
Steve had crashed on the camp bed in Bruce's lab, unwilling to leave Howard alone for any period of time. The older man had seemed distinctly out of sorts when the super soldier had explained that he had been frozen in a cryogenic sleep for the last twenty five years and he knew from experience that having someone to talk to helped immensely. So he had stayed until Howard fell back asleep; which was at some point during the wee hours of the morning. He woke up with a crick in his neck and the extreme belief that Bruce must be an utter sucker for punishment because that camp bed was murder.
Bruce woke up feeling more refreshed than he had in days but passing out after working to the point of exhaustion tended to do that for you. He rolled over and groaned when he realized he'd fallen asleep with glasses on and had once again bent them out of shape. He extracted himself from the bed sheets and headed toward the bathroom, knowing that a hot shower would get him ready for the day.
A perfect start to a perfect day.
Yeah right... Bruce learned long ago that there was no such thing as a perfect day and if his gut instinct was anything to go by today wasn't going to be anything close.
Clint woke up instantly alert; years of ingrained training kicking into effect he scoped out his room to make sure that everything was as he had left it the night before. Satisfied that his sanctuary hadn't been breached he flopped back over and fell back asleep; happy to enjoy the down time while he had it.
Natasha merely snuck into her room and sat on the pristinely made bed after returning from wherever she had disappeared to the night before.
Thor was still on Asgard so you couldn't be sure of the time there.
And Tony, well Tony merely opened his eyes and sighed. He'd really tried to get some sleep, honestly; it was just the pesky bastard had eluded him at every turn; as soon as he'd sort of settled his mind there was a brief flash of memory, emotion and he was wide awake again.
It was getting really fucking frustrating.
"Sir, the time is exactly seven-thirty am and it approximately sixty-two degrees Fahrenheit. The weather is slightly overcast..."
The billionaire ignored JARVIS's ramblings and rolled out of bed once again missing the warm body that should be laying beside him. He knew that Pepper was busy and it really wasn't fair to involve her in all this shit but there was only so much comfort the rest of the Avengers could provide.
"JARVIS can you inform the Avengers that I want to see them in the communal area at oh nine hundred?" Tony half grumbled, making his way to the bathroom.
"Of course Sir, is there anything else you require?"
"No." The answer was short and sweet.
"Very good Sir."
The bathroom door swung shut behind him and Tony leaned against it heavily; he stared down at his hand inspecting where his knuckles had come into contact with Howard's jaw admiring the bruising. He hadn't realized at the time just how hard he'd hit the other man but if the swelling of his hand was anything to go by it had been pretty damn hard. It wasn't as if Howard hadn't deserved it but in retrospect it probably hadn't been the best opening gambit, as much as Tony loathed the idea they needed Howard to trust them.
Especially since things looked like they were about to get messy.
The billionaire made short work of the shower pointedly avoiding looking at his reflection in any of the reflective surfaces dotted around the room and walked back out into the bedroom; a towel draped around his waist. For the briefest of moments Tony considered his clothing before pulling on a clean pair of cargo pants and his favorite AC/DC t-shirt because it was the only comfort he was probably going to experience today.
Nine o'clock rolled around and as requested the team had congregated in the communal area; everyone that is except Tony. The billionaire sauntered in five minutes after everyone else, refusing to be anything except fashionably late and sat down on the couch; distinctly aware of the wall of tension threatening to crush him from all sides. With a confidence that was more show than reality he stared down the team ready for the inevitable interrogation.
"So Stark, why don't you start from the top." Natasha asked, cocking an eyebrow.
Tony just managed to bite back the retort knowing that the Widow wouldn't be impressed with smart-assery in such a serious situation. Slowly and rather surprizingly he began to talk about the events that had lead to this point, with Bruce occasionally adding in the odd quiet comment. Finally he reached the crescendo of his story ignoring the stern set to Steve's jaw when he talked about his 'attack' on Howard and Bruce's findings in the elder Stark's DNA and bloodwork.
"So that pretty much brings us up to date..."
The billionaire's body language was casual but he knew that he wasn't really fooling any of the people who were sitting around him, they'd experienced far too much to not know each other traits and flaws. He also knew that he was taking a big risk personally by involving them in this. They would get to see all of his baggage, all the cracks, all the imperfections that made Tony who he was and he was going out on a limb, trusting that Barton hadn't been lying to him.
Unsurprizingly it was Steve that was causing Tony the most grief.
The other man just sat there a grim look on his face and an age old grief in those startling blue eyes. He hadn't said anything yet; had just listened with a somewhat morbid curiosity, just trying to absorb everything that was being said. The billionaire just stared long and hard at the blonde waiting for a reaction; a scathing retort, a righteous barb, anything at all to show that he'd acknowledged what had been said but Steve just sat there silently.
"So... What do we do now?" Clint asked, face serious and eyes hard.
Tony grimaced slightly and shifted on the couch clearly more than a little angry.
"I want to find the fucker's who did this and make it so they never see the light of another day, I'm an Avenger... May as well live up to the title."
The words were filled with venom and no one was really surprised at the show of animosity, if any of them had been in Tony's position they would have wanted the same thing; retribution: swift, violent retribution. Again the billionaire shifted on the spot but this time it was more from discomfort than anger.
"Which is why I'm asking for your help... I could probably do this alone but it would raise a ton of red flags and I'm not prepared to do that; not yet at least but I thought..."
He drifted off clearly uncomfortable at actually asking for something instead of just throwing his charm or money at it and making the problem vanish. Around the room the others with exception of Bruce were staring at Tony, varying ranges of shock plastered across their faces as they tried to comprehend that Tony Stark had just asked them for help.
"Sir, Director Fury is on the line shall I patch him through?"
JARVIS's mechanised voice broke the heavy tension that had settled over the team and Tony couldn't have been more grateful for the interuption. They looked at one another wondering just what Fury wanted from them this time.
"Yeah... Put him through Jay."
Fury's face appeared on the holographic screen in the centre of the room and he didn't look pleased, then again he never really looked pleased (especially if Tony was generally involved) so it was a pretty moot point. His fingers were steeped in front of him and there was a look in his eye that screamed that this was serious.
"Stark I thought you'd be alone, I was hoping for an update."
Tony merely shrugs in response, he doesn't think for a second that the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D isn't aware of how the current situation stands. Although Natasha has a modicum of loyalty for the Avengers he also knows that she is also loyal to Fury and that she had been keeping him updated on all the goings on within the team.
He'd just never mentioned he'd known until now because there hadn't been a point.
"Everybody knows the sitch; as do you thanks to your little arachnid... With the exception of those assholes playing God with dear ole' dads DNA..."
The billionaire ignored the heated glare that Natasha pinned him with and instead focused on the man in front of him. As usual the Director was giving away nothing with his body language but the lack of shock at Tony's comment made him think that Fury had already known about whatever had been done to Howard.
Or had at least found something out between finding out he was alive and now.
"So lets cut out all the BS and get straight to brass tax here... What the fuck do you want Fury?" His voice was smug accompanying the grin on his face.
The look on the Director's face could only be described as sour and his visible eye narrowed at Tony's crass way of approaching the subject.
"I don't want anything Stark; in fact I'm here to give you something."
The smug grin slid from Tony's face and he sat forward elbows on his knees, face intense. Beside him he could see Bruce and Steve fidgeting, unsure whether or not to put in their own two cents into this conversation but apparently deciding against it for the time being.
"Okay I'll bite... What do you have for the man who has everything?"
Fury rolled his eyes in exasperation and pinched the bridge of his nose clearly fighting off a migraine. In frame he held up what appeared to be a portable flash drive for Tony's perusal.
The billionaire looked completely unimpressed.
"Uh... No offence but I think I literally own about a million of them, care to elaborate?" There was a biting edge to his voice and he was rapidly losing patience with this conversation.
Fury seemed to sense the irratability and quickly explained.
"After you brought this to my attention I had a few of my unofficial agents do some research. There were only two things they could find; a project name: Ragnarok and a location: Woodlawn..."
The Avengers listened in silence seemingly hanging on every word Fury spoke, not liking the ominous feeling that was starting to emerge.
"... This drive has all the information we've been able to obtain, which for the record is virtually nothing but I know you Stark, you'll work something out."
He plugged the drive into his computer and let JARVIS do the rest, he knew that Stark's AI still had access to the S.H.I.E.L.D servers so this was the easiest way to transfer the data as much as he resented that fact.
JARVIS minimized Fury's face and pulled up the data that had been sent, like the Director had said there wasn't much to go on. There were a few building schematics, infra-red readings, topography chats and a some medical journals but nothing really solid enough to get an accurate picture of what the facility was used for or the purpose of project Ragnarok.
"Well whatever it is they're using a lot of computers..." Natasha said, pointing to two large circles on the schematic "These look like they could be cooling towers."
Bruce stared closer at the blueprint and nodded in agreement.
"So maybe a server farm then? The electrical output is pretty high."
Tony looked thoughtful and poked further into the data. The guys Fury had used weren't amateurs much to his surprize, they were almost on par with him and they hadn't been able to make a dent in their cyber-defenses. They were going to need physical access to actually get anything from the damned place because it was a completely closed network. He was pretty sure that Fury already knew that and was manipulating them into getting the information he required but at the moment he didn't give two shits about S.H.I.E.L.D's ulterior motives. He had to figure out a way to get in there.
"This looks like an almighty pain in the fucking arse, if we want any answers then we're gonna have to get in there." Tony huffed in annoyance running a hand through his hair.
"Not something I say often but I agree with Stark." Natasha replied, eyes narrowed at the screen.
"It's not something anyone generally says Nat." Clint joked, joining in on the conversation.
The billionaire shot Hawkeye a sour look and flipped him an offensive hand gesture to which the archer just smiled in reply; sidling closer in to get a better look.
"So, do you think it's possible to get in there?" Bruce asked adjusting his glasses.
Natasha and Clint both shot him a look that clearly said 'Are you kidding me? You do know who you're dealing with here' and Tony bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing at the slightly flustered look on the physicist's face.
"Yeah I'd say so, we'd need to actually go and see the place to get a better picture but I think it's doable."
The four Avengers turned to Steve clearly waiting for him to say something, after a moment the super-soldier sighed and joined his team-mates. He wasn't happy that once again Tony was dragging the team into something they really had no business being involved in but he'd promised himself that he would be more civil toward the billionaire. The fact that he really wanted to know for himself just what had been done to his friend had done absolutely nothing to push him into helping even though he thought it was a stupid and possibly suicidal idea.
"We're going to need a plan." He said simply.
Tony shot him a small grateful smile and Steve couldn't help but send one back, he had to admit it was nice not to be clashing with the other man for a change.
"Okay lets go team!" Clint crowed far too enthusiastically for so early in the morning.
The rest of the team just rolled their eyes and Natasha gave him a quick cuff around the head. The billionaire headed to the coffee machine and poured enough cups for everyone, after all you couldn't come up with a good plan without a healthy dose of caffeine in your system.