Chapter 1: Pepper's Place
Tony and Bruce get some news, unwelcome news.
Another mutant bombing was reported in San Francisco today. Unregistered Super Humans engaged in an assault against the ASHRU (Anti-Superhuman Regulation Unit). There is no word yet if the Unregistered Super Humans were connected with the terrorist group known as S.H.I.E—”
The radio cut out.
It was dry and dusty all the time in New Mexico where Pepper’s Place was set up. It was in a town just a little too far from the main highway to get much traffic, but just close enough that the town continued running in its own dusty way. Tony was okay with dust, he was okay with the hot wind and the blunt landscape. The emptiness he once thought of as eerie had become a pleasant balm against memories of the overcrowded streets of Malibu and New York.
The jingle of the diner’s bell pulled him out of his faraway thoughts. He gave a charming smile, “Phil, just in time to pay your bill.” Phil smirked at him pulling off his sunglasses and brushing off some dust. He said nothing to Tony’s blatant suggestion and sat down at the counter.
“Usual Tony,” he pulled out a paper and began to read. Tony heaved a sigh and dinged a little bell.
“Phil’s usual!” He called to the back.
“Is he going to pay?” Came the reply.
“Are you going to pay?” Tony asked. Phil gave him that creepy look that said ‘I’m a patient person, but I will put poison in your coffee when you’re not looking if I don’t get my coffee, eggs and pancakes right now.’ Tony was always amazed at the depth of that look.
“Going on his tab!” Tony called back.
There was an annoyed grunt, but it was accompanied by the sizzle of eggs on the fryer.
It was a Sunday and Sundays were always dead slow for Pepper’s. Everyone was at home or Church or sleeping. They were the only place open in town on Sundays and every Sunday Phil Coulson would come here for a meal that he didn’t pay for. Tony was fairly sure that Phil had money. He had a fairly good suit (and who the hell wears suits in this weather?) and nice sunglasses and his shoes didn’t have any holes in them. Tony once asked what Phil did when he wasn’t ripping them off. Phil replied he was in Human Resources with a scary half smile which made Tony pretty sure what he thought of as Human Resources and Coulson thought of as Human Resources were entirely different things.
On the cover of the paper Phil was reading was a picture of a torn up sky scraper and a headline that read like WHEN WILL IT END? It was a reprint of a Daily Bugle article according to the bottom of the page. Tony didn’t really care, but he wondered who had taken the photograph briefly. It was the same anti-mutant tripe the Bugle was always spouting. He wondered if it named Spiderman as the menace behind this bombing as well.
Once Phil was done with his eggs Tony decided he would go to the garage, no one else was going to come today and if they did Bruce and the boys could handle it.
“No that does not go in the batter Dummy!”
Tony peeked under the serving window to see Bruce kindly berate the robotic arm.
“You have to be firm with him or he’ll never learn,” Tony chirped, “Tell him if he doesn’t smarten up I’ll use him as an oversized hood ornament. That’ll get his attention.”
Dummy gave a sad little whirl. Bruce rolled his eyes.
“He doesn’t mean it. You’re his favourite although he’ll never admit it.” Bruce long ago had come to terms with the fact that living with Tony meant babying inanimate objects filled to the brim with personality.
“Don’t tell him things like that! He doesn’t need an ego!” Tony protested, but didn’t deny it. Dummy made a few happier whirls and messily stirred some pancake batter.
That was another great thing about Phil… actually scratch another, it was the only great thing about Phil, he didn’t question that the kitchen staff was made up of Bruce and three robotic arms: DUM-E (The Original), You.2 and Butterfingers the Second.
“You hear the news today?” Phil asked and that make Tony jerk up hitting his head on the serving window.
“Son of a—” He rubbed his head wincing in pain. DUM-E tried to reach through the window and wrap tinfoil around his head.
“No—no don’t do that I don’t need—yes okay, okay thank you, thank you very much!” He grabbed the tinfoil pulling it off his head and moved away from the clingy robotic arm-- still rubbing his sore head. He eyed Phil. Phil never spoke unless prompted other than a ‘have a nice day’ before he left the premises.
“What news?” Tony asked carefully. He wasn’t the type that liked news because of all the different forms it came in. There was irrelevant news that paparazzi spewed out, people around here weren’t really into that as much as in Malibu thankfully. There was old news, news that got repeated so many times that during the town’s game of telephone it became entirely different news that you’d still end up hearing over and over for three months before the story finally died. That type was popular here. God was that type popular here. There was bad news. That was the news Tony especially liked to avoid because whenever someone asked him if he heard the news it was bound to be the old kind or the bad kind.
And of course there was the good news… which was no news at all. Tony’s favorite.
“Order up.” Bruce didn’t bother ringing the bell. He came out of the kitchen wiping his hand on the worn stained apron he sported when he was cooking. He looked tired and rumpled in his apron--he looked tired all the time which made Tony tired just looking at him.
Tony handed Phil his food. Phil took a sip of coffee.
“Government base going to be set up forty miles to the south of here. You boys might be getting more business.”
Bruce, to his credit looked uninterested although the light caught his eye in a funny way and made his kind hazel eyes look like a fierce green.
“Finally paying customers!” Tony said overly enthusiastic. How had they missed this? How the hell had they missed this?
“Where’d you hear that?” Bruce had asked his calm voice cutting through Tony’s bluster.
Phil sipped his coffee again, “I’m a gossip, what can I say?”
“Yeah, you’re a regular gossiping housewife,” Tony said sarcastically.
“That’ll bring nothing but trouble to this town,” Bruce said with one of those painful looks that made Tony want to hug him. Tony couldn’t remember the last time he had ever wanted to hug someone—like, actually hug someone because they needed a hug, not because he wanted to make out with them. Bruce was a man in constant need of a hug. Even Tony Stark could see that.
“I bet S.H.I.E.L.D. is already setting up shop twenty miles north,” Phil drank down the rest of his coffee, “Looks like this sleepy little town’s going to get shaken awake.”
“More customers, we’re fine with this,” Tony said, but his arrogance didn’t bleed through as strongly as it usually did.
Phil pulled out a thick wad of bills and placed it neatly on the counter. Two years worth of Sunday breakfast and then some.
“I’ll be leaving—keep the change.” Phil got up replacing his sunglasses.
“Wha—what the hell does that mean!” Tony asked in outrage. He stared at the neat pile of money and knew it meant there would be a change and it was a change Tony wasn’t going to like because he didn’t think he could take it if next Sunday Phil Coulson didn’t walk through the doors of Pepper’s Place and order a meal he’d never pay for.
“Sorry boys, been transferred,” Phil shrugged. He turned to face Tony and Bruce. His sunglasses covered his expression, but there was a note of sympathy in his tone.
“You need to be careful,” He looked especially hard at Bruce when he said this which turned Tony’s stomach. This was Phil; Phil was the Sunday customer who never paid. He wasn’t… he didn’t know… he couldn’t. Phil’s head tilted to Tony, “Robots are cute, but they might catch attention, the unwanted kind. Now if you’ll both excuse me.” He tilted his head one last time and left, perhaps for good.
Bruce’s breathing was too even and controlled. Tony felt his brain crash back and forth between the news of the army base and the hint that maybe Coulson was more than a creepy regular that worked some company job.
He moved to Bruce who had started breathing harder.
“We can go out,” Tony suggested quickly, “Let him stretch his legs.”
“NO!” Bruce shouted slamming his hand on the counter. Tony winced, but didn’t take it personally. This was Bruce’s way; this was how he kept his usual tired cool. Tony was used to being yelled at and it didn’t hurt at all. Not really. Not when it was Bruce.
“No,” Bruce repeated quieter now. He placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder bowing his head.
“Does this mean we can close on Sunday’s now?” Tony asked seriously.
“Yeah,” Bruce agreed with a half-hearted chuckle.
“Did Phil Coulson just give us get out of town as fast as you can money?”
“I think he did, either that or he’s actually a fantastic tipper.”
“Doubt that… So are we going to?”
There was a long silence, “I don’t know…” Bruce said softly, “This is our home and… for the first time since it happened I feel like...” Bruce laughed at bit bitterly, “I feel like I have something to lose now.”
Two years ago Bruce never would have said that. He would have already packed half their gear by now. Tony was both pleased and alarmed by this.
“If they catch wind of the Other Guy—”
“Tony, we’re geniuses.” And Tony smiled because that didn’t get pointed out as often as it used to.
“Yeah, you’re right, I’ll work something out.”
“We’ll work something out,” Bruce corrected patting Tony’s shoulder. Hazel eyes met dark brown and a rare cocky smile appeared on Bruce’s face, “I’m going to keep you safe.”
“Hah, that’s my line partner,” Tony snorted meeting his grin.
“Tony,” Bruce took a deep breath, “Let’s let off some steam.”
So this is an Alternate Universe I'll mention and clarify stuff as we move along. First topic Tony and Bruce run a diner together in New Mexico. Reason behind this will be revealed later, but the basic idea is that they're in hiding. Magically no one seems to recognize Tony. I write this off by him saying, yes, he does look and have the same first name as Tony Stark, oh look at the time bye.
I don't know. Why do you want good writing from me?
No, wait come back! I'll make it good I promise!
Chapter 2: Secrets
Steve learns that Fury has been keeping something from him for a very long time.
His eyes were always intense, but they weren’t what he remembered. It was his mouth. That tight curve of smugness or the aggressive full toothed grin that promised a bite that matched his bark. The small upturn of lips that’s sentiment was real, but painfully faint usually lost behind a superior attitude.
“Got a mission for you Captain.”
Steve slammed his fist into the sand bag. It wrench off its chain and hit the wall with a dull thud. He looked over at Colonel Fury trying to even out his breathing. The past was never a safe place to go.
Steve glanced up. Fury was standing with ease holding a folder, but there was something in his expression… something careful that put Steve on edge because Fury wasn’t a careful person. Fury was a man prepared for everything up to and including a nuclear strike sent by an alien invasion. He had plans on top of plans and even his secrets had secrets—but he wasn’t a careful person.
“Sir?” Steve stood at attention because falling back on what he knew was better than being caught off guard.
It worried him that Fury seemed to be collecting his thoughts.
“There’s a small town in New Mexico. Government’s set up what they’re calling an Army base and what I’d like to call a concentration camp forty miles from the town in the desert.”
“A testing lab?”
Steve knew what it was like to be a lab experiment, but he had the courtesy of still being treated like a human being at the same time. He had also seen the after effects of what being caged and experimented on can do. Wanda would never be the same—hell, she would never be sane again.
“S.H.I.E.L.D. Base already being set up?” Steve asked flipping into the file. There were a lot of details.
“Yeah.” Fury was waiting for something.
“When was this project started?”
“A week ago.”
Steve looked from the folder to Fury, “There’s a lot of info in this briefing for a week worth of observation. I mean, it even has the price of a cup of joe at the local diner.”
“Yeah,” Fury agreed, “We’ve actually had a small presence in this town for quite some time.”
“Right, okay,” Steve nodded and he was going to leave it at that, Fury had a lot of projects that Steve didn’t know about. Something made him stop though.
“There’s something else,” Steve said slowly.
“Yeah,” Fury agreed again, “Listen Captain this is an important mission so I need you to focus right now. I need you to be calm and hear me out before you do something stupid.”
The hairs on the back of his neck rose. Fury was getting ready. He had taken on a defensive position.
“I’m calm,” Steve promised even though he felt adrenaline rushing through his system.
“We’ve had an Agent in that town for the last two years. He was keeping tabs on some noticeables, making sure they weren’t noticed. He was protecting them.” Fury emphasised this, “They’re last resort types.”
“Who?” Steve asked sharply. He knew he wouldn’t like the answer because Fury was tiptoeing and Fury might be the sneakiest sonofabitch in the country, but he didn’t tip toe.
Fury sighed, “Tony Star—” Fury didn’t finish. Steve had grabbed him and slammed him against a wall.
Steve hadn’t been aware he had done it, but he didn’t let go.
“Captain—” Fury didn’t struggle.
Steve didn’t remember throwing Fury across the room either, but he didn’t mind much that it had happened.
Fury didn’t pretend not to know what he meant by that.
“We’ve known for three years.” Fury pulled himself up with ease his one good eye never leaving Steve.
It had been four. He had been dead for four as far as Steve had known.
Steve was trying to reign himself in.
“He was moving around, not sticking to any place in particular; he lived by doing odd jobs, car repairs. He met Dr. Bruce Banner.”
Steve felt cold. The Hulk, he met the god damn Hulk?
“The Hulk,” Fury smiled grimly, “That’s when we actually found out he was alive. We were tracking Dr. Banner and suddenly Stark was right there with him. Never would have known if they hadn’t met up. They went off the grid for a bit, even we had trouble pinning them down. Whenever we caught up with them they were already gone. They continued their usual pattern, not staying in one place for long, running at the first hint of trouble but--”
Steve glanced sharply at the Colonel.
“But?” He asked stonily.
“They suddenly settled. They settled in a town in New Mexico and opened a diner. Stark’s a mechanic on the side.”
Now that it was out, Fury was back to his unflappable self which pissed Steve off.
“And you didn’t tell me.”
“You didn’t tell me you’ve known he’s alive for three years?!” His knuckles were white and he felt like he could snap at any moment. Fury had been able to look him in the face for the last three years and let him think that his friend his—more than friend had been…
“You would have followed him,” Fury shrugged.
Steve let a long breath of air he didn’t know he was holding.
“Yeah, I would have,” It was a statement not an apology.
“As soon as we knew we made sure he was safe Rogers.”
“Safe being him shacking up with the INCREDIBLE HULK?!?!?” He was shouting. He couldn’t stop he had no control and if he didn’t scream he would smash Fury’s face into the floor and not stop kicking him until he was dead.
“He’s a surprisingly resourceful man,” Fury didn’t even flinch.
Steve’s face was completely red and his knuckles were white.
“This makes no sense. Why would you cover his death up? Stark Industries has become a huge backer of the government’s ASHRU now that Obadiah Stane is in charge. He manufactures the weapons to hunt us down and collar us. How can you justify this?”
Fury had the gall to laugh at him, “And Tony Stark would have done different?”
“Yes!” Steve hissed, “He supported us. He didn’t see Heroes as dangerous; he didn’t see Mutants as freaks!”
“He didn’t see the monster that Obadiah Stane turned out to be until it was too late,” Fury made sure there was distance between himself and Steve.
“What happened? Tell me, I deserve to know.”
And Fury told him.
“Howard’s son is a genius and he didn’t get much of the older Stark’s attention. The only one that came close to affectionate was his mother who died when he was a teenager. Who do you turn to? He created robots and AI systems to keep him company to make himself friends. That’s how fucked up he was. Howard never understood the difference between things and people and the only time he praised Tony was on an old video clip and trust me when I say the word love was never said.”
“I know all this.” Steve said coldly. Howard had been his friend and as much as he respected him he knew his faults.
“The only person that seemed to care was Obadiah Stane who was the only parental figure he had and unsurprisingly wasn’t much of one. Stane saw Stark’s potential. He made sure Stark had whatever he wanted, gave him the best equipment, and was smart enough to give him a hug now and then because he knew behind the narcissism Stark’s insecure and wants approval and wants affection.” Fury said all this in even tones as if he was reading out a report that he had gotten someone to write up about Stark, Anthony E.’s life. Maybe he was.
“The trust was so complete that Stark couldn’t have seen the betrayal coming. All the technology Stark had produced was fine and dandy, but Stane wanted power and once he thought the younger Stark had given him everything and after Stark fell more and more into addiction and became less and less useful Stane set up an attack by the Ten Rings that should have killed his almost son.”
Steve felt a bit sick. He had seen the trust and the love that Tony showed towards Obadiah Stane. Tony acted like a whiny brat when Stane had wanted him to get something done, but Steve had seen Tony’s affection towards the older man. That was heartbreaking.
“I hugged the bastard at the funeral. He was crying.” Steve blinked several times.
“Story doesn’t end there. Ten Rings figured out who it was they were trying to kill. Tony Stark the prince of weapons manufacturing. Unfortunately they didn’t figure it out quick enough. Stark got injured in some way. I don’t know the circumstances in full.”
And wasn’t that a rare occurrence?
“The details get hazy, but Stark built something to keep himself alive and a weapon that helped him escape the Ten Rings. I assume he found out about Stane but we don’t know for certain. We can only speculate what he did after that, how much he actually knows. How he actually got back on to US soil. He didn’t resurface. He made his way back to the United States and was a vagabond until he met Banner and they settled in New Mexico.
Steve had calmed down, but his anger still burned.
“You didn’t tell me Tony was alive. I could have helped him!”
Fury chuckled arrogantly, “He didn’t come to you though did he?”
Steve felt cold. Tony didn’t give him any word he was alive. Maybe it was because he feared for his life, or he couldn’t find him because of the missions S.H.I.E.L.D. kept sending him on at the time, but it was Tony Stark and he would have found a way if he wanted to.
“Captain I don’t know what Stark’s point of view was, but here was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s: you would have drawn attention to Stark and Banner, you would have forsaken our mission for an old flame you left—“
“Careful!” Of course Fury knew about his relationship with Tony. God damn spies.
“You would have been a wasted resource and so would Banner and Stark. Because as soon as Norman Osborn’s people found out they would have Bruce Banner locked in a lab somewhere and would have given Tony Stark right back to Obadiah Stane because Stane knows Stark is alive and he’s been looking. Seems he felt he acted a bit too hastily about trying to kill his pet genius. Make no mistake though Stark would never see the light of day again if Stane got a hold of him.”
Steve felt frozen… no… that was wrong, he had been frozen for the last four years, it was only now that he was beginning to thaw, it was only now that he could feel the tingle of movement and purpose again, not just S.H.I.E.L.D.’s purpose either.
“You didn’t trust me,” Steve finally said.
“Not when it comes to Tony Stark,” Fury nodded, “Anything else yeah, I would choose you in a heartbeat, you’re Captain America a symbol of the nation and more, but I always bet against love, especially when an emotionally unstable mad scientist is involved.”
I could leave, Steve thought suddenly, and find him. He dismissed the thought because he knew Fury. If Steve did go AWOL Fury would drag him back and make sure he never found Tony. Besides because Fury had told him it meant that Steve needed to know that Tony is alive so that he doesn’t get blindsided in the field. The mission involved Tony and Captain America was right for this job.
“What’s the mission?” Steve asked. He had known Fury for more years than he should and Nick Fury has never changed a bit. Steve was furious, but he was willing to play ball. The reward might be worth it.
“Small town New Mexico where Banner and Stark are set up,” Fury was all business now, “We’re worried about the ‘Army Base,’ not only what it’s going to be doing, but its close proximity with those two. We want sabotage, we want resistance from the locals and we want Banner and Stark as agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by the end of the month. They’re too dangerous in the wind now. If Osborn gets his hands on them he’ll easily have the two people that could win him the country—hell maybe even the world. Tony Stark’s engineering and Bruce Banner’s knowledge on gamma radiation as well as the power of the Hulk, if he could harness it Osborn would be unstoppable.
Steve’s stomach churned at the thought of Tony being used to make weapons for that man.
“Two geniuses and God-like strength for the price of two,” Steve nodded slowly, “Putting aside the fact that you chose me for this mission because you’re hoping our past relationship will pull Tony in, what if they say no?”
Fury’s mouth tightened, “I say this because I realize the stake you have in Stark’s wellbeing now that you know the truth. If they don’t come quietly, bring them in by force and apologise later. I want this perfectly clear to you Rogers: Banner and Stark are game changers. We didn’t bring them in because they’re both unstable, but now is the time for unstable. Your flight leaves tomorrow at seven. Black Widow and Hawkeye are your team.”
Fury left without another word.
Steve just kept breathing.
“Yeah, so looks like things are running smoothly. You were right about the storm; no one’s coming out tonight, WHOA!!!--”
“--Okay so the armor conducts lighting, but, you know…I knew that… I just… wasn’t expecting it. Oh hey look who it is!”
There’s a faint roar of, “SHELLHEAD!!!” in the background.
“Hey Big Guy. GAH!! Steady there, steady, STEADY. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shiiiit.”
There were sounds of roaring, thunder, grinding metal and Tony’s steady stream of curses.
“Yeah, okay so no worries, disaster averted, he noticed me, and you know how touch-feely he is… well I guess you don’t, but, okay, okay I know. I can hear your grinding teeth as I speak. I’m fine, really I’m fine. He got distracted by the storm. So did I quite frankly. It’s quite a sight. The electro-magnetic readings are through the—” There was a crackle of interference, “The---st—sh-rising—ssttsh—huge!—shrsh—GAAAAAAAAH!!!—shhhnt.”
Bruce froze, “Tony?” he whispered listening to the agonizing sound of static.
There was five minutes of pure static before Tony’s voice finally came back online, “Shhhhhhh-snt-crk-sh--I’m-cr-okay, I’m-sht-okay, still alive.-sht-Shit… oh shit. There’s a body! Oh God-snt-it looks like he impacted into the ground. The Big Guy’s not—I don’t see him, but he’s so fast I don’t know if he--Bruce,-snt--stay calm, it’s okay-crr- just stay calm. I’ll-shhnck”
There’s a bit of silence. Bruce let his own rage and fear swirl around him. I killed someone. I killed someone. I killed someone. I killed--
“He’s alive!” Tony yelled in desperate happiness, “He’s—Calm down buddy!”
“Where is the Ogre!?!?!” Bruce heard faintly through the Armor’s speakers. "HAMMER!!"
“Calm down buddy! Just –stop!”
There was the sound of a struggle and then--there was a zapping sound.
“Okay… so I tazed him. He’s fine… probably… uh…yeah…taking him back to base. I figure taking him to the hospital might not be the best idea… uh… I’m sure I can convince him he was hit by lightning or something and not, you know smashed into the ground by an ‘ogre’—yeah guy got hit pretty hard… anyways, don’t stress out! Everything is under control. Seriously. It’s fine. I’ll be around as soon as possible. Seriously don’t stress out Bruce.”
If you're interested: Bruce is listening to a recording. More on that at the end of Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Coffee
Tony and Bruce have an argument and a new guest. Fury schemes as usual.
Bruce smiled tiredly. Tony was standing out in the back of the diner trying to look casual. He was fine.
Sometimes Tony reminded him of a child, like he hadn’t quite grown out of the mannerisms you were supposed to grow out of as you grew. Right now, Tony resembled his young cousin Jennifer when she had accidently broken a window. She sat on the street corner in front of the house waiting for her Mom and Dad to come home a forlorn look on her face. Tony had a strangely similar look. The little boy who had made a mistake and was waiting with twisted knots in his stomach for his big brother to get home wanting to apologise and knowing that what he had done was worse than the usual stolen cookie. Despite his relaxed stance Bruce could read the lines of tension. The mechanic held his left arm awkwardly. Tony straightened when he caught sight of him. He looked torn between going over and staying in place.
“Tony,” Bruce knew there was stiffness in his tone. He was tired, worried, and damn it Tony had pissed him off.
“Bruce, hey, hi… hi Bruce,” Tony crossed his arms defensively and he couldn’t quite meet Bruce’s eyes.
“How’s our guest?” Bruce finally asked when Tony seemed to be unable to get farther than that.
“Fine!” Tony jerked his head up, “He’s fine, well, okay he’s unconscious, but I checked him out as best I could—”
“You know nothing about medicine.”
“I looked it up on the internet, its fine, he’s remarkably okay… actually probably better than he should be considering. He’s just asleep.”
“Listen I wasn’t paying close enough attention, I wasn’t thinking, I was too relaxed because with the storm I thought no one would be out there.” It was all said in a quick rush that Bruce could barely understand. It wasn’t entirely an apology either, but--
“And you let Him get close to you.” This really was the matter at hand, not their unwanted guest. That was an unforeseeable accident and quite frankly Bruce’s fault for being so spontaneous, but this…
Tony turned his head away, “Yeah… he… wouldn’t have hurt me Bruce—“
“Even if that were true it’s not the point!” Bruce said sharply, “We have a deal. You do not get close enough that he takes an interest. I heard metal grinding Tony and then I heard your radio go on the blink and there was static. I thought you were dead.”
Tony winced, “Yeah, that was the storm, the electro—”
Bruce was now right in front of him. He reach for Tony’s left arm and pulled up the sleeve. Angry bruises.
Tony sighed, “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“It could have meant your life.”
“He wouldn’t have hurt me!”
“Yes, he would have. In fact he did.”
Tony was coming to his next phase of childishness. He was angry at being told off even if he did deserve it.
“He doesn’t know his own strength. You don’t know Him Bruce—”
“YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW HIM?!” Bruce roared.
Tony flinched. Bruce was fairly sure he was the only one on the planet (other than perhaps Obadiah Stane) that could make Tony Stark flinch.
“You don’t,” Tony said anyway, because intimidated and guilty or not Tony Stark was Tony Stark, “You just see him as a monster, but he’s not Bruce, he’s—”
“Where’s the guy? I should look him over since I have real medical experience that didn’t come from a search engine.”
“He’s not a monster!” Tony shouted.
“We’re not talking about it,” Bruce coldly pushed passed him into the diner and up the stairs to the apartment above where he lived… where they lived, though frankly Tony spent the majority of his free time in the garage. He knew Tony wouldn’t be following. The third stage of Tony’s childishness was bouts of the hermit. He would ignore Bruce and the problem for as long as he could because Tony was always at a loss when he couldn’t instantly get his point across. He had grown up with people who would do as he told them. He was able to converse with adults when he was six. He was used to robots understanding his long complex strings of calculations. He was bad at accepting that his point could be wrong.
Bruce slammed the door open.
Lying on the couch was a very tall man with long blond hair and a beard. Bruce’s adrenaline was spiking. He wasn’t worried about the Other Guy showing up. Bruce had learned to better control Him and letting Him out usually helped. If being pissed at Tony could change him so easily they would never be able to live together. Even so he made an effort to calm down letting his anger and worry shift and swirl, still there, but in the background now as he focused on looking at his ‘patient.’
Tony crashed into the garage kicking anything in his way.
“Doesn’t he understand that HE’S the Hulk and therefore the Hulk is not a—” He suddenly froze his breathing becoming irregular.
“JARVIS—” He grabbed what looked to be a blood sugar tester—which it technically was since that was what it was basically made of. He stabbed himself on the finger.
“Blood toxicity levels at 23%”
Tony cursed and struggled to one of the many dented file cabinets which filled the garage. He pulled open the drawer routing around until he found what he needed.
“Sir, I strongly suggest you let Dr. Banner know of your condition.”
Tony winced as he pulled the corroded palladium out of his reactor quickly switching out for a new one.
“How many do I have left?”
“You’re an AI. You’re not my common sense or my conscience. Now, how many do I have left?!” He snapped.
“We currently have three palladium cores in stock.”
A hard silence fell. Tony sat with his head in his hands.
He missed being rich. Not for the fancy cars, not for the suits or the delicious food. He actually had an easy time adjusting after Afghanistan. Hell, after the desert, after cheating and lying his way back on to American soil the first thing he had was a hamburger and damned if it wasn’t better than all the escargots, caviar, or New York Strips he had ever tasted. Living on the road and on the streets clean clothes became a luxury. Cars pfft, any clunker he could get his hands on would become a luxury vehicle given a month and access to a junk yard. Adapting to the crummier things in life wasn’t as torturous as… well, you know… torture which he had had his fill of.
No, it was the lack of raw materials. It was the lack of equipment. Give him an old radio and a motion detector and yes, Tony Stark could make magic, but the scrounging, the scrimping, the searching for materials, parts, equipment, computers. Everything he had to do from scratch, everything he had to work through. He had to reinvent the wheel again and again and again and it was frustrating and it felt like he didn’t get anywhere.
The Mark I armor he had made with pieces of missile and a prayer, but in a way it had been easier. Weapons grade materials were easy to find in missiles and not so plentiful in junkyards. The Mark II was only easier to put together because he knew what he was doing. He could only dream what he could have made if he had the right pieces. It would be prettier for one, he thought grimly. It wasn’t as clunky as his first attempt. This one was made for full body protection, flight capabilities and speed, not as a war machine against a group of terrorists in the desert. The metal was dented and scratched up. There were way more small components in lieu of the proper metal or size of the pieces. It also had three times as many stabilizers as he would have needed otherwise. He had spray painted it a yellow-gold to blend in better with the landscape, but the paint was already peeling. Still, it looked better than the Mark I iron grey version. That made him look like a villain.
Then again it was hard to tell sometimes—
Easy access, that’s what he had taken for granted. It wasn’t even that big of a deal in the beginning when he met Bruce, when he started building again. It was a challenge. It was sort of fun trying to find replacements in a dumpster for something he would have just had in his lab. Except now he was dying, and even though he was fairly sure that having better equipment wouldn’t change that, it would damn well at least go faster as he ran out of ways to save himself, and it would mean he’d automatically have enough palladium to keep himself running for the next week.
Heart failure or blood poisoning. Great.
“Who am I kidding?” He asked softly rubbing his eyes, “If anything I built you to be both of those things JARVIS, common sense, conscience, Fairy God Mother,” Tony said in apology. It was so much easier apologising to JARVIS.
“Doctor Banner needs to be informed of this complication, Sir.” On the other hand…
“Dr. Banner’s angry at me right now,” Tony grumbled.
“Judging by heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels Doctor Banner is always angry.” JARVIS informed him succinctly. The fact that he had made his AI able to cut through his own bullshit with logic was as brilliant as it was annoying.
“Maybe I’m angry at Dr. Banner right now,” Tony went over to his work table examining the crushed left gauntlet to see if there were salvageable parts.
“Judging by heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, adrenaline levels, blood toxicity levels and also by the injuries sustained to your left arm and the state of the Mark II you are mistaking anger for guilt.”
“Shut up JARVIS.”
It was quite remarkable. This man had not only been smashed into the ground by the Hulk, but also electrocuted by Tony’s armor and all he had to show for it were a couple of light bruises on his back and chest and some burn marks. There was nothing at all life threatening. No broken bones, no internal injuries. Admittedly Bruce was not strictly a medical doctor, but with his experimentation on the reaction of gamma radiation on human physiology it would be insane not to have a bit of background in medicine.
He dragged a chair up next to the couch that Tony had thrown the blond onto. He sighed.
The army base. How could they function with the government breathing down their necks, literally at their back door? If they stay there’s no way he could let the Other Guy loose and Phil (and who was Phil anyway?) was right, Tony’s robots would attract unwanted attention. Did he really have the arrogance to think that they could stay here unmolested? New Mexico was big, but was it really big enough for them? For the Hul--
The blond began to rouse.
“Hey, easy there,” Bruce placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, “You’re okay.”
The man quickly came to his wits jerking away from Bruce growling angrily.
“Hammer…HAMMER!” He held out his hand waiting for something. He looked up, “HAMMER!!! Father!—Heimdall I know you can hear me!!! Open the Bifrost!!!”
Damn, how hard did he get hit? Bruce tried to restrain him.
“How DARE you attempt to capture the Son of Odin!” He easily knocked Bruce away. Bruce felt himself crash into the wall and focused on the pain and the here and now and don’t let go, don’t let go don’t let go, don’t let go--
“Who are you?” the ‘son of Odin’ roared standing menacingly over Bruce’s prone body.
“BACK OFF!!!” Bruce roared back. He was suddenly standing and the man had stepped back watching him with a critical eye.
Bruce held out his hands, “I’m Bruce. I’m just checking out your injuries. You’re not ‘captured.’ You’re in my home. I mean no harm, alright? Do you know your name?”
“I am Thor Odinson,” ‘Thor’ answered looking as if Bruce’s question was strange.
“Thor as in…”
“God of Thunder,” Thor confirmed.
No, this is stupid.
Bruce, I’m sorry.
Why, why, why?
Stop being mad at me.
My darling Bruce, get your head out of your ass because you know you can’t stay mad—I’m too adorable. If you do I promise to get my head out of my ass as well.
Tony groaned and hit the send button.
“You do have a way with words sir.”
Tony twisted around in his chair.
“Perhaps flowers would be more appropriate than a text message?”
“He’s not a jilted lover,” Tony grumbled.
“I repeat, not my boyfriend. He’s my bro.”
“Tickets to the theatre?”
“We make science not whoopie.”
“You’ll pardon my confusion Sir, it’s just that this is the longest stable healthy relationship you’ve ever been in other than--”
“JARVIS…” He said warningly
“I only mean to say Sir that he’s good for you and I approve of him.”
“Okay you’re definitely not supposed to be my maiden aunt.”
“DUM-E, You.2 and Butterfingers the Second are also quite fond of him.”
“I’ll keep joint custody in mind if we ever get divorced.”
*It’s not that easy being greeeeen*
Tony quickly opened the text glad to get away from this partially disturbing partially sweet conversation with his AI.
Tony, you’re an idiot, but I forgive you. Moron.
“He is definitely the one for you, Sir.”
“Shut up JARVIS—don’t just read my texts!”
Bruce’s head shot.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” He roared. Thor stared at him momentary dumbfounded, but quickly snapped out of his stunned silence.
“You dare talk to the son of Odin as if he were a wailing nursery child?!” He stood at his full height, “I require another sir!”
Bruce’s gaze slowly shifted from the raging long haired wrestler to Tony who had finally revealed himself—greasy.
“Tony! Learn to wash the grit off before you come into my clean diner! It doesn’t take a genius!”
Tony took this in stride grabbing a cloth and wiping off the stray grease, “What pissed you off?” Tony had to force himself to leave off the ‘other than me.’ He then noticed the broken cup and the large angry man explaining he wanted more of the delicious drink and the inn keep had no right to deny him service. It was 7:30AM, and Bruce obviously hadn’t slept. They were opening in half an hour.
“Sit down please,” Bruce ordered. Thor obeyed. Tony wasn’t entirely surprised that Bruce already had Muscles whipped.
“Right…” Tony said slowly, “So he seems…good?”
“I am Thor son of Odin.” Thor stood again nodding towards Tony, “From your size, garb and odor I would place you as a Dwarf of Svartalfheim! How came you to Midgard?”
“Uh, selling coffee? Did he just call me a smelly dwarf? Yeah I’m short compared with him, but I’m 5’9” that’s not short!”
“Not tall either,” Bruce pointed out.
“Shut up 5’8.”
“Is coffee the beverage I was just served?” ‘Thor’ demanded, “I would have more of this grand beverage.”
“Well at least we can agree on something,” Tony said pouring himself a large cup of said brew. “Nectar of the gods,” he emphasised.
“Then it would be a suitable drink indeed!” Thor exclaimed reaching for the pot. Tony had a strange feeling that everything Thor said ended with an exclamation mark… and every question with an interrobang…
“Knock yourself out,” He handed Thor the pot. Instead of pouring it into a cup like a civilized human being he downed it in one grand gulp from the pot itself.
“I like this guy more and more. Why aren’t I allowed to do that again?”
“Because we’d go out of business and you’d have a heart attack from all the caffeine intake if I allowed it.”
Bruce motioned him over. Tony handed Thor a broom and pointed at the broken cup.
“Clean up your mess. It’s only fair since we gave you free—” He glanced at Bruce, Bruce nodded, “Coffee.” Do they have any paying customers?
Thor seemed confused for a moment and started going on about this being no job for a Prince of Asgard and that Midgard was a strange place indeed. Bruce rolled his eyes and gave Tony a pointed look as the mechanic came over.
“Yeah smashing our cups is so much worse than tazering him.”
“Guy could use a little reality check.”
“He’s in a fugue state.”
“He’s a musician?”
“No Tony, he truly believes he’s Thor, the Norse god of thunder. This usually comes from trauma like—”
“Like meeting the Other Guy and getting tazed?”
“Usually there’s more of an emotional crisis involved, however that much of a jolt…”
“Damn.” Tony glanced from Thor, who was awkwardly sweeping up the mess in between slurping down a second pot of coffee and back to Bruce, “I’m sorry.” It actually wasn’t as hard as he thought, apologising. It just slipped out.
“No… I should have known better than to take the risk. We should have prepared days in advance. I’m getting too comfortable.” He looked over at ‘Thor’ the price of a reminder.
“What are we going to do with him?”
Bruce frowned crossing his arms. He tilted his head in thought.
“Clothes shopping, you didn’t mention he was naked.” Thor was wearing some of Bruce’s old clothing. They were too tight and too short and quite frankly made Thor seem even more outlandish and insane.
“It really was the last thing on my mind when it came down to it,” Tony shrugged, “Come to think of it, it’s weird running around in the middle of nowhere naked right?”
“I knew I wasn’t that out of touch. Maybe he was like this before?”
“Even so he’s our responsibility.”
“I was worried you were going to say that…”
“For now let’s humour him. I’ll make some inquiries, see if there’s someplace we should take him. You—”
“I am not babysitting Point Break.”
“You saw Point Break?”
“I’m not babysitting him.”
“Okay,” Bruce said easily. Tony looked at him suspiciously.
“You can make the inquires and run the diner while I take Thor shopping and have the rest of the day free to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble,” Bruce said easily.
“I know this is a mixture of bribery and probably a trap, but I’m going to accept it because quite frankly I hate the Monday morning crowd.”
“I thought you’d see it my way.”
“What are you doing?” Tony said more loudly directing his question to Thor who had put the dustpan on the table and was now fitting the broken cup back together like a child might do a puzzle. He looked over at Tony annoyed.
“I am fixing your possession as you seem very attached to it. In its plainness I had not realized its worth and value. Is it ceremonial?”
“Yeah… yeah it’s ceremonial. Here give it to me; I’ll take care of it,” Tony took the dustpan. “When one of the sacred coffee cups is broken there is only one way to dispose of them.” With a feeling of great ritual he tossed it into the trash.
“May the Folgers be with you,” he ended solemnly. Thor bowed his head with a reverence. Bruce coughed. He was trying to glare at Tony, but it failed because of his fit of laught—coughs.
Bruce headed to the back to get things set up. Tony went and sat down across from Thor.
“What’s your story big guy? How’d you end up in the middle of the desert anyway?”
“Desert…” Thor said slowly thinking back, “Yes… the desert where I met the Ogre and the Iron Man.”
“Yeah, Iron Man… how did you come to be there exactly?”
Up until this moment Thor had seemed like no more than a sad joke using his own arrogance and strangely noble bearing as a shield as he spouted complete crazy. Tony had only known him for fifteen minutes and already he rubbed him the wrong way.
JARVIS (and Bruce for that matter) probably would have explained that Tony usually didn’t get along well with people of a similar disposition, especially when the person in front of him reminded him to the core of the person he had been before Afghanistan. Crazy and arrogant hit too close to home, but then Thor began to explain.
“My Father and I have argued,” There was no vulnerability when he said this, “He would protect our realm with words, but those he makes deals with deal in false promises. We were attacked and I sought to extract a revenge. He had to—” Now Thor looked annoyed with himself, “Save me and my brother and our friends. He is stuck in his ways. He does not understand that if I am to rule as strongly as he I must not let treachery go with impunity. As punishment for disobeying him he sent me here in the form of a mortal. This is a test,” He said the last part with certainty that didn’t quite match his confidence.
“Hah,” was all Tony responded with. It was like looking into a 6’3” blond mirror.
“You have heard a similar tale?” Thor asked with surprising insight.
“I have lived a similar tale. Come on,” Tony stood clapping Thor on the shoulder, “Let’s get you some clothes that fit.”
It was the first day of the first week of the first vacation Clint “Hawkeye” Barton had had since he first became an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. way back when S.H.I.E.L.D. was a legitimate government institution. Being part of a revolutionary organization that openly fought the government with any means necessary you might think that a person in Barton’s field wouldn’t get vacations, but as stated above he was overdue.
If he couldn’t have his government pension he could have this.
At least that’s what he thought until he got the call.
He groaned into the mouthpiece. He had gone to sleep two hours ago dragging himself in after a utterly screwed up mission. X-men, the bloody X-men. Swear to God he was going to hunt down and slap some sense into those amateurs one day. He was going to sit them all down and explain in little words why openly attacking the Brotherhood of Mutants in downtown San Francisco with a mall filled with civilians was a bad idea… it was uncanny how much trouble that little fringe group made for S.H.I.E.L.D. After cleaning up some of the mess, he had been on a plane in economy with a baby screaming in his ear and a snot nosed ten year old kicking the back of his seat. He had gotten home two hours ago, pulling off his clothes and throwing himself onto his glorious bed.
“The world better be ending sir.”
“Potentially,” Fury responded.
“You always say that. I’m on vacation.”
“Pardon me, I forgot. I’ll let someone else handle it. Just go back to sleep.”
“Sarcasm at—” Barton glanced at his alarm clock, “It’s 4AM Sir. There are no words.”
“There’s an army base being set up near Puente Antiguo, New Mexico.”
“I am. Residing in this small town are Dr. Bruce Banner--”
“--And Tony Stark.”
“I thought you’d see things my way.”
Barton was already out of bed routing around through his dresser for clothes.
“Are you sending Rogers?”
“No, never mind, of course you’re sending Rogers. Ah! Pants!”
“You have a ticket for Albuquerque. Your plane leaves in an hour. Romanov and Rogers will meet you on the other side and transport will be arranged.”
“Barton, you will be briefed in full when you arrive, however I’m adding additional mission objectives.”
“Uh huh, and you’re not going to be telling Rogers about these additional objectives are you?”
Barton paused momentarily at this, but nodded to himself in acceptance.
“Alright. Fill me in Sir.”
Science Bros, JARVIS ships it.
This chapter was really hard because it is a set up chapter. It's super long too so thanks for getting through it.
If you're interested: The recording Bruce was listening to in chapter 2 was some sort of machine Tony made which fits in Bruce's ear that would have Tony's report/monologue of the night transmitted to it so when Bruce turns back to Bruce he can listen to it as he makes his way back to the Diner. Usually Tony picks him up afterwards, but with Thor injured he couldn't really leave. I didn't put this in the chapter because it just added one more thing to fit in to an already long chapter.
I know explanation of what's going on in this Universe and what's happened in the past is slow coming but it'll all get explained eventually I promise. As you may have guessed the timeline is set during the Iron Man 2 and Thor movies (and the Incredible Hulk, but Bruce's story has completely changed since he met Tony). It also has splashes of 616 Universe and splashes of Fury's Big Week which is a Movie tie in comic.
More Steve next chapter.
Chapter 4: Hammer
Tony and Thor get some clothes, Bruce connects some dots, Steve looks back on the past and gets a wake up call about the future.
Steve didn’t like modern airports.
They’re chaotic. People ran frantic in every direction, emotions ran high and tense in one area and flat with boredom in another, children screamed at the top of their lungs for no logical reason and everyone was irritated which irritated Steve even more.
It was so far away from the strict military lines of an airfield or army base. People in an airport seemed to have a chip on their shoulder from the employees to the customers. If you could bully your way into a better seat so be it. If you could jack up your price that much more on an I<3NY shirt so be it. Back in his own time—no it was pointless to think like that it wasn’t his own time anymore—back in his day (and didn’t he sound like an old man?) people would dress up when going to the airport. It was supposed to be exciting. The dames would be smiling holding the hands of their fellas whispering in excitement. There would be an air of exhilaration and cheerfulness. It was a treat back then. Now it was an annoyance, a formality, a vehicle from point A to point B.
Two men quickly walked past him. Steve’s gaze was caught in the flurry of their movement.
“Tony,” Tony stopped dead. Rhodes put his hand on Tony’s shoulder and then turned to face Steve.
“Listen Rogers, now’s really not the time—” Rhodes was always a good and loyal friend to Tony Stark and as much as Steve loved Tony he could never understand why. (That was egotism. It wasn’t like Steve was the only one who could see the good parts in Tony).
Tony wouldn’t even look at Steve.
Rhodes looked between them.
“Are you here to beg me to take you back?” Tony asked a sort of broken humour in his tone. He still hadn’t turned.
“We should talk.”
“I’m not in the condition to talk to you,” He said quietly.
“Rhodes is he drunk?”
Rhodes looked at him accusingly which was the only confirmation he really needed.
“Look what you’re doing to yourself. Damn it can’t you even look at me?”
“Don’t. Just don’t,” Tony started walking again.
“Will you just look at me?” Steve repeated staring at Tony’s back.
“Fuck off Steve.”
Steve’s head snapped up.
Steve forced a smile. He had been waiting for the last hour for his team to show up.
Always getting sucked into the past. Typical, he really was an old man.
She sat down beside him.
“Your hair’s curly.”
“Had a job as a P.A.,” She replied, “Thanks for noticing.” She crossed her legs leaning back in her rigid plastic chair, “You seem uneasy.”
“Nothing to worry about,” Steve replied, “Tired from the flight.”
She nodded watching as the people passed by. He wondered if she was threat assessing… she was probably threat assessing.
“I never met Tony Stark.”
“He would have liked you,” Steve said automatically, “I mean, not because you’re beautiful--well he would have liked that, but because you’re smart and—”
“Kind of scary?” Natasha grinned.
“Oh yeah, he loved people that could kick his butt,” Steve chuckled fondly.
“He might still.”
“Oh, of course,” Steve’s face fell. It still felt like Tony was dead, a bitter-sweet memory that Steve clung to, not flesh and blood and absent in New Mexico. Natasha patted his arm.
“You loved him.”
“Does everyone know about my love life?”
“What love life?” Natasha asked, “You haven’t been with anyone since.”
“Do we have a water cooler? Is that what I’m missing?”
“Consider the people that you work with Steve.”
“I’ve been too busy to have a love life.”
“Or you’re still in love with him.” Natasha said with sly certainty.
“That’s not it.”
“When did you fall out of love with him?”
Steve couldn’t answer that.
“I’m surprised you’re talking about this with me,” He admitted. She gave him a small measured smile.
“Someone has to be thinking clearly on this outing.”
“I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have a clear—”
“But you don’t. Clint’s been standing behind you for the last two minutes.”
Steve quickly turned his head. Clint waved blandly.
“What makes you think I don’t think clearly?” Clint asked going to sit on the other side of Natasha. She gave him a long look.
“Why is your hair red?”
She raised her eyebrow.
“No, it was black, wasn’t it black?”
“Three years ago.”
“Alright you two enough,” Steve grumbled. He checked his phone. No messages from Pick-up.
8:00 AM and the streets were as busy as it got for ‘downtown’ Puente Antiguo. Everyone was heading to work or school. There was no real sense of urgency, but there wasn’t a laziness either. The streets were… comfortable. Every block or so Tony would be greeted and the day’s events would be recounted.
“Tony, day off today?”
“Good morning, how’s business?”
“Who’s your friend Tony?”
“Hey Tony. How’s Bruce?”
Tony answered friendly and bright. Showing a friend around town. Yeah, they lost his suit case we’re getting him something better right now. He’s Norwegian. Business is doing fine. Bruce is good. How’s your wife? Husband? Sister? Cousin? Grocery Store? Dog?
“Oh hello Anthony dear. How is that big brother of yours? Still single?”
Tony gave a huge smile to the little old woman in front of him taking her hand and kissing it.
“Bruce is still single Mrs. Clark and I swear I’ll introduce him to your daughter at the next Town Hall meeting—I’d also like to point out Mrs. Clark I’m single whenever you’re ready to get back on the horse.” He winked. The little old woman, Mrs. Clark gave into some girlish giggles and lightly hit Tony on the arm with her bag.
“Oh Anthony you rake!” She was still giggling as she made her way off.
Thor looked behind him at the woman and then back at Tony.
“Did you offer that old woman your services in bed?—or a horse?” Thor asked deeply confused. Tony laughed.
“No, just flirting.”
“Does that not seem inappropriate ‘flirting’ with one of such years?”
“She likes being flirted with. It’s never a bad thing to let a woman know she’s sexy.” Thor nodded but seemed even more confused.
“But she wasn’t… unless you find her sexy?” Thor looked at him appraisingly.
“I was being polite, trust me,” Tony waved his hand dismissing Thor’s worries.
“You seem very well known Antony Edward-Roberts.” Thor decided (wisely) to move on.
Tony winced, “Just call me Tony. A small place like this and you get to know people and since you’re going to be seeing them every day for the rest of your life it’s best to be friendly. What? No small towns in Asgard?”
“No,” Thor answered immediately, then he quickly shook his head, “No, that’s not right. I’ve… never had such a—” He didn’t really know how to describe it. Tony glanced over at him and there was a brief seriousness there.
“You know they’re around, but you never really experienced one. Small towns are for driving through or flying over. Not for living, not for you, am I right?”
“Yes. You understand me perfectly Tony Edward-Roberts.”
Tony sighed, it’s getting there.
“I have no need of small towns,” Thor decided, “As… pleasant as they seem to be.”
They arrived at a thrift store. Thor didn’t seem bothered by the cheapness. Then again he thought he was from God World and on top of that a Prince so maybe he didn’t understand the concept of expenses right now. Maybe in God World people were supposed to run around naked in the desert.
They walked in.
“Okay, find some things that fit.” Tony ordered. Thor looked around at the racks upon racks of clothing.
“Where is the tailor?”
“That’s not how we do things here. Look.” Tony went up to a rack with letters printed above them. He pulled out a t-shirt and came back over to Thor sizing him up.
“God you’re way too muscley,” Tony muttered putting the shirt back and going up to a larger size.
“You are threatened Tony Edward-Roberts?” Thor smirked.
“Pfft, as if. Brains before muscles, Muscles.”
“Are you a tailor as well as an innkeeper?” Thor asked as Tony pressed another shirt to his chest.
“I’m a man of many talents, but I haven’t tried my hand at that yet.” Tony replied, “This should do.” He handed Thor a couple of t-shirts from the size he just pulled and then some plaid shirts for over top. He didn’t pay much attention to the style. Clothes shopping was not his idea of a day out unless it involved Tim Gunn and a bottle of scotch ranting about designers now-a-days… from what he remembered it was a good time.
He reminded himself those good times usually ended with him in bed with a stranger, a hangover and a page six spread.
“A very important addition,” Thor agreed following Tony perfectly fine with Tony’s choice of clothes mostly plain t-shirts, beer t-shirts and plaid.
“This should work,” Tony handed him two pairs of jeans and some proper shoes, “You’ll have to try them on though. Go see if they fit.” Tony shooed Thor into one of the dressing rooms.
“Have I offended you Tony Edward-Roberts?” Thor asked slightly muffled from the dressing room.
“You seem a man who understands my perspectives very well; however it is clear you think me unworthy of your standards.”
Tony jerked a bit at this, “No I—”
“I sense we are kindred spirits.”
The old woman at the counter gave Tony an obvious look peppered with dull hostility.
“We’re not—”Tony began, but Thor continued before he could clarify anything to anyone.
“And yet you look down upon me as one might a child who has not come to full understanding. I find it quite insulting. I am a man. More so, I am a god amongst men. You discredit me if you think otherwise.”
Thor poked his head out from behind the curtain of the change room giving Tony a hard look before popping back in.
“I’m not questioning your manliness! You’re like, one of the manliest guys ever I assure you. I know this because we’re actually having this conversation.”
Tony glanced at the woman at the counter who was very pointedly not looking at them. Great.
“You do not seem to take me seriously.”
“Yeah… well… what do you want from me?”
“An explanation,” Thor stepped out of the dressing room—only wearing jeans.
There was a long pause and, truth to tell Tony was totally checking Thor out because how could you not with those abs?
It took a few seconds too long to come to his senses before he pushed Thor back in the dressing room.
He didn’t even look over at the old bat at the counter. No point and this would be over town within an hour. It shouldn’t matter that he was bi-sexual, but this was a small town that had never really caught up in the times and he wasn’t trying to get attention. Frustrating, but that’s how it goes.
“Put a shirt on.”
“Were you moved by my manliness?”
“Shut up!--Was that a joke?”
“Ha, ha, let’s go thunder god.”
Thor came out wearing a beer shirt and plaid jacket (and pants thankfully) along with the new shoes. Tony took him by the shoulder leading him to the check-out.
The old woman was sizing them both up. Tony yanked the tags from the pants, shirt and shoes.
“Everything he’s wearing and these.” Tony placed the extra clothing on the counter. The old bat began to scan them through eyeing the two of them every now and then. Tony handed her the money and she handed him the change and she was about to say something.
If I get a lecture on values I swear to –Thor!
Thor took the woman’s hand which had just been retreating from Tony’s and kissed it. The old woman squawked.
“Madam, if you would have intercourse with my horse I would be much obliged.”
Tony stared open mouthed. The old woman screamed. She threw any knick knack she could get her bony hands on at the large man.
Tony started shouting apologies as he pushed Thor out of the store the bagged items forgotten.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” Tony kept pushing Thor forward until they were about a block away.
“I was being polite!” Thor argued, “I was complementing her on her ‘sexiness’ just as you had done with Mrs. Clark.”
And maybe Tony might have believed it if not for the smug smirk on the other man’s face.
“Is that what you think you were doing? Really? I’ll tell you what it is about you Thor that gets me so riled up. It’s that you’re arrogant. You think you know everything and if you don’t know something you believe it’s beneath you. You think everything is yours by right and you don’t care about the shit you’ve caused.”
“I had no intention of offending you Anthony Edward-Roberts, however you have not restrained yourself from greatly offending me.” Thor naturally towered over Tony, but Tony’s personality was a being all its own and although Thor didn’t back away, he felt the push.
“Is that right?” Tony growled, “You knew exactly what you were doing with that woman. You knew she was about to chew us out. You knew what you said would offend her—maybe even frighten her. She’s an ignorant old woman Thor and you scared her. We could take what she was about to dish out. Yeah you have to fight for your own rights with people like that, but you can’t stomp on theirs at the same time. You just confirmed ever bad thought she’s ever had about people like me.” Thor scrunched his eyebrows his own anger had slowly drained from his face and there was a badly hidden uncertainty. He didn’t understand.
“People like you?”
“I have a lot of people that hate me Thor for a lot of reasons; I know how this game goes. You think they deserve it? Well yeah. Maybe they do, but you won’t be laughing when they retaliate at someone who can’t defend themselves. And by the way, you’ve just dragged my reputation through the mud because of this, so please,” Tony’s eyes were dark with anger, “Explain to me again how you’ve had no intention of offending me.”
Pick-up never arrived. An hour later a message was sent to Steve’s phone.
Auntie threw her hip out, can’t pick you up. TTYL.
“Looks like we have to find our own way to Auntie’s house.” Natasha and Clint both gave him a long look, but followed him out of the airport. He passed the phone to the other two. It was a code. Auntie was base, threw her hip out meant there was a situation, a big enough situation that they couldn’t spare the personal to pick them up.
“What does TTYL mean?” Steve asked. Cellphone abbreviation had always been lost on him.
“Talk to you later,” Clint answered with no humour in his tone.
That was good news then. Talk to you later meant whatever was happening was non-lethal.
“Didn’t give much detail outside of that,” Natasha pointed out.
“Guess it’s an embarrassing—“ classified “—Story.”
Base was in the progress of moving. Coulson greeted him with an eager smile. Phil Coulson had always been a fan, and even though it had worn off a little in time Steve could never rub off the badge of Childhood Hero with the Agent. It was funny because by all accounts Coulson was as professional and cool as they come. He was the one Hawkeye and Black Widow went to when they got themselves in trouble.
“The army base isn’t the only reason that we’re here,” Coulson explained. They were driving towards the new base. Natasha and Clint had stayed behind to monitor the bug out.
The whole move looked like a military operation down to the uniforms, but it was all S.H.I.E.L.D.
“For the last three weeks our scientists have been reading strange anomalies in space in this region. I had a bad feeling about it. It could be what we’ve been waiting for.”
Steve frowned, “What are we waiting for?”
“Aliens,” Coulson shrugged easily, “Had to happen eventually.”
Steve was almost speechless and almost was about to call the whole thing ridiculous, but he had seen things during the War that he could never explain. He remembered the eerily blue glow of the Tesserac and the Hydra weapons. He slowly nodded.
“Okay…” He said slowly, “Aliens. What about them?”
“Either they’ll be hostile and try to kill us, or they’ll be friendly and helpful.” Coulson smiled tightly, “We stop them, or we ask for their help.”
And Steve understood. This could tip the balance in this Civil War. Or it could destroy everything.
“And you saw it coming?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, I saw it coming. And now we have confirmation.”
It was a chaotic day without Tony running register. He had to take the orders, make sure the bots were keeping in line, serve the food and there were more customers than the usual Monday morning crowd. By ten o’clock he was almost at his wits end.
“Everyone’s in today, is there a parade I don’t know about?” He asked the large man gulping coffee in front of him.
“Oh, I guess you wouldn’t know Bruce. There’s this thing out in the desert and some of the guys we were trying to pull it out. All got broken up though when the Feds showed up.”
“The Feds?” Bruce’s heart froze.
“Yeah, they claimed it was some satellite, wasn’t no satellite I’ve ever seen,” The man snorted divisively, “I worked at Hammer Tech before Mr. Hammer’s son took over. Gotta say the thing looked more like a hammer.”
“A hammer?” Bruce was only half listening now different scenarios running through his head, but the word suddenly caught him.
No… couldn’t be…
Then again with his life…
He called Tony.
“Hello?” Tony sounded angry. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to have him babysit Thor.
"Is he looking for a hammer?” Bruce asked quietly so that he wouldn’t be overheard.
“Thor. Is he looking for a hammer?”
“Are you looking for a hammer?” The question was faint, but Bruce could hear the abruptness and the muffled, excited reply.
“Yeah.” Tony answered slowly, “He says he’s looking for a Hammer.”
Sorry for the long time between updates I was selling some stuff at a Convention so time was filled with sewing. Anyway. This chapter wasn't quite what I expected when I wrote it but it sets up well for the next chapter so I'm happy.
The memory scene in the beginning takes place directly before Tony leaves for Afghanistan at an airport.
Chapter 5: Stark
Tony and Thor part company, Bruce gets some unwanted customers and Tony and Bruce have the same old fight.
I'm sorry about the ... really... long wait but it's the same old story of school and then getting into DC and Batman and not getting my Marvel on, but the muse has struck, so here it is!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Thor had left.
Tony wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. The strange man had caused nothing but trouble for him. Bruce was probably still upset despite his text of forgiveness, rumours of his sexuality and the company he keeps were probably already whirling around town, and the diner was short one coffee cup all because this man had chosen last night to run naked through the desert.
But on the other hand how much trouble would Thor cause them on his own?
Tony trudged down the street. He couldn’t have stopped the larger man if he had wanted to. As soon as he said the word ‘Hammer’ Thor was off in his fairy world. His quest to find this magic hammer that would end his time on Earth was the most important thing. Even their argument had been forgotten (on Thor’s side at least).
“I thank you and your Brother for your hospitality,” Thor had said giving Tony a quick thump on the shoulder that probably left a bruise and sped off down Main Street.
Tony wondered if he knew where he was going. He sighed wondering if this was the end of the craziness that had popped up lately, but he still remembered Phil and his warning.
Bruce was quickly pulled away from the phone by more customers. It was ten thirty and the breakfast rush was finally over. He would have a bit of time before the lunch rush. The diner was down to three customers. His mind kept going back to it again and again: a hammer that fell from space the same night that ‘Thor’ joined them. An object the feds were keeping a watchful eye over, one that no one could move.
He would ask when his life became a comic book, but he knew the exact date up to the very minute.
He had told Tony to come home, he wondered if the brat would listen. Bruce glanced up as another pair of customers came in. The first entered with a casual smile. The second had a cloudy look in his eyes as he glanced around the diner.
The first man Bruce wouldn’t have looked at twice. The second put his instincts on edge.
Bruce had never liked running the front. It was ingrained in him now to always stay out of sight, to be the guy your eyes didn’t register in a crowd. Being at the front felt like unnecessary attention. Tony was more suited for it, especially for the small talk aspect.
“Hello there,” Bruce nodded handing both a menu. They sat at the counter. Casual smile was sitting in Phil’s preferred spot. That didn’t mean anything, but it made his teeth ache anyway.
“Hey there,” The smiling man took the menu and browsed through it.
“Two coffees I think will do fine.” Bruce set down the cups and poured the two coffees.
The silent man just shook his head. He was still glancing around the place.
Scoping exits? Looking for someone?
“Passing through?” Bruce forced himself to ask.
“We’ll be around for a week or two,” The talkative one replied noncommittally, “You’re the proprietor of the place I take it?”
“Yeah,” Bruce answered vaguely not mentioning his partner. He went silent not really sure where to go from there. From personal experience if a random server asking questions that went farther than passing through his hackles would rise.
The blond made him nervous. He felt the Other Guy crawling under his skin. It felt like a potential predator had stepped into his territory. “What about you? Just passing through?” The talkative one asked with a playful smile. From a random passerby getting coffee on his way back to a long road trip the one-liner would have been chuckle inducing.
Coming from him it seemed like an attack.
Bruce forced a laugh anyway.
“No, here to stay.”
Bruce felt the increasing pressure of anger. He was being grilled and he had to play along because he didn’t want them to know that he knew.
God he sounded paranoid, but this was his life.
“Got a brother working with me,” Bruce said shortly trying for casual. And there it was. The silent man’s quick interest, if he wasn’t looking for it he wouldn’t have noticed.
“Oh?” The talkative one asked, “Where’s he?”
Tony, this was somehow about Tony. He couldn’t be sure but it rumbled inside him. He felt the Other Guy pushing at his walls at the realization. Protect, protect, protect!!
“Gone for a vacation. New York. He’s got a girl there.”
“Ah, nice for him,” Talkative hummed. The disappointment in Silent’s eyes was too easy to see.
They finished their coffee. Bruce noticed they didn’t talk to each other at all which was a bit unusual for people traveling together and added one more strike against them. They got up in unison, Smiley gave Bruce payment for services rendered and they left with no fuss.
A second later Tony came in through the back grumbling about thankless Norwegians.
This is where Tony lived? He almost didn’t believe it. It was so far away from New York and Malibu. He and Clint walked away from the diner.
“Pepper’s Place,” Steve murmured with a small bitter smile.
“Who’s Pepper?” Clint asked. His smile had slipped off as soon as they had exited.
“Tony’s secretary and one of his most loyal friends…” It made Steve wonder… did she know? He had never asked. He saw her at the funeral and then threw himself into missions. It didn’t even occur to him that maybe Tony was alive and maybe she knew something about it.
“You were really bad in there, he made us,” Clint said casually. Steve tensed looking back.
“He totally did.”
“How do you know?”
“I was looking for it. He was looking at you while I was looking at him. To be fair Bruce Banner is the most paranoid man in existence for a very good reason. He can spot our types a mile away. The fact that Coulson was here two years without getting made just shows how damn good he is at his job. He does this thing where he makes his creepiness seem totally normal… it’s an art really.”
Steve frowned, “Then we should move quickly, find Tony fast.”
“It’ll have to be tonight,” Clint nodded, “They’ll make a run for it.”
“How did he figure it out?” Steve asked.
“You perked up at the mention of his ‘little brother.’ He was suspicious cause he’s always suspicious, but that confirmed it. He knows we’re looking for Stark, that probably makes it more dangerous.”
“I shouldn’t have come.”
“No, sir. You shouldn’t have.”
Steve frowned looking at Clint.
“We going to have a problem Barton?”
“No. I’m a professional.”
“You’re saying I’m not?”
“You’re Captain America,” Barton said seriously, “You’re the banner boy. You’re the guy they throw out into the big battles. You’re the one on the front page of the papers in mask and star-spangled glory. You give speeches and rallies and smile a perfect smile for the camera. You’re not a spy.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time Barton—”
“Yeah, and I respect that, but your head isn’t in the game and you haven’t done secret ops for a long time.”
“Was this a test? Did Fury put you up to it?”
“Yeah, he did.”
They closed early.
It was the benefit of being your own boss. You can close anytime you damn well pleased.
“They were looking for you.”
“You’re being paranoid again.”
“I’m not. I know the signs. Tony forget what I said, we can’t stay here. There’s too much going on that we can’t keep track of. Not just the soldiers either, secret agents, Thor. It’s too much, it’s too dangerous.
“This is our home now. Sure we’re about to face a town scandal, but we just need to hold it together. I’ll make myself scarce I won’t let them see me, we’ll put the boys in the garage.”
“We’ve been reckless and now it’s costing us. It was a bad idea from the beginning, letting you build that damned armor.”
Tony tensed, “is that what this is about? Still? The armor? The Hulk? I should have known. That’s always what it’s about in the end.”
And the old argument started again, just like the first. The first time Tony showed Bruce the Mach II armor.
“You’re armor can’t stand up against m—him.”
Tony frowned, where was this coming from?
“It’s not supposed to.” Tony shook his head, “It’s not about taking down the Other Guy. It’s a failsafe. If someone runs into him in the middle of the desert there’s a chance they could piss him off. With the armor I might not be able to stop him, but I will be able to lead him away.”
“He can tear your puny armor in half. He’s not just big, he’s fast Tony.”
“I know, but it’s not just for other people. It’s for you as well, so you don’t have to be alone out there. Bruce… I know you don’t like to give Him an identity. Hell, you won’t even speak his name, but he’s not entirely what you think he is.”
Bruce was silent. They hadn’t talked about it before, not because Tony hadn’t wanted to, Bruce clammed up when it came to talking about the Other Guy.
“He’s a monster and he’ll kill you.”
“He saved your life!”
“What life?!” Bruce roared. Tony flinched.
“He took away my life,” Bruce said bitterly.
“He saved mine.”
“You’re not going anywhere near him again,” Bruce decided.
“End of discussion Tony.”
“I’ve got a cluster of shrapnel every second trying to crawl into my heart,” Tony tapped the arc reactor, “This stops it. It’s not just an energy source it’s… it’s part of me now. I know it can do more than just keep me alive, it has the potential to be … it could be a clean source of energy for the entire world. It’s a terrible privilege.”
“You can control it,” Bruce pointed out staring at the shining light touching it briefly. Tony was quiet for a moment, but looked up with a sharp glance.
“Because I learned how,” Tony argued. There was something that he wasn’t telling Bruce.
“I read about your accident when it happened.” Tony continued, “They gave my father the file. He asked me to make something to stop y—him.” Tony looked ashamed, “There’s nothing that can stop him.” “Then why this Tony?” Bruce gestured angrily at the armor, “Why?” “That’s not my point… my point is…that much gamma exposure should have killed you.”
“So you’re saying the Hulk--the Other Guy… saved my life? That’s nice. It’s a nice sentiment. Save it for what?”
“God damn it Bruce, you’re not dead!” Tony shouted.
Bruce grabbed a hammer and slammed it into the face plate of the armor. He didn’t make a dent but there was a loud clang which rang out harshly between them. Bruce suddenly looked subdue.
“I’m not alive either Tony.”
“Then what does that say about me?” Tony asked stonily.
“Tony.” Tony had turned and began tinkering with the armor again.
“Get out, I’d hate to piss you off.”
“Seriously, just go.”
Bruce sighed, slowly leaving Tony’s domain.
It was the same argument every goddamn time.
Tony didn’t understand. The arc reactor and the Other Guy were two entirely different things. After all, the arc reactor could save lives. The Hulk only destroyed them.
“We need to leave by nightfall.”
“I got it.” Tony replied bitterly, “Just get out for now.”
Thor watched silently as the two argued. They hadn’t noticed him enter it seemed. He had meant to ask Anthony for a mode of transportation since apparently the town livery had no horse, but he had obviously stepped in at a bad moment.
“We need to leave by nightfall.”
“I got it.” Tony replied bitterly, “Just get out for now.”
Tony banged his hammer over and over until the door closed. Then he allowed himself to collapse.
“I’m fine,” Tony struggled over to a drawer. It took effort, way too much effort to pull it open and switch out the cores.
“Your Blood toxicity is at 31 percent.” Jarvis said disapprovingly, “You should inform Dr. Banner.”
“Nope,” Tony said through gritted teeth, “Not going to do that. The last bit of palladium was a dud, it happens all the time. There’s no need to worry.”
“Sir has told me many times the brilliance of the good Doctor. Perhaps he could—”
“With what? We’ve both been through the diagnostics, there’s nothing that can replace the palladium. I would have to invent a new element to save my life! Do you see a particle accelerator in here? I’m good, Bruce is good, but we cannot make an element from scratch! Shit. SHIT.” Tony threw the corroded core angrily across the room, “If I was still rich I think I would drink myself into a drunken stupor and sleep with all the hot people in the continental United States. I would party every day, I would piss off the senate by existing and I would be an irresponsible selfish jerk.”
He collapsed into an old office chair, “Instead I’m two years sober, I haven’t gotten any in… God I don’t even want to think about it since as soon as they see the arc reactor they’d be suspicious, I work at a diner every day, and the senate thinks I’m dead. But I’m still alive goddamn it. I’m still alive!”
“By some standards it would seem your life has improved a great deal.”
“Hah. By whose?”
“By mine,” Tony jerked grabbing the first solid thing within his reach. He turned back and saw it was Thor.
He dropped the screwdriver resignedly.
“How much did you hear?”
“All of it,” Thor was never a man to be unsure of himself. He usually walked straight in to conflict be it conflict of arms or conflict of words, but this was delicate in a way he couldn’t quite understand and he was afraid that Anthony might shatter with the mishandling of it.
“You are dying?” he finally asked because it ironically seemed like the most straight forward part of his comrade’s story. Tony slumped.
“I have about a week before the poison kills me.” He admitted. Thor’s eyes widened.
“And you have not informed your brother?”
“He’s not…no, no I haven’t.”
Thor nodded in understanding, “You wish to spare him the pain of seeing you suffer.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“But will he not feel more pain when you are gone and he asks himself if he could not have done something to save you?”
“Nothing can save me. The very molecules of palladium have made it so.”
“I do not understand…”
Tony sighed. He lifted his shirt and pulled off a circular bandage. Thor gasped.
“Your heart…” Tony’s chest was covered in scars. In the middle was an orb of blue light. Thor felt himself moving to touch it. Tony quickly let his shirt fall before he could. It was a very rare moment of vulnerability. The light was visible now just below the fabric.
“It’s called an Arc reactor. The only one of its kind this small. It keeps me alive. I have… shrapnel trying to make its way towards my heart. The reactor powers an electromagnet which stops them.”
“But there is a problem.”
Tony nodded, “A component. It reacts to well, me and poisons me. There is no possible replacement on Earth.
“…I am sorry Tony Edward-Roberts…”
“It’s Tony Stark. No reason to lie about it now.”
I tried to make it clear, but Tony and Bruce have a similar argument to the flashback, just off-screen. They also talked about the army base and the spies and getting the hell out of dodge. We'll see how far they get.
Once again, sorry for the long wait, it's one of those stories that I have long plans for, but I have to fill the gaps between those plans and I'm a lazy uninspired sod... I think the next chapter will come sooner than this one did. Anyways see you next chapter.
Chapter 6: The Straightforward Approach
Steve and Bruce talk. Thor and Tony both receive emotional news.
The day he left Tony was also the day registration was announced.
When he heard from his government contacts he could quite believe it. It was an hour before it was going to be officially announced. The fallout quickly cycled through his head. He had an advanced copy of the initiative. There were people he knew that would never unmask and register; people that were doing good for the country, for the world. From what the papers outlined they would be hunted and ‘contained.’
He had to stop this. Somehow he had to stop this.
He was already getting calls. Was this really happening? Was this some sort of awful joke? What were they going to do? Were they going to fight?
Steve told everyone to stay calm.
They were all looking to him for leadership. Why? The superhero community was never close knit with the exception of the X-men, but they were an equal-rights movement filled with children. They weren’t there to stop catastrophes. Tony often lamented that there was no group of ‘them’ that could just assemble every now and then and ‘curve-stomp’ villains and natural disasters.
Either way he was the face of the superhero community with his number in the address book so to speak. He would have to represent as a hero that was unmasked who didn’t believe registration should go forward.
But he didn’t have much of a voice in Washington. Not many people took him seriously anymore. Captain America says ‘Save the Whales,’ apparently became an ‘internet meme’.
In situations like this he would have asked Howard. But Howard had been dead a week and that pain was still raw. His last connection from his past was gone.
So he went to see Tony instead.
Steve wrenched himself away from the memory. No. He wouldn’t go over it again. He needed to stay focused. As pissed as he was at Barton and Fury, Barton was right, it had been a long time since Steve played spy. It had been even longer since Steve enjoyed it.
Being straightforward was his strength… so what was he waiting for?
It was sundown. Bruce had most of their meager supplies packed and loaded into the small delivery van they kept for just such emergencies. Everything was done except the Bots. Tony would take care of them. There were a few times where Bruce almost didn’t leave room for the so called ‘Iron Man’ armor, but thought better of it. Another argument would only slow them down. Where the hell was Tony?
He went into the garage.
I’m afraid he’s not here sir.
His blood ran cold, “Where is he?”
He didn’t say. He left with Mr. Odinson quite hastily and locked my system so that I could not tell you where he went.
“When was this?”
Three hours ago, sir.
Of all the… the idiot. The selfish idiot.
He went back to the diner.
He had to leave, but he couldn’t just leave Tony—
But Tony knew. He knew how important escape was. He knew what would happen if Bruce was captured, or worse, if the Other Guy managed to take control.
The sun had been down a good hour. How long could he wait? Should he go look? He tried to call, but the cell went to voicemail.
A man walked in. Damn it, he forgot to lock up!
“Hey sorry, we’re closed—“ Bruce said trying to hold back his frustration.
“I’m not here for the coffee Dr. Banner.” Bruce looked up sharply. The quiet man from earlier. “I’m looking for Tony.”
“We’re closed,” Bruce repeated, “And he’s not here right now.”
Dr. Banner—the Hulk looked at Steve Rogers for a long moment and finally seemed to place his face. “I should have recognised you.”
“Not a lot of people do without the mask and shield.” A shield that was hidden away in the artist portfolio at his side, “You know I’m not just going to walk away.”
“I had to try,” Bruce shrugged. Bruce walked past him and closed the door locking it and flipping the sign. He suddenly felt calm. Captain America was here and he suddenly felt calm.
“Like I said, he’s not here right now and contrary to popular belief I’m not actually his brother and definitely not his keeper, but you can talk to me.”
Bruce recognized the look on Steve Roger’s face. The carefulness everyone took on when they knew what Bruce could become. Bruce gestured to one of the booths. They both took a seat sizing one another up. Both had one thing—one person in common.
“What do you expect to get out of this Captain?” Bruce finally asked.
“You’re both in danger. I’m here to help.”
“We don’t want your help.”
“You can’t just speak for him.”
“I can,” Bruce answered calmly, “Because we’re partners and we trust each other.”
Bruce is a nice guy, but he knows how to twist it. Captain America visibly bristled at this.
“You know who I am Mr. Rogers. Do you honestly think I can’t take care of myself? Do you honestly think I need your help?”
“Tony doesn’t have the same defenses you do.”
“Are you here as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Tony’s ex?”
He knew then. Steve was hoping he wouldn’t. Was hoping that Tony hadn’t shared their past with this man. Maybe it was jealousy. He didn’t want someone that had grown so close with his former lover to have such intimate detail.
Or maybe Bruce Banner just read the papers. Five years ago Captain America and Tony Stark’s faces were splashed all over magazines.
It was a good question though. Was he here on a personal level or was it a mission?
“I can’t separate the two,” Steve admitted at last. It was dangerous, just like Barton said, just like Romanov said. His head wasn’t in the game.
“Fine then I’ll tell you both ways. Tony’s not going to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s not going to build your weapons and he’s not going to become a terrorist because you ask nicely. As his friend to his ex, buzz off.”
“That’s not fair,” Steve slammed his hands on the table, “You don’t understand the danger you’re putting him in.”
“I put him in danger every day by living with him. I know that,” Bruce shook his head, “You think I don’t know that? You know what he did when I tried to ditch him? He followed me. He’s persistent like that.”
“He’s not just in danger from you,” Steve ground out, “The army is building a base on your backdoor. You think you can continue living here? You think you’ll both be able to hold your cover? You’re on the top ten most wanted list and Tony Stark’s face was in every magazine and newspaper five years ago. The fact that you haven’t been caught yet is astounding.”
“Let’s cut to the chase shall we?” Bruce asked quietly, “You want to bring us in for our own protection. You, Captain America, who preaches life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
“I’m asking you to—”
“But you’re not,” Bruce cut him off, “I have no doubt of your intentions. You think you’re the good guy here. You actually think you’re doing this for our own good.”
“You’re going to walk away from me. You’re going to say that you need to talk to Tony, because you do. You’ll talk to him and say it’s for his own protection that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to ‘take him into custody.’ S.H.I.E.L.D. which by the way is a terrorist organization as far as the country is concerned. He’s going to tell you after what I’m sure will be an emotional reunion that he doesn’t need your help and he doesn’t want it because he’s Tony Stark and he thinks he can take care of himself, and you know what? He actually can. He’s not the man you knew. When all this happens you’ll feel bad, really bad that you couldn’t talk this out with us and you know what happens next? You come in with men. You get stun guns and tranquilizers and you try to take us by force. You try to take him by force.”
Steve looked at him, silent.
“Because that’s what America does now-a-days right?”
“Just know,” Bruce leaned in and Steve felt his adrenaline spike. His heart pounded. The slightly tired looking man looked at him with a pure sort of anger and Steve could only see the monster. Fight or flight was desperately trying to kick in.
“That you really don’t want to make me angry.”
And if he wasn’t angry now what did that mean for when he is?
“I have to talk to Tony,” Steve got up quickly. He paused at the entrance looked back at Bruce and pulled out his walkie talkie.
“Stand down.” He ordered. Bruce smirked. Steve unlocked the door and left. The soldiers stationed around the diner fell back.
Bruce leaned forward head in hands. He had to find Tony. He had to find Tony first.
It probably wasn’t the best idea, staking out a government facility with nothing more than junkyard upgrades and a briefcase filled with hope, but it was worth it to have front row seats. Tony plugged in to the security feed and watched in amazement. Thor was kicking their collective asses. Tony went about his part of the plan, scrambling any of their transmissions.
Crazy bastard looked like he actually might pull this off. Tony watched positively enraptured when Thor finally got to his target, the ‘Hammer.’ The look of triumph on his face and then the utter despair said it all.
Tony watched as his—what? Friend? Was pulled away. He didn’t fight them anymore. Before he knew what he was doing Tony was up and heading towards the army base with nothing but his cellphone and briefcase.
In the back of his mind Bruce’s voice was shouting at him. What are you thinking? What are you thinking? You should have been back at the diner an hour ago! You think you can talk him out of this? You think you can stop them from shooting him and burying him in a ditch after attacking them?
He put up his hand when the first soldier showed up.
“Who are you?” He demanded.
Tony’s eyes ran over the gun. He ran his eyes over the communication units and then the cut of the uniform.
And he smiled.
“I’m Tony Stark,” He answered with a shit-eating grin, “And you’re going to take me to your boss right now.”
The Boss turned out to be a smoking hot red head that could probably kill him with her pinky. Sexy.
She had a great poker face. When the soldier announced, “Tony Stark to see you,” she didn’t even bat an eyelash.
“Mr. Stark, you look pretty good for a corpse.”
“I aim to please. Listen, you have a friend of mine here. Thor, god of Thunder. He was looking for his Hammer, but seems you guys have called finders keepers. That’s fine. I’m just his ride home.”
She raised her eyebrow, “Your friend broke into a military instillation.”
“Yeah, see, I don’t think he did,” He glanced around casualty then pointed, “That gentlemen there is holding a Stun-u-lar, Stark tech, although trust me, I wasn’t the one that named it I was the one that invented it. It’s pretty handy and completely non-lethal and the army doesn’t carry those. Not anymore.”
He eyed the red head giving her a significant look then turned pointing at the computers set up beside them, “Your computers are out of date,” He turned again, “Your communications equipment is actually better than the standard issue.” He pointed at her, “And your uniforms are basically from a prop shop. Look at that, maybe I should be a tailor.”
“What are you getting at?” She asked calmly.
“You’re not the army. You’re S.H.I.E.L.D.”
The personal around him pulled up their guns pointing right at him. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.
“You’re pretty confident for a man that just freely walked into the base of a known terrorist organization Mr. Stark. How do you plan to get out of it?” The leader asked, “Got a small army in your briefcase there?”
“Simple. I’m going to walk out, with my pal.”
“And why would we let you do that?”
“May I?” he gestured to his pocket.
He pulled out his phone, “You see, I’m a super genius I know, I know, grandiose, but an apt description. I have programed a remote computer to send a call to the army unless I place in a code every five minutes.”
He typed in some random numbers and looked back at her, “The twist is the code isn’t the same each time. It’s a pattern that only I’d know. You could try to torture me for it, but you have five minutes to figure this one out.”
The red head sized him up obviously.
“I don’t look like much,” Tony admitted, “But I’ve put up with guest accommodations in a cave in Afghanistan with a car battery powering a faulty electromagnet attached to my heart. I can keep my mouth shut for five minutes.”
“I could try,” She pointed out.
“I don’t care what S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing here. I don’t. Let Thor out of his pen and me and him will scram. He’s either a messed up crazy guy or the god of thunder. Either way you don’t really want to hold him.”
“And how do we know you’re not going to call the Feds after we let you go?” One of the freedom fighting terrorists demanded.
Tony rolled his eyes, “Obviousness thy name is this guy. Stick to your guns—Stun-ular—whatever.”
“If he calls the army we can offer them Tony Stark,” Natasha nodded, “What makes you think we believe you? Tony Stark was declared dead by the pentagon.”
“Oh and you of all people don’t believe in government conspiracies?”
She raised her eyebrow.
“How bout this: I know your buddies were scoping out the diner. I mean, three years I know S.H.I.E.L.D.’s been tracking us, I didn’t think you knew about our love nest here, but wonders never cease. I know for a fact the army’s not good enough to find us, so this whole conversation is basically a moot point. You already know I’m Tony Stark. You’re just buying time and trying to figure out what my angle is. Here it is: Me and Point Break go free and you won’t have to pack up and move.”
She was about to respond when she stopped, tilted her head. A communication maybe? She looked back at him.
“Fair enough, stand down, bring out the prisoner.”
She didn’t take her eyes off him.
“So is this the part where you tell me ‘I’ll get you next time Gadget?’” Tony asked as he waited for Thor to be brought to him. He acted cool and relaxed, but his heart was beating a mile a minute. That can’t be good for a bum ticker like his.
“Not my job. That’s someone else’s department.” Tony Stark as a human being had never been good at identifying emotions, then he went into the family business and the boardrooms taught him a thing or two. Tony the business man identified a flash of negative emotion, maybe anger, fear or sadness, her poker face was good. Tony the Business man would have pushed. Tony the Human Being Breaking His Friend Out Of A Known Terrorist Organisation’s Base didn’t.
He pretended to impute numbers into the ‘dialing computer’ he bullshited about. He looked up again. The woman was still watching him.
“Say… do you happen to know—” Tony began. Blue eyes and blond hair flashed in his mind for a moment, but before he could finish his muscled companion was in front of him looking forlorn. Looking like someone had just told him there was no Santa Claus—or the Asgardian equivalent. He looked defeated, empty, like he had just lost all hope of getting home and reconciling with his father.
Maybe he had.
The man went on about spies and organizations but Thor heard little. He kept seeing Mjolnir and he kept feeling the resistance. It couldn’t be lifted, not by him. Not anymore.
The man left, Thor didn’t know why. He hadn’t been listening.
Tony Stark. What would he do with his capture? Hopefully go back to Bruce Banner and leave this awful place. Escape the men that sought them and find their freedom and happiness. They were good and although they were not warriors they had strong hearts.
He felt abrupt gut-wrenching pain when he remembered Stark’s admittance that he only had a week to live.
They wouldn’t find their happiness either.
A white room with a mirror. Thor stared blankly at the wall. Mjolnir rejected him. He was no longer worthy, his Father had taken his power… no, worse. This wasn’t just a quest. There would be no ending, no triumph. He had found the Hammer, but he was still not allowed to return home. He was stuck here. His Father had truly banished him.
“Loki, what are you doing here?” Hope. His little brother! Maybe this was the end to his quest after all. Maybe this was the end of his time on Midgard.
“I had to see you,” Loki didn’t look joyful at their reuniting. He didn’t have that cheeky grin he had always worn since they were children that had become absent as of late. He looked serious, grave. There was no mirth of yesterday’s Loki.
“What’s happened?” Thor felt cold, “If I could just explain to Father—”
“Father is dead.”
It was a joke. One of Loki’s bad jokes. He was tasteless at times. He was vicious and cruel without meaning to be. This had to be one of those times. It had to be, he couldn’t be—
“Your banishment, the threat of a new war. It was too much for him to bear. You mustn’t blame yourself. I know that you loved him. I tried to tell him so but he wouldn’t listen. So cruel to put the hammer within your reach knowing you couldn’t lift it.”
No. No. It was his fault. It was completely—if he had not sought vengeance—
“The burden of the throne has fallen to me now.”
It stung. Even with everything that has happened. That it is Loki that would lead their people. It was not pity or understanding, but the briefest flash of jealousy before he forced himself to accept it. Admit that this is what he deserved. He led his Father to death. Loss of kingship was a very small ache in his breaking heart.
“Can I come home?”
He felt like he was wandering the desert again and Loki held in his hands a glass of water.
“A truce holds on the condition you remain in exile and—”
“Yes, but couldn’t we—”
“And Mother has forbidden your return.”
Water that his little brother refused him. Mother. Your true love dead because of a thoughtless son.
“This is goodbye brother. I’m so sorry.”
Loki… he didn’t have to come. He could have left him to wonder forever.
“No. I am sorry. Thank you for coming here.”
He would be a better King. A King who thought before he took action.
Loki turned and disappeared.
“Goodbye? I just got back.”
He was alone. He was abandoned.
The man called other in.
“Take him to Black Widow. Come on, let’s go.”
He didn’t struggle when he as lead away.
Tony Stark stood surrounded by armed men. Across from him was a red-haired woman, obviously another warrior.
“Say… do you happen to know—” Tony began, but then he saw Thor.
“Hey buddy, how’s the rebel alliance been treating you?” He approached carefully. Thor looked down at him with pained eyes.
“I’m afraid I will be residing here for longer than expected, Stark.”
Tony nodded, that’s what he was afraid of, “Well you can join team Science in the meantime.” He took him by the arm and carefully started backing them away from the mean army men.
“Mr. Stark,” The red-head said suddenly.
Tony waved his phone, “Still running.”
“No, you’re free to go,” She said reassuringly, “I just wanted to tell you. I do know him.”
“And he’s here, in town. He wants to see you.”
He was here. Of course he was here. The army, S.H.I.E.L.D., the god of thunder and his magic hammer were here. Why wouldn’t Steve Rogers be here too?
Tony didn’t know how to react so he fell back on the old stand by. Ignore the problem until he can invent a robot to deal with it for him.
“Tell him…” Tell him what? ‘Surpise! I’m not dead, but you probably already knew that since you’re with S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Forget it. “I’m leaving town and this time not even S.H.I.E.L.D. will be able to find us, but at least this time I get to say good-bye, even if it is through a smoking hot redhead… well hey isn’t that the best way to receive a goodbye? Come on Thor.”
He doubled their pace and soon they were away from the men with Stun-u-lars.
“Where are we going?”
To get a drink. Tony’s head supplied.
“To meet up with Bruce,” Tony answered instead. “We’re leaving town and if you’re not doing anything you should come along.”
Thor paused. They got to the car hidden behind some desert shrubbery.
“You are not long for this world Stark.”
“No, but it’ll be nice to have someone explain to him when I do croak and maybe… look after him for a while. It’s a good deal cause I know he’ll look after you as well, even if he’s grumpy and wants to mope in a forest, he’s too good a guy to leave you high and dry.”
“But you’re not?”
“That’s right. I’m definitely going to go off and selfishly die.”
“You’re wrong,” Thor got into the car and looked at him seriously, “My own family, my brother has abandoned me. Although the fault for this is my own, you and Banner have stood by me. You risked your life to save me from those warriors.”
“Well as I’ve said I don’t have much longer for life anyway.”
“Never the less there are many who would balk and it would be my honour to join you… and I thank you for your kindness.”
Tony smiled to himself and then held up his fist. Thor looked at him questioningly.
“Okay, lesson one: fist bump.”
Nearing the end now. Slowly, slowly getting there. Two or three more chapters maybe. Thanks for bearing with me.