Funny thing was-he hadn’t even been looking for the damn thing.
It would have been optimism of the highest, most deluded degree to try and argue that he’d forgotten completely about it. That it didn’t cling to his thoughts like a particularly reprehensible parasite on certain days (mostly when Ross was being a Class A Dick). Or on darker nights, when the silence was solid enough to settle thick and suffocating on his skin- thoughts of it crept up to swallow his mind and sanity whole, plunging him in a marsh of regret and nostalgia and angerangeranger that he thrashed about in but couldn’t. Fucking. Escape.
Considering all of the above...yeah, maybe it was funny, maybe it was fucking hysterical to the Powers That Be that Tony had simply been mindlessly rummaging in his drawers for his favourite screwdriver when he was greeted by the sight of a small, innocuous black phone nestled in the corner.
If you could even call that aberration on the face of the planet a phone. Hell, was that shit Nokia? Wasn’t that what the T-Rexes used in the Cretaceous era to call on their raptor aunts? Why was his hand stretching towards the one-notch-above-coconuts-connected-by-string phone as if it was trying to pick it up?
Tony stared at his hand in rapt fascination, watched as the fingers trembled and yet inched forwards inevitably. Maybe he’d grab hold of it and take his armour out for a spin just for the satisfaction of chucking the phone from a height of fifty thousand feet. Maybe he’d track the location of the only number programmed on the phone because Tony fucking Stark could pull shit like that. Maybe his hand would develop spontaneous allergies from coming into contact with such ancient, repulsive tech. He didn’t know. It was a world of possibilities.
What he did know was that his best friend had lost his legs and his career and his passion to fly, all in one fell swoop. That his girlfriend had left him, and the people he’d screwed over his girlfriend for couldn’t give less of a shit. That it hurt when Vision didn’t talk, and hurt even more when he did, because those bloody dulcet tones-because even after all this time, it wasn’t that easy to get over the death of a child, even if JARVIS had been just blinking lines of code on a screen. That Tony knew that he’d done the right thing, and the right thing somehow involved selling himself off to people and institutions that he’d disparaged all his life, for the sake of a family that-…that family was a lie, and Obie had tried so hard to teach him that but Tony had forgotten anyway, and in the years that he spent designing rooms in the Tower and better tech and arrows and body armour, his teammates spent hiding life changing secrets from him. Because his worst nightmare had always been that he could have done something more; that he’d let his team down. Never even in those nightmares could he have imagined that things could swing the opposite way.
World of possibilities. Maybe he’d finally call, even if it felt strangely akin to succumbing to a last drink. Anything had to be better than this state of……stagnation. Where he couldn’t move forward and the world wouldn’t let him move back. Where he felt a tiny, sinking feeling of relief when his left arm would go numb.
His fingers brushed the plastic case. He could almost hear the imagined dial tone trilling in his ear, the voice on the other side. Ste-
Something slammed into his wrist, hard enough to knock his hand back and send the phone clattering to the floor. Tony grimaced and bit off a swear, turning his head to the side to watch a red-and-gold gauntlet forming around his afflicted hand.
“FRIDAY, what the actual fuck.”
“Intruder breach detected in Avengers facility.” To anyone unacquainted with the …habits and predilections of AI, FRIDAY’s was an efficient robotic monotone like any other. To Tony however, long used to the English butler-like pizzazz of one JARVIS- FRIDAY sounded faintly rattled. “Main common room. The facility is otherwise deserted, except you.”
“And you couldn’t-I don’t know, tell me that and ask to see if I wanted the suit?” The grumpiness was mostly put on-Tony’s heart was already beginning to hammer in his chest. He straightened his other arm to catch the right gauntlet flying towards him with far more grace than the first one.
“There is no one in the facility except you.” FRIDAY repeated, and…strange, while bits and pieces of the suit began to assemble around his body and adrenaline started trickling its way into his veins; a part of Tony’s mind was caught up in the thought that he’d programmed his AI against redundancies. Repetition served no purpose-and yet FRIDAY’s worried tones seeped into his ear anyway.
“Waiting for instructions mean anything to you?” The suit clanked as he made his way across the room-ducked under the doorway and started striding down the corridor. His heart was still refusing to still. The breastplate felt heavy on his chest.
There was something almost….determined, about FRIDAY’s answering words. “Not when I need to make decisions to protect your safety.”
Need. He heard, and his heart lurched and tightened, somehow at the same time. Can something artificial truly need anything?
He turned the corner, just as FRIDAY spoke, “Five hundred metres.” and heard the repulsors power up with a quiet whine. His heartbeat was still a thunderous cacophony in his ears, his mind stripping past a million thoughts per minute-there were so few people who could break into a facility secured by him, maybe…maybe someone who had broken out renegade superheroes from a high security government prison not too long ago. Why would they come here, had he come to finally finish it, take back his self-righteous instrument of justice and bring it down on Tony’s neck like-
The repulsor whine trailed off, light powering down faintly. He blinked, helmet free, chest still caught in a spasm and stared at the…pile of maroon lying on the floor?
Maybe Wanda had forgotten to take her garbage bag along, Tony thought wildly-except then the pile of maroon started uncurling with a groan, limbs unfolding and a hand coming up to rub a gingery head with a particularly afflicted sensibility. It was most definitely a man (though his overall appearance seemed to suggest that the garbage bag theory would have been quite sound)-though not a man that Tony had ever seen before.
His repulsors went right up again, voice colder than a freezing gale. “Who the hell are you?”
“Eh?” The man slowly raised himself to a sitting position, face too scrunched up in what was presumably pain to really make out any distinguishing features. Half open eyes squinted at Tony, then closed again-because apparently his visage was just too affecting.
“Start. Talking.” Or would you like your maroon ass seared to a crisp, served to you on a barbecue grill? He didn’t say it though. Maybe the Tony from eight years ago would have. Or six months.
“Quill.” The man mumbled, in a voice worthy of a thousand hangovers. His eyes flicked open again, and his brows came furrowing down. “No, wait. Lord.” A sequence of rapid blinks. “Peter? Star?”
The man squinted at his nose, then nodded vehemently. “Quill Lord Peter Star.”
Two strides, and Tony punched him in the head.
The man had a rather hard head.
So Tony reflected as he watched the man groggily come to, not even an hour after Tony had knocked him out. The colour of his eyes was still a little difficult to pin down, even as they flitted open and darted back and forth-from the manacles clamped on his wrists and ankles, secure enough to hold a berserking supersoldier or a crafty spysassin, to the empty eyeslits of the suits standing in the various alcoves of the darkened workshop-for intimidation purposes of course. In fact, he seemed to be scoping out pretty much everything in the surroundings except Tony, which was foolish and understandable because Iron Man was one terrifying motherfucker when he wished to be.
“I know my workshop is pretty much the closest it comes to a technological Shangri-La, and I’d stare at it all day too; but you’re almost hurting me with the lack of attention, Ginger.”
Ginger, ugh. He really was losing his touch. Fuck, had Cap run away with his ever-enchanting wit as well?
“I’d dare say he’s befuddled at waking up in someplace other than a cell, Mr Stark.” FRIDAY’s tone was downright flinty. And Mr Stark-double ugh. Someone wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding their disapproval.
Which was stupid, because no sensitive information was on open display, Ginger was chained to a chair and preliminary tests indicated no…foxily hidden abilities. Also the teensy little fact that Tony’s heart was racing at a million miles per hour again and his workshop was pretty much the only place he felt marginally safe these days.
“Mr Star-” Ginger’s mouth curled into a bleary, lopsided grin. “Hey, we have the same last name!”
….which wasn’t exactly the predictable response for a man hearing a disembodied voice for the first time, even if Tony’s AI were public secrets now. This was getting more and more suspicious by the minute.
“I’ll take the name change under advisement, but I’ve always rather hated stars.” A quick, rapier-sharp smile, and Tony was raising a charged up repulsor again. “You were caught trespassing in the Avengers facility. How did you get through security?”
Those reddish-brown brows were furrowing in confusion, even as Ginger straightened in his chair and finally established eye contact. Damn, the man didn’t look scared at all. “Is that….on Terra?”
“…what.” Flat as his voice could go-Tony was beginning to lose patience.
“Um.” More scrunching up of the brows. “…Earth. Yeah. Is this facility on earth?”
The whine of the repulsor was reaching levels beyond human hearing. Fuck, was this how his opponents felt every time he spewed gibberish during fights? It was freaking annoying. “No, we’re on the fucking moon.” Because we’re a bunch of elitist prigs who consider themselves superior to everyone else, apparently.
Ginger blinked. “Which moon?”
And…snap. That was the sound of his patience fracturing. “Look, I absolutely refuse to believe some mind-addled whackjob was able to break through my security systems so you better start spilling on how you did it and who sent you otherwise I’m going to start frying off body pa-”
The man’s eyes widened-finally, some form of reaction. “No, wait, I didn’t mean to-I don’t even know who you ar-”
Tony barked out a short, biting laugh. “Or maybe you really are addled. You could have gone for literally any other lie-”
“No, seriously, I do not know who you are-”
“You’re being held up at repulsor point,” Tony interrupted, aggravated and utterly not in the mood, “by Iron Man and you expe-”
“Iron who now?”
Tony stared at him.
“…ah, is it a code….sorry, outlaw name kinda thing? Sorry man. Iron Man, gotcha.”
“You’re telling me,” Tony began, slow and more than a little scathing, “that you have no idea who Iron Man or Tony Stark or the fucking Avengers are-”
Ginger fidgeted a little with his manacles. “I’m sensing yes isn’t the correct answer here?”
Tony stared some more.
“…you guys are famous, I’m guessing? Is it a band? Sorry man, it’s just that I’m into a bit of old timey music and I’m not really keeping up with the….Revengers or whoever the latest Terran rage are-“
“You know who the Avengers are. People living under rocks and inside wells and on the top of mountains know who the Avengers are, you know who I am.” Tony’s voice was taut, and vibrating. He could feel his knuckles whitening under the strain of clenching too tight-why was he getting so affected by this?
“-you’re probably the drummer, I like drummers man, they seem like very cool people even though people don’t know their names very well-”
“You will stop talking right now.” Tony gritted out and the man snapped his mouth shut. Huh, that was almost gratifying. If only he wasn’t pissed (panicked panicked who the fuck was this guy) out of his mind.
“Sentry mode.” He finally managed to say, and attempted to step out of the suit. The suit remained firmly non-cooperative.
“Decisions to protect your safety.” FRIDAY reiterated stiffly. Tony would facepalm if hitting a metal helmet with a metal gauntlet didn’t feel like sticking his head into a vibrating gong.
“You should probably listen to her.” Ginger affirmed, nodding his head agreeably. Tony might have let out an audible groan of despair at that. She’s trying to protect me from you, you idiot.
“Maybe he’s got Iron Man all mixed up with the Optimus Prime’s of his childhood, he’ll know my face.” And now he was making poor excuses at his AI. Goddamn this helmet, he needed to breathe. He needed to know how the hell this man sounded so sincere denying his knowledge of superheroic fuck up Tony Stark.
His faceplate slid up with a little snick. “Satisfied?” FRIDAY returned, tone arch and cool.
Meanwhile, Ginger was gawking at his face-thank god, Tony was beginning to feel all hurt in his massive little ego- “….so you are human.”
“Of course I’m human.” Tony snapped back. “Wait, is this some sort of screwed up hero worship thing because boy have you picked the wrong target…” Though maybe he hadn’t, Tony could do with some self-worth affirming, he definitely hadn’t had the reverent kind of sex from the right one-sided direction in way too long; no, no no, he was relapsing, he’d promised himself he wouldn’t succumb to every expectation and do the self-destructive thing again, he was better than this now.
(He had to be. Otherwise, he was stuck in square one, ground zero. The arms dealer who couldn’t do right even if the lives of everyone else depended on it.)
“Nah, it’s just Terra might have easily been colonised by other…” Ginger started, then paused himself midway as if just comprehending how much his words sounded like ‘hogwash’ and ‘balderdash’, with a little bit of ‘jabberwocky’ thrown in there. Wow, Lewis Carroll references; Tony’s brain was literally unsalvageable now.
Ginger gave his head a little shake. “Anyway, that obviously didn’t happen. You’ve just got a mechanised suit of…armour? Like a Knight?”
Tony blinked. Cool, yes. Devastating, yes. Sometimes even, ‘that ugly heap of scrap metal’. People used a wide array of descriptors for the Iron Man. Comparisons to symbols of nobility weren’t usually included among them.
“So the helmet has life support right?” Ginger continued with the questions, sounding almost eager. His hands were loose and relaxed within the manacles, like wearing them was an everyday occurrence. “So you’d be able to breathe in space?”
“…this model of the suit, yes.” He was startled into a response, that was it. The man’s lack of consternation at his situation was making him all frazzled. “Earlier ones, not so much.”
“Boss.” FRIDAY’s voice cut in, disapproval reaching dizzying heights.
Ginger seemed not to notice. “And I’m guessing the glowing lights at the centre of your gauntlets have propulsive properties as well as doubling as weapons.” The rest of the sentence dwindled into murmurs. “Too bad I only have the boots, hands would increase manoeuvrability like shit…”
“FRIDAY.” Tony asked and her voice chimed in dutifully, repeating the words that had gotten lost in the mumbles. “Yondu never said Terran tech had gotten so advanced.”
Ginger glared at him in indignation, Tony responded with the smuggest shrug he could muster. But honestly, enough was getting to be enough. “Okay, either I’m a Muggle or you’re completely off your rocker. Whichever way, you’re speaking absolute gibberish to me and my last reserves of patience ended…two minutes ago. FRIDAY, tell me some ways to make this guy sing?”
Disapproval set aside for the minute, FRIDAY chirped back like the loyal, dependable soul she was. “Torture usually yields unreliable info. There’s always sodium pentothal-truth serum for the uninitiated.”
“That was for your benefit.” Tony added. “FRIDAY is very helpful by nature. Thesaurus, bodyguard and private butler in one. I bet if I asked real nice, I could have her fly in a vial just for you. Don’t you feel special?”
That was for Ginger’s benefit too. Though of course, FRIDAY was indeed very helpful, and smart to boot because the tinny murmur from the helmet’s speaker reached only Tony’s ears. “Unreliable, otherwise we’d use them for witness questioning all the time. Polygraph’s the same.”
The charade obviously wasn’t helping much though. Ginger still had yet to look more than mildly perturbed; in fact, his next face was downright considerate. “Look, I’m not here to do you any harm. Just let me go, outside of the…facility, you said? I promise I won’t return and you can go back to talking to your computer and stomping around your own house in armour-”
I don’t stomp, Tony wanted to say, though something probably stupid like this isn’t my house or it keeps me safe would have escaped his lips instead. Thankfully, Ginger had to interrupt with, “Also, sodium pentothal doesn’t work the way you think. Sorry if you guys hadn’t figured that out yet.” And he actually sounded apologetic about it too.
Right, enough games. “You’re not leaving until I find out how you got in.” And then, he’d be delivered right into Ross’ hands. Technicalities were nice that way.
Ginger exhaled an annoyed breath-annoyed, fucking hell, annoyed, like he’d been taken captive by Super Strength Guy #207 instead of being threatened by Iron Man, maybe Tony needed to re-evaluate torture as a viable option-and forced out, “Okay, fine. My friends were being assholes…”
Well, isn’t that just the universal truth.
“…and we were having some down time so they thought I needed to ‘face my past’ and ‘secrets weigh down on your soul, Star Lord’ and ‘you’re being a pansy-assed coward, Quill’ and baby Groot hasn’t quite mastered his vocal cords yet…”
“Do I normally sound like this?” Tony threw as an aside to FRIDAY, just for curiosity’s sake. It would explain all the assassination attempts. FRIDAY chose to wisely remain silent.
“…except facing my past kinda involves being back on Terra so they freaking beamed me down in my sleep…”
“Wait, like Star Trek beamed you down? Scotty, energise?” The scorn was a little difficult to disguise; Tony didn’t quite bother to put in the effort. Maybe the man was a pathological liar. Still sounded better than a moron breaking into the Facility’s security.
Ginger’s eyebrows pulled together in consternation. “I’m not quite sure I know what you’re-” except then his eyebrows straightened right back up, and jeez, it was like someone had switched on a light bulb in his eyes, they got so bright. (Tony wasn’t a poetic kind of guy, sue him. It would be disquieting if he got all poetic about the eyes of a delusional cat burglar anyway).
Meanwhile, Ginger was all aflutter with good cheer. “Wait, I remember that! Space: the final frontier, right? Is that still going on?”
Christ on a pogo stick, they were just getting absolutely nowhere. Tony jabbed two metal fingers into the pressure points above his eyebrows, in a vain attempt to hold off the steadily building headache. “Right, okay. I’m hoping you got high after you broke into the Facility-”
“-not helping.” Tony pressed his teeth together till his jaws grew numb, took a deep breath and restarted. “Yes. High after you reached. Or pretending to be an imbecile. Pick one option, and I’ll be back for you after I send alerts to War Machine and Vision-that’s the guy with the God voice and the head laser beams-in addition to the Feds, CIA, NYPD…provided I can coax them off their individual tv shows. Or…you could choose to be nice and cooperative and tell me everything, and you won’t end up in a room without doors for the rest of your life. Understand me?”
“Of course.” Ginger said, nodding in agreement.
Tony swivelled on his feet (much harder in the armour than you’d think) and clanked out of the room, leaving a tied-up Ginger and far too many questions than his overtaxed brain had the capacity to deal with. He had thrice-damned paperwork to do, ill-advised decisions about antique flip phones to be made. This was mucking up his schedule considerably.
“I don’t suppose you’ll actually be contacting Colonel Rho-” FRIDAY began dryly.
“He has better things to concern himself with.” Like his rehabilitation. His precarious position within the Air Force. Whether it was worth holding on to his precarious position as an Avenger. Anything other than his irresponsible bes…irresponsible friend, who couldn’t keep him goddamn safe in a bloody scrimmage for heaven’s sake-
“He’d want to know, this could pose a considerable threat to your wellbeing-”
“All the more reason to keep him out of it.” He’d reached the main floor of the Facility; a couple of turns and longish corridors later, he was making his way across the darkened common area, headed straight for the refrigerator. He pulled the door open, surveying the empty racks with only bottles of water stowed at the bottom with an exhaustion unwarranted by the situation. He was fine. He was hydrating himself. Food was for the weak. Friends were for the weak. He was fine.
He should stop staring and start drinking from that bottle sometime soon. No wait, bad phrasing.
Fine motor control or not, holding a plastic bottle in a superhumanly powerful metal gauntlet was just asking for trouble. “Sentry mode?” He asked again, this time a little archly and inclined his head in mock gratitude when the suit opened right up. “Much thanks.”
“Only here to help, boss.” FRIDAY snarked back and Tony felt the shadow of a smile prod tentatively at his lips despite himself. Unscrewing the bottle cap with the twist of a thumb and the index finger, Tony tilted his head back and drained the contents; water glugging peacefully down his throat, the motion almost meditative. Once the bottle was empty and he’d wiped the last clinging drops from his chin, he almost felt better.
Only one thing guaranteed instant mood upliftment: eighties rock. Out of respect to the neighbours, who were basically all of Snow White’s feathery friends that squatted around the Facility and probably wouldn’t appreciate being deafened, Tony opted for the MP3 player and trailing headphones instead of the surround sound speakers. Insane guitar solos, here we come.
… Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me…
Even as Tony started pacing down towards the workshop again, he could catch traces of FRIDAY’s voice over familiar beats thrumming in his eardrums. Just the basic facts…can you show me where it hurts? Probably something about wearing the suit before going down again. She’d get over it eventually. She had no choice. Wasn’t like she could leave.
I can't explain you would not understand...this is not how I am.
Maybe that was an issue. Maybe he should ask. She had as much right as anybody to give up on him.
The door to the workshop slid open and Tony drifted inside, rubbing his hands together. I have become…comfortably.. “Alright Chucky, I will have your confession in writing, preferably double spaced and twelve-point font-”
From whereon he would have proceeded to even pithier remarks, Pink Floyd serving as pleasant accompaniment; except for the tiny part where Ginger was no longer tied down to the chair-in fact, he was standing with one broken, smoking manacle hanging from his wrist and the other, and this part is the kicker really- and his other hand enclosed in an Iron Man gauntlet.
Fuck being jealous of Barnes, this was a whole new level of possessive rage. The words were as cheery as ever, except of the part where they’d been leeched out of any kind of human warmth. “Yeah, you clearly don’t know who I am. Otherwise you’d know to keep your hands off my stuff.”
The mild consternation in the man’s eyes-yeah he was the man again, screw cutesy nicknames-finally upgraded itself to some real alarm. Probably by the very, very real murder in Tony’s own eyes. “Look, I don’t want to cause any trouble, I’m sorry for this-”
His hand twitched upwards, probably to point the gauntlet at Tony’s face and fire his own repulsor at him, oh he could just try- except that motion aborted just as quickly as it had begun, the man’s gaze caught by…the earbuds trailing from Tony’s ears?
“Is that tiny stick.” The man began in a measured tone, but it didn’t stay that way very long. “Playing music.”
…and it started to trickle in slowly, a horrible sort of realisation creeping up in Tony’s brain that needed to be deprived of its genius card immediately- the questions, the ignorance of facts that would be common knowledge for any reasonable person living in this world, the almost puppyish excitement at recognising Star Trek that called back almost too easily to I understood that reference, all of which built up to an awful kind of déjà vu and an even more awful conclusion…
“Please don’t tell me you were frozen in ice for ninety years.”
“Don’t be ridiculous- I was in space.” The man grinned weakly, then startled slightly as the gauntlet on his hand depowered with a whine. FRIDAY to the rescue.
“Well, drat.” The man kept grinning, though it was getting weaker by the second and a lot more desperate. His eye darted to a little pouch on the nearest counter, one that he made a grab for a second later.
Tony stared at the red-and-gold fingers holding the plastic bag aloft. The man made another valiant attempt at a smile.