“I haven’t seen him today, Director.”
Fury leveled an irritated glare at Bruce. He’d been searching for Tony all morning, and while every other Avenger he’d asked claimed not to know Tony’s whereabouts, he had a feeling that Bruce of all people would have a clue. Besides, those two had been practically glued at the hip lately - something about a new hulk-controlling innovation.
“Is that so? Didn’t the both of you go out to that Japanese place last night and then come back two hours later to the Tower together with Happy driving you?”
Bruce raised an eyebrow at the very accurate recalling of last night’s events back to him.
“What, were you spying on us? Look, he told me specifically not to let you know where he was headed when he left. I promised him I wouldn’t tell.”
“I’ve been telling that son of a bitch for weeks that if he was going to take a day, it could be any day except today, and I also made sure through hours and hours of tedious re-scheduling, mind you, that his schedule would be cleared for today!” Fury exploded, holding true to his name.
Bruce shrank back from him and watched him with a wary eye.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Justin Hammer has been...tactfully implying that he intends to disrupt the Stark Expo this weekend, whatever that means, unless Tony meets with him beforehand to discuss some ‘business matters.’ We’ve launched an investigation into Hammer, but no one at SHIELD is able to find enough evidence to have him taken into custody.”
“Oh! Is there a reason I didn’t know about this beforehand? I wouldn’t have told him to go, it’s partially my fault.”
“He knew what he was doing,” Fury said dismissively, “But I need to know his location. That’s an order, by the way.”
“Alright, alright. He told me he was headed to his place in Malibu for a couple of days.”
Fury nodded and then made a hasty exit from the lab without any type of thank-you to Bruce. Not that Bruce expected one.
He immediately picked up his StarkPhone and shot out a text to Tony.
@bbanner: hey had to tell Fury where u went sorry
Tony’s texting bubble popped up on the screen almost immediately.
@tonystark: no biggie not actually going to malibu
Bruce stared at the text in disbelief before hitting the call button. Like the text, Tony’s response was immediate.
“Hey Brucie,” he said cheerfully.
“Don’t ‘hey Brucie’ me! Fury’s going to be all over my tail when he finds out I told him a lie, so thanks for that, but you do know that Hammer probably isn’t playing around with his threats, right?”
“Hammer is all bark and no bite. I wasn’t going to sit through one of his torturous lectures. I’ll be back in time for the Stark Expo.”
“I don’t know about that. He seems like a troublemaker to me,” Bruce responded easily. “Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten the stunt he pulled at last year’s Expo?”
“Of course not,” Tony sighed. Bruce could detect a note of exasperation moving into his tone, but he didn’t quite care at the moment because he had Tony’s best interests at heart, whether his science bro knew it or not.
Following a pause of silence, Tony seemed to realize that Bruce had nothing to say to that, so he continued, “Don’t worry about me. Seriously. I’ll be able to handle whatever Hammer has in mind. For now, I just needed a bit of a break from everything, and I’m sorry I told you a bit of a lie, but I can’t have anyone tracking me down.”
“Huh. Fine, it’s your funeral,” Bruce replied mildly.
“Alright, well, I’ll be seeing you. Let Peter know that I’m just taking a couple of days right now and that he’s welcome into the lab anytime.”
“Will do. Talk to you later.”
The call may have ended, but Bruce’s suspicions of Justin Hammer didn’t. He swiveled around in his chair and typed the 24-digit code into Tony’s computer system (it had taken him a total of two months to be able to type it in from memory) to start investigating Hammer’s past. Tony was probably right about the whole bark and no bite thing, but anything that concerned Tony’s safety was high on his priority list; better safe than sorry.
Tony, on the other hand, hadn’t even apprised Happy to his whereabouts. Virtually nobody knew where he’d gone to - something that was rare and that the genius relished.
Or, at least, that’s what he thought. He had a habit of ignoring the fact that of all the people in the world, he was one of the most powerful, and powerful people had powerful enemies.
Three pairs of identically-dark eyes watched Tony’s jet black, sleek Maserati launch across the backroads of a nearby city.
“Think we should deploy Boss’s trap yet, Ty?” one of the men growled.
“I already sent Pierce out the minute we saw Stark come around that bend. He’ll be showing up any minute now.”
Show up he did; just seconds later, a rinky-dink pickup truck puttered down the road from the opposite direction that Tony was headed in. Despite its non-threatening appearance, that truck was purposefully plated with sturdy panels of a metallic alloy that could withstand a ridiculous amount of damage. The distance between the cars was quickly closing, and a, “What’s the idiot doing? Doesn’t he know to stick to the plan?” rang out from the one man of the three who hadn’t yet spoken.
“Shut the hell up,” another returned.
Finally, the silence was broken by a screeching of tires and a crunching of metal colliding head-on with more metal.
Gray, billowing smoke obscured the scene from view initially and took a minute to clear, at which time Ty crowed, “Like taking candy from a baby! I’ll be back. Zane, stay with Elio.”
“I don’t need to be goddamn watched!” Elio automatically snapped.
“No? Until you can prove it, your ass is mine and you do what I tell you.”
With that, Ty made his way towards the site of the collision, ignoring the insults Elio hurled at his turned back.
The scent of burning rubber was almost overwhelming. Ty cleared his throat with a harsh cough. Tony had been driving at such a high speed that the collision had taken a serious toll on his car. The driver’s side, which was the side Pierce hit heaed-on, was almost entirely caved in, and scraps of metal had been thrown as far as sixty or so feet.
Back at the Tower, the team had settled down into the common room for one of their movie night Fridays. Steve, as he’d done for as long as he could remember, took a seat on one of the two loveseats in the room. Usually, he and Tony sat together, Natasha and Clint sat together on the only other loveseat, and then Bruce and Thor stretched out on the bigger couch. Peter usually joined Bruce and Thor on the days he showed up.
Clint tossed his legs over Natasha’s lap and directed a pointed look in Steve’s direction.
“Looks like you’re on your own now, Stevie. It’s a shame your boyfriend decided to take a day off without inviting the rest of us!”
“Shut up, Clint,” Steve said with an exasperated eye-roll, hastily adding, “and Tony is not my boyfriend!”
“But you wish he was!” Clint tossed out, grinning.
“We all know you do!”
Steve dared a look around the room. Everybody, including Thor, the most oblivious of them all to what he referred to as ‘Midgardian affairs,’ gave him a nod or sheepish smile of some sort, indicating that the all of them agreed with Clint.
Had he really been being that transparent about his feelings for Tony?
Of course, he’d keep right on denying that there was any inkling of a thing between the two of them for as long as he could simply because he wanted the rest of the team out of his business when it came to Tony. Why would a guy who could win over any supermodel of his choosing just by flashing them a smile go for Steve? There was no way in a million years Tony would reciprocate any of the feelings Steve had for him.
In an alternate universe, maybe, but definitely not this one.
“-eve, Steve, Steveeee!”
He startled. Clint was barely ten inches from his face.
“Finally!” Clint huffed. “Zoned out on us there, pal. Thinking about Tony?” he added mischievously, smirking when Steve didn’t immediately refute his question. Instead, Steve cleared his throat and caught Natasha’s eye over Clint’s head.
“So! What are we watching, again? Something about a jungle?”
Clint straightened up indignantly. “The Jungle Book! Only the greatest movie to ever exist, thank you very much!”
“Right,” Steve continued, quick to fill any bouts of silence that might otherwise be used to comment on his not-so-subtle change in the topic of conversation, “Let’s put that on.”
He was busy sliding the DVD into the connected TV port when the shrieking of an alarm sounded. Startled, he jerked upright and snapped his eyes toward the ceiling, demanding, “JARVIS, shut that off! What’s going on? Is the city under attack?”
“Not quite, Captain Rogers, but I have detected a drastic drop in Sir’s vitals. I believe he may be in need of assistance.”
Tony. Panic flared up in Steve’s chest.
“Do you have any other details, JARVIS? Anything on where he’s at?”
“Nothing,” the AI returned, a note of frustration underlying its next words, “Sir disabled my capabilities to track his location prior to his leaving. Details on his vitals are all I can offer you at present.”