Justin Hammer went to jail.
Prison, actually, but 'prison' didn't have the alliteration with 'Justin' that 'jail' did. And Tony really liked the sound of 'Justin Hammer went to jail.'
Justin Hammer was going to be in jail for a long time. Even with good behavior, Tony figured he wasn't going to have to put up with that asshole for at least ten years. Probably more, since it was unlikely that Hammer was ever going to be associated with any major corporation again. That whole 'busting a crazy Russian dude out of prison and letting him build evil robots' thing was kind of a black mark on Hammer's record.
So, even though Tony was now an Avenger, and occasionally saved the world from nefarious criminal masterminds (okay, they'd only stopped Loki so far, but whatever), he knew that Hammer, at least, was someone he wasn't going to have to worry about for a long, long time.
And that was going great—except for one little problem.
While Justin Hammer was in jail, he wrote a book. It was half autobiography and half exposé of the world of weapons manufacturing, and Hammer had actually managed to find a publisher for the damn thing.
That wasn't so surprising, really. Hammer had gained quite a bit of infamy after his little stunt.
It wasn't surprising that someone would publish his stupid book. It was just unfortunate.
Because in the second half of chapter eight, starting on page 194, Hammer went into what Tony thought was unnecessary detail about how, in early 2010, he'd spent the night with Tony Stark.
And not just spent the night. 'Spent the night.'
Of course Tony hadn't read the damn book. He had better things to do. Like...stab himself in the face with an icepick or something. No, he hadn't read it.
He heard about it on the news.
A couple of weeks before the book was released to the public, a few advance copies were sent out. The reviews were middling. Like everything else in Hammer's life, the book seemed to be mediocre. Except for chapter eight. Chapter eight merited a second look. Chapter eight raised some interesting questions.
Or, as the headline on CNN said, "Tony Stark Slept With Justin Hammer?"
That's what Tony had tuned into one drizzly morning a couple of weeks after the attempted invasion of Earth. He'd had plans that day to meet with his contractor about finishing up repairs to the Tower, plans to have lunch with his new physicist on staff, plans to hassle the supersoldier and assassins who were supposed to stop by for a 'team meeting' about the reconstruction of Manhattan.
He had not planned on this.
When he'd tuned in, the news anchors were just starting to speculate that the animosity towards each other that Tony and Hammer had exhibited in mid-2010 had been due to their previous tryst. Clearly, their hatred for each other was just suppressed sexual desire, aching to get out.
Tony wanted to puke.
It took Pepper about three minutes after that to call him from her office several floors below. She didn't even greet him when he answered, just launched immediately into lecture mode. "Justin Hammer, Tony?"
Tony had, for the last couple of minutes, mostly been watching the report, stupefied, and had not yet had much time to process. All he could offer was a weak, "...No? Pep, I don't—"
"I mean, you've done some pretty mortifying things when you were drunk, but this? Tony!"
More coherent, he said, "I didn't! Pep, that's disgusting." He paused, then added, "It's Hammer. I have standards."
That was the real issue, of course. Tony wasn't overly particular about who he slept with, as long as they were enthusiastic. In fact, he was kind of offended that Hammer thought Tony would be embarrassed about the whole 'sleeping with a guy' revelation. Clearly, Hammer didn't keep up with the tabloids—it wasn't a secret that Tony had been with guys before. That wasn't the issue with Hammer's little story at all.
The issue was that it was Hammer. Tony would rather saw his dick off with a blunt knife.
And, ugh, if people thought he was the kind of person who'd sleep with Hammer? That was what was embarrassing.
Oblivious to Tony's horror, Pepper said coolly, "He's saying you did."
"He's lying!" It was, Tony thought, a pretty low blow. Now that he was finally connecting dots and putting this together, he was getting pretty angry. That asshole. Tony hoped the upcoming libel suit was worth it, because he was going to sue the shit out of him.
"If his publisher thought he was lying, they wouldn't have printed it, Tony." Pepper had transitioned back to being cool and professional. "They wouldn't want to make a lawsuit that easy."
Tony was becoming less cool and professional. "What, you think I actually did that? Did him? You think he has proof or something? He lied to his publisher, too!"
On the other end of the line, Pepper sighed. "No, Tony, I don't think you actually did that. Even you have some self-respect. But I think you need to talk to him."
Tony snorted. "Kinda late for that, don't you think?" Also, Tony didn't want to talk to Hammer. Ever. That guy was a Class A douche. And talking about something like this? That'd be about ten thousand times worse than talking about new tech (Tony's, not Hammer's pathetic imitations) or something.
"He could recant," Pepper said. "Take it back."
"I doubt it," Tony replied. "'Cause then I could sue the shit out of him, no problem." He sighed. "This is gross, Pep."
She chuckled, tense. "Yeah. Look, I'll see if I can set something up with our publicist, try to get this under control. Stay out of trouble until then, okay?"
Tony sighed again. This was already a PR nightmare and it had only been five minutes. "Sure."
"Good. I'll call you later."
She hung up, and Tony hadn't even set his phone down when it began to ring again. This time, it was a blocked number.
Ugh. That meant it was probably one of three people, none of whom he wanted to talk to right now. Especially if they wanted to talk about this new, horrifying development in his personal life. But ignoring calls from SHIELD was never advisable, and indeed often impossible, so Tony answered with a terse, "What?"
"Geez, someone's touchy this morning."
Great. Barton. Just who Tony wanted to hear from. "Can it, Merida. What do you want?"
"To mock you, mostly," Clint answered cheerfully. "Nat and I played rock paper scissors over who'd get the joy of calling."
"And you won."
"Damn straight I did. Best part of my week, too. So. Hammer? I mean, wow. I knew you had a history of bad decisions, but really? Hammer?"
Tony considered hanging up. Instead, he ground out, "I. Didn't. Sleep. With. Justin. Hammer. Now, does this call have an actual purpose, or is that all?"
Clint paused for a moment. "Nah, that's all for now. If we think of something else, we'll call—"
This time, Tony did hang up.
He got a few minutes alone then, and he used the time to eat a couple of the multigrain breakfast bars that Pepper stocked up on. They tasted like cardboard, but he wasn't in the mood to be particular.
After about ten minutes of thoughtful chewing, he got a frantic call from his publicist. She was still working, but advised him to say absolutely nothing to anyone while they tried to get a handle on this. She also advised him against leaving the Tower.
Tony was amenable to that, because at the moment, he mostly wanted to punch someone in the face.
That particular feeling only lasted a few minutes, though. Well, maybe half an hour. Once the shock had begun to wear off and the flurry of phone calls he was ignoring died down, his anger cooled off some. What was there to be angry about, really? Hammer was a lying sack of shit trying to embarrass him. But he was Tony Stark, damn it, and he didn't do 'embarrassed.' He had no shame.
He would not be humiliated.
Besides, Tony was totally going to sue him. Hammer couldn't honestly think he could just claim something like that and not get sued. So really, there was nothing to get worked up about at all.
Well, except for the fact that everyone seemed so willing to believe he'd actually slept with Hammer. Sure, for the first half of 2010, he'd been a little...unstable. He'd blown up a portion of his house on his birthday, after all, and there'd been that thing in Monaco. And before that, in the first few months of the year when he'd figured out he was dying, he'd spent a lot of time at the bottom of a bottle of scotch, but geez, he'd still had standards. He hadn't been above getting blackout drunk several times a week, but he had sure as hell been above sleeping with Justin Hammer.
Did anyone hate themselves enough to sleep with Hammer?
Tony didn't think so.
He snapped the TV off with authority and stood up. He had plans for today, and he was going to stick with them, damn it. His publicist would handle the situation—that's what she was paid for, after all—and Tony could call his lawyers up later and start working out a libel suit. Easy peasy.
With that, he made his way to the elevator and headed down to the conference room where he'd scheduled his meeting with his contractor. Well, JARVIS had, anyway.
That went about as Tony had planned. His contractor, like a true professional, made no references to what was currently flying around in the media. Instead, he dived right into business. Repairs to the Tower were nearly finished. The only thing left, really, was fixing the sign on the building, and the only reason that hadn't been completed was that Tony was waffling about whether or not he wanted it to say 'Stark' again. He thought it might be nice to leave the lone A. One, it was a good memento of what had happened. Two, he was toying with the idea of setting up a kind of team headquarters, since he thought it would be good if 'the Avengers' were separate from SHIELD, at least in their lodging.
And who didn't want a team of superheroes living with them?
After that meeting (in which nothing was really resolved; Tony just couldn't decide about the sign), Tony headed to R&D for his lunch date with Bruce.
Bruce had been the first superhero Tony had convinced to come live with him; he'd moved in just after the battle. Tony didn't know how long he was staying, and he didn't push. So far, it'd been a couple of weeks, and Bruce still seemed to be pretty involved in his projects, so Tony didn't figure he was about to up and leave. And if Tony provided the occasional incentive to stay, like shiny lab equipment and rare samples? Well, no crime in that.
Bruce was working in his usual lab, and Tony bounded in with a bright, "What's up, honey?"
Looking up from his microscope, Bruce said, "You're cheerful today."
Ah. Seemed like Bruce hadn't yet heard the latest bit of celebrity gossip. This wasn't a surprise—the man was, at best, indifferent to pop culture and, at worst, oblivious. Tony knew that he had a television (all the guest suites did) but he didn't know if Bruce ever turned his on. Probably not. He was more the type to read Physics Today or something equally boring.
Tony saw no reason to fill him in, since he thought it would be nice to spend the rest of his morning in relative peace, and so just answered, "Yup! It's a bright, happy day. What's not to be cheerful about?"
Bruce looked pointedly out the window where rain was running down in rivulets. "Bright?"
Ugh, some people were just so hypercritical. "Whatever. What're you working on?"
Bruce just shrugged. "Same as usual. You ready for lunch?"
Tony was. "Yep." He momentarily considered the fact that he'd been advised against leaving the Tower. Then he dismissed it. Hammer could fuck off; Tony wasn't going to let him get in between him and the burger he was so desperately craving. "Let's go."
Bruce finished up what he was doing, and then the pair made their way down to the ground level of the building and slipped out a side door, heading for a pub a couple of blocks away.
They didn't make it.
Which was entirely Tony's fault, he'd admit. He hadn't felt like putting on a disguise or something—he just wanted lunch, damn it—but he'd thrown on a hoodie and sunglasses. This was usually enough to get him from the Tower to the pub in question, but the media were out in droves today, and far more vigilant than normal.
About a minute into their journey, a reporter appeared from nowhere (causing Tony to wonder if she had some kind of invisibility powers or something) and shoved her phone in Tony's face. "Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark, do you have anything to say about the rumors related to Justin Hammer's new book—"
As if summoned by her egregious rudeness, within seconds, a crowd had gathered, all yelling variations on that question at the top of their lungs.
Bruce coughed quietly. "Uh, Tony, this is kinda, um, awkward—"
A camera flashed, blindingly bright.
"—And annoying," Bruce finished, blinking quickly.
"Yeah, I know," Tony muttered. Bruce had a talent for understatement. "Let's get out of here."
Tony adjusted his sunglasses and then led the way, pushing through the gathered crowd. They were mostly unyielding, and Tony thought for a moment that Bruce's alter ego would be really helpful about now, but eventually they made it back into the safe, security-code protected confines of the Tower.
Leaning against the wall just inside the door, Bruce took a few deep breaths. Then he asked, "So, uh, anything you want to tell me? Who's Justin Hammer?"
"Really? You don't know?" That had been a pretty big story. But then, Bruce had been kind of busy that week, if Tony remembered correctly. So he explained, "He's this asshole who used to run a weapons company. One of my 'competitors,'" Tony used air quotes forcefully. "Basically, he and his crazy Russian contractor did some really shady stuff that ended up ruining my expo in 2010 and threatening the lives of everyone and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. So he went to prison. And he's apparently used his vacation to write a book..."
"...And?" Bruce prompted, eyebrows furrowed.
"He says that I slept with him," Tony admitted, trying and failing to keep his irritation out of his voice. "Which of course has everyone all riled up, which I don't get because why does everyone assume he's telling the truth?" He stomped towards the elevator.
"Well," Bruce answered, straightening up and following. "If he were lying, that'd open him up to one hell of a lawsuit, right?"
"There is no 'if!'" Tony practically snarled. "I didn't sleep with Justin Hammer!"
Placatingly, Bruce said, "Of course not. I'm just saying, he has to have a pretty good reason for publishing that, if he knows he's going to be sued."
Tony jabbed the 'up' button for the elevator ferociously. But then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There was nothing to be angry about. He'd already gone over this. More calmly, he replied, "Yeah. Well, he doesn't like me very much." Understatement, but whatever. "Probably thinks the value of my mortification outweighs the money he's going to lose by printing it. He's a pretty rich guy, even after the whole prison thing. Probably how he got his publisher to go along with it. Asshole."
Bruce nodded. "Well, you are going to sue him, right? You have to do something."
Tony shrugged, discontented. "Obviously."
Shrugging a little, Bruce said, "He doesn't seem to care about the money, though. I mean, would suing him really be punishment?"
"What?" That was a good point. Taking Hammer's money wouldn't really hurt him (What use did he have for it in prison, anyway?). No, if Tony really wanted to get him where it hurt, he was going to need to do something else.
But Tony wasn't listening. Because suddenly, he was having ideas. Grand ideas. Ideas that were so good, they might actually be terrible.
Bruce's eyebrows shot up, presumably at the look on Tony's face. "No. I don't know what you're thinking, but no."
Tony grinned. "I'm not going to let that asshole one-up me. I don't need his money. No, I'm going to do something so much better."
Bruce sighed, resigned. "I don't want anything to do with it."
Tony clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it. But thanks for the inspiration. If anyone asks, I'll say it was your idea."
The two of them got onto the elevator.
"Tony," Pepper asked kindly, patiently, "Are you insane?"
He looked up from the news article he was reading. "No?"
"Oh. Then what the hell is this?"
It was two days after news of Justin Hammer's book had started circulating, and Tony had been busy.
Hammer had tried to humiliate him by saying that they'd slept together. Which was embarrassing. Not because Tony was upset that people would think that he'd slept with a guy—that didn't matter—but because people would think he'd slept with Hammer. That was indescribably disgusting, and Tony wasn't going to let it stand.
He'd considered suing for libel, but that just didn't seem right. Hammer didn't care about the money, he just wanted Tony humiliated. So Tony needed to take control of this situation some other way.
He thought he'd done an admirable job.
The 'this' in question was Pepper's tablet, open to a popular celebrity gossip site. And the giant headline at the top of the page? It read: "Tony Stark Confirms Reports of Liaison With Justin Hammer." Then, in smaller print, "Billionaire Says It Was a 'Drunken Mistake' and 'Wasn't Very Good.'" The rest of the article was taken up with Tony's interview, which more or less amounted to an indictment of Hammer's ability in the sack, and contained a few choice words about the size of Hammer's little hammer.
It was, in Tony's opinion, a glorious editorial piece. He hadn't wanted the world to think he was the kind of person who'd sleep with Hammer, but the article handled that surprisingly well for a celebrity gossip site. In fact, Tony came across pretty sympathetically. Probably more sympathetically than he deserved, given what he was doing. He was really being a dick, after all.
But Hammer had started it.
"That," Tony answered Pepper's question, "Is my libel suit."
Pepper gave a long, drawn out sigh. "Couldn't you have just sued him?"
Tony smirked. "I could have, sure. But this is so much better. I mean, really, it was Bruce's idea anyway."
Pepper frowned. "Really? It doesn't seem like him..."
"It totally was."
"Hmm." And then she turned and strode from the room.
Tony briefly considered calling Bruce, or giving him some kind of heads up about who was heading his way.
In the end, he decided against it. It was only a matter of time before they realized what had gone on and the pair of them came for him, anyway.
So he went to hide in his workshop instead, briefly toying with the idea of overriding their access codes. But then, the way he figured it, he could stand one lecture without putting a single dent in his glee at what he'd accomplished with his 'libel suit.'
He was right, too; he went to bed that night just as cheerful as he'd been when JARVIS had told him that the article had been published.