For a moment Tony stared in disbelief at the door Fury and his red-headed little spy had just left through.
But he couldn’t deal with this shit right now, if there was actually something in Howard’s notes that could help him, he had to find it and he damn well would. After that, though…
And what the hell had they done to Jarvis to disable all communication?
He turned around to Coulson. “Please. First thing, I need a little bodywork. I’ll put in a little time at the lab. If we could send one of your goon squad down to The Coffee Bean, Cross Creek, for a Starbucks run, or something like that, that’d be nice.”
If he wanted to get anything done now, he needed coffee and lots of it. His poor kitchen was trashed after the party and fight last night and he was still hungover as fuck.
“I’m not here for that. I’ve been authorized by Director Fury to use any means necessary to keep you on premises. If you attempt to leave or play any games, I will tase you and watch Supernanny while you drool into the carpet. Okay?”
Okay? Did that bastard really just threaten him with a taser? As much as Tony wanted to throw him and his three buddies out the door right fucking now, he was suddenly very conscious of the fact that he was in the minority, his suit was downstairs, Jarvis seemed to be out of commission and could not help and apparently they had disabled any communication to the outside world. A cold shiver ran down his back and he swallowed.
He needed to be careful for now, nearly dying of heart failure in his living room once had been enough, thank you very much.
Making sure his face and tone gave nothing away, he replied. “I think I got it, yeah.”
Walking away, Coulson replied. “Enjoy your evening’s entertainment.”
The first thing Tony did was head into the server room below his lab. What had these fuckers done to Jarvis? He needed to fix him immediately and find out how the hell they managed to disable him.
After an hour of combing through protocols, files and lines and lines of code he found remnants of the virus that Stane had used and which had allowed SHIELD a weak spot to attack. Cursing at himself and his godfather, who even in death still managed to backstab him, Tony eradicated any last hint of that code and was done in minutes.
“Jarvis, are you there?” Tony asked, breath shaking slightly.
“I am indeed Sir. Thank you for your help in restoring my protocols. I am stilling running analysis on 36% of my code, but everything essential seems to be in order. Are you well, Sir? What happened?”
Hearing Jarvis’s soothing voice was like music to his ears. The first thing he would do, if he managed to find a cure for himself, was to give Jarvis’s servers and firewalls a major upgrade; no one would ever mess with him again!
“Check the security footage of the last hour, Jarvis.” The joke was on SHIELD for that. After his godfather had nearly killed him in his own living room, Tony had added several redundancies in his security, even sabotaging Jarvis hadn’t stopped the cameras or microphones from recording.
“I see. How do you wish to proceed Sir? Should I contact the local PD as well as SI legal?” Jarvis enquired, a sharp tone in his voice.
Now that he was back up and running, that cute little block SHIELD put up to stop him from communicating with the outside world crumbled to dust under Jarvis’s power.
Tony was no fool, he had had enough people trying to manipulate, seduce and use him over the years, he knew something was up the second Natalie had stepped into the ring with Happy. After the way she had dropped Happy on the mat and seeing her underwear pictures, he didn’t know how he was supposed to miss her being a honeypot? Seriously, who included half naked pictures to get hired into the legal department? Seeing as he had been well on his way to dying, he hadn’t actually cared all that much, he had been mostly curious what she was there for.
But now he was pissed. And SHIELD was going rue the day they decided to prey on him. Jabbing a needle into his neck without knowledge or consent? Their little cocktail could have reacted to anything else he had tried, and they had no fucking clue about any of it. Not to mention the stabbing of a needle into his jugular! But, hey what could go wrong, right?
Why did they have Howard’s research notes, decades after his death? What else had they decided he didn’t need to have or know about?
Then the break-in into his house, all these people crawling over his belongings and Coulson on top of it threatening him and sending him to his room like a misbehaving toddler.
And the one thing he could not, would not forgive was attacking Jarvis. How dare they? Wrong Move.
No, they were done and he would show them not to mess with him. No more Mr. Nice Guy. They seemed to be under the delusion that he was their doormat and he would just take all the crap they heaped on him. From now on they would get the Tony Stark that was feared in boardroom meetings, the Tony Stark that the business world pretty quickly learned to take seriously despite his youth, when he took over as CEO. They would get Tony. fucking. Stark.
A vicious smirk slowly spread on Tony’s face as he replied. “Call Henderson and Fredrick from legal, they’ll be in charge. Send them all the footage from the last hour, as well as the audio feed from the suit during what happened earlier in the donut shop. They need to keep an eye on Natalie Rushman in legal, who turns out, is actually a SHIELD spy named Natasha Romanoff. I want them to go for trespassing, assault, medical procedure without consent, murder threats, corporate espionage and whatever else they can stick to them.”
Why the fuck had he let this go on for as long as he had? He had known from the beginning that there was something fishy about Natashalie, hadn’t he? SI had a spy in legal! He could only blame the palladium poisoning, his head was getting foggier every day and apparently his IQ dropped too.
He growled and added. “Have them triple and quadruple check everything Rushman/Romanoff has even breathed near! If any of our contracts fall through because of SHIELD’s sabotage, they will get slapped with the mother of all lawsuits on top of it. Please inform Pepper and Happy as well and tell them all to play along for now and get started on the legal side in the background. I don’t have time to take care of this right now, I need to find something in Howard’s notes.”
“It will be my absolute pleasure, Sir.” Jarvis confirmed, dark satisfaction curling around his words.
“Jarvis, do we have a super-8 projector somewhere? Seems like I’m looking at home-videos now…”
“Indeed Sir, I will locate it for you.”
Tony set up the projector Jarvis had unearthed from somewhere in the lower basement and started watching the video he had found in one of the boxes. At first it was his father filming some promotional material for the 1974 Stark Expo, and then…
“Tony. You’re too young to understand this right now, so I thought I would put it on film for you. I built this for you. And someday you’ll realize that it represents a whole lot more than just people’s inventions. It represents my life’s work. This is the key to the future. I’m limited by the technology of my time, but one day you’ll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is and always will be my greatest creation is you.”
His greatest creation? How sad was it, that this was the nicest thing his father had ever said to him?
Something else was weird about that video, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Tony looked at the paused screen and back into the box on the floor.
There were plans and even some aerial pictures of the 1974 Stark Expo. Why would Howard include that with his research notes? And the model was also in his video…
“Jarvis, could you kindly scan those plans? I need a manipulatable projection.”
“Scan complete Sir, what are we looking for?”
After stripping the projection of some parts, tilting his head and squinting slightly, Tony had an epiphany.
He couldn’t believe his eyes, but it was staring him right in the face. “I’m discovering… Correction. I’m rediscovering a new element, I believe.” He was looking at the blueprint for a previously unknown element!
Unbelievable, but there it was. “Dead for almost 20 years, and still taking me to school.”
Hearing Jarvis’s reply that the element should work as a suitable replacement for the palladium core, he sat down hard and felt a burst of blinding hope as he looked at the atom’s model in his hand.
“Unfortunately, this element does not exist and is impossible to synthesize,” Jarvis cautioned.
“Jarvis, you know I’m going to do it now, just to prove you wrong?” Tony countered, his thoughts already racing ten steps ahead.
“I may have been counting on that, Sir,” was the dry reply.
“Get ready for a major remodel, fellas. We’re back in hardware mode!”
He was in the finishing stage of installing the pipes, when Jarvis announced a call from Pepper.
“Put her through, Jarvis”
“Tony? Tony what is going on, Jarvis said Natalie is a spy? And what did he say about poisoning?”
“Hey Pep, Pepper, it’s ok, it’s all good. I’m good, I’m fine. Or will be, as soon as I get this baby here up and running.”
That pipe was not level, damn it, he needed something…
“Tony! I don’t know what’s going on, are you alright?” Pepper’s voice was shaky.
He put the wench down and sighed. “Pepper, listen to me, I don’t have a lot of time right now. I have a serious and fatal case of palladium poisoning from the arc reactor. Until today I thought I had exhausted every possible avenue, but turns out SHIELD had liberated some of Dad’s old research notes and in there I found a solution. I’m working on the cure right now and should have it ready in an hour or so. So no more dying, I’m good, ok?”
For a moment he only heard a muffled sound and unsteady breathing, then a deep inhale and Pepper’s firm voice. “What do you need me to do?”
Wiping his sweaty brow and grinning, Tony replied. “For now we keep our heads down, Jarvis has already contacted Henderson and Fredrick, they will get the ball rolling on the legal side. Once I’m done here and my head’s a little clearer, we’re going after those assholes.”
“I’m looking forward to it, the absolute gall of these people… I’m really glad you found something Tony, please get better, ok?”
He smiled, “I will Pep, thanks.”
“Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”
“That will be all Ms. Potts.”
Two days after the whole Stark Expo / Vanko disaster, Tony sat down with Pepper, Happy and Rhodey. He told them about everything SHIELD had done, the palladium poisoning, his search for a cure, his increasing desperation and his extreme behavior resulting from that.
“Damn, that certainly explains why you have gone completely off the rails the last few days, Tones. That birthday party was a complete shit show. I should have known something was wrong, you’re not that crazy, usually. Shit, I’m so sorry man!” Rhodey dropped his head into his hands.
“It’s fine, Rhodey. I was out of line.” Tony sighed. “What you should be sorry about though is taking the armor straight to fucking Hammer of all people! How did that happen? I wanted you to have it, when I thought I wasn’t going to make it, not have Hammer crawl all over it.” Tony turned an irritated look on Rhodey and crossed his arms.
Rhodey looked contrite at that and replied: “I know, I’m so sorry, Tony. The Major was so excited, he immediately wanted to weaponize it, and well… Hammer is or rather was our weapons contractor. But I shouldn’t have gone along with it, I didn’t even think of it like that, I was just so amazed to get to fly it … I’m really fucking sorry, Tony.”
“Yeah, yeah, you just bring that baby here and let me fix it. I’ll have to comb through everything to make sure Vanko didn’t leave any other nasty surprises in it.” Tony grumbled.
“I’ll bring it later,” Rhodey promised.
“We’ll work something out with the Air Force, only you will get to pilot it and I’ll be doing maintenance for that… War Machine.”
“War Machine?” Rhodey gave him a bemused look.
“What? It’s sounds awesome and I built it, so I get to name it.” Tony smirked.
“War Machine … that rocks,” Rhodey grinned widely, looking at Tony.
“So what exactly do you want to do about SHIELD, Tony?” Pepper spoke up. She and Happy had heard most of it already and had had some time to think about the latest events. Pepper was more focused on tearing into SHIELD and their very dubious methods now.
“I actually have a meeting with the old pirate in about an hour … Jarvis? Did Henderson get back to you yet?” Tony looked up to one of Jarvis’s cameras.
“Just now, Sir. Mr. Henderson and Ms. Fredrick have accumulated all evidence and prepared the corresponding legal documents. The list of charges includes corporate espionage, assault, unlawful restraint, breaking and entering, criminal threat and theft.”
“A meeting?” Happy asked. “Why would you meet him?”
“I’m curious what game Fury thinks he can play with me,” Tony shrugged. “He wants something, or he wouldn’t have gone through the whole spiel about ‘saving my life’ in the eleventh hour. And I get to see his face when I tell him he had better call his lawyer.”
They all shared a satisfied grin at that thought. Fury didn’t know it yet, but considering the lawsuits on their way, SHIELD was toast.
Tony sat down at the table and looked at the file on top of it. What kind of spy would just leave that laying around? It was obviously meant to attract his attention. Well, he was curious, so what the hell, he’d play their little game for now.
Just as he picked up the file, Fury entered in a dramatic whirl of black leather and drawled, “I don’t think I want you looking at that. I’m not sure it pertains to you anymore. Now this on the other hand, is Agent Romanoff’s assessment of you. Read it.”
Reluctantly Tony took the file Fury handed him and rapidly screened it. Wow, what a pile of crap. This was their assessment on him? Either they were the worst spies in spy-history or this was some reverse psychology voodoo trick. He was betting on the latter.
It was an open secret that Howard had been a shitty and absent father; with they way the press had been hounding Tony since early childhood, most people could figure that out. Tony had finally stopped trying to impress him when he was 15, resigned to the fact that nothing ever would. But that hadn’t stopped the niggling feeling in his gut, that if only he’d done better, maybe Howard would have shown some interest in him.
So it made some sense that they tried this approach. Didn’t mean it worked or that it wasn’t manipulative as fuck.
“Not recommended? That doesn’t make any sense. How can you approve me but not approve me?” Tony asked, making sure to look slightly hurt and confused, but like he was trying to hide it.
Fury walked around the table to his side, sat on top of it and looked down his nose at Tony. “Which leads us to believe at this juncture we’d only like to use you as a consultant.”
Fury’s body language, tone and words were practically dripping in condescension.
Tony had to swallow an incredulous laugh, a consultant? Dangle the possibility of a position with the Avengers at some point, maybe, in front of his nose like a carrot before a donkey and make him work for it? And in the mean time use him for his tech, knowledge and god knows what, probably for free. Yeah, no. Fuck no! Besides, Iron Man worked just fine as a solo act. If he needed back-up, he would much rather have Rhodey as War Machine than whatever SHIELD managed to scrape together as a team.
This cute little game had gone on long enough, time to crash Fury’s internal victory party.
Tony stood up, closed his suit jacket and held his hand out to Fury. He made sure to lay his other hand on top of their clasped hands and give Fury a deeply condescending smirk of his own.
“You can’t afford me.”
Tony turned around and walked to the door. After two steps he whirled around, facing Fury, who looked indignant at having his manipulation attempt fail spectacularly.
“You broke into my house and thought it was a nice surprise for me to see a man standing in the dark, in the exact same spot where I was nearly murdered not 24 hours before! You hacked my security system all for the sake of drama and manipulation. Has it ever occurred to you to just ring the fucking bell or make an appointment like a decent person?” Tony glared at the spy.
“I was nice enough to give you a pass for that, as a thank you for Coulson protecting Pepper the day before. But I see that sent the wrong message…”
Fury rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a wuss, Stark. You know - I did you a big favor by even offer-“
“No! I never asked for any of your bullshit recruiting attempts, why would I need you? You have the absolute insolence to think you can train me like a dog and have me jump whenever you say so. I’ve had it with your high-handed posturing, your complete disregard for laws or consent, your threats, spying and assault on me! But I guess the end justifies the means, right?”
He gave Fury a look of such cold rage, that the spy just barely managed not to flinch back.
“Several official agencies have already been notified of your actions and been provided with plenty of evidence, they seemed very excited about that. And if you, Coulson, Natashalie or any of your spy-buddies come near me, SI or my friends again, you will regret it. You better pencil in some budget for a good lawyer, because you will be hearing from mine soon.” Tony threw Fury one last glacial look and walked out.
“Stark! We saved your life! Damn it Stark, this is bigger than your ego…”
But Tony was already out the door and ignored him.
In the following days the CIA and FBI gleefully ripped into SHIELD, for once having solid evidence on their shady, illegal practices and a substantial witness to confirm everything. Numerous arrests were made already, but the investigation of the whole organization would take a long time. It was still unclear how much of SHIELD would be left and allowed to continue.
SHIELD additionally had to pay tremendous fines to SI for corporate espionage, which left them basically bankrupt. Coulson went to prison for four years for criminal threat. The jury didn’t find a taser threat to a man with a heart condition particularly funny either. Romanoff was convicted of assault and corporate espionage, earning her a prison sentence of twelve years.
Fury’s second in command, Maria Hill, took over for now as director of SHIELD, as Fury had disappeared into the night.
Over the next weeks Tony cleaned house at SI, turns out Romanoff was only one of three SHIELD spies, and boy did HR got a fire lit under their collective ass after that.
SHIELD got slapped with even more lawsuits and fines, any SI personnel that may have looked the other way or accepted bribes were handled as well.
“Henderson just emailed, Tony. Apparently SHIELD has survived paying all fines, barely and only by the skin of their teeth.” Pepper said, looking up from her StarkPad.
“Really? Surprised their pockets were that deep…” Tony chuckled, then downed the rest of his coffee and put the cup down. He leaned towards Pepper and gave her a soft kiss. “I’ll be in the lab for a while, are you going to work here?”
She smiled at him and ran a hand through his wild hair, still damp from their shower. “Yes, I only have about a thousand emails to work through, I’ll stay on the couch.”
“…kay, have fun,” Tony smiled back and stood up.
He grabbed a muffin from their breakfast table, gave Pepper another kiss and headed downstairs into his lab. It was time to give Jarvis’s security a major upgrade.
“Jarvis, you there?”
“For you, Sir? Always.”