"Are you sure Tony? It isn't that much of a problem, I know Clint's been dying to se-"
"Oh shut up spangles." Tony groaned, sitting in the main cabin of his jet, lounging against the seat as he listened to Steve send his concerned message.
"But what if-"
"Rodgers. I've gone on dozens of business trips after letting the public know I'm Iron Man, don't get your panties in a twist." He smirked back, leaning back feeling achieved when Steve gave a huff of annoyance.
"Fine. Call if you need help over in Japan. Natasha says that we can make it there in almost three hours at top speed…and she wants me to tell you that she hopes to trip on the way down."
"Yeah, well tell the itsy-bitsy-spider I love her too." Tony snorted, hanging up before he could have a threat sent over the link.
Japan, after all, it wasn't anything major. Just a little SI business Pepper had stated that he needed to be there for.
What. A. Lie.
He wasn't going to Japan; he wasn't even crossing the ocean. Jarvis had re-worked the jet's flight path to land in Seattle, and he had already rented a fast Audi in the area for his disposal. (Not an R8, a TT but it would do)
Pepper was in on it, she was furious at first that first, he'd blow off such an important meeting. (But after a nifty Skype conversation, it was all cool with Yoski…), and that he'd lie to his team.
But that was the whole reason why he was doing this.
When she stormed in demanding answers, he started deflecting in his usual snarky way, but she had seen the signs. The fact his fist hadn't unclenched, or how he hadn't even made an attempt for the bar in the whole forty minute argument that she felt in the dark with.
Then, she had asked what he was going to do instead.
Tony let a dry bitter chuckle make its way out of his lips as he took another sip of his drink, the liquid burning its path down his chest where it painfully made his mind more clear, as he felt the jet dip slightly as they neared the nearly automatic storm clouds which showered the metal hull with icy drops.
He looked out of the window, barely registering when a calm beep filled the cabin, alerting him to the fact that the door was open and his baggage was being loaded into his Audi. He rose, snatching his always-with-him-Iron-Man-briefcase and took a few steps out, grudgingly accepting the thick black umbrella and lifting it above his heads as he heard the muffled noise of rain already.
"Perfect, just what I need." Tony grumbled slightly under his breath, moving along and giving a sharp nod to the man who stood in the rain with a blank expression, holding the Audi's door open for him, already on and running with the so desired air condition.
He sighed in relief once his already cold fingers felt the wonderful warmth of a working AC, and floored the car, lunging out of the parking lot at a record breaking speed, moving along with Jarvis working as his 'Seri' (So much better than anything Apple could make)
But he wasn't going to a hotel, no, he was going to a much less known area of Seattle.
"Sir, are you positive that this is the best course of action?" Jarvis prompted from the phone and Tony frowned, eyes slightly shadowed as he stared out of the windshield, wipers working on full to remove the smearing rainwater.
"No- but if I don't do this now, it's going to only get worse." Tony muttered, and Jarvis remained silent in the exception of telling him when to turn, or when to pull in.
When Tony did, it was a small bar on the outskirts of town. Surprisingly, it wasn't the worse bars he knew, leaning more to the clean side as he slipped on a (ridiculous in his opinion) had to mask his face as he walked in, holding the suitcase close to him as he moved throughout the quiet atmosphere, eyes scanning for the certain man he was looking for.
"Three booths to your left, sir. I shall remain on silent until the need arises." Jarvis informed before letting the phone go quiet, and Tony found himself walking towards the booth, swallowing the thick feeling of slight anxiety as he stood at the edge.
"Go 'way. Said I don' want anything." The man grumbled, not looking up from a newspaper with too many creases in it, and Tony cleared his throat slightly loud, causing the man to sigh.
"What?" He demanded, looking up with a scowl while Tony nodded to the opposite side of the booth, the man giving one wave of his hand to show he didn't care.
"Hello- I hope you aren't busy tonight." Tony conversationally added, sliding in and removing the hat, the man opposite of him not looking up yet from his paper.
"Why do you say tha- Oh…" He blinked, finally looking up and meeting the shadowed brown eyes of Tony, and he set down the paper, crossing his fingers into a fist and staring, waiting for each other to say something.
"Tony Stark. I've seen you on TV." The man stated coldly, now not simply ignoring, but barely masking hate and cold anger, in which Tony returned with a cold smile.
"Yes, and I've seen you on SHIELDS databases."
"Those were lies- the real files were deleted." The man snapped, and Tony kept his smirk.
"And I recovered them." Tony stated, elapsing into a silence once more.
"How much do you want? I'm sure I have more money on me at this moment then you've ever gained in a year." Tony smirked, about to fish in his pocket for his wallet all the while sending an easy grin, the polar opposite of what he had just expressed before.
The man across from him snorted, frowning and tapping his fingers on to the table edge.
"I don't want your money, Stark. I want that thing dead."
Tony frowned, and then he reached to his side, pulling his suitcase gently onto the table, the decent lighting reflecting off of the gold brightly, leaving no room to assume what exactly was inside the case to begin with.
"Do you really want to play this game? You know- I think playing this game isn't very smart."
"I have files.' The man shot back, spit landing on Tony's cheek.
"And we have a demigod." Tony exchanged, finding it slightly ironic how with only a few words swapped out, he was having the same conversation as another foe he had talked to before.
The man snorted in it, leaning back at ease and crossing his arms.
"You don't scare me, Stark. I've seen enough things that could make you run home to your mama crying. Now, leave the nasty business to the professionals." The man growled, and Tony frowned, tilting his head.
Tony Stark was witty and sharp. Iron Man was cocky and slightly intimidating, he had another face, and one that he didn't dare let the normal eye see.
Tony smiled coldly, eyes seeming to darken as raw poisoned emotion bled out, leaving a chilling feeling while he smiled coldly.
"You really want to play this game, General Ross? I'll tell you, as the Merchant of Death, I rarely lose."
Ross stared long and hard at Tony, eventually setting the newspaper down on the table as he crossed his arms, staring at Tony intently, while said main patiently awaited his response.
"You want to play this game, kid?" He grunted, one hand stroking his mustache as Tony let go of the normal mask he had in play to hide the cold persona.
"Kid? I am no kid, Ross. No kid would stand up to you and knock you back to the shadow you belong. Now listen to me. If you make one move on Bruce- a single toe out of line and you'll regret it." Tony growled, eyes flashing as he seethed, Ross looking him over with an indifferent look.
"You threatnin' me?" He grunted, knowing full that was the case.
"This isn't Canada, Ross. This is America." Tony deadpanned, the man frowning as he looked him over.
"You don' have the guts." He grunted, reaching over to grab his newspaper to start reading again.
He looked upright once a firm and steel grasp grabbed his hand, crunching his fingers together in the tight grip while cold brown eyes bore into him.
"I don't have the guts? Shall we test that, Ross? What will it take, you know 'nothing'? I can delete your entire existence, your records, credit, bank account if I really wanted to." Tony shrugged, and Ross stared, hate in his eyes.
"SHIELD doesn't do that sort of stuff." He growled out, and Tony smiled ever so slightly, bringing his lips close to the elder mans ear as he whispered in it, still holding his hand painfully tight.
"I'm not SHIELD."
Ross stared as Tony let go, leaning against the back of the booth completely bored, and Ross stared, waiting…watching.
"You're blackmailing me? Forcing me to end everything I've done?" Ross growled, and Tony tilted his head ever so slightly, observing with a small cruel smile on his face.
"Blackmail is such a…ugly word. Cliché' yet ugly. I prefer the term 'assure the protection' of someone."
"Of a monster!" Ross growled, his teeth grinding together while Tony said nothing.
"You and your little innocent group sheltering that thing! That wild animal! Oh- but you're not so innocent, are you?" He sneered, and again Tony said nothing, waiting and still observing.
"Two assassins protecting the people? They deserve justice; not having a fear that they're protector is a murderer!"
"Funny, coming from you." Tony clipped, and Ross' jaw clicked.
"And what about you? The perfect little soldier?" Ross growled, and Tony's eyes narrowed in hate.
"Never, call me that." He growled, hand clenching into a fist on the table, and Ross threw his head back and chuckled ever so slightly.
"Oh? Why not, wonder boy not wanting the truth? You've served your army, Stark. You've served them well."
Tony hissed, lunging forward and grabbing the tie of the man across from him, slamming his chest into the table side as he pulled the blonde haired head close to his own, hate causing his teeth to be bared, like a rabid animal.
"Odd little anger you have there," Ross mused, looking at Tony in the eye, a fire alight as he almost laughed at the ground he had broken.
"I think we all have a little anger in us, don't we?" Tony shot back, and Ross gave a small grim smile, one that shared recognition before speaking lowly.
"I see it on your face, Stark. I see it on my captured and wounded soldiers that I see return from a field of combat, after using their ally's corpse as a meat shield- you've seen the darkness, haven't you? You've seen the greed those monsters have-"
"You seem well informed, Ross." Tony coldly added, very well implying that Ross was all he stated.
"The great Tony Stark- whatever happened to the billionaire playboy? Whatever happened to the man who bought a casino when the paint was bothering him?" Ross shot back, and Tony gave no response.
"I'm still here." Tony stated slowly and almost softly, and Ross looked at him with an almost frown.
"No you aren't. You're just like them, those fools who attack America every day, siding with the bad guys and joining the monsters- part of you died and was reborn in that cave, eh?" Ross snorted, ignoring how Tony's eyes widened softly before sharpening like chips of ice, narrowing and his lips pinching shut as his fingers forcibly relaxed from their clenched grasp.
"No. I never died, Ross. The Merchant of Death was simply…expressed, in different ways."
Ross stared, and a grim smile on his face as he was released by his tie, leaning back against his booth.
"You know I'm not going to rest until that monster's dead." He conversationally piped up, and Tony frowned ever so slightly.
"Oh? I assume records and the previous blackmail wouldn't let your morals die?"
"Nor the fact Bruce is in public favor, and one of the Avengers, now worldwide known?"
Ross' eyes narrowed as he looked at Tony who sighed, looking at his slightly chipped nails in slight disappointment.
"If you expect the gov. to try and stop me-"
"But I never anticipated them being involved with this, now don't lie, you never were going to get them on your side, nor mine. So why don't we throw this little fairy tale out of the window, hm?" Tony hummed, and Ross still glared, each waiting in the quiet silence.
"You can't touch me, Stark. You've got nothing on me." Ross added quietly and Tony tilted his head that moment, observing him in a sudden light, as if the decent lighting of the bar brought out a hidden tattoo.
"And what's to say I couldn't kill you?"
Ross froze, looking at Tony as said man's hands curled into fists before relaxing; face ever calm- scary calm.
"What's to say you never made it home? What's to say a mugger or a horrible gas accident won't happen? Hell, who's to say that Iron Man won't put an end to your sudden existence?"
They stared, Ross swallowing nervously as a bead of sweat traveled down his neck, Tony, still remaining ever so cool, perfectly at ease with what was going on.
"Monster hunting- looks like I have two beasts to rid this world of, and put the people at ease." Ross spat, spit flying and landing on the table as Tony flinched, ever so slightly before staring.
And thence, the staring contest began.
Ross felt slightly relieved, convinced that even Stark would not have a comeback, but only the small smile caused him to freeze, his very blood chilling at the horrible and nearly gut wrenching sight.
"Elizabeth Ross. Daughter of Karen Lee- now deceased, and you. 5'6", blue eyes and brown hair."
Tony hummed, clicking his tongue as Ross froze, horror rising to a new peak within his body.
"No- not her, she didn't do anything!" Ross hissed, and Tony turned his cold emotionless eyes on it.
"Shame you had to bring her into this, I'd prefer if she wasn't aware of our exchange." He responded, and Ross panicked.
"You don't know where she is!" He hissed, and Tony tilted his head ever so slightly.
"New Mexico. 5499 West Moore Street. In a flash of an eye, I could let her be attacked by an assassin, or I could let her live. A life for a life, or you could let Bruce go, and keep Betty Ross alive." Tony offered, pulling out his phone and awaiting his choice.
Ross choked, dropping back on the bench chair, head dropping into his heads.
"You're a monster." He choked out, and Tony didn't feel anything, numb as he started typing in a cell number.
"Fine- keep him. Just let her go. Let her go and never bother her again you- you traitor." Ross choked, nearly breaking down as Tony got up, collecting his things and picking up his suitcase, moving towards the door, halting at Ross' choked response, nearly in tears.
"How- how do you live with yourself."
Tony stopped; hand shaking ever so slightly as he forcibly took a deep breath to help calm him.
"Sometimes-"sometimes I feel like I'm dead. Sometimes I feel like a stranger. Sometimes I'm more a monster then Bruce. "I feel like I did die back in that cave."
And thus, the Merchant of Death left.