Chapter 1: Not The Worst Christmas Gift Ever
The first time it happened it was Christmas Eve Eve. He was busy packing up to go to the Rhodes’ home, having been invited for his second year in a row, and his last year as an undergrad. Rhodey was finishing up his Master’s in Aerospace Engineering next semester, and so this was going to be his last trip back home for the holidays before the USAF shipped him off to god knows where. Maybe Tony could use his contacts in the military to make it somewhere nice. Like the United Arab Emirates. Stark Industries had a hotel or something there, Tony thought. Some place his dad used to court his “secretaries” that he had thought Tony didn’t know about. There was a lot he had thought Tony didn’t know about.
“Tony don’t you dare tell me you’re packing more of those stupid polo shirts.”
Tony stopped with a half-folded polo in his hand. “How come you’re allowed to wear them and I’m not?”
Rhodey walked into the room and leaned against the doorframe. “Because they make me look distinguished. You look like an overgrown prep school freshman.” He snatched the polo out of Tony’s hands and threw it across the room. “Pack a bunch of hoodies, some dress shirts if you really have to, it’ll be covered in an ugly sweater anyway. No slacks, either, jeans only.”
“You wound me, honeybear.” Tony splayed a hand over his heart. “I just want Mama Rhodey to like me.”
“She adopted you the second she saw you, Tones.”
“Immaterial, opinions change.” Tony busied his hands by unpacking and repacking his suitcase.
Rhodey sighed and held Tony’s hands down. “Just because your dad basically disowned you does not mean my mom will. She would smack you for even entertaining that thought.”
Tony opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by the doorbell to the apartment. He sighed. “Saved by the bell.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “I’ll grab it.”
Mumbling to himself about completely unfair standards, Tony continued packing his suitcase.
“Hey Tones?” A cacophony of struggling noises came from the direction of the front door. “I might be wrong, but I think this one’s for you.”
Tony frowned. He never got visitors – he didn’t know anyone who would want to visit him besides maybe Jarvis and Aunt Peg; all their visitors came for Rhodey.
He walked out of his bedroom and into the front room, freezing when he saw who it was. Rhodey was doing his best to prop up a very tall, very muscular man with honey-blonde hair and a face full of bruises and blood. His top was torn off his body from the neck to his ribs, revealing even more cuts and bruises on his chest and what Tony could see of his arms and back.
The damning part, though, was what he was wearing. His pants were more muted than usual, more a navy than the bright blue Tony knew, but the red and white stripes following up his hips and the red boots on his feet were unmistakable. He might have missed it if he hadn’t had the man’s pictures on his walls and shoved down his throat for all his childhood. He never thought he’d meet the man in person, though, given he was definitely dead. Absolutely, completely, totally dead.
The man coughed and gave him a weak thumbs up.
Tony rubbed his hands hard over his face. “God fucking damnit.”
He ran over to help Rhodey move the hulk of a man to the old worn couch in the middle of the living area, plopping him down with little ceremony. He looked even worse off lying still, if that was possible.
“Hey Rogers?” Tony poked the super-soldier’s face, but Rogers barely opened his eyes. “I need you to keep your eyes open for me, okay? I don’t know much about your biology – or, well, I know more than most people but I’m basing everything off data from the forties, which you probably don’t know how bad that is in today’s terms, or maybe you do, I have no idea how long you’ve been alive again – but I need you to stay awake until I can figure out how to keep you alive enough that your body will take care of the rest, okay?”
Rogers blinked hard, shifting slightly and groaning. “You haven’t changed a bit, you know that?” He grabbed Tony’s arm with a solid hand that was much warmer than it needed to be. “Still talk a mile a minute about stuff nobody else can understand.”
Tony flinched hard, having a pretty damn good idea who Rogers thought he was, but didn’t let that stop his hands from roaming over the (hard, hot, extremely fit) body in front of him to assess the damage. It mostly looked superficial, but there was no way to tell for sure without some expensive medical equipment… or maybe…
“Tones, I’m gonna need a little context here.”
“Go grab me the prototype on my desk, I’ll explain in a minute.” He didn’t look at Rhodey, but he heard the sigh that meant he was going to do it. He held his hand out behind him, getting to work the second Rhodey put the device in his hands.
Jarvis had been pressuring him to be safer in the lab more than usual, lately – probably spurred on by the explosion that took out half the MIT robotics division last week, with zero casualties mind you – so instead he decided to make a scanner that could assess internal injuries using radio- and electromagnetic-waves, based on the new MRI machine Johns Hopkins got their hands on a few months ago. It was only a rough image, but it was handheld and could help EMTs (and Rhodey) see what needed the most attention first, streamlining triage and therefore saving lives and time and money.
He placed the scanner on the most abused parts of Rogers’ body that he could see, noting the dislocated shoulder, punctured lung, and fractured (maybe broken) femur, along with lots of puddles of blood without a source that meant that most of his internal bleeding had probably patched itself up, if the knowledge he’d retained from his own hospital visits could apply.
“You’re in luck, Captain.” He patted Rogers on an area that didn’t seem to have any massive damage, internal or otherwise, but Rogers still clenched his jaw tight enough Tony could hear it.
“I told you to call me Steve.”
Tony ignored him. “You’re gonna heal up fine, I think, once we get your insides all in the right places. It’s gonna hurt like a bitch, though.”
Rogers waved that off with a limp hand. “Just put me back together, Stark. You know I can handle the pain.”
“You know this guy?” Tony had almost forgotten Rhodey was still there.
He shook his head. “Not really, no. I think he’s thinking of Howard.”
Rhodey crossed his arms, narrowing his eyes at Tony. “Pull the other one.”
“No, seriously.” Tony looked back at Rogers, at Steve, and could barely believe it himself. “He thinks he’s back with my dad when he was my age, back in World War II.”
“This dude is my age, Tony. World War II ended forty years ago.”
Tony looked back up at Rhodey, making sure to make eye contact. “Yeah, and how did it end?”
Rhodey shrugged. “Official story? The atomic bombs.”
“And the unofficial story?”
Sighing, Rhodey uncrossed his arms and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Well, it was over a few days before that, when the Japanese surrendered because it was discovered them and Germany had a plan to carpet bomb the world.”
Tony made a go on gesture.
“So it really ended when the plot was found out, when Captain America flew the bomber into the Arctic.”
“Do they teach you Captain America’s real name in your fancy army programs?”
“Air Force,” Rhodey off-handedly corrected, “and I’m not even there yet. It’s not like they give everyone a history lesson in basic training, and they keep identities like that under a pretty tight lock and key.”
Tony rubbed his hands over his face and got up, pacing back and forth across the room as he spoke. “Right, so here’s your history lesson. Dear old dad worked with the Allied forces making bombs and guns and, most importantly, shields. That last category just so happened to include a very specific target-shaped red, white, and blue vibranium monstrosity often seen on the back of everyone’s favorite war hero, Captain America. Howard knew Captain America, knew him well, and after the plane went down he and my Aunt Peg spent a lot of years looking for him in the ice. They never found him, but Howard was pretty damn convinced he was out there somewhere. More convinced than he would have been if he was just looking for a body.”
Rhodey hummed. “So your dad thought he was still alive.”
“Yeah, basically. He raised me on that idea, that the great Captain America would be able to see me, to see what he’d accomplished, because apparently the living legend wasn’t too into technology. He turned down some pretty damn cool shit in favor of his over-sized frizbee, but the guy always had a soft spot for kids I guess. Howard had a pretty fucking big crush on the dude, not that he’d have ever admitted it.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Rhodey leaned forward in his seat – when did he sit down? Tony must have just not noticed – and tapped his fingers on the coffee table. “You know the identity of Captain America.”
“Yeah. And now so do you.” He stepped back to gesture at Steve, who gave Rhodey a cheeky little wave. God, this man was so not what Tony was expecting.
Rhodey closed his eyes. “So you’re telling me that Captain-fucking-America is here bleeding out on our couch.”
“Not bleeding out, just bleeding.” Steve added.
“Shut your face, Rogers,” Tony said without looking at him, “Anyone who shows up half-dead on the doorstep doesn’t get a say. That’s Rhodey’s rule, not mine.”
Steve gave him a sloppy salute. “That’s your rule too, Stark. And Peggy’s.” He stopped suddenly, looking almost panicked. “Wait, what day is it? Me ‘n’ Peg’re supposed to go out dancing. I don’t wanna miss that.”
Tony took pity on him and patted Steve’s shoulder. “I’ll tell Peggy what happened, don’t worry. She’ll wait until you’re back in dancing form.”
Steve mumbled something about never being in dancing form as he dozed off, finally.
Now that Steve was finally out, Tony focused all his attention on Rhodey. He was…panicking.
“We’ve got Captain-fucking-America dying on our couch!” he shouted, too loud.
Tony clamped a hand over his best friend’s mouth, ineffectually attempting to shut him up. “Quiet down. I have a feeling the powers that be don’t want everyone in the state of Massachusetts to know we’re harboring one of the most well-known soldiers in history.”
When Rhodey showed no sign that he was going to run his mouth again, Tony let his hand fall.
“Captain America is alive.” Rhodey said, probably in mild shock. “I know who Captain America is.”
Tony ran his tongue over his teeth, thinking. “Mama Rhodes is gonna hate me,” He said rubbing the back of his neck, “but I think I’m going to have to miss Christmas this year.”
With Rhodey’s (admittedly limited) medical knowledge, they decided it would be best if they didn’t mess with Steve any more than necessary, leaving his body to sort its shit out on its own. The only real danger was breaks healing wrong, but given that most of his bones seemed to be in the correct positions from what they could tell, he would be perfectly fine. He just needed fluids, nutrients, and a few days of rest.
IVs did prove tricky though. Jerry-rigging one was child’s play, but puncturing his skin was the hard part. Or when they did get the needle through, his skin healed and pushed it back out in a few minutes. Luckily he was coherent enough to drink a glass of water every few hours, so they ended up mixing in some powdered vitamins Rhodey had lying around into his drinks so his metabolism wouldn’t start eating him alive – a trick he’d learned after years of living with Tony who “only ate pizza, cheeseburgers, and weird green milkshakes that were probably full of motor oil and god knew what else.” So Tony’s shitty diet did come in handy sometimes.
It was Christmas morning when Steve finally woke up. Tony had sent Rhodey packing after the first night, claiming Mama Rhodes would have his head if her son missed Christmas for reasons she could never know. It took a little convincing, but eventually Rhodey agreed, and he took the first plane back home to Philly on Christmas Eve, leaving Tony alone with Steve for the rest of the break.
“This is some good hot cocoa.”
Tony thought he was just hearing things, hallucinating on lack of sleep and too much eggnog, but no that was Steve, half sitting up on the couch across the room, sipping at the mug of cocoa that Tony replaced an hour ago. There were ten full mugs that had gone cold now sitting in the sink.
“Glad you think so,” Tony looked back down to his work deliberately. He didn’t want to be caught staring at the large expanse of bare skin taking up residence on his favorite couch. “It’s an old family recipe. Not mine, of course, Mom couldn’t cook for her life, but Ana had a long line of great bakers in her family, so I was the kid she passed it all down to.”
There were rustling noises, and Tony snuck a brief look to see Steve sitting up, rubbing at his neck. “Do you uh, have any clean clothes I could borrow?”
Tony kept looking down at his work, though he hadn’t written anything since Steve’s first comment. “None that would fit you. Now that you’re awake I can run out and see if any stores are open where I can grab something. I didn’t want to leave you all alone and vulnerable though, sleeping beauty.”
He could feel Steve’s eyes on him. “You’re uh. Not Howard.”
“No, no I’m not.” He wasn’t going to explain it unprompted. If Steve wanted to have a chat about dear old dad, he could damn well start it himself.
“Thanks for taking me in.” Steve stood up, stretching. “I looked up Stark in a directory after I got away from the mooks. I didn’t think to check the first name.”
Tony gave up on pretending to do his work, looking Steve in the eyes for the first time. They were bluer than they had any right to be. “Wouldn’t matter if you did, you’d still end up in the same place.”
As much as he hated talking about Howard, he hated beating around the bush more. Tony stood up and held out his hand, almost going weak in the knees when Steve took it in his own large, warm, firm hands.
“Tony Stark, Howard’s son.”
“Steve Rogers, Howard’s friend.”
Yeah, and wasn’t that a fun little reminder. He dropped Steve’s hand unsurreptitiously. “Well, looks like you just missed him by about a year or so.”
Steve frowned. He looked like an overgrown puppy dog with that face. “What, um. When is it right now?”
Tony crossed his arms and looked down. No matter what this man’s reaction was going to be, Tony would bet it wasn’t going to be ecstatic. “1989. Christmas Day.”
“It’s ’89? I missed almost fifty years?” Steve sounded flabbergasted, as to be expected, but not liable to freak out and go all Jekyll and Hyde on him, so that was a plus. “I knew I’d been out a while when there were screens and stuff outside, but that’s a lot longer than I thought.”
Tony picked up his own mug of lukewarm cocoa just to give him some thing to do with his hands. “Who are these ‘mooks’ you keep talking about?”
Steve shook his head. “I don’t know, exactly. They had me in a room with an old ball game on the radio. Some dame dressed real queer walked in claiming she was a nurse, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out how true that was. The walls were all fake, so I jumped through and ran, had to have fought over two dozen guys to get outta that basement they had me in. Then I picked up a directory, found ‘Stark’, and legged it over here.”
“Well then.” Tony looked back down at his work to give himself something to star at that wasn’t the sweat-slick pecs of America’s-most-lusted-after-Sweetheart. He’d been out for fifty years, and apparently haven’t had any sort of introduction since he woke up. This might actually be kind of fun. “How about we get you acquainted with the wonders of modern technology?”
Steve gave him a small smile that had the power to melt even the coldest of hearts. Or, something like that. They really picked the perfect lab rat if he could break through people’s defenses just like that. “How about this: you help get me into some new clothes, and then we can talk shop.”
And he got to dress up Captain America? Merry Christmas to him. “Deal.”
Chapter 2: Spies in the Maldives
Tony knows that two doesn’t make a pattern, but it’s damn well starting to look like one.
He took Rhodey to the Maldives on Spring Break to get away for a while, the last one for both of them. And while Tony was going to go to grad school if just to say he had a PhD or seven, he was officially turning 21 next year. That meant the company was all his, and there would be no more time for fucking around in the Maldives. At least, not on the record.
He rented out the entire hotel for their extravaganza, inviting along anyone who wanted to come who could pay for their own way there. Not that he couldn’t, even on his limited inheritance, pay for roundtrip tickets for everyone in his class, but he wasn’t going to waste money flying a bunch of drunk minors first class – he already had two of those, including himself, and even he had a limit.
Regardless, they had the entire hotel to themselves, and so when a fiery redhead with too many knives on her person and murder in her eyes marched in asking for Tony Stark, well. Needless to say it caused a little scene.
“It’s nothing.” Tony waved it off as he down another tequila shot. “Probably just some one night stand who wants a relationship or something.”
Then she stalked into the room in which he was currently doing body shots on some very attractive, very-potentially-illegally-older-than-him models.
“Anthony Edward Stark.”
Tony finished licking his way up the model’s neck, biting the lime out of her mouth. “Uh-oh, here comes the nagging.” He mumbled around the lime wedge, rolling his eyes. He was just passing the point of tipsy where it felt like the whole world was shifted an inch to the left, and starting to get fully, properly, drunk. Nagging fiery redheads generally didn’t help that point.
“Mr. Rogers told me to find you.”
Tony laughed a little too loudly for a little too long, and blamed it more on the alcohol than her frighteningly violent sex appeal. “Mr. Rogers? He need me to help him change into his inside shoes or something?”
The woman glared, and her hair seemed to look even more like it was actually on fire. The last thing he needed this week was to set the entire building on fire. He subtly reached a hand over to the ice bucket behind him to be ready to try and put it out if she got too angry, but she just glared harder, almost hard enough that he cared. “This Rogers is a Captain.”
Suddenly Tony felt much more sober (soberer?) than he did a second ago. “Shit, what’d he break now?”
Tony had become Steve’s go-to when it came to things he didn’t want to report to SHIELD, i.e. fixing up his shield or his broken bones or, more memorably, that time he wanted advice on how not to limp with beard burn on the inside of his thighs. He was asking for a friend, of course. Weren’t they always?
The woman bit her lip and let it go quick enough that Tony wouldn’t have caught it if he didn’t already think a mile a minute. “It’s not for him, you were just a referral.”
So she had a secret she didn’t want Big Brother to know. Interesting. Tony gestured towards the en-suite bathroom, which was miraculously empty. “Step into my office.”
She followed him into the bathroom, edging slowly along the walls like she expected them to collapse. Taking some device he vaguely remembered seeing (maybe even making, he did a lot of under the table government contracts these days) out of some undisclosed location that Tony imagined was in places very naughty indeed, she crept around the walls, pointing the device at everything and anything.
“You having fun there, Agent?”
She not-so-subtly put a hand to her stomach and rolled her eyes. “We’re clear of bugs.”
“I could have told you that.” Tony picked up a glass from the counter that probably had gin in it, giving it a sniff. Probably gin, maybe vodka. He drank it anyway. “This place is mine for the weekend, I had it checked when I came in. Last thing I need is more unintended sex tapes of me floating around.”
The woman hummed. “Well, then, now we can talk.” She turned to face him, stoically agent-like. She reminded him a lot of his Aunt Peg. “My name’s Natalie.”
There was something in the crease of her eyes that Tony didn’t like, but also didn’t totally understand in his current state. “I…don’t believe you.”
Tony shrugged. “I’ve had over a decade to figure out exactly when people are lying. My brain isn’t one hundred percent on board right now, but my gut is, and my gut is saying you’re a lying liar…who lies.”
“I’ve had like, five shots and it’s not even noon.” Tony waved away her comment. “But anyway. What brings you here to the wonderful Maldives, aka one of the few places without extro- extram-“
The woman rolled her eyes. “Extradition.”
She walked to the bathtub and sat lightly on the edge, still clutching her stomach. “Someone smashed my burner. I need it.”
Tony held onto the countertop so the room would stop swaying so much. “And by burner do you mean some weird SHIELD gadget or a gas station flip-phone?”
He made grabby hands in her general direction. “Hand ‘em over.”
Natalie paused. “I don’t want to give them to if you’re going to fuck it up because you’re drunk.”
Tony gasped, laying a hand over his heart. “Oh, ye of little faith.”
“He actually does some of his best work drunk off his ass.”
Natalie swept back with a knife, nearly slicing Rhodey in half at the waist. Luckily he was quicker than that, but only by a hair.
He looked down at the tear in his polo. “Really?”
Natalie glared at Tony, but he could tell she was still keeping a close eye on Rhodey in her peripherals. “I called him, he’s cool. Plus, he can vouch for me.”
“How did you call him?” Natalie narrowed her eyes. “I’ve been watching you.”
“Isn’t that that song by the Police?”
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “He’s got a tracker button for when he gets in over his head. It’s got a GPS on it.”
“Mostly for when I overdose or blow something up.” Tony added with exactly zero input from his brain. Apparently he was at that stage in the day. “Or there was that one time with the uh, what’s it called?”
“Bonesaw?” Rhodey guessed.
“No, no, after that.”
“Missile guidance system?”
“No, at the party with the dudes, remember?”
“Oh, right! The Great Catapult Contest.”
“Yes! Thank you!”
Natasha sighed from her perch on the bathtub. “Can we please get back to the very important issue here?”
Rhodey looked at Tony, searching. “You haven’t had any wine, have you?”
Tony scoffed. “What is this, The Bachelor? Desperate Housewives?”
“That’s a no,” Rhodey explained to Natalie, “So yes, we can get back to whatever weird spy gadget you need fixed.”
Natalie raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. She reached down to her thigh, pulling the gadget out of someplace Tony didn’t catch and didn’t really want to think about. Or, well, he would think about if she wasn’t a super scary killer spy. Or if that glass he downed was full of tequila. “Tequila makes me horny,” He blurted out as he took the gadget from her, “Wine is shaky, vodka shifts my brain a little to the left, gin makes everything faster. And I don’t drink beer. Ever.”
He looked down at the gadget, and lo and behold, it was some sort of bastardization of a gas station burner phone, but with a good chunk of added tech poking out. Not very elegant, and if it needed fixing it obviously wasn’t that effective, either. He contemplated joining SHIELD officially just so he could smack their engineers over the back of the head.
“Right, okay.” He turned it over in his hands a few times, mapping out the major systems in his head. “So there’s, what? Line restrictions on communication, GPS, a couple broadcasting boosters, and is that a USB port?”
Natalie nodded tightly. “It got…dropped. Can you fix it?”
Tony hummed. “Most of the actual systems should be fine, as far as I can see, but I’ll get a better idea when I crack it open. The casing is shot, though. Gonna have to come up with something else to house it.” He scratched at his cheek, enjoying the way the beard he was trying valiantly to grow was starting to come in all scratchy. “I’m going to need…fuck Rhodey can you get me a laptop, a single-chip microcontroller – the smallest you can find – a handful of wires, and a new burner?”
Rhodey sighed and wiped a hand over his face. “And I thought this vacation was going to be normal for once.”
“With me? Never.” Tony waved the comment away. “There’s a computer shop three blocks west of here. I stopped by on the way in to make a thing to wipe bugs when you were out for burgers yesterday.”
“Of course you did, Tones.” Rhodey sighed. “Where’s your card?”
Tony smiled. “Already in your wallet, honeybear. Otherwise I’d blow it all on scotch and coke, which we both know is a bad idea.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes and left the room. He hated talking about Tony’s worse habits.
“You have a coke dealer that takes cards?” Natalie raised an eyebrow. Funny, Tony had almost forgotten she was there.
“I’m Tony Stark in the Maldives.”
“Anyways, don’t fret Miss Uncongeniality, you’ve got a job, too. One I think you’ll like.”
Natalie frowned lightly. The lines in her face were barely there, and Tony couldn’t tell if it was because she was softening up to him or she just had a lot of makeup on. Or Botox. Could super secret spies even get Botox? “What job?”
“Well if I’m going to get this to the point where it’s more than just a handful of spaghetti wires, I’m going to need you to steal a watch off of someone in the hotel. One of those big chunky ones that says ‘I have just enough money to flaunt it but not enough to do anything even remotely useful.’ I have a feeling you know the type.”
“Simple pickpocketing? Really?” She sounded flabbergasted, as if that was so far beneath her it was funny.
Tony shrugged. “Honeybear wouldn’t do it, he has morals, and I’m too drunk. Probably. Plus it’s not like you’re in tip top shape right now since you’ve got a major case of the cramps, so this is helpful and also won’t make you want to kill anyone. Or me.”
Natalie glared at him – seriously, was that her default state? – but didn’t correct him. Cool, his subconscious brain was still doing good detective work while the rest of his mind was preoccupied with booze and things. “Fine. Anything else you need?”
Tony looked up to the ceiling, thinking. He would be pretty much good, probably. Maybe. “Some coke would be cool, as long as you get back here before Rhodey. And a martini. A dirty martini. With extra olives.”
She only raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t comment. “Do I get a credit card for that, too?”
“It’s spring break and I rented out the hotel. Drugs and drinks are all free. I only said that so honeybear would worry less.”
Nodding, she left as quickly as she came, leaving Tony alone in the bathroom. Probably the best place for him, really, given he was starting to get a little dizzy and hot and he hadn’t had any food yet, probably, so a toilet close by was just good planning.
He sat down on the tile, gradually letting himself list to the side until his cheek was pressed to the cool ceramic. Maybe he should just take a nap here. He always got a little sleepy on just booze and no drugs, and the heat that crept into every nook and cranny there wasn’t helping matters. He felt like he was living in a low-and-slow sauna, the humidity sticking to his bones. This was why he liked Malibu better, it was less humid and more salty breeze. And now he was thinking about the salt probably still stuck to that model’s chest. He wondered if she was still out there, waiting for him. It was a crapshoot, really. She might have moved on, or she might be waiting for her real chance with the Prince of Darkness or whatever they were calling him this month.
“Here you go.”
Tony flung himself up from the floor, smashing his head on the drawers behind him. “Ow, fuck.”
Natalie had come back, presenting a watch, a martini with a dismal amount of olives, and –
“Yes, thank fuck, you actually got the coke.”
She shrugged. “You said you needed it.”
Tony quickly gathered the watch and martini, downing one in one gulp and starting to pop apart the other. With one hand, he put down the glass and grabbed the baggie of coke, pouring it out on the same counter he was depositing superfluous watch pieces on. “Most people just ignore me when I ask for hard drugs. They think I’m joking.” He leaned in and snorted up a nose-full of the powder, not even bothering to push it into lines. It didn’t matter how messy it was, as long as it got into his body and out of sight before Rhodey showed back up to berate him to death.
He grabbed an olive out of his empty martini glass and rolled it in the rest of the coke, popping it in his mouth. Everything was about to start going light speed, now that the drinks and drugs were running through his system. Better get his mind on task before he was too far gone.
Rhodey came through at some point, dropping off the wires and computer parts, along with somebody’s crappy laptop. Who brought a laptop on his slutty spring break adventure, he didn’t know, but he was grateful for it now.
“What are you even doing, Tones?”
Rhodey’s voice was the only one that ever penetrated when he was high like this. Weird design flaw in his brain, but unlike the rest of the world Rhodey never annoyed him so it was fine. “Stark watch, first of its line. A watch that send out basic information, display notifications, and yes, can ping off towers for GPS signals. Mostly accurate ones, anyway, within a few blocks or so. With that plus what I can salvage from your old…thingy, you’ll be back in business before…what time is it?”
“Oh, your fancy watch doesn’t tell time?”
“She’s got a watch, on her ring, which is cool as shit.”
Rhodey was quite for a minute, so Tony looked up. He was frowning. “She asked how you knew that and actually, I’m curious, too.”
Tony wracked his brain for what he said and how he got there. Being a genius was confusing sometimes. Most of the time. “Her ring? It’s a little chunky for her style, doesn’t really match her slip. It’s there for a reason, and there’s a tiny red light that keeps blinking every few minutes. Five or ten, probably.”
Rhodey shook his head and smiled, patting Tony on the head. It should have been irritating, but coming from his best friend it was just nice.
“It’s half past one,” Rhodey said, “So I’m guessing you’ll be done before two?”
Tony had already started working again, only half listening. “More like 5.”
“Five o’ clock? That’s damn slow for you, you all right?”
Tony smirked. “Four, three,” he put the finishing touches on, pressing the case back together with the snaps and a little superglue from the toolkit under the sink. “Two, one, done.”
He held the watch up triumphantly. Natalie or whatever looked mostly unimpressed, but one eyebrow arched up. Tony took that as total amazement. “Thank you.”
"It was easy." He tossed it over to Natalie, who caught it without moving, somehow. Maybe Tony was just still high. "Hit me up if you ever need an upgrade. I would give you my number but I assume you'll be able to find me wherever I go."
Tony closed his eyes for just a second to stop the room from vibrating so much - because just spinning would have been too boring for his brain, apparently - and when he opened them again she was gone.
"Where did- did she just disappear?"
Rhodey - who was now sitting on the ground next to Tony, and since when was he on the ground? - rolled his eyes and smiled. "Nah, man, you just nodded off for a second there. She said her goodbyes, mentioned some super spy bullshit, then hightailed it out of here. Something about a mark or something and she can track you anywhere, yada yada yada."
Tony hummed. "Well, then." He slapped Rhodey on the thigh and got himself standing with a little more help from the counter than he would have liked. "Time to get back to the party. We've got to get you a laid one last time before you're gone forever."
"I'm enlisting, not dying, Tones."
Tony just waved him off. It was time for more drugs and booze, and maybe if he was lucky he'd forget all about redheaded super spies and shady government organizations.
Chapter 3: Purple is really hard to match with, okay?
Anthony Edward Stark, human disaster, meets Clinton Francis Barton, even Bigger human disaster.
(Clint here is based almost entirely on Matt Fraction's run with Hawkeye in 2014, which in turn is based off the MCU but is actually in a different universe that basically erases/rewrites the time when a literal child killed Clint, then restored him in a pocket universe with the rest of the superheroes, then restored him with his hearing intact (but otherwise largely unchanged) because "that's how Franklin Richards [aka the literal child] remembered him" despite Franklin never knowing him before his hearing loss in the original 616 (that excuse, however, being how they erased a whole bunch of other stuff the writers painted themselves into a corner with and didn't feel like dealing with anymore but that's another story), all because comics thrive on being Difficult which is precisely why incel comic geeks are Like That but that's a whole essay for another time)
tl;dr: Clint in this bit has been deaf/hard of hearing on and off since he was a kid, more severely "on" later, and lives in an apartment in Brooklyn owned by tracksuit wearing Russian mob "vampires" that say "Bro" entirely too much.
sorry this took so long, I was struggling to find a way to finish this, then I remembered Bobbi existed in all her beauty, so then this was born. The next chapter, depending on the order I end up putting it in, could be up as soon as November. Graduate level classes are being a pain in the ass right now, so I can't promise any sooner, but I've got all the chapters outlined and most of them over halfway finished, so it'll get done, just not super quick.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony was in the middle of a very time-sensitive project, thank you, when the doorbell rang obnoxiously. He hadn’t even had time to set up JARVIS in this place yet – not that the AI could do much more than translate a few languages and operate basic household functions right now, it was still the early stages – and someone was already bothering him.
“Go away!” he yelled in the vague direction of the door. If he let his concentration stray for more than a few seconds this whole thing – and his new apartment – would all go boom. Mark his words, he was never going to work with biochemicals ever again. At least, not without an extra set of hands. Actually, that might be a cool idea.
The knocking came back again, this time in full force. Something about it was a little off, though. The pattern was weird.
Tony let his subconscious work on that while he focused on the task at hand. He was trying to control the growth and regeneration of a lima bean plant with a formula he’d half-remembered from some one-night stand from a house party he’d crashed after his guest lecture a few weeks ago. Maya Hansen, her name was. Brilliant, one of the smartest people he’d ever encountered. Shame she went to Harvard. He wasn’t huge on college rivalries, but Rhodey would skin him alive if he started dating a Beaver – not as bad as he would if she went to CalTech, but still pretty bad. That, and she moved back to Malibu, and as much as Tony loved it there, it was time for a change. All the big software breakthroughs were happening in Silicon Valley, sure, but engineering was all New York City, as it always has been.
But the formula was actually really groundbreaking, if he could actually remember it right. And stabilize it. And apply it.
SHIELD, his mind supplied. And where did that come from? The mooks couldn’t help with this problem, even if he did trust them enough to let them in on it – which he didn’t, especially since it wasn’t his formula to start with.
The knocking came back again, and then he understood. It was morse code: S-H-I-E-L-D. Well, fuck. He could leave the plant for a few seconds…right?
Tony sprinted to the door, unlocked and opened it, then sprinted back to the counter where he left the plant. “Lock it up after you.”
He didn’t bother to see who it was – it was almost always Steve, but he hadn’t exactly advertised his new apartment of ten minutes, so it was probably “Natalie.” She was good at figuring out that kind of stuff. Regardless, he heard the door lock again, so problem solved.
Until his mind rewound to where there was a man in his apartment that was not the possessor of America’s Star Spangled Ass. This guy’s ass was not flat, per say, but not as insanely perky as the resident super soldier.
“Um, yeah, hello?” Tony said as he kept a weary eye on the plant. It was starting to look concerningly red around the edges. “Weird man in my apartment? Who are you?”
The guy turned around with his back to the door and seemed to be twitchy doing it. Any exposed skin was covered in bruises and cuts, and more offensively, everything he was wearing was a different shade of purple. None of them even matched, it was a travesty.
“You’re the one who let me in.”
“That wasn’t my question.”
The man’s face hardened, reluctant. He obviously hated getting bossed around by a kid like Tony – though he was already 20, so not a kid really anymore. “Nat sent me.”
“You know,” Tony added a little more acid to the plant, which surprisingly calmed it down slightly. Huh. “That’s not as reassuring as you think it is.”
The guy shrugged, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Yeah, well. That’s what I got.” He stepped forward, hand stretched out. “My name’s Clint.”
His accent was off. Not the Russian-off of ‘Natalie’ or the different-era-off of Steve. Something…modern, familiar. “Sammy.”
Clint took back his hand, frowning. “You’re not Tony?”
“No, no, I am, I just-“ Tony shook his head. “You sound like someone I used to know, Sam Farrell. She’s the daughter of one of my dad’s friends, some movie star. She has the same accent as you, but she’s from around here so it’s not location based.”
Cling laughed. “You could have just asked.” He reached up to his ear and took something out, presenting it to Tony. A bright-ass purple hearing aid. Of course. “It’s a deaf accent. I’m deaf.”
Tony kept working on his formula, but made sure to tilt his head so Clint could see his lips. “Gotcha, cool. Why are you here again?”
“I have a, um, problem with some guys, a personal thing. I just need a place to lie low for a while so I can heal up and get a plan together.”
Tony spared another glance up at the dude, who really did look beat to hell. “Sorry, I stopped with the whole nurse shtick after Captain America almost died on my couch a few Christmases ago.”
“Whoa, wait.” Clint held his hands up but couldn’t get his elbows too far off his ribs. They must be bruised, then. “No nurse needed, promise. Ask anyone in SHIELD medical, I don’t do doctors. Or kid geniuses with suture kits, either. I can handle my own stitches, I just need a couch to crash on until my back-up gets back in town.”
“Is every couch I buy going to end up with bloodstains on it?”
“With the people you run with? Probably.”
Tony sighed. Somehow the cocktail of chemicals he threw on the baby plant calmed it down. If he remembered his organic chemistry classes from MIT right, it should be at least stable now. The real test would be to see if it could keep regenerating without taking out the entire apartment building, or at least his kitchen island, but that would be a question for later when he didn’t have a deaf spy with a terrible fashion sense taking up residence in his living room.
He stood up and walked to the cabinet he’d stocked full of liquor before he’d unpacked any of his bags, even. There was a really great aged scotch that was calling out to him. “There’s blankets and pillows or whatever in one of the boxes around here. One of Obie’s people labelled them, probably, so they should be easy to find.”
Clint clicked his tongue and did finger guns, then started looking around at all the boxes. Tony ignored him for the time being to concentrate on the plant that he was now 96% sure wasn’t going to blow up anytime soon.
He wrote down what he did, exactly, then grabbed his laptop off a cutting board to upload it into his servers. He would have to make an SI only one, soon, for his official projects. He didn’t want to have all those people have access to troll around his personal data. Encrypted as it was, SI did make a habit to only hire the best, and he also didn’t want to look like he didn’t do anything. Plus, having all his SI work locked up in the systems at the office sounded boring and inefficient if he had ideas outside the workplace. Which, he doubted he would be spending much time in the workplace anyway, so all signs pointed towards a new server. Which he would do. Eventually.
Tony stopped to stretch out his back and arms, which protested enough that he must have been hunched over for hours at least.
Oh, he had almost forgot Clint was there. “For what?” He swiveled around in his chair.
Clint was holding up a huge pot and had apparently somehow found a “Kiss the Cook” apron. “Chili. It’s basically all I know how to make, and since your fridge was looking a little sad I thought I’d put something together with the cans you had. Hence, Kitchen Sink Chili.”
Tony took one of the bowls sitting on the counter and let Clint pour him a serving. “Big family?”
“Just the one brother.” Clint replied easily. “It was the circus. We had a lot of people to feed, not a lot of consistent resources.”
It was refreshing, the way that Clint didn’t ask why he’d assumed that. Tony was getting tired of having to explain his every thought to everyone he talked to. To not be questioned for once, it was a nice change. “You’re clever. I like you.”
Clint smirked, and there was genuine warmth behind it. "Can't say I've heard that before."
"You work for the top spy organization in the most powerful country in the world," Tony pointed out, "You legally couldn't be a total idiot. Not according to most people, anyway."
Clint shrugged as he dug into his own bowl of chili. "High school dropout, former carny, people are shallow, et cetera. Nobody really takes the time to look past the surface."
Tony poked at his chili, idly trying to identify the ingredients. It smelled good, at least. "Well you haven't made me explain myself or spell shit out yet, so you're pretty damn smart in my books. Plus, assumptions are for idiots. Theories have to fit the facts, not the other way around."
Neither of them spoke again for a long while, letting themselves lapse into a comfortable silence. Tony finally tested his chili - pretty good, but not the best he's had. That award would always go to Momma Rhodes - even going back for seconds and thirds, which was rare for him. Something about the warmth and having comfortable company for the first time since Rhodey started with basic training let him relax a little, take a second to breathe. It was nice.
But then again, Tony could never just live and let live. "So, the guys you were having problems with. What gives, there?"
Clint tapped his spoon on the edge of the bowl that was half full of his fourth helping. "They're a mob, I think," He said into his chili, not looking up, "Some Russian dudebros in these stupid futzing track suits."
"There's kids in the building I live in. Some things just kind of stick," Clint said by way of explanation, "But anyway these dudes own a bunch of buildings in my neighborhood and they're real assholes about it. Trying to kick out single moms, raising rent for no reason, protection fees, that kind of bullshit. I just wanna help out the little guys, you know? Make up for some of the shit I've done in my life."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "An international spy with a record? No wonder you and Nat are friends."
"Yeah, we, uh. We knew each other before." Clint dug into his chili again, talking with his mouth half full. That should probably annoy the shit out of Tony, but honestly he was worse when pizza was anywhere near his person, so he couldn't really judge. "But yeah so I shot at 'em and they didn't like that, so they beat the shit out of me and now I have the tracksuit vampire mob after me."
Tony huffed out a laugh. "I'm surprised no one's called the cops on you for mugging or something by now, walking around in that outfit with a gun. Even if you are a white man, that's a little over the line of suspicious."
Clint cocked his head to the side, kind of like a puppy. "Gun? No, I don't do guns. Kind of an unofficial rule after the whole mess in Budapest."
"Budapest?" Tony asked, "Wait, no, later. What were you shooting with if it wasn't a gun? A fucking bow and arrow?"
It was a joke. It should have been taken as a joke. Yet there Clint was, nodding vigorously, pulling a collapsible bow out of the duffel bag he'd dropped next to the front door.
"It's really cool, actually. I've got trick arrows and everything!"
"I understand now why people think you're an idiot." Tony muttered, too low for Clint to hear. As crazy as it was, though, the bow looked really cool. Like, a marvel in modern weapons making cool. Like, he should look into it for the company cool. "Can I see that?"
Clint clutched the bow to his chest dramatically with a loud gasp. And people called Tony a drama queen. "Nobody touches my baby. Except sometimes Bobbi, but that's a whole thing. And Nat, but that's only on missions. And Jess." He let his arms drop down from their defensive position. "Okay, fine, maybe a lot of people get to touch my baby, but that doesn't mean I'll let the local teenage mad scientist do it."
Tony hummed, trying to parse out the specs from afar. "There's a dick joke in there somewhere," he commented, "And I'm 20, so not a teenager."
The bow did look almost impressive. Not that Tony would ever admit it that, of course. The design was fascinating, how it was easily collapsible yet resisted doing so when drawn. With just a glance at the pulley system he'd estimate a draw weight of around 250 lbs. Even not knowing much about bows like that, Tony knew that was insane.
Tony narrowed his eyes. "If my math is right, which it always is, you should barely be able to draw back that bowstring, let alone use it as your primary weapon. What gives? You have a super soldier serum knock-off or something?" Tony knew it wasn't as rare as they liked people to believe, co-opted versions of Captain America's secret to keeping in shape, and he also knew Natalia had something like that running through her veins, even though she tried her damndest to hide it. He just didn't think it was common enough to be thrown at some random orphan carny who was clearly from the Midwest if his terrible nasally accent on top of the deaf one meant anything. Though he was a spy, he could have just been affecting the accent, but Tony doubted that. No one could live with sounding like Cher on speed for too long without gouging out their ears unless they grew up with it and assumed it was normal. Though, given he was mostly deaf, maybe he didn't hear it, so maybe it was a trick. Though, most travelling circuses stayed in the Midwest anyway...
"I've been shooting since I was a kid, back with the circus," Clint answered, pulling Tony from his rambling thoughts, "So I had the time to work up to it. Plus, it makes sure nobody can fuck with my bow but me. Well, and Nat, but you know as well as I do that she's probably never met a challenge she didn't beat then scoff at after."
Tony hummed, eyes roaming over the bow. "So no touching the baby, but are trick arrows on the table? I'll pay you back by upgrading all of them like, a ridiculous amount."
Clint hesitated. "I know Nat vouched for you, but as much as I trust her with my life she's also an international spy," he reasoned.
"True." Tony shrugged and started cleaning up the dishes. He probably had dish soap and a sponge to actually wash them somewhere, but he couldn't be bothered to look. Obie would probably have a cleaner out by the end of the week anyway, as much to report back on how Tony was doing as to actually clean up, but hey. That was the price of being the heir to a billion-dollar company at 20.
Oh, he should probably warn Clint about that if this was whole thing - whatever it was - turned out to last that long.
"So, I should mention that I have people keeping eyes on me now that I'm out of MIT." He tossed out as he turned to see Clint's reaction. "Not constant, but someone will notice in a few days that I have a quote-unquote 'visitor' that's not just here for a quick fuck or two."
Clint's eyes tightened around the corners. His hands slowed in putting away his bow. "What kind of people?"
Tony shrugged. "Interim CEO. He kinda helped raise me, at least on the business side, so he can be a little over-protective."
"Nat didn't mention that."
"Nat also hasn't seen me in person since I graduated. Obie hadn't started tailing me yet." Tony shrugged, moving back towards his plants. "Though I do think he bribed my Nuclear Physics TA to spy on me. He got a little on edge after I started sleeping with him."
Clint barked out a laugh. "Well, that's one way to flip an informant. Pun intended."
"Yeah, well. It's Obie's fault for picking a hot one." He left off the fact that Obie absolutely didn't know he wasn't straight until then. Obie was one of the old guard, a product of his time. Gay men were an...uncomfortable subject for him. Not that Tony was gay - he wasn't super into labels and all that, but if he had to choose he'd say bi - but with the whole AIDs thing, well. It was better to keep things close to the vest until he officially had the protection of SI to fall back on. "Anyway, it'll probably take him a few days to catch on, but I can spin something if you're willing to play along."
"Thanks, but not necessary." Clint stood back up, only barely wincing at what was probably bruised ribs. "I'll be out of your hair as soon as back-up arrives."
"Uh-huh, sure." Tony picked off a leaf, watching curiously as the stem started to burn orange, then yellow - weird, he didn't expect that - then slowly inch into white-hot territory as it crackled and bubbled ominously. "Oh shit."
Something barreled into his side, sending him tumbling off the barstool and onto the floor just as the plat exploded into a flash of heat and light, taking out half the countertop with it. Tony shook his head, shaking the chunks of granite out of his hair.
Clint, half on top of him, groaned. "Do you always make ficus bombs in your kitchen for your guests, or am I just that special?"
"In hindsight I probably shouldn't have tried to dip my toe into biochemistry this far into the deep end. Or maybe next time I should just have a more reliable initial notes - I was pretty drunk that night."
Clint pushed himself and glared at him. "Nat's profile makes so much more sense now."
Tony slid up into a vaguely upright sitting position. "Profile? That doesn't sound good."
Clint let himself drop down again, lying face up on the cool tile. "Nothing official, she's smarter than that. More just a...informal recommendation between friends."
"What'd she say?" He only had vague memories of that trip, but he did know he was spectacularly high. And drunk. She probably said something about him being an addict - probably true - or completely insane - definitely true.
"To make sure to keep you away from anything I didn't want to be turned into a supercomputer. Including my watch."
Tony hummed. "Accurate."
"You think your spy maids are going to clean this up or run screaming?"
"Oh, trust me," Tony laughed. "This is far from the worst thing they've had to deal with. You should have seen Obie's face at the Great Pumpkin Carving Race we pulled off last Halloween at the mansion. Rhodey had pumpkin guts falling out of his pockets for weeks."
"I can beat that story, easy. Did Nat have time to tell you about the Nerf gun war we pulled off our first year at SHIELD together?"
Maybe having Clint around was going to be more fun than he thought
It turned out that "back-up" was another super spy that just so happened to be his wife. Taking workplace romance to the next level, then.
"Ex-wife." She corrected when Clint invited her in. "We divorced when you were in prison that one time, remember?"
"Remember when you killed a man? Yeah, I do."
Tony frowned. Was that not what they did? Clint was a former mercenary, he said so himself. Why get so worked up about one guy?
Lucky for him, Clint didn't know when to let it be. "We got out of that life so we didn't have to do that any more, Bobbi. Why quit being mercenaries if you just go back to being judge jury and executioner again?"
"Oh, shit." Tony whispered to himself.
Bobbi's glare looked like it could set Clint on fire if she wanted it to. "Since he raped me, Clint."
Clint and Bobbi both turned their glares on him.
"Are you done?" Bobbi demanded.
Tony froze. Luckily, he was pretty well versed in sticking his nose into other people's fights. "Not my fault your lives turned out like a soap opera. My cable's not set up yet so this is the most entertaining thing I've watched all week."
Something changed in Bobbi's gaze. She turned on Clint. "So you haven't seen the new Dog Cops episode, then?"
Clint, one of the world's greatest archers and super secret spy, actually clapped his hands over his ears and started singing nonsensically. "No spoilers!"
Bobbi looked back to Tony, exasperated. "See what I have to deal with?"
Tony just hummed. He'd heard Clint crooning off-key to the Spice Girls in the shower for literally hours. He was well aware who she had to deal with.
"Anyway," Bobbi pulled Clint's hands away from his head. "We need to go. We're kind of on a timeline, here.
"So you guys are rolling out, then?" Tony asked, "That quick? No planning sesh in my living room while you paint each other's toenails? I don't get to watch the thrilling saga of you two's marriage play out in real time?"
Clint, unsurprisingly, caught the undercurrent of disappointment in Tony's voice. "We got people we have to protect."
Tony nodded. "I get it. We've all got people we want to keep safe. I wish you the best of luck with the vampires, then."
Bobbi groaned. "You've got him saying it, too?" She blamed Clint.
Clint ignored her and stood, duffel bag slung over his shoulder, his bow in his opposite hand. "Thanks for the couch, Tony."
"No problem, Legolas, Pussy Galore." He ignored Bobbi's eye roll. "If you're ever in trouble again and need a helping hand, go ahead and just lose my number."
"Ouch," Bobbi laughed.
"You'll be sorry next time you're craving my world class chili." Clint added with a look.
"And then I'll see the bloodstains on my couch and the literal hundreds of dollars I spent on coffee over the past 48 hours. That and you drink straight out of the pot like a heathen." Tony very pointedly did not mention he does the exact same thing. It was his coffee maker, he could drink it however he pleased.
Clint barked out a laugh. "I'll do my best to keep my lethal wounds away from the white leather next time."
"I'd appreciate that."
Clint and Bobbi headed towards the door, Clint walking backwards as he shot Tony a lazy salute. "Thanks for the couch, kid!"
The door closing behind them sounded louder than it did before.
Tony thought, for a second, that he might miss the company. A huge penthouse all to himself could get lonely sometimes. Then he looked back in the kitchen and saw the exploded countertop, mountain of chili-crusted pots in the sink - really, since when did he have that many soup pots? He didn't even cook - and...were those coffee stains on the ceiling? Yeah, no, alone was good. As soon as he got a secure server up in this place he was sending a message to Nat about never ever giving his information out to her mercenary carny friends again. Ever.
little known fact: Clint's bow is insanely hard to draw back. Like any normal human who picked it up in the comics could never draw it back because the draw weight was that high. There's no official number for how high that is, but the heaviest draw weight I've ever seen was around 200lbs so this is my low estimate for that.
Oh and for those of you who aren't aware, Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird and Clint were married for a long while in the comics, but divorced (by literally shouting "Well then I'll divorce you" "No /I'll/ divorce /you/!") because Bobbi didn't save the guy who literally brainwashed her into sleeping with him for months, and Clint was of the mind that Avengers never kill people or they're just as bad as the bad guys. So there's that.
Chapter 4: Mean Green Sciencing Machine
Tony's on the way to a residual event of Howard's that he's tasked with taking over, and things get a little...complicated along the way.
sorry this one is so late, I got stuck at the very end and didn't know how to end it, and also I both low-key forgot I didn't post this chapter already and lost my notes for the rest of the chapters when my laptop went kaput. But basically I hated that this chapter was sitting here almost finished in my drafts, so I wrapped it up real quick to get it out to y'all.
as for the other chapters.... idk when/how this will be finished, but I am in the process of writing the other chapters so it'll get done eventually, probably after I finish my piece for the ironhusbands big bang (which is still open for artists sign ups! so if you're interested go ahead and check that out here: https://ironhusbandsbigbang.tumblr.com/post/619691735614947328/artist-sign-ups-are-open
as always, hope y'all enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony would forever be amazed at the level to which old white men would jerk off to the memory of his dad’s rotting corpse, and even more amazed at how many times they invited him to join in on their little circle jerk. As much as he loved a good orgy, when Howard was the topic then that really tended to bring the mood down. He might have a little trouble getting it up, if you know what he means.
Pepper would absolutely murder him for how far he let that metaphor go. Or probably just give him that why-did-I-even-take-this-job look, the one that made it look like she was purposely trying to knock her own eyes out of her head through sheer willpower.
He still didn’t understand why they invited him along to these things, it never ended well, but only living relative and all that. Whatever.
“Come on, Mister Stark.” And she really did say it like that, didn’t she, all spelled out with every single syllable emphasized. It must rub her the wrong way, being the personal assistant to a twenty-one-year-old playboy billionaire. She was what, twenty-four? Twenty-five? Old enough that she felt the difference. “It’s one quick speech, then we’re out of here. Just stick to the objective truths.”
“How about, ‘He was an abusive, neglectful asshole who didn’t even run his own company and dragged an innocent person to her death with him because he couldn’t wait an hour to be sober enough to drive’?”
Her jaw clenched. Angry blushes really made her freckles pop. “I was thinking more along the lines of ‘He was a powerhouse of engineering without whom the world would be decades behind in technology.’”
“Right, so the stockholder lies, then.” Tony fiddled with his phone, planning out the its successor in his head. “Why didn’t they get one of them to do this? Why not shove Obie up there, he loves waxing poetic about Howard’s brain. Probably wanted to fuck him along with the rest of them.”
Pepper didn’t deign that with a response. She was good at holding in her anger like that. She really was one of a kind, he made the right choice on her. Her credentials were lacking, but damn did she make up for it in stubbornness and lack of ability to be surprised by literally anything. Perfect for following him around, even Rhodey agreed.
The car stopped in front of the park where the ceremony was being held. They had a mini red carpet and everything. It was a little ridiculous, given the building was going to be used as a lecture hall, so it wasn’t like anyone was ever going to be excited to go there for their eight a.m.’s.
Tony sighed and allowed Pepper to straighten his tie before he stepped out. There were too many people out there, too many reporters and academics and senators. They really wanted to waste their time reminiscing with him, well didn’t they? It didn’t matter, he put his Press Smile on regardless and worked the room. Carpet. Whatever.
He barely got halfway down their stupid red carpet before everyone got tense and, if Tony didn’t know any better, he would say panicked. What did they have to be panicked for? No world threatening bullshit seemed to be looming around these parts – Steve liked to warn him just in case it got bad and he needed to crash. Maybe the whole affair had to be postponed suddenly? Maybe they all came to their senses and decided to rename the damn place? Oh, how he wished that were true. The Howard Stark Hall was a stupid sounding name anyway. Might as well do what literally every other university does and name it after the guy who gave them the most money.
A random old white guy he probably should have known the name of stepped up and grabbed him a little too harshly by the elbow. “Mr. Stark, I apologize, but the ceremony will have to be postponed.”
Oh, thank god. “Why? What happened?”
“A, um. Lab experiment gone wrong, as far as we can tell.”
That had to evacuate a yet-to-be-used building? Must have been either very close – doubtful – or campus wide. Impressive, even when he was at MIT he’d never managed to close up all of campus, despite his best efforts. Physics finals were very inspiring on that front.
The man was leading him through the crowd, practically dragging him through the bodies. Tony stopped letting him when he heard someone whisper about a “matter of national security.”
“What the hell is really happening here? I’m probably the world’s leading expert on lab experiments gone wrong, so having me in the know would be very helpful for you all.”
Everyone in hearing range paused, frozen. One man with badly dyed black hair in a General’s uniform stepped forward. “You don’t have the clearance for that, Mr. Stark.”
“Clearance my ass.” Tony spat. He hated the brass despite the fact that they were his biggest buyers. Possibly because of that fact, if he thought about it. What did Rogers say his clearance level was again? “I’m a SHIELD level 8. Tell me everything you know.”
The General frowned. Maybe he didn’t know what SHIELD was? That would be awkward. “Of course. Let’s talk about this in private, then.”
The general led him away – Tony was starting to get really tired of people leading him places – to the new lecture hall, which presumably had been evacuated. He was right, as usual.
“Mr. Stark, here’s what we know.” The general had barely stopped walking before he started talking through gritted teeth. Ha, he hated this. Served him right. “There was an accident in one of our military liaison labs, one dedicated to biology and radiation. We were, well.” The general coughed and hesitated.
“You were what?”
“We were…trying to recreate the super soldier serum, using gamma rays. They tested it today and apparently it didn’t go well.”
Right, nobody knew Steve was alive because then psychos like this would try to steal his blood. Funny, his father had tried that once, too, hadn't he? “My father was the lead on that project, but you didn’t see the need to include me?”
“That’s what today was leading up to, in fact.”
“Right.” Tony rubbed a hand down his face. “So, what? Someone died? Gamma rays leaked everywhere? What happened?”
There was a huge crash outside the lecture hall, followed by what sounded like a human roar turned up to 12.
The general looked even more cagey. “That happened.”
“A giant rage monster? You somehow fucked up so badly you created a monster? That cry was definitely human, what happened to animal testing?”
The general opened his mouth to answer, but his phone interrupted. He looked at the caller ID and paled. “I have to take this.”
Tony wave him away. “Fine, sure, whatever. I’ll just, you know, work out how to decommission a very angry Captain America.”
Luckily, he already had most of an idea, after having met the real deal and seen exactly what he can do, but the General didn’t need to know that. Either way, he was alone with his thoughts, hoping Happy and Pepper had gotten out safe. Actually, that was probably something he should check on.
He pulled out his phone and dialed. Happy picked up on the first ring.
“We’re fine, boss. I sent Ms Potts ahead as soon as they started gathering. They told me you’re in a safe room somewhere?”
“Not exactly, Hap, but don’t worry about me. It was a lab thing, I’ve got a lot of experience in that. They want me to help out, so I’ll be a while. Don’t wait up.”
Tony hung up and went to call Steve next, just in case he had any tips, when the roof caved in about thirty feet in front of him. Apparently, the rage monster had also turned green and huge. Fun.
It – he? – had fallen through backwards and looked more confused than anything. He locked eyes with Tony.
“Hey…big guy. You’re green, did you know that? Kind of an alarming color to be, must be freaking you out.” Tony slowly walked forward, hands held up with his palms out. “How about you chill out a little bit and we can figure out how to get you back down to normal size, okay?”
The giant green monster looked almost as if he would accept Tony’s offer. Then he got hit with a hail of bullets and turned even more green before roaring.
The monster sprung up and towards the shooters, tearing up the foliage on his way. Well, at least Tony got a good look at him, and now knew that the thing was bulletproof. Any ideas about a cure couldn’t be injectable, then. Good to know.
The general came back in, finishing up his phone call. He looked to Tony. “Now, where were we?”
Tony gestured to the crater in the building. “Here?”
“He was here? And you’re not dead?”
“I’ve been told I’m infuriatingly charming.” Tony shrugged. “Why don’t you take me to one of your labs that’s not destroyed so I can start working out a cure?”
“Dr. Betty Ross has all the data and her lab should be intact.”
“Great. Let’s get moving then.”
Turns out, Dr. Betty Ross had some friends in high places. Or, well, had a dad in high places – the same general that pulled him away from the scene – and so was hunkered down in some military safe-point or something. Tony didn’t really listen or care, all he cared about was powering down the jolly green giant and given that Dr. Ross’ lab was ground zero, he figured it would be the perfect place to start.
“Are you going to need any of my men in here, Stark?” The general looked fidgety. He probably wanted all hands on deck to try to shoot down the guy. That, or he wanted to check on his daughter. Tony would bet a lot of money that it was the former.
Tony shook his head and started logging into the computers with the codes the general gave him. “Nope. Have fun trying out brute force.”
The general probably said something, but Tony was beyond listening. These results were…concerning. Even if he could reverse the effects of the gamma rays, there was no guarantee the guy would come back the same, if at all. That much radiation should have killed him.
Who was this guy, even, that volunteered for this? Did he have any idea what he was getting into? Tony pulled up the patient files and yup, that explained that. Lead researcher Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, M.D., PhD. Probably on a time crunch from the military, had to get some sort of results in anticipation for Tony himself to join the project, and decided instead of a random volunteer he would just go through the insanely dangerous process himself. Can’t say Tony wouldn’t have done the same, but the poor guy was probably never coming back from this. Oh, the things they did for science.
Tony jumped. On the other side of the lab, where there was a very impressive hole in the wall and ceiling, stood a mostly naked, very dirty man hunched over himself. He looked vaguely familiar.
“Safe.” Tony stood up and crossed the distance carefully, like approaching a stray cat. “Why are you looking for her?”
“Who are you?” The man looked up, squinting to meet Tony’s eyes. He looked like…shit, this was the guy. Dr. Banner, the scientist and recently giant green man.
“Tony Stark: playboy, genius, billionaire, philanthropist, and newest addition to the super-secret project you’ve got going on here.” Tony got even closer, tilting his head. “I have to say, the results aren’t exactly what I was expecting, Dr. Banner, but turning into a giant green rage monster is a pretty rad side effect, especially if you can reverse it back like this. Speaking of, how did you reverse it? I still haven’t figured anything out and you’ve spent most of this time with hands the size of tennis rackets. That and when I saw you earlier you didn’t quite seem all there.”
Dr. Banner hunched further the more Tony talked. He swallowed visibly. “I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.” He shrugged. “I’ll help you find out if you don’t turn me over to Ross.”
“Betty? Didn’t you just want to see her like thirty seconds ago?”
Dr. Banner shook his head. “No, Betty’s fine. I meant Thaddeus.”
Tony choked out a laugh. “Oh god, is that really his first name? He’s always just said ‘General’ around me. Oh, that’s perfect.”
Dr. Banner met his gaze sharply. “Do we have a deal or not?”
“Oh, right, yeah of course. I’m not doing Thaddeus any favors, he’s an ass.”
Banner deflated, all the fight going out of him as soon as he was safe(ish). “Thank you.”
“First things first, Jolly Green, we’ve got to get you to someplace safe. Thaddeus is going to show back up here at some point, and whether he’s looking for Dr. Banner or the big guy, neither bodes well for you.” And no, Tony was never going to give up the whole Thaddeus thing. That was just gold.
Dr. Banner nodded heavily. God, he must be exhausted, after a transformation like that. “First thing, my name is Bruce. And as for the location, we could probably jump motels long enough to get out from under him if we move quick, disguise ourselves, get some fake names. We might need passports at some point, but we can cross that bridge when we get there.”
Tony let a laugh sneak out. “Oh, Bruce. You act like I’m not the inventor of the most advanced security systems in the world. We can go to my place, you’ll be safe there.”
There was more than a healthy amount of distrust in Bruce’s gaze, but he nodded anyway. “Do you have a safe way of getting there?”
“Happy’s probably still in the area, I can call him.”
Bruce frowned. “Is that a name?”
Tony hummed in response, already pulling out his phone. “Happy Hogan, my driver. Most discrete person I know. If he didn’t leak all the nasty shit he’s seen by this point, nothing will faze him. Plus he’s a good friend of mine. You can trust him with just about anything.”
He could sense Bruce’s hesitation in letting more people in on this whole thing, but there was no argument. Tony dialed and held up the phone, Happy picked up on the second ring.
“Tony, you alright?”
“Yeah, remember how I said don’t wait up?”
“No, I haven’t left the university yet. Give my a location and I can be there in five.”
Tony rattled off the name of the building and the closest he could approximate the coordinates, then let Happy off the phone to navigate to them. Bruce had migrated to a stool in the far corner, wrapped around himself tightly.
The longer Tony looked at him, the worse he felt. This guy just wanted to advance science – an admirable goal – and was left naked and dirty and on the run. Oh, and with a very large very colorful problem that may or may not appear again. That was practically the stuff of nightmares.
“What pant size are you?”
Bruce lifted his head from his knees. He was frowning, but not unhappily. Probably the first time Tony had seen him that his expression wasn’t actively unhappy. “Um, 32 by 30 maybe?”
“Eh, close enough.” Tony undid his belt and shucked his pants off, offering them up in Bruce’s direction. “They’re a tailored 28, but it’s better than walking around with your bits all exposed.”
Bruce took the pants tentatively, sparing only a passing glance at Tony’s now exposed legs. “What about you?”
“I’ve got silk boxer briefs and also no shame. Don’t worry about me, I’ve done much worse.” He slid off his jacket that he only wore because Pepper deemed it “mature” and “respectable” – two adjectives that had yet to be used in reference to him – and tossed it to the other man. “Take that, too. It’s hideous, but now it’ll look less like we’ve been fucking like rabbits in here. Or maybe more, what do I know about hiding these things.”
Not much, apparently.
"Did you seriously shut down the entire university because you couldn't keep it in your pants?" Happy asked when he arrived, incredulous. "That's ridiculous, even for you, Tony."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Ha ha, very funny Happy. Anyway, Bruce here is the one that couldn't keep it in his pants, if we're being technical."
Bruce hunched his shoulders hard and blushed.
"Come on, Hap, back to the Tower." Tony pushed Bruce ahead of him into the back of the car, climbing in quickly after. He really didn't need any new pics of him half-dressed in public popping up any more than they already were.
Tony and Bruce settled themselves into the seats across from Pepper. Despite the circumstances, she had not a hair out of place, and looked remarkably more angry than she did shaken.
"And who would this be?" She asked, one perfectly shaped eyebrow raised high into her forehead.
Bruce just looked down, eyes wide, one leg practically vibrating with how fast he was bouncing it.
Tony slid a hand over the other man's thigh, hopefully providing some sort of comfort. "It's okay, Pep's the most defiant person I know in the face of authority figures, especially when they're wrong. She almost clawed out the eyes of my CFO when she suspected him of embezzling. She takes shit from no man."
"Correctly suspected," Pepper added, a hint of pride in her voice.
Bruce gave a jerky nod. "I'm a scientist. Dr. Banner. I had- there was a military contract and, well. The results were less than satisfactory."
Pepper nodded, letting him leave it there. She was smart, she could probably put two and two together. Plus the giant green rage monster was probably all over the news by now, given it happened on a college campus around a bunch of twenty-somethings - Tony included - who couldn't keep a secret if they tried.
"Where are we headed?" Bruce asked in a quiet voice.
"My Tower. We've got state-of-the-art equipment there, top ten floors are all R&D, so I'm sure between the two of us we can figure out a solution to your little problem," Tony answered, "Plus it's all off the grid, military-wise. They get my equipment, but not my intellectual property. I've got it all locked down with security systems more advanced than they've even seen."
"You have- that all is yours? You own it?" Bruce looked up from his knees for the first time since he got in the car. "But you're just a kid."
Tony rolled his eyes. "A kid, and the CEO of the world's largest weapons and security firm. I thought you'd be smarter than to make assumptions like that, Bruce." Tony's tone was light, but there was hint of steel underneath. Everyone had the same reaction when they learned he headed up a Fortune 500 before he could legally rent a car, but it was getting exhausting when he had to prove himself over and over again to people he just met. If they knew anything about him, they wouldn't be asking stupid questions like that.
At least Bruce picked up on Tony's tone and looked suitably cowed. "You're right, I'm sorry, I just- This is all so much to process right now."
"That's why we're taking you somewhere safe, Dr. Banner, where you have time and space to deal with this." Pepper's voice was soft and kind, like it was the day Tony's mom had died. Sometimes her knack for dealing with scientists that all shared the emotional range of a peanut astounded him.
Bruce, despite this, shook his head. "I appreciate the offer, really, but I can't take you up on it." He looked down at his hands, fingers twisting together between his knees. "I can't trust myself around people right now. I hope you understand."
Tony nodded, crossing his legs. "I get it, you don't want any more collateral damage. Lucky for you, all my workshops are explosion-proof, fit for testing nuclear batteries. If they can withstand the possible fallout of a hydrogen bomb, they can definitely stop your Mr. Hyde from getting out."
"With all due respect, I don't think being confined in a small space will be good for me either." Bruce said to his knees.
Tony sighed. He understood, not wanting to be boxed in or stuck. Sometimes a bunker could feel like a prison, depending what was on the other side. "All right then, Dr. Jekyll. Where are we taking you?"
"There's a smaller airport in about five miles, sir." Happy shouted back from the front of the car. "Ross might not think to look for us there, since they can't handle large aircraft."
Bruce nodded jerkily, still not meeting anyone's eyes. "That'll work. I can stowaway, maybe, or scrounge up some cash for a ticket somehow."
Tony scoffed and reached for his wallet, shifting awkwardly in his seat to free it from his back pocket. "If you're not staying in my tower the least I can do is give you the fare to find someplace else." He rifled through his bills, eventually just grabbing all of them to shove in Bruce's face. "There, that should get you pretty far."
"This is...I can't." Bruce protested as he counted out the bills. Tony estimated about a thousand dollars there, on the low end. More than enough for a plane ticket to Timbuktu and all the hospitality that went with it. "This is too much, I can't take this."
Now it was Pepper's turn to scoff. "That's practically pocket change for him, he'll never notice the difference."
Something in her tone told Tony that she'd tested that theory. Probably to buy herself new shoes when he pissed her off, which was better than her staying pissed off so it was easily an acceptable expense.
Bruce finally looked up, catching Tony's gaze. "Thank you, Tony. I won't forget this."
There was so much emotion there it made Tony squirm internally. He waved it off with a lazy gesture. "Don't worry about it. Just know, no matter what, the offer still stands. Next time you find yourself in New York, hit me up. My doors will be open."
They had made it to the airport at that point, and as soon as Happy stopped the car, Bruce was sliding out with the stack of cash in his shaking hands, held close to his heart like he wouldn't survive if someone took it from him. Given the situation, that was probably more true than not.
He leaned back into the doorway, looking quickly between Pepper and Tony. "I'm... thank you. I appreciate this."
"Not a problem, Dr. Banner." Pepper said, diplomatically.
"Give 'em hell for me, Brucie." Tony said at the same time, much less seriously.
Bruce just nodded and closed the door quietly, turning to walk towards the airport as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself. Pepper, Tony, and Happy all watched him go.
"I know I only met him like five seconds ago at an event for Howard, but I think I'm gonna miss that guy." Tony said after a moment, watching the stationary doors to the small building.
Pepper sighed next to him, probably making that one face that made the corners of her mouth all tight. "Well at least now you have an excuse not to give that speech."
Tony surprised himself with a laugh. "It's cute how you still thought I was actually going to give them a speech and not just flip them all off."
The softness left Pepper's voice. "Happy? Take us to the actual airport please? I have a mountain of paperwork waiting for me when we get back to the city."
The car pulled out of the lot and ambled along the tiny road through the countryside. Tony spent the rest of the ride quietly looking out the window.
That is, until he saw a road sign.
"Wait a damn second..." He frowned, squinting at the sign like it had wronged him. Honestly, it had, just a little bit. "That whole time, we were in Ohio?"
quick note: no, culver is not in Ohio, but the nearest airport to the university is, so that's why the sign. Also, living in Michigan, as soon as I realized that I had to add it in somehow. Sorry any Ohioans out there, but I can't in good conscience be nice to your state, even though I'm not one for state-specific loyalty. I'm afraid if I'm nice to you guys that they'll take away my license to buy faygo red pop and bettermaid potato chips, and we can't have that now can we?