What's this, another chapter? My muse didn't abandon me for 3 months again! Yay!
Chapter 23: A Stark style reunion
The reaction is instantaneous. Whatever color Tony's managed to get back drains away again, and he makes a pained noise in the back of his throat. He sways, even though he's sitting down, and for half a second Steve's worried that the man's going to be sick right then and there. But then Tony springs to his feet and proceeds to sprint out of the room.
Steve, with battle instincts already singing in the back of his mind, snags his shield before barrelling after his friend. Since he's twenty years younger, Tony ends up being a lot faster than Steve remembers, and so he's scrambling to keep up as Tony, for some reason, heads straight towards Howard. Steve would've guessed that he'd go in the opposite direction, but that's something he can reflect over later. Right now he has a friend to catch.
Tony makes it to a turn in the hallway, only to come to a sliding stop. His eyes go wide, he makes that awful noise in his throat again, and now turns to a nearby decorative pot and starts emptying his stomach into it.
Steve manages to come to a slightly more coordinated halt in that he doesn't slam into anything or anyone, but it's not any more graceful than when he'd chased after Tony earlier. He drops his shield against the wall and places a hand on Tony's back as the man continues to retch, feeling the shudder that ripples through Tony's body at the touch. Feeling like there's nothing else he can do for Tony until he's done being sick, Steve turns his eyes down the hall to see what produced this violent reaction.
There's an aged Howard, who looks like he just got hit by a two-by-four. His mouth is opening and closing, but there's no sound coming out. In any other instance, Steve would've dwelled on the fact that any Stark surprised so badly that they're speechless is pretty impressive and hilarious to boot. For the moment his only concern is the cause of Tony's distress.
He just briefly glances over the woman by Howard's side, although he notes that while her eyes dart to him, most of her worried attention seems riveted on Tony. It appears the only reason she hasn't hurried over to Tony's side is the fact that Howard has her hand in his, and the man isn't the right state of mind to release her.
No, it's the third, unexpected man that immediately has Steve's hackles rising. He never had the displeasure of meeting the man before, what with him already being dead by the time Steve was fished out of the ice the first time around, but he knows exactly who he is. After the particularly pointed discussion he had with Rhodey, Steve made it a point to learn all that he could about Tony's history. And so, it's for that reason that Steve's spine straightens as he advances on Obadiah Stane. It's only as he's pulling his fist back, righteous anger probably blazing across his face, that he remembers to pull his punch enough that he doesn't kill the man then and there. Not that he'd particularly care, it's more that he won't take that decision away from Tony. The man drops like a sack of bricks, out cold courtesy of a fist to the head. This leaves Steve's standing over his crumpled body, breathing heavily as he fights to get his temper under control.
"Steve?" Of course Howard finds his voice again at the most inconvenient time.
"Not now," Steve snaps back, immediately looking back to Tony who's now staring at him with wide eyes.
"You punched him," Tony says hoarsely. "You punched Stane."
Steve sets his jaw defiantly as he jerks his chin up. "I did."
Tony looks so bewildered it's almost painful to see. "Why?"
Steve's eyes cut to where Peggy and her family have followed after them. She has a calculating gleam in her eyes that quickly morphs into murderous rage when she spots just who exactly is sprawled out on the floor. "This man is the reason you spent three months captive over in Afghanistan, the reason you had to live four years with an arc reactor in your chest because of shrapnel in your heart leftover from the kidnapping, and you're asking me why I hit him?" he bites out through clenched teeth. "He's lucky I didn't just kill him and be done with it."
"You and Rhodey," Tony mumbles, accepting Edwin's offered hand as he helps him to his feet. "And people say I'm the one with a vicious streak." He takes the cup that Ana presses into his hands and knocks it back with a barely contained grimace.
"We're teammates, and more importantly, we're friends." Steve punctuates this by taking a step towards Tony.
"Yeah, Barnes showed me exactly just how far you're willing to go for your friends, and I gotta say, while I am exceedingly grateful to be on the other end of the equation this time round—" And ouch, that hurts Steve more than he cares to admit but also knows he deserves it despite his every attempt to make up for that particular screw up, "—that doesn't mean now is a good time to unleash all of Captain America's righteous anger on a man who hasn't even done anything yet."
Steve inhales sharply. "If you think for one second that I'm going to let the man who tried to murder you—"
"Cap," Tony interrupts him. "Just because I said he hasn't done anything yet doesn't mean I'm going to let him just walk away from here." He waves a hand at the downed man. "Especially now that you've gone and done that."
"Someone explain to me what in God's name is going on here!"
Apparently Howard has reached his threshold of patience.
Steve spins on his heel, ready to rip into Howard because he's got no patience for anyone who uses that tone of voice on Tony at the moment, when a hand touches his arm. He stills and finds Peggy has walked over to him while he was focused elsewhere.
"You see to Tony," she gently but firmly instructs him. "I'll have a quick chat with Howard."
"You're in on this too, Carter?" Red starts creeping up on Howard's cheeks.
"I arrived not even two hours ago," Peggy returns primly. "Steve being here was just as much of a surprise to me as it was to you."
"And you somehow know him now?" Howard demands, pointing an accusing finger at his son.
"Well, given that your super secret spy group eventually pokes at the glowy magical cube that HYDRA should've just left where they found it, things kinda escalated and we finally managed to fish him out of the ocean in the process," Tony states dryly. "So yeah, I knew him for a good six years before all was said and done, which is more than you can claim."
"Don't you use that tone with me, boy!" Howard takes all of one step towards Tony before Steve places himself firmly between the two.
"I'd really rather you didn't do that," he says softly, voice full of unspoken warning.
It's enough for Howard to do a double take. "Steve, you—"
"I fought a war side by side with Tony for six years, Howard. We fought and died side by side."
"That's not possible," Howard whispers, looking slightly horrified.
"Yeah, remember the glowy, magical cube that shouldn't be poked?" Tony snarks, although Steve thinks he might be the only one who can hear the faint tremor in the man's voice. "Well, it's got a few deadly and powerful friends floating around out there, and like unfortunately attracts like, so what do you know, humanity bit off more than it could reasonably chew. Battles were fought, but in the end we lost because humanity got too curious about new, shiny things that should be left well enough alone!"
"You're the one who likes inventing the new, shiny thing," Steve feels the need to point out.
"And look where that got me," Tony sneers, dropping his eyes to the still unconscious Stane. "Obie here finally got fed up standing in the great Tony Stark's shadow, so he had me blown up. But then again, what else can you expect from a warmonger who sells American made weapons in black markets to people on the other side of our wars?"
"What?!" Howard erupts, and given that his anger isn't directed totally towards Tony in this instance, Steve doesn't try to cut him off.
Tony gives a seemingly lazy shrug, despite the tension Steve can see coiled in his shoulders. "Don't know if he's dipped his toes into that quite yet, but he will, if only to better drive the demand for Stark weapons. They'll end up in Southern Europe before the turn of the century, at any point, even though we won't be fighting any wars there."
"You're certain of that?" Peggy asks.
"Given that the terror twins apparently stared at a mortar shell with Stark Industries blazed across its side for three days while they huddled under their bed waiting to be rescued, yeah, I'm sure. Their anger at the death of their parents supposedly at my hands drove them to hold a grudge for sixteen years." He smiles grimly. "They had a bit of a change of heart when the insane robot Wanda influenced me to make tried to turn the capital of Sokovia into a meteor to wipe out all of humanity on Earth."
Peggy blinks rapidly. "Pardon?"
Tony waves away her confusion. "A story for another time. It'll take too long to explain right now and we've got other things to worry about." He turns expectant eyes towards Steve, resolutely refusing to look at Stane's unconscious body. "So, Mister Spangled Man With a Plan, got any ideas how to get us out of this mess?"
There's really only one person Steve can think of who can help them that they can actually get in touch with. So he asks, "How much do you care about the state of your front lawn?"
It takes the man a moment, but then recognition flickers in his eyes. "Calling in the big guns then, are we?"
"He's our best bet, what with Eve being over in England already. We didn't exactly plan for something like this." A bit of sheepishness creeps into Steve's voice because while he doesn't regret punching Stane, there's not much the two of them can do to fix the situation Steve's unintentionally created. Mind manipulation of any sort isn't their forte, but then again they all tend to shy away from it. Even Wanda after multiple sessions with Evelyn.
"Well then. Edwin, you go with Tony and Steve to call however it is they wish to call. Daniel, you stay with Ana and Maria," Peggy instructs briskly. "Lewis, you are free to go where you wish, but you will not make things more difficult for Tony if he is who you wish to accompany. Howard, you are coming with me whether you like it or not." And then, even as the man sputters out denials, Peggy proceeds to do just as she said she would and drags him off into a nearby room, closing the door behind them once she's shoved Howard inside. Howard's voice immediately rises in obvious displeasure, but Steve ignores it.
Daniel makes an amused noise in the back of his throat. "We have our marching orders, then. Maria, Ana, I'll follow wherever you want to go to wait this out."
"Anthony?" Maria takes a hesitant step towards her son, who flinches back so violently that Steve worries for a moment that he's going to fall over.
"Tony—" Steve doesn't make it more than two steps before the man holds up a hand to stop him.
"Not now," he grits out through clenched teeth in an echo to Steve's dismissal of Howard minutes before.
Ana makes a soft noise in the back of her throat, touches Tony's cheek for all that he looks pained as she does, and then walks over Maria. "Why don't you come with me, ma'am, and we can wait for Tony to come back with a nice cup of tea."
"I—I don't—I don't understand," the woman stutters, not resisting as Ana begins to gently but firmly lead her down the hallway in the opposite direction Peggy took Howard.
"I know, ma'am. I'll try my best to explain as much as I can while we wait," Ana murmurs. "Daniel?"
"I'll take another cup of tea," he says, falling into step behind the two women. "However, I can't say I would say no to something a little stronger than tea."
The last thing Steve sees is Ana's unimpressed look at Daniel's request before they round a corner.
Then, before Steve can say anything, Lewis goes and opens his mouth. "Brat, that was your mother you were just ignoring."
"God damn it, Sousa, I'm well aware of that, thanks," Tony snaps, "and I'll continue with the ignoring until we've dealt with this mess with Stane because otherwise I'll descend into a blubbering, sobbing mess that's unbefitting of a Stark because of reasons you seem to have forgotten, so just shut up until we get this whole mess over with so I can stop delaying the upcoming hysterics on my part, alright?"
Lewis seems taken aback at this for all of a moment before he abruptly goes pale. "Shit," he whispers, apparently having recalled why Tony's like this.
"Yeah, shit," Tony sneers.
"Perhaps you should go join your father, Master Lewis," Edwin suggests, although his tone implies it's not really a suggestion.
Peggy's son looks absolutely devastated. "Tony, I didn't mean—"
"Lewis, just go." Tony sounds exhausted as he motions for the man to leave.
Steve feels mildly sorry for him, as this whole situation is very overwhelming for all of them, but that doesn't mean he doesn't watch him warily as he walks haltingly in the direction his father had gone with Ana and Maria.
"Well that's just fucking great," Tony snarls after heaving in a few breaths. "No, I do not want to wait a few minutes," he continues as Edwin opens his mouth. "I just want to get this over with. Cap?"
In response, Steve bends and heaves Stane up off the floor and over his shoulder. He's a bit impressed with himself, given that Stane's still very much out cold, but he's not going to complain. Saves him the trouble of having to deck the man again. When he turns to grab his shield, he finds that Tony's already one step ahead of him.
"Fucking shit, I forgot how awkward handling this thing can be," the man grumbles, having hefted a tad too hard when he picked said shield up because he stumbles backwards a few steps. "And you, you utter bastard, make hurling this monstrosity look easy, what with your constant playing of whack-an-alien with it." He abruptly groans. "God, I've got none of the muscle I gained from being Iron Man and that's going to be an absolute bitch to get back without the suit."
"You know I'd be more than happy to—"
Tony cuts him off before he can even get the full offer out. "Thanks, really, but no. I had to listen to Birdbrain numero dos gripe about all the shit you put him through, what with your whole 'on your left' shtik, and I will not subject myself to that form of torture. Wilson, at least, had military training to fall back on to keep up with your crazy ass. I do not, nor do I have any desire to at all." He pulls a displeased face as he passes the shield off to Steve. "Great, SI is still doing military contracts. Joy."
"We have time to fix everything," Steve says softly, motioning with his head for Tony to lead the way towards outside as his hands are now all full. "Again, there's no need for you to run yourself ragged."
"Cap, I don't know if you've noticed yet or not, but I excel at doing things while running myself ragged."
Steve shoots him an unimpressed look. "Believe me, we were all aware of that particular talent of yours, and despite that, we were all doing our level best to cure you of it. We like you healthy more than we want shiny new things."
"Rogers, I have had twenty plus years to perfect my technique," Tony drawls. "It's gonna take a lot more than whatever the hell you guys were already doing to change that."
"Maybe," Steve agrees as they step out into the fading sunlight and onto the immaculate front lawn of the Stark manor, "but if you think that Nat and Eve won't be mothering you within an inch of your life despite the fact that they're both young again, you're out of your mind. And do you honestly think you'll be able to say no to Eve if she comes after you looking like her current physical age?"
Tony visibly falters mid step, a slightly terrified look briefly flitting across his face before he smooths his expression over. "Eh, she'll be distracted by England for the next seven years or so. She won't be able to get away except for summers, if that, and by the time she graduates she won't be little kid cute anymore."
"Then she'll just join ranks with Nat and Pepper," Steve points out, dumping Stane's body on the ground. "Just admit that you're going to be bossed around by redheaded women for the rest of your life, Stark, and I think things will go much more smoothly for you." Ignoring Tony's dramatic huffing, Steve turns his face skyward and, despite still feeling a tad ridiculous, asks, "Heimdall, can you send Loki our way if he's available? Thanks."
Surprisingly enough, it's mere moments before the sky begins to glow and a beam of light descends down to land not five steps away from where Steve and Tony stand. Loki is the first one to step out of the beam of light, but Steve isn't all that shocked when Thor shortly follows. He doesn't miss Tony's intake of breath at the sight of their formerly fallen comrade.
"Stark!" Thor booms, a happy smile lighting up his face as he strides forward to wrap Tony up in one of his backbreaking hugs. "It is good to see you again, my friend."
"You too, Thor," Tony chokes out, although if it's because of his emotions or Thor's grip on him, Steve's not entirely sure. It's very possible it's because of both.
"That was quick," Steve comments to Loki, having expected they to wait for at least a little bit before any sort of response.
"Thor and I were lingering near the Observatory in case our intervention ended up being needed for anything. We will be doing similar tomorrow for the House Meeting Evelyn will be attending, although she is not aware of that."
Steve raises an eyebrow. "That worried, are you?"
Loki gives him a solemn look. "While she did somewhat explain the politics that govern much of England to the team, what she told you all barely touched the tip of it all. I was privy to much more of what she might experience tomorrow than you. I will not leave her undefended in any way."
Well, that's not surprising in the slightest, especially considering the life they all lived up until recently. Honestly, Steve would've been more surprised if Loki hadn't taken such steps. However, there is one thing that he wonders about. "But aren't all the manor houses in England warded to prevent intrusion?" Evelyn had mentioned something to that effect when she'd been explaining to him why exactly it'd be easier to contain Bucky in one of her houses as opposed to anywhere else.
"I am over a thousand years old," Loki drawls blandly, and Steve twitches at the blatant reminder that both he and Thor are far older than their youthful appearances seem to be. "Powerful though their wards might be, should I truly put my back into it, they will fall eventually." A dangerous grin begins to appear. "And besides, they will feel the attack and that might be all the distraction Evelyn needs."
Then Loki sighs and throws a fond yet exasperated look over his shoulder. "Brother, do kindly remember that Stark will need to breathe at some point. He is of no use to us oxygen deprived."
"Of course, my apologies friend." Thor lets go of Tony, who stumbles backwards a few steps before he regains his balance.
"Just...don't do that again," Tony mumbles, straightening out his clothes while obviously wrestling with his emotions. "But it is good to see you again, buddy."
"Indeed. I was saddened to learn that you all did not last but three years after my death, but now we have time to spare to better prepare ourselves."
Steve wants to groan, because yes, that might be the case, but Thor's wording will just drive Tony into a planning frenzy that Steve would really rather avoid. He doesn't have the full support system of the team yet and is slightly worried about taking on a frenzied Tony all on his own. Of course, at the moment the vast majority of said planning frenzy will probably be about finding said teammates, so he might be able to weather the storm until they find someone to provide backup. Then again, that would also require having Evelyn able to come over from England promptly when they do find someone. Therefore, he's probably going to be weathering this particular storm alone. Not to say that Tony's current family won't be able to help, but Tony'll have quirks and triggers that they know nothing about. Heck, he doesn't know all of them himself, but he's better prepared for when Tony inevitably reacts than they will be.
He's drawn out of his musings when Loki speaks, a sly smirk on his lips. "My wife has not been gone even an hour, and already you've managed to get yourselves into a bind. I must say, Stark, I find myself rather impressed."
Tony immediately scowls. "Yeah, you're talking to the wrong person, Reindeer Games." He jerks a thumb in Steve's direction. "This is all Capsicle's fault. He's the one who punched someone's lights out, not me. I've got nothing to do with this situation."
Loki just hums in the back of his throat as his eyes drift to the ground. "And this man is who, exactly?"
"The one who sent Tony to Afghanistan to die because he was tired of standing in his shadow," Steve states flatly.
Both Loki and Thor become infinitely more interested in the prone man.
"Really now?" the God of Mischief drawls out dangerously. "Then I must say, well done Captain."
"You just get to hit everyone and reep the benefits, don't you Cap?" Tony gripes. "First Hitler a few hundred times, now Stane. In case you didn't notice, this isn't exactly an ideal situation we're in now. As far as Obie is considered, there's no reason for Captain Spangled over here to want to punch him. Hell, he shouldn't even know me."
Loki raises an unimpressed eyebrow. "I am well aware of that particular fact, Stark. Rest assured, I will be able to rectify the situation. However, what that entails will be determined by what exactly you wish to do with said man."
Tony blinks. "Excuse me? It's fairly simple. Make Obie here forget he was ever punched in the first place. Problem solved. We'll send him on his merry way none the wiser over the fact that Cap here is even back."
Steve, not happy at all with that idea, immediately barks, "We are not just—"
"Stark, if that is all you will be asking me to do, then I will just take this man with me and make everyone else in that mansion simply believe that he left for the evening and that will be the last anyone ever sees or hears from him," Loki states blandly. "Surely you should know by now that I do not take kindly to others harming those I consider mine."
"Right, see, I do know that, but I always figured it was more your wife that I was buddy buddy with, not you."
"And as we are married, what's hers is in turn mine. Therefore I will protect it just as ferociously."
Tony raises an equally unimpressed eyebrow right back at him. "Don't think that's quite how that's supposed to work. And anyways, I wasn't planning on just doing nothing to Stane. I might not have the omph I did before, but I'm still Tony Stark. There's more than one way to ruin a person."
"Perhaps, but they all take time," Loki points out. "And while we all might have an abundance of time now, that does not mean you must deal with a man who once sought to have you killed."
"Master Anthony, did Stane truly try to have you killed?"
Steve isn't the only one who whips around when Edwin speaks for the first time since sending Lewis away. The man has been standing by the door they came out of, but now he's stepped out onto the lawn to join them.
"Jar—Edwin," Tony says, missing the way both Thor and Loki notice his hesitation and almost slip of the tongue. "It's not as simple as that."
"At this point, Tony, it really is," Steve states flatly.
"He hasn't done anything yet!" Tony protests.
"Do you know that?" Steve asks. "Do you honestly, truly believe that? Did you ever figure out just how far back his underhanded dealings went? Because if you don't, then why risk it? He's had years to get used to having power at his fingertips. I highly doubt he'll be willing to change his ways now."
"Cap, he's Howard's business partner and friend."
"Yeah? Well so was I. Doesn't mean I won't end up punching him too."
"You cannot punch my father, Rogers. He'll have a conniption fit the size of Manhattan."
"I quite honestly don't give a shit about Howard and his opinions. Like I said earlier, you are the Stark I've staked my bet on for the future. If you decide to up and leave, I'll be right out the door behind you regardless of what Howard wants or says."
"Well, perhaps I'll just invoke my wife's words to you again," Loki comments. "Just as you are not required to deal with the man who was forced to be the weapon instrumental in your parents murder previously, so too should you not be required to deal with the man who attempted to orchestrate your end as well."
"Oh, and what, you should be the one to pass judgement?" Tony snarks. "Hate to break it to you, Reindeer Games, but I don't think you're anymore unbiased than I am."
"I am not the one he will ultimately try to kill off."
"And my old man not getting killed himself might change that."
Loki, surprisingly enough, gives Tony a pitying look. "Captain Rogers was correct when he spoke earlier, Stark. This man, if he is used to having even a drop of the power you expertly wielded, will not let go of it willingly. I doubt your father's continued survival will change that."
And just like that, it's as if strings are cut from tolding Tony's shoulders upright and he sags. "Fuck, fine. Just...just do what you want." He scrubs a hand over his face. "God knows I don't have it in me to argue with you right now."
Loki inclines his head and mercifully makes no further comments. He just turns to his brother and expectantly says, "Thor?"
"You know Father will not be pleased by this," the God of Thunder warns, even as he hefts Stane over his shoulder and steps back towards the burnt marking of the Bifrost on the grass.
"Yes, and we both know just how much I value Odin's opinions," Loki snips.
Thor shoots his brother an unimpressed look. "Till you return, brother." He turns his face skyward. "Heimdall, I'm ready." He disappears in a beam of rainbow light.
Loki claps his hands together. "Now then, who all is inside that knows of the situation that I need to make forget it ever happened?"
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