Hello all! I have finally returned! And I bring with me a multi-chapter, plot lined story. Hopefully. I have a decent start on the story, so I'm hoping I'll be able to keep up with it. I will consider it a personal failure if I don't!
Anywho, you know the drill. Read, review, and enjoy.
"Any luck with the poison?" Captain Rogers asked as he walked into the quiet medical room. The lights were dim enough that sight was basically useless; by now they had the room memorized. For once, the room held only one other occupant, other than the one on the bed.
Doctor Banner looked up from the charts he had been examining with a sigh. "No. Even Jarvis can't identify one of the chemicals they used. Besides that, I don't know why the chemicals I do recognize would affect the human body like…this," Banner said, barely glancing at the bed's tenant. Steve recognized that the doctor went through phases like this—sometimes he could barely stand to look at his patient, guilt forcing him to look away. Other times he couldn't tear his eyes away. Steve would walk in and see him sitting in the chair next to the bed, hands clasped under his chin, just staring. He put a hand on the doctor's shoulder.
"Bruce, you're doing everything you can. Maybe you should take a break, get some sleep. When's the last time you ate?"
Bruce waved vaguely at the door. "Natasha brought something a couple hours ago."
"Bruce, that was yesterday. Let me-"
"No!" Bruce snapped and Steve was taken by surprise, so much so that his hand froze on Bruce's shoulder. Bruce took a deep breath, forcing his muscles to relax. The other guy was barely being held in, sleep-deprivation, anger, and guilt loosening his control. He knew he should take a break, focus on his control, but…"I can't."
Steve pulled his hand back and studied the other man. There was something else going on here.
Both men jumped as the grating of the vent above them was pushed open, revealing Barton as he jumped down.
"What aren't you telling us?" he asked.
"What the hell Barton?" Bruce said, trying to gulp in calming breaths. Need overlaid instinct and he forced the other guy back down. "How long have you been up there?"
"I'm up there most of the time. Fury wants someone to play bodyguard. Besides, a man in the vent is never a bad idea. Now, what aren't you telling us?" Steve got what he wasn't saying—he was trying to be there for his friend, like he should have been before. If they hadn't separated, if they had stayed closer…well, maybe this wouldn't have happened. And now Clint was going to let his friend out of his sight again.
Bruce's gaze snuck to the bed before he tore it away a second later. He could try to lie to them, and if it was just Steve, there was a chance he could have gotten away with it. Clint, though, would be much more difficult. Besides, they deserved the truth.
"The poison," Bruce started. "It's still corrupting his system. We thought it ended with his shortness of breath but it's worse than that. His lungs are starting to fail, along with a number of other internal organs."
Steve's fists clenched around the railing of the bed. He ground his teeth as he tried to regain control of his worry and anger, but the railing still showed signs of being on the wrong side of his super strength. "How long does he have?"
"If it was just ending there, probably another week."
"But?" Clint asked, shifting his weight. He had a feeling there were a lot more "buts" coming.
"But his heart is showing signs of being infected by the poison. Normally there would be defenses we could use to give him a few more days, but his heart is already unstable with the shrapnel so close. If his heart is indeed infected, he only has a couple more days and I…I don't know if I can find the cure in time," Bruce admitted quietly. He didn't know whether to collapse at his own weakness or punch the wall in anger.
For a second, no one in the room said anything. Finally, Steve worked past the haze of anger covering his thoughts. "Bruce, stay here and do everything you can. Give us as much time as possible." He turned to Clint. "Suit up. We gave Fury time. We're taking over."
Clint's grin bordered on feral. He nodded and left to spread the news to the rest of the team.
"If these people manufactured the poison, they have to know how to cure it." Steve spared a last glance at the man in the bed. He was pale and had lost a lot of weight. They tried to give him added nutrients, but his body burned through them faster than they could replace them. His breathing was shaky and without the tube stuffed down his throat, he would be dead within a matter of minutes—his lungs had stopped working enough to keep him alive the day they found him. Still, the blue light of the reactor remained steady. For now, his heart was safe.
"Hold on Tony, that's all I'm asking."
"Jarvis, what did I tell you about the music?" Tony asked without looking up from the calculations displayed from the hologram as the music dimmed down, the door closing softly behind the new occupant. He looked up to see it wasn't Pepper, as he expected, but someone not welcome at all. "Scratch that, what did I tell you about allowing people on the 'do not like' list into my lab?"
"Sir, Ms. Potts and Dr. Banner are the only ones on your 'allow' list. Ms. Potts added several others to the list when she discovered this fact," Jarvis intoned.
"Make a note for me to talk to Ms. Potts later," Tony grumbled. "What do you want Fury? Nothing? Good, I'm working."
Fury dropped a file on the desk next to Tony. "I've got a mission for you."
Tony spared a glance for the file, then turned back to his math. "Maybe you haven't looked at your payroll recently, but the only people you're paying to do missions are Clint, Natasha, and Steve. Find one of them."
"I think this will interest you," Fury said, like he hadn't even listened to Tony. Something in his voice intrigued Tony, so he turned back to the director.
"Any reason why you've got this on paper like we're in the 19th century?" Tony asked, opening the file, but not really looking at it.
"The same reason your real file isn't on a computer. This is highly classified information, and no technology is completely safe."
Tony frowned slightly. "I'd like to think I wrote your firewalls a little better than that. And Jarvis, make a note to find out where the paper file is."
Fury wiped a hand down his face in exasperation. "Of course you rewrote our firewalls," he sighed. "Your file is in Coulson's office."
Right. Like Tony would even get close to the agent's office. No, not agent—Agent. He still didn't believe Phil was his first name. His scanning of the file pulled him up short. "This information is legit?"
"Checked out by several of my best agents, Clint and Natasha included."
"Jarvis, pull it up on the screens." Instantly, he was surrounded by different display screens showing detailed information.
"The organization's name is A.I.M, Advanced Idea Mechanics. They specialize in advance technology and weapons, and profit from black market selling. They like to lure in bright scientists with the idea of helping the future, then nudge them in the direction of creating new weapons and technology that would give them a high profit and a high body count," Fury explained as Tony read.
Tony's mind was whirling as he listened to Fury talk and read the file, but it kept coming back to one thing. "Any of mine?"
Fury knew exactly what he was talking about. "We don't know. None of them would have come from us, but I know you have at least two more contracts. Their systems are too advanced for a field agent to break into. That's why-"
"That's why you want me to do it. You want me to break into their systems and download their files." Tony rolled to another screen, reading the information off that page. "I should have heard about them before," he muttered. He specifically had a program for Jarvis to run that would look for these things.
"They survive off of being low key. It was by pure accident that we even found them. Can you break into their system?"
"Jarvis, bring it up." A new screen appeared in front of him, lines of coding flying across the screen. Tony's frown deepened as he observed it. "I should be able to, but not from here. I have to get to one of the modems on the base. Give me…two days. I need to write some new algorithms."
"Any way you can write a program that I can give to a trained field agent?" Fury intoned. Tony turned the chair to grin at him.
"Don't trust me?"
Fury's gaze darkened. "That's one of the many reasons I don't want you out there. That and too many things could go wrong, namely the fact that you're a weapons expert. They like weapons. A lot," Fury said, narrowing his eye, pushing his implied meaning.
Tony got it. If he got captured, he knew what to expect—a persuasive argument to manufacture them weapons, which would end in Tony very hurt. He dropped his grin. "I'll take Barton or Romanoff. They can cover me and they're your best agents in stealth."
Fury looked a little appeased. "Take Barton," he said with a nod.
"Good. I have work to do," Tony said, making little shooing motions with his hands. When he was satisfied that Fury was actually leaving, he turned back to A.I.M's security system.
"Care to explain why we couldn't find this Jarvis?"
"It appears to be hidden behind codes of another system, one that would not be picked up on the information I was looking for."
"We'll have to fix that later. Can you get into the first layer? We need something, even just a map of the system."
There was a pause as Jarvis took a crack at the coding. "I apologize sir. I cannot get through any of the system. I need to be-"
"At the mainframe, yes I figured. Well, let's get to work, shall we?"