New York City was a new place these days. In the last few years, things like aliens and Norse gods had walked the world. People were beginning to see "super" things everywhere. There was more than one vigilante in New York now, these "powered people", and those fought for the "common" people. Life was short and there were very large things out there that could kill you. Some people blamed these super heroes; because of course they had damaged the city in their fight. These people believed that these "heroes" were no better than the villains. The believed that they should have saved everyone. The brokered no excuse for the collateral damage that occurred. Some people defended the heroes, because even though there had been damage, it was far better than being enslaved to an alien race. These people were happy to remind them that the government had tried to nuke the island rather than let these aliens take over. These defenders of the heroes were as vocal as their opponents. Fights had broken out in bars, in shopping malls, and more over the situations. The entire world had been changed.
The Avengers, meanwhile, still existed, on a mission to find the staff that Loki had brought to Earth during the invasion. Some important things had been revealed to people over the years since the fateful day in New York. Mainly, the staff was powerful in the extreme, and somehow, there was significance to the glowing stone in it. Banter had been exchanged that the staff had been driving Loki's invasion, and according to Thor, after the near death of his brother recently, lots of things had changed. Thor had come to a startling conclusion that his brother was a victim, and that he was at fault for letting it happen. He had become insistent on righting the wrongs that Loki had caused because he felt responsible for his actions.
The resurgence Hydra had been devastating to so many, and the emergence of this "inhuman" situation had been surprising for some, but not unexpected for others. That fact that there were so many people with powers possible in the world was incredibly liberating for some, yet horrifically scary for others. That was how Hydra had planned things. Hydra was one of those things that were insidious in the worst ways, an organization that could turn good people toward evil.
With all these heavy issues weighing on the heroes of the earth, though, there had to be time to rest and relax.
"Movie night!" Clint exclaimed, sticking his head into the large lab where Bruce Banner was looking down into a microscope beside a scrawny brunette. Bruce looked up smiling at the archer SHIELD agent.
"What's on the agenda tonight?" Bruce said, pushing his glasses up his nose a bit and glancing at the young man beside him.
Clint grinned. "We're working on getting Cap and Thor up to date on cultural references, so it is totally a Star Wars marathon tonight. Well, until they start falling asleep. We're at least getting through episode one and two. It was a fight, but I convinced Tony that watching them in release order was more confusing than in chronological order. Once we're done with that it's the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stuff. You two coming? Or you gonna stay and science?"
Bruce smiled at him with a soft nod. "Sure, I'll go drag up the hermit from his workshop. Peter?"
"Great, seeing how I think you're the only one that can open the door," Clint said with a halfway smirk. Clint knew very well that Tony, while becoming more open with the other members of the team, was still not completely comfortable with everyone having access to his most private space. That workshop was nearly sacred to him.
Peter smiled and shook his head at the other two men without looking up from his work. "Nah, Doc, I'll stay here. I'm finally getting somewhere. I've gotta thank you again for talking Mr. Stark into letting me use the lab."
Clint snorted. "Mr. Stark. That's funny," he muttered as he headed out and back to the main common room. No one referred to him as Mr. Stark, and it was incredibly amusing to see the young man use it. He shook his head and left the bemused Bruce with Peter to their bromance. He'd tell Natasha he better watch out, or Bruce was going to be smitten by a younger suiter.
Bruce shook his head. "Just call him Tony, Peter; you have the biggest case of hero worship I've ever seen for that man."
Peter Parker, otherwise known as Spiderman, grinned at the doctor. "Yeah, but he's like, awesome. And he helped me with the web shooters already without me asking and well, yeah. Just letting me in this lab is worth so much…I mean, I can't get access to any of this equipment at the university…"
"Believe me, I know," Bruce told him, shaking his head. "I couldn't believe it when he asked me to come stay here."
Peter sighed, then, his smile faltering. "I've been thinking, you know, about the offer, to work with the Avengers, like on a regular basis instead of just, you know, freelancing."
"Oh? I thought you didn't want to go with a team environment? Didn't you call yourself a strictly solo act?"
Peter shook his head. "Nah, it's not really that, I just…with the fact I'm considered a vigilante and you're all real heroes. I just…Gwen, my girlfriend, she's been telling me that I need to move forward with who I am. She knows what I do, but it just is so hard to listen to her sometimes when the voice in the back of my head tells me that I'm not good enough to be an Avenger." Peter snorted and smiled. "Hell, sometimes it tells me I'm not good enough to be Gwen's boyfriend."
"I'll have Tony come talk to you one of these days about how much care to give public perception, and how being a hero isn't all about being heroic…well, not all the time," Bruce muttered. "Ask JARVIS if you need anything, sure you won't join us?"
The blond teen waved as he buried himself in the microscope. "Nah, seen it several times, and as much as I enjoy watching the blonde twosome fret over cultural references, I want to finish this before I go home. I need the data for the professor tomorrow in biology."
"Okay, see you later, Peter. Lock up when you leave," Bruce said, heading out to drag Tony out of his workshop.
Bruce wasn't sure how often Tony had been out of the shop this week. He was working on a new suit, and he was nothing if not persistent about getting finished with it before the next Hydra raid. Bruce smiles to think about how close Tony and he had gotten; Tony called them "Science Bros" which he thought was amusing and accurate at the same time. Even though he felt like they were much closer than they had been, he still knew he didn't even know half of what there was to know about Tony. He liked Tony a lot, but he couldn't help it. Tony liked him, and more than that, he liked the Other Guy, which never ceased to amaze him. No one liked the Other Guy. And the Other Guy seemed to like Tony too, which was really beyond him. And more than that, Tony protected him from Ross and SHIELD, and he had no real idea why. So he guessed they were friends, and for Bruce that was one very strange feeling. He was growing closer to the rest of the team as well, even though they were still wary of the Other Guy, and tended to walk on eggshells a bit. Tony more than made up for it, however, since he obviously refused, even going so far as to building a hulk-proof room that took up two stories and was filled with things for the hulk to smash, including experimental armors that Tony was testing.
Bruce knocked on the glass door and the face he was looking for looked up and grinned like a child who was playing in a sandbox. Well, this was Tony's sandbox, after all. The door slid open with a whoosh and Bruce couldn't help but chuckle at the sight. Tony was always so put together until you caught him in the lab. He was sitting in a tank top with the distinct glow of the arc reactor in his chest shining through it and a pair of ripped black jeans. He was wearing a pair of steel toed boots and there was a broad smear of grease across his face. In his hands he had one of the Iron Man boots and was fiddling with the pieces.
"Hey there, big guy," Tony said, looking up with a broad grin. He set the boot down and rubbed more grease on his face. "I take it its movie time? Where's your younger radioactive companion today?" he said, standing up and wiping his hands on his jeans.
"Yup, we're introducing the blondes to Star Wars," Bruce said as he watched his friend clean off his hands and face with a somewhat clean rag. "And if you mean Peter, he's still up in my lab; he's engrossed, and said he's seen the movies, of course."
"Great, I can't wait to see Thor's face when they start talking about the force and shit, and Cap too. I love watching him get that look on his face when all the references I make click," Tony said, dropping the rag on to of Dum-E's head who beeped at him.
The pair headed up and Tony immediately took up the large chair by himself. He never really sat next to the others. Bruce had noticed this early on. He also noticed that he rarely touched anyone and saw the grimace when the man was grabbed or slapped on the back by one of the team. He was curious, but it had only been a few months. Since the Hydra raids had begun, they'd really meshed well as a team. Looking for the "Glowstick of Destiny" as Tony called it had brought them together and to be honest, Bruce was enjoying it quite a bit. If Tony wanted to explain his behavior he would. Bruce knew vaguely that he suffered from PTSD from Afghanistan, but he never asked questions about why. He also knew that he and Natasha were the only two to know even that much about Tony.
"Hey, here, want popcorn?" Clint asked Tony, handing him a bowl.
Bruce saw the way the man's eyes widened a bit, staring at the item for a moment and it was so brief, Bruce thought he was mistaken. It was a slight flicker of fear and revulsion about the thought of taking something from someone else.
"Uh, yeah, sit it down there. I'll get it in a minute," he said, gesturing at the side table beside him, tucking his hands under his armpits as he looked away from the bowl. Clint shrugged, putting the bowl down, and Tony waited a moment then picked it up.
Bruce scrunched his brow at that as he settled in on the sofa. Now that he was thinking about these oddities, he couldn't stop thinking about them. Natasha this time came in, handing out soda cans, and went to hand one to Tony. Again he nodded. "Just put it there, thanks," he mumbled, and again, immediately picked it up as soon as Natasha had left it.
He watched another moment as he glanced between the two items and returned them to the table, and rubbing his hands on his greasy jeans. That was a bit weird, he thought to himself. He's cleaning off his hands on his dirty jeans. Then Tony tapped the arm of the chair, and a compartment slid open and he took out a bottle of hand sanitizer and vigorously applied it to his hands without looking, eyes locked on the TV screen. Bruce figured he'd think more on it later, though as the lights dimmed and JARVIS started the movie. They were about halfway through the first movie when the screen blanked and all the lights around them went out. From where they sat, high above the city, it was apparent that it was a complete area blackout.
"JARVIS?" Tony's voice said from the darkness as everyone's eyes began to adjust to the moon and starlight filtering in from the windows and the bright blue glow from the arc reactor in Tony's chest. "Emergency power, JARVIS," he said, his voice starting to waver a bit.
"The fuck," he muttered, standing now. "JARVIS has three emergency backup generators, so does the tower, the tower isn't even run on anything attached to the city," he muttered, moving to the window. "It's impossible; it has its own power source, the big arc reactor…"
Just then, the speakers crackled, bringing everyone's attention to the ceiling. "Good evening, Avengers," came a female voice. "Please, get comfortable. I'm afraid that your movie was not good enough for my purposes. Or rather it was too good. Tony, you are far too comfortable. And I really don't want you to be comfortable."
Tony frowned, not recognizing the voice. His mind was going a million miles an hour trying to put together who from his past would have the capability, will, and intelligence to pull something like this. Not many people could work around his security. Not many people in the world could even attempt to shut down his power grid.
"Who are you and what did you do to my tower?" he said, beginning to become more annoyed by the fact that he couldn't figure out who this was than anything else.
"Tut tut, your tower will be fine. After we're done. You, however, might never be the same."
Tony looked down to see at least fifteen red dots converge on his arc reactor. He looked at the team to find each of them in a similar situation in the main room. He looked up and they only way someone could target them would be from the upper story windows, but this was a taller building than anything in the area. There was no way possible for this to be happening without some advanced technology that Tony was unaware of at play.
"How? What are…" he muttered as a soft pop sounded and the floor beside him exploded. He followed the trajectory up to his completely bulletproof windows to see a tiny, perfectly round hole that now had whistling air coming through it.
"Sit down, Tony. Please. This should be fun. I ran across these when going through the wreckage of my husband's bunker. You remember my husband, don't you? You killed him after all," she said, her voice taking a harder edge as Tony sunk into his chair, frowning.
"I don't know who you're talking about," Tony said. "The whole Merchant of Death thing, lots of people on that list, honey," he said, his tone flippant, but Bruce could hear an undertone of extreme discomfort in those words.
He caught the looks of the others at the title. "Yes, Merchant of Death, rather a good title for you, isn't it? Now you try and make up for it, don't you, with that pretty piece of machinery?"
Tony's face was set into a hard mask. "I don't know what you're on about, but you best not hurt JARVIS or I'll personally make your life miserable."
"Oh, here we are, the first one. I'm sure you'll realize who I am in just a moment, or at least who I used to be," she said, as suddenly the TV screen flickered in front of them and a few lights came on slowly. The red dots didn't disappear from any of their chests however.
Tony, as in control as he was, froze when the voice spoke and a scroll of translations appeared at the bottom of the screen.
"What are you doing with the camera? Move out of the way," an accented voice said and the camera went from blackness to a dimly lit cave.
"Raza wants it filmed. Just in case, he wants to make sure you don't kill him on purpose, we need him alive," the other voice spoke up, deeper, as the translation scrolled over the screen.
"Well, you should have thought about that before you let him have a bomb explode in his face, now move it!" the first voice said, again as they saw a steel table and a body that was very still.
"You'll die if he dies, Yinsen, so you better save his life," the behind the camera voice again.
"Dammit! His chest is full of shrapnel, do you have any drugs?" he yelled.
"Nope, you're looking at what we have. Maybe some ether here somewhere, I'll send someone to look." Even though the language was different, everyone could hear the lack of concern in the voice, and the almost flippant attitude they had.
They saw a figure, a demure looking man with balding gray hair, hovering over the body that was starting to groan. They saw him rip open the shirt, and the man picked up a scalpel. Several other men were moving around and clearing the area. It was obvious they were in a rush to do something about the man dying on the table. The camera moved and they all gasped to see the familiar face of none other than Tony Stark as the camera panned up for a moment, his eyes open and glassy, then back to his chest that was a bloody mess. They glanced at Tony who was pale, his hands shaking. Yinsen began to slice into his chest causing the body to thrash.
"Either tie him down or hold him down, otherwise, this is going to kill him," he said frowning at the cameraman. The man sat the camera down and after a while picked it up, having restrained Tony's arms and legs. The other men buzzed around repeatedly, words in languages that the others didn't know. Natasha understood some of them, of course. Whoever had made the video had not translated the chatter around the room for the viewers of this video.
There pained sounds as Yinsen cleared out chunks of metal. Then he sighed. "He's going to die, I can't help it. I can't remove all the shrapnel. It will hit his heart soon, nothing can be done," Yinsen said. "He's one of the walking dead. There is no way to stop it at this point."
"Save him," came another voice, and the camera panned to a man in the doorway. "I need him alive."
"Raza, there's no…" he began.
"You'll die, and I'll bomb your entire village if he dies."
Yinsen looked down with a concerned face and looked to be wondering exactly what he was going to do. "Okay, bring me a few things, I have an idea," he said, glancing at the body on the table. "I don't know how long he'll live, but he'll live perhaps a few days more. If he survives what I'm going to do."
The camera clicked off and then back on to show Tony's body even more restrained. "Okay, that should work. Give me the bone saw," he said, and someone handed him something. They could hear Tony's voice muttering in the background incoherently.
Bruce's eyes went wide. He'd done things in the jungles and the back rooms of houses in third world countries, but never something tantamount to open heart surgery. Removing the shrapnel from his chest, that was one thing, but to crack his entire chest open to get to his heart was another. "Tony…they put that thing in you…with no…while you were awake…"
Tony was beyond pale and nearly hyperventilating, breath coming in gasps and pants as he held his hand to his glowing chest. He had thought he was okay with what had happened. He had thought that he was wouldn't have a problem just watching what had happened. He had never been so wrong about something in his life. To know what they had done, even to have memories of the agony and the pain of what they had done, that was one thing. To actually see, and relive, the entire thing… The others saw it and realized to their horror what they were about to witness.
The image shifted to the man, Yinsen, beginning to cut open Tony's chest in a way that was a lot like an open-heart surgery. Around him, men seemed to come into and out of the camera area. Then they heard Tony screaming against the leather that had been put in his teeth, but it wasn't loud enough to cover the sound of cracking bones as the man lifted out his sternum and began cutting away bone, muscle and tissue around Tony's heart. He implanted the metal casing, the magnet and hooked up a car battery to it, despite the agony his patient was experiencing. The sounds were nearly unbearable to those that sat stock-still.
"I couldn't pass out, I don't know why; I wanted to pass out so much…" Tony muttered, eyes wide. "How could I not pass out…?" Tony's face had gone pale as everything that woke him up in the middle of life was being played with vivid clarity.
The team watched in a semblance of relief as Tony's body seemed to go slack as a rag was placed over his face; finally, as the man working on him began to stitch up the gaping cavity he'd created in his chest. Finally, he was done and sighed.
"So, what'd you do?" the cameraman spoke from behind the still running camera.
"If he survives the shock and blood loss, he'll live for a week, maybe. I put an electro magnet in his chest to keep the shrapnel from reaching his heart. Hopefully long enough for whatever Raza wants him to do." Yinsen sighed deeply. "Long enough that my home survives."
The camera switched off and back on, this time another room.
"The sadistic bastard just wants to watch it again, that's why he had me film the surgery. He gets off on that shit, I think," a familiar voice speaking in the background as the words scrolled across the screen.
"No surprise he wants this part filmed, huh? How long before he breaks?" another voice.
"He's a civilian. Ten minutes."
There was a snort. "I'm not sure. He just had half his chest ripped out while he was awake. Obviously he's got some metal in there somewhere."
A third voice spoke up. "Hah, there's metal in his heart now!" There was a round of laughter at Tony's expense.
"He's weak now. And I've seen trained men crumble pretty damn quickly from this."
"But he knows we can't kill him, or we lose the chance at having the missile made."
There was a bang as a door opened and they watched as Tony was dragged into the room, desperately holding a car battery to his chest. He frowned at the large barrel of ice water in the middle of the room.
Words were exchanged around him as he was brought in a language he obviously couldn't understand. They had decided to not translate this banter, apparently. Then it began in earnest, and everyone understood why there was no standing water in the tower, and why Tony refused to use the multitude of pools he had in various places. The wires sparked and shocked and his body thrashed and was still, brought up just before death. Eventually, he came up coughing water and it felt like needles from the cold. It went on and on, and there around him, they heard laughter and it stopped when he was barely conscious. The screen faded.
"Tony…" Bruce said just as everyone began to slump in their seats. He frowned, feeling the heady rush of some sort of gas before he too slumped over in his seat.
Steve came to consciousness before anyone else, thanks to the super soldier serum. He groaned, a headache ebbing away behind his eyes. He blinked and looked around to see the others still passed out. There was an insistent beeping from the table beside him. He looked and saw a green button he had never really seen before. He wasn't thinking and pushed it. There was a loud pop and whir sound.
"Captain Rogers, thank you for reactivating my programing," JAVIS said in his usual calm tone. All around them, the lights began to come back up as JAVIS powered the tower back to full capacity.
Steve blinked wearily. "What happened?"
"There was an internal security breech that shut down the conduits from the arc reactor for the building. I am currently unsure of how, most security footage has been magnetically wiped from my hard drive."
There was another groan as he looked to see both Bruce and Thor roll their heads and groan. "Where did the bus come from?" quipped Clint as he struggled to a seated position.
"Sirs, I have Director Fury on the line."
"Put him through," Steve said, rubbing his face with both hands.
"Goddammit, where the fuck have you been? I've been trying to contact you for the last six hours!" Fury yelled.
"Please, no yelling," Steve groaned. He looked around. "Oh no."
"What is happening over there? I've brought the helicarrier, we're hovering over the tower now," Fury snapped.
"Tony's gone," Steve said, struggling to his feet. "He's been kidnapped."