Title: The Radical Stark Equation
Fandom: MCU, Eureka
Genre: Contemporary, Crossover, Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Slash
Relationship(s): Nathan Stark/Jack Carter, Tony Stark/OMC
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Torture, Violence – Graphic, Discussion of PTSD, Depression, Drinking
Word Count: 50,000
Summary: Nathan Stark now has everything in life he ever wanted except the one thing he always longed for, his brother Tony. They had been close as children but grew apart as Howard fostered competition between his sons. Now, Tony needs him more than ever and Nathan was determined not to let him go so easy this time. Tony Stark thought he had everything he ever wanted, until he attended his brother Nathan’s wedding. An ache for more began to settle inside of him but instead of settling, Tony acted out even more. He made an attempt at repairing his relationship with his brother, then a fateful trip to Afghanistan changed him forever. But, Tony wasn’t alone any longer. He had his brother, and that changed everything
Nathan Stark was not a man people said no to very often. Even when Carter had said no to his marriage proposal at first, Nathan knew that in the end, he would win. Reclining back in the General Dynamics private jet with Jack next to him was something that Nathan felt slightly smug about. The two of them had a hard road to get where they were now, but it was mainly due to their own individual stubbornness. When they finally admitted their feelings to each other, everything else became easier to deal with.
There were many who would have considered the ex-US Marshal turned Sheriff of Eureka, not Nathan’s intellectual equal. However, Carter had proved time and again that he was more than street smart. Nathan knew Carter had half-assed the IQ test he had agreed to take when his daughter Zoe needed to take one for school and was scared to. There was more than ample evidence that Carter far exceeded the number given to him on that slip of paper.
Nathan looked out the window of the plane and sighed. He was worried. Not about his new marriage, nor the fact that he now had a step-daughter, no, he was worried about what Tony would think.
“I’m sure it’s going to be fine, Nathan.” Jack laced his fingers with Nathan’s and held his hand in a reassuring gesture.
“I just don’t know what state Tony is going to be in when we arrive.” Nathan wiped at his mouth. It was a nervous habit he had developed after he had been literally brought back from the dead. Long story, he would say when asked and ignored questions from those who had thought he was long gone. The project was still technically classified, but Nathan had taken the second chance he had been given and ran with it. The first thing he did when he came back was to kiss Jack Carter stupid. The second thing was to ask him to marry him. That was the first time Carter said no, but it didn’t deter one Dr. Nathan Stark. He went full out on wooing Jack. Needless to say, the two men had been through a lot and going home to meet what was left of his family was important to Nathan.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Nathan snorted and shook his head. “Anthony Edward Stark does not do things by halves. I have no doubt that either, a party is already underway, or one will have been planned by the time we get there. My brother’s antics as you know are rather well known.” Nathan pressed his lips together and sighed again. Ever since their parent’s death in ‘91, Nathan had tried to do his best for Tony, being the younger brother he had felt it was his responsibility to try to stay on the straight and narrow. To not give Tony any grief. Nathan was only sixteen to Tony’s twenty-one when their parents were killed. The brother’s fight two years after the death of their parents had been not only epic, but the split between them was newsworthy for only one reason: they were the sole heirs to the Stark empire.
Nathan was more interested in science and discovery. Tony had been more interested in drinking, women, men, and for a short time, drugs. Nathan was thankful the drugs went away quickly, but the drinking and the promiscuity seemed to be part and parcel of Tony Stark’s days and nights. Which left most of the day-to-day dealings of Stark Industries in the hands of Obadiah Stane. Nathan hated Stane on a level that he hated very few men. There was just something about him that set Nathan’s teeth on edge, but since there wasn’t anything concrete that he could find on him, he stayed as the CEO of SI. Nathan had protested but Tony, who somehow thought Stane had their best interests at heart, won out. It was their biggest bone of contention with each other.
“Nate, what are you really worried about? Because I know it isn’t Tony. Not really. You know your brother, you’ve kept your hand in at SI even while running GD. What is it that has you this unsettled?”
Nathan should have known he couldn’t hide from his husband. Carter, and yes he still called the man Carter in his head for reasons, laughed to himself and shook his head, Nathan turned to look Carter in the eyes. “I have never trusted Stane. I know he was Dad’s best friend, but I just can’t help this feeling I get whenever I’m around him. He wasn’t happy when Dad divided SI up between myself and Tony. He’s been after my proxy for years. He’s up to something, I just don’t know what.”
“I could always….look a little deeper if you’re that worried.”
Nathan smiled and it made Carter smile back. “That’s one thing I love about you, Jack. Always willing to get down to the truth no matter what, and that healthy dose of skepticism of yours.”
“If you think this man could eventually have ill intentions towards you, Tony or anyone you care about, wouldn’t it be prudent to know more?”
“Hmmm, maybe. Hold onto that thought for now. Let’s just get through this so we can finally get on that honeymoon I promised you.”
This was Jack and Nathan’s third attempt at going away alone for a couple of weeks. Nathan tried not to dwell on all the times their vacation slash honeymoon had been thwarted. Eureka was an interesting, yet oftentimes frustrating place to live and work.
“Sirs, the plane will be landing soon. Please buckle in.” Their personal steward came by and took the remnants of their snack and the glasses of wine they had been drinking. Both men didn’t drink much, Carter often indulged in his new found love of craft beers, thanks to Vincent. It was Nathan who was the wine enthusiast. Carter never asked how their house had enough room for a wine cellar, and the recently added beer cave. There were just things, especially the quirks of Eureka that you ignored after a while.
“Nathan, you just tell me what you need. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
“I know, Jack. Thank you.”
The two men fell silent as the plane landed and they got ready to disembark. It wasn’t long until they were descending the ramp and saw a limo waiting for them.
“Of course he’d send a limo,” Nathan muttered to himself as they approached the vehicle. He may be arrogant, which he would never deny, but the pomp and circumstance was not his forte. That was all Tony. Nathan schmoozed when it was needed, but he hated politics. He played nice because the Government was what kept GD going. Private contracts had to be cleared through the DoD, but there was little that the DoD rejected as long as the research could eventually circle back and benefit them. Nathan was far from naive and often thought about raising the funds to take GD private. He knew deep down that eventually, the Government would shut down GD and in the aftermath, Eureka would suffer. Unlike what some people thought, Nathan did care about the town and his scientists. But, that was a problem for another day. Right now they had to meet Tony and endure whatever shenanigans he had concocted for Nathan and Carter.
“Be nice.” Carter glared and Nathan just raised a brow. He knew he would give in eventually, but only to please his husband.
“Fine. Doesn’t mean I’ll stay nice, Jack.”
“Mr. Stark and Mr. Stark-”
“Carter. He kept his own name. Jack Carter.” Nathan walked up to the pretty redhead and had that damning charming smile on his face. Holding out his hand he took the woman’s in a firm grip and was pleasantly surprised that she was far from intimidated.
“Of course. I meant no offense. I’m Pepper Potts, Tony’s personal assistant. I didn’t get the chance to officially meet both of you at the wedding, but I have to say that it was lovely and elegantly understated.”
“Thank you, I hope you took the time to enjoy yourself. And, I’m sorry, what bet did you lose to get the job of Tony’s babysitter?” Nathan snarked as he slid into the limo with Carter after him and Pepper last. She sat across from the couple and laughed.
“Believe it or not, I find working with Tony rather challenging.”
“I bet. My brother can be…a lot to handle. I’m also sorry we didn’t get to meet at the wedding. You appeared to be handling Tony quite well, though. And, I never got the chance to thank you for keeping the often inevitable media coverage at bay. Jack and I appreciated that.”
Pepper smiled once more and nodded. “It was nothing. Working with your wedding planner was rather delightful. She was sweet.”
“She is my daughter.” Nate looked over at Carter and saw that protective look on his face. He would let this play out for the moment and only step in if things took a turn.
“Oh, you raised a lovely young woman, Mr. Carter. In fact, I believe Tony wanted to get her into the Stark mentorship program. He was impressed with her and he’s good at spotting young talent.” Pepper sat back on the bench seat and crossed her legs, but Nathan had no doubt that she could be rather formidable when she wanted to be.
“Chloe is only seventeen. Nathan has already talked her into applying for a General Dynamics scholarship and mentor program. I don’t know what she wants to do, all I know is that she has shown interest and an aptitude in robotics.” Carter smiled and Nathan knew that smile. It was his ‘don’t play me for a fool’ smile. Like Nathan had previously reflected on, Carter was more intelligent than people, including him at first, thought he was.
“I see. Well, Tony will be disappointed to hear that, but I’m sure he’ll understand.”
Nathan didn’t say much, just smiled at the woman as they flew down the early morning streets of New York towards Stark Tower. Nathan was suspicious at the lack of traffic but chalked it up to the early hour. When they arrived, he was impressed at how well coordinated everything was to get them and their luggage inside and up to Nathan’s suite of rooms.
Nathan had not been there in a few years, but his rooms were always available when he wanted them. When they entered, he noticed the lack of dust as he looked around. The bedroom had fresh bedding and the en suite had fresh fluffy towels, as well as a plethora of high-end personal hygiene products.
“Tony went all out, I see.”
“He did want your rooms to be clean and comfortable. I know you haven’t been back to New York in a while, so we both thought it would be good for you to have some creature comforts. I was told that you like to cook, Nathan?”
Nathan turned and smiled at Pepper as he walked towards the newly redone kitchen. There were new and upgraded appliances. When he looked in the fridge it was fully stocked. He almost wanted to walk out and get a hotel just to spite his brother. But, a hand on his shoulder had him looking at Carter.
“He just wants to show off a little. Plus, I think in doing all of this he wants you to be comfortable. Let him, Nate. At least for now and if it gets too much, then say something.”
Nate pulled Carter around to face him and kissed him. The gesture was reassuring and loving at the same time.
“Okay. I won’t be an asshole.”
“That’s all I ask.”
The two men turned to see Pepper still there looking unsure of what to do.
“Thank you, Miss Potts. I do enjoy cooking and have even gotten Jack here to appreciate it now and again.”
“Hey, I make killer hamburgers, and you love my pancakes, don’t deny it.”
Nathan had fallen in love with Jack’s elaborate breakfasts. Even Zoe had said that it was the one meal of the day that Jack loved to indulge in.
“I think we’ll be fine from here.”
“Why don’t I let you guys take some time to rest and get comfortable. There is a lunch with Tony planned at a steakhouse that is a personal favorite of his. I’ll give you an hour’s warning? Give you time to freshen up.” Pepper crossed her hands in front of herself and waited.
“That sounds fine. I could use some downtime. I forgot how travelling can take its toll.” Jack yawned, cracking his jaw at the same time. Nathan snorted and knew Jack was exaggerating, but he also felt like some alone time would be good.
“That’s right, you used to be a US Marshall, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, Ma’am. But, I think giving that up to be Eureka’s Sheriff was probably the best decision I could make.”
“Well, I will leave you two. If you need anything just alert JARVIS and he’ll let me know. There is a computer embedded in your entertainment system, it’s all set up for your use, you just need to activate it and create your own passwords and profile. Have a good morning gentleman.” Pepper left and both Carter and Nathan took a long sigh of relief.
Nathan’s heart had tripped in his chest when he heard the name of the AI. He had not known Tony had done that. Silently he walked over to the entertainment console and found the computer system. He used a password similar to the one he last used at GD, just a small change in the string. He activated the AI and felt his knees give out.
“Good morning, Mr. Stark, how may I help you today?”
Nathan felt gutted at hearing that voice. For a moment anger at Tony flared up and a part of him wanted to march through SI and throttle his brother.
“I, um. I don’t need anything at the moment, JARVIS, but thank you for asking.”
“Very good sir. If you and Mr. Carter need anything, you have only to ask.”
“Well, certainly not as creepy as SARAH. And a heck of a lot more polite.”
Nathan chuckled and shook his head. He settled a moment later and thought about it. Tony must have a good reason to use their old butler. The man had practically raised both Tony and Nathan as good old Howard was obsessed with trying to recreate the super soldier serum at the same time he was building up Stark Industries.
The voice wasn’t exactly the same, but it was close enough and the inflection was almost spot on that it made Nathan miss the man more than he wanted to admit. Looking up at the worried face of his husband, Nathan held out his hand, which Carter took and was pulled onto the couch next to Nathan.
“Edwin Jarvis was Dad’s Butler and ally in many of his shenanigans outside of the company. He also had a hand in raising Tony and myself. He was there for us when our parents were killed.”
Carter leaned into Nathan and took both hands in his, “You’ve never talked about him. You’ve talked even less about your parents.”
Nathan stood and walked towards one of the tall windows that looked out on the New York skyline. Nathan’s heart clenched when he realized why the view was so different from what he had grown up with. Not that he forgot about the 9/11 attack, he had donated a lot of money and manpower to the clean-up and restoration. His thoughts turned inward for a time as he thought about Jarvis, as well as Howard and Maria Stark.
“Our Mother, while she tried her best, had no idea what she had gotten into with my father. Howard was obsessed with recreating another Steve Rogers, Captain America. He couldn’t let it go when Rogers disappeared. It consumed him and both Tony and I were subjugated by that obsession.
“Howard worked really hard to pit Tony and myself against each other. We are intellectual equals and good old Howard was trying to see which one of us would come out on top. All it did was make Tony retreat inside himself and become the party boy we all know. It made me look elsewhere. I wanted pure R&D and Howard wasn’t having any of that.
“Then, they were both gone and it was like the imagined rivalry between my brother and me became real. Jarvis did his best. I went to MIT at sixteen because it was easier than dealing with Tony and SI. I have so many regrets about Tony.” Nathan’s voice was caught in his throat. “Jarvis would have liked you, Jack.”
Nathan also wondered about Peggy Carter. Jarvis had told him stories about the woman when Howard would clam up about her. He thought maybe he would track her down while he and Carter were in New York. Nathan had always wanted to meet her, but knew something terrible had happened between Howard and Peggy that split their friendship up.
Arms came around Nathan and Carter laid his head on Nathan’s shoulder. “Sounds like I would have liked him as well. Come on, why don’t we get some rest.” When Nathan turned in Carter’s arms, the look on his husband’s face told him that they weren’t going to get that much rest and Nathan was more than willing to follow Carter’s plans.
* * * * *
Tony woke in his bed and looked at his bed companions trying to remember when he had brought them home. He crawled out of bed, head pounding from the hangover and stumbled into his bathroom. As he got under the hot spray, hoping it would help, a chime indicated JARVIS had a message for him.
“Yeah, JARVIS?” Tony knew he sounded surly, but he wasn’t in the mood to be nice.
“Sir, your guests have arrived and are resting in their suite.”
“Shit. I was supposed to meet them at the airport.”
“Miss Potts took care of that for you, Sir. She picked them up herself.” Tony noticed the dismissive tone in JARVIS’ AI voice and thought many curses at him. He didn’t need to be lectured to by his AI. Then, Tony cursed himself. He had planned to try to do better with Nathan. He knew what a shit brother he had been and how it became worse when their parents died. He had fallen for Howard’s bullshit and tried to win his affection by trying to compete with Nathan in everything. Tony knew there was something fundamentally broken between the two of them and he wanted to try to repair at least a little of their relationship. Even if they couldn’t be brothers, then maybe they needed to start being friends.
Tony let the hot water wash over him trying to rid himself of the headache that had started as soon as he woke-up. His eyes were closed and the heat of the water washed away the partying and drinking from the night before. Tony’s mind cleared enough for him to put his cares aside for the moment. That was when he heard his shower door open. He looked to see the younger man he had shared a night of amazing sex with drop down on his knees and take Tony’s cock in his mouth. He almost protested, but that wicked mouth did things to Tony’s brain that short-circuited any thoughts he was having right then.
“Fuck,” Tony’s voice barely above a whisper while the young man hummed in appreciation around Tony’s cock. Mere moments later Tony couldn’t hold back as he came down his companions throat. Gripping the long hair, Tony pulled the man up to his feet and kissed him.
“Give me a few and I will be sure to return the favor by bending you over and fucking that gorgeous ass.”
“You always say the sweetest things, Stark.”
“Cheeky.” Tony laughed before he pushed the man against the shower wall and took his pleasure.
When he finally stepped out, Tony momentarily felt better. Morning shower sex with whoever he was with at the time always got him going. After getting dressed, he noticed the woman had not woken up yet. Walking over to her he smacked her ass startling her awake.
“Time to go, darlin’. It was fun, but now Papa’s gotta work.”
“Come on, Tony. Come back to bed.” The woman pouted and any other time Tony might be talked into it, but he knew he had important things to take care of. Like the final preparations for the trip to Afghanistan to demonstrate the new missile system SI had been working on.
“No can do, sweetheart. I have things to do and I have guests to attend to. Now come on, get up, get dressed, and get lost.” Tony didn’t have time to be nice. While the night before had been fun, he knew he needed to be an adult and get moving on the day.
The young man laughed at the woman, “Come on, Sheri. You know, Stark. His lovers rarely last past one or two nights. We should feel lucky.” The young man picked up a dress and women’s underwear, throwing them at Sheri.
“Don’t I at least get a shower?”
“Sorry, babe. You lost that right by being lazy. Come on. I have to go, so that means you both have to go.”
The woman finally crawled out of bed and put her clothes on. She slipped her feet into impossibly high heels and glared at Tony before taking the young man’s arm and the two left Tony’s suite. Which just happened to be the same time Pepper decided to walk in.
“Well, I see how your night was.”
“Don’t give me that crap, Tony. You were supposed to be with me to pick up your brother and his husband. I see what kept you.”
Tony glared at Pepper before going to his bar and pouring his first drink of the day.
“Don’t you think coffee would be more appropriate?” Pepper crossed her arms over her chest and glared.
Tony was used to the disapproving looks from his personal assistant but downed the two fingers of scotch anyway.
“I know what I am, Pepper. I am a functional alcoholic.” Tony glared back. This was the biggest bone of contention between them.
“No, you really aren’t. But, right now we have a meeting to get to.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Tony saluted as he snapped his heels together.
“Jackass.” Pepper barely whispered, but Tony heard. He knew he gave his PA more than one reason to be aggrieved, but he wasn’t going to apologize for who he was. It was, frankly, how he coped.
“JARVIS,” Tony called out as he poured himself a cup of coffee and began to walk towards his front door.
“Get housekeeping in here to air the place out and change the sheets.” Tony would swear he heard JARVIS’ disapproving sigh, well Tony was used to that as well.
“I will get right on it, Sir.”
Tony was about to tell his AI to cut the crap but decided against it. “Thank you. I’ll be out most of the day.”
“Very well, Sir. I hope you have a very pleasant day. I am sure you will come to like Mr. Carter.”
“Yeah, we shall see.” Tony tried to put on a bright smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes and the slight bitterness in his tone was evident enough for Pepper to frown at him, again. “Lead the way, Miss Potts.”
Pepper just rolled her eyes at him as she walked through the suite door with Tony following behind. There was a board meeting on the twentieth floor, then he wanted to go through R&D to see how they were doing with breaking down and packing up the Jericho missile system that was currently housed in a secure location offsite. After that, lunch with his brother and his brother’s new husband. Later that night a cocktail party had been planned, which Tony was forced to keep small and restrained. He had put it in Pepper’s hands and even he didn’t know what to expect.
Of course, he also wasn’t sure if Carter had told Nathan that they had already met. He suspected by the way the man kept his distance at the wedding, Nathan still didn’t know the truth on how he was saved. Tony would keep the knowledge to himself unless there was a reason to bring it up.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and I use both of those terms loosely.” Tony looked around at everyone and they all either rolled their eyes at him or outright glared. “Oh, don’t give me those looks. Don’t forget, I know most of your dirty little secrets. At least, all of mine are out in the open.” Tony sat back in the chair at the head of the table as he put his feet up. If they weren’t used to how he was by now, they never would be.
“Tony, you have to understand that your public image is also the image of Stark Industries.” Obadiah Stane stood up and smoothed down his suit as he did it.
“You didn’t care that much while my own father was secretly fucking every woman he could get his grubby hands on or his public drunken outbursts. Yet, I am open about my fucking and drinking and I get slapped down for it. Hypocrite much?”
“You seem to be in quite the mood, Tony. Do you need some time to reschedule this meeting? Or can we actually get some work done.” Stane glared at Tony making Tony tired of people giving him that look.
“Fine!” Tony jumped up onto his feet and began to roll out the plans for the reveal of the Jericho missile and the subsequent trip. He knew he had impressed and dazzled the board with the clips from the latest tests and anything Stane had to say from that point on was only positive. When they were done, Tony felt better and barely gave any consideration of a goodbye as he left the boardroom.
As he made his way to the R&D department, Stane had caught up to him.
“That was, as usual, rather dazzling.”
“We worked hard on the system. I’m proud of the people that put it together.”
“Yet, you are still on the fence about our military defense contracts.”
Tony always felt a little wary about the weapons they produced, but the money the contracts brought in often appeased his conscience. Although lately, everything in his life felt less and less appealing. He sometimes looked at himself in the mirror and wondered if he had actually become a copy of Howard.
“I just don’t know, anymore Obadiah. How can we be sure that our weapons are staying in the right hands?”
“Come on, Tony. You don’t think I would let anything like what you’re suggesting happen, do you?”
Tony stopped and took in Obadiah for a moment. He knew the man was hiding something. Tony just didn’t know what. But, he would worry about that another day. Right now he had an R&D department to go check on.
“No. No, I suppose you would be careful. Doesn’t mean that things don’t end up in the black market.”
“And you know I have people who are constantly on the lookout for those kinds of issues. It’s fine, Tony. Jericho is going to be a big hit and the Government will be rolling over backwards to buy as many as they can. Don’t you worry, your bank account will be just fine.” Obadiah gently smacked Tony on his back before walking off. Tony was perhaps beginning to see what Nathan had been seeing all along. Shaking his head, Tony made his way to his destination and put the discussion with Stane out of his mind.
“All right, Kids, how is it coming along?” Tony announced himself as he walked into the main office of R&D. Technically his office was just to the left of the lab. He wasn’t just the CEO, but he was the head of R&D.
“Mr. Stark. We have all of the earmarked missiles for the demonstration broken down and crated up. They will be reassembled once we get to Afghanistan. Here is the final manifest. If you think anything further needs to be on there please let me know.” Jared Martin had been slated as the project manager, and Tony could not be more pleased. The young man had done an outstanding job, even on the days Tony wasn’t there.
“This is good. And we have the all clear for the fighters that will be outfitted for this demo?”
“The orders are right here, Sir. You need to get in contact with General Howser when you land for the final retrofit.”
“Good. If there is anything else any of you need to let me know, I’m going to be in my office until lunchtime. Then I’ll be gone for the rest of the day. Unless it’s an emergency, it can wait until tomorrow.” Tony took the files and headed to the office he kept next to the lab and got to work on the final preparations. Everything appeared to be going smoothly, which always made him nervous.
Rhodey was going to be there, but Happy opted to stay behind with Pepper. Tony would be fine with his best friend as his escort for the demonstration. A couple of Marines were being assigned to the group so Tony wasn’t overly worried about his safety. He would get more when they were all boots on the ground, as they said in the military.
Tony still had second thoughts about the weapons contracts that had amped up in the last twenty-four months. He was not sure what the urgency was, but for now he trusted Stane’s judgement.
Tony worked for a few hours, approving and rejecting projects and making notes that he wanted more empirical research before he moved on with others. This is where he thrived and he often wondered if Nathan had been right all along. They both loved discovery and experimentation, but somewhere along the line, Tony had gotten lost in what SI wanted and went along for the ride. His personal goals and projects often ended up pushed to the side. Tony mused for a moment that maybe he needed to change some of his personal goals. Shaking himself out of his musings, Tony turned his attention back to the stack of paperwork on his desk.
Frowning deeply, Tony looked at the prospectus and research paper on another pending project, this time a biological weapon. Tony tried to think back where the direction of SI had gotten so entrenched in weapons development that they forgot some of the other fields they could be working in. IT did a fairly brisk business with each new generation of Stark phones and computer hardware, but they had appeared to brush aside the medical and environmental endeavors that Howard had at one time been passionate about. Not to mention the games division that garnered several industry awards and made up more than twenty-five percent of SI’s yearly gross. Tony knew he needed to take some time after the demonstration to do a deep dive into SI to find out what the hell was going on. He knew he had ignored certain parts of SI for far too long.
* * * * *
Jack wasn’t sure what to make of Tony. There were similarities to Nathan, but Tony talked faster, drank more, and flirted with everything on two feet. Jack ate the excellent steak with the equally excellent craft beer, thank you very much, Vincent, Jack thought as he savored each bite. He had grown to appreciate food on a completely different level after meeting the Cafe Diem Chef.
“So, Jack. I’m told you used to be a US Marshal. How did you go from Marshal to small-town Sheriff?” Tony asked as he aggressively cut into his steak.
“Funny story that started with my Daughter running away from home.” Jack crookedly smiled as he relayed his story, leaving out the parts he couldn’t legally talk about. How the old Sheriff had basically conscripted Jack into the office, but in the end, Jack loved his job, and the town.
“You’re leaving huge chunks out of that story, Mr. Sheriff.”
“Some of it I can’t talk about. NDA’s and all that.”
“Ahhhh, yes. The dreaded NDA.” Tony laughed softly as he rolled his eyes.
Jack narrowed his eyes at Tony. It wasn’t like they hadn’t met before, but Jack had not told Nathan about that yet. He had not found the right time. He knew he needed to tell Nathan. The secret between them could be a problem if he didn’t deal with it soon. Jack initially had not wanted to keep the secret, he did it because Tony had asked him not to say anything to Nathan.
“Yes. Sometimes they are rather ironclad, aren’t they?” Jack glared at Tony and wondered if he was attempting to out what it was they had done for Nathan.
Tony laughed a genuine laugh before he finished off his second scotch and waved for their waitress to bring him another one. Jack pressed his lips together as he watched Tony drink another glass. Nathan glared at his brother, but there was an underlying sadness there that if you didn’t know Nathan well, you wouldn’t understand how much Tony’s behavior hurt him.
“You know, I like you. You’re a lot more intelligent than you seem. But, I guess that’s your superpower. Blend in like you’re normal when in reality you are far from it. I bet if you took it seriously you would score fairly high on an IQ test. My brother would settle for no less than someone that could keep up with him.”
“Tony…” Nathan’s sharp voice had Tony looking over at him
“What? Just trying to watch out for your best interests little bro.”
“I can assure you that I can watch out for myself.” Nathan took a sip of his wine then set the glass carefully down and to the side before leaning forward. “Maybe I should be asking you why your main AI sounds almost like our old butler. Oh, it’s not exact, but it’s close enough.”
For once Tony looked down at his plate and pushed it aside. The profound hurt in those eyes told Jack how much the brother’s parents death still affected him. Jack knew from Nathan’s story about his parents that Tony had never gotten help for the abuse he had suffered at Howard’s hands.
“He was the only good thing we had. I wanted…” Tony wiped his mouth and sighed before he looked away from Nathan. “I wanted a little bit of the good we had back in my life.”
Jack could see that Nathan was taken aback. “Tony. We should have had each other.”
“I know that now. I spent too many years trying to win the approval of a dead man. I know I haven’t been there for you like I should have been. It’s probably too late to even be brothers, but I’d like for us to at least try to be…something other than what we’ve been.” Tony had sincerity in his eyes as well as in his body language. Jack knew how to read people and it was the same look he had when Jack had tracked him down and asked for his help.
“You’re really willing to try? I mean there has been a lot of shit you’ve pulled, Tony. Like when I got to MIT or Carnegie, how in your wake I had to work harder, prove myself even more than if we weren’t related.”
“Yeah, I’m not really proud of that. You didn’t deserve me being that much of an asshole. I could give you all the excuses that made sense at the time, but looking back, the only thing I can claim is trying to live up to the ghost of Howard.” Tony grabbed his drink and downed it, then ordered more. Jack kept his opinions to himself, he knew it was not his place. He saw the sadness once again fill Nathan’s eyes, but his husband said nothing.
“He was obsessed with Captain America and the Super Soldier Serum. Both of us were just obstacles in his way. I think a part of him resented settling down. The way he talked about the War, Peggy, Steve, even the beginnings of SHIELD, you could tell he would never be settled. We were just the strange life he stumbled into while he waited for the adventure to start again.” Nathan took a healthy sip of his wine, but he didn’t ask for another glass. Jack was glad of that.
“Yeah. Here’s to good old Howard Anthony Walter Fucking Stark. May he rot in hell.” Tony’s eyes were dull with pain and anger that he had never dealt with. He just buried it deeper and deeper. Jack knew that pain well. His own father drowned his pain in legal prescription pain pills. When his addiction came to light Jack’s father was quietly retired from the force and no matter how Jack and Lexi tried, the longer the man was sidelined, the worse it got. The car crash that killed their parents was devastating, especially since it was his father’s fault.
Jack and Lexi still got insurance money and it was enough to pay off the house and keep them going, but it put Jack’s dreams of college on hold as he entered the Los Angeles Police Academy. While he knew he wanted to do something to help people, he had wanted to go to college first. But, knowing he had a younger sister to take care of he put things on hold and went right for the police academy.
“Jack?” A warm voice and even warmer hand brought him out of his head. “I never knew how parallel our lives have been. Here is to asshole father’s.” Nathan raised his water glass and Jack raised his beer as he gave the brother’s a wan smile.
“I think I would like to get to know you better, Tony. We’ve wasted too many years being angry at each other when we should have banded together.”
The men fell silent as they finished their lunches, each lost in their own thoughts. Jack would wait until he and Nathan were back in their suite to talk things out a little more. He actually looked forward to the cocktail party later that evening because he was curious to see what Tony had planned. He wasn’t usually the high-end, late night, black tie and tails kind of guy, but he knew ultimately what he was getting into when he finally gave in and said yes to Nathan’s proposal.
“Thank you, Tony. I want…” Nathan picked up his napkin, dabbed at his mouth, then set it back down. Jack knew it was his signature, ‘I’m thinking’ move. “I want us to do better. Not this dancing around each other we do for one-week out of the year as I come up for SI Board meetings. Thank you, for lunch and- everything else.”
“Gah, you don’t have to thank me. Let’s get you back so you can have some time to yourselves before the cocktail party.”
“Now that I am looking forward to it.” Jack couldn’t help the shit eating grin he had on his face.
“You just want to know if I’m going to cause any type of shenanigans tonight, don’t you?” Tony grinned as he sipped the last of his scotch.
“Oh, I’m counting on it.”
Tony laughed for the first time since sitting down to lunch and Jack was pleased to see a little life coming back into his eyes. Tony took care of the check and before long Nathan and Jack were wrapped around each other as they made their way back to Stark Tower and their suite of rooms. Jack gleefully looked forward to later that night.
Jack couldn’t take his eyes off Nathan as he danced with several of the women there, including Pepper. The cocktail party ended up being more understated than he had expected. The music was a good mix, and even some of Jack’s former colleagues from the Marshal’s office were there, flown in at Tony’s expense. Jack did not know how to thank Tony for giving him that. It was good to see some of the people he had once worked with and realized how much he had missed them.
Sipping some expensive champagne as he leaned against the bar of the club Tony had bought out for the night, Jack was feeling a little overwhelmed by everything.
“So, when are you going to tell him because obviously, you haven’t.” Tony leaned on the bar and took a sidelong glance at Jack.
“I know I need to, but I think at first I was afraid because of how much animosity there was between you two. I know it’s not perfect, but I didn’t want him angry before the wedding.”
“You know, they say that I’m the one with issues of lying, but damn, that is some load of bullshit if I ever did hear it. Just say you’re afraid of the fight.” Tony sipped his own glass of champagne as he turned more to get a better look at Jack.
Jack kept his eyes on Nathan and his heart did that thing it did every time Nathan smiled. Something Pepper said made Nathan laugh and Jack felt himself fall hard all over again.
“You’re right. I don’t want him to get angry. I lost him and didn’t even realize at first what I lost, even though he was all set to marry Allison. I think she knew, though. It wasn’t until I saw that damn hologram and it tore me up inside.”
“You’re good for each other. Don’t fuck this up. This…” Tony waved his hand around the room then turned back to Jack. “The way my brother looks at you, that kind of thing doesn’t come around often.” Tony drained his glass, pulled Jack into a hug and whispered in his ear, “Tell him how he was saved. Don’t keep secrets. It never goes well for anyone.” Tony pulled back and gripped Jack’s shoulder before moving onto the dance floor pulling the first beautiful woman he encountered with him.
Jack felt the smile on his face get bigger as Nathan came towards him. His husband leaned in, placing his hands on the bar to leverage himself then pressed his lips against Jack’s in a spine-tingling kiss that left Jack weak in the knees. An arm came around his waist then a hand was on the back of his neck holding him there while his mouth was ravished.
Nathan finally pulled away and laid his forehead against Jack’s. “I love you, Jack Carter.”
The way Nathan had said it like Jack was the only person in the world that could make Jack feel cherished, not just loved. “I love you too, Nate. With all that I am.”
‘Come on. Let’s go dance and show them how it’s done.” Nathan pulled back and took Jack’s hand then led him out onto the dance floor.
Five songs later and Jack was exhausted, and feeling good. The party went on for a while longer, finally wrapping up well past 3 a.m.
“Come on. Let’s get back to the Tower where I am going to slowly peel you out of this beautiful tuxedo and take my time with you.”
Jack swallowed what little there was left in his mouth at those words.
“Yes,” Jack said with breathless abandon.
The cab ride back to the Tower seemed to take forever, but in reality, was less than twenty minutes. New York at the Witching Hour was devoid of the infamous terrible traffic. Stumbling up to the elevators that would take them to the private suites, Nathan was already trying to get Jack’s jacket and tie off of him, he kept saying he wanted skin. Jack’s eyes rolled back in his head as Nathan’s mouth gently clamped on the bend of his neck, tongue teasing the skin and making Carter tingle from his head to his feet. The elevator dinged for their floor and Jack gripped Nathan’s jacket as he backed out of the elevator and pulled Nathan along. They tripped and stumbled their way to the door for their suite and burst their way inside. Nathan pushed Jack against the wall, ripping open his tuxedo shirt to only get frustrated by the undershirt.
“You have far too many clothes on,” Nathan grumbled as he pressed a kiss to Jack’s mouth.
“You have as much.”
“I think we need to do something about that, husband.”
“Really.” Nathan smiled wickedly as he began to strip while making his way to the bedroom. Jack didn’t waste any time as he followed, toeing off his shoes then awkwardly pulling off his socks and throwing them off to the side.
“You better hurry, or I’ll start without you,” Nathan called from the bedroom.
“Not yet, but you will.”
“Yes, but I am all yours.”
Jack was laughing by the time he shucked his pants and boxers. Walking into the bedroom he almost swallowed his tongue as Nathan was stretched out naked on the bed with his hands wrapped around the heavy wrought iron bar at the bottom of the headboard.
“Nate,” Jack let out what little breath he still had as he walked to the bed and crawled up and settled into the v that Nathan’s legs had formed. “You really are mine.” Jack had not thought much about how he had lost Nathan the first time. He was so grateful to Tony for coming to Eureka and trying to figure out if Nathan could be saved. Tony had grieved and when he had arrived in the small Oregan town, Jack could see the pain on his face as he stumbled out of the rental car, drunk and disheveled.
Of course, when he figured out that Tony was grieving, Jack kept his words to himself and let Tony work. There were only a few people who even knew that Tony had come to GD and he kept any gossip contained. He was fortunate in having an ally in Allison on that front. Jack was always horrified by the lack of security in the open areas of GD. Once past the doors, anyone could literally go anywhere. He had been able to get Tony into the lab that had been shut down and still had the device with all of the research locked up in files that Allison had keyed to her biometrics. Of course they couldn’t keep Tony’s presence a secret for the year that he was there, especially when Tony began to wander around GD. However, the other scientists kept his privacy.
Jack didn’t want to think about those days as he draped himself over Nathan while pressing his mouth to Nathan’s showing him all of the feelings he had deep within for the man under him.
Jack moaned as one hand gripped the back of his neck and the other wrapped around his left ass cheek holding him where Nathan wanted him.
Jack broke the kiss and moved to sit up and straddle Nathan’s hips, putting Nathan’s cock right between his ass cheeks. Jack tilted his head back as hands gripped his hips, then slowly moved up his sides touching everywhere. Finger’s moved over his chest, pinching his quickly hardening nipples. Jack hissed in pleasure as Nathan played with him. Sliding one hand down his chest, curling fingers against skin as he went, Nathan playfully scraped his nails down leaving Jack breathless. That hand then wrapped around Jack’s cock and teased him to full hardness.
“Nate,” Jack sounded wrecked even to his own ears. “Please.”
“Please, what, husband.”
“Need you in me,” Jack pleaded as he rocked against Nathan’s erection. There was the sound of fumbling as Nathan grabbed the bottle of lube.
“Here, I want to watch you prepare yourself.” The wicked look on Nathan’s face had Jack wanting to tease his husband. He took his time putting on a show while he kept eye contact with Nathan the whole time. The pleasure sounds coming from his husband had Jack closing his eyes while he continued to fuck himself with his own fingers. “You keep that up, Jack Carter and I might not be responsible for my actions.”
Jack opened his eyes and let a smile spread over his lips. “Ohh, I’m scared. Go ahead and do your worst, Stark.”
Nathan growled as he got leverage and rolled the both of them over. His breath came out in short pants as he spread Jack’s legs wide and pushed them up towards his chest. “Stay.” Nathan barely managed to say as he gripped his cock and began the slow slide inside Jack’s ass.
“Fuck, Nate.” Jack lifted up trying to get Nathan to move faster, but his husband was having none of it.
“You decided to tease me mercilessly, husband. So, I shall return the favor.” Jack gripped the bedpost much like Nathan had when Jack had walked in. Lifting his legs higher he settled his ankles on Nathan’s shoulders, and when he was almost bent in half Nathan finally bottomed out inside of him. Jack was never more grateful for the daily running as well as the Yoga Lexi had gotten him into than he was at that very moment. It made sex with Nathan even better than when they had first fallen into bed together.
“Ohh, so bossy,” Nathan teased as he pulled out and thrust in hard and fast making Jack cry out incomprehensible words. Nathan reached up and gripped Jack’s ankles and spread his legs apart, giving him deeper access to Jack’s hole. It also put Nathan fully in charge. Jack could only hang on for the ride.
“Fuck,” Jack’s eyes rolled in the back of his head as he curled his hands even tighter on the headboard as Nathan fucked in and out of him harder and faster. Nathan slowed a little as he leaned down to take Jack’s mouth in a kiss that made Jack wrap his arms around his husband, holding him close to keep that mouth on him. Tongues met, stoking against each other as Nathan moved just his hips while Jack wrapped his legs around Nathan’s waist, resting his heels on Nathan’s ass. He began to meet Nathan thrust for thrust.
Jack knew Nathan was close by the way his body began to tighten and his breath shortened.
“Jack,” Nathan softly cried out as he buried his head against Jack’s neck, gently biting down as he thrust in hard before coming deep inside Jack’s ass. It was a few moments before he could move. Pulling free of Jack he rolled to his side and smiled at the wrecked look on Jack’s face. He noticed that Jack was leaking precome, but hadn’t found his own release yet. He took Jack’s cock in his hand after finding the lube and pouring some out on his hand then began to give his husband a hand job.
“Yes,” Jack hissed when a mouth clamped down on his nipple, teeth biting giving Jack that final push to tip over the edge. He came in Nathan’s hand then collapsed down on the bed barely able to speak.
“I’ll be right back.” Nathan left the bed, making Jack pout, but when he came back there was a warm washcloth in his hands. He quickly cleaned Jack up before throwing the small towel towards the bathroom where one of them would take care of it in the morning.
Nathan grabbed the covers that had been pushed off the bed and pulled them up before he wrapped around Jack.
“I love you, Jack.”
Jack pressed close and sighed. “I love you, Nathan,” Jack mumbled before the two slowly drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
Tony woke-up alone for once. Soon after Nathan and Jack left the party it wound down quickly. Tony had played his role, but even he knew how hollow it had felt. He drank, but was always aware of just how drunk he was getting and didn’t care as a cab had been called for him to bring him home. He stumbled up to his rooms shortly after falling face first on the bed and immediately going to sleep.
The hour was late when he woke-up, even for him, but falling into bed at four a.m. and getting ready for work was not going to happen. Sitting up, his head swam as he made his way into the bathroom where he went about his daily ablutions, including swallowing two aspirins dry. After a shower, shave, and brushing his teeth to get the horrible gummy feeling out of his mouth, Tony felt only slightly more human. Wrapped in a robe he went to his kitchen where a pot of coffee was already waiting for him.
Pouring a cup, he walked towards his balcony doors and opened them. He set his coffee down, then went to retrieve his tablet so he could peruse the morning papers. The only thing of interest to him was a science journal where Reed Richards had a major breakthrough in robotics. Tony read the article then sent it to his R&D department for them to read as well. He knew Reed was working on similar things to Stark Industries and he wanted to make sure there were no patent issues.
There was a series of exposé’s on Roxxon Energy, which Tony felt a little internal glee. He really hated those people and knew something truly bizarre had happened when Howard was younger and SHIELD was in its infancy. Howard had never talked about it and at times Tony could tell he was haunted by whatever those experiences were. As much as Tony hated Howard, there was a part that loved him as well. It was a dichotomy that often fucked with his head a little too much.
There was a minor article about Pym Technologies and some shake-ups but Tony paid little attention to Hank Pym these days. The rivalry between Hank and Howard was legendary. Pym had claimed that Howard had stolen something called the Pym Particles and was trying to backwards engineer them. Tony had a feeling Howard was trying to use them as a way to unlock the Super Soldier Serum he had been obsessed in attempting to recreate.
Fed up with his reading, Tony threw the tablet on the table and picked up his coffee cup draining the contents and made his way back inside. Looking down into the cup he had the urge to fill it with whiskey, but instead he poured another cup of coffee. He figured he should at least get dressed. There was nothing pressing at the moment so Tony was going to take the day for himself.
After his second cup of coffee and a little more reading, Tony went to change into a pair of jeans and an obnoxious metal band t-shirt. He slipped his feet into soft comfortable loafers and went back into his kitchen where he contemplated something to eat. When he put his mind and energy to it, Tony could actually cook. He learned as a way to lure those he was seducing into bed.
Finding a surprisingly full fridge Tony took out ingredients to make some spicy eggs and toast. The activity of chopping vegetables, cooking the sauce and plating everything settled him. He moved back to his balcony and looked out at the city he had grown up in as he sat with the late morning sun washing over him.
Tony was a New York boy through and through. He loved the City with all it’s quirks. But, he was feeling more restless than normal and thought maybe spending some time at the Malibu house in his personal lab might do the trick after the demonstration.
Tony thought of that old Neil Diamond song, I Am I Said and part of the words felt truer than ever. He was, he knew, lonely. No matter how many he bedded over the years, none of them stayed because they had no incentive to and Tony knew, deep down, that much of it was his own fault. The happiness and joy he saw on Nathan’s face when he looked at Carter made Tony feel even more lonely and isolated, and a little jealous. He just didn’t know how to change, or how to find someone that would accept him for who he is as a person, not just his bank account and what it could buy. Sighing, Tony knew he needed to shake off the melancholy mood he had slipped into.
Wanting his own company for the day, Tony left the tower and decided to drive himself. He knew Happy was going to have a fit he left without a bodyguard or two, but Tony wanted to be alone. He was restless and needed to burn off some of the free floating anxiety he felt. Tony decided he wanted to get lost in Greenwich Village for the day. He had a hat and some sunglasses in the car that he used as a kind of disguise. He didn’t want to be seen, for once, he wanted to just be normal.
The day Tony spent walking around streets he had practically grown up on. Tony and Nathan used to come down to Greenwich to visit their Grandparents on their Mother’s side. They could be found there several times a week after school. Thinking of Nonna and Nonno Carbonell made Tony rub his hand across his heart. He wondered what they would think of what had happened with the brother’s and how Tony had practically abandoned Nathan the first chance he got.
He stopped for coffee and a bagel before continuing on his walk, thinking about his life and how he had gotten to the point he was currently at. Putting those thoughts away, Tony finished his food and the excellent coffee before he began to wander with no particular direction in mind.
Tony forewent any of the newer trendy shops and opted for the quirky antique shops, used book stores, and mom and pop shops that were a dying breed. He knew one day all of that would be gone and replaced by hip new places that catered to a younger crowd, but something would be lost that day. The heart and soul of the city would be gone never to be recreated, no matter how anyone tried.
Tony picked up trinkets here and there, something for Happy and Pepper, then something unique for Nathan. Something to remind his brother of a time they had been happy. There were other things he found that went into his shopping bags and by the time he was genuinely hungry he was in the mood for some of the best pizza in the Village. Bleecker Street Pizza had been a favorite and every so often Tony found himself down here grabbing a slice or two.
He was early enough to get a table. He set all of his packages down, ordered his food, a classic pepperoni with extra cheese, mushrooms, and olives. It was a favorite when Tony was a child. The place started to fill up quickly, but Tony didn’t want to leave yet, he wanted to remember what it meant to be a brother, to have Nathan in his life. He wanted to soak up his own history as he ate a slice and drank coke that had been forbidden in the Stark household.
“I’m sorry, but do you mind if I share your table? There seems to be no place else to sit and I’m not supposed to be standing for long right now.”
Tony looked up to see one of the most beautiful men he had ever seen in his life. His breath was taken from him for a moment and he faltered. No one ever made him do that, and he had bedded some of the world’s most beautiful people.
“Oh, umm, of course. Please.” Tony waved at the chair across from him and watched as the man carefully sat down. “I don’t mean to pry, but what happened?” The cast on the man’s leg told Tony that he recently had surgery.
“Tore my ACL and my kneecap was completely shattered. They had to replace it and try to fix the rest of me. Happened during my last tour. I think this is going to ground me, but none of us are sure yet until it heals.Then the dreaded physical therapy.” the man laughed which just made him look even more beautiful.
“I’m sorry. No one should have to go through that.”
“What I signed up for, right? I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself. Name’s Phillip Collier.” Phillip held out his hand which Tony took in a firm grip.
“Tony Stark. But, I’m trying to go incognito.” Tony saw the surprise on the man’s face as they broke off the handshake.
“I promise not to say a thing.”
Tony took another slice and ate all the while aware that Phillip was surreptitiously looking at him.
“You are trying very hard not to watch me,” Tony said as he took a healthy drink of his coke.
Phillp laughed and Tony found he liked the sound of it a lot. “I’m sorry, but it’s not really every day that someone like me runs into someone like you.”
“You mean handsome, mysterious, and the owner of a multi-billion dollar company?” Tony leaned back and took his glasses off, he didn’t need to keep up the pretense in this small restaurant.
“More or less. Your celebrity precedes you. I’m sure that has got to be a lot of pressure. To always be on, even if you don’t want to.” Phillip’s food arrived and he took a slice and bit into it. He made a noise that was frankly obscene to Tony’s ears. “God, I missed good homemade pizza. I dreamed of Bleeker’s the whole time I was in Afghanistan.”
“I could have pizza delivered to you every day if you wanted.” Tony would do it too just to know he made someone happy.
“Then it would lose what’s so special about it. To savor the moment the pizza comes out of the oven, cheese gooey and stringy, toppings piping hot and savory. That perfect crispy crust. No. I’m just fine indulging here and there.” Phillip took another bite and Tony couldn’t resist watching him enjoy his food.
“You look like you’re making love to that slice.”
“Mmm, its not quite a subsitution for sex, but damn near close.” Phillip smiled as he reached over and grabbed his beer, taking a healthy drink. “Not supposed to drink alcohol becasue of the pain killers, but today I’m saying ‘fuck it’ to the rules.”
Tony’s laugh was genuine and it felt good. He rarely laughed as of late. Tony contemplated his table companion for a few moments before he leaned on the table with a speaking look on his face.
“You look like you want to ask me something.” Phillip grabbed napkins from the holder and wiped off his hands before picking up another slice.
“How about getting out of here and I take you to one of my very favorite places.”
“But you don’t want to tell me where?”
“Nope. It’s a surprise.”
Phillip eyed Tony and appeared to take time to formulate an answer. “Sure. As long as it isn’t your bedroom.” The look in Phillips’ eyes belied his words, but Tony was going to set that aside for the moment. It was a topic they could come back to later if they were both so inclined.
“Not unless I can talk you into it, but no. You will love it, I’m sure.”
Phillip boxed up his food, Tony grabbed his check and paid for the both of them then walked Phillip to his car which was close. This was the first time in a long time that Tony had no idea what was going to happen and he was excited to find out.
* * * * *
Nathan woke alone in bed which was unusual ever since he and Carter had started their relationship. Frowning he stood-up and wrapped the robe that was bunched up on the floor from the night before.
Walking into the front room he found Carter standing by the large window that looked out at the New York skyline sipping a cup of coffee. Nathan approached and wrapped around Carter, hooking his chin on his husband’s shoulder.
“Why are you out here and not in our bed?”
Carter laid his arm over Nathan’s and sighed. “We need to talk.” Carter turned around in Nate’s arms, then set his coffee down on a small shelf near the window.
“That doesn’t sound good.” Nathan pulled away to go to the kitchen and get his own cup of coffee. If this was going to be a deep conversation he needed fortifying.
“Nate,” Carter leaned on the breakfast bar as he slid onto a stool. “What do you remember about what happened the day you were to marry Allison?”
“Jack?” Nathan looked concerned as he leaned in toward Carter.
“Please. We should have talked about this, but neither of us wanted to bring it up.” Carter frowned as he looked down at the wood, his fingers tapped nervously.
“I remember you, bruised and bleeding. You’re body falling apart and you looked like another turn of the time loop would…” Nathan pressed his lips together and had to rein in his emotions. “It was going to kill you.”
“When you stepped into the chamber…” Carter shoved off the stool and started to pace. He rubbed a hand over his face and Nathan could see a war going on in his head. Moving from behind the counter, Nathan walked over to Carter and cradled the man’s face in his hands.
“When I stepped into the chamber, what?” Nathan kept his voice low, almost a whisper. He felt like if he spoke up, Carter would fall apart in his arms. There was obviously something he had kept deep inside and had not wanted to voice whatever this was.
“I felt like I was losing something and I didn’t want to face what it was.” Carter frowned, but didn’t move from his spot. “It wasn’t until Allison found the hologram you had made just before stepping into the chamber. You said the words I didn’t want to hear and it broke something in me, Nathan.”
Nathan sighed. His thoughts turned to that day, which were burned deep in his mind. “I knew I wasn’t walking out of that chamber and I needed to say all the things I wasn’t going to get a chance to say. Telling you that I had fallen in love with you was the hardest thing I ever did.”
“You broke me, Nathan. I sat there and heard those words and it was like the previous three years, our interactions with each other, the snarky comebacks, it all made sense and I felt angry and cheated.” Carter pulled out of Nathan’s arms and started to pace. “I wasn’t in a good place, Nate. I tried, for a short time, to forget by being with Allison, but it hurt too much.
“I shutdown emotionally. Oh, I still did my job, helped save the town a time or two, but dammit I couldn’t let you go.”
Nathan tried to understand where all of this was going. He had been under the assumption that this was all water under the bridge. They had pushed through the emotions of those terrible days, but something still nagged at Carter and Nathan wanted to get to the bottom of it.
“Jack, what are you trying to tell me.”
When Nathan looked at Carter he saw a few tears run down Jack’s face. This was something he never thought he would see from his husband. Nathan felt the twist in his gut as he carefully walked towards Carter.
“I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t let you stay…wherever you were. I refused to believe you were dead. We pulled off miracles every fucking day! And…that’s what I needed. I needed a miracle. If there was even a slim possibility you could be saved, I was going to do it.
“So, I tracked down Tony and begged for his help. I needed you back. Everyday I had to pretend like everything was okay and it wasn’t, Nate. It wasn’t okay. I wasn’t okay.” Jack choked on the emotions and stood there breathing hard. Nathan went to him and wrapped Carter up in his arms and held him close.
Carter held Nathan tight almost like the man was going to disappear once more.
“Hey, I’m not going anywhere, Jack. I’m right here.” Nathan sighed as he held Carter close while the man wound down. “Why have you kept this all in?”
Carter pulled away just enough to press his forehead to Nathan’s. “Because I was elated you were back. I couldn’t believe it worked. Then you kissed me and asked me to marry you and I said no, but instantly felt stupid. But, you stayed. You didn’t run off to another company or another town, you stayed and I just pushed this all down.”
“It took a year. The longest year of my fucking life.”
Nathan closed his eyes and kept Carter right there, a hand on the back of his husband’s neck, the other over his heart.
“I can’t even begin to understand what you went through. But, I couldn’t handle the thought of you dying. Not even the thought of Allison being there made me reconsider saving you.” Nathan’s voice cracked as he reached out to take Jack’s hand.
“Just don’t ever do it again, Nate. I don’t think I would survive it.”
“Yes, you would. You would for Zoe, Logan, for Jenna, and Kevin. You know you love those kids. Jenna is as much yours as she is mine. Kevin bonded to you in that time I was gone, and I don’t even have to remind you of the bond you have with Zoe and now Logan. Your Son is going to need you, and you promised to be there for him. So, you need to go on, no matter what happens, Jack. You need to go on.”
Carter took a deep shaky breath and leaned in to kiss Nathan. “You aren’t upset? Because I was afraid to tell you considering the animosity between you and Tony.”
“I’m upset you kept all this from me, but I understand why. I don’t blame you for calling my brother. If he couldn’t figure it out, I know he would have called Richards. Or a few other scientists he knows that put Eureka to shame.” Carter laughed and shook his head.
“I’m sure.” Carter stayed silent for another moment as he looked out of the window, “You aren’t upset about Allison? I never considered that she would get pregnant. But I can’t regret our son. Logan is amazing and I already miss the hell out of him like I do all of the kids. ”
“No, Jack. I’m not. I’m glad you were there for each other. Sure, before the accident, we probably would be at each other’s throats, but after I admitted my real feelings, leaving you that message and getting into the chamber, I considered what could happen. I’m glad you had each other, even if your relationship didn’t last.”
“Nate, I don’t really know what to say.”
Nathan took a few deep breaths and looked Carter in the eyes. “Come on. Come back to bed and let’s talk. We obviously have things to work out, but I want to hold you while we do it.”
Carter took Nathan’s hand and pulled him towards the bedroom where they curled up together and began to talk about those things they had both kept buried deep inside.
“Where are you two headed off to tomorrow?” Tony asked as he settled into his chair at the dining table in his kitchen where Nate and Jack were joining him for a late breakfast.
“I’m taking Jack to Scotland and Ireland. I didn’t want to do traditional France, Italy etc. I thought that it would be a nice change.”
“Sounds perfect for you two. Of course the Carribean has its pluses.”
“You mean being almost naked for most of the time?” Nate teased as he scooped up perfectly scrambled eggs.
“There is that. Nothing like a nice private beach, a beautiful sun bathing body to have a little bit of fun with.” Tony teased as he downed another cup of coffee.
“As charming as that sounds, I would end up as a crispy fried sheriff, and not a relaxed and happy sheriff.” Jack nibbled on some toast.
“Fair point. And, yes, I do hope you both have a good vacation. I wish I could talk you into staying here. I’ve honestly enjoyed the last few days together.”
“I promise, Tony, that we won’t be strangers. I like that we’ve been able to put the past behind us and move forward.”
“Good. Now, what plans do you have for the rest of the day?”
“Jack hasn’t seen much of New York, so I was thinking of taking him to some of the places that only New Yorkers know about.”
“You mean you don’t want to see the Great Lady herself and all of the iconic tourist trappings?”
Jack snorted a laugh and wasn’t inclined to cover it up. “The one and only time I came to New York while I worked with the Marshals I did take a couple of days after my assignment was done to do all the tourist things. They don’t interest me. What does, is the New York Nathan knows. I want to see the city how he sees it.” Jack turned a smile on his husband and took his hand holding it before getting back to the business of eating his breakfast.
“And before you ask and make a jackass out of yourself, yes Carter told me. Tony I…” Nathan choked up with emotion he wasn’t used to having. It was easy with Carter, well easy wasn’t the exact word, but it was becoming effortless. With Tony, Nathan always had the feeling that there was always going to be push and pull and he put the fault of that solely at their father’s feet.
“It was an interesting problem. I refused to fail.” Tony curled the side of his mouth in a small smile. Both men knew they would never really say what they needed to say. The gestures they were making with each other were more important and Nathan smiled back letting Tony know he understood.
“Nathan, before you go, I wanted to talk to you about something.” Tony walked towards the office he kept in the apartment, Nathan followed and Tony knew it was out of curiosity more than anything.
“What is it?” Nathan approached the desk and looked at a folder Tony had sitting there.
“Open it. Read it. Sign it.” Tony leaned against the wall while Nathan took a seat and pulled the folder towards himself. Tony waited patiently as Nathan read the papers that were inside.
“Tony, this is your proxy shares of SI.”
“Yes they are.”
“I thought Stane had your proxy votes.”
“Not anymore. If anything happens, I want you to make the right decisions for the company. It needs to stay in Stark hands.” Tony pushed away from the wall and walked over to the small fridge and pulled out a couple of water bottles. He handed one to Nathan, then sat down in the chair beside his brother.
“Don’t you trust Stane? You always thought of him as an Uncle. More than I ever did.”
Tony gave himself a few moments to answer by opening his water and taking a long drink.
“He’s been acting…oddly and I would feel better if you had these. My lawyer will file a copy, and I’ll send a copy with you, and give one to Pepper. There are things I am uncomfortable with, but can’t put my finger on it at the moment. I don’t want to worry while I’m in Afghanistan.”
Nathan read the documents and a moment later was signing all three copies, which made Tony visibly relax. He sealed one copy in an envelope that he handed Nathan. Another copy he put in the hidden safe in his office, and the third copy he was going to give Pepper.
“Keep that safe, Nate.” Nathan looked at Tony and frowned. Tony knew he was being paranoid, but things at SI had been odd for a long time and the last two board meetings had confirmed to Tony that he had been too lax in his duties. But, he wasn’t going to do anything drastic right away. He was going to wait until he was back from the Jericho demonstration. “I know how diligent you are running GD. Even if things go wacky, and evidently they do a lot…” Tony laughed with Nathan and it felt like it had before Howard got between the boys’ relationship, “You still do your due diligence and keep things going.”
“Tony, everything is going to be fine, right?” Nathan’s eyes held an emotion Tony had not seen for a long time, worry and affection.
“Of course,” Tony jumped up and put on a smile. “Everything is always fine.”
* * * * *
“Your idea of surprises always seems to do with ice cream of some sort.” Phillip laughed as Tony, who was sitting on Phillip’s lap, both of them naked and both of them with bowls of ice cream in their hands.
“Ice cream is the perfect food.”
“Ice cream is not food. Ice cream is a treat that you have after you’ve had the food.”
Tony snorted as he moved against Phillip. The intake of breath and rolling of eyes gave Tony every indication that what he was doing Phillip was enjoying.
“You knew that about me the first time you ended up in my bed.”
“Yeah, and I assumed it was the one and only time I’d have the infamous Anthony Edward Stark. Notorious womanizer.” Phillip took a bite of his cold, but melting treat as Tony moved against him once more. “You are playing with fire, Mr. Stark.
“Then the ice cream should cool you down, Mr. Collier.” Tony smiled wickedly as he picked up a spoonful of mostly melted black cherry and chocolate swirl ice cream that had been delivered to him from the world famous Serendipity in New York.
“What is that look in your eye, Tony?”
“Lay back and enjoy, soldier boy.” Phillip swallowed what little moisture was left in his mouth as Tony dripped the liquid onto his chest then bent down to slowly lick it up. Gipping the sheets under him, Phillip let out one of the filthiest moans Tony had ever heard, and in his lifetime he’s heard quite a lot. Tony kept playing with Phillip, this time the ice cream dripped over tight, pink nipples that Tony took his time with, sucking and biting, pulling breathy gasps from Phillip.
Not being able to take any more from Tony, Phillip grabbed the bowl from him, setting it down on the nightstand closest to them, he held onto Tony’s hips and spilled them onto the bed with Tony on his side. Phillip hadn’t even slipped out of Tony, he had moved so fast and smooth it shocked Tony and before he could take back control of the situation, Phillip pushed inside Tony fast and hard, over and over until the both of them fell over that sweet edge.
Tony wasn’t prepared for the orgasm to hit him, but he had been on edge since the two ended up in bed together. Spilling onto the sheet under him, Tony cried out and a few thrusts later, Phillip found his own release.
Wrapping an arm around Tony’s waist, Phillip held Tony close, kissing the back of his neck. The intimacy was unexpected and Tony pulled away and walked towards the bathroom.
“I uh, I’m just going to get a shower in.”
“You always do that.” Phillip sat up, and Tony watched as Phillip pulled the condom off, knotted it to throw away in the little wastebasket next to the bed.
“I’m sorry, do what?” Tony leaned in the doorway between the bathroom and the bedroom, crossing his arms.
Phillip’s laugh held no amusement as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and awkwardly pushed himself up. Tony knew the man needed another surgery, but it was months away. He watched as Phillip stood and stretched out his leg before grabbing for his cane.
“You pull away anytime I show even the smallest amount of intimacy.”
“No, I just really need a shower, then a drink.”
“You won’t let anyone in, Tony. No one. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the last couple of weeks have been more than just sex and you know it.”
Tony pushed off the frame of the bathroom and walked towards the small drink cart that was in the bedroom and poured himself a scotch. He didn’t turn around as he took a large swallow of the alcohol, not caring that he was still naked. .
“Maybe it is just sex for me. Maybe I just wanted someone for more than one night. You think about that?” Tony turned around with a drink in his hand and watched as Phillip leaned on his cane. Tony wasn’t sure he understood why he was so angry, he thought that perhaps he did not want to admit that what he and Phillip had was more than just sex.
“I think you use sex and alcohol to keep other’s at a distance. I’m not saying that we have this big romance going, but I assumed that there was at least something real here. I can see now that I was wrong. You are just trying to assuage your loneliness by using me.”
Tony glared at Phillip and went to take his shower, When Phillip came and joined him Tony wasn’t so sure of himself. He let Phillip wrap around him and hold him close. His heart was racing and feelings he didn’t want to acknowledge rose to the surface.
“Look, I won’t push. I understand not wanting to get close to people. I know how hard it is for me. They see the cane and either want to “take care” of me or they want to try to “fix” me. I don’t want the former, and there isn’t anything anyone can do on the latter.
“I don’t know why you’re so afraid of whatever this has become between us, but I just want you to know that when you get back from Afghanistan, I’ll be here. It’ll be your choice whether you take the chance or not. I won’t fall apart if you decide you don’t want anything else and this was just a pleasant couple of weeks.”
Tony just listened to Philliip and let the words sink in before he pulled out of the embrace and finished his shower. He switched places with the other man and took a moment to try to find the words he wanted.
“I will keep that in mind.” Tony tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, but knew he fell flat. Phillip didn’t call him out on it, he just let Tony go. They both said what they needed and Tony really did need to get dressed and meet Rhodey at the airstrip. Tony dressed in silence and watched as Phillip walked out of his apartment, possibly out of his life and for reasons Tony didn’t want to acknowledge, this made him incredibly sad.
“Took you long enough. We have got to get going, Tony.” Rhodey was there looking his best in his uniform. Tony knocked back the liquor he was drinking and handed his driver the glass before getting his briefcase and carry-on.
“Got held up. Come on, then let’s go.” Tony pasted on a smug smile before walking up the ramp into his plane. His phone vibrated and Tony pulled it out before settling in his seat. It was from Nathan letting him know that he and Carter were back in Eureka and they were sending something to him from their travels soon. Tony smiled despite himself and sent off his own text to them as Rhodey was settling in his seat across from Tony.
“You know we’re now two hours late taking off. Two hours Tony. Which means we’ll be late to the demonstration. You know that right?”
“And maybe it will do a world of good for those stuffed shirts to learn some patience.”
“You do know that this contract is important considering how much your company has sunk into Jericho. If this goes off without a hitch, not only will you make a lot of money, but you’ll be actually saving lives.”
Tony snorted and gave Rhodey a withering look.
“These are war toys, Rhodey. But, like you said, it’ll make millions.” Tony raised his glass to a nonexistent audience and Rhodey just shook his head. Tony suspected this was going to be a long day.
Tony gasped for air as his head was pulled out of the water. He was shaky, scared, pissed off, and a myriad of other emotions he couldn’t put a name to. His captors roughly handled him and threw him down in the room in the cave he was being held in. It had already been a week, and Tony wasn’t sure he could put off the leader of the Ten Rings any longer. They wanted Jericho, but Tony was disinclined to give it to them.
Yinsen was there with some water and rags to help clean Tony from this latest round of torture.
“If you do not give them what they are wanting, Stark, I do not think you will survive this ordeal.”
Tony tapped on the jury rigged apparatus that was keeping the shrapnel near his heart at bay.
“As long as this is working, I’ll be fine. These people are not getting Jericho.”
Yinsen gave Tony a look he recognized well. It was one Rhodey often gave him. Thinking of Rhodey out there somewhere looking for him gave Tony some courage to keep going. He was hopeful, but at the same time realistic.
Closing his eyes and mentally assessing his injuries, Tony thought about Nathan and Carter. If he died here Tony would never get to tell his brother all of the things he didn’t say when they visited him. Too many years they had hurt each other, too many times Tony was dismissive and pushed Nathan away when he had reached out. The wedding was the olive branch and Tony almost let it go, but he didn’t. He wondered what Nathan was doing, if he even knew Tony was missing. Yinsen placed a cool cloth on his forehead, wiping away the grime and sweat. Something deep down inside of him broke a little at this small gesture of compassion from a man who barely knew him. Someone who’s village was destroyed by the very weapons Stark Industries produced. Tony was given a very real lesson in what his weapons on the black market could do. The question he had was who was it that released those weapons on the black market. Of course it wasn’t the only question he had, but it was the most pressing he had at the moment and no way to get answers, at least not yet.
“You are a very stubborn man, Stark. They will not let you go. Not until they get what they want.”
Tony knew he had a choice, he could curl up and let them continue the torture, or he could do something about this. Looking around the cave his eyes landed on the scrap metal, miscellaneous electronics, random wires, and crude tools. Tony started to form a plan in his head. He knew the leader of this terrorist group wasn’t all that smart. He could build a tin can flash bang and they wouldn’t even know. Tony smiled when he looked over at Yinsen.
“Yes, so let’s give it to ‘em.”
“What is it you are thinking?”
Tony turned his head away from where he knew the cameras were and leaned in closer to Yinsen. “We’re getting out of here. I know you have no reason to, but I need you to trust me.”
Yinsen smiled and nodded his head, “Yes, Stark. I will trust you.”
Tony stood up on shaky legs then walked to the cell door and pounded on it.
“Hey, tell your boss I’ll do it. But I’m going to need a few things.” Tony turned to the camera and gave whoever was watching his most disarming smile before he went back to Yinsen.
“First thing we’re going to have to do is make something better so that I’m not hooked up to this questionable get up.” Tony waved his hand at the leads from his body to the batteries that were keeping the makeshift pacemaker going.
“You tell me what I can do and I will do it.” Yinsen stood with Tony when the door opened and the man who was proclaimed as the leader of the group walked in.
“I am glad you have come to your senses, Mr. Stark. You just give me a list of what you’ll need and I’ll see to it. You’ll see what your weapons can truly do in the hands of great men. Not you American cowards.”
Tony had seen the madness in the man’s eyes before and tried not to show the fear he was feeling. He knew that the torture wasn’t going to stop. They would just find more creative ways of doing it. He also knew he was walking an extremely thin line, but he would get out, hopefully sooner than later, but Tony held no illusions.
“Oh, yeah, that’s worked out so well for you so far.”
“You may think you’ve got the high moral ground, Mr. Stark but your country is still full of infidels. You like to pretend you’ve put aside your prejudices but frankly it’s just now focused on people who are radically different than you. You shall know our full power soon.”
“And just whose praises are we supposed to be extolling. I mean men like you don’t exactly keep yourselves in the shadows. Yet here you are hiding out like the scared, pathetic bullies that you are. I bet your name will only be the barest blip in the history books.” Tony glared at the man who flew across the cave and gripped Tony around the neck, pulling him close so they were eye to eye.
“You will come to regret your insolence, Stark. My name will be bigger than Osama himself. I will bring your country to its knees. You shall know me as Raza. Remember that name Stark, for I shall be your reckoning.” Raza released Tony smiling cruelly as he stared for a full minute before walking out the door.
“Dramatic much,” Tony quipped as he glared at the cell door as it was closing.
“You court disaster, Stark.”
Tony turned toward Yinsen and smiled, “Just how I like it.” Tony determined that nothing was going to stand in his way of getting himself and Yinsen out of there and in one piece.
Two weeks with nothing had Nathan pacing his office at GD. Rhodey was still looking, but Nathan knew he was on borrowed time. All of GD’s satellites were pointed towards the Middle East trying to find any sign of Tony.
“Mr. Stark. Here’s the new reports.” Fargo tentatively stepped into the office as he held the folder in front of him.
“Just put it on the table, Fargo.”
“Yes, Sir.” Nathan heard rather than saw Fargo turning around to make his way out of the office. “Sir?”
Nathan looked up and over at his protege, “Yeah?”
“I’m sure they’ll find him.” Fargo looked sincere and for all of the young man’s flaws, he had a generous heart and compassion, almost to a fault, but Nathan felt grateful for the reassurance.
“Thank you, Fargo.” Nathan let out a breath as he gripped the back of the chair, closing his eyes to take a moment.
“You know I was going to ask how it’s going, but I think I have a pretty good idea. Is there anything I can do?” Dr. Henry Deacon asked as he walked into Nathan’s office.
“Not unless you have some bizarre, untested technology that can magically make my brother appear in front of me, no Henry there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do!” Nathan let out a deep sigh and started to apologize for his outburst.
“It’s okay, Nathan. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
“Joe and Carter are trying all of their contacts to see what they can do. I feel so helpless just sitting here doing nothing.” Nathan moved to flop down on the couch attempting to get his emotions under control.
Henry walked over, grabbed a chair from the small table and sat near Nathan. “Want my advice?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to give it to me anyway. No matter if I say no.” Henry laughed, but Nathan knew it was only in reaction to his words. He made a go on motion with his hand.
“You and Carter go back to New York and use all of SI’s resources to try to find him. He never gave up on you, Nathan. You didn’t see him when he was here. This very office became his sanctum and anyone but Carter who entered would get verbally cut off at the knees.
“Allison tried to throw him out once, and I have never heard anyone hold their own against her like he did. He wasn’t exactly nice, but I’ll tell you every scientist in the building were both in awe and afraid of him at the same time. He even took time out of his day to talk to a few of the scientists and help where he could.” Henry looked wistful as he looked down at the floor. “He didn’t care about national security. He would barge into a lab and stick his nose into everything and you would think the scientists had been visited by God himself.
“But his grief was a living breathing thing that I’m not sure was good for Jack. Allison told me to leave it alone. So, I did.”
“What are you trying to say, Henry?” Nathan had a good idea, but he would hear it from Henry’s own mouth.
“I’m saying he did everything he knew how to do to figure out how to get you back. He refused to leave until he knew he had exhausted every possibility in saving you. Everyone called him crazy, obsessed, and some other not so nice things, but they helped where they could.”
Nathan turned to look at Henry, then he sat up. “What I did was the right thing at the time.”
“I know. Carter was….” Henry looked down at his hands as he took a deep breath.
“Everyone’s been too afraid to talk to me about this. But, you seem to get us.”
“He was keeping it together for Zoe, for the town, but here with Tony he could break down, be angry and Tony let him. You can’t give up, Nathan.”
“I’m not, Henry. I’m not giving up, I just don’t know what to do. My brother was taken! He’s out there somewhere and no one can find him.” Nathan stood and started to pace, his mind a jumble trying to just think. Hands grabbed his shoulders and turned him around.
“So think outside the box! If anyone can find him, it’s you, Nate. But, you should go to New York. Be with Tony’s people, work with them to find a solution. He did no less for you.”
Nathan felt his eyes moisten, but he refused to let any tears fall. He wasn’t that kind of man. Henry made some kind of strange sense. He was getting nowhere at GD because the Government had tied his hands. At SI, Nathan could do something. He could take a leave of absence from GD, put someone he trusted in charge, and go to SI where the Government had no jurisdiction over him, or the projects they worked on. Nathan knew there had to be some kind of future tech lying around that would help all of them get one step closer to finding Tony.
“I need to figure out who to put in charge. I know there’s a short list around here somewhere.” Nathan went back to his desk and booted up his computer. looking through files to find the contingency list of those that had already been vetted that could slot into the role as head of Global Dynamics. One name stood out and Nate picked up the phone when he looked up and saw Henry smiling at him.
“Thanks, Henry. For…everything.”
“It’s okay. You just needed an outside perspective.”
“I needed an ass kicking. You gave me that, now go away. I have calls to make.”
It was a sad state of affairs when Carter wished for something potentially earth shattering to happen so he could do…whatever it was that he eventually did to save everyone. He was restless and needed some kind of distraction.
“I’ve done all I can, Carter.” Jo said from her desk as she hung up from her latest call. “I’ve called all my contacts and a Captain from my old unit. They have people looking, but he can’t tell me anything.”
“Thanks Jo. I appreciate the effort.” Carter barely knew Tony, but he saw the toll this was taking on Nathan. He wanted to do something, anything, but his contacts were all exhausted as well. “Is it terrible of me that I want something disastrous to happen around here so that we have something to do.”
Jo softly chuckled and shook her head. “No. I’m right there with you.”
“I don’t know how to help him, Jo.”
Jo stood and walked over to Carter’s desk, settled a hip on the corner and looked Carter in the eye.
“Go home. Zoe will be there soon, and I’m sure Nathan will figure it out. The hardest thing is to sit back and wait for something to happen. I’ve got things under control here, and if I need help I can use Andy.”
Carter was still wary of the android, but Andy had proven useful several times during some of their stranger, and outright dangerous cases. Which was more times than Carter cared to count. Looking around, Carter nodded his head knowing there was nothing for him at the moment, he decided to take Jo’s advice.
“Alright. Thanks, Jo.”
Jo nodded and a small smile crossed her lips. Carter felt immensely grateful for his deputy and decided to take her up on the offer. He had plans to talk to Nathan that night about maybe going to New York. As good as GD was in research and development, their hands were tied, but at SI Carter knew their technology was cutting edge. There were few that rivaled Stark Industries. Carter may not be a scientist, but he still kept up with technology and the advancements that made it to the general public. He started to pay more attention because of Nathan.
During the time loop, which he hated to think about, Carter began to understand that he had the capacity to learn a lot of the technology that GD worked with. He had been complacent in his learning because he always knew what he wanted. As he drove home he thought of Zoe and how he had passed on that complacency. Eureka had been good for her and Carter was proud. Seeing the things she was learning, it made Carter more determined to learn some of it himself.
Before he went home he stopped by Allison’s house to see how she was doing, and spent some time with his son. The boy was only a few weeks old and Jack did his best to give time to him. He felt guilty for leaving, but the urgency of the situation made Jack feel like there was no choice but to be there for his husband. If it meant leaving everything behind, temporarily, then he would do it. That didn’t mean that he was abandoning his family, he would keep in touch as they worked through this difficult time.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Allison asked after Jack had changed Logan and sat with him in the rocking chair in the corner of the nursery.
“I think it is a good idea for Nathan and I to go to New York. We’ll have more uncontrolled resources to work to try to find Tony.” Carter smiled down at his son as he gently caressed the baby’s cheek with his thumb. Carter had never imagined having more children but in the space of a couple of years he now had three. Even Kevin was beginning to get close to both Nathan and Carter and seeing them as surrogate father’s.
Jack looked up at her and sighed. “It means leaving you and Logan, especially with Jenna so young as well. I hate to leave you alone, and I know Nathan is going to feel conflicted as well. Jenna and Logan mean everything to him.”
Allison smiled and walked closer to Jack. She took the now sleeping baby from his arms and laid the boy in his crib. She took Jack’s hand and led him down to the kitchen where she slid a cup of coffee over to him.
“We’ll be fine, Jack. I promise you. And, Zoe has been a big help. We’ll manage. This is important.” Jack finished his coffee and stood up from the stool he had settled on.
“Thank you, Allison. I know we’ve been through more than our share of crap around here, but you’ve made it worth it to keep going.”
“Jack…” Allison moved towards him and leaned into him. “You’re a good man, Jack Carter. You’ve helped me more times than you’ll ever realise. I know we clung to each other in our shared grief, but I don’t regret any of it. You gave me Logan, how could I regret that?” Allison smiled and it made the pressure in Jack’s heart ease up. He took a moment to reclaim his emotional balance before he spoke once more.
“I hate to cut this short, but I want to get home, make plans and get over to GD to talk to Nathan.” Jack rinsed out his cup, then turned around and took Allison in his arms. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
Allison laughed as she pulled away and cupped Jack’s cheek, “You are something special yourself, Jack. We can still skype, and I’m sure Zoe will send a million pictures.”
“I just…I missed so much of Zoe’s life. It’s a regret that I’ll never be able to resolve.”
“Jack. You’re here all of the time. You give as much time to both Jenna and Logan as possible. There is nothing that will make you a bad father. Right now finding Tony is important.”
Jack took a deep breath before placing a kiss on Allison’s forehead. He wanted to be a better father, and in the years he and Zoe had been in Eureka, he knew he had been. But, this was different, he was different. His ambitions had changed and Jack liked who he was again. Leaving Allison’s was harder than he thought it would be, but he knew soon he’d see his son again. Those thoughts took him all the way home and Jack knew life was once again going to take another turn, but he was better prepared for it.
Jack parked then a moment later he entered his house. He had been surprised that Nathan didn’t mind moving into the place. He had said it felt more like a home than the three story monstrosity he had previously lived in.
“Hello Sheriff, you are home early.”
“Hey Sara. Anything on those searches?”
“I am afraid not, Sheriff. But I will not rest until Dr. Stark is found.”
“You don’t really have to do that Sara. There are a lot of people trying to find him.”
“It is no problem, Sheriff. It only takes a small part of my processing. I am happy to help.”
Jack was too emotionally strung out to argue with his house. Flopping down on the couch he closed his eyes and tried to take a few moments to get himself under control. “Thanks, Sara.”
A few moments later the door opened and the unmistakable sounds of a baby woke Jack up.
“Hey, Dad. What are you doing at home?” Zoe walked in with Jenna in her arms as she walked over to the couch and sat when Jack made room for her.
“I drove Jo a little crazy and she all but kicked me out of the office.”
“No word yet?”
“No. And I know it’s driving Nate a little insane.”
“Then I’m glad I’m on babysitting duty. Huh, Sissy.” Zoe smiled wide and kissed the side of Jenna’s face as she laid the baby on the blanket that Jack pulled out of the bag Zoe had and laid it down on the floor.
“I’m sorry, Zoe.”
“For what, Dad?”
Jack looked down at the baby, who looked a lot like Nathan, and smiled.
“For being obsessed with work. For not trying to make it work with your mother and giving you siblings.”
“Dad,” Zoe laid a hand on Jack’s arm making him look up at her. “Yeah it wasn’t perfect, but I know you did your best. That doesn’t matter to me now. And having Jenna, she’s pretty awesome. I think I would have been a terrible sister growing up. I was greedy and wanted all of your time. Now, I understand you wouldn’t have loved me any less, but it really took us getting here for us to understand each other better. I admit I became a self-absorbed brat, and I know we talked all of this out. We’re better now, it’s time we both let those hurts go.”
Jack sighed as he hugged his daughter one-armed and watched his step daughter push up into a sitting position, playing with her toys.
“You’re an amazing big sister, kiddo.” Jack smiled a genuine smile at his daughter as she slid down onto the floor and started to play with Jenna. A few moments later the door opened and Nathan walked in. Jack stood up and went to his husband, they shared a quick chaste kiss and began to speak at the same time.
“I think we should go to New York.” “What if we went to New York.”
“Okay, you two are scary sometimes, you know that?” Zoe yelled from her spot on the floor.
Jack kept his gaze on Nathan and knew his husband was serious.
“I can make Jo the acting Sheriff. She has Andy as a back-up, and she can deputize several people on a short-list we have for emergencies.”
“And I’m having Forge come in to take over GD, at least until we know what’s going on.” Nathan gave Jack a quick rundown on how he knew the man named Forge. The brilliant engineer and inventor had left SI over some disagreements on how the weapons division should be handled. Nathan spoke as if he liked and trusted the man, even if his past was clouded in mystery. Forge’s innate ability to understand technology and science was on a level even Nathan had a hard time comprehending. Forge had started his own, smaller company that created tech to help the disabled. “He just has to clear it with his wife, Ororo. For now, Allison is going to be acting director. We can get the plane on standby and fly out as soon as possible.”
Jack looked to Zoe who stood there holding Jenna. “We’ll be alright. If you want, I can move in with Allison while you guys are gone. This is important. I’d like to meet my Uncle Tony someday.”
Jack saw the emotion flash on Nathan’s face as he moved towards Zoe. “I promise you and Jenna will get to know him. We’ll get him back, alive.”
“You can’t promise that, Uncle Nate. Don’t do that.” Zoe frowned and Jack knew it was her determined face.
Nathan pulled her and Jenna into his arms and held them tight. Jack’s throat closed with emotion as he watched his husband care for their children.
“Alright, I won’t promise, but we’ll make damn sure that he comes home.”
“I’m going to stay with Allison until you guys need me. She’s going to need help with the babies, and since you two are leaving to deal with what’s happening with Uncle Tony, I don’t want to be here alone.”
“Why don’t you go pack a bag while we get ready, and we’ll get you to Allison’s, then I think we’ll be leaving for the airport right after.”
Nathan pulled his phone out and made plans with the pilot, Jack went to their room and packed their bags. This was going to be an emotional time for everyone, the not knowing was making everything worse. Jack knew they had limited time to find Tony, but he felt determined to help however he could.
Four weeks had passed and Tony was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. He worked himself to death during the day so he didn’t have to think at night, hoping the exhaustion would pull him into sleep. Of course that didn’t always happen. Tony spent many nights lost in thought, worrying if his plan was going to succeed, worrying about his family and the fragile truce he had made with his brother. Tony wondered if he would ever get to meet his nieces and nephews. He looked forward to meeting them even if he acted like he disliked kids, he really didn’t. He just didn’t understand them. He and Nathan had never had a chance at being children as Howard pushed the both of them to ‘do better, live up to the Stark name’. Shaking out of his thoughts, Tony got back to work.
Tony was filthy, sweaty, hungry, and exhausted. The cough had started out as a tickle in the back of his throat, but got progressively worse. Tony ignored it, like he ignored all of the other aches and pains that wracked his body. He wanted to go home! But, he could reach deep down and pull on reserves he never knew he had. Tony could also be extraordinarily patient when the situation called for it. The underlying anger touched everything he planned, and he planned carefully. Angry that no one had found him, that Rhodey hadn’t found him fueled Tony with a fire he had only felt after his parents had been murdered. Tony knew that the area where he was being held captive was riddled with natural caves and hideouts. Scrubbing his face of the sweat that dripped down it, and his back, soaking the already stained and filthy t-shirt he wore, Tony pushed down that anger and took it out on the steel he currently pounded on.
Raza had come in a few times checking on them and when Tony snarked at the megalomaniac he paid for it in torture. Yinsen just shook his head and begged Tony to finish the project and stop egging Raza on. Tony’s anger didn’t let him give in. It fueled him and the angrier he became the more determined he was to free the both of them.
“You must rest, Stark.” Yinsen brought over some fresh water, which was one of the only concessions their captors were allowing. Food was barely edible, most consisting of bread, soup with questionable meat, and some vegetables that were fresh at one time. Tony mostly ate the bread and got some of the broth down, but the rest he ignored. He didn’t want to get sick.
“I’ll rest when this is done and we are out of here,” Tony whispered as he continued with his work. Yinsen shook his head and let Tony keep working.
Work was the only thing keeping him going, keeping the anger and frustration fueled as he counted down the days. Tony thought about the family he had just begun to reconnect with. The relationships he had pushed away. He hated to admit it, but Phillip had been on his mind. There was something good there and in classic Tony Stark fashion, he threw it away.
Tony wasn’t living under the illusion that they had some great love, but Phillip got him and called him out on his bullshit. Two weeks the words pounded inside his head to the rhythm of the pounding on the steel in front of him. Tony carefully, and methodically crafted something special, something he hoped would get himself and Yinsen out of this hell hole he had ended up in. His weapons stared back at him every time that door opened. Every time he was marched through the tunnels and crates with Stark Industries sat there, mocking him, Tony felt that anger just a little more each time he was beaten and tortured.
One of the first things he was going to do when he got out was to find the asshole that sold his weapons to these animals. Growling as his thoughts spun wildly out of control, his arm pounding harder, faster, gripping the hammer like it was the only lifeline available to him. His breathing sped up and the fire deep down inside of him flared up like a demon as he kept working.
Sweat poured down every part of his body, his heart ticked faster, his muscles ached in ways they hadn’t in decades. But that anger didn’t let him slow down, he had to get out, and when he did he would rain hell down on those that dared keep him captive, that dared use his weapons to hurt the innocent. Tony Stark was slowly becoming something different, he just wasn’t sure who that was going to be in the end.
Nathan sat behind Obidiah Stane’s desk staring at the information on the screen. There were plans for a new kind of weapon utilizing the Arc Reactor technology that Tony had perfected based off of plans from their late father. These weapons would have no defense against them. However, they didn’t appear to currently be viable, they were just in the planning stages.
The problem wasn’t the plans per se. The problem was that Stane had plans to patent them using technology that was Stark proprietary property. Nathan had his legs up on the desk, looking extremely comfortable with absolutely no guilt about having broken into Stane’s computer. Of course that was Stark property as well, and in essence, Stane’s projects could be considered Stark Industries intellectual property.
Nathan patiently waited for Stane to show up. Stane claimed he was helping the teams tasked to come up with ideas to find Tony. Nathan wanted to believe him, because Stane appeared to care about Tony, and Nathan wasn’t giving up on his brother.
One of the teams currently working with Zoe Carter had come up with an idea using stealth robots based off of a school project Zoe had been working on. The labs had stealth technology, and Zoe had some ingenious robotic designs. Thankfully Carter had not fought him on letting Zoe stay when she had shown up unexpectedly a couple of weeks after he and Carter had arrived to take SI in hand.
Nathan thought about Allison and how she was alone, but he knew there was no shortage of those that would help her. Nathan had plans to try to talk Allison into relocating to New York. He even had a job for her if she wanted. The medical arm of SI needed a new director and Allison would be perfect for it. But, that could be dealt with later. What he needed to do now was deal with one Obidiah Stane while keeping the search for Tony at the forefront of his mind.
“Nathan.” Stane walked in and stopped halfway to his desk upon seeing Nathan sitting there.
“Obidiah.” Nathan turned to look at the man his father had trusted, that Tony trusted, but Nathan never had. To Nathan there had always been an underlying feeling that Stane was just biding his time until he could get control of SI. Nathan appreciated his father’s forethought in giving majority stock to his sons. And, thankfully Tony gave Nathan his proxies because he knew that this would have been the time for Stane to try to take SI away from Stark hands.
“I know you’ve decided to take your duties to SI more seriously, but what are you doing in my office?” Stane’s expression belied his affable tone of voice. Nathan had years dealing with researchers and scientists who often acted the same. His business prowess was no less than Tony’s and some would say even better. Nathan’s bullshit meter, however, was finely tuned.
“There has been some unusual activity around the Arc Reactor. I was informed by several loyal employees that a lab had been set-up in the building that not even Tony was aware of.” Nathan stood and walked around the desk to stand toe-to-toe with Stane. “I wanted to know what the hell was going on. My investigation led me here.”
Stane gave Nathan his most insincere smile, “I see. And what is it you think you’ve found?”
“Enough to call an emergency board meeting that is convening in about ten minutes. In fact, Miss Potts has informed me via text that all voting members are here. Shall we?” Nathan waived for Stane to go ahead of him as the two walked out of the office and towards the main conference room.
Nathan walked in, and before getting started he booted up the laptop waiting for him and slipped in a USB drive that he had used to copy the files he had found on Stane’s computer. He made the board wait until he got himself a cup of coffee and walked back to his spot at the head of the table.
“You’re all wondering about why I called you all here this afternoon. I’m not going to apologize for getting you out of your beds, or those fussy luncheons you prefer over actual work.” Nathan sipped his coffee and looked over the board members. Most had bought their way onto the board, and it grated on Nathan’s nerves. Restructuring the Board was on his todo list.
“Now see here, Nathan. We have been there through all of your brother’s extremely public antics. We’ve been more than patient. And this latest stunt…” Jeremy Bollard, head of a small company that made frivolous party items, sneered as he leaned against the table and glared at Nathan.
Nathan slammed his cup down on the table and glared at Bollard.
“Then maybe you’d like to find him and join him. Or does being kidnapped not up on your list of legitimate excuses for no one being able to find him!” Nathan didn’t quite yell, but he was close.
“Nathan, I know you and several of the teams here at SI are working on trying to find Tony, but how do you know this isn’t some elaborate stunt gone wrong? I mean, it’s not like he hasn’t disappeared from us before.” Another board member, Janice Purcell, asked as she leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs in an obvious power move. Nathan glared at her as well, as she made his short-list of members that needed further discretionary investigation. Might be a good project for Carter, he proved himself more than once on his investigative skills.
“Yes, Tony has been irresponsible in the past. Made some rather bad judgements in the media, but for fuck’s sake, you all are worse than these people that have taken him. When Tony is here, at Stark Industries he is as dedicated as any other person, even more at times. And he’s made you all fat assed millionaires.
“But, I did not call this meeting to discuss Tony’s disappearance. You can think what you want, I hope to God when we find him it shuts up those disgusting and disingenuous thoughts you are all having. Right now, what we need to talk about is this.”
Nathan put the images from the laptop up on the main screen in the conference room. It was the plans found on Stane’s computer.
“I have never made my dislike of Obadiah Stane a secret. Everyone here knows how I have never trusted him. My father knew, my mother knew, and most importantly, my brother knew. And, half of you know as well.
“He always coveted the role of CEO of Stark Industries. And this right here is proof of his treachery. Stane set-up secret labs housed within the Arc Reactor building. He has been developing tech based on the Arc Reactor and is attempting to patent those plans in his name, and in the name of the company that he wants to supplant in place of SI.” Nathan pulled up more documents he found on Stane’s computer that showcased the plans for the new company Stane planned on creating to replace Stark Industries.
“This, folks, is what we call a takeover. He was planning on manipulating the proxy shares he had of Tony’s to take over the board and put himself as CEO. Thankfully, after Tony and I reconciled, Tony had papers drawn up giving me control of said shares.” Nathan went back to the head of the table and picked up the legal documents and handed them out to all of the board members. When he got to Stane, the look of anger on the man’s face had Nathan giving him a devilish smile.
“I am not going to let happen to Stark Industries what happened to Pym. While Hank Pym might be a pain in our collective asses, he didn’t deserve what happened to him and his company. While we work to find Tony, I am taking over the duties as CEO. My years overseeing Global Dynamics and dealing with Military and Civilian contracts gives me experience and knowledge needed to keep this company running. I am putting this to a vote. I want Stane gone and I want all of his research confiscated and locked down. I want you to do your job in keeping this company safe. Now, granted, my vote is the deciding vote, but I want to make sure each of you understands the implications if you let Stane continue on here at Stark Industries.”
Nathan stood at the head of the table once more and looked out at everyone for a moment before continuing speaking.
“He will bilk every last bit of technology out of Stark Industries and run it so far into the ground that you all would be begging him to take over and build it back up. In the meantime, stocks fall, he has people that would work to buy most of you out, then kick you out and do with this company what he wishes. Which would not be in anyone’s best interest.”
Nathan was done talking as he sat down and forwarded Stane’s plans to all of the board members laptops and tablets.
“Take your time and understand the implications of what he was planning.” Nathan turned to Stane whose jaw worked back and forth while black anger seethed underneath. The man’s eyes were practically black with how pissed off he was. Nathan just smirked at him while in the back of his mind he hoped Carter arrived back in New York soon, he had plans and wanted to discuss them with his husband.
“Obadiah, is all of this true?” Jackson Grimes, who once owned his own company, Grimes Tech, which he sold two years prior because as he said in an interview ‘GT had become too big and I wanted to get back to my roots’. Nathan could understand that, and one of the first things he had done was buy enough shares in SI to gain a seat on the board. He was one of the more level headed members and knew what it took to run a company the size of Stark Industries.
“Jackson, come on you don’t think…”
“Oh, I do think, Obadiah. You’ve been slowly trying to undermine Tony for a while now. Even when we were technology rivals I always had a bad feeling that you were going to try something like this. Should I bring up the time you showed up at GT wanting to sell some failed ideas?”
Stane glared at Grimes, then shoved out of his chair and stalked to the head of the table, placed his hands at the edge and leaned in sneering at everyone there, but especially eyed Nathan.
“Tony has been a laughing stock and a PR nightmare for years. Nathan has hardly even been here except for the bi-yearly stockholders meetings. I have been on the frontlines trying to keep this company going.” Nathan raised a brow at Stane’s outburst.
“Except, you haven’t really come up with anything original in years, Obadiah.” Nathan pushed the laptop aside and leaned on the table. “You decided to work in a management capacity because your ideas have dried up. You and everyone else here enjoy the fruits of my brother’s labor. If anyone has kept things going, especially Tony, it’s Miss Potts. I don’t envy her that task.
“Now, I think it’s time for a vote.” Nathan turned towards Stane who sat back down and stared at Nathan, everyone in the room could feel the animosity flowing between the two men. Nathan lifted the corner of his mouth in a smile because he knew with Jackson on his side, he would come out the winner.
Jack was bored. He didn’t regret coming to New York, but he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He was given an office and everything, but that didn’t mean anything at all. Half the time he spent wandering SI, the other half he spent reading, playing a few online games, or looking up crime databases. Jack wanted to help, he understood Nathan’s frustration, but he was out of his element this time around. No magic solutions, or brilliant deductions presented themselves to him. Tony was still missing and it made everyone uneasy, but determined at the same time. While Jack stared at the ceiling in his office, unsure of what his place was at SI, he knew Nathan had called a board meeting to deal with Obadiah Stane. Jack really did not like Stane. Something about the man raised all of Jack’s law enforcement hackles. He wished he could be there for Nathan, but it was out of his element.
Jack had taken a week to go back to Eureka to check on Alison, Logan, Jenna, and everyone else that had been on his mind. Some of the scientists at GD were working with SI as best they could, and Deacon turned out to be their best resource and go-between GD and SI. Jack felt torn about staying, but Allison, once again, was his voice of reason and made him go back. Now, Jack felt restless and out of sorts. Leaving his office, coffee mug in hand, Jack decided to go see how Zoe was doing in the robotics lab.
Sipping his coffee Jack almost laughed as he remembered the day two weeks prior when Zoe showed up at Stark Industries and practically yelled at the security guard that Nathan Stark was her Step-Dad and they better let her in to see him or there would be hell to pay. Jack smiled at how creative Zoe got in her threats against the security staff. Coming to their rescue, Jack had brought Zoe up to his office and smoothed things over with the staff.
Everyone at SI was used to seeing Jack wander and for the most part they left him alone. There were a few places he couldn’t get into, much like at Global Dynamics, but he understood. Using his badge he made his way into the office Zoe had been given after she explained what she was doing in New York. The meeting with Nathan and the scientists in the robotics arm of SI went far above Jack’s head, but the excitement for his daughter’s ideas made Jack proud.
Standing just outside of the lab Zoe had been given, Jack watched for a few moments as his daughter bossed some of the men around, frantically working at a computer station, they all seemed to get excited by one of the small robots they all had their eyes on. Jack felt a surge of pride for his daughter like a punch to the gut. When she looked up and out the window his way she brightened in excitement and ran towards the door.
“Dad, Dad, Dad, you have to come see! I think we have something here that might help Uncle Tony!” Zoe practically bounced on the spot making Jack get caught up in her excitement.
“Okay, but this better not be something Eurekaized.”
Zoe laughed but grabbed Jack’s hand and pulled him into the lab. The robot on display was currently folded in on itself but when Zoe spoke, the robot woke and uncurled almost like a sleek cat. The finished paint on it had the color of desert sand, presumably to blend into the environment.
“Okay, watch. Sarabi, walk forward.” Jack watched as the four legged robot walked towards Zoe. “Sarabi, camouflage.” In less time than it took Jack to blink, the robot blended into the surroundings enough that you almost couldn’t tell that anything was there. “Sarabi, visual mode.” A small projector shone out of one of the robots eyes.
“We can communicate with whoever we want. We currently have Rhodey taking Mufasa into the desert and will initialize him soon. If all goes well and Mufasa works as well as Sarabi, we’ll deploy both of them at Uncle Tony’s last known location. These guys can move fast over any terrain. We’ve been cannibalizing parts from failed projects around SI and integrating some of the miniature satellite technology coming out of the cutting edge aerospace technology from Glendale California.”
Jack smiled as he watched one of the other scientists work with Sarabi and Jack was impressed.
“We’re hoping these guys will get eyes on Tony and we’ll get a location for him. It would be a bonus if one of them can actually interact with him, but we’ll take whatever intel we can get.”
“This is amazing, Zoe. Have you shown Nate?”
“Not the final testing, but he said he would be here to see our progress. And if all goes well with Mufasa, Rhodey is going to meet Uncle Nate and they’ll fly out this week to get them deployed.”
Nathan had mentioned to Jack that there was something in the works that might help find Tony. Zoe’s project must have been what he had been talking about. Jack watched while Zoe put her robot through some of its paces, bossed the scientists around and looked completely in her element. It made Jack’s pride for his daughter swell, and his heart flipped a little with the realization that Zoe was growing up.
He noticed the moment that Zoe and her team forgot he was there, which was okay with Jack, he looked at his watch and saw how late it was getting and decided to head up to the suite Nathan and him were sharing. Zoe had her own small apartment near them and Jack knew he had to begin to let go of his little girl, which proved harder than he anticipated. He loved that she was there, but he knew college was just around the corner and this project showed Jack just what kind of potential she had. Smiling despite the circumstances, Jack was proud and it was these feelings that stayed with him all the way to his temporary home.
Tony leaned against the makeshift cot picking at the bread on his plate. The rice and vegetables had been decent this time around and Tony tried not to wish for a slice of pizza from Bleecker Street, or a good old fashioned flat top hamburger. Throwing his plate on the ground he shoved it away from him, looked at the number of marks he had made to denote what he assumed was the passing of days and audibly sighed.
“What is frustrating you this evening my friend?” Yinsen set his plate aside and Tony felt the man’s eyes on him.
“I could really go for a good old fashioned American cheeseburger and some cold beer right about now.”
Yinsen quietly laughed and shook his head. “I am afraid you are out of luck. All we have is bland vegetables, questionable Noni bread, and water.”
Tony chuckled as he closed his eyes and tried to keep the night terrors at bay. He had been working day and night trying to progress on his project as quickly as he could while keeping his captors in the dark on what he was really doing.
“I could go for my wife’s Kabuli Pulao, Ashak, and Bolani. She makes the best Bolani stuffed with eggplant and spices. Her Ashak always has the family asking for more. Feasting with family and friends, that is where I would like to be.” Yinsen had closed his eyes, his smile wistful as he sat looking like he was meditating. Tony had made one promise since his ordeal began, and that was to get his friend back to his family.
“I’m wondering what my brother and his family are doing. I’m picturing Jack with his newborn son, while Nathan is working away. Now, his daughter Zoe, she is quite brilliant and if I have my way she’ll get into whatever college she wants. Even if Nate fights me on it.” Tony could picture it and something about the scene in his head made his heart clench. He had just gotten his brother back, he hadn’t wanted to mess it up again.
“Do you have someone back home, Tony? Someone to take care of you like my Anoush?”
Yinsen had talked of his wife and children often and it made Tony ache for his family, however he wasn’t going to stop the man, Tony felt an odd sort of comfort listening to stories of Yinsen and his family.
Tony wasn’t sure how to answer the question. Phillip had become important to him, but he wasn’t sure what they were, especially after how Tony had treated his lover just before leaving for Afghanistan.
“There was someone, but I think I fucked it up.” Tony huffed as he picked up the now stale bread and broke off pieces to throw to the rats that scurried in as the sun set. It was a nightly ritual. Keep them fed and they would leave himself and Yinsen alone.
“Maybe when you get back you can apologize and move on from whatever mistakes you have made.”
“Hmm, maybe.” Tony looked away from Yinsen’s penetrating gaze. “But I was pretty awful to him.” Tony gave Yinsen a side-eyed look wondering what his reaction was going to be.
“You think I am shocked by this? You forget I have seen you at several science conventions. Nothing you say about your companions will shock me. I have no care about who you take to bed. I may have my faith, but I am also a man of science.”
Tony laughed, it felt good despite their circumstances. “There are still too many in this world that think the opposite, Yinsen. My father certainly did.” Tony finished throwing bread to the rats and stretched his legs out as his gaze looked over how much he had accomplished on his project. If he pushed it could get done in a couple of weeks and he could be working on getting himself and Yinsen out of their cell and away from their captors.
“Yes, we unfortunately cannot stamp out all ignorance in the world. If we could, neither of us would be where we are right now.”
Tony waved a finger at Yinsen, “No truer words my friend. But, I think we both need to try to get some sleep. We have a lot of work to do in the morning.” Tony was about to get up to get as comfortable as he could on the cot to try to get some sleep when the door to their cell banged open, something thrown down near him on the ground as he was being hauled up on his feet.
“What is that?” Raza growled as he glared at Tony just inches from his face.
“I have no fucking idea.” Tony growled back. He was tired of this shit and just wanted to be done with it. He wanted to go home.
“You will figure it out and you will tell me what it is, what it does, and if anyone has figured out where you are. If you don’t,” Raza turned towards Yinsen pointing his gun at the man and flicking off the safety. “I cannot guarantee your friends safety.”
“You think I am afraid to die, I am not. I have made my peace with God, you would do well to do the same.” Tony admired Yinsen’s calm demeanor and how it frustrated Raza.
“I will give you until the morning.” Raza and his soldiers let Tony go then stormed out of the cell. Tony was surprised they didn’t torture him first, but he was well aware that could be in his near future if he didn’t see what the hell it was lying on the floor.
“Do you know what it is?”
Tony had Yinsen help him lift the heap of metal onto one of the tables that didn’t have much on it anymore and started to look it over. The thing looked almost feline in design and he wondered for a moment if Wakanda had a hand in creating it, but looking closer he saw it was all Stark Industries. He unscrewed panels, examined circuits, and worked on fixing what he could visually see without breaking it down. Some of the internal systems he immediately noticed were from dead SI projects. Tony was impressed with the engineering of what he was looking at.
The thing was dented as if someone had shot at it. The bulletproof skin on the robot held up pretty well and if he had to make a guess, Tony assumed that those in the camp that had targeted it were worried about it housing a bomb. It wasn’t a stupid thought, they were after all kidnappers and terrorists.
Tony noticed the switch on the back of the head hadn’t been damaged and he turned it on. When he did a small projection was right in front of him. Taking his time he looked the robot over, which is what Tony realized it was, and began to fiddle with it.
It was well into the early morning and with Yinsen helping him, Tony had pieced the robot back together. He hooked it up to the power source he had been using on his project, and got the thing back online.
“Huh, some kind of recon robot is what I’m guessing. It must have gotten a little too close to the camp. There is some highly sophisticated engineering in it.” Tony continued to fiddle with it when he turned the projection back on and startled to see a face.
“SI Control 1 to anyone. This is SI Control 1 to whoever has Tony Stark.” The face smiled and it didn’t take Tony but a moment to recognize her from the myriad of pictures Jack had shown him of his daughter Zoe. “We gotcha.”
“Whoa there kiddo. I hope you know what you’re doing.” Tony spoke out loud as he stared at the projection.
“Oh, oh shit. Uncle Tony? Is that totally you?” The girl smiled and the bags under her eyes softened a little.
“Wait, you can hear me?”
“Shit!, Oh Shit! Yes! Yes! We can totes hear you. OhmygodRhodeygetoverhere.” Zoe tripped over her words in absolute joy and it made something that had broken deep down inside of Tony heal just a little bit. They had been looking for him. Six weeks stuck in hell with no communication to the outside world and they had actually been looking for him. Tony felt his eyes moisten, but he wasn’t going to let them fall. Not here, not now.
“Okay, kiddo calm down.” The voice of Rhodey almost made Tony lose it.
“Is it really him?” Was that Nathan? Tony had to look up at the ceiling to calm the storm of emotions that welled up inside of him. After taking a few deep calming breaths, Tony looked back at the projection and kept his emotions in check.
“How is this possible?” He whispered, trying to keep it down so his captors wouldn’t notice. “And, keep it down.”
Zoe came back on looking a bit wild eyed, Tony knew that feeling well. “It’s a long story Uncle Tony, but we can get you out of there. There is a panel on Sarabi’s belly on the right, pop that open and pull out the small homing beacon. Don’t worry, it’s silent. Once you take it out, all of Sarabi’s programming will be wiped and her circuits will fry.
“Also, the top of her head is another panel. It holds a micro satellite. Take that out and destroy it. Rhodey will be in the air in two hours. Hang in there Uncle Tony.” With that, Zoe disconnected their communication, and Tony got to work. First he pulled the homing beacon and could see it was the size of a button. It even looked like a button. He shoved that in the pocket of his pants hoping it worked just as Zoe had said.
Next he quickly found the panel on the robot’s head, popped it open and found the micro satellite. The circuits in the robot were starting to fry and Tony stepped away from it and watched as it died in front of him.
“That was rather dramatic.” Yinsen stated as Tony turned to look at him. The two men began to laugh and finally Tony let some of those emotions out. It took him a few moments to calm the raging storm inside of him, his family had been looking for him. The thought looped around in his mind as he wiped his face, Yinsen saying nothing, t laid a hand on Tony’s shoulder giving him something steady to focus on. Tony calmed down enough that he looked at his project and knew it needed to be finished immediately. They were out of time. Tony abandoned some of the fiddly stuff he had wanted on it in favor of expediency.
“Raza will be here soon. Let’s see how much progress we can make on the suit. I want to try to be ready for when they get here.”
Yinsen nodded and the two men began to work quickly to get finished to make their escape as soon as they got their signal from their rescuers, whatever that would be. Tony assumed it was going to be loud and messy, which he hoped it would be.
Nathan paced one of the civilian quarters of the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The only reason he was able to stay was his DoD clearance. Otherwise the base commander would have thrown him out the moment he landed with Rhodey and Zoe, who despite her age, was made an emergency civilian consultant in charge of the two reconnaissance robots, Mufasa and Sarabi. They had already been there four days and Zoe had been put in charge of running the small team attempting to find Tony. The two Air Force drone pilots she had been working with quickly quelled any teasing by showing she knew what she was talking about and both men had fallen a little in love with her. Nathan’s glaring and reminding them she was just barely seventeen had them on their best behavior.
Jack had been dead set against letting her go and the fight between father and daughter counted as one for the history books. Nathan promised Jack he would keep her safe, their marriage depended on bringing Zoe back unharmed.
Luckily she had been ushered into one of the areas that dealt with drone recon and Nathan was reassured that the bunker was as safe as possible.
“I’m still angry with you, Nathan.” Jack had not cooled even one bit and Nathan was sure if the situation were reversed he would feel the same.
“I know Jack. But, I promise you she’ll be safe. She went through DoD clearance just fine. Even with her previously wild shenanigans it wasn’t all that bad enough to deny her the temporary clearance she has. She’ll be fine.”
“She’s staying on base and that is not up for negotiations.”
Nathan gave Jack a reassuring smile, “Yes, she is staying on base. I can’t tell you where, but it’s as safe as it possibly can be.”
Nathan had wished he had just called and not decided to do face time because the look on his husband’s normally handsome face had Nate wanting to hold him close. Then the finger pointing came out and it was such classic Jack Carter it had Nathan almost fully smiling.
“Don’t be reasonable, Nathan. I get to be worried about you both.”
Nathan leaned back in the chair he currently occupied as he talked to Jack on the new Stark Imagine Pad II. He had seen to the completion of it before he and Zoe were taken to Qatar.
“I know, and I love you for it. Hopefully we’ll have some news soon….” No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Zoe came running into the small office where Nathan was at.
“Uncle Nate, you have to come…now!” Zoe ran back the way she had come and Nathan shoved out of his chair and started after her. He remembered Jack at the last second.
“Gotta go, Jack. Will talk to you soon.” Nathan unceremoniously shut down the tablet and once again raced after Zoe.
Nathan ran into the drone control center and over to Zoe’s area just as he heard a bit of conversation coming through.
“Is it really him?” Nathan blurted out as he tried to look over the shoulders of the two Airmen and Zoe as they crowded around a small screen. Rhodey was holding up a wall to the back of the room and Nathan knew the man felt guilty for what happened to Tony. No matter how many times he had been reassured, Nathan knew it was going to be a long time before Rhodey forgave himself for something that wasn’t his fault. Turning back to the scene in front of him Nathan tried to deal with his own emotions.
Zoe just nodded and continued talking to Tony. Nathan felt something loosen in his chest as he tried to get a glimpse of his brother. What he could see were bruises and a gaunt look on Tony’s face he had never seen before.
“…Rhodey will be in the air in two hours. Hang in there Uncle Tony.” Zoe clicked off and looked towards Nathan. She pushed between the Airmen and flung herself in Nathan’s arms.
“You did it, Kiddo.” Nathan held his step-daughter in his arms as emotions she had been holding back began to purge. Nathan wrapped her up tighter and held her close. Kissing the top of her head he let her have her minor breakdown. If he could, he would have joined her, but there was a lot to do to make sure Tony was safe. He looked up to Rhodey who nodded then walked away as fast as he could. Nathan knew it was going to take a little time for Rhodey to get clearance to take off, and get his flight plan submitted. The base commander still had to sign off on the mission. Nathan didn’t pretend to know the inner workings of the Military. He knew the DoD, and the Government’s various scientific divisions, but he knew Tony knew more Military protocol than he did.
“I’m okay, I’m okay.” Zoe pulled away and started to wipe her eyes on her sleeve, but Nathan just gave her his handkerchief.
“Hey, it’s a lot for even someone seasoned in search and rescue. I won’t pretend to know what you’re going through. I think maybe you need to talk to your Dad. We can get him on Skype.” Nathan smiled as he cupped a hand under Zoe’s chin and looked her in the eye. “I am extremely proud of you and what you have accomplished, Zoe Carter.”
Zoe smiled back as she sniffed back the fresh tears that were about to fall. Nathan took the handkerchief from Zoe’s loose fingers and dabbed her eyes. “You were incredibly brave and I know your Father is proud of you. Come on and we’ll get him back online and you two can talk.”
“Thank you, Uncle Nate.”
Nathan knew he needed to get used to being called that, thankfully, he liked it. A lot, but there was no time for warm fuzzy feelings towards his step-daughter, there was more work to do and Nathan wanted to be ready for when they brought Tony to the Air Base.
Getting into the suit took time and Tony was anxious. The power had been charging all night, and it was just a matter of some final adjustments. When Yinsen unhooked him, Tony took a few steps, almost stumbled, but gained his balance quickly. His center of gravity was different and it took him little time to make the mental adjustments.
Yinsen looked up at him and smiled a sad, beatific smile as he nodded. “I have been ready since the moment they threw you into this cell with me, Tony Stark. You are and always will be my friend.” Yinsen patted the metal arm as Tony felt something dark and foreboding in the pit of his stomach.
“After this is over, come find me in New York. There will always be a place at my table for you.” Yinsen didn’t say anything, just moved out of the way when Raza came pounding on the door yelling at Tony as he pulled the door open.
Tony barely thought about his action as he raised an arm and fired one of the mini rockets that he had built weeks ago. The supplies that he had been given, and the Stark ammunition that had been sitting around gave him plenty to fill the weapons banks on the suit. He watched with a satisfied smirk on his face as Rasa flew down the corridor as the rocket hit him dead center and ended with him smashed against the wall near the entrance to the cave.
Tony stared walking, shooting anyone that moved as he carefully made his way towards the exit. Yinsen yelled that he was coming out. Tony had no clue what his friend planned to do, but picking up a weapon and plowing headlong in front of him was not it.
“Yinsen, don’t!” Tony yelled, but was too late, the man had engaged the enemy getting his own brand of revenge on the terrorists.
Tony mowed through Raza’s men as he made his way towards Yinsen. He heard no more firing and the fear Tony had as he approached the area where the fighting stopped, ramped up. Tony’s heart broke into a million pieces as he awkwardly knelt next to the body of his friend.
“You stupid man. I promised to get you back to your family.” Tony took off the helmet to help him see better. His field of vision had been limited while wearing the damn thing.
The smile on Yinsen’s face was warm and beautiful as he reached up and patted Tony on the cheek. Blood spilled faster than Tony would be able to stop, he knew without a doubt that his friend was dying.
“You have fulfilled your promise, Tony Stark. When I close my eyes for the final time, I shall see my family. This was always the plan, Tony.”
“Yinsen…” Tony swallowed back the pain as he watched his friend’s life slowly fade. “Thank you for saving me.” Tony had no more words. There were no words one could give a dying man.
“Don’t waste it, Stark. Do better, you can do so much good in this world. Survive, and become a better man.” Yinsen took a deep breath and he let it out, Tony knew he was gone.
The moment of grief was shattered by the sounds of fighting outside the entrance to the cave. Tony put his helmet back on, looked once more at his friend and tried not to regret leaving him there. Shoring up his resolve, Tony once more rained down death on those who got in his way. Before leaving he noticed Raza’s broken body right at the mouth of the cave and felt absolutely nothing. He had zero regrets for killing these men, especially the main person that was the cause of his kidnapping and torture. Turning his head towards the entrance, Tony shut down all emotions and thought about one thing, freedom.
When Tony finally breached the outside of the cave Tony stood stock still in shock at the scene in front of him. US troops had subdued the rest of Raza’s men, women and children were separated and Tony didn’t want to imagine what had happened to those women as the men had prepared for war against anyone who did not share their beliefs.
“Sir, slowly take off that helmet and raise your arms in the air.” The soldier at the head of the American forces demanded as he held a rifle up, aiming at Tony’s head.
“It’s okay, Soldier. It’s me, Tony Stark.” Tony slowly took the helmet off and let it fall to the ground as he held his arms in the air. There was a moment of silence as everyone held their collective breath, then cheers went up all around the camp.
“Mr. Stark, it is very good to make your acquaintance. We are here to rescue you and take you back to Al Udeid Air Base. Your brother and niece are waiting for you, Sir.”
Tony sighed and dropped to his knees as all of the adrenaline that had built up left him all at once. The terrorist camp went immediately into a flurry of activity as men were rounded up and taken out on a separate transport, the women and children were loaded into medical vans, and several soldiers helped Tony out of the makeshift iron battle armor.
Tony laid out on the ground, cold, exhausted, and aching from every part of his body. He knew he was going into shock as more medical persons immediately came to his aid. Tony felt himself pass out knowing he wasn’t going to wake-up for quite a while.
To keep himself busy and his mind off of the fact that his husband and daughter were in Qatar working on rescuing Tony Stark, Jack began to delve into the lives of the board members as Nathan had asked him to. He had been a good investigator before Eureka, you couldn’t work as a Marshall and not know how to obtain certain knowledge for an investigation when all other avenues had been blocked to you. Jack’s hacking skills may not be up to the level of most of the scientists at GD, but he had grown fairly proficient on his own, with Zoe and even Jo showing him some easy tricks to get around the internet and a person’s digital presence.
He currently had several tabs open and information came in from several sources on Janice Purcell, one of the board members that had Nathan’s instincts running wild. Jack had always trusted Nathan’s instincts, even if when they first met he and Nathan disliked each other on sight. Jack laughed as he thought back to his first few months in Eureka, and shook his head as several of his searches began to ping.
It also helped Jack that he had to go through Government vetting just to walk in the doors at General Dynamics, which included the use of several websites that not even most law enforcement were privy to. Plus he still had access to all of the programs available to him as a US Marshall. Jack had not looked too closely into why his credentials had never been revoked, he enjoyed the access way too much.
Jack was in a deep dive when his desk phone pinged. Frowning he picked it up and at least attempted to sound like he knew what he was doing.
“Carter,” Jack stated as he waited to see who was calling.
“Mr. Carter, this is Annalise, you’re secretary…”
“I have a secretary?” Jack blurted out, startled at his own confusion.
“Ah, yes sir. Mr. Stark thought I might be of use to you while he and Miss Zoe are out of the office.”
“Oh, um, okay. I think.” Jack was now not only a bit confused, he was also touched at the gesture. He just wasn’t sure that to do with a secretary, he’s never had one before. “So, I take it you need something?” Jack winced at his own bluntness as he attempted to adjust his worldview as it had shifted once more.
“Yes, sir. Miss Potts is here with a Mr. Jackson Grimes, and Mr. Hogan.”
Jack pulled the phone away from his ear as he felt his own frown deepen. He had met Pepper the one time when he and Nathan had been here several weeks ago on their honeymoon. Since then, he had not interacted with her, or Mr. Hogan.
“Sir? Should I tell them you’re busy?”
Jack startled out of his confusion and took a deep breath.
“No, it’s fine. You can let them in. Oh, and who would I call to get some coffee for everyone?”
Annalise softly laughed before speaking once more, “It’s all right, Mr. Carter. I’ll have someone bring some up along with some bottled water and food. You haven’t had any lunch, and Mr. Stark already told me that you have a tendency to forget to eat.”
Jack wanted to growl, but he knew his husband was just watching out for him.
“Thank you, Annalise. I appreciate it, and just call me Jack, okay?”
“Yes…” There was a pause and Jack had to laugh that he wasn’t the only one having to adjust his world view. “Jack.” She hung up and a moment later the door to his office was opening up letting in the three people Annalise mentioned on the phone.
Jack stood and walked over to his guests, welcoming them as he led them to the small conference table to the left of his office.
“Some coffee will be brought in shortly. Now, I know Nathan can be a bit over protective, he often forgets that I was a US Marshall. So, I wonder what you three are here about.”
Pepper smiled as she leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs.
“Tony thought you might need some help in your little project and he wanted me to introduce you to Mr. Grimes. He’s not just a pretty face.” Pepper smiled as she looked at Jack.
“Well, I could use the help, and if you don’t mind sharing the office, it would be appreciated. But, I have to ask, why you?”
Jackson crossed his arms as he openly studied Jack for a moment.
“I’ve always been impressed by Tony Stark and when there was a chance to join his board, I took it. And, in the process seemed to have become friends with Tony. I know more than most the pressures of running a company this big, that’s why I sold Grimes Tech, and started a smaller company where I could let my creativity flow freely.
“I’ve voted more often than not Tony’s way and we’ve built up a trust with each other. I promise you, Jack, I want to help Tony and Nathan to keep SI in their hands. I’ve never trusted most of those on the board, and I have an ace in the hole they don’t.”
“Oh? And what is that?”
Jackson’s devilish smile crossed his face as his eyes danced with mischief.
“My husband, Anthony Paddington Grimes. He’s an information analyst, but not just any information analyst, his Government clearance is probably as high, if not higher than Nathan’s. He’ll be able to get us into places we never dreamed of.”
Jack turned to look at Pepper with a raised brow. “Okay, then what is Mr. Hogan here for?” Jack leaned back in his chair staring at Tony Stark’s bodyguard.
“He’s going to protect you while Tony and Nathan are gone.”
Jack let out an exasperated sigh, “Pepper, I don’t need a bodyguard. I was a US Marshall for the better part of fifteen years. I know how to take care of myself.”
Happy leaned his body towards Jack and shook his head. “I know you can, Jack. But, you don’t know this world. Corporate heads are a different kind of dangerous. Ruthless doesn’t even begin to describe them. You need someone keeping you safe, and Nathan charged me with your safety.”
Jack closed his eyes for a moment and wiped a hand over his face to try to calm his frustration. He wanted to be upset, but he knew Nathan was just looking out for him. Jack took a few moments to get his mind around possibly needing an actual bodyguard. He had tracked down and taken in some dangerous fugitives, but Happy was right in that he had no experience with corporate greed, or the lengths some would go to in retaining their power.
“All right, but there will be boundaries.” Jack pointed his finger at Happy, who visibly tried not to be amused at Jack’s indignation.
“Of course. And, if I can’t be with you, anyone I assign to you will have been vetted.”
“Fine. Now, you can have someone bring in a couple of extra desks because I refuse to hop from office to office during this oh so dangerous research.”
Pepper audibly snorted as she tried to hide her amusement at Jack who just rolled his eyes. Jackson didn’t even try to hide his laugh as Pepper and Happy stood to get what needed to be done taken care of. Jack ignored everyone and went back to what he was doing, but not before he sent Nathan a text.
You’re an asshole –
A few moments later Jack’s phone pinged a message back.
What the hell did I do?
Jack just laughed and left Nathan to wonder what exactly it was that had Jack annoyed.