Hero was never a word that Tony Stark would have used to describe himself, and it certainly hadn’t been one he had included in that string of words that he had shot off at Steve, what felt like years ago now. And yet, here he was, doing that hero work again, following the good soldier-boy into battle.
One might ask why, with their ever growing number of friends, why Tony Stark. And indeed, this was a question that Tony had asked himself often. He had never voiced that question out loud though, because he already knew the answer, and it was nearly as frightening as the growing relationship he had with the Captain.
Trust. Tony had somehow gained a level of trust with Steve that he had previously thought impossible. And yet, here he was, once again, staring at that blue-clad ass as the Cap crouched down behind a wall, his focus on the target ahead.
“The perimeter looks quiet,” Steve said, glancing over his shoulder to Tony.
“Yeah, too quiet,” Tony said, unable to stop the small smirk as he said this, not that Steve could see it through the helmet of the Iron Man suit. But from the look the Cap was giving him, he knew it was there. “I’m scanning the building now. Even if there aren’t physical guards outside, the place is wired.”
“Traps?” Steve guessed.
“Probably. I can hack in and shut it down from the inside,” Tony suggested.
“We don’t have time for that; we can’t take the chance of you setting off an alarm, like the LAST time-”
“I’m in,” Tony interrupted.
“Of course you are,” Steve sighed, rolling his eyes as he turned back to look at the facility, waiting for any signs that Tony had tripped an alarm.
“Aaaand, they’re down. We should be good,” Tony said.
“You’re sure?” Steve questioned as he stood up.
“Oh, am I taking the lead on this one? Really, Cap, I’m flattered, but leading on the battlefield isn’t quite my style,” Tony said. “Now if we were in the privacy of my bedroom, that would be another story entirely-”
“Tony!” Steve snapped, turning to glare at the Iron-clad man. “Now is not the time, I need you to focus, or you can stay here and make sure the security stays down.”
“Oh, I am focused, one hundred percent focused,” Tony said. “Though I’m sure I could focus a bit better if you would turn just slightly to the right.”
“If you could be one-hundred percent focused on the mission, and not my ass, that would be preferable.” Steve said, purposefully turning away from Tony and walking forward. Tony took a moment to enjoy the view, before deciding that Steve was right, he could ogle the man later, when he had the time to peel that Captain America suit from his body.
“Right, no more distractions. I’ll be in the air,” Tony said, taking off before Steve could protest, not that he would, since it was part of the original plan. Tony was there as backup, in case things went wrong; in which case Tony would take great pleasure in being Steve’s ‘knight in shining armor’.
“If you see movement out here, let me know,” Steve said, his voice all business again.
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Tony said, watching from his high vantage point as Steve made his way swiftly and quietly into the facility. “You’ve got fifteen minutes,” he added, almost jokingly, but he set a timer for himself; he would give Steve that long before asking if he needed help.
The inside of the facility was nearly as quiet as the outside. No guards could be seen, but the place wasn’t deserted; this was proven by the fact that Steve had to duck out of sight, to avoid two people in white lab coats who were walking by.
“We’re too far behind, Dr. Kruse isn’t going to be happy about this.”
“She is always unhappy.”
The two lab assistants’ conversation faded out as they continued on passed Steve’s hiding spot.
On the outside this looked to be like a normal government owned facility, and Steve could easily believe that there were a fair few workers here that had no idea what was really going on in those unmarked lower levels.
In truth, even Steve didn’t know what was down there. The information that Tony had managed to gather was very vague, and practically useless. It had nearly been enough for Steve to look the other way and move onto the next Hydra facility. However, it had also been that lack of information that had had Tony insisting that something was going on here; even if it wasn’t Hydra, a facility this size should have more records.
“How you holdin up in there, Cap?” Tony’s voice came over the headset.
“I’m looking for a way down to the lower levels that you said were in here,” Steve replied quietly.
“Ah, yes, those tricky little bastards. Technically you’ve passed two elevators that could take you down there.”
“Tony,” Steve sighed, ducking into an empty room again.
“Hold onto your stars and stripes, Cap, I’m working on it now.”
Steve waited quietly and patiently for Tony to work, knowing this was the billionaire’s way of showing off.
“Out of this room, turn right, down the hall, another right and the second left you come to should be a dead end, when you get there I will open the elevator for you,” Tony said.
Steve glanced around the room he was in, finding the security camera that was in place, knowing that Tony had control of the whole system and was watching him. He nodded once before following Tony’s directions. He came to a dead end just as the wall slid open to reveal the hidden elevator.
“Good work, Tony,” Steve said, darting inside and pressing the lowest button on the panel.
“I expect to be rewarded for my contribution to this mission.”
“Later, Tony,” Steve said firmly as the elevator reached the lower level and the doors slid open. The only thing he got in reply from his Iron-clad partner was static. “Tony?” Steve put his hand to the headset. “Tony?”
“…cap… inter… care…”
The staticy reply was enough to confirm that Tony hadn’t suddenly run into trouble. What it did mean however, was that someone was managing to jam their headsets, despite the fact that Tony had hacked their system.
Fully on guard now, Steve moved forward through the hallway. He was looking for something that jumped out at him, demanding he investigate further, but there was nothing. There were no markers on the doors to indicate what might be inside, and everything around him was painted white. If he had to use one word to describe this place, it would be ‘sterile’.
Deciding to try a different hallway, he hoped he would have better luck finding out exactly what this facility was being used for. The further he walked, the more on edge he was; this place, for how big it was, had a severe lack of workers. Guards seemed to be non-existent, and the only people he had run into were the two doctors on the upper level.
“Tony, there’s something not right about this place,” Steve said, hoping his partner could hear him. He hated being cut off from his team member like this, and as tempting as it was to turn back to make sure that Tony hadn’t gotten himself into any trouble, Steve reminded himself that Tony was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, for a few minutes at least.
Turning down the next hallway, Steve found another corridor of unmarked doors. He didn’t like the feel of this place; there was no lab equipment down here, and all the doors were locked and unmarked. Three steps into this new hallway and Steve paused, turning to look at one of the doors, then the next, a frown forming on his face as he got an unpleasant suspicion about what was behind them.
Looking around, he counted ten doors total in each hallway, spaced out evenly along each side. They were locked and, upon further inspection, Steve could see they were obviously locked from the outside.
“It’s a prison,” Steve said. “Tony!” he snapped into the headset. “If you can hear me, answer me!”
“Cap, something… get out…” The broken message was clearer than it had been before, but he understood the urgency he had heard in Tony’s voice. He didn’t have much time left down here.
He turned back toward the locked door he had been looking at; setting off alarms was now the least of his concerns. Stepping back, Steve kicked in the door, and though he should have been prepared for what he saw inside, it still made his stomach drop.
There, lying curled up on a small bed that was hardly big enough for the unmoving occupant, was the body of a child, dressed in a hospital gown, eyes open wide in frozen fear. Turning angrily away, Steve kicked in the next door, then the next, hoping, praying, that he would find one child who was still living.
All ten rooms in this hallway held similar results, some children lying on their beds, some under them, others curled up in a corner. The faint smell of some gas was in the rooms, but it had obviously been cleared out before he and Tony had even arrived.
This place was no longer a prison, but a tomb.
“Steve!” Tony’s voice came over the headset, loud and clear, but Steve ignored it, working his way back down the next hallway of doors, kicking in each one. Quite a few of them were empty, but far too many of them had bodies of children, most of them looking to be between the ages of six and fourteen, but none older than that.
His anger grew with each body he found. Some looked as if they had still been sleeping when their rooms were gassed, others had died in fear, as if they had known what was happening and were powerless to stop it.
A loud crash echoed through the hallways, and Steve turned, looking to the end of the hall he was currently in. He only had to wait for a moment before he saw Tony fly around the corner. Steve said nothing as the other man landed next to him, instead he turned back toward the door he had been about to kick in.
Tony watched as Steve smashed in the door they were both in front of, the metal dented and the door itself was half off it’s hinges.
“Cap,” Tony said, watching the pain and anger flash across the stronger man’s face as Steve looked into the room, before the man turned to the next door and kicked that one in too.
Tony looked into the room too. He had seen the other doors that Steve had kicked in, on his way through the halls, so he already knew what he would see. He didn’t have time to dwell on the child’s corpse, they were short on time, and it wouldn’t be good if both he and Steve were distracted by their anger at the situation they had come across.
“Cap, we’ve gotta get out of here,” Tony said, turning to look at Steve once more.
“Not until we check every room,” Steve insisted.
“They’re dead. The best thing we can do for them now-”
“And if they’re not? If there are some that are still alive?” Steve demanded.
“I’ve scanned them,” Tony said flatly, distancing himself emotionally from the situation. “They’ve all been dead for at least a day now,” Tony said.
Steve turned to fully face Tony now. “There could still be one,” Steve insisted.
“We do not have TIME to check every door, Steve!” Tony snapped. “They knew we were coming, they gassed all these children, and we have thirty minutes before this whole place goes up in flames!”
“I’m not leaving,” Steve said stubbornly, turning and kicking in another door, looking in long enough to determine if the child inside was alive before moving onto the next. Tony followed him down the hall, grabbing Steve by the arm and shoving him away from the door he was about to kick in.
“Why must everything be so difficult with you?” Tony shook his head. “I’ll scan the whole floor, if I don’t pick up any signs of life, we leave.”
Steve seemed to contemplate this for a moment, and Tony could practically see the inner war raging inside the Captain’s head. Resisting the urge to sigh when Steve nodded once, Tony ordered for the scan to start, looking for anything that would indicate that even one of these children was still alive.
“I’m picking up two lifesigns; one of them is on the floor above us, it’s an adult, my guess is they are one of the sickos responsible for all of this,” Tony said waving his hand to indicate the rooms around them.
“And the other?” Steve demanded.
“I’ll worry about the other. Why don’t you go make sure that our lovely friend upstairs doesn’t get away? You’re less likely to kill him than I am… I think,” Tony said, though as he looked toward Steve, he wasn’t sure if that statement was entirely true or not.
Steve only hesitated a moment before nodding. “Don’t be too long,” he ordered.
“I’ll meet you outside in five minutes,” Tony promised. “Oh, and the elevator is out of order, might want to take the shortcut upstairs,” Tony said, lifting his arm and blasting a hole in the ceiling.
“Right, give me a boost then,” Steve said.
“Oh the things I do for you,” Tony said, bending slightly as he laced his fingers together, waiting for Steve to step on his hands before he threw him up into the hole in the ceiling. “I’ll meet you outside in five,” Tony said over the headset before he headed in the direction of the other person that he had detected.
They had only been two hallways away, but from the readings Tony was getting, he wasn’t sure if the child he was picking up would even survive much longer. Their life signs were fading quickly, and after finding out what was down here, the last thing that Tony wanted Steve to have to deal with was a dying child.
Tony busted the door open, looking inside at the small form lying sprawled on the floor. The child’s hand was stretched out toward the door, as though willing for it to open. Moving forward quickly, Tony knelt next to the child, gently rolling them over, and Tony found himself staring into wide, green eyes, filled with so much fear.
“… no… ” the weak voice protested. A shaky hand pushed at Tony, but even if he hadn’t been in the suit there was no way this child could have fought him off.
“Easy, kid, I’m the good guy,” Tony said, lifting the child from the floor.
“…no…” the child said again. This protest was accompanied by a coughing fit that had the small body going limp when he was done. Tony scanned the child again quickly, letting out a small sigh when he could still detect a heartbeat.
Holding the child securely, Tony quickly left the room and headed back to the hole he had made in the ceiling before, flying up through there to the next floor.
“I hope you’re ready to get out of here, Cap,” Tony said over the headset, blasting his way up through the next floor as taking the elevator would be wasting time.
“I’m already outside. Where are you Tony? Did you find any other survivors?”
“I’m on my way out now,” Tony said. “We may want to contact some of those medical people at S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Tony heard the sigh of relief through the headset, and knew that Steve, while he was going to still be upset that so many innocent children had been slaughtered, would find comfort in the fact that they had gotten one out alive.
It still wouldn’t stop Steve from hunting down the people who had done this, and Tony didn’t blame him. He planned to follow Steve through this, until every last person responsible was brought to justice. Tony would never consider himself to be a hero, he was too much of a wild card to be the boy scout that Steve was. However, he would not sit back and let these evil bastards kill dozens of children and get away with it.
It was more of the same, but still different; the hands poking Him, the people in white coats standing around, people talking too quickly for Him to fully comprehend what they were saying. All of this He was used to, what He didn’t like was when they kept trying to talk to Him, the people in white didn’t talk to Him.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to be afraid.” The person was speaking to Him again.
“No,” He replied, wanting to convey to them that this was wrong, this wasn’t how things were done. He knew He’d been moved to a new place, the room He was in was more open, and He could see through some of the walls.
“Can you tell me your name?”
He just continued staring with wide eyes, trying to comprehend what they wanted from Him. No one was telling Him what to do, but from the way everyone was looking at Him, they were expecting something.
“No,” He said again, shifting nervously.
“It’s okay,” the person said once more, reaching out and placing a hand on His knee. He stared down at the hand; it wasn’t gripping Him, it wasn’t moving Him, it just rested there, warm and unfamiliar.
“…no…” He said, shoving the hand off. “No!” He said louder looking back up at the unfamiliar face, then looking at the other people in the room; no one here was familiar. New people came in all the time, but there had always been someone He recognised.
“Easy,” someone else said, moving to stand next to Him, their hand resting on His shoulder, again, there was no other movement, the hand was just there, and He didn’t like it.
“No!” His eyes started burning with tears, He was confused, and no one was doing things the right way.
“We just need to know your name, do you remember who you are?”
“Do you know how old you are?”
“Do you know where you’re from?”
“Do you remember what happened?”
One question after another, He hated this, they were doing it wrong, and He didn’t know what they wanted from Him.
“No understand! No!” He wanted to be back in His safe place, behind His door where people didn’t use words He didn’t know, where things were how they were supposed to be. Covering His ears, He screamed, shaking His head. “No, no, no, no, no, no.”
He didn’t like this new place, He wanted the old people back, He wanted His room, even if it meant that He would have to go to sleep and never wake up. He had seen the smoke, and He knew what it meant, He had seen the smoke make others go to sleep and never wake up.
They were touching Him again, pushing Him to lie back. The hands were forcing Him down, giving Him direction, and His screaming stopped, and He blinked blearily up at the people standing over Him now.
“Should we sedate him?”
“Oh, that’s a wonderful idea…” A new voice joined the group of wrong people, and He looked over at the door. He didn’t recognise this person either, but He had heard that voice before. “…let’s knock out the kid we’re trying to get answers from.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Stark, we are the doctors here, not you.”
“And I’m sure you’re all wonderful at your job, but he’s not going to be able to talk if you keep knocking him out,” the man called Mr Stark said.
He kept staring at this Mr Stark person, and was confused as to who he could possibly be; the man didn’t have a white coat, meaning he most likely didn’t belong here. But no one seemed to be in a hurry to kick the Mr Stark man out either.
“Hey there, Labrat,” the Mr Stark man said, walking closer to the bed.
“Mr. Stark!” one of the white-coats exclaimed loudly.
“What? Would you rather I call him by those numbers printed on his arm? B014M.”
“…yes.” He looked to the Mr Stark man expectantly, this was the first person who seemed to be getting anything right.
“See,” \Mr Stark said, making a hand gesture in His direction that He didn’t understand. But whatever the Mr Stark man was talking about seemed to have made the white coats go quiet. Something He was happy about at the very least.
“This is… unorthodox, he must have a name,” one of the white coats said.
“He does, a couple of letters and a number, so you all can call him B for short, but I’m going to call him Labrat for now,” Mr Stark said, and his focus was back on Him. “You okay with that, Labrat?”
It was another question, and He wasn’t sure what to do again, but the Mr Stark man didn’t seem to be expecting an answer as he came over to sit next to the bed.
“So, let’s see, how does this work. You don’t answer questions, so I’m going to assume this is an order type of arrangement,” the Mr Stark man said, and He still had no idea what this person was talking about. But He didn’t avert his gaze, waiting to see if the Mr Stark man would tell Him what to do.
“Lets try something simple. Lift your arm,” the Mr Stark man said.
He lifted his arm immediately, holding it out almost expectantly. The Mr Stark man didn’t look all that pleased though, turning his attention back toward the wrong people.
“Enough of this!” One of the wrong people spoke loudly, and they looked very angry.
He wasn’t sure what He had done wrong; follow all orders without question, that is what He had been taught. Was this some sort of test? Was He failing the test? That was the only conclusion He could think of.
Looking around the room almost frantically now, He tried to figure out what this test was, and how He was supposed to pass it. There was nothing; no familiar markings, no keywords being said, as the Mr Stark man and the wrong people started fighting.
Breathing was becoming difficult, and that strange tingling feeling started spreading throughout His body. Was this the test? Did they want to see His special talent again?
“No…” He said softly, breaths coming in short gasps as the pressure built. He let it build up further, holding it back for as long as He could. The lights started flickering and the other equipment around the room started fizzing out, and that’s when He knew to let it go.
People shouted as there was a flurry of movement around the room, but He didn’t pay any attention to it, focusing instead on the strange talent that He was sure these people wanted to see.
As the sudden burst of energy flew out of Him, the Mr Stark man was knocked to the floor. There was panic all around him, but He didn’t care.
“Alert Fury! We’ve got an uncontained wizard in the med bay!” someone shouted.
He was just glad that the people were leaving though, one of them dragging the Mr Stark man out with them. His special talent wasn’t done though, and kept building. He screamed as sparks flew and his special talent slipped out of his control.
“Out of my way!” Dario Zabini snapped as he moved quickly through the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D..
People moved for him, or were easily pushed aside with a subtle wave of his wand that he kept hidden in his sleeve. Stepping into the nearest elevator, he took it down to the medical floor, already prepared for the chaos he was sure to encounter.
He silently cursed the incompetent No-maj, or Muggles, as he still referred to them; after all the help the wizarding community had given them, they still were unable to tell magic from science experiments. It was frustrating beyond belief, but that was how the non-magical world seemed to operate, they could believe in super humans and mutants but magic was still such a foreign concept to them that it was usually dismissed. Which is what led to the type of situations that he was now forced to clean up.
The elevator doors opened, and he was pleased to see that things weren’t too chaotic yet, meaning that they hadn’t waited to long before calling him down here.
“Healer Zabini,” the head doctor greeted.
“Where is the child?” Dario demanded, not wanting to wait for this fool to stutter out some half-formed explication.
“Right this way, we’ve locked him in one of the medical rooms…”
Dario raised an eyebrow at him. “Is he still conscious?”
“Yes.” The head doctor nodded quickly, leading the Healer down the hall toward the room that the boy was still locked in. “We weren’t sure how he would react to our medicine.”
Dario nodded once. “You’re already doing better than the last fool in charge, I may actually put effort into remembering your name.”
“Dr. Steven Vendler,” the head doctor said.
“Yes, that will do. Now clear your people out of here, I don’t need an audience,” Dario said, walking over to the door, heading straight into the room where the child had been locked up.
The boy was sitting on the bed looking exhausted. Dario glanced around the room; he didn’t need to be an expert to know that all this equipment would have to be replaced. The boy’s magic was very strong, and Dario could still feel it in the air, pulsing from the boy.
“Boy?” Dario said, stepping closer to the bed, mostly wanting to make his presence known. The last thing he needed was to be attacked by some out of control magic because he had startled the child.
The boy made no movement, just continued sitting there, breathing heavily as he tried to catch his breath after letting out such a build up of power. Dario dared to step a little closer, until he was standing directly in front of the boy.
“I am Healer Dario Zabini, can you tell me your name?” he asked. The boy flinched a little, glancing up at Dario almost fearfully before he returned his gaze to the floor. “Can you tell me what you did here?” Dario tried again, gesturing to the room.
The boy tilted his head, looking around slowly at the fried equipment, and then glanced up at Dario again. “…special talent,” the boy answered, his voice soft, barely above a whisper.
Dario frowned, though it was actually a little better than what he had expected; while the boy had no solid idea of what he had done, he was aware of his own magic.
“Your special talent is called magic,” Dario explained, keeping his voice calm as he took his wand out of it’s hiding place. The boy stared at it, his eyes wide as he looked from the wand up at Dario. “I am going to do some magic of my own, I need to see if you are hurt.”
“Not hurt,” the boy said, shifting uncomfortably on the table.
“I’d still like to check that for myself, if you’ll allow,” Dario said. He waited for a moment but when there was no protest from the boy, he waved his wand and performed a few simple scans, talking as he did. “Once we are finished, we will get you washed up, and get some proper clothes for you. I’m not sure how long we’ll have to keep you here, but we’ll make sure you have somewhere comfortable to sleep.”
“…no room?” the boy questioned, looking very confused, and a little worried as he stared Dario. “…no white coat…” he pointed out, giving a small gesture to Dario’s person.
“No, I do not wear a white coat. I am a healer, not a muggle doctor,” Dario said as he finished his final scan.
The readings were about what he had expected given the appearance of the boy, and Dario wished he had been given the time to find out where this child had come from. He was very small, and skinny, but not malnourished; there were traces of chemicals in his system, as well as old medical scars.
Through the whole examination, the boy continued to stare at Dario, wide green eyes watching his every move. The child didn’t look frightened, just worried, and perhaps a little wary of Dario, as he was a new person.
“Can you tell me anything about yourself?” Dario questioned as he picked up a chair from where it was lying on its side by the wall. He set it straight and took a seat in front of the boy. He waited patiently, but got no response, the boy just continuing to stare at him blankly. “How about your name?” he ventured after a minute or so.
The boy held out his arm, and Dario frowned at the series of letters and numbers imprinted there. He added that to the list of questions he would be asking the head-doctor about after this. But it was already quite apparent he wasn’t going to be getting answers from the boy himself.
“Okay, I’m going to start by reading your mind. I’ll be able to understand how to help you better that way,” Dario said, lifting his wand and pointing it at the boy who gave no sign that he even understood what Dario was talking about. “Legilimens,” he said.
He found no barriers in the boy’s mind, no attempts to keep him out, even as his memories, though quick and confusing, were still very clear.
He understood the lack of response from him now. The boy had been stripped of his name and had no memory of it, just images of white walls, sometimes stained with red when other children were killed. He couldn’t figure out how long the boy had been there, but one thing was for certain, it was going to take a lot of work to help this child function on his own without direct orders.
Breaking the connection Dario looked down at the boy. “You need a new name,” he said, putting a tone of authority into his voice. The boy once again held his arm out, showing the tattoo that had been branded there and Dario shook his head. “No, that name will be removed, and you will be given a proper one. Do you understand?”
The boy’s arm dropped back down, and the boy looked down at the letter and number combination. Dario waited patiently, but he got no further reaction.. He leting out a short sigh.
“Lie down,” Dario ordered; he would not argue with him about his name at the moment, there would be plenty of time to do that later, after he had removed that tattoo from the boy’s arm.
Watching as the boy laid down on the bed without question, Dario began the medical scans needed to find out what the boy was lacking in nutrition, or if there was any lasting damage on the boy’s body that they would need to be aware of. It was as he was doing that, that Dario noticed a strange scar on the boy’s forehead. Reaching up, he gently brushed the hair away from the boy’s face.
Dario’s eyes widened as he looked at the lightning bolt shaped scar on the boy’s forehead. Though he had never seen it before, nearly everyone in the magical world knew of it, a simple way to identify The-Boy-Who-Lived after he had been announced missing nearly ten years ago. People had given up the search, even Dario himself had believed the boy to be dead, and now, here he was right in front of him.
Those bright-green eyes continued watching his every move, and Dario was now faced with a very complicated decision. The boy, physically healthy despite what he had lived through, was not mentally stable to be thrust into the wizarding world as their proclaimed Savior. But Dario also knew that news like this was going to spread quickly once it was leaked.
“Can you walk, child?” Dario asked, looking at the boy, who just stared at him in confusion. “Get up and follow me,” he ordered, and Harry did as he was told, sliding from the bed and watching Dario expentently.
Dario observed the boy for a moment. It was going to take some hard work, and probably a fair bit of magic to get Harry to a point where he would be able to function on his own, and what Harry truly needed was a guardian, someone who was going to put the young boy’s needs first. Someone who wasn’t in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pocket.