Tony could sometimes spend a lot of time in the workshop without really noticing it, much less telling anyone he was working and didn't want to be distracted, but when Steve hadn't seen him for over a day, he started to worry.
The workshop was locked down, which was why Steve hadn't tried to get Tony to bed last night—he understood that sometimes Tony just needed to work—but now he typed in his override code. Tony would probably get annoyed with him and call him overprotective while trying to hide a smile.
The door opened. Steve didn't immediately see Tony. He must have been hidden behind some machinery. “Tony?” Steve called, going in. He looked around. There was a row on screens on the left wall. They were turned on, some calculations running. Steve frowned. The workshop was secure, but Tony rarely left everything visible like that if he wasn't right next to his computers. Steve walked to the cot standing there and lifted the blankets. Empty.
“Tony? Are you here?” he tried again.
No one replied.
Feeling his pulse speed up, Steve crossed the workshop. What if Tony passed out? What if he got hurt?
He started methodically going through the workshop. He wanted to run through it, but he forced himself to slow down, to be sure he didn't miss anything. He even opened faceplate of a full armour standing there. He looked behind every corner.
Tony wasn't there.
Steve numbly took out his mobile and dialled Tony's number. The ring sounded somewhere in the empty workshop before the voicemail activated.
Breathe, he told himself, trying not to panic. He dialled the number again and tried to locate the phone. He found it on the floor under the row of screens, next to a piece of metal he couldn't identify. One of Tony's prototypes, probably.
But where was Tony himself?
There were a lot of possibilities.
Tony could be at the Resilient offices, he could be at some conference, he could have gone out somewhere, he—
Tony never left without his phone. But it didn't necessarily mean something happened to him, right?
Steve exhaled slowly and called Pepper.
She didn't know where Tony was.
He called Rhodey.
He didn't know where Tony was either.
Steve assembled the Avengers.
Tony woke up.
His head hurt, and it was dark. He tried to reach out, and that was when he noticed his hands were bound.
“So he's been gone how long?” Clint asked.
“I haven't seen him since yesterday morning,” Steve said.
“That's not very long.” Jess hesitated visibly.
He could see what they all thought. He was panicking, he was unreasonable, Tony had pulled various stints before, no one quite trusted him now, Steve was just bothering them.
“In our line of work?” Carol asked dubiously. She and Jess looked at each other for a few seconds and then Jess nodded.
Steve made a mental note to thank Carol later. “He left his phone,” he said out loud. “You know Tony never—”
“Are you sure he doesn't have Extremis again?” Peter asked.
“Yes,” Steve said.
Tony wouldn't, not again. Not without telling Steve.
“I'll look through the security footage,” Jess said.
“I'll ask on the streets,” Peter added.
Steve still needed to do a more thorough investigation of the workshop. Maybe he'd called everyone too soon—but he had a bad feeling.
Across the room, Natasha caught his eyes before leaving quietly.
His team was helping.
They'd find Tony.
Carol followed him to the lab, radiation detector in her hand. Steve looked around carefully. It'd be hard to determine any signs of struggle here. Tony could always find anything he needed, but to anyone else, his lab was in a constant state of disarray. Was the gauntlet supposed to lie on this desk like that? Or had he tried to reach for it?
The detector in Carol's hand beeped once.
“Huh,” she said.
“What is it?” Steve asked, tense.
“Some kind of cosmic radiation,” she said. “Slight teleport residue.”
It took Steve a moment to understand the words, and he'd been dreading that scenario, but hearing it . . .
“So someone took him,” he said.
Carol hesitated. “I could call Peter first.”
But Tony wouldn't just leave for space without telling anyone, and they both knew it.
“Tell us about the Earth defences,” they said, and Tony laughed up until they touched the thin metal pointer to his skin.
Then he just screamed.
“Teleportation isn't that easy,” Richards said. “Not unless there was magic involved. Stephen?”
Strange shook his head. “A moment longer.” He stood in the middle of the lab with his eyes closed and hands extended.
Steve—Steve wasn't exactly happy to be here with both of them. He still didn't trust them. But they could help Tony, and he told himself that was the only thing that mattered now.
“There wasn't any magic here,” Strange said finally. “Someone not exactly human, yes. But I can't tell more.”
“It's not easy to do,” he said, “and it's not easy to track. That was planned. Did Tony make any enemies when he was in space?”
“The Avengers surely did,” Steve muttered. And if you wanted to attack Earth and knew anything about it—Tony was a logical target. He designed a lot of Earth security.
Time for Carol to call the Guardians, after all.
“They're not picking up,” Carol said.
Steve wanted to hit something.
“Try again,” he said.
“They're in space, Steve. It's not like a mobile. I'm calling their ship. If they're outside, they won't see the call until they're back.”
He knew she was right, but he hated the waiting. What could be happening to Tony now? Steve dreaded the thought.
Richards could try and track down the teleportation. Carol could contact the people she met when it was her turn to travel with the Guardians. Peter Parker could look for the RT energy mark near Earth.
Steve couldn't do anything but wait on other people.
“You need sleep,” Carol said.
“You've been up since yesterday's morning. I'll wake you if Peter calls me.”
He couldn't sleep. He was vibrating with uneasy energy. He had to do something, anything.
Tony was God only knew where; how could Steve rest now?
Carol put her hand on his arm. “Steve. I am going to knock you out if you don't lie down for a few hours.”
“Five hours, and you'll wake me if something happens,” he said.
“I will,” Carol promised.
There was the darkness, the questions he couldn't answer, and the pain.
He wasn't sure how long it'd been.
Steve woke up. He reached out to Tony, only to find the bed empty.
Because Tony was missing.
Steve sat up and rubbed at his eyes. Where was Tony? What if Steve had tried to convince him to go to bed the other night? Would this still have happened?
What if it was too late to save him?
No. He couldn't think like that. He couldn't.
Carol's phone rang.
It took all of Steve's willpower not to snap it out of her hands and check who it was. Then she raised her eyebrows and beckoned him over.
“Hi, Peter,” she said. “No, it wasn't a social call. No. Have you seen Tony?” She listened for a while. “He's gone. We don't know.” She sighed. “We detected some slight cosmic radiation in his lab. Okay. Thanks.”
“They haven't seen him,” Steve said.
“But they'll look,” Carol promised.
Would it change anything?
Steve wished he could help.
The Avengers watched the news report grimly. Steve had a folder open at the table in front of him, but it didn't really give them more information.
A Stark satellite had exploded. It would burn up on re-entry, so it wasn't a danger to anyone, but . . .
Satellites didn't just explode on their own.
“So Tony's gone and his satellites are going down,” Clint said.
“One satellite.” Carol glared at him.
Clint shrugged. “All I'm saying is, we know he's probably kidnapped for information.”
“He didn't tell them anything!” Steve snapped. Whoever they were.
“You have to admit, the timing can't be accidental here,” Luke said.
“No,” Natasha spoke up. “Bringing down Tony's tech is the obvious course of action if you want to attack Earth. It doesn't need any inside information. And it worked for the Skrulls once.”
Steve nodded. She was right, of course.
“You're quick to trust him,” Clint said.
Steve forced himself not to punch the table. “Tony Stark is an Avenger,” he said. “That means trust. If anyone has a problem with it, I'm not keeping you here.”
“Geez, okay.” Clint raised his hands placatingly.
Steve focused on the satellite again. “Tony built in enough back-ups that the satellite shouldn't be a problem for a while yet, at least,” he said, like nothing had just happened.
Tony always planned for what would happen if he was gone, in any way.
Steve had back up plans and he didn't want to use them.
They had to find Tony.
He was sure he was bleeding from a thousand cuts but he couldn't really feel anything but pain anymore.
Never, he'd never do that.
Someone shook him awake. Steve realised he'd fallen asleep over the table in the meeting room.
It was Carol. “They might've found him.”
Steve straightened immediately. “Tell me.”
“It's nothing sure,” she said. “Some rumours. But they think it's the Badoon.”
The Badoon. When they attacked London, it had been Tony and the Guardians who stopped them.
Could it have been personal? The fallen satellite suggested otherwise, but it might've been an accident after all.
“Prepare the space quinjet,” Steve said.
The Guardians were closer to the Earth than to where they thought Tony was, so they arranged to meet on the way.
Steve took Captain Marvel, Thor, Spider-Woman and Black Widow. He had considered taking more Avengers, but they couldn't leave the Earth unprotected, and with the Guardians' help they shouldn't have any problems.
Carol piloted. Steve could barely contain his energy. He kept flexing his fingers. He wanted to run or to spar with someone, not to be strapped in the quinjet seat. There was something he could do now. There was finally hope.
The blades were sharp.
Tony couldn't scream anymore.
“We're there,” Carol said, and Steve straightened up. Indeed, there was another ship visible on the radar. Carol pressed a few buttons and Peter Quill's hologram appeared over their dashboard.
For a moment, Steve wasn't sure how to feel. It wasn't the first time they met, but . . .
Peter—Peter had been there for Tony when Steve couldn't. Maybe if Tony had stayed with him, Peter would've kept him safe?
“Hi, Captain,” Peter said.
Before Steve could reply, Carol laughed and said, “Hi,” and Steve realised the greeting hadn't been aimed at him.
“Avengers,” Peter said. “I've heard you lost Tony.”
“And you found him,” Steve said. Natasha leant over his seat to look at Peter.
Peter grew serious. “I hope so,” he said. “If our information is correct—and I'd be very surprised if they lied to Gamora—he's on a Badoon warship, off their homeworld.”
Steve nodded. He'd heard that much already.
“Fool creatures,” Thor muttered. “We'll get our shield brother back.”
“They're dumb, but brutal,” Peter continued. “It won't be any problem with the five of you here. The cells are usually on the lowest level.”
“So we can sneak in,” Jessica said.
“Exactly,” Steve agreed. “You'll distract them. We'll stop under the ship and go in from below.”
For a moment, Peter looked like he wanted to protest. Like maybe he wanted to be in the team focused on searching for Tony.
Then he nodded. “Will do, Captain America,” he said. “Follow us.”
Tony built the space quinjet, which meant the shielding was perfect. They could stay close to the big, ugly Badoon ship, and remain off their radar. Steve didn't quite trust the Guardians' shielding so much, but it wasn't that important.
They were supposed to be visible.
Steve guessed that with Rocket there, it wouldn't be hard.
Carol brought them just under the ship, next to the airlock.
“Black Widow, Spider-Woman, oxygen masks on,” Steve reminded, pulling on his own. He had a spare for Tony in his belt.
“Thor, you're in. Captain Marvel, keep the engines hot.”
It shouldn't take them long, and they had to be sure they could exit quickly and safely. Steve knew Carol wasn't happy about waiting, but she was the best pilot they had.
She nodded curtly.
Steve heard an explosion coming from above—the Guardians must have started his attack—and then Thor, already out, struck at the airlock with Mjolnir.
They got inside easily. Judging by the sounds coming from the top of the ship, Rocket was having entirely too much fun with explosives.
Now to find Tony.
Steve waved at Black Widow and run to the left, leaving the other side to Thor and Spider-Woman. The doors all looked like steel. They had a small visor in the upper half, and Steve cursed. He'd expected forcefields. This way, they'd have to check each cell one by one. It'd take more time. Someone might come looking, fight on the upper deck or no.
He ran to the first door, looked inside. It was dark, but . . . He tried to open it. The door was unlocked, and the cell was empty.
The next one, empty.
Where was Tony? Steve's heart was beating wildly. What if they were wrong? What if he wasn't here?
“Captain!” Natasha called. “Here.”
She was a few doors ahead of him. “It's locked, and I can see the RT. He's at the far wall,” she explained as she took out a gun and fired at the door. It fell inward, and Steve thought the weapon must be one of Tony's.
For a moment, Steve couldn't see anything but dust.
Then, in the beam of light falling in from the corridor, he saw Tony.
The first thing he noticed was that the RT was indeed still shining bright.
The second was the blood.
The third, Tony's weak, pale smile when he noticed Steve. Steve's legs almost gave out on him, simultaneously from relief and horror.
Steve knelt next to him and extended a shaking hand toward him. He stopped short of actually touching him. Tony's clothes were almost completely torn and Steve could see his body was covered in bruises and cuts. He couldn't know how much damage there was. He could harm him more.
But he had to get Tony out of here.
“Hey,” he said softly.
“Hey,” Tony replied in a hoarse voice.
“Time to get you home,” Steve whispered.
“Yeah, the conditions here aren't the best,” Tony agreed.
God, it was so good to hear he could still joke.
Tony grabbed his hand, weakly. “They wanted information,” he said. “I didn't—”
“I know,” Steve interrupted, because he had no doubts about that. “And the Earth is safe.”
Relief showed in Tony's eyes.
“Come on,” Steve said. He stood and leant down to put his arm around Tony as gently as possible.
“I can walk,” Tony protested as Steve pulled him to his feet. Tony stood on shaking legs. For a moment he put his hand on the wall for balance, but then he pushed himself away. “Let's go,” he said.
It became very obvious he couldn't walk, definitely not fast enough.
He shuffled forward, hunched in on himself. His breath was laboured. Steve wanted to help him—knew he should help him—but Tony had been closed in this dark room and tortured for a week. If he wanted that little freedom . . .
Tony tripped, and Steve jumped forward to catch him. A soft moan escaped Tony's lips, and Steve hated himself for it, but he couldn't really touch Tony without hurting him now. The sooner they got back home and got Tony some medical attention, the better.
Expecting protests, Steve lifted Tony in his arms, but Tony didn't say a word.
Cradling him close, Steve carried him out.
“Call everyone back,” he told Black Widow.
“You're on a wrong ship, Quill,” Carol said, and Steve looked up from Tony.
Peter smiled sheepishly. “Just for a second,” he said. He stepped to where Steve stood over Tony.
“You okay?” he asked. “No, wait, don't answer that.”
“Know me so well,” Tony muttered. “Thanks.”
Tony was very pale. He needed rest and more medical aid than they could provide in the quinjet. Steve had to fight the urge to bark at Peter to go away. He knew Peter must have been worried too.
“Well,” Peter said. “Get better.”
“Sure, prince,” Tony said.
“We have to get him home,” Steve said.
Peter glanced at him, clearly amused. “Don't let me stop you.”
He nodded at Carol to open the door, saluted her, and flew back to his ship.
Carol steered them to Earth, the burning Badoon ship left behind them.
Tony sprawled on the couch. Bandages were still peeking out from under his clothes, but he already looked better. The bruise on his left cheek was all but gone, and Steve leant down and kissed him lightly.
“How're you doing?”
“Bored.” Tony pouted. “And Jarvis took my coffee from me.”
“That's probably a good thing,” Steve said, ignoring Tony's glare.
He pressed his hand to where the RT was shining through the star on the t-shirt Tony had taken from Steve's own closet. The RT was bright and warm.
Tony was safe at home. Things were right again.