It took fourteen minutes and seven seconds to clear the entirety of SHIELD headquarters.
Coulson was furious with that reaction time.
Twenty minutes later, as he was chewing out another junior agent, the fifth or sixth in a row, when Fury collared him and pulled him away. “Enough,” he said, his voice a low growl. “We cleared the whole place without any further losses. Step back. We don't know what's happened yet.” His hand fell heavily on Coulson's shoulder, squeezing hard. “We're working on it, and we're going to keep working on it. But for now, I need you to go and corral the rest of the Initiative, because they are making everyone very, very nervous.”
Coulson sucked in a slow, deep breath, and then another. “I understand, sir,” he said, straightening his shoulders and trying not to scream that he didn't give a flying fuck if the rest of SHIELD felt nervous. At least the Avengers were doing something.
It wasn't in any way helpful, but it was action.
Fury patted him on the shoulder, a rough slap of his hand, and it was supposed to be comforting, he knew it was, but it made Phil's hands curl into fists. “There's a car waiting for you. Go.”
SHIELD was securing the perimeter with ruthless efficiency, but for now, the Avengers, far too valuable to risk until the situation was more understood, had been exiled back to a nearby satellite station, a building kept in reserve as an emergency headquarters.
It was not a good place to be right now. Thor and Steve were pacing, their paths working almost parallel to each other, never meeting, but never straying too far away. Natasha was perched in the window overlooking the street, and the SHIELD building beyond, her head turned away from the group, her thumb worrying some small item in her hand. Phil didn't have to be told to know that it was some trinket that Clint had given her at some point through the years, that she would deny having kept. Tony was huddled around a tablet PC, his head down, his shoulders hunched, his fingers moving through the information with brutal speed. He didn't respond to anyone or anything else, but was muttering in a sharp undertone. When he twisted in the chair, an earpiece caught the light, making it clear that it was Jarvis he was snarling at.
Only Banner was in his element, plowing through the information that the SHIELD scientists were routing to him, his forehead furrowed and his mouth tight. He was on the phone with Jane Foster, scientific concepts flying too fast for anyone else to follow them. Jane's voice, even over the speaker phone, seemed to calm Thor down, and he was no longer growling under his breath.
As Phil slipped past the door, every head turned in his direction. Tony glanced up, then quickly back down. Natasha met Phil's eyes, her own blank and cold, but her fingers were shaking, just a little, when she rested her hands back in her lap. “The building's clear,” Phil said, keeping his voice calm and even, no matter how much it hurt. “Everyone other than Barton is accounted for.”
“We must go back and look for him!” Thor burst out. He turned and brought a fist down on the table, making Bruce jump. Bruce took a deep breath, then another, his skin taking on a vague green cast.
“Thor, honey,” Jane started, then sighed. “Bruce, could you take me off speaker and let me talk to Thor for a second?”
“Yeah, a break might be a good idea,” Bruce said, scooping up the cell and changing the settings before handing it to Thor. The huge blonde man slumped into a seat, his hand cradling the tiny device against his cheek. His tense face relaxed as Jane talked him down.
Bruce turned to Tony. “You want to take a look at this?” he asked, and Tony shook his head without looking up. Bruce's mouth tightened, but he just shook his head, not saying another word.
“It's not your fault,” Steve said to Tony.
“Actually, it is,” Phil said, because he was sick of pretending that everything was hunky-dory. “He should've come to you or me with his suspicions, even after Fury shot him down.”
Steve shook his head. “Clint's the one who decided to move without us knowing,” he pointed out, his voice gentle. “You know Clint better than any of us. When he wants to do something, he's going to do it. No matter what the rest of us think of it.” He paused, rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “It's not Tony's fault.”
“Actually, there's not much doubt. It is my fault.” Tony flicked his tablet off. “I need to get some items from the tower,” he said, his tone offhand, and Phil wanted to punch him, wanted to haul off and nail the smug bastard for his complete lack of concern. It must've shown, somehow, on his face, because Natasha was suddenly there, between the two of them, acting as if she was just going to check on Bruce. But she tipped her head to the side and gave Phil a speaking glance.
He couldn't lose it here, he couldn't expect them to understand, when he'd made the conscious decision not to tell anyone about his relationship with Clint. More than that, he'd hidden it from them, and Clint had gone along with it. He hadn't cared either way, or at least that's what he told Phil.
But it suddenly occurred to Phil that keeping their relationship secret was better for him at work, and his work and his home life had somehow become a tangled mess, but it was so much worse now, now when he needed to be able to tell someone, anyone, that he could barely breathe. That he needed to think, needed to work through this, needed to do something, anything, and this was not a situation where going in guns blazing would serve any purpose whatsoever.
That did not mean that Phil didn't want to shoot something in the goddamn face.
Barton had dropped off the grid before. Phil had been afraid, desperately afraid, more times than he could count, when an op had gone wrong, or the lines of communication had been cut, or he'd seen, seen from a distance, as Clint fell, from a high spot, or from a bullet to the chest, or from pure exhaustion.
And he wondered, on some level, if this time, it would've been easier, if the people around him, if Clint's team, his chosen team, had known just what Phil had lost. Maybe that was the problem with being a private person. You couldn't just ask everyone to keep their noses out of your business, and then turn around and expect them to know when you were bleeding out.
After all, as he'd told Clint so many times, sometimes no one would know you're dying if you don't open your mouth and ask them for help.
Tony pushed past Steve, muttering something about the SHIELD drones being absolutely pathetic, and needed his own tech for this, because no one knew what was happening, and Steve wanted him to stay, to keep what was left of his team in one place, but he was losing the fight, he always lost it, because Tony was more stubborn and Phil wondered if Clint would be okay with Phil telling them all when he got back.
Knowing Clint, his response would probably be to lean into the kitchen one morning and yell, “I'm fucking this guy, and it's fantastic!” and then drag Coulson back to bed. Which would be embarrassing, and infuriating and so like Clint.
Maybe he'd surprise him. Maybe Phil would try that.
“Coulson?” Bruce asked from the table, where he'd taken the phone back from Thor. Natasha had boosted herself up to sit on the edge of the table, and Thor had folded his arms in her lap and was now resting his head on them. Natasha was stroking his hair, a faint smile on her face. Steve was leaning against the window, lines of strain on his face as he watched for Tony through the glass panes.
Coulson paused behind him, patting him on the back. Steve glanced at him, and Phil managed a smile. “He'll find something to help us,” he said, with a strained smile back. Phil nodded, not sure he believed that, but he was willing to give Steve the benefit of the doubt.
And Steve was willing to give Tony the benefit of the doubt. Phil couldn't really blame him.
"Yeah," he said to Bruce. "What've we got?"
“You know, certain things were NOT mentioned in SHIELD's recruiting spiel. I mean, I realize I got Coulson's patented 'join or I'll shoot you in the OTHER leg' speech, but really. Some things bear mentioning. And at no point, and I would've remembered this, at no point did anyone say, 'Join SHIELD. Be eaten by a monster leaving in our own headquarters and end up in some sort of freaky alternate dimension with fifty plus needy over emotional robotic vacuum cleaners!' Seriously, guys, chill out!”
The diatribe did nothing to stop the panicky movements of said fifty plus Roombas who had decided that Clint was the only port they had in this particular storm, and they were damn well going to stay within bumping distance. “Okay, I know, that's not going to fit on a recruiting poster, and you guys are terrifying, really, I'm glad that we're friends, we are friends, aren't we?”
Mr. Fantastic landed on Clint's head, and Clint sighed. “Yeah, I know, you're my favorite, I promise, but if you start playing with my hair, I am going to use your for target practice. And there's a lot of fucking things in here to use for tiddly-winks, so let's not go down that path.”
And that was the fucking truth.
Clint had woken up with every inch of his body aching, a lump on the back of his head about the size of a baseball, and no clue where the hell he was. It was a fairly common occurrence in his life. However, he'd never woken up somewhere like, well, this.
It was a room, that was a plus. He wasn't in something's stomach, or worse, lower intestinal tract.. Big and square and ceiling and floor and walls, somewhere, he was sure that there were walls, but that was a guess on his part. As of yet, he hadn't found any, and he'd tried. The problem was twofold, one there was a limited light source, and two, there was a lot of junk between him and anything else that might've been there.
A lot of stuff. Like, Clint was glad that Phil had an unnatural attachment to reality tv, because he was pretty damn sure that he'd landed in an alien version of 'Hoarders.' He hadn't found any cameras, or anything he could recognize as a camera, but he also hadn't found anything that counted as another living being. Just him, the Roombas, and a huge pile of junk.
Maybe junk wasn't the right word. But it was hard to tell what he was looking at, when there was this much of it. There were stacks, piles, huge tangled amounts. There was light where ever he was, where ever there was movement, and even though he couldn't tell where it was coming from, at least he wasn't in the dark. If he'd known he was going to live, he wouldn't have tossed his comm, and with it, his light, but here, it hadn't been a problem.
Attempting to figure out the dimensions of the room, he'd climbed to the top of a mound of tangled metal, feeling nothing so much like a mountain goat as he picked his way over the uneven surface, all his past experience at scaling to unstable sniper nests and highwire acts coming into play, and then he sent Roombas out in all directions. He watched as the lights, and he had no idea where the light was coming from, really, it just seemed to follow any and all movement, had disappeared in the distance.
Still had no idea how big the room was. Even his eyes, as good as they were, lost track of the moving roombas, and it took what seemed like a very long time for them to get back. He didn't know if they actually reached a wall, or if they just decided they weren't getting any further away from Clint. It was hard to tell.
Reluctant to move far from where he'd been dropped, in case anything else came through, Clint had started digging through the piles, looking for anything and everything that seemed the least bit familiar. Anything he thought he could use. Tablets, computers, watches, clocks, tools, light fixtures, flashlights, can openers, video game consoles, old radio tubes and teletype machines. He found a telegraph machine and an old astrolabe, a huge compass and what he thought might've been an old radar range style microwave from the 1970's, and about six blenders.
Even if he just stuck to what he could identify as human tech, there was a metric ton of stuff in here. As for the stuff that wasn't human tech, well, some of that stuff scared the crap out of him.
With the Roombas' help, he started moving things aside, buying himself a small amount of room on the floor where he could gather up as much as he could. A few of them, he realized, had been upgraded to the point where they could use vacuum suction to lift and carry small objects, flying them around to lay on the piles that Clint had laid out.
He handed off a betamax VCR, and pulled on what looked like a canvas top. Curious, he poked his head underneath. “Well, hello,” he said, grinning at the WWII era supply truck. Shoving trash and broken bits of items aside, he ducked inside. Crates of MREs and cannisters of water were laid out in neat rows. “If it doesn't poison me,” he said, pulling a box off the stack, “it just might keep me alive.”
“Well, good,” he said to Mr. Fantastic, hovering as always at his right shoulder, “I won't die of starvation or dehydration for a while. I'll have plenty of time to go completely fucking nuts as I stand here and talk to a vacuum cleaner.” Mr. Fantastic floated forward and bumped off of Clint's forehead.
“Yeah, thanks, buddy, I love you, too.” He opened his mouth to say something else when he heard a crack, like a sonic boom, outside the truck. Instinctively, he ducked, and came back up with Tony's new crossbow toy already at the ready. Outside, there was silence. He waited, patient as always, waited for any sound, any sign of life or movement, but there was nothing.
After about half an hour by his own estimation, he moved to the back of the truck and slipped out, peering around the edge of the truck, using it for cover as he moved his booted feet silently on the piles of metallic discards. In the middle of the area he'd cleared, a totem pole of a robot with a blinking red light on top and the words “StarkIndustries” on the side had appeared.
Keeping his weapon out, Clint crept closer. There was a bright orange Post-It note stuck to the front. In Tony's familiar writing, black marker slashing across the bright paper, it read, “Press the red button, dumbass.”
Rolling his eyes, Clint pressed the button. The light stopped blinking, and the thing made a sound reminiscant of a sigh. Nothing else seemed to happen. Mr. Fantastic swirled around the metallic form, then back to Clint's side. “I don't know,” Clint agreed. “At least they're looking. Wanna see what else we can find?”
Beeping a little, Mr. Fantastic headed off to Clint's right, a new direction for them. Clint glanced back, waiting for the robot stick thing to do something. It remained still and quiet, and he gave a faint sigh. “Fine,” he told it. “But I pressed your button. I did what I was told. You'd better come through here, Stark-Trash. Otherwise, I will be forced to lodge a formal complaint.”
He took off at a swift lope, keeping the pole-bot at his back. It was okay. They were looking for him. He could make himself useful for now.
Tony Stark had learned at a very early age that he could go just about anywhere he wanted to go, do anything he wanted to do, so long as he just acted confident. Act like he was supposed to be there, and act with enough force, and he'd get away with it.
He leaned against the wall, considering. Watching, waiting.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, and he pulled it out, checking the readout. He took a deep breath, and another one, convincing himself that this was a necessary thing. That this was something he needed to do. No matter how painful, how much it would haunt him later, he had to do this. For the good of the team. Because he did like Clint, and he'd miss the guy and his habit of having drunken philosophical discussions with Jarvis and the fact that he was the only one who could deflect Coulson at his most bureaucratic, and his chili was legendary, just fucking legendary.
He was doing this, Tony reminded himself, his fingers white-knuckled on his phone, for Clint. Because honestly, he was not going to be left on this fucking team with a bunch of actual super-humans and demigods and gamma irradiated monsters and NATASHA, fuck, no, he needed Clint, he needed Clint back right now, and this was so that he could get Clint back, he was doing this so that he could get his teammate back, safe and sound, and oh, God, he had to do this.
Tony set his shoulders, brought his chin up, and bit the bullet.
“Hello, Reed,” he said, and good for him, he actually sounded pleasant! Polite even! Wow, he was proud of himself. He was going to give himself a cookie when this was all over.
Actually, cookies sounded good.
“Hello, Tony, sorry, I just got your call.” Reed Richards sounded just as distracted as ever. “We were out of town, tracing down a really fascinating possibility for potential contact with-”
Tony tuned him out. He usually let Reed babble for about ten to fifteen minutes. He'd dealt with Pepper for enough years that he could comfortably make 'uh-huh' noises at the right point of a conversation while someone was babbling at him about things he did not care about. And my God, he did not care about whatever Reed was gibbering about.
So he did some general equations in his head, restructured the general joint design of the Mark V, and that kind of lead him naturally to Dummy's broken servo, the one that he always managed to throw off balance and it made Tony crazy, because he was trying to do things, trying to fix things, always trying to fix things, and then, boom, Dummy would keel over sideways, and that was a DISTRACTION.
Tony snapped back into the here and now. “Yes, sorry, we're dealing with a, with a situation over here,” he said, staring at the notepad in his lap. “One of my teammates got eaten by, um, well, by an air conditioning duct.”
There was a beat of pause. “That's a new one,” Reed said, and he had that note, that annoying as all hell note of 'well, excellent, a puzzle for me to solve I'm so glad you called me, I look forward to making you feel like an idiot,' or maybe Tony was just projecting.
Tony took a deep breath and gave him the recap, quick and efficient. He paused at the end. “He's still alive. I need your help to get him back.”
Reed was silent for a moment. “There's a chance that he's not,” he said, and his voice was unexpectedly kind. Gentle, almost.
“I'm going on the assumption that he is,” Tony said, and sighed. “One sec.” He pulled the phone away from his ear, cursing it mentally, and sent off the data. “Okay, back, this phone sucks, I cannot believe I'm dealing with three year old tech, I feel dirty. Take a look at that.”
He could hear Reed running through the data, long, unnaturally long hands and fingers dancing over multiple keyboards. “Fascinating,” he said at last. “I think I see what you're doing. But your sensors aren't powerful enough to-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not diss my sensor arrays, I have the largest privately owned satellite system on Earth, and that is the literal truth, it is by no means my fault that Clint managed to find himself in some other fucking dimension or some nonsense, he's always delighted in causing trouble.” Tony sucked in a breath. “Can you trace that signal?”
“Trace it? Tony, you're making a vast leap from actual verifiable data here, you're making assumptions on a level that is just not scientifically-”
“He's alive, and twenty seven minutes ago, he did what I told him to do and replaced the central processing unit of one of the Roombas, which caused it to drop from the network hive mind that Jarvis maintains,” Tony snapped. “Jarvis can't talk to them and can't control them and can't trace them, but when my AI says that it was connected, and then the connection was cut, then I believe him, because he doesn't make mistakes with tracking things that are his responsibility.”
“Unlike us, Tony?” Reed said, and Tony winced.
“It doesn't matter if we lose them, Reed, as long as we get them back.” He pushed a hard hand through his hair, and took a deep breath.
“Intuitive leap,” Reed said.
“You're already tracking it, aren't you?”
He made a humming, non-commital noise. “I'm doing my best, Tony.”
“That's all I ask-” The phone buzzed in his ear, and he cursed. “Sorry, Reed, looks like Steve's looking to talk to me about this, you all right with me putting this on three way?”
“Go ahead, he should know what you're planning on doing, because this, Stark? This is stupid.”
“All of my best ideas are, buddy.” Tony flicked over to Steve. “Hello, Cap, Reed Richards and I were talking about the situation, got you on three-way, anything new to add?”
“Reed?” Steve was thrown for a moment, Tony could almost see the words get derailed before he pulled himself together.
“Hello, Steve, give me a second, Tony's got me running some data.” He paused. “How many drones have you lost, Tony?”
“Four. Then I ran out of prototypes.”
“You trying to lose the ones that weren't finished, or weren't up to snuff?”
“No. It won't take the same model twice.”
Both men were silent. “What's going on, Tony?” Steve finally asked. “Where are you?”
“Working theory,” Tony said, his fingers beating a nervous tattoo on the case next to him. “Pretty sure I'm right. Odds are in my favor, but-” He broke off. “Fury's working on the assumption that this thing just found its way into the vents. I don't think that's correct. If it had been here for any length of time, and had any interest in people, we would've had a list of missing SHIELD agents as long as my arm, we can't see it, can't track it, can't stop it, SHIELD headquarters would be an all you can eat buffet, and that's not what we've got. Clint's the first one that's gone missing.”
He bent over his notepad, having not trusted a tablet. “Two weeks ago, there was a repair crew in the ventilation system changing out the air filters. None of them reported any problems, or any missing crew members. Only one oddity; one group had a toolbox go missing. The whole thing. Internal theft was assumed, because, hey, did you know that that's actually currently a problem for SHIELD?
“No, you didn't, because it's been an internal issue. But get into those files, and you'll find a seven month pattern of things going missing. Small things, mostly. Nothing sensitive, no data, no classified shit, just personal phones and PDAs, tablets, laptops. A Leatherman multitool. A titanium spork, which actually sounds pretty awesome and I have already ordered myself one, because why the fuck not.” He ran his pen down the column of items. “A sewing machine, of all goddamn things, that someone had stowed under his desk after picking it up from a repair shop. Weird. But it was assumed that someone had light fingers, and the HR department was handling it. Low priority, really, but the files were being collected.”
Tony paused. “Tie that back to what was happening seven months ago. Steve, do you remember what we were doing seven months ago? And no, I'm not talking about the toxic butterflies that Doom made, really, Richards, I swear you wait until you know he's going to do something that'll make us look fucking STUPID and then you're conveniently out of town, leaving us to deal with it.”
The Hulk had been surprisingly efficient with a butterfly net, but Richards didn't need to know that.
“The Skrull ship,” Steve said.
“The Skrull ship,” Tony agreed. “SHIELD found a half-destroyed Skrull ship and dragged it home,” he explained to Reed.
“That was stupid,” Reed said.
“I tried telling them that. I tried telling them that it was the beginning of every bad SyFy original movie ever, and I should know because Clint loves things like 'Sharktapus Vs. Megaduck,' and so we have seen them all, some of them twice.”
“Clint's not the only one who likes those things,” Steve pointed out.
“Yes, but you don't know how bad the special effects are,” Tony said, deflecting neatly away from the fact that yes, he loved the stupid things, because they were stupid, and because he could do better effects with Jarvis and an AutoCAD program. “In any case, seven months ago, Fury insisted that the damn thing had been scanned six ways to Sunday and brought it back to live in the lowest labs. We know this. We know that the ship came, and then six hours after it was unloaded, one of the lab techs claimed that her iPhone went missing. Seven months of petty theft later... Clint disappears. The one and only living thing to go missing. That's fact. That's what we know. Here's the supposition.
“There was something on board that ship that snags tech. Maybe it's for espionage, maybe it's as a physical backup, but it grabs things that it's never encountered before and makes them go bye-bye. Now, the logical thing about that is that it's delivering this tech, there's no reason to damage it or destroy it, so where ever he ended up, he's probably pissed off, but safe.
“This thing's been active, and tasting human tech, but probably not for the first time. It's only fairly recent stuff that's gone missing, or weird stuff. Like the spork. Or the Roombas.”
He paused, scribbling another line on his notepad. “The Roombas. They probably got bored in the R&D department, and pushed their way out. Once they were out, they followed the concentration of dirt through the building, heading for the management offices because the higher security the area, the more rarely it's cleaned. The lobby is mopped and swept and waxed every day, but Fury's office? Not going to have a random dude with a floor buffer wandering around in there.
“But they met resistance, and one of them peeled off, probably found an access to the vents and headed through there, cleaning as it went. When it got snagged, the reaction of 'Oh, Tiny Robot Jesus, I've found something I can't handle alone, I need backup,' must've gone through the ranks, and all of them, in groups, headed for the last known coordinates. Only Mr.-” Tony froze, and backpedaled. “Only Clint's special one recognized that where ever they were going, they were no longer HERE and so probably they should stop going there. Because it was ending badly.
“But to our friendly neighborhood tech eater, they must've been like potato chips, can't eat just one. Each just different enough to be interesting, and so tasty, and they were basically loading themselves into the hopper. Might as well swallow 'em.”
Tony rubbed a hand down his face. “So Clint would've been fine, if not for two things. One, he was wearing a piece of utterly unique tech on his right wrist, a prototype, one of a kind, and second, he snagged the Roomba right before he disappeared. He got swallowed accidentally, like a whale scooping up a plastic bottle along with it's diet of krill. Not what it wanted, but he got caught in the net.”
“Supposition,” Reed said.
“The numbers are in my favor.”
“How do you know he reached for the Roomba?” Steve asked.
“I got his headset back, reviewed the footage.”
“One of the drones made it back out?” Steve asked, and there was a strained note to his voice now.
Tony paused. “No.”
A long silence. “Tony, where are you?”
Tony stared at the metal wall. “Sitting about five feet from where Clint was taken. In the ventilation system.”
“You're an idiot,” Reed said, and Tony grinned.
“Calculated risk. It doesn't want me. Not an uncommon occurrence, but I've been sitting here for about forty minutes, I can feel what he felt, the metal flexing and shifting, there's a super creepy element to that, by the way, the urge to scream is hard to force down, but getting easier, but I'm still here.” He'd left his phone, his tablet, his watch, everything even remotely technological, behind. He'd picked an older phone model that was on the list of the ones already stolen, and a general SHIELD issue flashlight. “It was a calculated risk,” he repeated. “Because if hadn't been Clint, eventually, it would've taken me.” His fingers tapped a nervous tattoo on the arc reactor. “After all, I've got the rarest piece of tech around these parts, and I kind of need it.” He flattened his palm against it. “Put an old arc reactor on one of the drones we sent in. Non-functional, but the same design as the one I'm wearing, just missing the core. It worked, which was awesome, I was a little nervous about that when I first walked in, I'll admit it.”
“Get out of there.” Steve's voice had that still, flat note that he only got in the field, when he was giving orders that he expected to be obeyed. Immediately, and without question. “That's an order, Stark, now, you get out of there RIGHT NOW.”
“I can't,” Tony said, with a faint smile. “Reed's got the data. But he needs someone on the other side. My suit's got a dimensional tracker in it, with that, we'll be able to trace this to it's end point, and if he's watching when it takes me, he'll know how to find it and get it the hell out of SHIELD.”
“Stark, get out of there.”
“Tony, we have time, don't do anything stupider than you've already done. I can figure this out, you need to get the suit, anyway.”
“Actually, Richards, if I leave to get the suit, they're not going to let me come back in, so, yeah, we won't be doing that.” Tony patted his case. “Luckily, the briefcase suit is built to be utterly impervious to all known types of scanning. Right now, it just looks like a metal block. Soon as I activate it, though, I'd say you'll have less than thirty seconds to lock onto me before it, well, swallows, for the lack of a better word. Are you ready?”
“Not in the least, Tony, do not-”
Tony could hear Steve running, and knew he was going to be slowed down, but not stopped, by the SHIELD agents set at the building parameter. “Don't do this, Tony, we'll get him back, we'll get him back in a way that does not require you throwing yourself off the cliff after him, do not do this.”
“I've run the numbers. The best chance we have at succeeding is to have the me on the other side, working with Reed, who, after all, the best person to figure out where in the multiverse we've landed.” He ripped off the page with all of his calculation, folding it in half. “It's kinda my fault here, Steve. The Roombas are my fault, the nanotech crossbow on his wrist is my fault, it's all...” His fingers moved, precise and swift. “I can't really do much to make up for my mistakes, but I can fix them. Or go down swinging.” He finished, and held the paper airplane up at shoulder level. With a flick of his wrist, he sent it floating down the vent to disappear into the darkness. “You'll find my calculations at the bottom of the air shaft. Reed, you ready?”
“Lying,” Tony said, grinning, manic and sharp and horrible. “C'mon, get it together Richards. Ready?”
“No, I'm not, do not do this!”
“Steve, we'll be back before you know it, do not let SHIELD declare either of us dead, okay, the paperwork is just horrific to get it undone, Pepper nearly killed me herself last time so she wouldn't have to do it.” He flipped the case around. “Reed. Five, four, three-”
“No!” Steve was furious and freaked out and this was possibly the worst thing that Tony had ever done, and he knew it and he kept his eyes open the whole time he did it, anyway.
“Two, one, now.” He jammed his fists into the case, and even as it activated, as it started unfurling, he felt the duct beneath him heave, and twist and then he was in freefall, which was fine, which was great, because he could straighten his body out so that the suit could fold into place around him and he was still falling, and he didn't know how far, or how long, but when he hit it was with a massive crash.