There was a faint chuckle from the other end of the line. “You woke me up, and you expect me to be entertaining?” Steve Rogers asked. “Even for you, Stark, that shows a distinct lack of class.”
Tony Stark grinned. “First of all, Rogers, I am absolutely lousy with class. Pure class. There is no question as to my classiness, so stop trying to ruin my good name, you will not succeed, and you will only embarrass yourself in the attempt.”
Steve made a noise that may or may not have been a snort of laughter. Tony pushed his advantage without a qualm.
“Secondly, pull the other one, I know very well that you only sleep about four hours each night and you are currently in the weight room, pounding the hell out of yet another punching bag. Take it easy, champ, I'm sick of buying those things in bulk, it's beginning to put a dent in the household budget.” He paused for a sip of his coffee; it was, sadly, the last sip of his coffee. He had a brief moment of silence, mourning for a truly excellent cappuccino before he pitched it into the nearest trash can. “And if you were asleep, you would've turned your phone off.”
“I do not. What if I'm needed at...” On the other end of the line, Steve paused, and sighed. “Two am. Tony, it's two am.”
“Not where I am!” Tony strolled through the streets, his free hand tucked into the back pocket of his jeans, a crisp blazer over a faded Aerosmith t-shirt and a pair of shoes that cost more than most basic cars. “Which is, after all, all that matters.”
“I'll keep that in mind,” Steve said, and Tony heard him sit down. “How's the conference?”
“I hijacked the keynote speech last night. Had to buy the entire room a drink from the damn cash bar to keep from being stoned to death with flash drives and smart phones,” Tony said, grinning, unrepentant. “Natives all chanting angry equations and sacrificing lab techs to appease wrathful data.”
“I reiterate, classy, Stark, classy.”
“Aw, you're grinning like an idiot right now. I can tell.” Tony tipped his face up, studying the morning sky through his sunglasses. Cloudless and crisp, the blue almost painful, almost like Steve's eyes, and wow, he was a pathetic little fanboy. He gave a mental shrug. Eh, it was fine, Steve took his calls at two am.
That was either a sign of affection, or codependency. Tony wasn't willing to look too closely at it.
“Fine, minor issue in central park yesterday,” Steve said. “You got the report?”
“Yeah.” Tony wandered up the street, wondering if he had time to get himself another coffee before the talk he was supposed to be giving this morning. No damn way he was putting up with a room of sixty plus hostile scientists on hotel coffee. He deserved a final meal before his execution. “Random teleportation portals? What was Richards up to this time?”
“You really have to stop blaming Reed for everything vaguely unusual,” Steve said. “It's not good for inter-team relationships.”
“Oh, so it wasn't him?” Tony said, all saccharine sweetness.
“Well, this time it was, but really, Tony.”
“Really, Steve.” Tony grinned. “So Reed opened up a bunch of portals in the middle of Central Park, and I wasn't even there to explain to him why that's a bad idea. Instead I was here, trying to remain awake while an idiot with a Nobel prize butchered the basic experimental process. This whole being-in-Vienna thing is getting worse by the day.”
“And still, we somehow managed to get through it without you,” Steve said. “It was a minor problem, Reed got them shut down before much came through the portals. A couple of rock monsters of some sort, so Thor had fun. Bruce went back to being Bruce a little sooner than we would've liked. He's got a couple of cracked ribs, but no lasting damage. Your new armor piercing arrows worked well for Clint.”
“I am deeply, deeply disapproving of the note of SURPRISE I am hearing in your voice right now, Steve. Everything I make works well.” And wow, that was the biggest, most baldfaced lie to ever come out of his mouth, and he'd testified in front of the Joint Chiefs. Luckily, Steve was far too polite to call him on that fact, so it'll be fine.
“Tony, do I have to bring up the water arrows?”
Now that was just hitting below the belt.
“You know, I liked you so much better when you were painfully polite and too cowed by my fierce brilliance to backtalk, Cap.”
“I wasn't cowed, I thought someone was playing an elaborate joke on me,” Steve said, and he was laughing, Tony knew he was laughing, but his voice was as calm and professional as ever. “Everyone kept saying, 'This is Tony Stark. He's brilliant,' and I kept thinking, 'Is this an Emperor's New Clothes situation? Am I the only one who sees that this guy talks to himself and blew up a piece of the conference table and once missed the doorway and walked into the wall instead?'” Steve made a humming sound under his breath. “Is that the fella you're talking about?”
Tony was laughing too hard to answer. “First,” he choked out, “first of all, Captain Sassypants, I was talking to Jarvis, who was more interesting than anyone else in the general vicinity at the time, and it wasn't my fault you didn't have an earpiece to hear his responses.”
“You were talking to yourself. Like a drunk hobo.”
“But with a far better wardrobe,” Tony shot back. “And second, I blew up the conference table because Fury insisted that I couldn't engineer my way out of a wet paper bag without Jarvis, and well, I cannot let that pass, that is just not acceptable.”
“Maybe if the result is blowing up the conference table, you should stick to Jarvis' help.”
“Third, I missed the goddamn door one time. ONE time I was so lost in brilliance and, oh, I don't know, designing the goddamn Quinjet in my head like a fuckin' boss that I was six inches off center and kinda sorta brushed up against the door frame.”
“You ran face first into the wall and broke your sunglasses.”
“Why are you so mean? Have you been talking to Pepper? I explained to her that I had to put up with that poison tongue of hers, it was part of the official transfer of power, but that she was not to infect everyone else with her tendency to disrespect me and my utter perfection.”
“Do you listen to the things that come out of your mouth?” Steve asked.
“Not really, no, I have people like you for that.” Tony grinned as Steve's laughter, warm and rich, reached him. He strolled along, waiting for Steve to get himself back under control enough to continue the conversation. Maybe it was childish of him, but he did like making Steve laugh. Too often, he caught the good Captain faking a smile or standing a little too straight, a little too stiff, his eyes empty and sad and edging towards blank numbness.
Which was pretty much Tony's cue to snag him by the front of his shirt and make him do something touristy and stupid and amusing. Which explains why Tony had been to the Statue of Liberty nine times in the past three months, and it had only been animated and/or occupied by mutant space fish four of those times. Mostly it was just Tony wearing a stupid green foam crown and telling any and all foreign tourists outrageous lies while Steve stammered out apologies and fielded calls from Pepper, Coulson, Fury, and whoever was unfortunate enough to be the SHIELD or StarkIndustries press liaison that week.
But when the afternoon was done and they were eating street food from some disgusting cart and naming the pigeons that made sad eyes at them, Steve no longer looked like death warmed over, and that was all that mattered.
“Seriously, Tony,” Steve managed.
“Seriously, Steve, how're my bots?”
“Dummy got put in time out today.”
“Harsh, Mom.” Tony was chuckling. “What'd he do?”
“Clint had him throwing clay targets for practice.”
“Aw, come on, he can handle that. I gave him a whole new set of servos just so he could do it with enough force to challenge Hawkeye.”
“It was more that they were doing it on the roof.”
“Yeah, they shouldn't do that,” Tony said, wincing as he thought of the distance between the top of Stark Tower and the innocent civilians on the street below. “But it sounds more like it's Clint's fault than Dummy's.”
“I let Coulson deal with him. Dummy got out of time out by five. I think Clint's still in an interrogation room somewhere at this point.”
“Excellent choice on your part.” Tony wandered around a corner, nodding at a shopkeeper who was opening for business, broom in hand, apron tied around his wide form. “Speaking of things that Coulson probably didn't appreciate, do you want to explain to me why there was a three page spread in the New York Times about my toaster?”
“You saw that, huh?”
“Yeah, Steve, I saw that, because it was in the New York fucking Times, really, I subscribe? Not because I want to, but it's a requirement, they pretty much just take my money if I want the paper or not, they're like a print press gang but it's okay, online archive is worth it, but I don't get much of a choice about if I want it or not, because, you know, you live in the city, and you run a company, and you're an international jetsetter and playboy philanthropist-”
“You forgot genius.”
“I'm so flattered you brought that up, Steven, thank you, nothing but love today except for when you brought up the water arrows, I cannot believe you'd betray our friendship that way, that was hurtful and wrong.” Tony was almost skipping as he came within a few blocks of the secret little coffee shop he'd discovered in the early morning hours his first day here. Found it in that perfect way, by following the small of perfectly roasted coffee through the damp morning streets. “But I'm magnanimous and will forgive you, because I am focused on the New York Times and the fact that someone put a tiny, tiny hat on my brilliant little toaster and let it be photographed.”
“I thought it was a good photo.”
“It was a photo of a toaster. In a hat. A pink and orange and green winter knit hat. With a pompom on top.” He paused, and reiterated. “A ski hat on a toaster. Which has no problems staying warm, because it's a damn toaster, and doesn't ski, so I'm not sure what is going on there, but when I am glad-handing at an international scientific symposium, I do not need to field questions about the fashion sense of my toaster.”
Yeah, he'd really thought he was drunk when he was struggling to make sense of the head of a major old world university asking him THAT question. Drunk or drugged.
“It was cute. Good PR.”
“Steve, we look like idiots. Seriously, most of the world already thinks we're living in a superhero frat house here, can we not encourage that by letting pictures of household appliances in miniature headgear be published in one of the most respected newspapers left in the world?”
“Apparently not, Tony, because that happened.”
“I noticed.” Tony rolled his eyes, glancing both ways before crossing the street. “Steve? Where did we get a hat to put on the toaster?”
“Bruce was trying to teach Thor to knit and-”
“Stop. There are not words to describe all the ways that that sentence is wrong. No. I can't-” Tony pressed a hand to the muscle twitching beside his eye. “No.”
Steve ignored him. “Bruce was trying to teach Thor to knit, and they decided on a tea cozy he could give his mother-”
“Please stop. Please, Steve.”
“And it didn't go all that well, it was a little lopsided and not mom-present worthy, so Bruce was trying to cheer him up and find something else they could use his work for, and they settled on a hat because it was already the right shape, but it was too small for any of us, even though Thor tried it on.” He paused. “You should be glad we didn't publish THAT picture in the New York times.”
“So. Much. Pain,” Tony gritted out.
“So since Thor loves Calcifer the toaster like a pet, the hat got a pompom and was gifted upon the toaster.”
“How did this become my life?” Tony wondered aloud. “I have advanced the limits of science and technology. There's a course at MIT dedicated to my robotics work. People have written dissertations on me. I am a fucking superhero. I saved the world at least twice, six times if we're counting team efforts, and that one time when everyone else was napping on the job, I saved New York all by myself. I revolutionized flight capability, weapon systems, corporate business practices, and code structure of modern AI attempts. I am Tony Stark, and do you know what it will say on my tombstone, Steve? It will say, 'Here Lies Anthony Stark: One Time, He Made an Awesome Toaster!'”
“Don't be ridiculous, Tony,” Steve said, amused. “It will say, 'Here Lies Anthony Stark: One Time, He Made an Awesome Toaster and He Woke His Friends Up At Two AM To Whine About It!'”
“I hate you so very much.”
“Tony, we don't use words like hate in this house. Hurtful language damages team morale, don't you remember your sensitivity training?” And Steve was laughing at him again, he could tell, he could hear the warmth and humor there in the other man's voice, and it was worth the whole toaster situation to have that. It was even worth the damn SHIELD sensitivity training, and that had been a nightmare.
He and Barton would still be repeating the class if the instructor hadn't flatly refused to have anything to do with them ever again. Barton, being Barton, had done a fist pump and declared a victory for 'being fucking insensitive.' Tony had declared that, as a consultant, he was never sitting through such obvious corporate bullshit again in his life.
Steve and Coulson had been displeased. But not surprised.
“I have repressed that training,” Tony explained. “Hate gives me strength.”
“You can hate HYDRA. We're allowed to hate them.”
“Oh, sure, we can hate your arch-nemesis. That's fair.”
“I've had an arch-nemesis longer than you, Tony.”
Tony couldn't hold back a smile. “Fine, Cap, fine. Pull the age card, no worries, old man, we understand, it's hard to make your way in this crazy modern world.”
“It's true. By the way, I need you to reprogram the DVR. Thor requested one too many bridal shows and Coulson asked for far too many reality shows and now it is now just feeding us a steady stream of 'Bridezilla' and 'Say Yes to the Dress,' and Clint says he's going to light it on fire because the only exception it's making is for 'Top Shot,' and you know how crazy that show makes him.”
“Jarvis can do it.”
Steve made a considering, humming noise under his breath. “He could, but I like it when you do it.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “C'mon, Cap, you can do it, I've seen you do it.”
“Sorry, Super Soldier out of time, so confused, do my busy work now, Stark.”
Tony burst out laughing. “You fucking faker, you do this every time you can't be bothered to update your phone's contact list, too.”
“If you're going to mock me, I might as well deserve it.” Steve yawned.
“Go to bed, Cap,” Tony said, as the coffee shop came into view. “I've got a talk to give this morning, so I'm going to go caffinate up.”
“Have you slept at all, Tony?”
“Sleep is for the weak. So is eating. I have scientific establishments to topple.” He pushed the door open and knew, instantly, that something was off.
The usual girl was behind the counter, neat black hair in braids, purple framed glasses and crisp white button down shirt and black apron. The place was small, little more than a hole in the wall with three indoor tables and two on the sidewalk outside. A jazz soundtrack played, light and airy, over the sound system, and the air was heavy with fresh roast coffee, chai spice, and fragrant pastries. On the surface, everything was fine, the shop was empty and the street outside was deserted.
But the girl was clutching her tea towel in both hands, her fingers white knuckled on the fabric. She gave Tony a smile, but it didn't reach her eyes.
Tony smiled back. Into the phone, he said, “Okay, Pepper, I understand. I know, I know, and I'll be home tomorrow. I love you, darling.”
On the other end of the line, Steve said, “Tony, what's wrong?” because he was never needed to be told twice, he never failed to pick up on a cue, he never, ever missed it when Tony told him, in so many words or not, that something was wrong. That Tony was in trouble. Tony smiled, just a little.
And then Tony cut the connection and turned the phone off with a flick of his thumb before Steve could call him back. Tucking it in his pocket, he ambled up to the counter. “Good morning!” he crowed, and continued in German. “The usual, please, large and black as my soul.”
The girl nodded, but she didn't say a word today, her lips thin and pinched beneath her bright lipstick. Instead, she just bent over the register, ringing up the order.
“Final day in Vienna,” Tony told her, leaning his folded arms on the counter and giving her a wide grin. “You going to miss me?”
She glanced up and her eyes were wet. Her lips moved, but she didn't say anything. “Aw, don't cry,” he said, laughing. Reaching over the counter, he snagged a paper cup and tossed the it in the air, caught it and rolled it between his hands and under his elbow, tossing it around his arm with a magician's pass of his hands. He slapped it down on the counter, his free hand on top, and reached over to grab her marker. Popping the cap with his thumb, he bent over the cup, signing with a flourish. “Here, something to remember me by.”
He held it up in front of her, his hand cradling it from the top, and he'd written, in German, “GET DOWN.” Her eyes shot to his, and he handed her the cup, giving her a faint nod, the barest dip of his chin. She closed her eyes, tears sliding down her cheeks, and folded down, curling into a ball behind the counter.
And Tony barely had time to brace himself.
The blow came from behind, hard and fast, but Tony Stark had been in more bar fights than he cared to remember. He'd been taught boxing by Happy, and grappling by Natasha, and how to fall and roll with it, loose and boneless, by Clint. And he'd sparred, night after hormone inducing night, with Steve, who was bigger and stronger and tougher than any other man on the planet.
Of course, there were six of these guys, all of them big, all of them in black ski masks, so Tony was a little bit outnumbered.
He was also a little bit pissed. “You know what?” he asked, as he caught a hand and rolled his weight forward, throwing the idiot over his shoulder and into the wall with a bone-shaking thud. Without pause, he slipped into a block and a twist, his eyes snapping over the small shop, marking locations and paths of attack and smashing a glass sugar dispenser into a face without so much as blinking even as he hopped backwards, using a chair to tangle a man's legs and send him sprawling. “I am severely annoyed right now.”
Tony blocked a punch, and it made his whole body rock back with the force of it, and retaliated with a brutal swing of his elbow. The hit connected with the man's nose, and Tony heard something break. Grinning with feral intent, he pivoted on one foot, his leg snapping out to connect with a knee, tossing the man back into one of his buddies. “You really didn't have to traumatize the damn barista. Some things are sacred, and amongst those are cute girls who can make really-” He lashed out with a vicious right and a body blow with his left, a foot sweep and a nasty uppercut. “Fucking.” A foot stomp and a twist, his balled fists smashing into the side of the man's face. “Good COFFEE.”
He swung around, looking for a way out, because winning wasn't possible, he wasn't strong enough, or fast enough, and there were too many of them, no matter how many times he knocked them down, he wasn't going to knock them all out. There was one of him and six of them and the numbers rolled through his head, fast and hard and inescapable, odds and angles and probabilities and force, and all of them made one thing clear: he wasn't going to win this fight.
Tony ducked under a blow, trying to cut wide, to dodge a kick and push around and past two of the men, but a third was there, blocking him back, forcing him towards the counter, the one place he didn't want to be, he needed space and a free path. Every hit they landed, or that he dodged, was whittling away with his ability to cut through and out.
The odds were declining by the moment.
A hit glanced off of his shoulder, the pain sharp and sudden and Tony rolled with it, falling back against the wall. He snagged the stand style table and brought it up, snapping a man's head back as the wood connected with his chin. He swung it around and braced it under his arm and lunged forward, his hand on the reverse of the tabletop. Using it like Steve's shield, he pushed forward, smashing into the attackers. They went down with a crash, and Tony barreled through them.
The hit from behind sent him stumbling, and he crashed to the floor, a heavy body pinning him down, and he twisted, wishing for the first time that he'd slept at some point in the last 48 hours, because he wasn't responding as fast as he should've, he knew that was the case, but exhaustion and sheer number of opponents were wearing him down. He fought the entire way down, fists and feet and everything he could manage, but he felt the needle go into his neck.
And knew his time was numbered. “Oh, I am so fucking SICK of this,” he snarled, and as someone leaned over him, grabbing his arms and pinning them to the ground, he brought his knee up and connected, hard, with some poor bastard's balls.
He was chortling even as the fist slammed into his face, sending crashing him into the darkness. His last thought was, if he didn't get back from this one, at least he'd told Steve he loved him.
Steve tried calling Tony twice. Both times it went directly to voice mail.
At that point, he triggered the general Avengers alarm, leaving the gym at a full run. “Jarvis, give me a general speaker,” he snapped, bare feet slapping against the floor as he ran up the hall. “Avengers, assemble,” he said, all but sliding around the corner. “Tony was just attacked in Vienna. Quinjet, now!”
There was no point in prefacing that with 'I think' or 'might,' it was the reality of the situation. Tony had called him Pepper, said he 'I love you,' disconnected without answering Steve's question, and turned off his phone.
And all of that meant that Tony was in trouble.
He was running full out, as fast as his legs could carry him, and nearly collided with Thor, who was coming from the opposite direction, clutching Mjolnir and carrying his armor and the rest of his clothes under his arm. Clad in boxers and boots, he scowled at Steve, his eyes sparking. “Who would DARE?” he roared.
“Don't know. Yet.” Steve waved him on, and reached the Quinjet hanger doors at the same time as Clint, Coulson tight on his heels and already barking into his SHIELD issued phone. Clint was carrying his long bow in one white knuckled hand, his crossbow slung across his back and two quivers of arrows at the crook of his elbow. He was wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants and a white t-shirt. Coulson was in his pants and shoes, dress shirt unbuttoned on his shoulders and suitjacket thrown over his arm.
“What the fuck?” Clint snapped, and Natasha was there, behind him, then in front of him, her suit already on, her only allowances for the urgency of the situation was the fact that her hair was a tousled mop of curls, and she was yanking her zipper up as she ran, her boots in one hand.
“What have we got, Cap?” Coulson asked, his phone at the ready.
“Suit up,” Steve said, as Bruce came scrambling through the door, his skin tinted green and his breathing tightly controlled. “We're wheels up in five minutes.” He started rattling off the information that he had to a waiting Coulson, and heading for the case where his uniform was stored. He didn't care, really, if he went out fighting in sweats and a t-shirt, but he needed his shield in his hand right now.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Natasha scrambling aboard the Quinjet, starting the take off procedure since she was already set to go. The others were grabbing gear and moving faster than they should, not being careful, and not caring. Clint was stripping in the middle of the hanger, cursing and snarling as he yanked his body armor into place, and Thor was tossing his hammer between his hands now that his armor was on.
“SHIELD Europe is en route,” Coulson said, buttoning his shirt one handed. “We're waiting on the ETA, SHIELD's pushing through lock on the last transmission from Tony's phone, triangulating the cell signal, there's a tracker in his phone, but they'll ditch that fast, probably strip him to avoid any other attempts at us locating him via those means.”
Clint ran over, dressed except for his boots, offering Coulson a holstered Glock and a pale blue tie. Phil took them both with a nod. “Until we get a contact or are able to get a starting point, we're flying blind, Cap.”
“He was in Vienna. Walking distance from his hotel. Had to have been within a mile or two, he was heading out to get a coffee before his talk this morning.” Steve glanced at his cell phone's display. “His talk's in less than a half hour, and he hadn't forgotten it, he mentioned it, he was on his way back. Start at the hotel and look for coffee. In the meantime, we're wheels up. Now.”
Steve's phone rang, and it was Tony's ringtone. Shocked, he almost dropped it, then fumbled like an idiot as he tried to answer the call. Around the bay, everyone went still. “Steve Rogers,” he snapped out, and on the other side, he could hear someone crying, the sound soft and faintly feminine. “Hello? Miss? Where did you get this phone?”
“I'm sorry,” she said, and she was speaking German. Sobbing harder now, she managed, “I”m sorry, they- They took him.”
Without thinking, Steve switched to German, and his eyes shot up to meet Coulson's. “He was there, and someone came and took him? Miss, are you safe? Are they still there? Where did you get this phone?” he repeated.
“He, he dropped it in a coffee cup and gave it to me, he hid it, he told me to get down and gave me his phone in a cup,” she said, sucking in a breath. “I'm sorry, they came before the shop was open, the shop where I work, they told me to act normal, and if I tried to warn him, they'd kill me. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, they took him.”
“Are they gone?” Steve felt like tearing his hair out. “Quinjet, now,” he snapped out to the team, and they moved, with Coulson falling into place next to Steve, talking hard and fast into his own SHIELD issued phone, his voice clipped and sharp.
“Yes,” she said. “I couldn't figure out how to turn the phone on, I'm sorry.” Her voice collapsed in another sob. “I'm so sorry, I'm sorry!”
“It'll be fine, he'll be fine,” Steve said, because he had to believe that or he'd go crazy and Coulson was nodding to him, holding up five fingers. He almost strangled on a laugh, of course Coulson spoke German, of course he was aware of every word that was passing Steve's lips. “Miss, there's a tracker in that phone. There are people coming out to find you, they'll be there in five minutes. A lot of them, all in black, with weapons. I need you to move in front of the counter, and keep your hands where they can see them, all right? Just stay calm, they are coming to help you and get as much information as they can. Are you safe right now?”
“Yes,” she said, sounding a little more steady. “He told me to get down, he told me to hide. I hid, and he saved me, and I don't think anyone remembered I was there. He told me to-” Her voice broke. “They injected him with something, and he was so still when they carried him out, but he knew there was something wrong. When he walked in, he knew, and he told me to get down.”
And wasn't that just like Tony.
For an instant, a fraction of an instant, Steve braced his hand against the wall, letting his head fall forward, letting his back bow under the pressure. An instant of silent, screaming panic, of nightmares that he couldn't blink back, of raw terror unfolding like ice crystals in his chest, numbing him even as it tore him apart. Then he swallowed it all down, bitter and writhing and alive in his tight throat, he swallowed it and ignored the way his stomach roiled and tried to rebel.
An instant, and then he was up and moving, and cursing himself for the lost second.
“Okay, Miss,” he said, his voice steady, calm. “Just hold on a little while longer, and the SHIELD agents will be there to talk to you. They're not going to let anything happen to you, you're safe.”
She was still crying, but it was mostly controlled now. “Please, please save him,” she whispered. “He knew what was going to happen, he knew it, and he saved me anyway. Please. Save him.”
“I will,” Steve promised, and he glanced up at his team, already boarding the Quinjet, armed and primed and determined, furious and determined. “We will.”
“She called the local police,” Coulson explained in an undertone. “We're intercepting them, we need to keep this quiet, controlled, if word gets out, it will be an absolute storm of publicity. Until we know why they snatched him, SHIELD is the only authority here.”
Steve nodded. “I'll make sure we let you know when we find him, miss,” he said, his voice gentle. “Thank you for being brave and calling us.”
“I hit redial,” she whispered. “It was all I could think to do.”
“Thank you,” he said. “We'll get him back.” In the background, he heard the noise of a couple dozen agents, armed and stern faced behind SHIELD issued glasses, storming the small shop. “They're there.”
“Yes,” she said, and she sounded calmer. “Find him.”
“I will. I promise.”
Coulson managed to block Fury until they were off the ground, and well across the Atlantic ocean. How, Steve wasn't quite sure, but he was desperately grateful for it. Coulson had put off half a dozen other agents as well as Maria Hill, until the situation had required Fury's direct interference, and even Coulson wasn't hanging up on him. Now, the director was roaring at them over the common comm line speaker, his voice echoing in the small space of the Quinjet.
“I need all of you to haul your asses back to base immediately,” he snapped out, for about the sixth time during the ten minute conversation. “Until we have more information, this is counter productive. You have no idea who did this, where they are, or where they're taking him, and I will not have my team flailing their way across Europe like a bunch of amateurs. Get. Your asses. Back here.”
Steve's hands were fists on his knees. Across the aisle, Clint was assembling and disassembling his bow, calloused fingers tracing the lines and linkages like it was a strand of rosary beads, running through his hands. He rolled his eyes in Steve's direction, his face making it clear what he thought about that.
Thor snorted, arms folded. It was only out of deference to Bruce that he'd agreed to hold Mjolnir still for the course of the flight, but his muscles flexed with barely leashed force. By group agreement, Bruce had put on noise canceling headphones, his eyes closed and his hands palms up on his folded legs. He had too many bad memories associated with screaming military officers; they needed him to stay Bruce until they were on the ground. As usual, Fury wasn't helping with his stress levels.
“All due respect, sir, no,” Steve said. “We'll be on the ground and ready to go once the intel starts coming in. Returning to New York at this point would make our response time unacceptable, especially since we're already well on our way to being wheels down.”
“And if it's a trap?” Fury snarled out.
“Then it's a really stupid one,” Steve said, his voice calm. “I confirmed the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are in New York for the foreseeable future, and updated both groups with the fact that we might not be able to assist them for the next few days. Reed has rescheduled a potentially problematic experiment until after he's sure we're available as backup, and Professor Xavier has recalled a team from that had been checking out a problem in the midwest.”
He might feel useless right now, but Steve understood logistics. He understood the brute force of moving a platoon, of covering fire and troop movements and supply lines. This, at least, he was good at.
“This is a direct order, Captain Rogers, you are flying blind, you have no idea what you're doing, and I want you back here, now.”
Clint's bowstring twanged. “Sir? All due respect? We're going to go looking. We're going to go looking for the building that is ON FIRE. The one that is sliding into the ocean. The one that is missing three walls, a floor and part of a load bearing bathroom stall. The one that is surrounded by angry villagers waving pitchforks and torches and chunks of exploded robots.
“We're going to look for the warehouse where the bad guys are being mauled by their own machinery, and the evil lair that is melting into a pool of toxic Jell-O. We're going to find the underwater dome filled with angry blenders with self-esteem issues and a thirst for human flesh. The tropical island that now has giant mechanical legs that are carrying it along straight to jail.
“We'll follow the screams and the smell of homemade napalm and the reports of gigantic coffee purchases, and any and all of that will lead us straight to Tony Stark, because he is a crazy ass son of a bitch who is probably cackling like a maniac right now, and the fucking morons who were dumb enough to snatch him are wailing and regretting that they ever bought a Kurig coffee machine.”
Thor was laughing out loud. “Aye!' he boomed. “I would levy pity on his captors, if they did not deserve all the fury he can mete out upon them.”
“Barton-” Fury growled.
“No, seriously, sir, I would prefer to be stuck in a wet sack with Dr. Doom and half a dozen angry honey badgers than deal with Stark in full on caffeine withdrawal,” Clint said.
“That's a vivid mental picture I did not need, Agent,” Fury snapped.
“I'm a fucking artist, sir. Also, true.” He grinned at Steve. “We will find Tony. With or without your help. Don't you want to be on the winning side for once?”
“I'm going to have you shot one of these days, Barton.”
“I know, sir, that's why I've wheedled my way into the cold-hearted affections of your best agents.” He grinned. “It's purely for protection.”
There was a pause. “Fine,” Fury gritted out. “Go see what you can find out. But I want to hear about anything any everything you find, you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” Steve said, shoulders slumping with relief. “Thank you, sir.” It wasn't as if he planned to obey, but not getting shot down by the Helicarrier was also a good thing.
Fury gave a snort. “Coulson, you and I will have a chat about your loyalties when you get back.”
“That's not going to work out all that well for you, sir. Sorry,” Coulson said.
Thor stood. “The Son of Coul,” he said, his voice very soft and very cold, “is a man of honor and loyalty. It is his loyalty to the Avengers that makes one such as I, so far from home, comfortable here. I pray this not be held against him, or I should be most irate.”
There was a pause while Fury considered that and everyone else looked at Thor. “Understood,” Fury said. “Fury out.”
With a snort, Thor sat back down, arms crossed. Coulson was staring at him, eyebrows raised. “And this,” Clint said with a grin, “is why Thor is everyone's favorite.”
“Verily,” Natasha said from the pilot's seat, a smile evident in her voice.