It stopped raining not long after lunch; Tony put down his notepad, and stood on the window seat to check. The sky was grey, but the clouds were blowing off. When he opened the window and extended his hand, no rain pricked his skin.
Cap grumbled, and hunched more closely against the heater. For a dog with that much fur, he was whiny about the cold.
"Let's go out," Tony pulled the window shut and hopped down onto the floor, knocking over the morning's project of a scaled-down aqueduct. For maybe the first time ever, Tony was getting tired of designing things. He wanted to do something, to get out of the stupid playroom with its stupid toys and apply some science. Cap opened one eye when Tony kicked the aqueduct into the corner of the room. "We can go through the woods and down to the stream."
"Or we could stay in," Cap shut his eye again. "It's warm here. We could make hot chocolate. Peggy and Obie are coming for dinner, too, and Peggy will play Scrabble with us."
That did sound pretty good. But Tony had been cooped up in the house ever since they'd arrived; so much for holidays. The rain hadn't stopped, at all, ever. They were lucky the gardens hadn't flooded and floated the house off. Although at least that would have been interesting. Cap's skinny tail beat slowly against the rug, and Tony captured it with his hands.
"It's spring. There might be frogspawn. And I want to check the water levels; I have an idea for a water-powered rocket."
Cap's ears rose. Cap liked playing in the stream. Once he'd caught a fish, and they'd proudly carried it home in a jam jar. Maria had screamed, and Howard had marched them back to the stream to dump it out, but still.
"We're not allowed into the woods on our own." Cap was clearly remembering that incident too, but his tail twitched against Tony's palms in the way that meant he wanted to be persuaded. Tony snorted.
"That was last year. Dad said five was too little, right? So six is fine."
Cap wriggled over onto his back, brow furrowed in consideration, and Tony scratched the softer fur of his belly, smoothing the neat demarcation between white and blue.
"We might see rabbits in the woods," he coaxed. "And we can pick flowers on the way back."
"Can I get some for Peggy?" Cap's tail sped up. "She likes bluebells."
"Sure you can. I have some copper wire, we can tie them up all pretty."
"Okay, then," Cap rolled to his feet, and shook himself. "Where's my shield?"
"You don't need your shield for the stream." Tony went to the toy cupboard anyway, and pulled out the shining helmet and shield. He settled the helmet on Cap's head, and buckled it for him; Cap's fingers didn't bend right for buckles. Cap slung the shield over his back, and watched Tony pack his satchel.
"Don't forget your compass," Cap nosed it towards him.
"We're only going to the stream," but Tony obediently packed compass, emergency whistle, and a piece of chalk for marking trees, because otherwise Cap might just decide on a nap instead of an outing. "All right? Do I need a flare gun?"
"You know we're not allowed them," Cap sighed, and his ears drooped. "I used to use them all the time in the War, you know."
"Sure you did." Tony politely didn't point out that they didn't let dogs in the army, and took Cap's paw in his hand.
They went down the back stairs. Tony carried his boots, for more effective stealth, and Cap crept low on his belly. Voices murmured from the front of the house, not close enough to worry about.
"If we're allowed, why are we sneaking?" Cap said, and Tony shrugged.
"Well, Howard said last year that this year was allowed. So I'd rather go with that answer. It's fair, right? It's not fair for him to change his mind now."
"Right," Cap raised his head, and sniffed the air. "Kitchen's clear."
They stopped on the kitchen doorstep so Tony could lace his boots, and then scurried across the lawn. Cap turned sharply, just as they reached the back gate. Uncle Obie was standing at the drawing room window, staring right at them. Tony grabbed Cap's tail and pulled him through the gate.
"Obie saw us," Cap pushed the gate shut, and gave Tony a doubtful look.
"Uncle Obie won't tell," Tony said. "That's why he's my favourite."
"Peggy is my favourite," Cap put his nose in the air. "Obie isn't a good role model."
"That's because you're kind of a priss," Tony told him. "And so is Aunt Peggy."
"She is not." Cap's eyes narrowed, and Tony backed away. "You take that back."
"Priss!" Tony yelled, and turned to bolt. He got all of three steps before Cap bowled him over. Cap pinned him down, and grinned at him, all big white sharp teeth.
"Say Peggy is the best! Say it!" and he moved his fingers to tickle under Tony's arms. Tony gritted his teeth, but Cap had been trained in interrogation by the French Resistance (or so he claimed) and soon Tony was wheezing desperately for breath.
"All right," Tony forced out. "Aunt Peggy is the best and my favourite!"
"There we are," Cap swept Tony up in a hug that didn't at all help Tony catch his breath. "Without Peggy you wouldn't have me, you know."
"I've always had you."
"Peggy gave me to you." Cap put him down and picked up the satchel Tony had dropped. "When you were tiny and used to chew on my ears. That's why they're bald now."
Tony inspected the drooping edges of Cap's ears; the fur was worn away, to reveal pale blue skin.
"Why are you blue, Cap?"
"Because I'm so very patriotic," Cap's smile widened, and he stood a little straighter, like he was hearing the anthem somewhere. Tony tugged his silky ears, letting them slide through his fingers, and then turned towards the stream. If Uncle Obie was there already, Aunt Peggy wouldn't be long, and if Cap heard Aunt Peggy calling, they'd never get away.
It wasn't so far to the stream. The paths were broad and the verges trimmed, although everything was wet and muddy. The private wood was, in Tony's opinion, the best part of their holiday house. It didn't make up for losing all of New York, but it wasn't bad. Cap sniffed about for flowers, and came back dejected.
"Never mind," Tony ruffled his fur. "When we get back, you can draw her a picture of flowers. She can keep that."
"And there'll be plenty of flowers in summer," Cap's tail rose, and he trotted ahead to the stream. It was as full and fast as Tony had hoped, rattling at its banks like it was trying to escape.
"I don't get how you're going to power a rocket with it." Cap peered into the water, and dabbed at it with a muddied paw. Tony bounced onto one of the barely-visible stepping stones, boots slipping on the wet rock.
"That thing you use in the bath? That doesn't power anything." Cap's tail tucked between his legs at the word bath because while playing in a wet, cold stream was fine, Cap hated baths. He had to go in the laundry every month, and he hated that too.
"I'm not allowed to use electricity in the bath," Tony scowled down at the rushing water. "But all the bits work right. If I can get it set up here, I can build up a huge charge. And that'll be enough to power my new rocket."
"Can we go to the Moon?"
"I guess," Tony frowned. "Uncle Obie says we could use a cheap way to get stuff into low Earth orbit. So we can spy on the Commies." Tony wasn't entirely clear on who or what Commies were, but there seemed to be a general consensus they weren't good things. It was one of the few things his aunt and uncle agreed on.
"I'd rather go into space," Cap sat back on his haunches and squinted up at the empty grey sky. "We could go to other planets!"
"Eventually." That did sound more exciting than spy satellites. Mars should be next; it had been years since they'd landed on the Moon, after all. "Low Earth orbit first. That's the first step either way. We need to find a place to set the water wheel up, though. I need a nice stable flat place overhanging the water." He hopped back to shore, almost overbalancing on the final leap; but Cap put out a paw without even looking, and Tony swung himself around and flopped onto Cap's broad shoulders. "Carry me," he invited, and Cap snorted.
"You're not a baby anymore, you know."
"So you should carry me as much as you can until I get too big for it," Tony dug his fingers into the thick fur of Cap's ruff. "These are precious moments."
It wasn't too cold, and the wood smelled damp and green. Water trickled off leaves and slid down Tony's neck, but it was still so much better than staying inside. It had been a long winter. Tony was tired of gloves and hat and scarf. He pulled off his scarf, and wrapped it around Cap's neck.
"You'll catch cold," Cap said and Tony sniffed.
"You don't catch colds from cold. They're a virus."
"Then you'll get a stiff neck." Cap lifted his head, and scented the air, his floppy ears twitching.
"Rabbits?" Tony slipped off Cap's back. Rabbit chasing was fun, but it usually ended with Tony falling off at a corner, and if he went back muddied to the eyebrows, everyone would know where he'd been.
"No," Cap sniffed again. "Strangers." He shifted from paw to paw, tail going down. "Isn't this a private wood?"
"Probably just ramblers." Tony patted his shoulder. "C'mon, let's go on. There's some flat rocks upstream." Cap hesitated, then planted his butt. "Oh, come on."
"We should wait until they're gone." Cap nodded in agreement with himself. "Stranger danger."
"Stranger danger is vastly exaggerated," Tony leaned against Cap's shoulder. "Most child abuse occurs at the hands of a trusted adult, you know." Cap looked down at him, nose wrinkled.
"Sometimes I think I shouldn't let you sneak down to the TV room at night."
"But then you wouldn't be able to watch horror movies." Cap gave a delicate little shiver, like he didn't stare riveted for hours while Tony buried his face in Cap's fur. "It's fine, Cap."
That was when a stranger did appear, although he didn't look particularly dangerous. Nondescript, with dark brown hair and a bulky coat.
"Hi there, son, I've lost my dog," the man said, and Cap gave Tony a doubtful look. "Have you seen him?"
"I think Cap would have smelled him if he came this way." Tony tightened his arm about Cap's neck. "Maybe he turned back towards the road?"
"Which way's that?" The man turned and looked around him, eyes wide and confused.
"Just follow the stream." Feet crunching through undergrowth; Tony turned to see a second man approaching through the woods. A trickle of unease ran down his spine; the bank was blocked both ways now.
"That's my brother Jim," the first man said easily. "We're just looking for our dog."
"I have to go now." Tony sidled out from between them, but there was a third man, stepping out from behind a tree like he'd been waiting. Tony eyed the stream. He didn't really want to jump in it, even with Cap to help him swim.
"Why don't you show us where the road is?" the first man said, and Tony smiled up at him, trying not to look scared or suspicious. Cap lay quiescent in his arms, obviously worried but playing it cool. There might be other people at the road, after all.
"Sure," he set his jaw and marched past, the hair standing up on the back of his neck when they were behind him. "This way."
The walk was silent, but for the squelch of mud and the sound of breathing. Tony didn't look back, for fear of tipping them off he was suspicious, because then - he wasn't sure, but it wouldn't be good. It was further to the road than he'd remembered, and he should have taken them the other way - but if they were really dangerous, they'd know the way, and they would have stopped him -
The road, he had to hope there would be traffic, or someone else stopped to walk their dog, or something.
They broke out of the trees onto a road empty but for one grimy white van parked on the verge. To Tony's eye, the plates looked way too clean for the van.
"Well, here we are," Tony turned, and put his brightest smile on, the one he used when they brought him down before dinner to show him off to guests. One of the men moved up behind him, and Tony's heart skipped.
"Maybe we could drop you back at your house," one of them said, and Tony tried to scoot sideways, but was scooped up. "To say thank you."
"What about your dog?" Tony squirmed, but was held tightly. "Shouldn't you keep looking?"
"We'll come back later," and okay, there wasn't anyone coming to rescue him. He kicked, hard, and got a clip round the ear that made his head ring and breath catch. No one had ever hit Tony before. Shouting yes, but not hitting, and by the time he regained his breath he was locked into a dog crate in the back of the van, which was starting up.
Warm paws cradled his face.
"Are you all right?" Cap said, and he was shamefully grateful that they'd kidnapped Cap too, that he wasn't alone. "Do you think you have a concussion?"
"No," Tony clutched at Cap's paws. "We've been kidnapped, haven't we?"
"Yes. Don't worry. They want a ransom, so if you're good - "
"I saw their faces," Tony interrupted, and Cap went quiet. Tony leaned in close, feeling the solid beat of his heart, because Cap was never afraid. "Do you think if I could get you out, you could go and tell Howard and Maria?"
"I don't think so." Tony sighed. "I think I should stay with you. Maybe we'll be able to escape when they take us out of the van."
It couldn't have been more than ten minutes to their destination; Tony and Cap tensed in readiness when the engine stopped, but their kidnappers didn't take them out of the crate. They dropped a blanket over it and then lifted it up. Tony considered yelling, but it wasn't likely they would have moved him if anyone was around, and he concentrated on staying upright as he was jolted around.
First the click-click of a keypad, then the jingle of keys, and a heavy door shut and they were into a warmer quieter space, with footsteps muffled by carpeting. The soft beeps of electronic locks as they passed through inner doors, carpet giving way to a hard surface, and then they were set down with no gentleness. A door clicked shut.
Tony waited until he was sure he couldn't hear anything but his own breathing, and Cap's. Then Cap stood up, and prowled to the gridded metal wall, all his big-dog clumsiness vanished. He hooked his clawed fingers through the narrow spaces between the wires, and dragged the blanket up enough that Tony could see out.
"Flashlight," he said, and Tony scrabbled it out of his satchel and switched it on so they could see out.
"We're in a storage closet." Tony peered more closely at oddly familiar boxes. "A Stark Industries closet. Look at all those boxes - that's letterheads, look."
"Hm," was all Cap said, and let the blanket fall. Then he came and sat by Tony, and rummaged in his satchel til he found Tony's apple, and his granola bar, and the emergency bar of Kendal mint cake. He broke the mint cake into pieces, and fed it square by square to Tony, and then made him eat the apple, jamming it into his mouth when Tony tried to object. He put the granola bar back when Tony shook his head, and began examining the rest of the contents. "Maybe after this you should talk to your dad about flare guns again," he said, inspecting Tony's Stanley knife.
"Maybe he'll let me have a real gun," Tony set out his little pack of miniature screwdrivers, and the full-size one with the interchangeable heads. A pair of tin snips, several reels of wire. A calculator. Some batteries.
"Maybe," Cap didn't sound convinced. "More likely we'll be grounded forever."
"Perhaps we could say we were in the garden?" There was no reason kidnappers shouldn't have come into the garden, really, if they were already in the wood. They were probably on their way to the back gate, and would have snatched Tony from there. So it didn't really make any difference that they'd snuck out.
"Obie saw us leave."
"He won't tell anyone," Tony put his chin in his hands, and inspected the array of goods laid out. He hadn't really planned for this. "Obie's a good guy." Cap's tail slapped the floor of the crate.
"He will when they get the ransom note, Tony."
"Oh, yeah." Tony wrinkled his nose. Uncle Obie would, presumably, tell everything, and then they'd track them through the woods, and then lose the trail at the road. "Do you think they'll want to send a finger or something?" They didn't need him alive for fingers, did they? Could they tell if fingers came off a dead kid? Tony pushed that thought firmly aside.
"Not right away," Cap patted his shoulder. "Still, I think the sooner we escape, the better."
"I can pick the padlock easily."
"But then we'll just be in the room," Cap peeked out from under the blanket towards the door. "Can you hack an electronic lock?" Tony crouched down beside him to look.
"No-ooo," he said. "How are they doing it? Do they have passcards? Do they work here?"
"Maybe." Cap tapped his fingers. "It's the weekend." He stared around the storeroom, then tapped Tony's arm to get him to redirect the beam of light. "Vents?"
"You'll have to help me unscrew them," was Tony's verdict. The vent cover was solidly bolted on, and would take Cap's muscle to shift. "Where do we go once we're in?"
"Anywhere. Find a telephone, maybe."
"That would be good." Tony re-packed his satchel, and clipped a length of wire off the reel with his tin snips. "Lift me up so I can get at the lock."
Tony could pick a simple padlock backwards with his eyes shut; which was good, because that was exactly what he had to do. Aunt Peggy had taught him that. He'd showed her when he'd learned to pick a lock, and she'd put her hands over his eyes and said do it again. It turned out that was easier; once he got used to it, shutting his eyes let him feel it. Click, click, and the padlock fell open in his hand and he could angle his hand to unhook the latch. Cap caught the door before it could clatter open against the floor, and when they'd climbed out, he relocked the door and placed the blanket neatly back while Tony crawled under the bottom shelf to inspect the vent. It took them both working together to wrestle the bolts off, and Tony was sticky and hot by the time the fourth slipped free. He sat back, and Cap's head swivelled towards the door.
"Hurry," was all he said, and Tony dived into the narrow gap, a dim space that got even darker when Cap's bulk filled it up behind him.
Tony crawled as quietly as he could, resting his palms on the metal and pulling himself along, and didn't look round or flinch when he heard voices raised. Cap was behind him, and even if they could fit into the vent, they'd have to go through Cap.
He could hardly see anything; he touched the walls to find corners, and turned right, then left, and it got a little lighter; just enough for him to see the drop before he fell in. The light was coming up the shaft; he slithered down, and looked out through a vent into an beige and plywood office. There was a telephone, right there on the desk, a few short feet away.
"But how do we get out?" he said.
"We can't unscrew it?" Cap almost squished him, a big furry pillow. Tony dug an elbow into him.
"Not from the inside."
"Oh. Tin snips?"
The tin snips made no real impact on the tough aluminium of the grate, even when Cap's paws wrapped round his hands. Tony wished he'd packed a hacksaw. He was going to have to change his packing, in future.
Echoing noises sounded through the vents; Cap bristled.
"They'll be looking for us," he muttered. "I wonder if they can get into the offices?" Tony thought that if they could get into the building and the storage closets, they could almost certainly get into the offices.
"We don't need to get out," Tony said. "We just need the phone, right?" He unspooled a little wire, and looked from it to the phone's dangling cord.
It wasn't strong enough; the hook just slithered straight whenever he put any traction on it. Tony thought he was going to cry; it was so close.
"Come on," Cap rubbed his back. "You're a genius. Do something smart."
"Shut up," Tony started to make another hook, gritting his teeth. "You're a stupid dog, what do you know?"
"That didn't work last time," Cap said. "We can't stay here, Tony. They'll catch us."
"Give me a minute," Tony stared down at his wire, too weak and supple. Was there anything else he could hook, maybe? He looked around, but the office was clear of anything useful. The coiled wrap of the telephone cord was so temptingly close, but it would pull the wire flat as soon as it dragged the weight of the phone... "Oh!"
Simple, really; he extended one length of wire through the loops of the telephone cord, and then hooked the thin, flexible wire with another piece of thin, flexible wire, getting it back in reach. Then he had a loop of wire wrapped round the cord, and could pull it right up to the vent, and shake it til the receiver fell out of the cradle.
"Oh, well done!" Cap poked the screwdriver through the vent, and hit 9-1-1, just like Aunt Peggy had always said he should if he was in trouble.
"All right," Tony said, and slapped Cap's outstretched paw. "Hello? Hello?" He could hear a faint buzz from the handset, too far to make out the words. "This is Anthony Edward Stark! I've been kidnapped! You need to call my parents!"
"Tell them where we are!" Cap hissed, and Tony nodded.
"I don't know where I am!" he called. "I'm in a Stark Industries warehouse, or maybe an office building! You need to call my dad, Howard Stark, and tell him to come find me!"
"They're coming," Cap said in his ear, and Tony could hear running footsteps. They'd heard him. Cap vanished up the shaft, and reached back down for him. Tony carefully unhooked his wires, ignoring the buzzing telephone, and let Cap pull him up. They were already squirming off down another narrow pathway as he heard a harried voice reassure the operator that no, their son was a jokester, wasn't he going to be in trouble when his dad caught up with him -
"Assholes," Tony said, and Cap patted his back. "We have to get out of here, Cap, I don't want to spend the whole weekend here."
"There are worse things," Cap said.
"I expect you saw worse in the war."
"I did," Cap patted him again. "But you're only six, Tony. I don't want to see anything bad happen to you."
"We'll be fine." Tony reached back to pet the nearest furry outcropping. He could see the faint white shape of Cap's wings on his helmet. "We just have to keep moving."
Onwards, turning at random, backing out of dead ends, peering into offices and storerooms through the bars of vents. Tony's elbows began to ache from dragging himself along, and his shoulders hurt too. He almost missed the light as they passed a side passage.
"What?" Cap said when Tony stopped.
"A vent," Tony said after a moment. The soft light striped gently onto the top of the narrow passage, which meant the vent went downwards. Which was different. Tony advanced down the vent, and could tell straight away it was different. It groaned under their weight, not embedded in a wall but passing over empty space.
He felt cautiously around the edges of the vent, and grunted in satisfaction.
"I can pry this off." Tony shone the flashlight on it. "See, it's not screwed in. Just held by a rubber seal. Then we can drop down onto those crates. Look, there's even a bathroom." Tony would really like a bathroom right now. The room below was some kind of warehouse, with a locker room and a small sink and a coffee machine.
"We could get water," Cap said. He craned his neck to look up and down the room. "All right. I don't think we're going to do better than this." Cap hooked his fingers loosely through the vent, so when Tony pried it loose, Cap could lower it gently. Then he handed Tony down, and then flowed smoothly down onto the crates, sniffing the air. Tony scrambled down the heap and made a dash for the bathroom. When he came out, Cap had pried open three of the lockers and found some soda and candy bars.
"That's stealing," Tony said, but took the Snickers Cap held out.
"We're in enemy territory," Cap opened a soda and held it out. "It's foraging for food. Anyway, your dad will replace them. This is an emergency. You need to keep up your energy." He dumped someone's jacket on Tony's shoulders and wrapped his blue bulk around Tony, and Tony rubbed his cheek on Cap's plush flank.
"I'm tired," he admitted. "What do we do now?"
"They'll search for us," Cap said, and rested his chin on Tony's knee so Tony could scratch his ears, slipping his fingers up under the red edge of the helmet. "They'll probably find us, unless we hide better."
Tony really didn't want to think about how angry the kidnappers would be when they caught up them. They probably wouldn't kill them, at least not until they got their money, but they might separate Cap and Tony. And they might think that Howard and Maria wouldn't pay a ransom for Cap, and send him back in bits, as proof they had Tony.
Tony stared down at Cap's chewed, bald ears. He'd eaten Cap's ears, and did Cap mind? Not a bit. And Tony had insisted they go to the stream, and look what happened. Tony didn't think he could stand it if they hurt Cap.
"I won't let anything bad happen to you," he whispered. Cap lifted his head to press their cheeks together.
"Of course not," he said. "We'll take care of each other."
"We will." Tony's voice sounded heavy in his ears. He was very tired; but now he was looking at the crates all piled up in the warehouse, looking at the security seals on them. It was Tony's turn to do some caretaking. "Cap, help me get some of these crates open."
Tin snips, and wire, and his delicate screwdrivers; those were enough to take apart the gleaming deadly things in the crates. Cap watched him nervously, tail tucked tightly between his legs, but he didn't tell Tony to be careful. That was one of best things about Cap. He trusted Tony, knew that Tony was being careful, all the time, even when he took risks.
Tony wired up the doors, opened up the walls and pulled out wires and attached them to circuit boards. If he'd had a soldering iron, it would have been much better; but he could make do, and the doors would burn anyone who touched them, and there would be nasty explosions when they got them open. He left one glass door untouched; it led into a secure lab, and that was their final bolthole. There were chemicals in there Tony didn't want to touch unless he had to; he knew what to do with with the mechanics, but he didn't have a lot of chemistry experience. He stripped open the lock panel, and showed Cap where to touch the wires together to make it open, in case Tony couldn't do it.
"What about the ladder?" he asked, and Cap followed his gaze to the aluminium ladder that ran up the wall.
"I don't think so," Cap said. "The roof beams are metal too, and I don't think we want to electrify the whole building."
Tony wasn't entirely sure about that, but he was getting pretty tired. Cap noticed his shaking hands, and took the screwdriver away from him and tugged him over to the corner by the lockers, where he'd piled up several jackets. Tony curled up against Cap, and Cap hummed to him until he dozed off, hands full of fur, surrounded by the familiar scent of fabric softener.
He was woken by a flare of blue-white light, and a scream. There was an unpleasant burning smell in the air, like cooking, and all Cap's hair was standing on end as he breathed it in.
"What's that?" he whispered, and Cap's blue eyes focused on him, coming back from their far away stare.
"Burning paint," he said. "That's what burning paint smells like." Cap drew towards the stacks of crates, into a defensive cubby he'd built while Tony was wiring the walls. It wasn't much, but it was something. He could hear indeterminate noises, and there was clattering, and then the door cracked and sizzled again, and the lights flickered.
There was a pause, then, and Tony hoped that was the end of it; but after a little while, the lights flickered and died.
"They turned the power off," Tony gnawed on his thumbnail. The emergency lighting was a pale shimmer that barely allowed them any sight. That meant the electronic locks were out. "We could smash the glass to the lab?"
"Too tough." Tony heard the sound of claws tapping on glass. "This is strengthened. But now the power's down, we can go out one of the interior doors?"
"They'll follow us," but there was no better plan, and they slipped into the next room, which was smaller, with no locker room. "I can hear a forklift truck," Tony said, and Cap nodded, tracing his fingers over the codes stencilled on the sides of the crates. "Those are just casings. Nothing I can do with them." Tony inspected crate after crate as the sounds of the door being broken down sounded behind them. Then, there were explosions, and screaming, and smoke; the weapons Tony had rigged didn't run off power, after all. Tony shivered. Then Cap touched his shoulder.
For a moment, he couldn't place the steady beating sound, and then it snapped into familiarity. A helicopter. Tony clapped his hands.
"They've found us!"
"I hope so." The rattle of what had to be gunfire, and Tony jumped. Sharp cracks sounded from just next door; Cap's shield came up in front of Tony, and he pressed back into the soft white fur of Cap's chest.
"Should we go help?" Tony asked - he could probably do something with the emergency power, if he had to - and Cap made a hmph noise.
"No," he decided. "We could end up in the crossfire. The priority is getting you out; without you, they've got no leverage at all."
"If I could get some power," Tony looked down at his satchel. "I should start packing more batteries. I could blow a hole in the wall..."
"Up there - " Cap settled back on his haunches, and pointed with his paw. Tony squinted up towards the skylights, high overhead. "Could you get that window open?"
"Oh yeah. That's nothing." He looked doubtfully towards the ladder, built for a grown-up, and so tall - and Tony was still very tired. "But getting up there - " he squawked when Cap's mouth closed on the back of his neck.
"Hold shtill," Cap said in a muffled voice, and his body bunched and then extended, and Tony stared at the receding floor, at a suddenly close wall sweeping past as big paws thudded against it, the very topmost crate, and then he was dangling above a rafter, above a terrible drop.
"Eep," he said, holding very still, and Cap lowered him carefully, not letting go until Tony's arms and legs had locked around the rafter. Well, that was certainly quicker than the ladder.
"You need to open the window," Cap said, nudging his shoulder. "We're terribly exposed up here. If we can just get out on to the roof."
"Yes," Tony said into the rafter. His legs felt like liquid. So did his hands. He clung tighter. He could hear shouting, somewhere.
"Tony?" A gentle pat on his cheek. He looked up into Cap's big blue eyes, the furrowed fuzzy brow. "I could take you back down, we could try and hide..."
"No," Tony swallowed, and forced his hands loose. He grabbed Cap's paws, then walked his hands up to Cap's shoulders, until he was sitting up.
"Don't look down," Cap told him.
"What could you see that will help?"
"I won't know til I look," but Tony didn't look when he rummaged for his tools. The lock was awkward, but the hinges were loose and rusty; he got a screwdriver under the edge of one, and levered it free. One screw fell right out. He didn't hear it hit the floor, and his knees went all watery again. The second hinge was out of reach. "Hold me steady," he said to Cap, and put one hand on Cap's red helm as he stood, warm heavy paws resting at his waist, holding him safe. He dug his screwdriver in, feeling his sneakers slip against steel; but Cap was immovable. Tony wouldn't fall while Cap was holding him.
Running footsteps, more cracks; shouts. He's gone and find him.
"Don't look down," Cap told him again, soft and urgent, and one of the fluorescent strip lights shattered when there was another crack. Stop and idiot and a ringing sound it took him a moment to place as boots on a ladder's rungs.
The second hinge fell away, and Cap pulled him low as the window swung free, dangling from the latch.
"Up, go," Cap put a hand under his butt and heaved, and Tony grabbed and kicked and scrabbled out onto the sloping roof, into the darkness of night. He grabbed Cap's paw and pulling him after, and they rolled over and Tony grabbed hold of - of something, a ridge in the roof, something he could use to hold himself steady.
A hand closed around his ankle, and he was dragged back towards the pool of light. Cap made a noise Tony had never heard from him, something feral, something that made the skin on the back of his neck prickle; and the hand went suddenly loose and there was a cry of pain.
Then there was a distant, wet thud.
"Keep your eyes shut," Cap picked him up and padded sure-footed down the roof, taking a little jump, and then another. "Oh look! It's Peggy. Look, Tony, Peggy's come to rescue us. She's my hero."
"You're a disgrace," Tony said, and they jumped again. "Try and be more of a man."
"I'm a dog," Cap sat him down, and Tony opened his eyes. He was sitting on a low roof, and Peggy was running towards him, eyes and mouth wide. She was wearing a tight black jumpsuit, and she was holding a gun.
"You have a gun," Tony leaned forward for a better look. Her grey hair was scraped back from her face, unlike her usual bouncy curls. "I didn't know you could use a gun."
"Are you hurt?" She reached out for him, and he slipped off the roof into her arms. His legs felt all weak again, and he succumbed to Cap's nudging and buried both their heads in her neck. "Oh Tony, baby. I'm so sorry."
"It's all right," he said. "I had Cap. He was really brave."
"Of course he was," and her voice sounded wet, but she laughed. "Of course. Everything's all right now, sweetheart. Howard, I've got him." She was talking into an earpiece, and within a few seconds they were lit up by floodlights and cars were pulling up around them, and wow, that was a lot of people with a lot of guns.
"Am I in trouble?" Tony whispered, and Peggy shook her head.
"Of course not. Here, look, here's your daddy, look how happy he is to see you."
Howard squeezed him so tight it almost hurt, but Tony didn't really mind. Howard climbed into the back of a car with him, and put him down on Maria's lap.
"Don't cry," Tony told her. "I'm fine. Cap took care of me."
"I'm not crying," she said, and smiled at him, wide and bright. "It's just my hayfever. Why would I be crying, sweetie? Everything's fine." She kissed his cheek and his forehead and his hair, and kissed Cap when Tony held him up.
"I think Cap pushed one of them off the roof," Tony whispered. "Will he get into trouble?"
"No, of course not," Howard said. "If he did, it was... self-defence. But the man probably just slipped."
"Maybe." Tony pushed his fingers into the soft fur at Cap's neck, feeling the soft rumbling purr there.
"Are you all right, Tony?" Uncle Obie said, turning round in the front seat, and Tony looked up at him. "What happened?"
"They took me out of the garden," Tony lied. "Came in through the gates," and Obie smiled at him, that conspiratorial smile that told Tony that Obie was on his side.
"We'll have to get that gate shut up," was all he said. "Maybe it's not safe to have it right there, hm?"
"Maybe," Tony conceded, and Obie laughed softly and reached out to ruffle his hair. Peggy climbed in beside Maria, and Tony held Cap up.
"Cap was brave," he said, and Peggy laughed and kissed Cap, and then Tony.
"You were both brave." She smoothed his hair, and he shut his eyes as the conversation passed over his head, talk about how soon they could get the gate bricked up, a fence around the wood, a new security system.
"Maybe we could re-route the stream through the garden," he whispered into Cap's ear, and felt the twitch of his tail.
"That'd be cool." Cap yawned expansively, and nuzzled into Tony's shoulder. "Easy, right? Dams and things."
"Pretty simple," and he pushed his face down into Cap's fur, and dreamed of hydro-electric power.