Tony opened his eyes carefully, trying to figure out why everything felt wrong. He felt…fuzzy. His vision was uncomfortably blurry. His limbs were only just remembering that they were supposed to be obedient. His head wasn’t pounding but was heavy and dull. This wasn’t a hangover or the mind numbing fatigue that followed battle—he was almost lovingly familiar with those, and this was very different.
This was wrong.
He was recovering quickly, though. His eyes focused on his closet door. As the feeling in his legs returned, he could tell that not only was he still wearing constricting suit slacks but also his shoes. He moved his head feeling a sharp pain in his ear—he had been lying on his Bluetooth headset.
This was wrong.
The last thing he remembered was leaving a Stark Industries meeting with Williams Innovations. He thought it had gone exceedingly well. Pepper had called to assure him that it had not gone well but the damage control needed was minimal. He had just gotten off the phone with her and had decided to take the long way back to Stark Tower so he could test out the recent customizations to his Aston Martin Vanquish.
Stark Tower. He had been in New York, not Malibu, and this was very clearly the Malibu house he was in now.
Tony suppressed his panic and sat up carefully but as casually as possible. He straightened his jacket trying to exude an air of ‘Sure, I sleep in $5,000 suits all the time’. While that wasn’t un-true, custom shoes were a different story. It wasn’t overly wrinkled which meant he hadn’t moved in his sleep. For a constantly restless sleeper like Tony, this was unheard of. Considering all the other factors, that was the final nail in the coffin. Tony had been drugged or knocked out and brought here.
The word ‘kidnapped’ sprung to mind and he felt bile rise up in his throat. This wasn’t even really the Malibu house. The blinds on the windows were too dark, the dresser looked too new, the bed had felt too firm. It was a close match—almost perfect, but it was wrong. He closed his eyes as the room began to swim.
Breathe, Tony. Breathe.
It wasn’t a cave. He wasn’t half dead. No one was there yelling, threatening, dunking him into that frigid water. He felt the arc reactor like an enormous weight on his chest.
When he was sure he would not vomit or fall over, he opened his eyes again. Whoever they were, they had gone to a lot of trouble to make him think he was in his own home. He would play into that for now. Analyze his assets. Contact Pepper. He would get out of this. He’d gotten out of much worse.
Trying to look extra pitiful, he shuffled out of the room and down the hall towards where the living room should be. He reached in his pocket marveling that his StarkPhone was still there. They had left him armed with a phone permanently connected to his own satellite network, which could be expanded to the size of a tablet with the capability of generating up to five holographic screens, and which had processing power that would make the IT guys at SHIELD blush. His kidnappers were morons.
The living room was tastefully sparse, but much less of a match than the bedroom. The windows in this room were also covered by blackout shades. Tony imagined this was to hide the fact that his kidnappers hadn’t sprung for an ocean view. There was a bar, though, and he could use a scotch. He was very aware of the person with jet black hair sitting on the sofa. He heard the soft click of a book closing as he entered the room. He very pointedly headed for the bar instead of facing the person directly.
“You got my house wrong, you know.” He said simply. Well so much for playing into their ruse. Sometimes Tony really could not control himself, “And if you hurt my car, you’re buying me a new one. I don’t even care if you add it to the ransom request; I’m just that nice. Want me to pour you a drink?”
“How delightfully familiar. I admire your lack of self preservation, Stark,” the man said smoothly as he rose from the couch and turned to face Tony.
His kidnapper was not a moron. Tony managed to sip his scotch with an almost practiced casualness.
“Your car is fine, and I can assure you that I have no intentions of asking for ransom,” Loki said, as he sauntered over and seated himself again on one of the bar stools across from Tony.
“So, you been busy? I’m sad you ditched the sexy muzzle, but I see that against all odds your hair’s gotten even flippier,” Tony quipped confidently, his earlier panic nearly forgotten now that he knew who he was dealing with. Nearly. Loki gave him only a small condescending smile in return.
“Are you going to kill me?” Tony asked seriously.
“If necessary, but it isn’t a part of the plan, no,” Loki said, icily calm, as he laced his slender fingers together and rested them on the bar. There was a pause as Tony waited for some kind of elaboration that would not come. He sighed.
“Maybe you’re new to this,” Tony said, “But let me give you a pro tip: this is the part where you tell me what you want in exchange for my freedom.”
“And then the part where you refuse valiantly and I break your will?” Loki asked sardonically. Tony’s breath hitched in his throat and his muscles went rigid. His panic was right there on the edge, dangerously close, and only just under his control. He couldn’t afford this right now. He tried to keep his face looking calm.
Just the subtlest hint of confusion clouded Loki’s face for a moment before his indecipherable calm returned. Damn, he had noticed.
“You’re right to fear me, Stark,” he snarled.
“Oh spare me,” Tony said through clenched teeth, pleased that he sounded confident despite himself, “I’ve had sex with people scarier than you, Reindeer Games—it isn’t you I’m afraid of.”
Loki stared, his face unreadable though less predatory. He’d seen the fear and now he didn’t understand it. Good. Tony intended to play his hand close to his chest when it came to the god of tricks and lies. He held Loki’s gaze and sipped at his scotch.
“Yeah, I know,” Tony said after he grew impatient with their staring contest, “Maybe I’m deeper than I look, or maybe I’m an infinity pool and it’s all just clever framing. You’ll never know. This is good scotch, and I don’t think you stole it from me. You have good taste.”
“In booze, I mean. Not in people you murder or people you pick fights with…or helmets,” he added as an afterthought. Loki finally spoke after that, rising as he did so.
“Something as crude as torture will not be necessary as long as you remain complaisant. I want nothing from you or your people that I have not already gained at this point. You have free reign of this building and everything in it, but do not leave it,” the narrowing of Loki’s eyes was the only indication of the threat in that last statement, “The device in your pocket will not transmit or receive any signal here, so I hope you don’t waste your time trying to remedy that fact.”
“And how long do you plan to keep me here?” Tony hazarded. Loki did not answer. Instead he spun quickly, his cape sweeping with flourish, and disappeared.
“Diva,” Tony muttered. He drained his scotch and poured another. He pulled out his phone to confirm that, no, in fact it did not have any signal from traditional cell towers or directly from Stark satellites. He was officially off the grid.
Loki probably had done his research and knew of Tony’s tendency to hole himself up in his workshop for long periods of time. Loki probably thought he had a good three weeks before anyone (okay, not anyone. Pepper and Rhodey and maybe Bruce) started to question where he was. If Loki juggled the cars, jets, or suits from one house to the next, he probably thought he could stretch those three weeks to a month or a month and a half. Loki was probably feeling pretty secure about this.
Tony would have chuckled but he wasn’t sure Loki was really gone and he was unclear if he was being monitored somehow. Instead he strode slowly out of the room, hoping that the layout at least matched his Malibu house. He was pleased to discover that it did. He quickly found the sliding glass doors that lead out to what looked like a balcony in the dim moonlight. He hesitated before opening the door. No leaving the building.
“Hey, the balcony is a part of the building. I know, I designed it. This doesn’t count as leaving,” He announced loudly. Maybe Loki had been heard. Maybe not. But Tony felt cocky enough to open the door and step into the cool night air.
He had thought right: there was no ocean outside. The air was very still and he could make out what appeared to be an expanse of field beyond the edge of the balcony. The tiny sliver of moon did not offer much by way of light. But Tony didn’t need the lights. He looked up at the sky and that was enough. The moon was reassuring. It meant he might still be on Earth. But someone as careful and as clever as Loki would include that in a grand illusion, and he didn’t know what moons the other ‘realms’ had. He needed more proof. After a quick search, he located the only constellation he actually knew how to identify—Orion. It was late September and Orion was a winter constellation in the Northern Hemisphere. Loki was careful, but the trouble of getting even constellations correct would have taken a great deal of effort without a clear pay-off. Simple cost/benefit analysis showed that would be a waste of energy and thus the stars were most likely not faked.
Tony was still on Earth. He smiled. Big mistake, Loki.
Tony didn’t sleep that night. He investigated. The house was very similar in appearance and contents to his own house. The most striking difference was that it was sparser. None of Pepper’s beloved art, no embellishments, not even much color—it was all strictly utilitarian, which made sense. He was a captive and he was lucky to have any luxury. This prison was not designed to make him feel the comforts of home. There was no basement at all, and thus no workshop or garage. Workshops were his safe haven, and he felt slightly adrift without his. Even in Afghanistan he had been imprisoned in a workshop. Not only was it discomforting, but it made things a lot more difficult.
After the examination, he began taking stock of any and all items he may be able to put to use. This meant technology of any kind at all. He was surprised that there were any household appliances in the place at all, but there were enough that they would be very useful. He was almost giddy when he found a charger cord for his phone. Now he wouldn’t have to make one from various other items.
He hesitated to put the coffee maker on his list of usable items. He didn’t and instead made coffee. He was unsurprised to find the grounds exactly where he kept them along with a small bag of whole roasted beans and a grinder. He added the coffee grinder to the list.
He was shocked when he finally noticed the television in the living room. His surprise only increased when he turned it on and discovered there was cable. Loki probably thought feeble human minds could not survive without their petty mortal distractions. He traced the line from the cable box to perhaps use the connection to transmit a rebound signal and hijack a satellite. There was no line from the cable box besides the power cord and the coaxial cable connecting it to the TV set.
He had magic cable TV.
He spent the rest of the first night writing code on his StarkPhone and accidentally trying to talk to a JARVIS who wasn’t there.
He remained glued to his phone well into the next day. Occasionally an illusion of Loki would flicker into existence across from him. When teleporting, Tony knew, Loki simply appeared or disappeared. The illusions tended to flicker like the ones had in Stuttgart. Tony wondered if the flickering was to let him know that they weren’t real or because Loki wasn’t putting a whole lot of effort into them. They were no doubt there to check up on him and that didn’t require much effort, he imagined. Tony glared at the first two as they appeared and then ignored them completely and continued working on his code. The third came shortly after he threw the code up on a holographic screen to allow it to compile.
Tony sneered at it and went to get more coffee and maybe spike it with something harder. Loki studied the code on the holo-screen as it raced past his eyes.
“What do you want from me? I’m being good!” Tony shouted at it from the kitchen.
“My abilities allow me to understand every language in all of the realms,” Loki said as Tony re-entered the room, “but this is positively incomprehensible. You have not moved in hours for…this?”
Tony was slightly confused by Loki’s extension of normal conversation, but did not let his confusion show on his face.
“You don’t understand it because it’s not written in human. It’s written in computer. And, this chunk of code has not taken that entire time. I’ve been working on quite a few projects.” Loki eyed him suspiciously, and rightly so since Tony was indeed up to no good.
“Hey, don’t give me that. I’m the head of one of the largest corporations in the world. Contrary to popular belief, I do actually work sometimes. I didn’t anticipate getting kidnapped this week and I have things I need to do,” Lying to the god of lies. Tony preened inwardly when Loki didn’t pry further. That didn’t mean Loki bought it, but it was a small victory.
“Show me the others,” Loki demanded. Tony rolled his eyes but did not protest. He tapped the screen, splitting it into three and showing Loki the two other files of code. One was almost pathetically short. One was long but nowhere near the length of the one currently compiling. Loki stared at them for a long moment before muttering something like, “Amazing, it makes absolutely no sense.”
“Why are you surprised? Does Thor understand your little spellbooks?”
Loki shot him a venomous look though his voice betrayed no emotion, “My brutish brother is a moron. I am not nearly so piteous.”
“Oh, did I steam roll over that sore spot?” Tony deadpanned cruelly, “Let me just walk delicately around your bullshit emotional baggage while I remain trapped for an indefinite amount of time in a freakish copy of my own house.”
“What scares you so much about torture, Stark?”
“You can fuck right off,” Tony snapped.
The illusion flickered out of existence.
On the second day, Tony hardwired his phone to the television’s audio. He recorded Steve Rogers’ first public interview in the 21st century. SHIELD had finally authorized it and they had made it a priority to get Steve prepared culturally, intellectually, and mentally for the event. Pepper was an impeccable public speaking coach and she had offered her assistance. Of course, Cap was already fantastically motivational and the apple of America’s eye. He did not need much help.
As a childhood Captain America fan, an ally, and a friend, Tony wouldn’t let himself miss this.
A Loki illusion appeared midway through the interview. Tony immediately told it to sit down and shut the fuck up because Cap was on TV and he was kicking metaphorical interview ass.
Later that day, Tony dismantled the clock and temperature display on the oven in order to harvest digital chip controlling it and quite a few precious copper wires. Butter knives made terrible screwdrivers.
He slept that night.
The next day, Tony was nervous. He kept the banter with the Loki-clone babysitters characteristically curt, but as minimal as possible. Sometime today would mark the 72-hour point since his kidnapping. More importantly, sometime sooner than that would mark 72 hours since he had interacted with JARVIS.
Because of the recent massive changes happening in his life, Tony had programmed JARVIS to alert Pepper and Rhodey when he heard nothing from Tony, with no logical explanation, for 72 hours. If neither Pepper nor Rhodey stopped him within 2 hours of that alert, JARVIS would systematically notify national and international organizations that Tony Stark had been kidnapped. SHIELD was first on the list.
By 4pm, Tony was sure that JARVIS had alerted Pepper and Rhodey. Pepper was no doubt checking Stark Tower and maybe the Stark family mansion in New York (which he never went to) while Rhodey searched the Malibu house. JARVIS would assert that not only was Tony not in the States, but that the GPS in his phone was nowhere to be found. They would alert SHIELD and there would be a massive clusterfuck of government organizations trying to find him and hush this up all at the same time by 5pm. The question was: when would Loki find out?
By 6pm, Tony was almost twitchy. He wanted to start tearing apart hardware and constructing the rough devices he had already designed in his head. He wanted to help SHIELD find him. But he if he did anything suspicious, Loki would see it as the escape attempt it actually was. Tony couldn’t lose the entire carefully constructed insane game of chess. He waited.
At 6:05, Tony actually ate something.
At 6:37, Loki appeared, grabbed Tony roughly by the neck, and slammed him into a wall.
By his instant appearance and corporeality, it was clear that this was the genuine article and not just one of his illusion babysitters. By how bloodied and bruised Loki looked, it was clear that he had probably hadn’t been having the best day. The crazy look in Loki’s eyes told Tony this was just the icing on the shit-he-had-to-deal-with-today cake. The grip on his neck quickly and steadily tightened.
“You would really put yourself in such jeopardy to risk a rescue from those simpering morons at SHIELD?” Loki hissed, livid with rage, “What have you done?”
“—I…didn’t…fff—,” Tony choked before lifting his leg up and kicking Loki squarely in the chest. He didn’t put a lot of effort in it and it didn’t even make Loki flinch, but the message was received. After a moment or two of hesitation, Loki released his grip and Tony dropped to the floor. His breath came back pretty quickly, but this was going to suck later.
“I didn’t contact them. Check your fucking spells or whatever. I haven’t tried to bypass anything. I haven’t built anything. You miscalculated. I—”
Loki glared fiercely, but said nothing as Tony choked on his next sentence.
“I have people,” Tony began again even despite the difficulty, “Who give a shit about what happens to me, and I let them without trying to kill them all the time. Check mate, motherfucker.” Tony stopped to focus on breathing. Loki considered him angrily for another moment before his composure returned.
“You are incorrect, this was not check mate.” Loki said as though nothing significant had happened. Apparently he had believed Tony, or didn’t find a breach in his magic security pressing enough to deal with. Loki waved his hand and the TV clicked on.
“Check,” Loki said before he vanished.
Tony moved towards the TV, running his fingers lightly over his neck. It seemed to be raw footage from a SHIELD security feed. On the monitor, Nick Fury was bitchily interrogating him. Him! Tony Stark! Right there, in that tiny room being asked why he triggered every false alarm in the nation! The fake him looked up at the security camera—right at Tony—and smiled.