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15 Minutes, 35 Days (The Off-Piste in Rjukan Remix)

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Steve might’ve been able to come up with a worse situation to be in if he’d tried, but what with his brain scrambled by a very likely concussion, it would’ve been difficult.

Their informant’s cover as just another HYDRA researcher had been blown, forcing them to improvise a new escape plan. It hadn’t been very successful. Steve could only hope the other team – Clint, Natasha and Pepper – had made it out safely. As for Steve and Tony, they were as far from safe as you could get, tied to chairs and interrogated by zealous HYDRA officers.

Steve wasn’t too badly off himself: aside from that blow to the head, he was only sporting bruises that shouldn’t slow him down too much. Tony, on the other hand, had taken a bullet to the arm, and worse than that, their interrogators had stripped his upper body and set eyes on his repulsor pump.

Their best bet would be to hold on and wait for reinforcements – Jarvis should show up in his armor in around twenty minutes – but Steve wasn’t sure he could make it that far without killing someone. Especially not now that their interrogators had figured out how protective he was of Tony. How easily they could get to Steve through hurting his lover.

In horror, Steve watched as the officer closer to Tony ran a hand over Tony’s bare chest, and opened the cover of the pump with deft fingers.

You should come see this,” the officer told his colleague in German, “This is remarkable.

For a while there, both HYDRA officers appeared more curious than bent on torture, and Steve felt cautiously hopeful, as much as it terrified him to see their faces and hands all too close to Tony’s exposed heart. Maybe they’d settle for threatening him, and wouldn’t dare to actually touch the repulsor pump. They obviously didn’t want to kill their prisoners – they had even taken care of Tony’s bullet wound, surely they’d not risk playing with the device that was plainly essential to keeping him alive?

The next thing they did instantly crushed those hopes.

Oh, look, this appears to regulate the power flow,” one of the officers said, his fingers moving closer, touching something inside Tony’s chest – and Tony screamed in overwhelming agony.

Steve held his breath, looking away, trying to keep himself together.

The second scream had Steve straining against his handcuffs. He knew fighting could easily get them into worse trouble – they were in a hydroelectric plant packed full of Nazis, they didn’t even have any weapons, they –

When Tony screamed for the third time, that was it. He was not waiting a second longer.

Steve tore his hands free, leaped up from the chair he’d been tied to, and the HYDRA officers were out for the count before they knew what had hit them. He hadn’t made a whole lot of noise either, so there was hope no one would notice anything was amiss.

Having double-checked that the officers were well and truly knocked out, he got up and turned to see if Tony was okay – and felt a cold dread claw at his chest.

Tony was slumped forwards, his forehead almost touching his knees. It looked like the only thing keeping him seated were the handcuffs tying him to the chair.

Steve quickly crossed the room to Tony and pushed him up by the shoulder. “Tony?”

Tony’s head lolled bonelessly to one side. He was every bit as unconscious as their interrogators, if not – Steve dare not even think about the alternative. He pulled off his glove and held a hand over Tony’s face. He could just feel the lightest wisp of breath against it. Thank God. He placed two fingers at Tony’s throat and found a pulse, but it was weak and frighteningly irregular.

Steve glanced at the repulsor pump. Whatever those bastards had done to Tony had clearly broken it somehow, and there was no way Steve could fix that – he didn’t really understand how it worked. If he tried poking at it, he might make things worse. Jarvis would know what to do. He only needed to wait for another fifteen minutes.

He prayed Tony would be still alive after fifteen minutes.

Steve carefully closed the cover over the pump, and turned his attention to Tony’s handcuffs. He worked Tony’s hands free as gently as he could so he could get Tony off the chair and lying on the ground. Tony didn’t wake up, despite Steve maneuvering him around. Shaking him and calling his name didn’t gain Steve a response, either.

Sighing, Steve got up and walked over to their interrogators. He took away their pistols, tucking them at his belt. He’d broken the handcuffs he and Tony had worn, so he used strips of the enemies’ clothes to tie them up instead, as securely as he possibly could; ankles and knees, wrists tied behind backs, and tight gags so they couldn’t call out for help.

That done, he sat down to wait on the cold concrete floor next to Tony, feeling utterly helpless, his throat so tight with worry he could barely breathe.

The waiting nearly drove him crazy.

He tried to think of alternatives, but whichever way he looked at it, there were none: he could easily carry Tony, but running heedlessly around the plant would most likely just get them caught again. And even if by some miracle Steve managed to get them out of the building, where would they go? They were surrounded by the snowy Norwegian outdoors, and they had no gear. They were currently in the most secure position they possibly could be – the other HYDRA men would assume the two officers here were still in the middle of their interrogation, and wouldn’t want to interrupt that. No, it would have to be Jarvis or nothing.

Every now and then, Steve had to check to make sure Tony hadn’t stopped breathing, because he was so damn still and pale, he looked closer to dead than alive. He wasn’t showing any signs of waking up, but at least he didn’t seem to be getting worse, as far as Steve could tell.

Steve brushed a stray strand of hair off of Tony’s forehead. He felt like this was his fault. He should’ve done something earlier.

If Tony died, he would kill those HYDRA scumbags with his bare hands.

When their interrogators eventually woke up, Steve knocked them out again, not caring if he used so much force that it was likely to do them lasting damage.

The first distant explosion had Steve on his feet in an instant. He picked Tony up in a fireman’s carry, and rushed out of the room, a pistol in his free hand. Steve had no intention of leaving the plant without his shield, but the first and foremost thing was getting Tony to safety. He made straight for the sounds of battle.

The general confusion in the building helped him some, especially since no one had realized the two prisoners weren’t prisoners anymore. Good thing Steve wasn’t dressed in his usual uniform. A few times, someone did stop to gape at him suspiciously, and he shot at them without mercy.

They broke out into the courtyard. Steve could see there was more than one attacker: the rest of the team must’ve returned as well to help. With all the noise and chaos of the battle around them, he despaired for a bit, worried they’d not even be recognized, but Jarvis clearly had a good set of eyes on his metal-covered head, and landed right next to them.

“Tony’s hurt. They did something to the repulsor pump,” Steve told Jarvis as concisely as he could. “You have to get him out of here.”

“Oh, poor, dear boy,” Jarvis said, his voice heavy with worry, and held out his armored arms. A few stray bullets pinged off the back of his armor.

Steve placed Tony in Jarvis’s arms. “I have to go back for my shield. I’ll make my own way out.”

“Very well. Stay safe, Captain,” Jarvis said, and without further words, took off, Tony still entirely senseless in his embrace.

Tony would be okay now. He would have to be. Jarvis would fix him.

Steve turned around to make his way back into the plant, as foolish as that felt. His shield was a unique item, easily recognizable even with the new coat of paint it had gotten for this mission, and he could not let it remain in enemy hands. He still had time before the charges they’d set in the plant went off.

There were more shots fired towards him now, HYDRA having noticed that he was on the loose. He fired back, dodged and ran, like only Captain America could. Even without his shield, he was as fast and agile as a human could ever be.

Then, he felt a sting in his arm, and saw a dart sticking out of his biceps.

His last thought before the world went dark was that he hoped the others had gotten out of here safely.

Tony woke up to a persistent pain in his chest, and all he could think of were the HYDRA officers crouched over him, their filthy fingers poking at his repulsor pump, his attempts at holding a brave face regressed to primal screams because it hurt so much and he didn’t think he’d survive another jolt like that –

“Tony, it’s all right. You’re safe. Hold still,” said a steady voice, and there were strong, firm hands on his shoulders, holding him down.

He wasn’t tied to a chair, he was resting on his back on a soft mattress, and the voice was speaking to him in English, not German.

Tony opened his eyes to see, like so many times before, the familiar, ice-blue stare and bushy white moustache of Edwin Jarvis.

“Are you with me now, Anthony?” Jarvis asked. There seemed to be more concern than reproach in his voice, which meant it must’ve been quite bad this time.

“Jarvis,” he gasped. “Yes.”

Jarvis let go of his shoulders and patted his cheek lightly. “That’s my boy. Welcome back. I swear to God, you have more lives than a cat.”

Tony didn’t need to look to know that he was hooked up to the cables, the flow of power making the repulsor pump hum noticeably, a buzz reverberating through his ribcage. The room around him was unfamiliar – plain, gray walls, very little furniture aside from the bed he was in and the chair Jarvis was seated on.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“A safe location in Oslo. We’re all set for extraction as soon as you’re fit enough. That should be quite soon, now that you’re finally awake,” Jarvis replied, and put his face close to Tony’s chest, studying the cables thoughtfully.

“How long was I out?”

“Around a day. I was starting to fear they had fried your brain as well, but luckily, it seems that wasn’t the case.”

“I should hope not. Brain doesn’t feel too addled. Is Steve around? Is he all right?”

A sudden shadow passed over Jarvis’s features, making Tony instantly fear the worst.

“He is all right, isn’t he?” Tony prompted, his heart starting to race, which really wasn’t a good thing right now and made his chest ache fiercely.

“Tony, try to stay calm,” Jarvis said, as if Tony didn’t already know he should. Jarvis grabbed hold of the arm that didn’t have a bullet hole in it to give it a tight squeeze. Tony tried to focus on that. “I didn’t want to tell you this when you were still weak,” Jarvis went on. “He’s alive, that’s the most important thing. That’s all you need to think about. We successfully destroyed the facility in Rjukan, but HYDRA captured the Captain. We don’t know where they’ve taken him yet. We will rescue him. You know we won’t stop until he’s safe again.”

Tony took a deep breath, held it for a bit, and let go, struggling to pull himself together. Steve was alive. HYDRA wanted him alive; he was far more useful to them that way. Steve would be fine. They would get him back. Of course they would.

Eventually, they did, but it turned out to be the longest month and a week of Tony’s life.

Tony was laid up for the first week, a few days in the Oslo safe house and several more at home in London, until he felt like he could walk around the block without getting too out of breath. Those HYDRA scum had really done a number on him. Not that he cared. He would’ve gladly taken worse if it would’ve meant keeping Steve safe.

Tony’s last memory of Steve was a look of utter horror on his beautiful face when he saw the predicament Tony was in, and he could only imagine what had happened after he’d passed out – Jarvis had told him Steve had carried him out of the plant, and then gone back for his shield. Steve wouldn’t know Tony was all right. He was being tortured and experimented on and who knew what by HYDRA, not knowing what had happened to everyone else.

Pepper and Jarvis kept fussing over Tony, pushing food at him, telling him he needed to rest more, which was pointless. As much as he tried to, he couldn’t sleep. It certainly wasn’t helping with his recovery, but the worry over Steve wouldn’t leave him alone. He did nap for a few hours here and there, but only after he’d spent so many nights tossing and turning without a wink of properly restful sleep that he had no choice, his body shutting down when his mind couldn’t.

Though the pain in his chest eventually faded to no worse than the usual, occasional twinge, his reflection in the mirror didn’t exactly become healthier-looking as the weeks passed.

Natasha and Clint disappeared for five days, came back with very little news, then left again. Tony did what he could from London, working on encrypted Nazi messages and documents to try and sniff out any hint of where Steve might be held.

It took them three weeks to finally locate him, and two more to organize the rescue mission, despite the number of angry rants Tony gave to Fury about the need to hurry – a few of which actually resulted in him being forcibly escorted out of the Director’s office.

Finally, finally everything was settled, and they headed to the safe location in Basel which would be their base of operations. Despite Tony’s insistence that he should be the one to actually go for Steve and carry him out, they eventually decided on Natasha doing the extraction. Jarvis tried to talk Tony out of participating at all, referring to his wan appearance, fearing for his health. Tony swore that there was no better medicine for his current condition than helping to rescue Steve, and Jarvis couldn’t deny that. So, Jarvis and Tony went in guns blazing, destroying as much as they could of the horrid compound where HYDRA had been conducting who know what inhuman experiments, pulling the enemy’s attention to themselves.

He didn’t even see Steve during the mission. That, of course, meant that everything had gone to plan: Natasha had located Steve and led him safely to freedom, while the enemy was occupied with fighting back the two armored men.

It took almost a day from there before Steve showed up at the door of their lodgings, leaning heavily on Pepper. He looked awful, his eyes glazed over, his face full of half-healed scrapes and bruises. What had they done to him?

“Steve!” Tony cried out, and ran to him. His hands danced over Steve’s body, needing to confirm he was all right. There were so many injuries he didn’t even want to count them, some of them superficial, many others looking quite nasty.

Steve buried his face onto Tony’s shoulder, his breaths warm and reassuring against Tony’s neck. “Tony,” he said softly.

Tony realized he was shaking, the relief almost too much to handle.

He captured Steve’s lips in a kiss, letting the worry melt out of his body, pouring all of the longing of those endless days into it, until it left both of them breathless.

“I almost can’t believe you’re really here,” he told Steve, his voice breaking as he tried to speak past the lump in his throat. He wasn’t far from tears.

“I’m fine,” Steve said. He placed a cool hand on Tony’s face. “Are you, though? The last I saw you – I didn’t know if you were going to wake up again. Couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

“I’m fine, too. Now that you’re here,” Tony reassured Steve, and laid his palm between Steve's shoulder blades. Steve was there. Solid, warm and real and alive.

“You look terrible, though,” Steve said, rubbing his thumb over Tony’s negligently stubbled cheek. “I should’ve stopped them sooner – your repulsor pump –“

“Is also fine. Jarvis took care of it,” Tony said. “I’ve had five weeks to recover. Which you spent being tormented by HYDRA. I swear, I tried to get to you sooner; I did all I could. They’ve hurt you – all those injuries –“

“Will get better. Now that I’m here,” Steve said, repeating Tony’s earlier words. He ran his hand down Tony’s front, bringing it to rest on the center of his chest. “If you really are all healed, why do you still look like death warmed over?”

Tony put his hand over Steve’s, lacing their fingers. “What do you think? Couldn’t sleep. Missed you. Worried for you. Hurt more than anything any HYDRA interrogator could ever do.”

“You said it,” Steve returned softly. “Nothing they did to me during those weeks felt as bad as watching them hurt you. Those fifteen minutes were longer than any day since.”

“Fifteen minutes,” Tony huffed, shaking his head. “Try the same but for five weeks!”

“What’s an infinity to another infinity?” Steve said, lips curling to a little smile. He was probably thinking the same as Tony – that this was starting to get a little ridiculous.

“Well, mathematically speaking,” Tony just had to say, “It has been proven that not all infinities are the same.”

“Oh, they’re not? How would you rate this one, then?” Steve said, and pulled Tony into the sweetest, most tender kiss, which really did seem to go on for a blissful eternity.