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That Which Sustains Me

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Tony sucked in a breath, choked on the blood dripping into his throat, and bent forward with the hacking coughs, pulling on the chains that bound him to the wall.

He heard the shift of other chains, the restless wrath of his teammates made audible, similarly bound, but, unlike him, as yet untouched.

Tony's breath grated on the air, harsh and raw, the loudest sound in this god-forsaken pit, echoing off the walls, bouncing back and forth, surrounding him, reminding him that he wasn't done yet.

He forced his head up, not all the way, just enough to see the shiny toes of the fucker who thought capturing 5/6 of the Avengers was a good idea. Hacking and coughing, he rallied his strength, eyes locked on his target. With one final effort he dredged up everything he had and then attacked, a viper spitting poison.

The wad of blood and spit and, hell, probably little chunks of lung based on the way he felt, landed squarely on the shiny mirror, obscuring Tony's reflection.

He heard an approving sound from Clint and raised his head further to look the man in the eye.

"That answer enough for you?" he grit out, unable to stop the smirk, resolutely ignoring the pain of his split lip as it stretched.

Silence was the answer, silence and the cold stare that Tony could feel on the back of his head when he gave in to the screaming of his neck muscles and let it drop again.

"I think," the man said, faintest trace of a German accent in his measured tone, "that I will ask your friends. You do not seem to have a sense of self preservation, Mr. Stark—" And that got another noise from... Actually, Tony wasn't sure who. Could have been any of them really. "—but perhaps they value your life more than you do."

A hand buried itself in his hair, grasping hard enough to make him gasp, despite his best efforts to stifle it, then twisting until Tony had no choice but to move his head to follow, his gaze sweeping over his teammates before it was locked onto the ceiling.

"Well?" their captor asked. "Do any of you have a different answer for me?"

"Let him go," Captain America said, steel and rock solid command in his tone. There was a pause that Tony knew was Steve's gaze flicking to him, though hopefully he'd be smart enough to hide any worry in his eyes. "You want someone to torture? Take me instead."

Tony couldn't help the laugh, gurgled as it was from the awkward angle of his neck and the internal injuries.

The man holding Tony laughed too, softly, but genuinely amused. "Captain," he said, condescending, speaking to a child who didn't understand, "as much as I would enjoy making the strength of America literally tremble before me, I do not have the time. And neither does Mr. Stark."

The hand tightened, twisting more, and Tony bent with it, ribs on fire as his back arched, the angle threatening to take him to the ground completely.

"Please," Natasha said, voice cracking, and, damn. If he didn't know her, he'd think she was on the verge of bursting into sobs. Hell, even though he knew she was putting on a show it still hurt, Tony's heart twisting in his chest, thumping painfully under the arc reactor's casing.

"Please, stop, you're—" She gulped audibly. "You're hurting him! Please!"

"That is the idea, Miss Romanova. But if you cannot stomach his pain," he said, voice conveying that not only had he bought it, but he was feeling smug about his belief that this kind of work was too much for a woman, "you have only to answer me."

"Oh God," she choked, and more chains—not hers, well, not just hers—shifted. Tony was obviously not the only one who was finding it hard to remember this was the woman who routinely kicked their asses.

"Please," she whispered. "Please, st-stop. I'll—" She broke off abruptly and Tony could picture her, biting her lip, eyes squeezed shut, looking like she was kicking herself for saying too much.

She deserved an Oscar, really, and if they survived this, he just might have one made for her.

"You'll what?"

The hand in Tony's hair loosened and his weight was shifted forward as the idiot unconsciously leaned in.

"I— I—" Tasha stammered, breathing speeding up to anxious gasps. "I— I can't—"

Tony winced as the hand twisted once more, but he was more pissed that he was missing this. God, he hoped they had cameras in here somewhere he could hack.

"Oh, you can," their captor assured her. "You can and, in fact, you must if you want to save his life." A blade was placed against Tony's throat and he resisted the urge to swallow even though he had never needed to more in his goddamned life.

"Oh God. Oh God. I— I can't—" But she sounded like she was breaking down, on the verge of giving in. "No! I can't!"

"You must! Tell me! Now!" The blade pressed against Tony's neck and he felt the bite of the blade, the warmth of the blood that welled up and slid down his skin.

"Widow," Cap said, censure and little bit of disgust thick in his tone, and hot damn, he was buying them all Oscars. Red carpet night at the Tower on him. "Don't say anything."

"I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I'm sorry, I can't—"

"Tasha, no!" Clint said, chains clinking as he yanked on them.

"I— I—"

"Widow," Thor's deep voice said, a warning.

She sobbed once, voice thick with tears, and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can't let him just kill Tony!"

"Widow! Stand down! That's an order!" Cap yelled, Thor and Clint adding their own protests.

"I'll tell you," she said, ignoring them. "I'll tell you anything! Please! Just let him go!"

There was a moment that stretched, tension skyrocketing in the wake of her surrender, then Tony was thrown back against the wall.

Now that he could move again, he lifted his head to glare at her, putting everything he felt for the man who was savoring her supposed-breaking into his voice. "Goddammit, Romanov."

Her head was bent, her shoulders shaking as the tears dripped down her face, defeat and shame in every line of her body. She winced at his words and he had to remind himself that it wasn't real, that she was acting.

Oh God, she better be acting.

Of course she was but... Fuck, he felt like an ass.

"I'm sorry," she said, softly. "I'm sor— No!" she said when hands gripped her arms and dragged her upright, terror written all over her face at the two men flanking her, holding her. She struggled as the needle was brought in and she wasn't nearly the only one.

"I'll tell you!" she shrieked. "I'll tell you everything!"

Her chin was roughly grabbed and held as their captor leaned in. "Yes," he agreed. "You will."

Her eyes widened and she resumed her futile efforts to break free.

And then the door blew inward, hitting the opposite wall with a clang loud enough to leave Tony's ears ringing, the needle stopping millimeters from her skin.

Her terror vanished suddenly and she leveled a flat look at the man inches away from her. He had just enough time to blink before she was slamming her forehead against his, knocking him back. Her left hand went up in an uppercut that had the guard there sliding down the wall, the other hand whipping across her body as much as she was able, then coming back to nail her elbow into the remaining goon's sternum. He collapsed, eyes and mouth wide as he clutched at his chest and gasped for air.

By then the room was filled with more S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, guns sweeping as they ensured the hostiles were all neutralized.

Tony let the tension seep out of his muscles, content to slump back against the wall as he watched the proceedings. Agents with medical training and keys were coming in now, each one picking an Avenger and setting to work.

Tony let his eyes shut, breathing out slowly and ignoring the medic who was hovering over him. He didn't open them again until his wrists were freed, dropping a few inches before he turned it into deliberate movement.

"Where are you hurt?" the kid was asking and Tony sighed, wiping a hand over his face and wincing at the many and sundry protests his body lodged. Adrenaline was going fast, leaving behind all kinds of unpleasantness.

"I'm fine," he started to say when the medic was being gently but firmly pushed aside and then Steve was there, right in front of him and so close Tony jerked back in surprise.

That nearly sent him toppling to the side and it was a hand that stopped him, though too calloused on the pads to be Steve, who couldn't keep a callous if he wanted one.

"Easy there, Stark," Clint was saying, pushing him gently upright again, and leaving his hand on Tony's shoulder.

The light on his other side was blocked by a tall shadow and Tony looked up, watching as Thor crouched down.

"Well done," he said, placing a hand on Tony's head, then sliding it down to his neck, squeezing lightly.

"How is he?" Tasha asked, drawing all of their attention upward. Steve shifted to the side and she crouched down as well, sharp eyes cataloging his every injury.

"He's fine," Tony said, but it wasn't nearly as gruff and annoyed as he'd intended, more soft and reassuring.

God, these people were ruining him.

"He's not fine," Steve said sternly. Tony managed a glare for that and opened his mouth to protest, but Steve continued, "But he will be." He gave a firm nod and Tony couldn't help the soft huff of laughter, though he immediately regretted it, his entire torso bitching at him in unison.

He lost sound and his sight grayed and tunneled for a moment, but then hands were propping him up again, supporting him, and when he was able to see and hear again it was to the sights and sounds of his team demanding he stay with them.

The medic was dragged back, room was made, and then they all watched and made the poor kid very, very nervous as Tony was examined and diagnosed with several likely cracks, one possible break, and a shitload of bruised ribs and ordered to return to the carrier and allow himself to be poked and prodded more. Some temporary bandages were applied, but they would be removed and replaced on the carrier, so he didn't sit too still for that.

There were arguments over who got to carry him—during which Tony was utterly ignored—and then Coulson, his favorite agent of all time, no lie, he meant it this time, was there and directing the medical team to load him up on a gurney for the trip back to the Quinjet and starting to ask questions of the rest of them to distract them.

Or, well, attempt anyway. Tony appreciated the effort, he did, but it was hopeless and Coulson should have known that.

When they started rolling him down the hallway it was with an escort that swapped spots with the nurses somehow. Steve was pacing at his side and quizzing one of the actual nurses on his vitals, directing equipment to be waiting for them, and generally making himself a pain in the ass. Thor was holding up the IV bag to his left. Clint had one hand on the end of the bed by his feet and was on the phone with JARVIS or Pepper, Tony wasn't quite sure. Natasha ninjaed her way up to Tony's side and took his hand, wrapping it in hers and squeezing.

He returned the gesture and smiled crookedly, relieved to see the tears had dried and the redness was already clearing from her eyes. "Hey," he said. "Good job on the..." His hand twitched in hers and she smiled and lightly shrugged one shoulder.

"He's just lucky Coulson showed up when he did. I had more plans for him." Her smile was unsettling, her eyes sharp and bright, and Tony grinned.

"That's a damn shame. Hey, Phil!" he called, looked down past his toes to where the agent was on his phone, keeping easy pace with the procession.

Coulson arched an eyebrow and Tony said, "Move slower next time. Tasha didn't get to have any fun."

"Tony," Steve chided, not looking at all amused.

Thor and Clint, though, both grinned wolfishly, the former laughing outright.

Coulson lowered the eyebrow and went back to his phone call.

"Oh, don't worry," Natasha assured him, squeezing his hand again. "I'll get my chance."

"Oh God, you have to wait until I can be there to watch. Please," he said. "Please!"

She smirked and shook her head. "I'll ask Director Fury," was all she would concede, but Tony knew that was basically a yes.

They loaded up on the Quinjet, his team finding places along the wall to allow the medics back in close, but staying where they could keep an eye on him.

"Bruce is gonna be pissed he was out of town," Tony said, letting his eyes close as the ramp shut and the engines spooled up.

"He's already on a jet," Coulson said. "He may even beat us to the Helicarrier."

"Awesome," Tony said, feeling the drugs start to overrule the adrenaline and anxiety of remaining on enemy territory, especially now that they were out of there. He let his eyes close again and carefully shifted into a more comfortable position. "Someone call Pepper? Clint?"

"She'll be there too," Coulson assured him.

"Rest, Tony," Steve said. Someone was petting his head and Tony wanted to find out who, but he was asleep before he finished the thought, knowing that he was safe and his team, his family, would be there when he woke up.