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Kidnapped! (again)

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"If you want me to do anything, you'd better untie me!" Tony yelled.

Silence.

It had been silent for a long time, though Tony didn't know how long; the tiny room had no light, and he had given up counting drips of water a long time ago. His goatee had started to fill in, so he thought he'd been here a couple of days. He hadn't seen his captors since they'd ripped the bag off his head, punched him so hard he saw stars, snapped something around his neck, and slammed the door behind them. He hadn't slept either.

"Look," he yelled again, though his throat was getting hoarse, and he felt a little panic creeping in. Maybe that was good. Maybe his fear would bring them when threats hadn't. "Look. I..." he tried to swallow, but couldn't, "I can't feel my fingers. You've got to untie me. I assure you I'm worth a lot less to you without hands."

He'd tried to rub through his bonds using the leg of the bed–the one thing he'd felt out in the cell besides the waste bucket–but the ropes must have been made of re-enforced fibres, because they didn't begin to give, and the effort had made Tony's wrists swell. Picking at them with his teeth had just made his jaw hurt, and he couldn't find a knot. He wished he knew what the collar did, but didn't want to fool around with it. He'd felt smooth metal and buttons, but no obvious release.

"Is anyone out there? Talk to me, goddammit!" The words ripped out of his throat in a scream, and he could feel his pulse pounding as his metal heart whirred. Tony took a breath and tried to calm himself; he was burning too much energy too fast. The fear had tipped over into rage, and now he tried to focus that into detailed images of Iron Man blasting every one of the unseen bastards into pulp.

When that didn't work–not having faces or any idea why he was here had made revenge fantasies ineffective–he turned to picturing the internal mechanics of artificial hands. He'd been meaning to upgrade Misty Knight's arm for a while now anyway. He could make a project of it: use verbal interface and digital displays set to wide swipes rather than finer manipulations.

"Manipulation," he muttered, then, "digital," and regretted his Latin. That boarding school had been nothing but trouble and things he didn't need to know. He yelled again: "You are the worst kidnappers I've ever had!"

Silence.

Tony wished he knew if his kidnappers had managed to kill themselves via their general incompetence, or if leaving Tony to rot in this dark little room was an attempt to soften him up before the real interrogation started. It would serve them right if his heart ran out of juice, and he died before they could ask him a single question.

At least he'd charged it the day before they'd grabbed him, so he should have a couple more days–assuming he wasn't counting time wrong. He wished he had the suit for the sake of its readouts, and to blow the door to kingdom come.

"Screw it," he muttered. He put his bound hands to the collar and tried to feel the buttons again, but it was no good. He hadn't been lying about losing sensation in his hands. He could probably mash at the controls anyway. Pressing anything was more likely to blow his head off than to free him, but even that was starting to look better than slowly suffocating in the dark as his heart wound down. But then he wouldn't see Steve again, or Pepper, or Rhodey, and he couldn't stand the idea of that.

He slumped forward, closing his eyes and trying to focus on counting his heartbeats. He should have let Wanda teach him meditation when she'd offered. He should have done a lot of things, like wake Steve up to kiss him properly goodbye, instead of just rushing off to his first meeting of the day, leaving the messy blond head half buried in the pillows.

They'd grabbed Tony on the way to that meeting, and he hadn't seen Steve–or anyone else–since.

Wouldn't that be his luck: together for not even a month after all those years, and Tony got himself kidnapped and murdered. He felt his shoulders sag, and his chin dropped to his chest.

The door slammed open. He hadn't heard anyone coming, and didn't have time to get to his feet. At first he didn't see who it was, the light from the corridor blinding him, and he tensed, trying to get ready to spring after sleepless hours of inactivity.

But Steve yelling his name brought Tony to himself, and he slumped in relief. "Tony," Steve said again, softer this time. "I've found him," he told his communicator, then dropped to a crouch in front of Tony, studying him. "Are you hurt?"

"Just the shiner," Tony said, but then realised that he was too tired for real bravado. "I lost feeling in my hands a while ago."

Steve tipped his chin up to study the collar, the grip on his gloves rough even through Tony's beard. "What does this do?"

Tony shook his head, and Steve flinched. "If it was motion sensitive, I'd have blown myself up days ago," Tony said, more harshly than he'd meant to. "Just untie me."

"I'll get T'Challa to look at it," Steve said, soothingly. "Later." He started in on the bonds, but his heat knife took work to get through them. "When was the last time you ate?" he asked as he sawed away.

"Dinner with you. How long have I been here? What's going on? God, I hate getting kidnapped." The last was a whine, and he knew it and hated that too. His emotions were all over the place. "Tell me you brought my suit."

"Sorry, Tony," Steve said, though Tony thought peevishly that he didn't sound all that sorry. He wanted his suit, dammit. "It's been about forty hours. As far as we can tell, they grabbed you for ransom, then tried to go after Ms. Fujikawa, too, and her bodyguards immolated them. We've been looking for days. We only just tracked them back here."

So they had been killed by their own incompetence. Well, that was something. "Idiots," he muttered. He wanted to thank Steve for coming for him, as he always had, but the pain and humiliation of the day seared him, and he fixed his eyes on the glow of the knife as it parted the last of the ropes.

Steve tore his gloves off with his teeth, took Tony's limp hands between his and rubbed them gently. "I was so worried," he said, and leaned in so that their foreheads brushed. "They grabbed you and took you away, and I was sleeping."

Then T'Challa came in, with Carol on his heels, and everyone fussed over Tony so much that he lost track of where Steve was until they were back on the quinjet, at which point Tony was flat on his back in the medbay with T'Challa poking at the collar, and Steve was co-piloting.

"It is not explosive," T'Challa was saying. He'd pulled his mask back and was peering so close that his hair tickled Tony's nose. "Possibly a tracking device?"

"Just get it off me," Tony ground out through gritted teeth. The blood had, thank fuck, started to flow back into his hands, and he was trying not to scream.

T'Challa grunted and prodded something on his neck, and a moment later the collar sprang off.

It should have made Tony feel better not to be tagged like a wild animal, but he was so tired, and everything hurt, and he just wanted Steve. It felt childish, but right now he didn't care. Why couldn't they let Carol fly by herself? He bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut, but he knew his breathing gave him away.

He felt a gloved hand on his brow, T'Challa's, claws retracted, but kept his eyes closed. There were too many new people on the team right now, people he didn't know well, and he didn't want them to see him like this. Of course, closing his eyes did nothing, but at least Tony couldn't see their faces.

T'Challa fell back then, and Tony heard the doors to the back compartment slide shut before Steve's hands were warm over his, and his lips pressed to Tony's face–his cheeks, his nose, finally his mouth–in soft ,undemanding kisses. He kept telling Tony he was going to be all right, the murmured stream of words blurring into meaninglessness, but meaning the world to Tony.

Tony let himself sink back onto the cot, let Steve caress him and gently rub the feeling back into his hands. Everything still hurt, but he felt his muscles slackening all the same, and the fear of the day falling away, and he finally said what he'd wanted to since Steve had kicked in the door: "Thank you for coming for me."

"Always," Steve said fiercely. "I will always come for you. No matter what."

By the time they got back to New York, Tony had drifted off. He woke only when the quinjet set down, and found that Steve was still holding his hands.