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Senseless

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He rocked back and forth in place, the gentle motion bringing him into reassuring contact with the solid barrier behind him, where two walls met to form a weakly defined corner. Semi-roughness, sandstone perhaps, scraped against bare skin, but the resulting burn of flesh rubbed raw and bloody was ignored.

His eyes were tightly closed. It was better that way.

He hummed softly, the vibrations in his throat almost audible. He’d rather be talking (to himself), but couldn’t stand it.

It had been a week, perhaps.

No more, for all that it felt like months. Years.

Someone would come for him soon.

Either a rescue or…

Although to be fair, he was sure that what was going on now was already classified as torture.

What was the technical term again?

He couldn’t remember.

Or at least, he couldn’t risk thinking clearly long enough to let reality sink back in. Better to float in a haze of daydreams and half-sleep.

Only to shake himself awake, deliberately radiating pain throughout his battered, tired body, because actual sleep led to screaming himself awake, which in turn led to panic attacks.

Because he couldn’t hear himself screaming.

Couldn’t hear anything.

Not the sound of his breath whistling into his closing throat, the thump of his heart too loud in his ears, the thud of his fists against the wall- nothing. Complete all-consuming silence.

And then there was the darkness.

And he blamed it on the room? Cell? Box?

Soundproofing. Light Proofing. His science mind tried to explain it away.

But nothing could account for the fact that even sound inside the room was absent, his voice-

And the darkness should have been lit by soft blue.

Better to keep his eyes shut and his mouth closed.

 


He’d been right; someone had come for him.

The shuddering vibrations as his cell opened traveled across the floor and up the walls, jolting through his shoulders, and Tony scrambled to his knees, ignoring the wave of lightheadedness that threatened to send him straight back down. He instinctively turned toward the stream of crisp, fresh air that broke over him.

His breath caught in his throat, his every sense screaming that he should be able to see now, to hear. Everything remained dark, remained silent, and his last scrap of illogical hope was brutally snuffed.

It wasn’t that dissimilar a feeling to having the reactor ripped from his chest.

Before the tightness could burst into panicked gulping silent breaths, Tony felt a minute vibration of the surface beneath his knees. It continued, carrying up into his thighs and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle with an extrasensory awareness of being observed.

He wasn’t alone in his cell anymore.

His breathing quickened on an unsteady gasp, an involuntary reaction to the spike of fear that drove itself between his ribs, sharp and agonizing.

He revisited his previous thought of anything had to be better than this.

What was it they say? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t?

He didn’t even want to consider what the next step to this nightmare might be.

A slight wash of warmth swept across him, and Tony stiffened.

He was feeling someone’s body heat.

Someone was standing (crouching?) right in front of him.


Ignoring the terrified little voice screaming in the back of his head, (what the hell had they done to him?!) Tony pulled back sharply, baring his teeth as he curled further into his corner, as far from the door as was possible.

He readied himself.

Out of nowhere and with no warning, something hot touched his shoulder, and Tony started violently, rearing away. His world bloomed into a dark kaleidoscope of fear and anxiety - he couldn’t see them coming.

Again, the touch returned, landing upon his shoulder, lighting up his senses like a burning brand from the darkness, glowing and dangerous, made more so by the fact that he couldn’t see it. He froze, face turned towards the heat signature, focus zeroed in on the burning contact. It tightened slightly, and then tugged- and Tony felt each individual finger.

He wasn’t going to wait to be dragged out-

He threw himself forward into the ever-stretching darkness, shouting something without any actual thought of it- unable to hear whatever visceral message his brain was determined to depart, he hoped it was appropriately ferocious and resolute.

He hit in blind tackle.

The bulk of his attacker’s weight lifted from the floor as he rammed his shoulder somewhere he hoped was near center mass.

He could feel the unexpected shock his sudden movement caused, in the wildly flailing arms of his would-be torturer, before one hand latched onto his shoulder firmly, the other disappearing from Tony’s awareness, probably seeking purchase and a way to halt their backward momentum.

It wasn’t enough to stop them both from being propelled across the cell though; he felt something sharp and hard gouge into his flank as he raked against the open-door frame, his mind bursting with the white-hot flash of pain- out and onto a hard surface.

Stone, he realized as they rolled in an uncontrolled scraping, jolting tangled mess. His chin caught on a shoulder, forcing his teeth shut with a sharp silent clack, audible only from memory. Pain radiated from his jaw down his throat. Something- a knee perhaps, planted itself in his stomach and his breath thumped out of him, leaving his chest feeling like a hollow drum with the skin stretch too tight, aching and jarring.

His new surroundings were glimpsed only in the stinging scrape of flesh against rock, the roll, thud, roll of their bodies across an expanse of floor, the bruising grip of a hand yanking on the hair at the back of his head. Hundreds of tiny points of contact painting an incomplete, unclear, frankly terrifying picture.

And then they skidded a final foot to a jarring, shaking stop.

Tony was on top, he coul-

His arms gave like over-cooked noodles, pitching him forward, downward-

He barely had time to draw breath before he was flipped onto his back, the weight of his attacker bearing down on him from directly above.

Helplessness and powerlessness burnt through him as hot as the branding heat of the hands at his shoulders, pinning him to the floor- surrender seemed inevitable.

Box of scraps in a damn cave. He wasn’t going out like this.

Adrenaline swelled anew, threading through his veins alongside white-hot rage.

He didn’t breathe deeply in preparation, didn’t tense; he gave no warning before surging upward, attempting to throw his foe off with a mixture of surprise and strength; his assailant simply rolled with the action.

He wasn’t getting out of this.

Desperation bleeding into every move, Tony lost himself to panic; writhing, kicking, bucking and struggling to get free, to get even a limb free, to allow for a decent punch-

He felt an arm go across his upper chest, could feel heat on his face; breath, his attacker’s breath.

The arm at his throat tightened, and his eyes darted around, rolling in his head as he tried to force himself to see. He could picture them leaning over him -shouting at him-

He headbutted upward viciously and was rewarded with an odd crunching feeling as his forehead struck something.

The weight holding him down redistributed, but didn’t leave. His head was ringing; he didn’t want to know what it had felt like on the receiving end.

But he hoped it hurt like a motherfucker.

A second set of hands suddenly grabbed his wrists, pinning his arms to the floor, and Tony felt his half-realized sense of accomplishment leech out of him.

There was at least two of them. He couldn’t see them, couldn’t hear them-

He pulled and struggled, the blackness choking him, detached terror building in his chest as he realized he was- beaten.

They were forcing one of his hands open, palm up, fingers flat, and Tony suddenly had vivid imaginings of torturous forms of punishment for his audacity. His fingers snapping, one at a time, his hand crushed under the heel of a boot - something hard was being forced into his unwilling grasp, the unmistakable familiar bite of cold metal; a blade slicing a finger off, stabbing through his palm, slitting his-

Tony stilled.

He knew what this was.

Curved bumps, bracketed hinges, a hidden clasp….

He’d designed this.

He opened his mouth, about to ask-

He wouldn’t be able to hear the reply.

He needed to know.

A gentle tug of his unoccupied hand had it cautiously freed from its imprisonment. He could feel the hesitance in the reluctant release of the fingers around his wrist, the readiness to re-secure in the weight still holding him down, for all that he wasn’t fighting.

He could feel the tremble in his own hands and knew it had to be visible, as visible as the shakiness of his breath as he started to calm down, already subconsciously aware that the danger was not immediate.

His outstretched hand glanced on material, and he splayed his palm flat against a hard surface, only slightly malleable beneath the leather at his fingertips. His hand traced upwards, cataloging seams and stitching and muscle definition until he reached bare skin, a clean-shaven jaw and short hair with just enough spike to be obnoxious.

Clint.

Clint.

They’d come for him.

 


They were tugging him upright; Clint- and a pair of hands that were too small and too sure to belong to anyone other than Natasha. Tugging him upright, and Tony shook his head, tried to speak, but the words fell silent from heavy lips- he, he needed a moment, he needed-

He couldn’t get enough air, and he couldn’t-

He needed-

Heat trailed down his arm, liberating the Widows Bite from his grasp, Tony followed, needing to- He felt the gadgetry as it was clasped back around its owners’ wrist, Natasha’s fingers squeezing for just a moment, before dropping-

No!

His world was reduced to black nothingness again, silence echoing about him with terrifying emptiness- Tony reached- he couldn’t, he needed-

Sudden dizziness struck him, and he stumbled forward, one step, two, his legs giving away beneath him, sending him to his knees, doubled over-

His chest tightened, aching, searing pain, his head began to spin, his eyes rolling sightlessly back-

Twin points of contact thudded firmly onto his bare shoulders, the sudden heat drawing his immediate and total focus-

One of the hands trailed down over his collarbone, resting flat on his chest for a second before the fingers began to rise and fall rapidly, beating a gentle rhythm onto his skin-

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump-

A fast, endless beat-

Too fast, Tony realized, his heartbeat matching the staccato fluttering of his friend’s fingers. Too fast and out of control; his heart was going a mile a minute, racing in his chest, and his breathing-

His breathing was an absolute mess. Silent gasping heaves and short, shallow panting breaths, his tongue dry and swollen against the back of his teeth. He swallowed thickly, painfully, drawing in a strained ragged breath and holding it with some difficulty-

Panic attacks were something he was familiar with, something he could deal with. Slow breath in- count to three, slow breath out, count to three, slow breath in-

It would be easier with Steve’s gentle coaching.

But he could do this.

- slow breath out, count to three, slow breath in-

The beat on his chest was slowing down.

He could do this. It was going to be okay. Rescue was here; the wonder twins had him, it was going to be okay. He wasn’t alone. They would get him out. He was-

He was going to be okay.

But they had to get out of here first.

With the panic subsiding, Tony became even more acutely aware of the heat resting against his skin- and more importantly, the reserved stiffness in the fingers grasping his shoulder. Clint was tense, worried.

They were not safe here.

One final shaky breath and Tony wrapped his hand around the one on his chest, stilling it. Licking his lips, he spoke.

“I’m okay. I’m fine.” The silence of the action was almost sickening in its wrongness, and Tony carefully over-enunciated each word, sure he wasn’t speaking clearly enough, or loudly enough.

Clint’s withdrawal was slow, reluctant and unsure. His hand lingered on Tony’s shoulder as he drew back, trailing down his arm before grasping his hand-

Tapping, again – but with two fingers, disjointed and messy- purposeful.

.-.. .. .- .-.

Morse Code.
That was Morse code. Had to be.

Only-

“I don’t know Morse.” Tony was actually kind of glad he didn’t have to see or hear what he was sure was an impressive tirade on Clint and Nat’s behalf. They were right though; he was a genius, why the hell didn’t he know Morse code?

He’d just...never learned.

Clint’s hand lingered for a moment, and Tony wondered if he should tap back the only Morse he did know. Three short, three long, three short. That should get the point accords quite splendidly he thought.

Before he had the chance to decide if it was worth his life to tease Clint in this situation, the choice was taken from him when his hand dropped, and Tony remembered; they needed to move, he had to get his head in the game.

Unsteadily, he clambered to his feet, straightening- pain.

The sharp bite of grazed skin, a jarred shoulder, bruises and something wet and sticky trailing warmth down his left flank.

He ignored it the best he could.

If there were time, if it were safe, Clint and Natasha would have already tried to check him over. They hadn’t, so there wasn’t. He was clearly at least semi-mobile and not bleeding out, and that was obviously enough.

Clint’s hands dropped away, and Tony bit his lip, taking a steadying breath. They were still right there. He knew it. Could even sort of feel Clint's body heat. But his immediate world was just vast silent darkness.

But they were there. He knew they were there. He knew. He told himself, repeating it as he took the first few steps toward-

Toward what? The door, the wall? Back into his cell?!

His breath hitched again, and he turned instinctively-

A slender hand slipped into his, warm heat a sudden anchor in the darkness.

She tugged gently. He followed.

 


They didn’t run. Couldn’t.

Not with Tony, blind and injured holding them back, holding himself back.

But that didn’t stop them trying, their speed increasing and flagging in turns, impeded by Tony’s blind stumbling steps, his inability to see corners, to avoid raised steps. Natasha’s hand in his was firm though, his only saving grace; never wavering as they rounded corner after corner, and raced down straight paths with narrowed walls, low ceilings and gnarled uneven stone beneath their feet.

He didn’t think about his helplessness. Couldn’t stand to. The complete and utter powerlessness was debilitating in its terror.

He didn’t focus on his total reliance on Natasha, didn’t think about how much, how fucking much he wanted to be able to rip his hand out of hers and just – run. How if he faltered on his own recourse it was his fault alone; but putting his life in someone else’s hands?

He didn’t want to think about how he didn’t know if he trusted them that much.

If he could trust anyone that much.

Because that hurt worse.

It was out of his control, better not to think about it.

Pain radiated up his side, across the tightly stretched skin of his lower back, his head pounding in time with his heartbeat and his feet, a thrice toned thud he couldn’t hear, could only feel as it resonated.

Tony was sure his breath was the wheezing, panting huffs of an asthmatic in a timber mill. It caught painfully in his throat, his ribs aching with every jarring gasp. He stumbled again, worse; completely losing his footing. Feeling his centre of gravity spiral as he windmilled uncontrollably, he wrenched his grasp from Natasha’s as he felt his weight start to drag her backward as well-

He fell into the endless darkness, down, down, down- and then pain, radiating from his tailbone and lower back as he landed with a graceless thud, roughhewn stone scraping against already raw skin as he skidded forward. His uncooperative limbs flailed, too disoriented to get a hand between his head and the approaching rock. His upper body jack-knifed downward with force-

Only to be brought up short by the sharp angle of an elbow at the back of his skull, the firm smoothness of skin warmed leather brushing against his cheek and stretching down across his shoulder. His own harsh panting breaths were matched inhale for exhale with the rapid rise and fall of the hard, ungiving surface beneath him, the shuddering breath he drew through his nose scented of leather and sweat-

The ground seemed to shift beneath him, a disjointed rolling motion and he slumped gently to the cold floor, sinking flat against the rough stone- unsure if the ground was still moving or if it was his own shuddering.

He blinked up into the darkness, mouth open as he drew in wet shuddering breaths that sent tendrils of pain snaking across his chest. His head pounded mercilessly as he tried to piece together what had just happened. He was falling? He remembered hitting the ground; his back was still on fire, his lower body just a numb bruising ache. But then-

A sudden warmth landed gently against his cheek, a repeated tapping that drew his focus-

And then disappeared just as abruptly, to be immediately replaced with hands dragging him upright, urgently – his arm being pulled over shoulders and held tightly on the far side by an iron brand at his wrist, another stretched across his back, barely having secured a grip before they were moving-

Rushing, running, all but sprinting-

Like they were being perused.

Clint, and it was Clint; shoulders too broad to be Natasha, was half dragging him as he stumbled and faltered along. His feet caught painfully on the slightly raised, jagged floor, as he concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other, not thinking about what was happening, what (who) they were running from.

Where Natasha might be.

Just running one foot in front of the other.

One hand was clasped tightly in Clint’s grasp, the other trailing along the nearest wall, marking his position, orientating himself to the – hallway? Or a tunnel, perhaps?

The same rough surfaced material as his cell. Sedimentary. Natural.

Cave.

Yet not.

There was no ‘cavernous’ feel of empty echoing space. If anything, the walls felt claustrophobically enclosing. Once, Clint had even pushed his head down, guiding him under some low set barrier.

Bends and turns and corners, a maze of tunnels that seemed to
never end; Clint dragging him onward through the darkness, an almost desperation in his every grasp and tug.

And then, they stopped. Suddenly- and Tony felt himself shoved up against the nearest wall; Clint’s hand splayed flat over his chest, pressing, holding. Clint’s body heat hovered close, tense and edgy, antsy even.

And then he seemed to relax, his head thudding gently against Tony’s shoulder as his hand found Tony’s wrist and tugged, leading him around one last corner, and pressed him forward into-


Heat. An uncomfortable, burning intensity of warmth swathed him, but Tony could barely register the pain through the unimaginable relief that swept through him with a dizzying strength.

Arms enveloped him, drawing him into an embrace that he didn’t need eyes to recognize. He let his head fall forward to rest against a chest that rose and fell with such familiarity that he didn’t care that he couldn’t hear the accompanying breaths.

Steve.

Steve was here. Thank flying fuck.

Not to misunderstand, because Clint and Natasha were awesome in their own right. As was Brucey-Bear and, well – Thor was his favorite. But Steve? Steve was Steve.

And there were probably things he should have been thinking about. Definitely things he should have been doing to get them out of here. Things to work out, to fix.

He probably should have been afraid, freaking out about his hearing and his sight, or complete lack thereof. He should have been worried about Nat, should have wanted to demand answers…but it had been one long, crazy, fucked up week, and he was in Steve’s arms. Tony didn’t care; he was so fucking done.

Someone else could do the fixing. The worrying. The being afraid and working shit out.

For at least the next five minutes, Tony was just fucking out.

 


The overwhelming relief slowly receding until he was back with it enough to realize that Steve’s hands were trailing carefully across raw skin, edging around cuts and bruises, one hand sinking into his hair, fingers no doubt feeling for tell-tale stickiness or raised areas-

His chest was rumbling beneath Tony’s ear, vibrating softly- as Steve talked to, well, Clint still, Tony supposed. They weren’t running; he wasn’t being dragged through this rabbit's warren of tunnels and holes, so he was deducing that the immediate urgency was gone, at least for now.

He felt Steve nod above his head, the brush of his chin against Tony’s hair enough for him to follow the gesture. A hand landed on his shoulder, and Tony barely stifled the startled yelp, or at least, he hoped he had. The hand, Clint’s, Tony reasoned, what with both of Steve’s settled at his hips, squeezed gently (in reassurance? Comfort? Farewell? ) before tugging him backward slightly.

Something with a warm solid weight was slipped over his right hand and pulled up his arm, before repeating on his left. Slightly damp, and smelling of leather, Tony frown at the sudden slither of warmed metal sliding against the bare skin of his stomach. It was a bizarre feeling, and it took a second for Tony to recognize it as the drag of a zipper. Some sort of- Clint’s vest?

Steve’s fingers squeezed gently before sliding up to take control of the zip, sliding it up over the arc-

The arc reactor!?

Tony’s breath hitched with sudden panic; Steve’s hands stilled immediately, starting to pull away, and Tony lunged for them, “The arc! Is it still-?! The light?”

He couldn’t hear the reply.

But Steve’s fingers were squeezing his, calmly, reassuringly, and Tony allowed himself to accept what he had already known. The arc reactor was working fine. He’d know of course, that if it weren't, he’d have already been dead. Or at least feeling some pretty severe consequences (beyond the general state of ‘shitty’ he was currently experiencing)

But, not being able to see that constant reassuring blue glow-

With shaky fingers he finished tugging the zip up and over the arc reactor, and for the first time realized how comforting simply being less exposed was. He supposed he should be grateful they’d let him keep his boxers. He wished they’d let him keep his socks. They had a nylon lock pick sewn into the band. (Kidnappers were getting less careless recently. Not a trend Tony was a fan of).


Clint’s hand found his shoulder again, and Tony turned to look, well, face in his general direction, eyebrow raised enquiringly. A second squeeze and he was gone.

Tony didn’t feel him pass by, so, back the way they’d come. Back to get Nat? To find Nat? To help Nat? To save Nat?

Tony worried his bottom lip.

Steve’s hands were suddenly framing his face, drawing his eyes upward. He could almost picture Steve staring down at him, his face an open book of question and concern, his eyes scanning for any hint of need or want. Tony blinked back, unseeing.

Warm lips pressed gently against his, Steve’s thumbs sweeping smooth paths beneath his fluttering eyelids.

One of Steve’s hands dropped back to Tony’s chest, fingertips warm against his bare skin where they slipped beneath the open vee of the zip, and then-

Tapping.

-.-- --- ..- .----. .-. . / --- -.- .- -.—

Tony dropped his head forward to thud against Steve’s chest with a sigh.

 


The tunnels and low ceilings had disappeared almost immediately after he and Steve had started moving, the claustrophobia-inducing closeness replaced with a hollow, cavernous feel that Tony feared much more intimately. Yet, despite not being able to see, he still doubted it was a cave. The ground remained cold and hard beneath his feet, but the rock was gone; the surface smooth and even against the soles of his feet, like polished concrete.

It felt, to his jacked up remaining senses, like a huge, empty warehouse.

The way Steve kept him crouched low as they edged their way around the barrier, slow and careful, seemed to support this theory.

Tucked up against Steve’s back, half under his arm, a fistful of Steve’s shirt clenched in his fist (No uniform? Clandestine? Hurried?) Tony had no choice but to rely on Steve to get them out.

They stopped, suddenly, and Tony’s heart jumped into his throat, gasping in a startled breath as he tensed. Steve’s hand moved to splay across his stomach, firm and warm, even through the leather; Tony relaxed a little, slumping forward to rest his aching head against Steve’s shoulder blade, still uncertain of what was happening but unable to do anything but rely on Steve. The hand on his stomach dragged a warm path up to squeeze the back of his neck gently.

Tony could feel Steve’s concern. His relief. The worry and happiness. The bridled anger. The lingering fear. He felt it in every glancing touch, every curl of a hand around his elbow, every sweep of a hand down his back, the press of Steve’s fingers against the pulse at his wrist. The flutter of eyelashes against his cheek when Steve stilled and drew him close.

He was certain Steve would have insisted on carrying him from this hellhole if it wasn’t for the need to keep both hands relatively free. Tony might just have let him.

If only because his feet were absolutely killing him. And the light-headedness. Shortness of breath. Burning tightness of his skin, watering stinging eyes and Sahara dry mouth. The pounding of his skull and the aching of his chest. The stabbing pain in his left side.

They kept moving. Slower though, agonizingly slow, and Steve grew steadily more – prepared. Tony couldn’t help the skitters of apprehension and uneasiness that raked fingers up his spine and set the hair at the back of his neck arise.

Something was about to go down. Tony wondered how many there were.

“Give me a gun” he whispered it, almost inaudible under his breath (god he hoped), knowing that Steve would hear anyway. Nothing. No response, just slow, slinking steps-

“Steve-” The hand around his bicep squeezed gently. Tony wasn’t sure if it was meant to be an acknowledgement, warning, reassurance or refusal, but all that mattered was Steve wasn’t giving him a gun.

He stopped moving, knowing Steve would be forced to stop as well. “I’m- I need to- I can help, just- I can’t- ...please, don’t leave me. Please-” He’d meant to be reasonable, logical, demanding and stubborn even- he hadn’t intended to all but dissolve into shuddery tears.

Steve’s arms came around him, tight and all-encompassing. Tony pressed closer still. He got it. He was a blind, deaf, shaking, shuddering mess, jumping at every unexpected movement and glancing touch. He’d been held captive, was injured, weak and exhausted. There was no way Steve would give him a gun. Tony wouldn’t even give himself a gun. He got it. Steve was going to leave to fight who knew how many, and Tony was going to have to crouch here, in the dark and silence, completely helpless, unaware, vulnerable.

He had to believe in Steve. Had to trust Steve. He had no choice. Whether he truly did or not, no matter what he may have told himself, he simply had to. Even if he didn’t. Even if he couldn’t.

Somehow he had to.

“Go do it. I’ll be okay. I know you’ll be okay. You’ll come back. Just- Come back. Please- God-please…” he whispered the words against Steve’s throat, soft and fearful, not at all sure, not at all ringing true-

Steve pressed his face into Tony’s hair, his embrace almost uncomfortably tight.

They parted seconds later, Steve pushing him away, down and backward- and then, Tony was forced to just crouch there in the dark while Steve disappeared.

Dry-eyed, he held the dagger between trembling fingers.

 


Tony felt like he was on fire, jittery and tense, alternating between uncontrollable trembling and rigid stillness. He was back up against the wall, curled low and tight, hopefully out of sight. Were there shadows? Did they have internal lighting that illuminated every hiding place? His breath skipped, and he deliberately drew in a huge mouthful and held it, trying desperately to hear anything. Light-headedness forced him to huff the breath loose, and he swayed unsteadily, blinking against non-existent white spots.

Steve had been gone for ages. Or mere moments. Tony couldn’t tell. He hadn’t heard (ha!) a thing- The dagger point hit the ground, and the feel of metal skittering across smooth concrete resonated up into his arm. Tony snapped it back up in front of him from where it had listed downward. He had to be ready.

He absently wondered if Clint had found Nat yet.

Clint would be outstanding to have by his side right now. Or Nat. And Nat.

Bruce. Hulk loved him. No one got through the Hulk.

Thor would have been standing in front of him, legs akimbo, arms crossed, Mjolnir swinging back and forth from one hand.

Tony wanted Steve to come back.

The knife skittered again.

Tony desperately dragged it back up in front of himself, but the vibrations from the floor didn’t stop.

Footsteps.

Blinded, deafened, exhausted, injured and afraid, Tony raised himself up into a defensive position, the knife coming up just like Nat had taught him.

“That had better fucking be you Steve Rogers- it had better be you. Fucking disarm me. If you let me kill you, I swear I will be so very incredibly pissed.” Tony snarled, sure it was Steve approaching. Had to be. Had. To. Be.

What if it wasn’t?

They were slow to approach. Cautious because it was a worried Steve? Or cautious because Tony was a deranged escaped captive with a knife?

He wasn’t taking the chance. Couldn’t. He couldn’t go back in the box. Couldn’t be alone anymore.

Tony waited until their body heat said they were close enough, trying his damnedest to draw on everything Nat and Clint and Steve had taught him, everything Happy had ever shown him. Hell, there was even a flickering memory of Rhodey shoving 15-year-old Tony around a dojo.

Steve would disarm him.

Anyone else, Tony was going to try his very best (and his best was well beyond average) to kill them very, very dead.

He lunged.

A hand caught his wrist tightly, using his own momentum to spin him away, before he was immediately dragged backward, off balance. His back thumped against a solid surface, his feet an inch off the ground, kicking helplessly. His arms were crossed over his chest, completely immobilized, the knife useless where it hung out to his left.

His chest heaved with overexertion, his head buzzing with a dangerous low hum, but it didn’t matter. Even as his eyes rolled back and he let go.

Steve had shown him that move a week ago.

He slipped embraced the current darkness, with Steve’s lips pressed against his temple.
________________________________________

Epilogue:

He hovered somewhere between asleep and awake, leaning more toward the former with each passing second.

If he thought hard enough, Tony could vaguely remember Bruce poking at him, drawing blood (not exactly pleasant when he couldn’t even anticipate it) and his various hurts being bandaged and tended to.

But it hurt to think hard, so Tony didn’t.

His Steve-mattress rumbled gently beneath him, heavy and wonderful against his chest, reverberating into his body in a way that grounded him. Drowsy and limp, eyes closed as Steve’s hands drew trails across his overly-heated skin, Tony almost didn’t even have the energy to worry or think or even care about what would happen if his sight and hearing didn’t return.

And then Steve stopped talking for a moment.

Trying for an illusion of calm, Tony licked dry lips before shifting slightly, poking a finger into Steve’s ribs, mumbling almost incoherently, “-talk s’more-”

He felt the rumble as it built in Steve’s chest, recognizing the indulgent chuckle that began the continuing vibration as Steve obeyed. Tony started to relax again, wanting to just- ignore reality. Just for a little while. Just until he was ready.

Then the vibrating stopped again, almost as soon as it started, and through the sudden onslaught of silent, dark, alone, Tony realized that it must have been a question or a statement, and really, only one question made sense in this situation. “No-. Still gone- Just- It helps- the vibrations. Please?” He implored quietly.

The rumbling resumed immediately, slightly- more. Louder?

Tony kept his eyes closed because that was better.

It was still better to pretend.