They take Tony.
It happens when the world should know better. When the whole damn world should know that Tony belongs to them, that they don’t share, that, between the two of them, they can be meaner, harsher, crueler than anyone else on the planet.
They take Tony, and disappear into the desert.
Rhodey calls as soon as he wakes up. He asks to talk to Bucky, because they have that whole military service connection, tend to get along better, but Bucky’s gone radio silent, so he has to talk to Jason, instead.
“You know where he is?” Rhodey’s voice is static-y over the phone, and sluggish on top of that. He’s still too drugged up to be much use. Jason wants to hang up immediately.
“No one knows where he is,” Jason says.
It’s been forty-eight hours. Jason is losing his Goddamn mind.
SHIELD pulled their closest six agents off their missions, sent them all to the area to recover him, but they came up with nothing. Natasha’s in deep enough that she needs another seventy-two hours to make a graceful exit, and Clint’s up a Goddamn tree somewhere, scheduled for a hit he can’t miss.
It’s just been Jason, stuck here with Bucky, who will not fucking talk to him, and Coulson, who manages to throw a few updates at him in-between fielding a call every five seconds, trying to finish Natasha’s mission, and Clint’s mission, while also coordinating the redirection of all available agents to the search for Tony Stark.
Jason gives SHIELD forty-eight hours, and then he goes to Gotham. It does not go well. He’s wound too tight by the time he gets there, and Bruce is missing, has just fucking disappeared off the face of the planet like he somehow sensed Jason was going to need him and broke the sound barrier dodging any and all obligations to help. So Jason tears through the Batcave like a nightmare, wrecking whatever looked most expensive and yelling at Alfred.
Alfred. He yells at Alfred.
And then, somehow even worse, he practically roughs up Oracle, trying to get answers she doesn’t have. Dick and Bruce and even little Tim are going to fucking disembowel him for it, which is fine, which he deserves, and the shittiest part is that it isn’t even worth it, because she doesn’t know a damn thing.
“I already looked, Jason,” she says, her tone lost between confusion and pity. She has blood on her mouth. Jason put it there. Backhanded her like a shitty pimp. What the fuck. “Of course I did. We all did. We’re all looking for him.”
“Well, stop looking and just fucking find him. I know you fucking people don’t give a shit, never fucking look for anyone, but he’s not a Bat, alright? He’s Tony fucking Stark. You find him.”
Jason drives back to SHIELD only to get kicked right back out on his ass, because Bruce Wayne – who’s too damn busy to answer Jason’s calls or show up when Jason needs him – has called Coulson to bitch about Jason’s troublesome behavior in Gotham.
“Tell him to get fucked,” Jason suggests, while Coulson covers the mouthpiece on his phone and directs a pleading gaze heavenward. “Tell him that I said to get--”
“Jason,” Coulson says. It shuts Jason up immediately. He sounds tired, which is normal, and quiet, which is not. It’s weird. Jason’s never heard him sound like that before. It makes Jason want to yell, and throw desks, and kill someone with his hands. “I am doing everything I can. I need you to go home, and sleep.”
“I’m not gonna sleep while Tony is---” Jason throws his hands up, because he doesn’t know where Tony is, or what’s happening to him, and that’s the crux of the whole damn thing. He can’t brace for a hit that he can’t see coming. Ever since the first shots were reported, he’s been in freefall. “Fuck you, Coulson. I am not going home.”
“No one’s heard from Bucky for twelve hours,” Coulson says. “Go home and make sure we still have a super soldier. We may need one.”
“He’s a fucking robot right now, Coulson.” Jason shakes his head and crosses his arms over his chest. “I am not going home. Fuck you, I’m helping.”
Coulson takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a second. “Jason,” he says, slowly, “the best case scenario right now is that we find out where he is, and we need to plan a rescue mission. Natasha’s coming back after a four-week solo op. I can’t put her in the field for at least three days after medical clears her, and I have no idea what the wait will be for Clint, because he is, as usual, refusing to accurately report his status.”
“What the fuck does that matter? He’s not— Tony’s ours. We’re going after him, Bucky and me. It’s us.”
“You haven’t slept in two days. I have no idea what state Barnes is in, because he will not answer his phone, and now one’s seen him, except you, for two days. And I can’t rely on your judgement, because you just trashed the Batcave and punched an ally in the mouth.” He gives Jason a long, assessing look. “Right now, if we got the call that they’d found him, I’d pass this mission to another team.”
It hits like a gut punch. Jason wants to throw Coulson’s desk at him. He wants to throw Coulson’s entire office at him.
“Fuck you,” Jason says, stepping closer.
Coulson shakes his head, sharp and disapproving, and he stands up as Jason gets closer. With the hand not cradling the phone, he gestures over Jason’s shoulder. “Out,” he says. “Get out. Go home. I’ll come by later with whatever we have, but Jason, for God’s sake, get some sleep. I know you’re worried about him. I know you’re not emotionally equipped to handle this, but go home and fake it convincingly enough for me to keep you in the field. Or I will pull you. I will.”
Jason opens his mouth one more time, and Phil cuts him off, jabbing that same finger toward the door. “Go home.”
Bucky is at home, sitting in the living room with the lights off, being a Goddamn melodramatic son of a bitch. Jason kicks the door shut hard enough to shake the walls and then drops pizza on the coffee table in front of Bucky.
“Eat something,” he says.
He could be less of an asshole. He wants to be less of an asshole. But there’s not enough room in his head for panic and good manners, so he must’ve thrown good manners out to die about five minutes after he heard Tony was shot and then stolen in Afghanistan.
Wordlessly, Bucky flips open the pizza box and reaches inside. He starts eating, neatly and mechanically, and Jason knows he is so, so fucked, because Bucky’s eating the wrong half of the damn pizza.
He watches Bucky for a second and then goes into the kitchen, grabs the whiskey off the shelf, and sits down on the floor with his back to the island, where Bucky can’t see him from the doorway. He downs three long swallows before he sets the bottle by his knee.
He doesn’t even like this whiskey. He’d bought it to impress Tony. He made Barbara give him suggestions, and she’d been amused but indulgent, and she’ll probably never help him again because he slapped her across the mouth.
Tony’s gone, and Bucky’s obeying orders like all the years they’ve spent pulling the Winter Soldier out of his brain have disappeared, and Nat and Clint aren’t here, and Coulson’s pissed at him, because Jason is being an asshole to everyone who looks at him.
His phone rings. He looks at the name – Maria Stark – and puts the phone down carefully on the tile. He takes another drink.
After a while, the phone stops ringing, and then he hears Bucky’s start up in the other room.
Bucky doesn’t answer, either. Eventually, that phone stops ringing, too.
Jason drinks until everything’s fuzzy around the edges, until he couldn’t answer a call even if Coulson made one. Almost three days, and no word about ransom. If Tony’s still alive, it isn’t about money. And if it’s not about money, then they won’t be making contact at all.
They’re going to try to drag every useful thing out of Tony’s brain.
Jason climbs to his feet, using the kitchen counter to steady him, and then he wanders his way into the living room. Bucky is right where he left him, although about a third of the pizza is gone.
“Come on,” he says. “We’re going to bed.”
Bucky nods at his hands and then stands up. He walks easily down the hallway, unburdened by multiple shots of whiskey, and he’s in their bathroom, brushing his teeth, by the time Jason makes it to their bedroom.
Jason kicks off his shoes and socks, throws his shirt and jeans onto the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, and climbs into bed.
Bucky joins him a few minutes later, a silent, tense presence on the other side of the bed. A few minutes pass and then Bucky exhales hard, like he’s been hurt by something.
“I’m sorry,” he says, quietly. Jason turns to look at him, but Bucky’s staring at the ceiling. “I’m sorry. I’m not helping.”
Jason doesn’t know what to do. He wants to reach over, wants to pull him in and curl around him. He knows that’s what Tony would do, if Tony were here. But Tony’s never looked at Bucky and really understood what he’s capable of. Ever since Tony led a shakey Winter Soldier out of his testing chamber and tried to carry him upstairs to take a shower, Tony’s never seen Bucky as any kind of threat.
Jason knows better. Bucky’s not well right now. And neither is Jason. And without Tony, their rough edges are far more likely to catch against each other.
Jason keeps his distance. It’s the only way he knows to keep Bucky safe. “Get your head right, Buck,” he says. “I hate being alone like this.”
“I’m sorry,” Bucky says, again.
In the morning, Jason hears voices in the kitchen. He should care about that, probably, but he’s exhausted, and hungover, and Bucky’s disappearing into the living room, gun drawn, so Jason figures he’ll go if there are gunshots.
A few minutes later, the bedroom door pushes open and a weight, too light to be Bucky or Tony, settles on the edge of his bed.
“Hey,” Natasha says, quietly. “You look like shit.”
“Yeah, my boyfriend’s being tortured right now,” Jason grumbles, pulling the blankets over his head in what he hopes is a very clear gesture. “Fuck off, I’m mourning.”
“No reason to think he’s dead,” she says. “He’s useful. They’d want to keep him alive until he wasn’t useful anymore. And we’ve trained up his pain tolerance. He’d last longer than this.”
“God,” Jason says. He thinks he might throw up, in his own damn bed, like he’s a teenager all over again, still learning his limits. “God, Nat. That’s--”
“I’m not going to lie to you.” Nat’s voice is soft, but not apologetic. “If you want comfort, go cry to your father. He’s in the kitchen.”
Jason groans and sits up, shoving the blankets back and rubbing at his face. “He’s not my dad.”
“And yet,” Natasha says, sliding to her feet, “you knew exactly who I was talking about.”
“What the fuck is Bruce doing here anyway?” Jason says, kicking around on the floor for the cleanest, closest clothes. “He was missing, last I heard.”
“Yes,” Natasha says, with a roll of her eyes, “missing.”
Jason throws a t-shirt at her, and she dodges it easily before heading toward the door. “Coulson’s out here, too,” she says. “Barton’s inbound. His plane landed half an hour ago. Medical should release him soon.”
“I thought you two weren’t going to be back for another couple days,” Jason says, finally finding something that looks reasonably clean. It’s Bucky’s shirt, but that doesn’t matter.
Natasha gives him a steady look. “Jason,” she says, slowly, “somebody stole a member of my team.”
The way she says it – the threat in it – unlocks some of the tension in Jason’s chest. No one’s said it yet. No one’s going to say it for a while. But there’s a chance that Tony is already dead, and Jason knows, in that moment, that if someone’s killed Tony, Natasha will help him get even.
Coulson’s too steady-tempered, and Barton can flinch at messier work, and Jason doesn’t know what the hell is going on in Bucky’s head right now, but Nat’s with him on this. He’s not alone.
He takes what feels like the first deep breath since the news broke. And then he pulls the shirt on, buying himself enough time to get his face in line.
“Get dressed,” Natasha says. “They’re waiting for you in the kitchen.”
Bucky’s in the living room, with a plate full of a breakfast so nutritionally well-balanced that Jason knows immediately who made it. And he knows damn well they didn’t have any avocadoes in the house last night, so Coulson must have gone shopping before he headed over.
Coulson’s a caretaker. He tries to keep it quiet, but it manifests when he’s stressed, or tired. They used to fight about it, but Jason’s mostly given up. At least the food’s always good.
He touches Bucky’s shoulder as he passes. He can’t think of a single thing to say to him, but he presses his hand against him, palm spanning from metal to skin, and Bucky reaches up, curls his hand around Jason’s wrist for a second before letting go.
Jason wants to sit next to him, lean into him and pick off his plate, maybe go back to sleep with his head on Bucky’s shoulder or in his lap. But he hit Barbara yesterday and menaced Coulson in his own Goddamn office, so he knows he needs to deal with whatever’s waiting for him in the kitchen. He could say here and hide with Bucky, but, if things get loud, he doesn’t need Bucky trying to pick a side out of what remains of his team.
“Hey,” Jason says, from the kitchen doorway. He stands awkwardly, shoulder pressed to the frame, and feels out-of-place in his own home.
Coulson’s standing over the stovetop, flipping an omelet one-handed while he pours coffee into a mug with the other. He’s wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday, but the suit jacket’s hanging over one of the kitchen barstools, and he’s rolled his sleeves up past his elbows.
Clint’s said for years that you can tell exactly how fucked they are by how much skin Coulson’s showing. Jason tries not to read too much into that, but he winces, a little, when Coulson turns to look at him and he realizes that Coulson’s lost his tie, too.
The top two buttons of his shirt are undone, and Jason thinks, loud and a little panicked, we’re fucked, he’s fucked, Tony’s already dead.
“Morning,” Coulson says, eyebrows rising as he takes in the state of Jason. He pauses for a second, flicks a glance at Bruce, and then turns to take a cup down from the cabinet. “Drink some water,” he says. “Two glasses before you get any coffee. You look terrible.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Jason says. “I live here. This is my house. Bucky’s got a paper that says so.”
Coulson stares at him for a moment, and then shrugs. “I didn’t realize you felt well enough to fight about it.” He fills the glass full of tap water and drops it on the kitchen island. “Just one’s probably fine, then.”
Jason rolls his eyes, but he moves across the kitchen and picks up the glass. It puts him regrettably close to Bruce, which means he actually has to look at him.
Bruce is sitting at the kitchen bar, lounging in one of Jason’s barstools like he has a right to be here, and he’s got a plate full of half-eaten breakfast, an empty cup of coffee, and a glass of water he seems disinclined to drink. He’s watching Jason carefully.
Jason has never invited Bruce to his house. It never occurred to him that Bruce would ever actually want to visit.
“The hell have you been,” Jason says, too aggressively to be a real question. “I went to Gotham, looking for you. I called you.”
Bruce stares at him. After a moment, he takes a neat bite of Coulson’s bullshit wheat toast, and then chews his way through it, methodical and slow. Jason sips his water and considers throwing the whole glass at his face.
“I was working,” Bruce says, finally.
“Yeah, okay,” Jason says, putting his water down. “That’s it. Truce is over. We’re fighting. Coulson, I know your rules about crowding you in the kitchen, but I’m going for the knives in about two seconds, so--”
“Bruce,” Coulson says, and Jason is gratified that Coulson used that tone, but he is absolutely mystified that Bruce actually seems slightly cowed by it. “Tell him where you’ve been. I’m not cleaning this kitchen twice in one day.”
Bruce considers Coulson for a long moment and then looks over at Jason. “I went to Talia,” he says.
“Why the hell would you go to Talia?” Jason says. “The League didn’t fucking take him. Christ, Bruce, not everything is about your weird, bullshit life and your fucked-up relationships with everyone you’ve ever f--”
“To ask,” Bruce says, loudly, “for help.”
“You what,” Jason says, blinking.
For a second, Bruce looks entirely too smug, and Jason almost heaves the water at him after all, but then Bruce shrugs and looks down at his breakfast. “She has connections that I don’t have,” he says, finally. “And she has regrets, concerning you, that made it possible to convince her to help.”
Jason doesn’t move or blink or say anything. He and Bruce have never talked about what kind of regrets Talia might have about him. After a moment, he turns beseeching eyes to Coulson.
“We’re hardly in the position to turn down help,” Coulson says. He passes a plate to Jason, and then, after a moment, sets a cup of coffee in front of him, which is how Jason knows he’s been forgiven. “We’ve picked up a few other non-traditional allies, too.” He looks up, sends some kind of unreadable look to Bruce, and Bruce blinks, which is odd enough, but then breaks the stare first, which is even worse.
“Superman’s off-world,” he says, after a beat. “But Wonder Woman’s searching.”
Jason stares at him. “You asked the Justice League to look for my missing boyfriend?”
“He’s not a cat that wandered off,” Bruce says, almost defensive. “I’ve seen what he builds when he’s trying to minimize collateral damage. If they convince him to work for them, the body count will be--”
“No,” Jason says, cutting him off, “that’s not why you did it. Don’t bullshit me. I know you. If that’s all you were worried about, you wouldn’t be in such a rush. You went to Talia. You’re doing it this way because it’s him. Because you’re worried about him. Because you want to find him quickly.”
Bruce blinks at him. He looks faintly baffled, which is an odd look for him. “Jason,” he says, “you’ve been with him for years.”
“Holy shit,” Jason says, clutching his perfectly balanced breakfast to his chest. “You care about him.”
Bruce stares at him, jaw tense, and then looks to Coulson, like he’s asking for some kind of intervention.
Coulson pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a deep, steadying breath. “Jason,” Coulson says, “he’s doing this because he cares about you.”
Jason just stares at him, and Coulson gestures, a little helplessly, with his hands. “I mean, also Tony. Of course Tony. But mainly you.”
“Bullshit,” Jason says, shooting Bruce a quick, dubious look that’s meant to be a shared sort of what the fuck? but it misses the mark, primarily because Bruce is staring down at his avocado toast like it’s personally responsible for this conversation.
“The fuck,” Jason says, softly, to no one. He drains his glass of water, and wonders if maybe he’s still a little drunk.
“I want you to know,” Coulson says, “that I have been a SHIELD agent for most of my adult life. I was a Ranger before that. And the two of you are the reason I have high blood pressure.”
“The two of us?” Jason feels insulted, but he’s grateful for the distraction. He knows what to do with insulted. “Why does he get to be a reason? You see him like twice a year. What the hell.”
“Really not what you were meant to focus on, Jay,” Natasha says, breezing in. “Any of this for me, Coulson? Clint’s five minutes out. Medical says he’s benched for four days, but I think we can negotiate to half of that.”
“We don’t negotiate with Medical, Natasha,” Coulson says, taking a pre-made plate out of the oven and passing it to her. “They’re Medical, not car salesmen.”
Natasha shrugs and steals Jason’s coffee right out of his hand. “Yeah, but all the doctors are scared of me. And nothing’s broken. It’s just fatigue. I’ll feed him, tranq him, tuck him in, and he’ll be fine in twelve hours.”
“Natasha,” Coulson says, sounding exasperated, “we’ve been over this. If anyone’s going to sedate a member of this team, it’s going to be me.”
“I’m the reason you have high blood pressure?” Jason points his fork at Natasha, incredulous. She rolls her eyes, but she gives his coffee back.
Coulson hesitates for a second. “I’ll allow that it might be a group effort.”
“Speaking of,” Bruce says, having apparently finished communing silently with his breakfast, “we need to talk about how we’re going to coordinate this. The Justice League doesn’t work for SHIELD. And neither does Talia.”
“Yeah, Bruce,” Jason says, rolling his eyes, “everyone’s real fucking aware that you’re an evasive asshole who doesn’t let other people play with his toys.”
“If I stay here,” Bruce continues, apparently deaf to Jason’s comment and blind to the look of horror Jason throws his way at that opener, “it leaves Gotham vulnerable. Nightwing needs to go back to Blüdhaven eventually.”
Coulson and Bruce exchange another look, and then Coulson nods. “Alright,” he says, like they’ve reached some sort of agreement. “I’ll send Clint up to Gotham, with Maria Hill. Nonlethal methods. Robin leads.”
Beside him, Jason feels Natasha go tense. She sets her plate down on the kitchen bar and looks over at Coulson. “Send one of us with him,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, any member of the team being anywhere alone.”
Coulson tips his head to the side, considering it. “Tony was targeted,” he says. “Not the team.”
“Tony went somewhere alone,” Natasha says. “And Tony got taken. You want to gamble Barton on that being the end of it? I’d rather not find out it’s a pattern after we’re down our mechanic and our sniper.”
“Alright,” Coulson says. “You can go with him.”
“I’ll go,” Bucky says. The whole kitchen turns to see him standing silently in the doorway. He’s holding himself tense and still, practically at parade rest.
No one says anything. Jason realizes, after a few seconds, that they’re all waiting on him. “What,” he says, because that’s the only thing in his head.
“Natasha doesn’t excel at nonlethal,” Bucky says. “Neither do you, when you’re emotional.”
“I’m not emotional,” Jason says. “I’m just not a fucking robot.” He’s being an asshole again. It’s fine with Bruce. Coulson too, to a lesser degree. It’s not fine with Bucky, at least not right now.
He wants to be better. But this is the problem, with the pair of them. When things go bad, Bucky regresses to the Winter Soldier, and Jason falls back to the Pit, and they need Tony. It doesn’t work without Tony. They don’t work without him.
But that doesn’t mean he wants Bucky to disappear on him, either.
“Natasha can work within the parameters,” Coulson says. That’s not a no. Jason tightens his hand around his coffee mug. “It might be better if you stay here.”
“It won’t be better,” Bucky says. It would hurt less, probably, if he sounded at least a little fucked up about it. “I can’t stay here,” he says, after a beat, and Jason realizes that he was wrong. It doesn’t hurt any less.
“Fine,” Jason says. He leaves his breakfast and his coffee, shoves himself away from the kitchen island, and heads for the only way out. “Have fun in Gotham,” he says, as he shoulders past Bucky. “Don’t get fucking murdered.”