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three weeks

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Three Weeks

Tony awoke on cold hard stone.

Body sore, mouth dry and slightly dazed, he rose slowly, ears peeled for the slightest hint to his location. The last thing he remembered was giving his last breath to give Steve a fighting chance, for T’Challa to get him out. Then nothingness.

Now, he sat here, shivering and chilled to the bone in some place that was clearly not a hospital. He wasn’t covered in lesions or dead so, someone had treated him with a cure. And, for reasons unknown to Tony, they hadn’t brought him to a hospital.

Which most likely meant that whoever had taken him wasn’t a friendly.

Bracing himself, Tony opened one eye scanned the room guardedly from his current position. He was huddled against a wall and facing out into a dark stone dungeon of some sort. The walls were a dreary grey, large stone blocks; very unlikely to be found in modern cities. Also ruled out most of the US which meant he’d been out for longer than he’d thought. He wasn’t hungry but that could be the fear. The list of Avengers’ enemies with access to castles was pretty much endless. Even the smallest one could team up with just about any of them to gain access to one.

Just as he started to climb to his feet, the large iron door flew open and men in masks burst in. Clad head to toe in black, Tony wondered if that narrowed his list down but even AIM had been known to go without their suits from time to time. One of the men moved in closer, rifle in hand.

“Get up, Stark,” the voice commanded. American from the sound of it but Tony knew how easy it was to disguise an accent.

Turning to face the man head on, Tony’s head swam, vision swirling before the butt of the rifle slammed into his face. He reared back, blood filling his mouth as he tried to reach for his face and found shackles on each of his wrists. Gleaming silver, clearly expensive and light enough that Tony barely felt them. But they weren’t strapped to anything. He studied them furtively as the man approached threateningly.

Blood streamed down his chin as his words came out in a rush, “Wait, wait, what is this about? Can you at least tell me that?”

“Get up,” the man commanded as two of his lackeys moved in and yanked Tony to his feet.

His stomach twisted violently as they dragged him from the room, heads held high as they moved through the dim, torch lit hallway. The castle appeared fairly empty, soundless save for the heavy boots moving along the stone floors. It was rather dusty so, clearly no one had inhabited for quite some time or this wing wasn’t well cared for.

They brought Tony to a large room, much draftier than the previous one. They tossed him to the floor where he waited for his vision to clear, a blurred image of an alter before him. There a man sat in a throne, his arms crossed over his chest as he took Tony in. Short cropped blond hair, a jagged scar carved in his right cheek and clad in black, same as his men.

Tony had never seen him before but he recognized that look in his eye, having seen it enough times in his life: hatred. Beneath that: greed. This man clearly despised Tony but he was keeping him alive for a purpose.

Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

The man gestured and one of the men nudged Tony forward with his boot. Glaring, Tony stood and took an unsteady step forward, forcing his back straight and his hands still.

A few moments passed in silence and Tony’s temper started to flare. He forced a congenial smile. “Now, this is embarrassing. You know my name but I don’t know yours.” The man cocked his head to the side, studying him quietly. Tony sighed inwardly. “Why am I here?”

“You’re not in a position to demand information from me, Stark.” There was a hint of an accent Tony couldn’t’ quite place. “I call the shots here.”

“Then call them,” Tony grit out.

The man’s lip curled ever so slightly and he held up a remote, pressing a button. Instantaneously, Tony’s body was struck with a violent electrical current, his nerves spiked with an excruciating pain that brought him to his knees. A scream tore through him, his vision whiting out as he stiffened in agony.

A quiet click and everything stopped. Tony gasped for air, the taste of blood filling his mouth. He kneeled on his hands and knees for a moment before he was able to sit back and meet that smug grin.

“Didn’t like that, did you?” He flashed the remote once more. “Little toy I adapted from one of your inventions.”

Tony blinked at him, wondering his he’d been wrong and this was someone he’d somehow forgotten from his own rogue’s gallery. But he’d never forget a face like that.

“You want a medal?” he asked, a stray jolt running through him. It earned a sneer, a thumb running over the button once more but he didn’t press it.

“They told me you were smart,” he lamented. Leaning back, he explained, “I don’t want you, Stark. As far as I’m concerned, it would be simpler just to kill you but I know he won’t come if we can’t provide proof of life so, here you are.”

He?

Tony began to ask when the man stood from the throne and trailed down the steps. One of the men thread their fingers through Tony’s hair and wrenched his head back violently. A cold chill shot down Tony’s spine as he wondered how far this man was willing to take his little power play.

As if hearing Tony’s thoughts, he grinned, clasping his hands behind his back. “But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun.”

The hand released him.

The current coursed through Tony once more; more vicious than before. He heard an agonizing scream and everything went black once more.

+

Tony woke the next day to the door opening and a tray slapping down on the stone floor. On it, a piece of bread and a tiny bowl of porridge. Figured: just enough to keep him alive.

He wondered absently if they’d stolen some of the cure T’Challa had helped synthesize or if they’d helped unleash it and had a cure on hand. He wasn’t sure which was worse: that they’d raided the much-needed stock for the public for Tony of all people, or if they’d used all of that as a diversion to grab him.

Once more, he wondered who this man, Engel Tony had heard, was trying to lure. He’d said “He”, as if that would have some significance to Tony. But, the number of people willing to put their lives on hold to rescue Tony was infinitesimally small and the number of men on that list, even smaller.

Perhaps, they were trying to lure someone from the Department of Defense. Tony was often more a thorn in their side than a help but, his knowledge was useful. Or, at the very least, the chance to earn a favor from Tony Stark might be. What was a patent or two when they’d saved Tony’s life? What was some less than savory recon work when they’d rescued him from peril? They’d own him even more than they had before.

Around midday, or Tony’s best guess, the men trudged in with lunch. This time, Tony was a little more alert. He fought back, stamping on one of their insteps and slamming the heel of his hand into another’s nose. Cursing, he reached for Tony blindly as he pushed through them and sprinted down the open doorway as fast as he could.

He got a little ways down the hall before the shackles lit up, a blissful moment before his nerves erupted and his muscles contracted, spine bending back painfully. He cried out, falling to the floor as a large boot slammed into his ribs. They stood him up, an elbow jammed into his face before they started down the hall.

Broken Nose tossed him towards the throne and backed away with a death glare. Engle shook his head in faux concern, poking Tony’s face with the point of his boot. “You’re not looking too good.”

“This isn’t my best angle,” Tony muttered. His bracelets lit up warning and he quieted, averting his gaze.

“Atta boy,” he cooed and Tony felt his face warm with shame. “This will go a lot easier for you if you behave.”

“Whatever you want, I can’t help you from here,” Tony tried, licking his lips as he met his gaze.

Tony’s best guess, Engel was some sort of armed forces. A sick part of him wondered if the DoD had set this up; if his own country had sent someone to kidnap him. A billion-dollar arms partnership could turn a lot of good men into monsters.

“So, I should let you go? Do you think I’m stupid?”

“I don’t know what you want,” Tony said, flinching as his shackles warmed up once more. He quieted, biting back his next words.

“Yes, you do.”

“You told me you were trying to lure someone here. How can I help with that? I can’t call out for help or contact the Avengers. You took my communicator and my armor. So, it can’t be my suit that you want.”

Engel rolled his eyes, “Take him back to his room. If he gets anymore bright ideas, you know what to do.” Engel reached for Tony, a few last words for him before he sent him on his way. His eyes were blue and so very cold. “I heard you have a weak heart, Mr. Stark. You don’t want to anger my men any more than you already have.”

+

The next two weeks were spent with Tony testing his limits.

He could say just about anything without punishment. Throw his food, a painful shock. Fight them when they tried to take him anywhere, a painful shock. Demand answers, a painful shock.

He managed to make a lock pick out of an old rusty nail he’d found in the corner. He broke out of the room and snuck down the hallway on his most successful escape attempt before he was caught on camera and dragged back to the throne room.

Engel dragged it out, delivering small shocks in longer and longer lengths until Tony heard himself beg for forgiveness, panicked and hoarse, his heart beating sporadically in his chest.

Bent and broken, curled over his knees, gasping for breath as Engel circled him. “The rules here are simple: you belong to me,” he said, slamming his boot into Tony’s stomach, knocking the breath out of him. He turned over on his back, earning a boot on his chest. “I could be a lot less generous. I feed you. I keep you safe. I established a clear set of guidelines that aren’t difficult to follow.”

He removed his foot, allowing Tony to turn over as he coughed, blood spattering on the stone. He looked up, his voice weak as he begged, his shame abandoned; he had no place for it now. “Please, just tell me why I’m here.”

“I told you: you’re going to bring him to me.”

“Who?”

Engel gripped his chin forcefully, leaning in close as he replied, “Captain America.”

Blood chilling, Tony scanned Engel’s face for a moment, trying to discern if he was serious. From the way his gaze never wavered, he truly believed this plan. He sincerely thought Captain America, world renowned hero that he was, the Sentinel of Liberty, would drop everything to come to Tony Stark’s rescue.

An icy stab of fear stabbed at his heart as Tony kneeled before him, heart in his throat.

He would die here.

Engel dropped him, marching away as Tony coughed once more and held himself up on unsteady arms. “He won’t come,” Tony replied hoarsely. “Not now. There’s a crisis in Yellowstone. He’ll be with the Avengers. They need him.” A hell of a lot more than me.

“He’ll come,” Engel said resolutely.

And wouldn’t Tony would give anything to be as certain as he was? “He won’t.”

“He wouldn’t leave someone that risked their life to save him. You must be important to him.”

Tony couldn’t stifle a bitter laugh, his throat burning and the taste of copper on his tongue. What did good behavior matter at this point? He would die anyway.

“The world needs Captain America more than it needs Tony Stark. I know that. He knows that.” He coughed, shredding his throat as he spat out more blood. “I saved his life because he’s worth more.”

That’s not the only reason is it, old boy?

“You know I’m right,” he added somberly, holding Engel’s gaze as best he could with his vision clouding over.

He sat back on heavily on his knees as Engel paced, clearly growing agitated. “No, he will come. Even if you are as worthless as you say, he will come. He considers himself a hero.”

“So do the Avengers,” Tony supplied, watching Engel’s shoulders stiffen at his words.

The sight gave Tony a grim satisfaction, even as his heart beat dangerously fast in his chest and his extremities tried to feel numb. He didn’t have it in him to let that familiar fear set in. If this man didn’t kill him, his heart would give out. It had been a long time coming; at least this end was one Tony had accepted years ago.

“You see any of them bursting through those doors?” Tony asked brazenly.

“Captain America will come for you!”

Short fuse, this one , Tony noted. “He doesn’t care about me. We’re teammates but none of them showed up, either. I doubt they’re even looking for me. And if they are, I am the least of Cap’s concerns.” Cocking his head to the side, “You didn’t really think this through.”

A warning shock coursed through his body but Tony wasn’t finished. He’d gained the upper hand for once and even the fear of a lethal shock couldn’t stop him.

Adrenaline coursed through him. “I’m just one member of a team made up of real heroes. You should have taken one of them. I have no powers. No family. No one will miss me.” He gave a weak laugh, sounding broken to his own ears. “I thought you were smart.”

The next shock stopped his heart.

+

When Tony awoke, he was in a different room and lying on a hard surface. There was the steady beep of a heart monitor and he felt stickers and wires stuck to his chest. He took a shuddering breath, black spots appearing, chest aching as it expanded. When he finally found the strength to sit up, he heard a loud crash and the sound of gunfire.

Tony pulled the EKG leads from his chest, quickly silencing the machine as it went haywire. Ducking down behind the high stone table, he waited, heart beating painfully fast in his chest. He was scanning the room for anything helpful when he heard shouting in a language he didn’t recognize. Loud boots sounded and the door to his room opened.

A blond head poked inside, wide blue eyes taking him in with relief before widening in pity. “You’re not looking too good, hot shot,” Carol said and Tony felt an overwhelming wave of emotion. He rushed forward and pulled Carol into a hug.

“It’s good to see you, Danvers.”

Carol squeezed him back, albeit gingerly before pulling him behind her. They moved slowly down the hall and Tony rattled off what little he remembered about the layout of the castle. As they got closer to the throne room, he heard more voices. Redwing let out a loud cry, flying overhead as they moved through the doorway and joined the others.

Engel was on the ground, Steve kneeling over him with an expression Tony had never seen before. He’d seen Steve angry before: it was the nature of their jobs. But he’d never seen Steve look at anyone as though it was taking all of his effort not to let go of himself and snap their neck.

“You wanted me, you got me,” he said, his voice icy and measured. Engel glared up at him, defeated but giving no quarter.

“What kind of a coward hides behind their friends?”

“What kind of a coward hides behind an army and tortures a helpless man?” Steve demanded, leaning in closer, his calf weighing on Engel’s throat.

His shoulders grew rigid, mouth a grim line as Engel’s face reddened and he started scrabbling at Steve’s leg, eyes panicked. Steve didn’t budge, his jaw tensing as he watched silently. Sam must’ve seen something in his face because he hurried forward and tugged at Steve’s shoulders. Steve resisted, gaze holding steady with Engel’s bloodied before he grimaced and climbed to his feet.

“Get him out of here,” Steve spat, resting his hands on his hips as he paced a few steps. Then he pressed his finger to his ear. “Any sign of Tony?”

“I got him, Cap,” Carol said, stepping forward almost hesitantly.

Steve froze. Then he turned, slowly, as though afraid of what he’d find. The moment his eyes landed on Tony, the air rushed out of him. His hands clenched into fists at his sides, shoulders tightening as he took a hesitant step forward. And then another, his mouth moving wordlessly before he closed the space between them and pulled Tony into his arms.

Steve squeezed just a little too tight for Tony’s sore ribs but Tony didn’t care, holding on as tight as he could manage. He closed his eyes and nosed into Steve’s shoulder, breathing in the familiar scent of leather and sweat. Steve cupped the back of his head, his gloved fingers carding through Tony’s hair, gentler than Tony thought possible.

Steve’s words were hushed and broken, “I’m so glad you’re okay. I thought – when I woke up alone, I thought for sure you’d,” he broke off with a shuddering breath, holding Tony tighter.

Tony winced and stiffened inadvertently as his side and chest flared up in pain. Steve pulled back instantly, looking to him concernedly. “Are you okay?” Tony started to reply when Steve’s eyes burned with renewed wrath, “Of course, you’re not.”

He wrapped his arm around Tony’s waist and turned to the others. “We need to get out of here. Tony needs medical attention.”

Jan and Wanda nodded, messaging the others. Tony expected one of them to guide him back to the plane but, to his surprise, Steve left the clean-up to the others and lead Tony to the nearby quinjet.

+

Steve sat beside Tony on the ride home, barely following the quiet conversation going around them. For Tony, it was a welcome distraction. His captors had barely conversed with each other and, when they did, it was in a language Tony didn’t understand. It was nice to be surrounded by Jan and Carol’s quiet chatter and faux debate over last week’s episode of Friends. It was a welcome distraction from the wounded look Steve had been treating him with since they boarded.

Tony knew Steve well enough to know, regardless of whatever Avengers sized problem he’d dealt with a home, he would blame himself for not coming sooner. No matter if he came as soon as he possibly could, if he’d been injured, if other people needed his attention a hell of a lot more, he would take this out on himself. It was one of the reasons Tony loved him.

He averted his gaze to his hands, a welcome reprieve from staring at Steve. There was a quiet intake of breath and then a gloved hand reached out and took Tony’s in hand. Tony’s froze, looking up into pained blue eyes. “Steve,” he began, his mouth dry. Steve’s jaw trembled before he pressed his lips in a thin line. “This wasn’t your fault.”

Steve’s lashes fanned out, near imperceptible in the dim light as he considered his next words carefully. When he spoke, his words were measured, “We have a lot to talk about when we get back.” He hesitated, brow furrowed. “If you still want to see me.”

Confused, Tony studied him and repeated his words. “If I still want to see you?”

“If you don’t, I’d understand,” he said, squeezing Tony’s hand tightly in his own.

“Steve, of course I want to see you.”

Steve scanned him for any sign of uncertainty before he nodded. “Medical first and then we’ll talk.”

+

Tony thought Steve would meet him in his room after his medical exam but Steve waited right outside the door. He paced, Tony heard his boots along the tile and saw him pass by the small window in the door from time to time. Tony offered the nurse a sheepish smile, even as his chest warmed with a sudden flare of fondness.

When he emerged, Steve moved forward determinedly, asking more questions  than Tony could keep up with.

“I’m fine,” Tony insisted, earning a doubtful look. “Not perfect but I’ll be okay. I’ll have to be monitored for arrhythmia and the dehydration will take some time to remedy but, I’ll be okay.”

Steve frowned, glancing at the exam room once more. “Maybe you should stay overnight.”

“No, no, I need to go home.” Steve started to insist but Tony help up a hand, “Steve, I need to sleep in my own bed tonight.”

Pursing his lips, Steve studied him for a moment before nodding. “Okay.” He walked beside Tony as they made their way back to the transport.

They returned to the mansion by nightfall. Steve followed him towards the common area and stopped in the living room, his eyes cutting to Vision’s place in the corner and Jen sitting on the couch. His cheeks warmed a bit as he asked, “Would you mind if we went somewhere a little more private?”

Tony followed Steve to his room where he shut the door and sat down on the couch, watching as Steve psyched himself up for his next words.

“I am your friend,” Steve said firmly, his tone much heavier than Tony expected for such a simple phrase. “You know that.”

“Of course, I do, Steve.”

Steve’s eyes were fierce and bright. “You are my friend. If someone comes after you, they come after me. If someone hurts you, they hurt me.” Tony nodded, still unclear as to the reason for the grave expression on Steve’s face. “You understand that.”

It wasn’t a question but Tony treated it like one. “Yes.”

Steve’s brow furrowed, his mouth twisted painfully. “Then why did you say I wouldn’t come for you?”

Ice trickled down Tony’s spine, stomach clenching violently as he stared at Steve wordlessly. Steve continued on, “You have a family. You have Jarvis, Pepper, Happy and Rhodey. You have the Avengers. You have me,” he finished weakly.

The words were meant to comfort but they only made Tony’s eyes burn with shame. “You weren’t supposed to hear that.”

“He sent us tapes,” Steve confessed. Tony’s eyes widened in horror, mind reeling through everything, every gruesome moment, every time he begged, every time he cried, that one desperate night he’d actually gotten down to his knees and prayed . “He sent us one every day. There was a feed from the room where he… where he kept you. A feed from the halls and the throne room. The others watched just enough to verify that you were still breathing but I watched them all.”

His eyes were wet, jaw held painfully tight as he found a spot straight ahead and focused on it. Tony’s chest tightened as he reached out and touched Steve’s hand. “Steve,” he began, throat tightening as he watched a tear roll down Steve’s cheek. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“I couldn’t find you,” Steve said by way of explanation, a slight quirk in the corner of his mouth. “I deserved to know what you went through.” He took a shuddering breath, eyes clenching shut. He took a few deep breaths, steeling himself before meeting Tony’s eyes once more. Tony’s breath caught in the face of such focus, the determined glint in Steve’s eyes. “I thought you were dead. I woke up alone and when I saw that you’d done… the others gave up hope.”

“I expected to feel upset, to grieve but instead… I was angry.”

“I had to,” Tony replied softly, searching for a safe explanation. One that wouldn’t reveal that not only had Engel overstated Tony’s importance to Steve, he’d severely misunderstood why Tony had given his life for him. “Steve,” he began, pausing as Steve’s eyes softened.

“I wasn’t angry with you, Tony. I was angry with myself. I spent so long telling myself that I’d have more time with you, that it could wait until after Zemo, after Kang, after Thanos. But waking up without you made me realize I don’t have the time I thought I would have.”

The fierce resolve returned to his eyes, fierce and blue. “I’ve wasted so much time not saying the things that really matter. I never told you how much it meant to me that you put a roof over my head. More than that, you gave me a home and a place to belong. I never told you that I used to wake up in fear that I’d lost more years and that talking to you about transistors or whatever else you were working on kept the demons at bay. I never told you that, sometimes when you argue with me, it takes everything in me not to kiss you.”

Tony’s eyes widened, sure he’d misheard. “You matter to me,” Steve said firmly. “I would miss you. You’re my family and I’ve been in love with you since I had the good sense to stop fighting it.” He reached out to touch Tony’s face, his thumb sliding over his cheek. “I never told you that and hearing you on that tape, so sure I wasn’t coming… it made me sick to my stomach.”

Tony shook his head, his heart swelling even as a part of him still rather certain he was misreading that tender look on Steve’s face. But he sounded so sure and he’d said… “I was just trying to get a rise out of him. I didn’t know what I was saying.”

“I don’t blame you,” Steve said quietly. “I was never great at saying what needed to be said. Especially with you.” He swallowed, clearing his throat. “I didn’t say any of this to pressure you or make you feel guilty. If you don’t feel the same, that’s okay. I would never-“

Tony crushed their mouths together, the taste of salt on his tongue. Steve froze for a second, the room quiet before he sighed, his mouth falling open as Tony guided him, soft and slow. He cupped Tony’s face, gentler than anyone had ever been with Tony before. When Tony pulled back, he rested his forehead against Steve’s, breathing softly.

“I love you, too,” he murmured, warmth blooming in his chest, giving life to the hope he’d buried long ago.

Steve thread his fingers through Tony’s hair and pulled him in once more, making up for lost time.