Tony stood quietly between his escort, hands in front of him, still encased in the thick adamantium cuffs that he’d been sporting for the last three and a half weeks. At the moment, they were mag-locked together since he was in transit between the workshop where he was supposed to be building weapons like a good little captive and the cell where Steve was kept as insurance against him reenacting Afghanistan.
It was hell on the wrist that Stanton had ordered broken when he realized Tony wasn’t quite following orders, but the thought of how badly the would-be terrorist had underestimated him made it kind of worth it.
The door clanked open and was swung back. A hand between Tony’s shoulders sent him lurching forward and he swallowed his immediate response and straightened, turning to face the guard contingent.
There were eight of them, six more than the first time he’d been dragged out of the room over a month ago. Tony was very proud of that fact.
He lifted his hands and tugged on the still-locked cuffs. When he got a hard stare, he raised his eyebrows. “Red light.”
Jackson, the lead guard, sneered as he did every night when Tony made jokes about safe words and bad BDSM practices instead of asking to be released. He’d tried once to turn the tables on Tony and make him beg for his freedom, but Steve had been lucid enough to lodge a protest in the form of his fist in Jackson’s face.
Three weeks in and the bruising around the broken nose was finally starting to fade into the ugly yellow stage, though there was a distinct slant to the bridge that would linger as a permanent reminder.
Tony wiggled his fingers, smiling widely. “Chop chop, Johnson, even gorgeous people like me need beauty sleep.”
Jackson’s eye twitched, but he didn’t bother correcting Tony’s misnaming. He’d learned his lesson surprisingly fast on that front. There was a long list of things Tony could—and had—called him instead.
He grabbed Tony’s bad wrist and twisted it under the pretense of reaching the lock to swipe the key past it. Tony bit his tongue to smother the sound of pain bubbling up in his throat and widened his smile.
Jackson dropped his wrist and stepped back. Then his own smirk grew as he reached forward and pulled the door shut. The lock clanked into place and booted footsteps retreated.
When they reached the end of the hall, the thunk of another lock disengaging echoed down and then again when it reengaged. The lights went off a moment later and plunged the room into darkness.
But there wasn’t exactly a lot of furniture to trip over and a month was more than enough time to learn the layout of the room.
Tony turned and took one big step forward, then turned left again and walked past the prison-style steel toilet/sink combination. Three normal steps and turn right, four steps and stop.
He crouched, knees cracking from the stiffness of having to kneel on a cold tile floor as Stanton inspected his work for the day. The sound was enough in the oubliette silence to wake Steve who responded with a soft questioning noise and then, “Tony?”
Tony’s hand glided over the surface of the thin mattress until he found the worryingly cool skin of Steve’s shoulder.
“Hey, honey, I’m home,” he said. “How was your day?”
Steve groaned and rolled forward into Tony’s hand. Cloth rustled and a nose brushed over the back of his hand, the warmth of Steve’s breath as he inhaled and exhaled with relief loosening a knot in Tony’s chest.
“You’re warm,” Steve said. A hand slid up the mattress and long fingers curled around Tony’s forearm, tugging lightly.
“I think you mean ‘hot’. It’s okay, I know all this 21st century slang is hard to keep track of.”
There was confused silence instead of laughter and Tony bit back a curse.
Today had not been a good day, obviously. It was going to get better, but not for at least three hours. Although there were things he could do while they waited.
“Scoot over,” he ordered, giving Steve’s shoulder a gentle shove. It took some wiggling and working but he managed to get Steve moved toward the wall. Tony stretched out on the cot on his back, carefully tucking his left arm under Steve’s head so he didn’t jostle it too much, and then tugged and rearranged them so Steve was along his side and able to soak up some of the heat he had to spare. “You good?” he asked.
Steve gave an almost indecent moan as he curled into Tony’s body. “S’nice” he murmured into his collarbone. His arm reached across Tony’s chest and icicle fingers tucked into his armpit seeking more heat.
If not for the delays of inspection and the frisking to make sure he wasn’t stealing tools, he’d be warmer when he got back. Forge work was good for that at least, and even moving around helped.
Steve being stuck in this tiny cell all day that was kept just slightly above sixty degrees with nothing to do did not, and while physical exertion could help with that, the shitty excuse for meals they served meant that Steve didn’t have a lot of spare calories to burn for warmth.
And anyway, between whatever they were pumping him full of and the cold, Steve had been only mostly coherent most of the time they’d been here. Tony kind of envied him. He’d probably have less nightmares when they got out of here since he had nothing to work with.
But he also couldn’t do much to help their escape plan—which was, of course, the point. Stanton had at least been clever enough to figure that out.
Not clever enough to 1. realize kidnapping the two of them was a bad idea or 2. hire someone capable of doing the computer work for them who wasn’t interested in double-crossing them, though.
The only reason it had taken as long as it had for his plan to come together was because his computer time had been a much smaller percentage than his physical labor time. He could bullshit his way through programming a guidance system for a missile while breaking through their system to make contact with the outside world, but even Stanton knew that a missile required a physical form.
But the message had gone out finally and a response had come back almost immediately. Their ride would be here in three hours and the other little project he’d been working on would take effect shortly before that.
He adjusted his wrist so it lay more comfortably and carded the fingers of the other hand through Steve’s hair. It got him a softly sleepy sound that Tony shushed.
“We’ll be running and fighting for our lives soon enough,” he murmured into the blond hair as Steve shivered and nuzzled closer to the warmth of Tony’s neck. “When we get back I’ll buy you the biggest damn coffee they sell in Manhattan and have JARVIS turn the furnace up to high. Deal?”
“Deal,” Steve said. Then he tensed and started to push up. “Wait, what? We’re getting out?”
Tony pulled him back down with the hand in his hair and resumed the scalp massage. Steve couldn’t see him grin into the darkness, but he could probably hear it.
“Yeah, Cap. Pepper’s gonna kick my ass if I don’t get the next StarkPhone out to production on time. Vacation’s over.”
Steve inhaled, lungs pressing into Tony’s side. The exhale was colored with a sincere, “ Thank God. ”
“You’re welcome, but, please, call me Tony.”
As the military grunts in Tony’s life were fond of saying, the plan did not survive first contact with the enemy. But they hadn’t been shot or recaptured yet, so Tony wasn’t going to admit defeat either.
“You with me, Cap?” he asked, as he craned his neck to peer around the corner. A cluster of guards were in the junction they needed to get through if they were going to make it to the garage where their exit was, looking a little unworldly in the flashing red of the alarm lights. They’d gotten the generator back up faster than he expected, though not fast enough to keep them from escaping their cell and the locked hallway of the prisoner containment area.
Of course, if they weren’t outside when the team arrived, it wasn’t like Natasha was going to make them wait in the quinjet, but Tony would prefer to avoid a protracted battle if at all possible. He might be two continents and an ocean away, but he could hear his soft, fluffy, memory foam and silk sheets bed calling him.
And his shower. And his fridge. And his coffeemaker—not necessarily in that order.
“I’m here, Bucky. HYDRA won’t get past us this time.”
Tony blinked, then cursed. “Shit.”
He turned and faced Steve, cupping his jaw and turning him around. “Steve. Hey, Steve, look at me. You with me?”
Steve’s brow furrowed as he scanned Tony’s features. “Howard?” He blinked before Tony could respond to that . “Tony.” He shook his head. “Dammit. Sorry. I can’t—” He grimaced and pressed a hand to his forehead. He inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Sorry,” he repeated, then looked Tony in the eye. “I’m good.”
Tony snorted. “No, you’re not. But the medical care in this place is shit, I can’t imagine they have better therapists on hand, so good or not you’re stuck with me. Just stay close and if you have to shoot someone, make sure they’re not me.”
Steve’s jaw firmed and he nodded. His eyes scanned over Tony’s face, as if committing it to memory, then he said, “Okay. Let’s go.”
Tony peeked around the corner again and then pulled back so fast he nearly knocked Steve over. “Shit .”
Pounding boots followed hurried conversation and Tony looked at Steve. “You take high, I take low?”
Steve nodded and Tony dropped to a crouch, settling his hands on the gun he’d confiscated from another guard. Steve leaned into position over his head and then counted down on his fingers.
When the last one dropped Tony leaned out just enough to be able to sight and fire. He’d been pissed at Rhodey for ratting him out to the Wonder Spies about how badly he’d handled himself on the Roxxon oil rig. It had resulted in thrice weekly firearms training sessions with alternating days switching to hand-to-hand combat. And not just the MMA or boxing he and Happy had done but actual military-grade ass-kicking.
Right now, he wasn’t so upset about it. He’d taken out at least a third of the guards and he still hadn’t been hit himself.
The last guard fell to a deafening report from Steve’s gun. Tony’s ears were ringing in the aftermath, but not enough to hide the pained grunt from above.
He looked up just in time for Steve to collapse toward him and only barely caught the bigger man before they both went down hard.
“Hey, whoa, what happened? Are you hurt? Did you get—” Bright red dripped out from under Steve’s fingers where he was pressing them to his shoulder. “That’s a yes. One second.”
Tony pulled his outer t-shirt layer off over his head and used his teeth to start tearing it into strips. Two of them were folded over and over again to make thick pads of material. It wasn’t sterile by a long shot—hell, it wasn’t even clean —but they had antibiotics in the quinjet medical supplies.
Right now Steve needed to not bleed out before they got there.
Steve hissed through gritted teeth as Tony gently pried his hand up. “Gotta get this under and tied off,” he said by way of apology. “We’ve got a plane to catch.”
Steve huffed through the pain as Tony wound the ends of another strip around his shoulder and looped it under itself. He pulled tight and tied it off as Steve banged his head against the wall.
The solid thud turned into a softer thump and Steve opened his eyes to look at Tony.
“Head injuries would not be helpful right now, Cap,” he said. The words held no real sting, but Tony softened them further by curling his fingers to cup the back of Steve’s head. “Come on. Let’s blow this popstand.”
Steve swallowed and nodded, getting to his feet with the help of both Tony and the wall.
A quick peek around the corner for Tony as Steve shifted his gun to his other hand and then Tony jerked his head toward the hall. “Clear. Let’s go.”
Tony’s legs were fine, as were Steve’s to the best of his knowledge, but they didn’t quite let go of each other as they hurried down the empty linoleum flooring toward the big double doors at the end.
Tony told himself that the continued contact probably helped Steve stay in the present moment since the entire compound was apparently being kept on the chillier side of the Fahrenheit scale.
As for the way he himself felt better for having a hand on a fellow escapee he wasn’t willing to leave behind, well, he didn’t bother trying to lie to himself. Steve wasn’t going to be another Yinsen, or even a Pepper for a second, and that was just the way things were.
“Almost there,” Tony said, though Steve could certainly see the doors ahead of them and coming up fast. “Few more steps and—”
He reached for the handle as the doors burst open, knocking him back and into Steve. They tumbled to the ground in a graceless heap and a strangled cry of pain was ripped from Tony’s throat as his wrist bounced off the floor.
Under him, Steve was doing his own share of pained noises, but he managed to bring his gun up and empty the rest of the magazine into the new arrivals.
That took care of half of them and Tony raised his own gun to thin those numbers further. It was knocked out of his hand and a backhand followed swiftly thereafter to his jaw, sending him sprawling again.
“Tony!” Steve yelled and lunged for the man who’d hit him, taking him down at the knees.
They wrestled for a long moment until the guard behind Tony yelled, “Stand down! Stand down or I’ll shoot him!”
Steve froze in the middle of pulling his arm back to bury his fist in the guy’s face and turned to where Tony was being held up on his knees by a hand on his hair. Steve met Tony’s gaze and then lowered his fist.
The second the fingers in his hair loosened, Tony yanked his head free. He swung his arm forward, then back, elbow making contact with the knee just behind him. The angle of impact caused it to buckle and the guard went down hard with a curse.
Tony heard Steve resume his punching behind him, but he was involved in his own fight, using every dirty trick Natasha had shown him on the willing guinea pig of Clint Barton.
Hands grabbed him and pulled him off and he let them. When a second person got involved and they wrapped their arms around him to try and restrain him, Tony acted, swinging his legs up and kicking both of the guards in the face.
He heard Steve’s pained, drawn out yell and whipped around to see a gun muzzle being dug into the makeshift bandage on Steve’s shoulder.
Tony saw red and felt the snarl bubble up even as he pushed to his feet.
He was intercepted by another guard who got the one-two punch Clint had drilled into him until he felt like he was doing it in his sleep. It had the added bonus of making the man lose his grip on his weapon and Tony snatched it out of the air before the former owner hit the ground.
He brought his arm up and stared down the length of it until the sights lined up on the head of the guard still straddling Steve and making him bellow in pain.
Two soft squeezes of his finger and the man dropped without ever knowing what hit him.
Steve shoved at the body and then looked at Tony, who lowered his arm.
Steve panted for a second, then nodded. “Thanks,” he started to say, but halfway through it turned into, “Behind you!”
Tony whirled, arm rising. Fear sparked over his nerves like a jolt to the suit from Mjölnir as he watched the guard’s gun come up too. He wasn’t going to make it.
So he pulled the trigger early.
There was a bloodcurdling scream as the guard dropped to his knees, empty hand going to his gut where red pulsed out in a steady beat.
It gave one last gush and then stopped a moment later when an arrow sprouted from the guy’s back and he fell over, silent and still.
Tony’s arm came up again on reflex and it took him a second to realize that he knew the man jogging across the open floor of the garage, a bow in one hand and relief on his face.
“Stark. Nice shot. Where’s Steve?”
Tony whirled, a fresh burst of adrenaline making his heart thump painfully against the back of the arc reactor casing, but Steve was still there on the ground where he’d last seen him.
Tony took the two steps to his side and went to his knees. The fingers curled around the grip of the gun tingled with the force he was putting on them, but he couldn’t let it go if he wanted to.
“Steve,” he said.
Steve shuddered under his hand, but his head lolled in Tony’s direction and he cracked his eyelids open. “Howard,” he breathed, eyes widening. “You gotta get out. They can’t— HYDRA can’t get you or we’re all sunk.”
Tony swallowed down bitterness and said, “HYDRA’s not gonna get me, Steve.”
Something behind Tony caught Steve’s attention and he said, “Bucky? Bucky, you gotta get Howard out, he—” He looked at Tony again and frowned. “Tony? Where’s Howard?”
Tony caught Steve’s hand in his own. “That’s Clint, Steve, but we can worry about it later. We need to get out out of here now.”
A glint of silver caught Tony’s attention and he jerked back until he realized he knew that fine piece of engineering. He turned to see that it was Bucky and not Clint who was standing behind him.
“You mistake me for feathers for brains again and I’ll leave you here, Stark,” Bucky drawled as he gripped Steve’s hand and pulled him upright and against his chest. “Whoa there, who gave you Thor’s hooch, Stevie?”
“Not drunk, Buck,” Steve said, but the way his eyes were closed and he was all but draped over Bucky’s side didn’t sell that very well.
“Uh huh. Well, whatever you’re on, you can sleep it off on the ‘jet as long as you help me get you there.”
“I’ve got it,” Tony said, shoving to his feet and tucking himself under Steve’s other side.
Steve hissed when that shifted his injured shoulder, but even Bucky couldn’t carry Steve and beat the shit out of anyone who tried to stop them from getting back to the quinjet. It just made sense for Tony to help him.
Bucky’s lips curled, but he was smart enough not to argue the point. “Let’s go,” he said instead and led the way through the double doors.
Clint shadowed them, arrow nocked and ready, Bucky’s right hand filled with one of his pistols. Tony technically had a gun still too, but it was in his unbroken right hand and that was tucked around Steve’s waist to steady him. He could do in a pinch, but he was more focused on keeping Steve upright and letting Bucky and Clint worry about an ambush.
It came when they were within sight of the ramp, but Clint spotted it and Bucky dragged Steve and Tony both over to cover behind a jeep.
While he and Clint took shots over the hood and around the back of the vehicle, Tony checked that Steve was still doing okay.
“We’re so close,” Steve said, sounding somewhat clear-headed—and also pretty annoyed. “Don’t they know when to give up?”
That got a snort from both Bucky and Clint and Tony just huffed out a laugh and cupped Steve’s neck, running his thumb over the artery there just to feel it thump strongly against his skin.
Clint kept firing, but Bucky paused and looked toward the door on the far side of the room.
“Copy that,” he said and got his hand under Steve’s arm again. “Upsy-daisy. The cavalry’s a coming and we’re gonna want to be ready to clear out.”
The ground shook in a steadily building beat and then a distant but furious roar sounded.
Tony just got himself back into position and he and Steve and Bucky moved toward the rear of the jeep where Clint was at.
They all stayed huddled behind the safety of their cover for another moment as the beat drew closer. Screams preceded it, but cut off abruptly as the door—and a large chunk of the wall around it—exploded outward to reveal the Hulk.
The guns that had been firing at them were suddenly turned around, futile as the effort would be, and Clint nodded toward the ramp. He kept his bow up and ready, but no one had any attention to spare for the four of them when there were giant green fists and feet to dodge.
They made it up the ramp and into the ‘jet proper, Clint scurrying past to get to the cockpit and start the pre-flight sequence.
“We got him, JARVIS, safe and sound.”
Tony glanced up and met his gaze right then, feeling his walls crumble under the relief of being back among friends and a familiar setting.
“Well, mostly,” Clint acknowledged as Bucky got Steve up onto the medical bed and started prodding the scanners to life.
“Welcome back, Sir,” JARVIS said, lighting up the bed and taking over for Bucky. He put his hands up in surrender and settled in to watch the show.
“Good to be back, J,” Tony said. He had to grip the edge of the bed to keep from keeling over. Even then he felt himself tipping sideways and only the hard metal grip on his elbow and the compactly muscled body that he fell against kept him from going down to the floor.
He forced his head up and his eyes open to see who’d caught him and found Natasha smiling back.
“Hi,” she said in a low voice. It was a little disconcerting being this close to her and seeing—and feeling—relief.
“Hi,” he said, exhaustion hitting him hard and making witty banter feel just a little out of reach.
She adjusted her grip on him, one hand steadying itself on his hip, the other carefully holding his elbow so as to not jar his black and blue wrist.
He protested when she pulled him away from Steve and the medical bed, but she didn’t relent, steering him to the bulkhead and down into the sinfully comfortable plush of the seats there.
They actually weren’t that comfortable, except he’d had no chairs in the workshop, cold cement under his knees when he was allowed to stop, whether it was for inspection or food, and a tiny cot with a paper thin mattress he had to share with no blanket for the last month. This felt divine under his ass in comparison.
His eyes remained glued to Steve, who was obviously still awake as he twitched and swallowed and grimaced under Bucky’s tender care with JARVIS directing his efforts.
It wasn’t until small fingertips pressed against his own broken wrist that he looked away, first at his wrist and then to Natasha’s face to glare at her.
“Watch it!” he snapped.
She just met his look steadily and flicked open the lid on one of the individual triage kits they used in the field to tend to civilians.
He swallowed and then looked back down at his hand.
“It’s broken,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t poke it too much if she knew. “Probably can’t splint it until the cuff comes off and that’s going to take tools back in the shop. Unless someone grabbed a key ring.”
She kept gently probing at his wrist even as she said, “Sam, it’s time for a lullaby. Thor, can you check for any key rings that have a key for mag-cuffs?”
Tony couldn’t hear the replies, but she seemed satisfied as she dug out a box of alcohol wipes and started cleaning the broken skin on his wrist where the cuff had chafed and cut.
"What did they want?" Natasha asked.
Tony sighed. "What does anyone want with me?"
She arched an eyebrow.
"Okay, fine, there are multiple things people want from me, but so far no one has kidnapped me for money. Not since I was ten anyway. No one's ever even tried it for sex, which makes sense since it's not like I have a reputation for saying no, even if I’m in a stable relationship and haven’t done that for years."
"What did they want you to build?" she asked as she started wrapping the gauze around his arm. It took a little doing to get it under the cuff, but she was patient and more gentle than most people would expect from her.
"Missiles. For now, anyway." He scrubbed a hand over his face. "I have no doubt he had a long wishlist he intended to deliver after I finished his first test." Then he smirked. "Oh damn, I guess I failed."
She chuckled and taped off the bandage, then moved to the other side to see to his right arm.
He was looking at Steve, still on the bed and partially blocked by Bucky, when she said, "Can I have this?"
He looked at her, then down to see he was still gripping the gun. He forced his fingers to unclench and took in a deep breath.
She said nothing, just caught the gun as it slid free. A quick safety check and she set it aside, then picked up his hand and began working again.
He felt like he should apologize, but the word got stuck in his throat, thick and sharp.
"It's fine," she said. "It's encouraging even."
He tilted his head and she shrugged one shoulder. "Keeping hold of your weapon through a fight is a very important skill and surprisingly difficult for some people to learn."
He snorted and looked back at Steve.
"I still got my ass kicked. And Steve's too." He wiggled his fingers for emphasis. "As you can see."
She turned his head back toward her and looked him straight in the eye. "You survived. They did not. Don't make me pad your ego again."
And somehow that approval, however backhanded, helped.
He leaned back against the seat and said, "Well, of course. That was never in question."
She hummed. "Of course."
There was a sharp gasp and both of them looked at where Steve had jerked in surprise. "Bucky?" he said, eyes blinking rapidly as his brow furrowed.
"Hey, punk," Bucky said, taking Steve's hand and squeezing it. "You with us again? You've been kind of in and out of it."
"Sorry," Steve said. Despite the fact that he'd spent most of the last month effectively sleeping, he sounded exhausted. "Gave me something."
"Yeah, JARVIS is analyzing your blood now, but he's pretty sure it's gonna work itself out before we get back to the Tower."
"Mhm," Steve said. "Good." His nose scrunched up. "S'annoying. Can't think. M'brain feels like jello."
He appeared to doze off again, but loud footsteps on the ramp startled him awake and he lifted his head and looked around. "Who…?"
"Easy, Steve," Bucky said, keeping a hand on his shoulder to keep him in place. "It's just Thor and Sam and Bruce."
"Oh okay," Steve said. "Good." His eyes closed again.
And then flew open as he threw himself to the side, rolling out of Bucky's grasp and landing on his hands and knees. "Tony!" he gasped. He tried to push to his feet, and then climbed the medbed when that plan failed. "We have to— They're gonna kill him. He won't build their missiles and they're gonna kill him!"
Bucky rounded the bed but Thor caught Steve when he reached the end and tried to fling himself down the ramp to go back.
"Whoa, Steve," Thor said, keeping his grip tight enough that Steve couldn't break free, but loose enough not to panic him further. "Tony is all right. He is safe."
"No! I hafta— Hafta—" Steve looked up at Thor, his expression torn between an order and a plea. "He saved my life. I hafta go back for him."
Tony had shot to his feet when Steve first fell, but the adrenaline still thinning his blood made him dizzy and then there were people in the way and it took him a second to worm past them and grab Steve's arm.
He whirled around, fist clenched and ready to fight until he realized who it was grabbing him. " Tony. "
Tony rocked back on his heels when he was suddenly supporting 240 pounds of clinging supersoldier, and only Bucky's hand on his back kept him from falling on his ass.
"Okay. Okay. I gotcha. I'm here, Steve. I'm fine. See? I'm just fine. We both got out. Okay? Yeah, we're okay."
Steve buried his head against Tony's neck and hugged him tightly.
"We're okay," Tony said again, wincing because Steve's shoulder had to hurt and his own ribs were a little tender still from an incident the first week. "Hey, easy there, Cap. I don't want to survive all that just to be hugged to death." He smothered the grimace and patted Steve's back, then rubbed a hand up and down his spine. "We're good now. We made it out."
Steve pushed him away suddenly and they both almost fell over again. "Your hand. Something was— What happened to your hand?" he demanded, inspecting the bandages and tugging at the cuffs with a glare.
"Ah!" Thor said. "Allow me." He dug into his pocket and came up with a key ring. Tony ignored the smear of fresh blood on the keychain and the stab of dark, visceral pleasure he felt at seeing it. He hoped Jackson put up a fight.
"This is your Captain speaking," Clint's voice came over the intercom. "The tower has cleared us for takeoff so I need all passengers in their seats with their seatbelts securely fastened and their tray tables in the upright and locked position."
Thor looked at Tony and gestured at the seats, while Bucky tried to herd Steve back up onto the medbed, but he wasn't having any of it.
"I'm fine, Buck. I can—" He swayed and had to grab the bed, more than one set of hands reaching out to steady him. "I'm fine," he repeated sullenly. "I don't want to stay there. I can sit in a seat." He punctuated this by wrapping a hand around Tony's arm and shuffling toward the bulkhead.
Bucky put his hands up in surrender, but he watched closely as they were seated. Thor sat on Tony's other side and used the key to open the cuffs, then handed them off to Natasha.
Tony watched with fond amusement as Steve took his newly freed hands and brought them up for inspection, poking and prodding at the left one especially.
"Steve?" Sam said, crouching down in front of them. "Can I put this on real quick?" He held up a field cast and Steve eyed it for a long second.
"It's not cuffs," Tony said, figuring out the reason for his hesitation. Steve was normally pretty happy to throw one of these on anyone who might have even sprained something just in case. "It's a cast. It's fine. I want it on, Steve."
He wiggled his fingers and Sam handed over one cuff. When Tony had secured it in place around the palm of his hand and it had reshaped to fit, he held his arm out and took the second, securing it around the meat of his arm just below the elbow. It took almost a minute for the cast to form between the two and then Tony held it up.
"See? Much better."
Steve nodded and then sighed. He scrubbed a hand over his face. "Sorry. Things are…" He waved a hand vaguely. "Fuzzy."
Tony patted his knee. "I know, buddy. Been that way all month. It's okay. It'll stop now that there's no one to give you more of whatever that was."
Steve nodded and half turned in the chair to curl over and rest his head on Tony's shoulder.
Sam watched with a smile, then looked to Tony. "JARVIS said your blood is clear of anything, so I'm going to get you some painkillers and both of you some food."
"Thanks," Tony said, wrapping his arm around Steve's shoulders and easing back into a slump.
Steve wiggled a bit into a more comfortable position, one hand coming up to rest over the arc reactor. It was a little habit he'd developed during their stay. Tony didn't know if it was some kind of subconscious effort to protect it—highly possible given Steve's almost draconian hoarding tendencies when it came to the entire team—or what, but he'd found it kind of reassuring either way.
The sound of the engines spooling up and the jolt of liftoff pulled the plug on the last of Tony's tension. He looked over the cabin and mentally ticked off each member of the team, verifying they were at least relatively uninjured and present.
Bruce was tucked into a blanket, eyes closed but smiling as, next to him, Thor and Bucky discussed a hockey game they'd apparently watched last week. Natasha was in the cockpit with Clint, but the look on his face said she was teasing him about something. Sam was pouring water into heater packs and sliding MREs inside. He tucked two bottles of water under his arm and carried the steaming packs over as Tony watched.
"Steve?" Sam said quietly, not wanting to wake the man if he was truly asleep.
Tony shrugged his shoulder, knowing he needed the food far more than sleep right now, and Steve's head popped up.
"What?" he said, voice rough and confused.
Sam held up a bottle of water and Steve blinked, then snatched it up. He cracked the lid and tipped it up—then paused and lowered it again, eyeing both it and Sam.
"It's good," Tony said, reaching for the bottle of water Sam had opened for him. It was pulled back and Tony frowned until Sam gave him a look.
"It's clean," Sam said and took a sip. He waited until Steve relaxed and nodded, looking sheepish, but determined, and promptly drained his entire bottle in one go. Then he handed the bottle back to Tony.
"I'll get more," Sam said with a relieved chuckle. He passed the still heating bags to Tony, along with a small packet of pills, and then went to dig out more water.
Steve let his head fall back onto Tony's shoulder, toying with the bottle and lid in his hands. "Hate this part," he muttered.
Tony canted his head so it rested on Steve's and said, "Yeah, going home is both wonderful and awful. But it'll pass. Eventually we won't have to sniff our food or sleep with lights on or barricade the doors. Life will go on as it always does."
Sam returned and traded Tony the bottles of water for the used heating packs, waiting until Tony had offered Steve his choice of meals and both of them were digging into their pouches to say, "I'm gonna be right over there. Let me know if you need anything else."
Tony nodded and said, "Thanks," around a mouthful of ravioli. He got a wrinkled nose of disgust and a shake of Sam's head, then they were left to eat in peace.
Well, mostly. He could still feel the occasional glances as the rest of the team checked on them, but that would also only go away with time. And it was actually kind of reassuring, if he was honest with himself.
They'd been snatched off the street while visiting Austria for a conference with some European heads of state and the creeping paranoia that no one had even noticed they were gone had been hard to deal with. Still was, and probably would be for awhile.
Having people check and make sure they were still there was certainly better than the alternative.
When the food was gone and Tony had traded one of his Samoas for one of Steve's Thin Mints (only the best for Avenger MREs and that meant Girl Scout Cookies, not cardboard squares pretending they were shortbread) Natasha swung by and took the trash from him, having traded Sam her seat in the cockpit for a chance to stretch her legs.
She returned a moment later with blankets and tucked them both in, brushing kisses over their heads. "Dobroy nochi."
"Night, Tasha," Steve mumbled and buried his face against Tony's neck.
She smiled fondly and Tony huffed a laugh. "Good night. And thanks. For…" He shrugged. Steve grumbled and she laughed quietly.
"Always, solnyshko." She kissed his head again, then left, ordering JARVIS to dim the cabin lights as she went to join Bucky and Thor in a game of cards.
Tony was too wired to sleep and, frankly, not quite sure that he wasn't already dreaming. He had no desire to wake up back in the cell if he was, so he got comfortable but didn't close his eyes.
"JARVIS?" he said quietly.
"Yes, Sir," came the equally soft response from a speaker near his ear.
"Catch me up on what I missed while we were gone."
JARVIS obliged, summarizing both world and more personally local events of the last month, skimming over and downplaying the measures the team had taken to try and locate them and the grief they'd gotten from all levels of government in multiple countries, but Tony knew them and could easily read between the lines.
His lips curved in fierce appreciation for his people. He wasn't sure what he'd ever done to deserve them, but he counted himself privileged to be a part of it.