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When You Mess With Him...

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Steve stood, staring out of the Helicarrier windows looking out at the sky, the ocean, and the land beneath but seeing nothing. He stood silently, rigidly, and motionless--well, mostly motionless. In his right hand his trembling fingers were lightly (reverently) stroking a smooth silky piece of red cloth.

A tie…

Four days….

It’s been four days and three nights since Tony had been taken, taken right in front of Steve’s eyes. It was what he dreamt of every night since-- what he saw every time he closed his damn eyes.

Explosions, flashes of light, debris falling, people screaming and running for cover, men in masks charging in, shaking, adrenaline, confusion, fear…Tony.

Tony…

*^*^*^*^*^*

“I hate this shit” Bucky grumbled, pulling his tie lose with an irritated tug from his finger

“I second that” Sam said, taking another sip of his drink, “Why are we even here?”

“Because Fury told us to” Steve repeated…again with a sigh, leaning against a table towards the back of the great hall. Taking a well-deserved break from all the guests. “Stop playing with your tie, Buck”

Bucky grumbled but his hand dropped and Steve grinned. He could understand why his friend was so frustrated, standing in the middle of a huge hall, dressed to the nines in a too expensive stuffy suit, and having to make small talk with any random guest who walked up; it wasn’t exactly his idea of fun either. From the looks on the other Avengers faces, they would more than likely agree with him.

SHIELD was the one who put the whole thing together, it was supposed to be a chance for people to meet and mingle with the Avengers. As it was, the party was filled with politicians, high military brass, CEO’s, and whoever else had enough money to buy a ticket. The only good thing about it was that there wasn’t much media at or around the party. Fury was able to keep the paparazzi away, something to do with national security or something, so the Avengers and their guests weren’t bombarded by the vultures. Steve, who was raised to be polite and courteous, drew the line at most paparazzi. One of the few things he wasn’t able to get used to was the constant media presence, whenever they left the tower they were pounced on-- when they were out eating, when he, Bucky, and Sam went running, anytime they were out and about. It didn’t help that some of the cameramen were less then civil and had no problem with making snide or asinine comments to get a rise out the Avengers. There were multiple occasions of one of the Avengers having to hold Steve back from punching a foolish reporter in the face at a comment they made at Tony, who got the brunt of their idiocy. It was one thing Steve was grateful for, he didn’t have to worry about getting asked nosy questions (Why did they care it he wore boxers or briefs?) or getting a camera shoved in his face by an overzealous reporter. As it was there was only one camera in the building held by a nice gentlemen who stayed on the outer edges of the party. Fury said the footage was just a little something to give the hounding media after the party was over; just to tide them over because no matter how bad they were now, they could be much worse if you did anything to ‘incur their wrath’…so to speak.

Steve had spent most of his night talking to the guests and answering the same questions with forced interest, too polite to turn down a conversation no matter how dull. It wasn’t something he enjoyed but it wasn’t difficult for him what with his USO past, not hard but boring and tedious. Whenever he needed to take a break it was easy enough to excuse himself and go find one of the other Avengers to talk to.

Clint and Natasha were by the buffet table or rather Clint was by the food and Natasha was by Clint. Clint kept offering food for Natasha to try but she rolled her eyes before dragging him onto the dance floor. Clint had complained just as loudly as Bucky had over the fitted suit and tie he was forced into, threatening to cut off the sleeves as soon as they weren’t looking. Natasha, who was in an elegant black evening dress with plunging back had quieted him and his threats quickly. A soft whisper in his ear, no doubt about after hours, silenced Clint with a grin. They haven’t had as many guests approach them as Steve had, despite Clint exuding warmth and openness…Natasha with her beautiful but deadly vibe kept most people but the brave at bay.

Sam and Bucky had spent most of the time hanging around each other, even though both of them repeatedly saying that they didn’t like one another. Despite what they said it was obvious they cared and they still looked out for each other-- even if they would deny it. Even now-- Bucky had been back for some months by now but he was still dealing with the fallout of his capture. He still had his days of course, he had his moments where Steve could tell he was trying-straining-to hold on to control. These moments could be triggered by anything it seemed, luckily by now they were far and in between, but they still happened. Steve and Natasha were kind of Bucky’s go-to people in those instances, the people he turned to to pull him back. Steve could tell that Bucky was having a hard time with the large crowd of people when they stepped into the party. Bucky was having trouble relaxing with so many people milling around, sometimes taking quick glances at his arm (despite the fact that they could barely see his hand). Sam hadn’t left him since they walked through the door, he planted himself right by Bucky’s side and kept his mind off the crowd with sarcastic quips and teasing barbs. Slowly Bucky had relaxed and Steve was grateful that Sam was looking out for Bucky too.

Bruce was the only Avenger, besides Thor who was in Asgard with Jane, who wasn’t at the mandatory function. Fury was initially adamant about all the Avengers being present and glad-handing the guests. But Bruce came at the last second and told Fury that he wasn’t ‘feeling’ well and it was probably a bad idea for him to be surrounded by people. Fury wasn’t happy about it, claiming it was important for Banner to be seen to help with the Hulk’s image…but Bruce DID look a little green when Fury tried to explain that to him. In the end Fury let Bruce off the hook (As they were leaving for the party however, Bruce smiled and winked at Steve before he went off to play around in his lab…the bastard).

Then there was Tony who had schmoozing and dealing down to a science at this point. Steve looked out to the small crowd who had surrounded Tony as he talked and laughed. Tony hadn’t stopped moving since they got there, not since they walked through the door. He gave Steve a quick kiss on his cheek and then he was off; going smoothly from guest to guest with an effortless ease that anyone could be jealous of. It was one of the reasons that Fury turned to Tony in these situations, Tony was a natural at this. He didn’t need guidance, he didn’t need support…Tony Stark knew how to work a room.

“All I’m saying is that I didn’t sign up for this when I signed up to be an Avenger” Sam muttered

“You signed up to do whatever Fury tells you to do when you became an Avenger” Steve replied, still looking at Tony.

Bucky snorted, “That’s rich comin’ from you, punk. Didn’t you and Fury just get into an argument because you disobeyed his order last week?”

Steve took his gaze off of Tony (and that suit that fit way too well) and smiled at Bucky, “I didn’t disobey his command…I modified it in order to adapt to the changing situation and ensure the safety of not only my team but innocent civilians.”

The twin looks he got from Sam and Bucky made it obvious that they didn’t believe him for a second. “Whatever you say, Man” Sam shook his head

“How much longer is this thing?” Sam jumped at the voice suddenly behind him and turned to glare at Clint, who was grinning unapologetically

“It’s been a few hours already” Natasha said walking over to stand next to Steve. Bucky and Sam were attempting to grab some of the food that Clint had brought over with him, but Clint kept swatting their hands away; hunched over his food protectively, “Tony still has to give his speech”

Steve nodded, he forgot about the speech. Fury had asked Tony to do a little something to show their appreciation for everyone being here. Tony agreed but only if Fury gave him the next few days off to work on his own projects. The most important was the War Machine armor that was sitting in his workshop completely disassembled. Rhodes had taken a really bad hit while he was out on one of missions, he was okay but the armor got fried. Tony had raised a fuss about Rhodey not taking care of his toys but Steve knew that Tony (worried for Rhodes) was planning on giving the armor a complete overhaul so it could withstand another attack like that.

“Looks like Stark is heading up” Clint said, getting distract enough for Sam and Bucky to each grab something off the plate and stuff it in their mouths before Clint could stop them. “Hey!”

Steve rolled his eyes at their antics and looked for Tony, who was standing by the front of the room by the large stage. The stage spanned the width of the room, standing above the floor the back of the stage was lined with windows. Large windows that rose from stage floor to ceiling and the view led out to the dark night sky and busy streets outside.

A microphone brought Steve back as he looked to the stage to see a young women tapping the microphone to get started. “Can I have everyone’s attention please?” She waited a few moments for everyone to quiet down and look to the stage, “I would like to take this time to thank everyone for coming and to SHIELD for hosting this party. We would also like to give a special thanks to the Avengers for joining us.” She paused again as people clapped and looked toward Steve and the rest of the Avengers present, Steve nodded and smiled back. “It has been an honor to meet you and show whatever and all appreciation we have for what you do not just for us but the world. I would also take this time to welcome to the stage a man who needs no introduction... Iron Man himself, Mr. Tony Stark!”

Another round of applause roared through the hall as Tony stepped onto the stage smiling and waving to the crowd. Steve watched as Tony practically glided across the stage to the microphone; exquisitely tailored suit that hugged his body, red tie that perfectly offset Tony’s olive skin tone, tousled brown hair, immaculately trimmed goatee, glowing eyes, wide smile…Steve was anxious to get home. Tony stopped to thank the woman and press a light kiss to her cheek before turning to the crowd.

“First off, I would like to thank the kind words of our hosts,” Tony said, smiling kindly at the woman from the stage, “I can say with all honestly and no doubts that the Avengers, all of us, are not only grateful but honored for all the support we have received. A special shootout to Director Nicholas Fury who couldn’t be here tonight…you know how busy superspies are, I’m sure.” Tony paused for a few chuckled before opening his mouth to continue when…

It happened so fast that Steve and the rest of the Avengers had no time to react…Steve had a split second where something akin to fear settled in his stomach before the first blast went off. The first blast went off somewhere near the middle of the room, the deafening boom cracked throughout the hall. A bright flash burst through the hall, making Steve see spots, the flash kept blinking in and out. The blast knocked the floor out from under the people who were the closest, Steve was knocked back hard against the table. He could see the rest of the Avengers get blasted back like he had. Before he even had time to get up another blast and another flash came from the opposite side of the room.

Then another and another and another.

Multiple consecutive blast and flash bombs, like strobe lights, came from all over the great hall, Steve could feel his ears ringing form the blasts. He looked up from the floor where he fell, he didn’t know when, but smoke and debris clouded his vision. People were screaming in fear and panic and Steve had just enough time to make out bright lights in the windows by the stage before he could barely hear the windows breaking loudly by the stage over the sounds of more explosions.

The stage…

Tony…

Fear drove him to his wobble legs as he desperately tried to look toward the stage, but there were too many bodies blocking his view, too much smoke to see.

“Steve!” Clint yelled, he was helping Natasha to her feet, he was looking toward the stage, “Tony!”

Steve felt Bucky’s metal hand grab his bicep as the two pushed their way through the terrified and frenzied crowd. By the time he worked his way halfway through he could make out the stage and his heart dropped. Multiple trucks were parked right outside the busted window, shards of glass, wood, and metal littered the floor. There was several men on the stage and Steve could see one of the larger men carrying someone over their shoulder with a cloth bag placed over their head…Tony.

“Tony!” Steve shouted but before he could take another step forward there was another flash of light and Steve and Bucky were thrown to the floor. Steve could barely hear over the sounds of panic and distress…He could only just make out the sound of trucks pulling away quickly.

He tried to surge to his feet but his head was spinning and he fell back to the floor with a thud. Bucky was right next to him on all fours breathing heavily, “Buck?” Steve croaked, trying to shake his head clear, “Bucky?”

“Steve!” He heard Clint coming up behind him, “Where’s Tony?”

Sam and Clint grabbed Steve and hauled him to his feet, they looked awful. Both of them were covered in dust and rubble, suits ruined and hair a mess. Clint had a big gash on his face and Sam looked like he was bleeding form his side.

“Steve, where’s Tony?” Clint asked again, shaking his shoulders

“I don’t...I…” Steve was lost, he couldn’t concentrate, his eyes and ears weren’t focusing.

Clint looked to Bucky, “Barnes?....Shit.”

Bucky was still on the floor, Natasha was by his side looking just as bad as Clint and Sam. Her dress was torn, her heels were gone, and she had a large cut across her arm. Her hand was on the back of Bucky’s neck as she talked soothingly to him in Russian. Trying to bring him back from where the explosions took him in his head. Sam and Clint both tensed as Bucky drew in ragged breaths but Natasha relaxed them with a resolute look and a nod.

Steve slowly got his bearings back, leaning heavily on Clint as his head finally stopped spinning. He looked up, most people has already fled from the building….the ones who could make it. The smoke was still settling but the flashes had stopped and Steve could start to make things out. He could see the stage, or what was left of the stage…

Sam spoke, “I don’t see Tony”

Tony….Tony….

Steve choked, “They...They took him” He pushed off of Clint and unsteadily walked toward the too empty stage, steps crunching unevenly over rubble. His eyes were locked onto the last place he saw Tony standing, staring at the now empty spot…lost. His heart ached and his stomach lurched as realization hit him hard. Tony was gone, taken right in front of him--He didn’t know where he was and the thought of that made him sick…

“Steve…Steve….Cap!” Steve was suddenly grabbed by the shoulders and shook. Clint’s voice was firm as he met his eyes, “You have to focus-- Tony needs you to focus...”

That jolted Steve back--his heartbreak was still there, but it was immediately followed by anger and determination. Steve spun around, taking in the situation-- Bucky was still on the floor but he was up on one knee. Arm resting across as he took deep breaths but his eyes were clear and he nodded to let Steve know that he was okay. Natasha, who was still by Bucky’s side, Sam and Clint were looking at him as well. He could see familiar looks on all the faces--they were going to find whoever took Tony--Steve took a deep breath, then he started barking out orders just as the ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars started showing up.

*^*^*^*^*^*

That was four days ago…and they haven’t been able to make much progress, much to Steve and the team’s irritation. By the time SHIELD had been able to locate the trucks, about 3 hours later, they were already abandoned, all of them at different locations around New York. Parking garages, hotels, gas stations…what was worse was that there were more trucks than what had actually been involved in the attack. The forensics team didn’t have any luck finding any evidence or a lead in them either. The trucks were spotless--they couldn’t even tell the team which truck Tony had even been in. The first day, or rather the first night, had been a frenzy, they were scrambling to figure out what happened and find any evidence on who did it.

Their biggest saving grace, their best evidence, was the only camera feed that was in the room. SHIELD had rushed to get the film from the cameraman, who was luckily alive and willingly gave up the footage. It was with that they were finally able to figure out what happened that night. The feed was a little shaky but the man, who was circling around the edges of the party so he wasn’t as hurt, was able to get almost everything that happened.

Whoever it was--they knew exactly what they were doing. They waited until Tony was separated from the Avengers, which meant they knew about the speech, taking everyone off-guard and by surprise. As soon as Tony was separated they set of dozens of flash bombs and small (but very loud) explosives, enough to confuse and disorientate everyone--even the Avengers. The explosions were coming from all over the hall, most seemed to be embedded into the walls and the ceilings. The man must have fallen at one point before picking his camera back up just in time to see the trucks ram through the windows. Tony had ducked as soon as the blasts started going off, the team saw him stumble to his knees. Tony was obviously having a hard time concentrating, just like everyone else, his head was in his hands. Which was why he didn’t see the trucks until it was too late. Tony saw the trucks a split second before they hit, having just enough time to curl in on himself to protect himself from the glass.

While 4 identical trucks had driven up onto the grass, only one of them rammed through the window running through then pulling back. Multiple men completely covered and with masks then ran through the opening...heading immediately to Tony. Tony was still looking dazed when one of the men grabbed his arm and hulled him to his feet. Steve felt white hot anger rise through his chest when he saw Tony struggle to get the multiple hands off of him--before one of the men brought a cloth over his mouth--and Tony stopped struggling.

More explosions and flashes cut through the hall, blinding the film--even the team had to turn away from the TV. By the time the flashes stopped Tony already had a bag on his head and he was being carried off into one of the waiting trucks.

---

Steve didn’t sleep at all that night, neither did any of the Avengers, they stayed up helping the people who got injured during the attack, most were injured from flying debris and getting trampled on, and trying to find any signs to who took Tony. After they found the trucks there was no place else to look, there was nothing to go on. SHIELD agents attempted to collect evidence but besides remnants of explosives there was nothing else there.

When the morning came, Steve sent out Clint and Sam to look over the city with the rest of SHIELD, hoping their keen eyes would see something. Steve, Bucky, and Bruce had compiled a list of suspects/enemies that may have had something to do with the attack. Fury had given the team access to everything and every database they needed to find Tony and Natasha had conducted interrogations all day. They dragged in various people--but in the end it was all in vain, they weren’t even one step closer to finding Tony or the people who took him.

The team worked fast and efficiently, Steve could see the hard determination on their face as they worked through the night. Everyone was aware that the longer Tony was missing the harder it would be to find him.

Natasha had called all her associates to see if they knew about anyone new working in New York. Clint and Sam had been flying for hours refusing to stop searching, they had to be threatened, by Natasha and Bucky, to come in and take a break. Bruce, who had been on working binges with Tony before, had been staring at the computer screen all day, eyes tired and face drawn but he kept working. Steve had rewinding the footage over and over again, hoping that he would see something that would lead them to Tony.

---

Steve barely slept the second night, the only reason he tried was because Bucky had threatened to knock him out if he didn’t go to bed. He rolled around for hours in his standard SHIELD cot for hours, trying fruitlessly to sleep. All of the Avengers were staying aboard the Helicarrier, that way they could be ready if any information was found. Steve stayed for another reason-- he knew there was no way he would be able to fall asleep in his and Tony’s big bed. He wouldn’t be able to sleep without Tony warm and comforting by his side. In the end it didn’t matter where he slept, even in his small bed he yearned for Tony’s body next to his.

To hear Tony’s soft and even breathing in the darkness of the room

To feel Tony’s warm skin pressed against his from where Steve had him tucked close

To be able to look down and see Tony’s soft and relaxed expression as he slept peacefully

After 4 or so hours of fretful sleeping Steve gave up, feeling more exhausted then he did when he first tried to lay down. Pulling his shirt over his head he padded out of his room and immediately headed to the meeting room that the team had turned into their office while they searched for Tony. Steve sat down heavily at one of the computers, turned it on, entered his password, and clicked. Pulling up the same video that he had watched over and over the previous day. He was desperately searching for something, something they missed-- some key that would lead to Tony. He knew it was a long shot, everyone on the team and SHIELD had watched this video for information. He knew Clint and Natasha had poured over it, if there was anything there those two would have found it

He didn’t know how long he was there, he had stopped watching the film and had taken to just taken to staring at the screen where Tony’s smiling face was staring back at him. He didn’t look up when he heard the door to the office open; Bruce paused for half a second in the doorway before he made his way over. Sitting across the table from Steve, starting another computer, and grabbing some of the files that were scattered over the table. The two stayed in companionable silence, the silence only broken when the other Avengers slowly started filing in throughout the night.

---

They finally found something the second day, after spending all morning continuing with their interviews-- they caught a break. At this point in time they had found 7 trucks in total, all identical and all spotless, scattered around New York. So when Sam said he found another one, no one was initially surprised, that was until he told them he found it parked outside a small airplane hangar outside of the city--and the airplane was gone.

Clint swung by to pick them up with the Quinjet, SHIELD agents followed, and took them to the rural area with a small plane hangar sitting in the middle of the field. The man who owned the plane was already at the scene, Steve moved to question the man but Clint stopped him.

“Sam and Natasha can handle that Steve” Clint said, stopping him with a hand to Steve’s chest, “There’s something you need to see”

Steve was walking to the hangar before Clint could finish, he could feel Bucky right on his tail. SHIELD agents in white suits were already in the hangar, bagging any evidence and sweeping for fingerprints. Steve could tell just by walking in that they weren’t going to find much, the entire hangar was spotless--much like the trucks. Clint nudged Steve’s shoulder, nodding to a corner of the hangar that was surrounded by agents…his stomach dropped.

Steve stalked over to the corner, Bucky was still close by his side and the agents moved as Captain America made his way over. Steve came to an abrupt halt and he heard Bucky curse behind his shoulder.

There was a steel chair sitting in the far corner of the hanger, ropes that had frayed edges from being cut lay around it on the floor, some still entwined in the steel bars.

Blood-- There was dried blood on the ropes and drops on the floor…Not enough to be fatal but enough to know that someone--Tony--had been bleeding in this chair…tied up.

“It-It may not have been Tony” Steve said, voice hoarse, “They could have taken someone else”

“We found this, Captain” One of the SHIELD agents stepped forward, holding at a plastic bag

Steve slowly reached out and grabbed it from the agent’s hand, staring at the piece of red silk fabric inside. Tony’s tie, the one that looked so beautiful with his skin tone… The one that Steve tied for him before they left for the party. The one that Steve was looking forward to taking off when they finally got home. Steve opened the bag, even though he knew it was stupid decision…the tie was evidence--but--he was desperate to touch it, to feel the smooth fabric between his fingers.

“Captain” the agent said, “That’s not a good…”

Bucky interrupted him with a cold look and the agent quickly backed off, turning (fleeing) across the hangar.

Steve help the tie with shaking fingers, running his fingers down the length of it…until his fingers ran over a hard spot--dried blood. His hand clenched around the tie as his chest burned, he could feel his anger raise from his chest--could feel the flush of rage over his neck. His throat was tight and he clenched his jaw stifling a roar of pure fury before it could escape his lips. He has seen men under his command get hurt before, seen them bleed and seen the aftermath of men getting beat to an inch of their life.

But this…Tony

To know that Tony was once sat in this chair and beaten, that Tony sat defenseless and unable to move while someone hurt him…Steve saw red. It was worse…it was so much worse.

He heard Bucky speak, “Did you find anything else?” Steve knew what he as asking, ‘Did you find what they used on Tony?’

“No, Sir” An agent answered quickly, “The place was pretty well cleaned out; no fingerprints, not even the owners. We can only assume that they left this corner alone because…”

“They wanted us to find it” Natasha completed, stepping up beside Bucky.

“The owner?” Steve asked, not lifting his eyes from the tie in his grasp

“He doesn’t know anything” She said, “He gave us a description of his plane, I already gave the details to Fury.”

Steve turned at the sound of familiar dragging footsteps to see Bruce walking up to them, eyes on the chair. He walked around the chair eyeing the ropes and the blood on the floor, “The blood has already dried,” He muttered, mostly to himself. He kneeled down, “It’s layered with medium to high velocity blood spatter…”

He looked back up to see them looking at him with a curious look, he scoffed, “Blood spatter analysis is all about biology, physics, and math; those are kind of my thing.”

“What does it tell you?” Natasha asked. Steve saw her pull at the sleeves of the striped sweatshirt she was wearing from the corner of his eye. An unusual nervous tick and Steve vaguely registered that it looked like one of Tony’s sweatshirts; one he liked to wear around the tower to relax.

Bruce stood back up, “The fact that it’s dry doesn’t tell me much… it just means that it’s been over half an hour since he was here. The layering over here tells me that there were multiple beatings…” Bruce stopped for a moment, skin tinted green as he breathed deeply, “The spatter tells me that he was beaten with…something.”

---

The third night wasn’t any better than the previous nights, Steve tossed and turned in his bed for two hours before getting up. It killed him….Killed him to know that Tony was out there-somewhere- at the mercy of his captors. The forensic team at SHIELD verified everything that Bruce had already stated and they confirmed that the blood was Tony’s. Steve scrubbed roughly at his face with both hands before running them into his hair and tugging roughly at blonde strands.

Steve pushed himself to his feet and got dressed before heading out of his room, he passed a wall of windows on his way to the team’s office. Even with the lights around the Helicarrier, Steve couldn’t see very far into the darkness outside. While the discovery of the chair in the hangar gave Steve heartache, there was a silver lining. The plane that was taken was not only unique but it also had the power for a transatlantic flight. Fury had immediately sent out for his agents to get in touch with as many air traffic controllers as they could. Asking anyone if they had any unidentified planes flying in their skies over the past few days or had seen the plane in question.

This is where they finally caught a break, an air traffic controller in Ireland claimed that the day before their small airport was contacted by plane that was asking to land. When they tried to question the pilots further, they were informed that the plane had to land immediately because they were about to run out of fuel. The airport had allowed them to land but before they were able to get to the plane, it was empty and the passengers were gone. Not only was it the plane that was stolen but inside was a men’s jacket. As soon as Steve saw it he knew it was Tony’s and that was all it took for the Helicarrier to be pointed towards Ireland.

They should be in Ireland waters by morning, but this did nothing to calm Steve’s mind. Steve knew he was being toyed with, they were leaving him clues…taunting him. Steve turned away from the darkened window, pushing his hand into his pant pocket and gripping the tie that he had taken to carrying around, and continued until he reached the conference room.

---

The team was busy pouring over the new information they had gotten from the airport….it wasn’t much. There was more dried blood in the plane--Tony’s-- and the jacket had been taken to check for more evidence. They had hit another dead end after they had reached the plane, there was no footage of who was on the plane, no tracks after they left…nothing. Fury had sent out more agents as the Avengers desperately tried to find something--anything.

Steve could see how tired and drawn the rest of the Avengers were, he knew that just like him, they probably weren’t sleeping well at night. The Avengers were family, to most of the Avengers it was the only family they had and all of them were fiercely protective of it.

That went double when Tony was concerned, it wasn’t because they thought Tony was weaker or unable to protect himself. They knew, all of the Avengers, that inside or outside of his suit Tony was more than capable of handling himself--The Avengers helped make sure of that. All of the Avengers at one point in time had dragged Tony away from his workshop and into the gym for some training. It wasn’t unusual for Steve to walk in and see Natasha showing Tony how to handle knives or for Clint to be wrestling with Tony on the ground.

No, that wasn’t why they were more protective of Tony…It was because of what they had learned about Tony over the years. Tony Stark could be narcissistic and pompous; he could be aggravating and stubborn. He can get under your skin in a second with a smirk and a well-placed line. It wasn’t until you knew him and he started to open up that you discovered that Tony Stark is just a well-crafted and defensive veneer for Tony.

Tony had surprisingly low self-esteem and he could become unsure of himself easily. Tony always doubted he was good enough and he walked around like he was always waiting for the hammer to drop. Waiting for someone to tell him he wasn’t good enough or that he didn’t do enough…because that’s what he believed about himself. He was forever haunted by his past and he would, more than likely, always feel guilt for what his company used to be involved in. That Tony sometimes looked at the Avengers, his family, like he was waiting for them to realize they didn’t want him and leave…

Fuck…Sometimes Steve felt like he was getting stabbed through the heart when he saw those lost looks on Tony’s face. When Tony thought no one was looking and Steve could see that fear cross his face, like he was worried that today would be the day they would leave him. Because that Tony was also incredibly kind-hearted, he was thoughtful, gentle, generous, and caring. He could also be excitable and childlike and Steve couldn’t understand who wouldn’t love him (of course he may be a bit biased).

What he wouldn’t give to have Tony back…

To see him sitting on the couch with Sam and Clint arguing about what movie they were going to watch.

To see him in the kitchen with Bruce, helping Bruce make dinner while he chatted away and Brue smiled at him warmly.

To see Tony and Bucky sitting at the table while Tony fixed his arm, bent over the metal prosthetic and bantering with Bucky.

To see Tony and Natasha strolling out of the elevator, one hand full of shopping bags, the other with a cup of coffee.

He would give anything to just see Tony sitting in his workshop, wild and beautiful as he fluttered around creating and inventing. To take him food when he forgot to eat (something he still regularly did) and sit on the couch as Tony buzzed excitedly, explaining to Steve any breakthroughs he made.

Steve was brought out up his thoughts by Fury, “Captain…” Steve and the rest of the Avengers looked up from their desk, “You need to come with me.”

They were on their feet, blazing behind Fury as he led the way to a room on the other side of the Helicarrier. The room was massive, obviously some kind of conference room and on the wall in the center was an enormous blackened screen that almost spanned the whole wall. There was only one other person in the room, Hill, who was sitting at a computer at the table.

“When the forensic team was searching the jacket that was found…they discovered something in the inner pocket” Fury started. Steve opened his mouth to ask what is was and why didn’t he know about it but Fury silenced him with a look. “It was a USB with some kind of code…”

“Why didn’t you call me?” Natasha stepping next to Steve, he could feel the tension, “Sir, you know that…”

“We just cracked it” Fury said, “Inside the code was a link to a video feed.”

Steve felt his stomach drop, “What kind of feed?”

Fury nodded at Hill who was sat at the table, who nodded back and pressed a button on her computer. The screen blinked before the picture formed--

“Well, well, I was beginning to think you would never crack my code” A man said. They could only see the man’s face on the screen, he was obviously holding the camera up….He was wearing a full faced Captain America mask complete with a fake cowl, the only part they could see of the man was his brown eyes and his lips that were smiling widely, “I was just thinking to myself, ‘Not a very good super spy club, are they?’”

“Where’s Tony?” Steve asked coldly

“Well…” The man frowned, “That’s not very polite, is it? Didn’t your mother teach you manners? You’re supposed to ask my name…”

“Cut the bulls…” Sam started, but Natasha stopped him with a hand on his arm

“Who are you?” Steve clenched his fists

The man huffed, “Well I guess that’s good enough. Not very polite but still…” The man stood up straighter and grinned, “Clearly…I am Captain America!”

He heard Bucky growl behind him, “My, my,” the man said, “Your puppy seems angry, Captain…HA! Captain and Captain! Well, we can’t have that--that would get confusing, don’cha think?” The man paused, tapping his finger against the plastic of his mask in thought. After a few second he made a small sound and pointed at himself, “Tell you what. I’ll be Captain because I’m the guest and you can be Steve!”

Steve took a deep breath, “Where is Tony?”

“Where is Tony…..?” The man sang, “Come now Steve, it’s only polite to address your guest by name.”

He heard Clint curse. “Where is Tony…” Steve grit his teeth, “…Captain?”

The Captain laughed, loud and elatedly, “Have no fear Steve, he is right here. With the Captain”

They saw the brief glimpse of a dark room as he turned the camera and then--Tony….

“See Steve? Right here with the Captain”

Tony was tied to heavy steel chair with thick ropes-- his ankles tied to the feet, his arms behind his back and two tight loops wrapped around his chest. His head was down, eyes cast to the floor. He looked filthy, his clothes were streaked with dirt…and blood. His white shirt was untucked and torn, buttons pulled loose at his chest revealing a grimy chest. There was a cut on his shoulder, the dark red color of the blood telling Steve that it was an older wound. Steve could see a big blood stain on the left side of his ribs. His black pants were just as dirty but with the dark material he couldn’t tell if Tony was bleeding anywhere.

“Look at the camera Mr. Stark” The man sang again, “There’s some people that want to see you!”

Tony slowly lifted his head and Steve heard the Avengers behind him release a litany of curses in multiple languages. Tony had a piece of silver duct tape covering his mouth, ‘HELLO, AVENGERS!’ was scribbled across it. His hair was a mess, dirty and falling over his forehead. There was an angry bright red cut over his right eyebrow, the blood from it crusted on his face. He had a large bruise on his left cheek, turning tan skin purple and blue. His eyes…Tony had the most expressive eyes Steve had ever seen. Happiness, anger, sadness, joy, doubt, love….Steve could see everything just by looking into Tony’s large brown eyes…Now--

Steve could see anger…worry….FEAR…He could see Tony begging for someone, anyone-- Steve-- to help. It had been years since Tony was taken by the 10 Rings but Steve knew Tony still suffered nightmare from his time captured…this must have been…

“You Son of a Bitch!” Clint yelled at the screen, “When I find you…!”

“But you can’t can you?” They heard the Captain taunt. The camera shook again as the man placed it down, He placed the camera far away enough that they could see completely see Tony. They couldn’t make out where he was, the entire room was dark. There was two men in black masks standing off to the side, wearing the same thing that the people who took Tony were wearing. The man walked back onto the screen, he was completely covered from head to toe, standing next to Tony and grinning at the camera, “We led you on a nice little search, didn’t we? And before you start to get smart, don’t think you can track this video feed.”

Hill, who was doing just that, shook her head gravely at Fury, Steve saw her mouth ‘No’ silently. Fury gave her another stern look, that wordlessly read, ‘Keep trying.’

“You didn’t really think that I would just give you his location did you?” The man chuckled the sound was grotesque with the plastic mask covering his face, “You’re not the only one who knows how to work a computer, you know.” He smiled at Tony and tucked a lock of brown hair behind Tony’s ear; Tony turned his head away from the Captain’s hand, “We haven’t even started having fun yet.”

This time Steve growled, “Don’t touch him!” He could hear Bruce’s labored breath as he desperately tried to remain calm.

“A little late for that, Steve” The Captain poked harshly at the bruise on Tony’s cheek. Tony groaned and shook his head to try to dislodge his hand.

“I’ll kill you, you sick fuck!” Bucky snarled, Steve could hear the metal of his arm flex.

The man shook his head and tsked at them, “Very rude, Mr. Barnes. You would think that you would be a bit nicer considering I have something you want.” The Captain pulled a gun from his waist band and all the Avengers shouted. The Captain smiled widely at their reaction and gently dragged the gun down Tony’s face, who closed his eyes tightly. “Maybe you should ask what I want.”

“What the fuck do you want?” Fury spit

The man sighed heavily, pulling back his gun, “I can see we are going to continue with the impoliteness. Honestly Mr. Stark, now I understand why you were so insolent when we first found you. Luckily that was easily remedied.” The Captain smiled maliciously and flicked at the tape over Tony’s mouth.

Natasha and Bucky barked out something in quick and angry Russian when Tony flinched at the touch. Steve’s hands tightened on the plastic chair he was grasping and he could hear the plastic creak under the force.

The Captain snapped his fingers and one of the goons from the side brought him a chair before returning to where he was standing. The man spun the chair around and placed it next Tony before sitting down. “I can see that I’ll have to work with you guys because without my help we’ll be getting nowhere quick.”

The man placed his arms on top of the chair, “You should have asked what I wanted as soon as you saw that I had something you wanted. Why else would I do this unless I wanted something? Unless I’m some kind of maniac that just does this stuff for fun! That’s the way the world works, if you want something you need a really good bartering chip.” The Captain reached over and gripped tightly as Tony’s hair and shook him. Tony let out a strangled whimper and Steve broke the chair he was holding, “Bartering chip”

“You fucking sick bastard!” Sam yelled angrily, taking a step toward the screen. Bruce had dropped to his knees, a green tint to his skin. Clint was at his side, he ran his hand down Bruce’s back as Bruce tried to stomp down the Hulk.

Hill and Fury looked at each other warily, “Maybe you should leave, Doctor”

Bruce shook his head vehemently, “It’ll only be worse” he groaned, he ground the palm of his hands into his eyes

“Are you sure?” Clint asked, helping Bruce back to his feet. Bruce nodded but he did sit down at one of the chairs.

Steve had been staring at Tony the entire time, chest heaving “What do you want?”

The Captain dropped his grip on Tony’s hair and clapped, “There we go! I knew you could do it! But…that’s a very important question and I don’t think you’re ready to ask it.”

“You fu…” Natasha stopped Clint before he could finish, “What do you mean we’re not ready?”

The man hummed, “I told you I was going to help you, which means I’m going to help you ask the right questions…Let’s see” The Captain tapped the chair, “Oh! Let’s try some practice questions!”

Sam choked, enraged and confused, “Pra-Practice questions?”

“Yes! Now let me think…Oh! Ask me where I got my mask.”

“Where you got your mask.” Bucky deadpanned

“Please phrase it as a question” The Captain reproved, shaking his head, “At this rate you’ll never be able to ask the real question here.”

Bucky grinded his teeth in irritation and Natasha spoke, “Where did you get your mask?”

The Captain looked unimpressed, “‘Where did you get your mask…?’”

Steve clenched his fist, lest he chuck the chair at the screen. Natasha spoke again, tightly, “Where did you get your mask, Captain?”

“There we go, was that so hard?” The man applauded them again, “I made it! Isn’t it wonderful, Steve?”

“It’s great” Steve replied sharply, the man cleared his throat pointedly, “It’s great, Captain”

The Captain giggled, “Okay, okay, Next one!” He banged his hands against the chair; He looked at Tony who was staring at the floor. He grabbed Tony chin and turned him back to the camera. “Ask me how Tony got that bruise on his cheek.”

Natasha started again, “How did…”

“No, no!” The Captain disrupted, “You already asked a question, Ms. Romanoff. Let someone else try.” He hummed thoughtfully before slowly grinning at the camera, “Let’s have Dr. Banner ask.”

Everyone turned in alarm to look at Bruce who still had a faint touch of green on his pale skin; he blinked back owlishly. Clint was already shaking his head, Tony was the one who usually looked out for Bruce hulking out but right after Tony was Clint, “No, I’ll do it”

“I didn’t ask you, Mr. Barton” The Captain shook Tony’s face at the camera, “Dr. Banner ask me how Mr. Stark got this bruise on his face.”

Clint went to speak again but Bruce spoke up, “It’s alright, Clint” Bruce took a deep breath, “How did Tony get the bruise on his face, Captain?” He was practically vibrating with repressed rage.

“I’m glad you asked Dr. Banner” The Captain released Tony’s chin, “As I’m sure you’re all aware, Mr. Stark has quite a mouth on him. When we first grabbed him he just wouldn’t shut up, ‘Avengers this’ and ‘Steve that’. Finally I got tired of his mouth…” The Captain chuckled, “Turns out to get Tony Stark to stop talking all you have to do is give him some incentive.”

The man grabbed Tony’s wounded shoulder with one hand and squeezed, Tony’s cries of pain were muffled by the tape and he squirmed to try to get away.

“That’s enough!” Steve snarled. The Captain gave a wicked smirk at the camera before releasing Tony’s shoulder and slapping Tony’s cheek crudely. Steve was more angry then he had ever been in his life, “What do you want, Captain?!”

The man tossed his head like he was thinking after a few agonizing minutes he looked back at the camera, “I don’t want anything, Steve.”

“You said you were doing this because you wanted something!” Bucky shouted at the screen

The Captain stood and kicked the chair away from Tony and out of shot, Tony recoiled at the noise, “If you recall, I also said ‘Unless I’m some kind of maniac that just does this stuff for fun…’”

That was the only warning they got before the Captain pulled out his gun and aimed it at Tony’s leg. They heard a shot and Tony screaming against the tape as the bullet tore a gash in his thigh.

“You fucker!” Clint screamed. The rest of the Avengers yelled fruitlessly at the man at the scream who was laughing over Tony’s sobs.

“Oh relax,” The Captain laughed, “I just grazed him….for now”

“Who the fuck are you?!” Bucky roared, livid

“We already went over this, Mr. Barnes” The Captain scolded, “We don’t want to go backwards now, do we? After all, time is precious…”

The man turned and took another shot, this time aimed at Tony left bicep. Steve grimaced as the sound of Tony’s cries filled the room. His heart pulled as he watch Tony futilely tried to get free from his restraints. Watched the tears of pain that rolled down Tony’s pale face and the distress that was easily read in his eyes. The man tittered cheerily when he saw the same tears fall to the floor, he walked over and pulled up Tony’s chin with his fingers in order to look him in the eyes.

The Captain ran a cruel finger over Tony’s red cheek, bringing his finger up to see the gathered tears on his finger before bringing it to his mouth.

“I’ll kill you, you sick fuck!” Steve thundered out, pure unrestrained fury coursing through his body. Pain, fear, angry, fury, sadness-- all combining and Steve’s body shook with it all, “Do you hear me?!”

“I’m afraid I can’t hear you, Steve.” The Captain sung, aiming his gun at Tony’s calf “Not with all the crying.”

Another grazing shot and Tony screamed out in agony again, his body slamming back against the chair. Steve barely registered the suppressed growls that were coming from Bruce and the sounds of Clint trying to talk Bruce into leaving with no luck.

“Why are you doing this?” Natasha asked, she sounded the calmest out of everyone there but those closest to her could see the rage in her movements and short words. Her eyes were cold and Steve could see her fingers twitching, like she was wishing she had a knife so she could drive it into the Captain’s neck--Steve could relate wholeheartedly.

“Now there’s an interesting question!” The Captain boasted turning to face the camera, spinning his gun in his hand, “Why…why...why?” He quickly turned back to Tony, swinging his arm and bringing the butt of his gun down across Tony’s face. “Why indeed…”

Tony’s head snapped to one side from the blow, the strike landing over the cut on his eyebrow and it started bleeding freely again. It dripped down his face and further stained his already dirtied shirt as Tony, dazed, listed to one side.

Steve’s eyes followed the bright red trail as the Avengers cursed again…and that was all they could do. Fury and Hill were both by the computer, desperately trying to find out where the feed was coming from. From the looks on their faces Steve knew that they were no closer to knowing where Tony was then they were the first day.

The Avengers were completely helpless as their friend--as their family--was beaten before their eyes. It was the worst type of torture Steve could think of…

The Captain was still laughing, blatantly enjoying listening to the Avengers scream and curse at him--knowing that they couldn’t do a damn thing. He hummed as he walked around the chair…practically skipping around Tony.

“You know what…where are my manners?!” The Captain hit his head with his palm, “I apologize for being so rude, Avengers. Look at me here…having all the fun without including my guests…”

He raised his gun to Tony again, wiggling it around as Tony pulled at his restraints, “Where should I shoot Tony next?”

“You sick depraved fuck,” Sam ground out behind clenched teeth

The man made a wounded sound and brought his free hand to his chest, “Very rude Mr. Wilson. Here I am trying to be a good host and I get nothing but disrespect.” He smiled widely, showing a flash of sharp white teeth, “Tell you what…Why don’t you pick first, Mr. Wilson.”

“No fucking chance” Sam violently spit at him

The Captain continued as if he didn’t hear him, “Pick! The shoulder, the thigh, or the side..HA! That kinda rhymed!” He pointed the gun at each body part as he named them, Tony squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered softly.

“Pick Mr. Wilson…Or I’ll shoot all three and this time it won’t be a graze.” The Captain declared, waving the gun in Tony’s face, “Choose!”

Sam ran his hands through his hair and placed his hands on his head, clenching his eyes shut as a strangled sob tore out of his throat. Bucky placed a heavy hand on his shoulder for comfort as Sam mumbled, “The thigh…”

“I’m sorry the what?” The Captain taunted

“The thigh!” Sam bit out again, eyes still shut

“Excellent choice, Mr. Wilson!” The man cheered. Sam’s whole body flinched when he heard the shot go off. When Sam heard Tony’s choked out cries and Sam sunk to his knees…

“Who’s next?” The Captain questioned over Tony’s tears, “What about you, Mr. Barton?”

Clint stiffened when his name was called, his breathing was ragged… misery read easily on his face.

“Let’s see, let’s see” The man circled Tony again, “How about the…ooooh. The bicep, the knee, or the forearm?”

“The bicep” Clint said immediately, before turning away from the screen. Not wanting to see what was going to happen next.

“That was quick, Mr. Barton. You must have done this before.” Another shot and another scream, Clint was shaking, “Who next, who next?”

“We’re going to get you out of there, Tony!” Steve said before the Captain could say another name, “Do you hear me?! I swear to you, we’ll find you!”

Tony looked straight at the camera, face red and tears in his eyes, he nodded

With that the Captain cackled loudly, facing the camera, “We’ll find you” he mocked maliciously, “You don’t even know where to look, do you?”

Steve stiffened as he realized that the Captain was right….Steve had absolutely no idea where to look-- where to even start.

“Now…where were we?” The Captain continued, “Why don’t we give Ms. Romanoff a chance to play?”

Natasha gave the slightest of flinches and when Steve turned to look at her he saw a single tear fall down her cheek. Clint grabbed her hand and Natasha held on tight.

“Where to shoot…” The Captain tapped his chin in thought, “How about…”

There was a muffled pop from the distance-

A sickening crunch-

Blood and chunks of flesh and brain splattered across the cement floor-

Not even half a second later blood dripped from the Captain’s head.

The Avengers caught a glimpse of his head, a large gaping hole that almost completely tore out the ‘A’ on the Captain America cowl, before he fell to the floor with a graceless thump.

The henchmen that stood silently by the side the entire time yelled in confusion before two more quick consecutive pops came from the sky -- blood, flesh, brain--and they fell to the floor.

Tony was staring at the Captain, wide eyes with confusion, just as bewildered as the rest of the Avengers.

“Who the fuck was that?!” Fury yelled, “Hill?”

“That wasn’t us, Sir” she replied, baffled

Tony’s gaze suddenly rose from the Captain’s dead body when he heard a thud come from somewhere in the dark. The Avengers watched as Tony started to panic as the mystery person came closer. He was looking over the camera, breathing picking up as the steps approached him-- until…

Tony suddenly collapsed on himself, his shoulders sagging and the tension flooding out of his body. The Avengers saw a small but lean body dressed in black step into view, a 30.06 rifle strapped to his back, silenced muzzle pointed to the sky. Two large knives in harnesses were strapped to his thighs and a smaller (but still considerably big) handgun was hanging off his hip.

Colonel James Rhodes

Steve almost fainted in relief, holding onto the desk as his knees shook in relief

He was kneeling by Tony’s side in an instant, knees in the puddled blood, pulling out his knife and cutting the thick ropes that restrained Tony to the chair.

“I got you, Tones” Rhodes said softly, tossing the roped to the floor and gently pulling the tape covering Tony’s mouth, “I got you.”

As soon as the tape and ropes were off Tony fell to his knees and wrapped his arms around Rhodes tightly, burying his face in Rhodes’ neck. Then he started crying…not just crying--wailing-- sobbing loudly against Rhodes. Gripping the back of Rhodes’ shirt in a death grip as wails tore from deep in his chest.

Steve felt his own tears start to fall as Tony’s cries filled the room and surrounded the Avengers, Tony was screaming in Rhodes arms. His heartbreaking wails tore at their hearts, releasing howling scream after howling scream into the dark room. Rhodes wrapped strong arms around Tony, whispering things that the Avengers--not even Steve with his super-hearing--could make out.

All he could do was watch as Tony completely broke down on camera, releasing all his emotions with every painful sob. Steve could see his body shaking in Rhode’s arms and Steve could barely stand to look at the screen. Could barely stand to hear the cries and hiccupping that resonated throughout the conference room--but he couldn’t leave. He was well-aware that the other Avengers were having a hard time as well.

Natasha was in Clint’s arms, turned away from the screen with her face in the crook of his neck and Clint’s head resting against hers. Their arms were tight around each other, drawing support from one another as the shook. Bucky was turned away from the screen as well, jaw clenched and flinching with every scream. Sam was leaning heavily on the table his head was down so they couldn’t see his face but his shoulders were tight. Bruce was the only one sitting down with his head in his hands, he was breathing hard but it wasn’t anger he was trying to hold back, there were wet spots on the table beneath him.

Tony suddenly started gasping, and scrambling for air--a panic attack. Rhodes pulled away, enough so he could hold Tony’s face between his hands, “Tony, breathe with me…Tony…breathe with me.”

Steve caught a glimpse of Tony’s wide terror filled eyes before Rhodes brought Tony’s head to his shoulder. He kept one hand in Tony’s hair as the other grabbed one of Tony’s hands and brought it to his own chest. “Feel my heartbeat Tony, match my breathing.”

Tony tried to fight it, hiccups and sobs racking through his body, but Rhodes held him close, “Listen to my heartbeat Tony, feel my chest. I’m right here, in and out…in and out. I’m right here, Tony. It’s over, I’m here”

After many minutes, Tony started to calm down, he stopped fighting Rhodes embrace and his back stopped heaving from sobs. He went boneless in Rhodes arms, the Avengers yelled at the screen in panic, but Rhodes didn’t look worried.

“He’s okay,” Rhodes said, running a hand down Tony’s back, “He just passed out.”

“How did you…?” Bucky questioned

Rhodes ignored the question, “I’m taking him to the hospital,” he said, Rhodey gently turned Tony before lifting him into his arms with a small grunt, he gave them the address

Steve blanched, “That’s…”

“Tony never left New York City” Rhodey said, approaching the camera and gently cradling Tony to his chest, “I’ll see you there.”

Rhodey moved Tony enough that he could reach out and knock the camera to the floor.

It went black--

---

Steve ran into the hospital with the other Avengers close by his side, he skidded to a stop right before he ran into the front desk. They took the Quinjet once they got closer to New York, the Helicarrier and SHIELD were heading to the rundown factory that Tony was taken to (Rhodey texted them the address).

“I’m looking for Tony Stark” Steve tapped on the desk impatiently, “He was brought in about 5 hours ago by Colonel James Rhodes.”

The nurse typed something into her computer, “He’s in room 429…”

Steve and the Avengers were running to the elevators before she finished, cramming into the elevator, anxiously waiting to see Tony with their own eyes. When the elevator reached the floor they squeezed out and hurried to the door.

“Hey!” They heard before they could open it

Rhodes was walking up to them, cup of coffee in his hand and scowl on his face, “He’s sleeping”

“We just want to…” Steve said

“Just want to nothing,” Rhodes said, placing himself in front of Tony’s door, “He just fell asleep, they almost had to give him something to knock him out.”

“What was the damage?” Bruce asked, which was good because Steve was about to move Rhodes himself

Rhodes took a sip of his coffee, “Besides the grazing gunshot wounds that needed multiple stitches, he had a deep cut on his shoulder, badly bruised ribs, laceration on his eyebrow, bruises all over his body, rope burns on his wrists and ankles, and a few broken fingers.”, Rhodes turned to Tony’s door, “They didn’t want him to die, they wanted him to suffer.”

Steve let out a harsh breath, “I want to see him”

Rhodes casted Steve a bland look, “I’m going to let you see him…”

“You’re going to let us?” Bucky repeated, glaring at Rhodes and pulling himself to full height

“Yes, I’m going to let you” Rhodes pulled himself up, despite the inches Bucky had on him Rhodes casted an intimidating figure--even in the face of the Winter Soldier, “Don’t make be regret it Barnes. I won’t let anyone, not even me, do anything that could hinder my Tony’s recovery.”

Steve bristled a bit at the ‘my Tony’ part. “We just want to see him, Rhodey” Natasha said and Rhodes relaxed, “Just don’t be too loud.”

The Avengers nodded and Rhodey opened the door to let them through. Tony looked pale against the stark white sheets of the hospital linen and small on the hospital bed in the large room. The bruise on his cheek and by his eyebrow were purple, he had a few butterfly bandages on the gash over his eyebrow. Steve couldn’t see any stitches from the gun shots but he could only imagine how many he received. He was breathing softly, his chest rising and falling slowly.

Steve walked to the side of his bed and gingerly grabbed his hand, mindful of the IV, ‘thank God, thank God.’

Natasha, still wearing Tony’s sweatshirt, walked to his other side, leaning over to brush a kiss against his forehead. The rest of the Avengers gently touched any skin they could see, Steve could see the overwhelming relief on their faces. Steve moved a chair next to the Tony’s bed so he could hold his hand as Rhodes and the rest of the Avengers settled into the multiple chairs in the room.

They stayed silent for a while, listening to the beeping machines and the bustling noise outside in the hallway.

Sam spoke first, “How?” Everyone turned to look at him and Sam looked at Rhodes, “How did you find him? SHIELD was looking everywhere…We were looking everywhere.”

“Not everywhere” Rhodes said, taking another sip of his coffee

No one spoke, they kept staring at Rhodes until he heaved a sigh… “I found out Tony was missing yesterday morning…”

*^*^*^*^*^*

“Shit” Rhodey groaned, twisting his back until it popped loudly, “I’m beat”

“What’s the matter, Colonel?” Major Cooper teased good-heartedly, “Getting old?”

Rhodey scoffed, “Hell yes and I could still fly circles around your ass”

Cooper laughed as they disembarked from the plane, “Good to be home!”

Rhodey nodded in agreement, “Yeah, I needed this leave last week”

“I hear ya, brother” They grabbed their bags from the compartment, “I’ll see you, Colonel, have a good break”

“Same Major” Rhodey waved as he walked to his car. It had been a long ass week and a hard ass mission, made even harder because he didn’t have his War Machine armor. He supposed he couldn’t complain, he thought he fried the whole thing, but Tony assured him it was salvageable.
[“You know, Platypus,” Tony scolded, “I never explicitly told you but…I kinda expect you to know to take care of your toys”… “Shut up, Tony”]

Now though, now that he was back from his latest mission (injury free, yay), he was just going to relax. With luck his armor would be up and ready for his next battle, not that he couldn’t manage without it (he was a badass after all). Speaking of the armor-- Rhodey pulled out his phone as he got into his car, pressing Tony’s speed dial.

It rung once, “Colonel Rhodes”

“JARVIS?” Rhodey asked, not terrible worried, sometimes JARVIS would pick up if Tony was busy. He pulled his car onto the street, starting to head home, he had a long drive to Philadelphia. “Where’s Tony? In the workshop? With Steve?”

“You haven’t heard” JARVIS didn’t ask, he stated

Rhodey’s hand tightened on the steering wheel, “Haven’t hear what?”

“Sir was taken last night and no one knows where he is.”

Rhodey was able to get control of his car before it careened off the road.

---

“What do you mean I can’t see the video?” Rhodey snarled into the phone. He immediately drove to Avenger’s Tower but JARVIS told him no one had been home in a while. They were all staying in the Helicarrier until they found Tony. He also told Rhodey that there was video footage of the kidnapping…but Fury had it seized and no one outside of SHIELD had been allowed to see it. Rhodey had called Hill, “Tony’s my friend!”

“I’m sorry Colonel,” Hill said and she sounded remorseful, “Director Fury locked the video down and isn’t letting anyone outside of the Avengers and a few select agents view it. He doesn’t want it getting out with the search still open.”

“Then I’ll come to the carrier and watch it there” Rhodey said, grabbing his coat

“I’m afraid not, Colonel” Rhodey threw his coat down, “The Director has it locked down”

“It’s Tony!” Rhodey snapped, “I need to find him!”

“SHIELD and the Avengers are doing all they can, Colonel,” Hill said sternly, “All I can do is let you know when we have information about his whereabouts”

“Like shit you will” Rhodey spit back, “Don’t lie to me Hill”

Hill was quiet, “I’m sorry Rhodes, the Director has spoken; this is a matter of security. We are doing all we can. You’re clouded, you can’t help Tony right now.”

Rhodey grit his teeth, “Fine” He hung up his phone and threw it at the wall, he wished it had shattered but it being a StarkPhone all it did was bounce off the wall. He covered his hand with his mouth and deliberated the next move in his head…Mind made up he spoke, “JARVIS?”

“Yes Colonel?” JARVIS answered promptly

“I know Tony already implanted you into SHIELD,” Rhodey said, JARVIS didn’t dispute this, “Find me that video.”

“…As you wish, Colonel”

---

Not even 20 minutes later and Rhodey was sitting in Tony’s workshop watching the video on Tony’s biggest screen. DUM-E and U by his side, obviously upset that their master was missing, Rhodey patted their heads. Rhodey barely even blinked as it played…soon enough the attack started. He saw the explosions, the chaos, the flashes, the kidnapping…

He froze…

“Rewind JARVIS” He said, heart beating fast. He rewatched the attack again and again…He recognized that attack.

He thought back--about 4 years ago--a mission he was called in on, in South Korea. A high-ranking General’s son was kidnapped at his birthday party. Rhodey remembers that footage, remembers what it looked like when he saw it for himself. A group of men burst into the party, setting off a bunch of bombs and flash grenades as they busted in. Everyone, even the other military guests were caught completely off guard. The son was taken and loaded into a car before they drove off.

Rhodey was with a team who was called in with his CO, the General wanted to keep the whole thing under wraps. The last thing he wanted was for word to get out because if the word got out that a General’s son was taken on foreign land-- there would be a shit-storm. Rhodey and his team worked for four sleepless nights and five hectic days before a USB was shipped to the General’s house. The USB led them to a video feed of the General’s son sitting in a darkened room with a man wearing a crude Uncle Sam mask. They all watched as the crazed man, who made them call him Uncle, tormented the family. He slowly tortured their son while the family watched for hours, before shooting at the camera and stopping all contact.

A week later they found the son’s body in an old bunker…not even 2 miles from the General’s house. The people who took him were never heard from and they were never caught. The General was able to pull some strings and the military buried the incident and the people involved had to swear that they would never mention the mission again. Rhodey had kept his word of course, not telling anyone about what he saw, never mentioned the 18 year old child that was taken too soon…Now-- He never knew what happened to the kidnappers but he should have known they wouldn’t have stopped, they were obviously perfecting their craft. Who knew how many abductions they had done by now.

Rhodey considered what he knew about the kidnappers--They team never quite figured out why they kept the boy close to his home. If Rhodey had to guess…It was another form of torture. The fact that your loved one was kept and tortured so close to you and you didn’t know. Why you were searching high and low, your loved one was “right in your backyard”.

Okay, so Tony would be somewhere close… “JARVIS?”

“Colonel?”

“Get me a map of New York City” Rhodey asked, JARVIS promptly pulled up a map on another screen, “Mark all abandoned factories, warehouses, houses, any place you could hide someone”

The screen blinked and there were more than 100 red dots all over the map, Rhodey cursed, there had to be another way. He turned back to the footage, there had to be something else. “Play JARVIS”. Rhodey watched intently, looking for something--anything.

Then…

“JARVIS!” Rhodey sat straight up, “Rewind…Play.”

“Rewind…Play”

“Rewind…Play”

“Rewind…..PAUSE AND ZOOM IN!”

Rhodey stumbled off the stool, around the table, and stood in front of the screen. There…right there. Tony’s shoes… Rhodey had been Tony’s friend for decades and during his time as Tony’s friend he has been his bodyguard, his lab partner, his teddy bear, his therapist, his chair, his nurse, his jail-mate (one exciting year during spring break), and--his fashion consultant. Tony never wore less then what the best money could buy, especially when going out in public and he often asked for Rhodey’s opinion on said clothes. Rhodey learned more about high end fashion then he ever cared to know. One thing he did learn though…is that when Italian shoemakers sell their hand-crafted ridiculously expensive shoes…their names are usually on the sole. Rhodey could see as soon as the image cleared, that the shoes he was seeing were not something Tony Stark would wear.

Which means the man tossed over the shoulder of one of the masked kidnappers is not Tony….

Rhodey paused as the information sunk in…Tony wasn’t taken when they thought he was…Tony was taken from the hall another way…

“JARVIS, skip pass the attack, let me see what happens after” Rhodey watched after the attack, emergency vehicles and SHIELD arrived pretty soon after the attack. He saw the Avengers bustling around and helping victims…eventually they leave--out to search for Tony. They must have believed that Tony was taken with the trucks. The cameraman, whoever he was, continued filming the after effects of the attacks. Watching as victims were carried away on stretchers and loaded into the waiting ambulances. Rhodey was about to rewind the video again until he caught something on the corner of the screen. “Zoom in on the right corner, JARVIS”

The screen zoomed onto a pair of paramedics who were pushing a man, with an oxygen mask over his face, out on a stretcher He was wearing a white button up and black dress pants with…expensive Italian shoes--Tony!

“We got him, boys” Rhodey smiled at the two robots at his side; who chirped and beeped back excitedly. Alright, the kidnappers must have knocked Tony out or something and then pretended that they took Tony when the trucks left…That wouldn’t have been too difficult because around the time they would have made that switch they had set off another barrage of lights and explosions. “JARVIS, bring up the blueprints to the hall.”

Another screen popped up--and sure enough, there was a small room under the stage. The hatch was in the corner right by the windows and right by where the truck had initially burst through.

“Track those paramedics, JARVIS, let’s see if we can see which ambulance they got in”

The footage played through like it was on fast-forward as JARVIS scanned and followed the fake pair. Unfortunately the man who was filming wasn’t aware that Tony was still in the room and he kept moving the camera. Eventually the film stopped “I’m afraid that’s all there is Colonel.” The last time the men were seen they were pushing Tony out of the large gaping hole in the wall and outside to the waiting vehicles.

Rhodey rubbed his hands down his face and groaned, he started to walk around the workshop. “Let me think, let me think” Rhodey looked to the ceiling and his eyes landed on one of the cameras in the corner, “JARVIS! Get me access to the all the cameras near and around the hall and the hospital. Traffic cameras, surveillance cameras, ATM cameras-- any cameras that are along the route to from the hall to the hospital. All of those ambulances went to the hospital, find me the one that didn’t.”

“Searching, Colonel” JARVIS replied--The silence lasted for only about 30 seconds--“I have located one ambulance that did not go to the hospital with the others.”

Another screen came to life and on it was a grainy shot from an ATM camera that showed an ambulance, with its lights out, driving away from the hospital. “That’s good, JARVIS, that’s good.” Rhodey sat down at the workbench again, “Okay, do the same thing as before. Check all the cameras but this time track this ambulance.”

“Tracking…” All the cameras in Tony’s workshop flickered and came on. Rhodey was surrounded by shots and videos of the ambulance around the city, some of the footage was grainy others were clear. Some had full shots of the ambulance while others only had glimpses of a bumper or hood.

Until--“I found it, Colonel” Rhodey heard a hint of relief in JARVIS’ voice with the declaration, “It looks like it pulled into an old building on the edges of the city. I can’t seem to find any cameras by it to get a closer look.” The last camera shot on the screen showed the tail end of a white ambulance turning into the building.

“No need JARVIS, they’re there” Rhodey could feel his heart beating fast, he started his way to the elevators. He would have loved to have taken the War Machine armor, but seeing as it was strewn across the workshop…that was impossible. Not that it mattered. “Send the address to my phone please, JARVIS. Where are the Avengers right now?”

“They’re on their way to Ireland” JARVIS replied after a few seconds

“Ireland?” Rhodey looked at the ceiling in confusion, “What are they going on vacation?”

“It seems they have been finding evidence that Sir was taken to Ireland by the kidnappers.” JARVIS said.

“Let me know when you have information…” Rhodey muttered, he knew SHIELD was lying, “They must be leading the Avengers on a wild goose chase…JARVIS take me up to Barnes’ floor please.”

JARVIS paused…“Yes, Colonel?”

“I need to get something,” Rhodey replied, “The Avengers should be getting that USB soon”

“USB?” JARVIS questioned as the elevator doors opened

Rhodey started to look around Barnes’ room, “The people who took Tony are going to give them a USB, and it’s going to contain information to a video feed.”

“A video feed of what, Colonel?” JARVIS questioned and Rhodey paused for a second

Instead of answering the question, Rhodey replied, “You won’t want to be on the SHIELD computers when they start watching that video, JARVIS”

JARVIS remained quiet

“I’m going to get him back” Rhodey promised him

“Should I alert the Avengers, Colonel?”

Rhodey opened the closet and he felt a smile pull at his lips, “There’s no need for that, JARVIS.”

---

By the time Rhodey got to the factory it was starting to get dark…which was good. He had observed the factory from a distance, barely making out the numerous men who were guarding the entrances. Rhodey slinked closer taking his (Barnes’) rifle off his back and tucking it safely into a corner, he didn’t want it to get in the way. He made sure his knives (Barnes’) were securely attached and his (Also Barnes’) 9mm, complete with silencer, was loaded.

He took a deep breath before opening his eyes, not just ‘Rhodey’--

Colonel James Rhodes of the United States Air Force--

It was time to remind these bastard that when you mess with Tony Stark...You mess with James Rhodes.

---

Rhodey made his way around the factory hidden in the shadows, taking count of how many people he had to deal with. -- 11, eleven men with guns at the ready in the hands, all of them on the ground guarding the entrances. Unknown how many inside but he’ll get to that when he gets to it.

He decided to start at one end and work his way around the building, he would have to work fast and efficiently. Luckily the lively sounds of the city that never sleeps made being absolutely silent unnecessary. The sooner Tony was with him and out of his kidnapper’s hands, the better. He choose to start with the two in the back…crouching low in the bushes and overgrown grass.

He unclasped his knife, pulling the long blade from its sheath…He only has one shot-- He stayed in the shadows, pressed against the wall until he was close enough and the man was away from the other--

He came up behind the man quick, clasping his hand around his mouth, twisting his neck and running his blade across. He felt the muffled grunt against his hand before the man went limp in his arms. The Colonel took his weight and carefully let him fall to the ground-- 10 left.

With the other man by himself Rhodey took him out much the same way…with a blade to his neck-- 9 left.

He rounded the next corner knife in hand, the next man he ran into was half a foot taller than him. He came forward when the man’s back was turned, jumping up enough to throw his arm around his neck and pull him into the shadows. The man barely had time to release a surprised gasp before the Colonel’s blade moved--8 left.

The two men who heard the thump as the Colonel released the dead man to the ground came closer to investigate, only to fall to the lifeless with holes between their eyes. --6 left

Two men were waiting for him around the next corner, Rhodey wasted no time. He aimed his gun and let two more bullets fly; the men collapsed-- 4 left

The four remaining men all guarded to front entrance, the four of them huddled by the front door smoking. The Colonel looked around for something to use, he had to take out all the men at the same time, before one of them could alert someone inside. He examined the old foundation and bricks that covered the building…That could work. Rhodey put his gun back in his harness and grabbed his clean knife, placing it between his teeth, before he backed and took a running start at the building. He grabbed onto the 2 inch ledge that was just above the window, pulling himself up. He used that ledge to grab onto another smaller ledge that was above him, holding on tight.

He waited a moment, to see of anyone was going to come running around the corner; if he was caught like this it wouldn’t have been good. Fortunately he didn’t hear the sound of footsteps coming towards him. He grit his teeth as he started edging his around the corner and across the wall where the men were standing. The dark sky and his dark clothes offered enough camouflage as he made his way over. His fingers were on fire and his arms strained as he crawled over, for a split second he was seriously jealous of Spider-Man. Finally he was over the unsuspecting men who were all talking and laughing together.

1…2…3!

Rhodey kicked off the wall the same time he let go of the ledge, grabbing the knife on the way down, and dropping right between the small group of surprised men. He moved before anyone of them could do more than jump in shock. He swung his knife at two, sweeping the blade across their necks--2 left.

He drove his hand up, slamming the butt of his hand hard against another man’s nose; he fell to the floor--1 left

The last man tried to grab him around the shoulders…The Colonel ducked out of the way swept a his leg against the other man who fell to the floor, on his back, with a grunt. Rhodey stood up and slammed his foot down on the man’s throat before he could make a sound. Rhodey looked him in the eyes as he pulled out his gun and aimed it between the man’s wide eyes-- 0

The Colonel went to grab his rifle and strapped it to his back before he grabbed the ledge above the window again. This time he worked his was over to a cracked window, checking it out for carefully climbing through. He grabbed a piece of scaffolding and heaved himself up to the ceiling before settling in. The building was huge…and reminded him of a cavern. The light from the moon and the passing cars the only thing cutting through the darkness.

Except…In the corner of the building there was a small faint light and he could see some people gathered around it. The corner they were tucked in had tarps and cloth covering the walls behind and around it. Rhodey slung the rifle from his back and lay down low, placing the rifle ahead of him to use the scope to see.

He grit his teeth at the sight-- Tony was tied to chair in the center of the dim light, bloody and dirty. A camera was pointed at him at a small distance so his whole body was on screen. There were two other men like the ones outside standing off to the side. In the middle, circling around Tony was a man wearing a…Captain America mask covering his face.

He was waving a gun around turned toward the camera, the Colonel couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he knew he was talking to the Avengers. Tormenting them, teasing them…

When he saw the man start to aim his gun at Tony he reacted--

He pressed himself low and aimed his rifle…

Distance - Windage - Gravity - Accounted for.

Breath in…Breath out….Pull the trigger….

He saw the man’s head snap forward as the bullet sailed through his skull -- his body crumpled to the floor.

Rhodey moved the rifle quickly, aiming at the two men who rushed forward in surprise -- The sound of their bodies hitting the ground echoed through the empty building.

---

The Avengers were staring at Rhodes incredulously and Rhodes stared back at them with a blank expression on his face.

“You recognized my shoes?” Tony croaked, voice weak and scratchy

“Tony!” Steve stood up and gripped his hand tightly. The rest of the Avengers were on their feet instant and slowing down before they approached when they saw Tony flinch slightly at the quick movement.

Tony was looking at Rhodey, watching as he approached the bed, “Seriously? The shoes?”

“We have officially spent too much time together” Rhodey smiled and placed his hand on Tony’s covered ankle, his thumb brushing across it comfortingly

Tony relaxed with the touch, “Not enough if I didn’t know my best friend was some kind of Sherlock-Holmes-detective guy” Tony scoffed, wincing as he tried to sit up

“Easy Watson,” Rhodey said, Steve and Natasha helped Tony sit up

“I’m not Watson, you’re Watson” Tony grumbled.

“Tony…” Steve whispered, raising a shaking hand to Tony’s bruised cheek

Tony bit his lip eyeing Steve’s hand before he smiled back gently and pressed closer, “It’s good to see you, Cap”

“You too, Shellhead” Steve gave him back a watery smile. He wanted to take Tony in his arms and hold him tight, never letting go. As hard as it was, he resisted, because even though Tony was smiling tenderly at his teammates; Steve could still see the panic in his eyes-- clear as day.

Natasha pulled gently on an unruly tuft of Tony’s hair, “Don’t worry us like that again, Stark”

Tony gave her a tired smile, “I’ll see what I can do but I can’t give you any promise.” Tony paused and squinted his eyes at her, “Is that my sweatshirt?”

She smiled, ignoring the question, and pressed another soft kiss to his forehead, “Did someone get a picture of that?” Tony asked looking around, Natasha tugged at his hair again

Clint stepped closer, “My turn” He started to lean towards Tony, lips puckered

“Eww, yuck!” Tony tried to bat him away, “Steve!”

Steve pressed a finger to Clint’s forehead and pushed him away, “Fine, no kiss but it would have been amazing.” Clint said, shaking his head

“Somehow I doubt that,” Bruce grinned, he shoved Clint out of the way to stand by Tony’s bed

“Are you going to try and kiss me too?” Tony nodded at Steve wincing, at the movement, “Careful, he’s the jealous type”

Steve rolled his eyes, Bruce laughed, “You don’t have to worry about that”

Tony grinned and looked to Bucky and Sam who were standing at the foot of his bed, “What, no flowers?”

Bucky snorted, “It’s good to have you back Stark”

“Aww shucks, Barnes” Tony fluttered his eyes at him, “I’m blushing”

Sam chuckled with the rest before the smile slowly fell off his face, “Tony…”

Just like that the mood in the room changed and Tony looked at Sam who was staring at the floor. Sam looked up, “Tony, I’m…”

“It’s okay Sam,” Tony said, meeting his eyes, “It’s okay…”

Sam looked like he wanted to say more but before he could Natasha’s phone started ringing. She turned to answer it, “Yes? Okay…Yes, Sir”

She turned back to the room, placing her phone back in her pocket, “Fury has information.” Was all she said.

“I’m coming” Rhodey said immediately, no one disagreed

“Rhodey…” Tony jolted and looked to Rhodey, panicked at the thought of Rhodey leaving him

Steve flinched-- Rhodey saw it, “I’ll be back Tony, I promise. But I need to find out who did this,” Rhodey’s gaze shot to Steve, “Stay here with Steve and get some rest. I’ll be back soon.”

Tony nodded, leaning back against his bed and canting his body towards Steve-- Steve looked at Rhodey gratefully. Everyone bid their goodbyes, promising to return later with food and gifts. Rhodey was the last to leave, he stuck his tongue out as he closed the door behind him.

Tony chuckled, “And he says he’s the mature one”

Steve smiled but it was weak, “Tony…I…I am so sorry. I wasn’t able to protect you, I wasn’t able to save you. I- Tony I am so sorry.”

Tony stared at him before tugging on Steve’s hands, “C’mere”

“Tony, I can’t just…”

“I’ll sleep better if you’re lying in bed with me” Tony said, Steve still looked torn, “Please?”

Steve, not able to ever refuse Tony, carefully climbed onto the bed. They jostled around a bit until they were both comfortable, a tough task given how small the bed was. Eventually they settled, Tony’s head resting on Steve’s shoulder; Steve ran his hand through Tony’s hair.

“It’s not your fault Steve” Tony finally said, “Those guys knew what they were doing, there was nothing you could’ve done.”

“I should have realized that the whole thing was a trick” Steve said, angry with himself for not seeing it for what it was, “If I had watched the footage more…”

“Steve, you and I both know that you must have watched that video at least a hundred times” Tony continued when Steve didn’t deny this, “You followed the clues you had, I would have done the same thing.”

Steve frowned, “Rhodes didn’t watch it nearly as many times as I did and he found something”

“Yeah…and don’t think I’m dropping that.” Tony said, “I mean, really? My shoes?! Who looks at the bottoms of their shoes? Do you think Rhodey and I spend too much time together? I don’t know what the bottoms of his shoes look like…Remind me to have JARVIS scan all of Rhodey’s shoes, I don’t want him to think I don’t care enough to know what his soles look like.”

“Tony…” Steve laughed, finally, after almost five days he felt himself start to relax. Tony was here--back in his arms…Tony was here.

“Steve, you heard what Rhodey said. He had seen these men before, he had the upper hand in this case.”

“I still should have known, Tony” Steve said, “I don’t know how but…I should of…”

“Don’t do that, Steve,” Tony shook his head, “Don’t play the ‘I should have game’, you never win; trust me.”

Steve stayed silent

“What I’m trying to say is…I don’t blame you for anything, Steve” Tony said softly, “I know you and the rest of the team was searching for me. In our line of work this kind of thing is to be expected.”

“Doesn’t mean I like it or that it’s easier to deal with” Steve mumbled in Tony’s hair, hugging him closer

“No,” Tony admitted, “It’s not easier…”

Steve held onto Tony as the room became quiet again, he felt Tony’s breathing even out and thought he was sleeping.

He heard a sniff…Tony’s shoulders jostled once--twice…a quick intake of breath

“Oh, Tony…” Steve breathed, pulling Tony closer as Tony brought his hand to his face to cover his eyes, “It’s okay Tony, you’re safe now.”

Tony started crying again, but it wasn’t the loud painful wails from before; these cries were soft and silent. Tears dripping down Tony’s face as he wept, Steve pressed his lips to Tony’s hair, offering small words of comfort and love as Tony cried tears of relief.

Steve reached for the remote on the table next to the bed to turn off the light, “Try to get some sleep, Tony”

Tony quickly stopped him, “Don’t turn off the light”

Steve watched as Tony leaned in closer and nuzzled into his shoulder, “Don’t turn it off just… stay with me…”

Steve brought his arm back and took Tony’s hand in his, bringing Tony’s hand up to his lips. He pressed a soft kiss to the back of his hand and held Tony’s hand to his chest. Tony hummed softly before he finally dozed off, “I’ll be right here…” Steve whispered, nestling into Tony’s hair, “I promise…”