DISCLAIMER: The Avengers is the property of Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Studios, and Marvel Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.

RATING: T (for language, violence)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello and welcome to this installment of the Traumatized Trio, otherwise known as Steve, Clint, and Tony getting into some deep, deep trouble in some dark, dark places (literally) :-). This story features a large amount of bromance and some Tony/Pepper. Please read and enjoy!

THE LAST LEVEL

1

There were dark places in the world. Evil men. Horrors. Hell on earth.

As he drifted in and out of consciousness, Tony was only aware of a few things. Passing thoughts to which he couldn't hold no matter how desperately he tried. Scattered memories and fleeting sensations. Pain and a lot of it. The world tipped and twisted as he blinked teary eyes that stubbornly refused to focus. He saw shadows and dim, yellowish light and metal. He was moving, or being moved. Dragged by his legs, in fact, over something rough and molded into a recurring pattern. Metal grating? His head kept bumping against it, his hair catching in poorly welded joints and chipped, rusted gaps. And the metal lines overhead, draped in shadows, were long snakes that hissed and loomed menacingly over him. Not snakes. Pipes, lining a circular corridor of some sort.

Where the hell was he?

What happened?

But he couldn't remember. Everything was jumbled, like his brain had been smashed against his skull so many times that the normal, logical flow of thought and memory had become completely disjointed. Awareness was so teasing, so transient, that he never seemed to stay connected to the world long enough to truly understand it. Something told him that was a good thing. Something told him that the disaster that had landed him in this position – the one he couldn't quite remember – was very bad indeed. And he was in some serious trouble.

Despite that reasoning, he was sadly incapable of making his body work. It was like his limbs were completely severed from his brain. Moreover, everything hurt miserably. His chest felt broken; breathing was much more strenuous than it should have been. His head was pounding. The coppery taste of blood kept tainting his tongue, blood that might have been coming from gnashed lips and damaged gums or was seeping upward from the other direction. He felt hot and dizzy and weak. The clank of boots against that damn metal grating was thunderous, nearly as loud as his racing heart straining against his sternum. They've got you. It didn't seem to matter that he didn't know who exactly they were. Taking you somewhere. Fight. Stop them. Fight! But he couldn't even make his useless, bloody fingers curl around the holes in the floor, couldn't even lift his weighty head. Couldn't even manage any movement at all. That, at least, slashed through the fog in his mind with a spear of icy desperation.

The corridor went on forever. Tony heard himself groan. The men pulling him finally stopped for a moment, black blobs that loomed over him like monsters. Fear left him shivering. Without the thunderous cacophony of boots marching on the rattling metal floor, he heard something else. Distant, but echoing through these strange, metal hallways. Screaming. Hoarse and deep and ragged. Incessant. Fear washed over him, prickling gooseflesh under grime and blood, and he shuddered. He knew that voice. "Steve…"

"Don't worry, Mr. Stark. Captain Rogers will be joining you and Agent Barton soon enough."

Clint? Things flashed through his head. Gunfire. Swords slashing through the air. Clint falling. Steve crying his name. He couldn't move. "JARVIS, get it off me!"

The sound of a door being loudly opened, of metal scraping angrily over other metal, interrupted the barrage of memories, and Tony lost track of his thoughts again as he was hauled onward. He couldn't hear Steve anymore. That was both extremely distressing and somewhat relieving. They dragged him farther, and the lights got brighter overhead, and he couldn't stand to keep his eyes open against the pain booming in his skull. When he dared looking again, he was in some sort of small room.

They lifted him onto a cold, rusty table. Instinctively he struggled, but he was too weak and confused to do much more than flail uselessly against strong hands and arms. A frustrated groan left his mouth as he was slammed down into the unforgiving surface, and he lay there, dazed and lost again in the miasma of unsteady consciousness.

The whine of a saw brought him back. "No," he mumbled. He couldn't see as that horrible sound grew louder and louder and closer, and panic surged over him in a painful, electrifying jolt.

"I would hold still."

His arm started vibrating against the table. His arm that was somehow still encased in his suit when the rest of him wasn't. He hadn't noticed that until now and couldn't remember when or why or how that had happened. And he couldn't spend more than a second wondering, because he was pretty goddamn sure that saw was cutting into the armor right below his left shoulder. Tony struggled senselessly, even though he'd been warned not to, even though that whirling blade was cutting into what remained of armor and after that maybe into his body. Hands latched onto his arms and shoulders and head and legs and held him down. He was completely immobilized, helpless. A shower of sparks lit the shadowy room, dancing above him in a glittering show he found oddly peaceful. He calmed despite his horror and panic; his mind was so jumbled and overthrown that the most basic of sensations was outright defeating higher-order needs.

There was talk in a language he didn't know. It sounded like German. Had they been fighting Germans? He couldn't remember. Something out of Steve's era. That couldn't be right. The talking went on for a moment, and he drifted, too exhausted to do much else. His wrist was moved, shifted. His elbow wouldn't bend, and neither would his wrist and fingers, the joints of his suit fused. The vague memory of an explosion and a huge vat tipping in front of him and getting splashed by the spilling liquid rolled through his mind. "Shit! JARVIS, get it off me! Get it off me!"

"The suit is malfunctioning, sir."

"This needs to come off, Mr. Stark."

And his arm was violently smashed.

A wail escaped Tony's lips as he jerked to awareness. He screamed until there was no breath left in his lungs, until his back was arched and he was quivering and riddled with agony. They banged and bent and mangled his arm and hand over and over again until there was a sequence terrible cracks and his bones broke.

Tony sagged against the table, against the men holding him down, gasping and weeping. The pain shooting up and down his broken arm was excruciating, crushing him in an unending, merciless onslaught. He barely noticed the remains of his armor being extracted from his shattered limb. They pulled the gauntlet away from his bent and broken fingers. "It's better than having it cut off, isn't it?"

He lost consciousness.

But the pleasant comfort of nothingness wasn't long lasting. The pain wouldn't let him escape, reaching down into the sable abyss of sleep and cruelly snatching him back to hell. That steady clank clank of boots on the metal flooring resounded in his ears, as loud and heavy as his heart. Tony moaned and opened his eyes to slits, tears leaking down his face. The world tilted, a shadowy blur of brown and gray that whirled around his head. His good arm was slung over the shoulders of someone else, his other arm dangling uselessly at his side, and he was being carried down something that felt extremely unstable. He blinked and fought to raise his head. They were on some sort of gangway, precariously suspended by cables and supports that moaned with their weight. Moving down the steps was too horrible so he slipped away again. Hitting the bottom jolted him, and the sound of his own yelp echoed around him. The men threw him to the ground, and he fell to his side, gasping and choking and groaning. He was barely capable of rolling over to relieve the pressure on his damaged arm, fighting to for every breath, struggling to survive the debilitating torture.

When the pain had lessened to the point where his senses returned, he noticed there was black next to him. Black clothes covering a prone form. He recognized it. "Clint," he whispered. But the archer didn't answer. He was unmoving, unconscious, barely breathing. Maybe not breathing at all. The entire back of his head of a mess of blood. Tony wrapped the filthy, shaking fingers of his good hand in Barton's pants leg and tried to pull his leaden, throbbing body closer, but he didn't have the strength. "Clint…"

"I don't think he'll survive, Mr. Stark." This was a new voice, and Tony turned his head to find a man standing over him. The sun was blaring above, brighter than he could stand, and it bled around the shadowy form like a halo. The man's face was entirely covered in bandages, the wrappings obscuring his features aside from his dark, maniacal eyes. It was obvious he was smiling, even though his mouth was hidden. A gleam of sadistic satisfaction filled his gaze. "I don't think you will, either. Your arm looks quite painful. Is it? And your hand…" The man gave a sigh of mock sympathy. "Such a devastating injury for an inventor such as yourself. Not that it matters much now." There was an amused, satisfied grunt. "But I do thank you for the piece of your suit. I'll learn so much from it. At least I'll gain something from this… disaster."

Tony floundered, struggling to gather his thoughts. This man, this damn monster looming over him… The voice seemed familiar, again heavily accented like he was German (who the hell had brought the Nazis back?), but he couldn't place it. His addled, disjointed thoughts stubbornly refused to produce the facts, even though he knew they were there. What was this bastard's name? Something stupid. Nemo. Zero. Something like that. He choked on a giggle. He hadn't meant to laugh, because there was absolutely nothing at all that was even remotely funny about this, but he always acted inappropriately when things got bad. That annoyed Pepper to no end. And Steve and Rhodey. And Clint and Bruce. And everyone, when he thought about it.

It also annoyed this bastard. "I fail to see what is amusing," he said tensely.

Tony couldn't coordinate his lips and tongue enough to formulate an answer. The bright light blaring around the man from above was damn near blinding. It made him want to sleep, to just give up and try consciousness again when things didn't hurt so much. Thankfully, the man rose from his crouch. "Take a look around, Mr. Stark. I'm sure a man of your expertise in the weapons industry will recognize where you are."

He tried to look around, even though it was damn near impossible to move his head and only slightly less difficult to think over the agony and delirium. They were in some sort of large, circular cavern. Not circular, he realized as he looked lethargically upward. Cylindrical. The cement walls went up and up, higher and higher, to a ragged mouth far above him. The sun was directly overhead, punishing and punishing. Tony did recognize what this was. But he couldn't seem to remember the word, and even if he could, he couldn't produce it. His captor didn't seem to care. "You'd be surprised how many abandoned silos like this are littered around Eastern Europe. Remote holes that run so deep into the earth, bereft of their purpose, ignored by this new civilized world and left to ruin. Relics from wars past, yes? What better tomb for the greatest relic of them all."

There was a clamor over the man's shoulder, and Tony caught flashes of blue as the dark demons that wielded rifles and semi-automatic weapons struggled with something large and weighty. That large form was shoved roughly down the steps and fell in a crumpled heap not far from Tony's feet. It was Steve. He didn't move from where he landed on his stomach. His face was turned away from Tony, but his back was a horrific show of blood and lacerated skin through the shredded remains of his blue undershirt. His right arm was twisted at an odd angle away from his body at the shoulder. Tony didn't remember Steve getting so badly hurt, but he couldn't remember anything clearly. "I fear my men punished him a bit severely."

Panic was starting to overcome any semblance of coherent thought. Tony's eyelids fluttered, his arm and hand throbbing so badly he could hardly bear it. He tried to whisper something. He wasn't sure what. "I pity you," the man said, but the harsh, cruel tone in his voice suggested otherwise. "Iron Man dying in an iron hell. Perishing in the very symbol of your father's lasting legacy." Something was tossed onto his chest. It clattered against the arc reactor and slid to the floor. With great effort, Tony looked to the side. It was a bent and rusted scrap of metal, but he could still make out the black lettering that proudly proclaimed "Stark Industries" in its legacy logo. "Even back then, your family's precious weapons of mass destruction made their way into evil hands."

Tony closed his eyes, too weak to make good on the hatred boiling in his blood. "You think yourself so smart, Mr. Stark. You and the Avengers. And Captain America." He nearly spat Steve's name. "You thought you stopped me, won the day, cut me too deeply for me to triumph." He pulled the bandages around his face away, and Tony nearly gagged at the mangled horror of mutilated skin and destroyed features that was revealed. "These scars will only remind me of your fate, not my own. You and your friends can die slowly and painfully. It might take a few days, and I sincerely pray that it does. There's no way out. No way up. No hope." A hand closed tightly around his throat, squeezing his airway shut, and Tony struggled mindlessly, grabbing with his good hand and pulling. It didn't matter. The grip was impossibly strong, and his battle with the blackness encroaching on his vision was rapidly being lost. All he could see were those bloodthirsty eyes and that hideous visage. The man shoved him down into the cold, unforgiving cement. "The price for what you did to my face. You stay down here and suffer."

The command was a vicious hiss, and then the hand released his neck and he could breathe again. Tony sucked in a desperate breath, choking and coughing and rolling to his side in a meager effort to protect himself. For a long moment, he simply concentrated on inhaling and exhaling, his heart roaring in fright and panic. Then that voice came again, further away, and he opened his eyes. "Do me a favor and tell Captain America when he wakes that I won. At last I got my revenge." The man gave a twisted imitation of a laugh. "The super soldier serum should keep him alive a bit longer than you and Agent Barton, so he'll have the added pleasure of watching the two of you wither away and despairing his own helplessness before he dies himself. My father would be so pleased."

The sound of boots thudding across the floor resounded in the hole, bouncing off the walls that went so high toward the sky. Tony watched, trying to blink the tears from his eyes, trying to will himself to move, for Clint or Steve to do something, as the man and his soldiers went back up the steps that led up to the gangway. But he couldn't move, and the other Avengers were motionless beside him. "And I wouldn't count on your friends or your pathetic SHIELD finding you. They won't know you're down here. They won't even think to look. I guarantee it." Tony coughed on another sob, blood filling his mouth anew. He was so goddamn useless. "Auf Wiedersehen, Mr. Stark."

There was the sound of cables snapping, of metal whining and screaming as it was bent, as it collapsed. Tony watched wearily as the men destroyed the supports for the gangway, and the catwalk and the attached stairs crashed down from the level above to the bottom of the silo. The racket was deafening, a horrific shriek that reverberated long after the wreckage had settled.

Then it was silent. Completely, horrifically silent.

Tony laid flat on the unforgiving cement, struggling to do something – anything – to stop this. They were being left behind. Left to die with no way to escape. He tried to reach Clint, to speak, but he couldn't. And Steve was unmoving on his other side. Blood was pooling beneath him, spreading on the filthy floor to soak into Tony's ripped shirt. He listened to the distant sound of machinery moving, rattling and rumbling. That quieted, and a moment of utter silence passed before a vicious explosion shook the entire silo. Panic seized him as the blast violently vibrated the cavern. Above the remains of catwalks and gangways and platforms clinging to the dirty walls rattled precariously as the entirety of the silo trembled as though wracked by an earthquake. The hulking, dark masses of the levels above them shuddered. Tony pushed himself as close to Clint as he could, his sneakers feebly sliding across the cement. He heard cables snap. He saw things dangling above, swaying madly. What was happening? They needed to get out of here! They were going to be crushed!

But they weren't.

Everything quieted again.

Tony dared to breathe, peeking from above the good arm that he'd used to protect his face. The shadowy levels above, rusted and battered, seemed to have settled. He nearly relaxed, gazing up through the silo. Then his terror returned.

Tony watched, horrified, when the sky and sun, so bright and beautiful, began to disappear. Two black rectangles were slowly, painfully descending, closing over the opening so far above them. He could only stare, awestruck, not quite comprehending what was happening, as the light was swallowed by darkness, as the gaping mouth shut. The doors to the silo met in the middle with a heavy, ominous clank that shook the walls. Dirt and dust fell from above, coating him. And it was still.

The internal lights in the silo flickered, threatening utter blackness.

Tony couldn't calm his racing heart. He gasped violently, struggling to keep his composure, but it was hopeless. Useless. They were trapped. Trapped in an iron hell buried so deep in the earth that no one would ever find them.

He thought he heard himself scream before the lights went out.


Auf Wiedersehen – goodbye