He closed his eyes, he knew what he had done, and he knew what it meant.
'What are you doing-' Came the panicked scream from behind the door he had shut only moments ago. 'They'll kill you, what are you doing?' the voice shouted.
The voice behind the door continued to plead with him; she continued begging he listen to reason. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. He raised his arms and interlocked his fingers behind his head. Two men rushed in and secured his arms; another man hit him on the head with the butt of his gun.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
'Come in Stark, do you copy?' A desperate voice spoke into the radio.
Silence befell the team. Hours had passed, what hope was left.
'Stark can't come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message, I'll be sure to let him know.' A sadistic laughter came through the other end.
'Who the hell is this?' Natasha was never one to take the hostage of a team member lightly.
'No one that concerns you my dear, you were merely the bait; and you did a great job.' He replied.
Natasha's gaze dropped, she threw the receiver on the table in front of her and left the room. No one spoke, for hours it seemed. They stared at the black device which had mockingly told them of the fate of their comrade.
Steve picked it up, looked at it for a moment, mouth open as if he were about to speak and changed his mind. He sighed deeply, and then took another shot, 'what do you want with Stark?'
The familiar static of the radio spiked up again, the silence was broken by a muffled cry, then laughter, not from the same person, the sadist spoke, 'that wouldn't be any fun if I told you now would it.' Another muffled cry came from the other man.
Steve flinched at the sound, 'please,' he began, 'what do you want with him?'
'Well, since you asked nicely,' the sadist laughed, 'I want his heart.'
'Oh god.' A barely audible gasp came from behind Steve. They all turned.
'Pepper.' He breathed. He walked towards her and she took a sharp step back.
'No, no' she muttered over and over, not letting anyone touch her.
Director Fury stood up at long last walked over to her, he like Tony, was confident enough in his own words to believe he could truly comfort her, the others, were afraid. And she didn't need more fear in her life, the fear she contained within in her body right now was enough for fifty lifetimes. He put his arm around her shoulder and led her out of the room.
Steve stood in the room, eyes glued to the receiver; he was leaning on the table using his hands to hold himself up. Thor and Bruce sat around the table, each one silent. Not daring to speak, what happened to the mission? How did they end up here, and how the hell did Stark manage to get himself caught.
Their thoughts interrupted. 'What the hell happened?' bellowed a voice from the door. Steve looked up about to answer. 'No, don't tell me, I probably wouldn't believe it anyway.'
Director Fury walked over to the panel of screens which lit up the entire south side of the room. He stood with his arms behind his back studying the footage.
'Where's Romanov?' he asked finally.
'She's, I don't know, she left.' Bruce answered quietly.
'Romanov, I need you here.' Fury spoke.
They all wore earpieces, almost permanently; it was one of the requisites of being part of this team.
Within minutes of his request, Natasha showed up. She stood with her head held high, ready to report, if anyone had just met her, they wouldn't have believed what she just went through, what they all went through. She was, however, a professional. Very little shook her to her core, this was one of those rare instances. The three men saw the dishevelled appearance of her façade, slowly crumbling away.
'Sir.' She answered.
'What happened down there, Romanov?' he looked at her, genuine concern written on his features.
She remained composed, 'it was a trap, sir.'
'A trap?' Fury looked at the others; they seemed unaware, had they just been involved in the same battle.
'Yes, sir, the plan was to get Stark all along, we,' she began, then looked away, finally breaking composure, 'I was the bait.' She muttered.
The men looked up at her, not believing what they were hearing. Bruce opened his mouth to speak, a hand up from Fury stopped him mid thought.
"Why were you the bait, Romanov?' he asked sternly.
'Because they knew I would be the one to rush in first, they knew Stark would rush in next to help, because we're not team players.' She finished.
'Then these people know you.' Bruce finally interjected.
She looked away from Bruce and back at Fury. 'This is my fault.'
Fury shook his head; he motioned for everyone to sit down.
'This is a shitty situation for us to be in, and we don't place blame on one another, we're a team, a team of heroes as it were, that's what we do, we run in to help where we can. Given the situation and the fact that Stark was targeted specifically, we need to target our rescue op specifically too.' He stood up and blew up the footage from the camera where Stark was last seen.
Natasha had run in through the gap in the fence which connected to a small house, rounding the corner she had successfully taken out four guards before they could even blink, she ran on to take out three more, Tony was on her heel yelling out to her, without sound, it would have been impossible to make out what he was saying, but it was as clear as day, he was yelling for her to stop, to slow down, to listen to him. It was too late, when they turned the corner they were faced with a barrage of guards, Thor, Steve and Bruce were nowhere in sight, Tony had told them to stand down, that it was a trap. Natasha was fuelled by pure adrenalin, she hadn't heard Tony, only until they came to a stop before the guards, did she finally slow down and breathe, only to realise what she'd run herself, and Tony into. Tony could have left at any time, he could have let her run in, get a bit roughed up, but Tony could have easily taken them out with Iron Man and gotten her out. Now they were here, alone, no Iron Man, no Avengers to help. She looked back at Tony, and the worry in his eyes reflected the panic in hers. The guards ran in towards the pair, Natasha broke out into a fight with three men, and Tony took on the three closest to him, they fought hard, diligently, yet hopelessly. They backed into a corner, closest to the small house, a frantic Tony spotted a door, without hesitation he pulled it open and shoved Natasha in, he slammed it shut and rammed a shovel he found nearby under the handle. He closed his eyes and put his hands behind his head, after a few moments the men stepped towards him, two took his arms and the other hit him in the head with his gun. Tony fell to the floor.
'A hero.' Fury gave a sad laugh.
Thor stood up swiftly, 'we must rescue the Iron Man, he is indeed in need of our help now.'
Bruce stood up to join him, 'he's right, why are we still here, why aren't we doing something about this?'
Natasha stood silently watching them. Bruce looked over at her, Tony was right, she was very hard to get a read on.
'Well?' Fury asked, 'go get your team mate back.'
Like excited children running for break, they stood up and began planning. Steve took it upon himself, in Tony's absence to lead the team. They listened, and planed, and discussed options.
Pepper stood and watched from a distance, silent tears running down her cheeks. A cold breeze broke her free from the trance she found herself in. She looked around, and noticed a small room a few meters away from where she was standing. It didn't take long to notice the familiarity of it, the hot rod models, the ACDC and Black Sabbath CDS scattered around a small room, the tools and the Iron Man suit. She had to grab on to the side of the door to stop herself from falling. He was out there all alone and vulnerable.
Bruce came up to Pepper and put a hand on her shoulder, 'we'll find him.' He said, more to himself than to her. They stood looking at his room for a few moments before she pulled the door closed.
'I know.' She smiled weakly. 'That's what you do.'