Ultimately I would have liked to make this part of a bigger story, but since I'm a little too ADD to come up with a more complicated plot, I decided this was going to be a thematic short story. And yes, I put together another story revolving around Steve and Tony, and I just can't help myself! Sheesh.

Warnings: Violence, language, Captain America being thick...

Summary: Captain Rogers is used to being in charge. When he's compromised, he has to try to rely on someone less physically capable to get him out of trouble. The bickering, at least, is normal.

A Study in Strength

Chapter 1 of 3

Steve could not remember the last time he had been hung over. It had to have been sometime in the thirties, before the serum. After that, not even the best alcohol Stark had thrown at him could get him drunk, let alone get him wasted enough to feel it the next day.

He had to wonder why he felt it now. He could not remember drinking anything involving alcohol since the last holiday party.

There was a conversation going on nearby, but it was spoken in low tones, difficult to make out in his muddled state. Perhaps, then, he had been hurt. It would not be the first time Steve had woken in a hospital with odd murmurings happening around him. That seemed the more likely possibility. Even if a hospital bed had never felt so hard, his pillow never so firm.

He could not, for the life of him, figure it out. He was, however, starting to hear the conversation. It was not a conversation. At least, not one between two people. It was just one person talking incessantly.

"…used to work in financial, lower level. She spotted a mistake once, pointed it out. No one believed her, of course. Gutsy little thing came barging into my office, snapping and snarling at security. And she was right—I made a mistake. A small one, but it's the little errors that result in huge losses, you know?"

There was only one person Steve knew that could talk that much without anyone else there to help him along. He seemed to be telling a story, and Steve had to wonder at his audience.

"Oh shit."

Steve felt a hand pass over his eyes. He opened his mouth to object, but all that came out was a low groan. Damn, he felt like shit. His head pounded, his mouth felt like cotton, and the nausea was intense. The only thing that didn't feel utterly awful was the hand that passed over his hair, smoothing behind his ear. Jesus, was that Stark?

"Steve. Cap. Quiet. I need you not to move, okay?" Stark had never sounded so serious. It occurred to Steve that his head was in Tony's lap. That was… odd. Not uncomfortable, precisely, but very strange. "Keep your eyes closed." He was blinking, and the hand sat over his eyes again, brushing past them, forcing Steve to close them or be poked. "Please, Cap, listen to me."

"Tony?" he mumbled, horribly confused and very ill.

"Shhhhh," came the immediate rebuke. "Nooooo, no, no. You have to wait. I need you to be able to move under your own power, Cap. You have to play possum until then."

That did not make any sense. What happened? Where were they? And why the hell did Stark sound so leery? And hoarse, for that matter.

"You're going to be fine," Tony assured him, fingers doing strangely soothing things to Steve's hairline. "They drugged you. They'll do it again if they think you're awake, so just behave, keep your eyes closed, and let me take care of this, okay?"

"Tony," Steve murmured again, too caught up with his aching head to tense up even when he felt a body curl over him, half-embracing his head. It seemed less intimate and more desperate, especially with the ragged breath Tony released in his ear.

"I can't do this alone, Cap," Stark's voice was graveled and soft. "Your Hydra buddies know it, and that's okay, but let's let them think I'm alone for now, okay? You're no use to either of us until you can walk. I can't carry you, and I can't take out these bastards without a little help. So just stay still. Don't move. There's a camera, and they'll see, so… please, Cap."

He sounded like he was in pain. Steve… couldn't think past the pounding in his own skull. Which meant Tony was right. He was not any use like this.

It was less out of conscious effort and more of necessity that he fell asleep again. Rather, there was nothing stopping the darkness crashing forward. Steve could only hope Tony was okay without him.

When he next woke, Steve was feeling much more coherent. He rose to consciousness slowly, recalled his earlier dance with it, and feared to move too much. If it had been a dream, then it had been terribly vivid. If it was not, then Steve was not going to test it. Stark had sounded almost desperate, and Steve really did not want to know what could cause the man to take that fearful tone.

Unlike the last time, Tony was not babbling away in the background. All Steve could hear was a strange hacking sound, like someone coughing or dry heaving.

He could not remain asleep indefinitely—surely even their captors knew this—and he could not ignore that sick sound. Braving Stark's wrath for going against his request, Steve opened his eyes to stare at the wall inches from his face. White-painted brick was all he saw until he figured out that sound was coming from behind him.

"Jesus, Tony!"

The man was doubled over just behind him, and from the looks of it, he had not had an easy time of things. His face was streaked with blood, most of which seemed to have come from a gash just over his left eyebrow. It was dried, which made Steve wonder how long he had been out of it, but it looked like it hurt.

Just like that coughing had to be hurting. Tony was desperately pale, curled over himself, though he managed to dredge up a smile when he noticed Steve looking at him.

"Oh good," he murmured. "Cap, you'd better be up for an escape attempt now, because I really don't feel like waiting another six hours."

Steve had a sudden flash of memory. An explosion. A strange, sharp pain in his neck, incongruent with the concussive force of the detonation. Tony had not been along on that mission. Why was he here now? He asked as much.

"Explanations later, big guy." Tony staggered to his feet—he was holding his arm so very carefully—and dropped down next to him on the—bench? Cot?—bench. Steve grimaced when Tony caught his chin and turned his face, searching his eyes. "You're still a little loopy, I'd guess, but we're going to have to make do."

"What?" Stark wasn't making any sense at all.

"Your eyes are dilated as hell," Tony explained. "Get up. There's at least twenty people between us and the outside. Think you can handle those odds?"

"Are they armed?" Steve rejoined, easing himself upright. The room was spinning, and he took a moment to let it settle before shoving to his feet. Then, Tony was there, hand bracing his shoulder as he staggered. Damn it. If Tony was more solid than he was, how was he going to hope to take out twenty men?

"Steady, Cap," Tony said soothingly. "Yeah, they're armed. And they'll be coming. But I'm going to force the first one through that door so you can take him on alone. Think you can handle a little one-on-one?"

Steve shook his head roughly, trying to clear it. One-on-one. Sure. Yeah. That sounded doable.

"How are you planning to do that?" he wondered.

"Just watch."

Tony hurried over to a door and dropped to his knees in front of it. Steve watched, fascinated as he fiddled with the lock. Could Stark seriously unlock a prison door with nothing but a button and his wits?

Apparently he could. At the very least, he could induce a panicky, premature attack. A moment later Tony was diving to the side as the door burst open, an angry guard walking through and aiming a gun at Tony's head. Steve did not try to decipher the foreign words spilling out of the man. He just jumped and took the guy down with a well-placed blow to the jaw.

Okay, so he had been aiming for a temple shot, but he supposed he should be grateful the guy went down with a broken jaw instead of a crushed skull.

"I didn't mean to hit him that hard," Steve said anxiously.

"Hard to pull punches when you're drugged out of your gourd," Tony observed. Steve did not like the look in his eyes as he stooped to check the guard's pulse. It seemed so cold.

But then Tony was looking at him, and there was concern bubbling into that calculating stare.

"Come on, then," he ordered, climbing to his feet and limping over to Steve. "Won't be long before more come."

"Where are we?" Damn it. He was reeling, every movement setting his head to spinning. Tony grabbed his flailing hand and put it to his shoulder, and it was much easier with a solid thing to hold onto. Even if he could feel the slight shudders that rushed through his companion. Why was Tony wet?

"Research facility," Tony muttered. "Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, probably."

"Where did you get that gun?" Steve could not believe he had not noticed until now. He was really struggling with his focus, and this was not a good thing. Tony seemed a bit off balance as well, and without the Iron Man armor, he was more vulnerable than Steve wanted to consider. "Maybe I should—"

"You should what?" Tony kicked open the clip, slapped it back into place, and checked the chamber before glaring over his shoulder at Steve. He looked like crap, Steve thought drearily. How was he ever going to get his friend out of here when he was practically stumbling along like a toddler? Tony was steadier on his feet, and he choked every time Steve tightened his hand too much on his shoulder. "Cap, you're an ace at throwing shit, but you're a lousy marksman."

"I was using guns long before you were born," Steve protested. How was he going to convince Tony to give up the weapon so Steve could better protect him?

"Yeah, yeah, grandpa," Tony shoved Steve's hand aside when he tried to reach for the gun. "Knock it off, Cap."


There was no time to argue about it. The next corner they took put them within six feet of five more armed men.

Steve did not even think. He shoved Tony to the side and lunged forward. If he focused on little things, he could do this. That man's jaw, the gun in this guy's hand, the baton whistling over his head. It was like a choreographed dance, and he remembered these steps.

Until something swept his legs out from under him. Steve hit the ground, instinctively curled up when he heard the sound of gunfire—three sharp shots—and hurriedly looked for Tony. Had he been hit?

"That was good, Cap," Tony was alive and well and nudging at his shoulder. "Come on. Up."

Staggering to his feet, Steve looked around. He recognized having knocked out those two guys. The one against the wall had not been him. The man was curled around his arm, clutching at his hand and moaning. Two others were in similar states. One of them looked dead. Unless that blood coming from his skull was just from a graze.

"Let's go, Cap." Tony was tense and grim. Hand once again on his shoulder, Steve could not help but stare at his friend. He had seen Iron Man zip in and around the ranks of the enemy, taking them out with a strangely playful intensity. Stark, on the other hand, was more about weaving through crowds of wealthy investors and their hangers-on. Warm laughter and the soft edge of too much alcohol.

"Did you shoot them?"

"They were going to shoot you," Tony replied, and there it was. That chill anger, the one that allowed a man to shoot another with cold precision.

"I didn't know you could shoot."

"I've been designing weapons far longer than you've been using them, Cap," Tony shot him a hard grin over his shoulder. "You think I wouldn't know how to use them?"

There was some irony in that statement, but Steve could not recall exactly why. He did not spend much time thinking about it. More men were coming, and he still needed to get them out of this hellhole alive.

Next time, he did not shove Tony aside quite so quickly. The man was an impressive marksman, possibly could match up to Natasha in accuracy. (Maybe not Clint, but Steve had yet to find anyone who could match Hawkeye's absolute accuracy.)

Tony emptied his clip and tossed the weapon, snatching another two off fallen enemies. Steve followed, fascinated at this person he had not realized he knew. Tony Stark was, in his own words, a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. He had not added guerilla soldier to that list.

"Hold up."

They stopped crouched low by a doorway, and Steve looked out across the expanse of an aircraft hangar. There was only one plane, and it was small and not all that safe looking. Beggars can't be choosers though. Wasn't that the old saying?

"No cover," he said, not happy to be pointing out such dour news.

"You thought we'd be taking their plane?" Tony looked at him, and Steve was again reminded of why he sometimes disliked this man. He was not an idiot. He was a better tactician than Stark by far. Not being an engineer did not make him stupid. "That crop duster won't make it off the ground. They have a military-grade stealth copter outside."

"Can you fly it?" Because Steve sure couldn't. He needed to remedy a few things when they got back home. The only time he had ever flown, he had crash landed. Any idiot could crash a plane.

Tony sniffed and glanced over at where two men were pacing the entrance of the hangar, armed with what looked to be some sort of automatic rifles.

"Won't know until I see the controls."

"This is not a good plan," Steve warned him. "We should take a car."

"We are in the middle of nowhere, Cap," Tony hissed. "And they have a decked-out helicopter. We won't make it a mile."

It was a gamble, and Steve did not know the odds. They seemed poor, but he did not know how many different types of aircraft Stark was capable of flying. He was taking a chance on not only the man's intelligence but his adaptability, and that was not something he trusted.

"Can you hit those two from this distance?" he asked, trying not to think about how bad their situation was. He had gotten out of worse, he supposed.

It was curious, though, watching Tony brace his arm against the doorframe and narrow his eyes at the distant figures. They were probably thirty-five or forty yards away, but to Steve the distance seemed like a mile. He doubted he could hit those guys with his shield with his balance as screwed up as it was now.

"One of them," Tony said abruptly. "If the other guy's slow to react, maybe both. Gyuh, shit, Steve!"

Steve yanked his hand back guiltily. He knew he was the reason for that sudden pained curse. Tony huddled against the doorframe, sucking in frantic breaths. Eyes clamping shut, he pressed his forehead to the wood, lips pulling up in a snarl.

"I'm sorry," he murmured. Tony cracked an eye and looked down the side of the hangar, ignoring his apology and gathering control of his body. "What's wrong with your shoulder?"

"Do I look like a doctor?" Tony thunked his head against the wall, the low impact seeming to ground him. He looked back to Steve, the anger lessening, settling behind a wall of pained determination. "Just be careful with the super-strength, okay?"

He didn't need to say it. Steve understood. If Tony had been trying to shoot the guards at that moment, his aim would have been blown to hell when Steve tightened his grip.

"Let's try to get closer," Steve suggested.

"Going somewhere, gentlemen?"

Tactical error number one: getting caught up with concern for a teammate such that their surroundings were neglected. Too bad this wasn't a training exercise. Knowing his mistake did little to fix the result of a man and his three armed lackeys having found them.