A/N: Hey guys. Firstly, I just want to apologise for having kept you all waiting so long. I know it's been such a long time since I updated any of my stories, but I've been incredibly busy with Uni work and have had virtually no free time in the last few weeks. However, as of Friday I finished my second year, and finished for the summer, meaning, thankfully, I'll be able to update more often again. I've missed writing creatively, since I've written nothing else but essays in the last month, so it was thoroughly enjoyable to complete this chapter. (Although if there are any mistakes, I'm sorry, it's because it's now 1am and I'm sleepy.)
Which brings me on to the second thing I wanted to mention. Partly as an apology for having made you wait so long, and partly because I knew it was going to be one of the major chapters, I've decided to split Tony's chapter into at least two parts. It may become three depending on how much I write for the second part. I can only hope that it lives up to expectations, and after waiting all this time you're not disappointed.
Finally, thank you for sticking with the story despite its long hiatuses. My plan is still to write a couple more chapters after Tony's and although I've got a pretty good idea of who they're going to be about, I enjoy reading who people want to see in their reviews. To those of you who PMed me and left continual reviews, thank you so much for your patience and support. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter Five – Tony (Part I)
The fifth time someone other than Thor was able to lift the hammer all hell had broken loose.
Tony groggily opened his eyes after being brusquely backhanded across the jaw. He couldn't remember the last thing he remembered which was particularly unhelpful, but something about the atmosphere gave him the instant feeling he was in danger. Even when he hid tried to modify Clint's arrows, the archer had never hit him like that. The engineer could tell he was not among friends anymore.
As his pupils focused in on the dirty grey floor he noticed dark red circles splattered at intervals near his feet, which he also realised were bare. Blood. As he became aware of the pounding sensation in his head he realised it had to be his blood. Not an uncommon sight for him but slightly worrying in these unknown circumstances.
The billionaire managed to lift his head, easing his aching neck up to face the entity that had just bequeathed him a backhand. That entity was a man, perhaps mid-thirties, with brown eyes and a nondescript face except for a relatively fresh-looking scar that skimmed his cheekbone.
He wore nothing of the smirks of satisfaction that several of Tony's former captors had across their faces. His face was intently expressionless and this seemed to radiate a malice that was much more disquieting than anything held in a victorious smirk.
Without introductions, or any kind of prelude he asked: "Where is it?"
Tony was struck in that moment by both the memory of how he had come into contact with his captor in the first place, and the realisation that he was helplessly shackled to the wall behind him. The memory – of being jerked off his feet as the door to his lab was blown inward, made him feel suddenly nervous about being defenceless in front of someone so calculatedly ruthless.
He also recalled the unadulterated surprise, as he lay beneath the mess of rubble his lab door had become, of realising that no warning had triggered on his security systems. Any of them. That was the last coherent thought he could recollect before waking up here.
Another swift crack across the jaw reminded him that he hadn't answered the question. And that he didn't actually understand its context at all.
"Where is it?"
This would probably be a good time to elicit some sort of answer before his jaw was too swollen to allow a reply.
"You may have to be more specific."
Apparently this was adequate, as the man before him grabbed his neck and pushed his thumb into Tony's windpipe.
"Sarcasm won't buy you any time. Where is…the hammer?"
So that was what this was about. But why ask him, why not ask the big guy?
The chilling realisation then hit Tony that they wouldn't be asking about the hammer, they'd be asking about Thor, unless the two had been separated. He'd never known Thor to leave Mjollnir behind willingly. A quick flick of his arm and it was back in his grasp. Unless it hadn't been willingly at all. The few times one of the team had managed to retrieve it for him, he'd been unconscious. Or worse.
The engineer's internal thoughts became slightly laboured then as the hand restricting his oxygen flow tightened painfully. He made a grunt as if to speak and the hand loosened.
"I hate to be obvious, but you're asking the wrong guy. It's the blonde one you want, you know, tall, blue-eyed, muscles like sculpted bronze."
At this the hand tightened again before smashing his head against the wall, making his vision blur disconcertingly. Tony knew he should comply and try to answer what was being asked of him. It wasn't like he enjoyed the pain now reverberating through his skull. But for some reason, his sarcastic streak always seemed to emerge in moments like these. His stubborn nature meant that he would never let these types of people have what they wanted. Even at the cost of his own safety.
"A straight answer would be best."
Both Pepper and Rhodey had warned him his sharp tongue would be the death of him once or twice before, but it had never seemed apt until now.
"I don't know. The last thing I remember was someone blowing a hole in my lab. I suppose I have you to thank for that? I'll keep you informed about the final bill."
"The only thing you'll be informing me of are the whereabouts of the Asgardian's hammer."
"I've already said, I don't know. I can't give you information I don't have."
The man stepped back out of Tony's personal space. If he hadn't been so well-acquainted with these situations he might have thought the stranger was giving him a reprieve. But, he was, in fact, well-acquainted and so knew better.
The stinging crunch of a rib still came as a jarring surprise when the full force of the man's fist ploughed into his abdomen. Despite himself Tony gasped in agony. Almost definitely cracked. The next blow imbued a searing pain in the side of his forehead. If he hadn't been so focused on the pain the billionaire might have wondered if the man had lead injected into his knuckles.
Several more strikes were bestowed on him, and Tony wasn't in any doubt that the man would have beaten him until he passed out if he hadn't been interrupted.
The stranger answered the timid knock at the door with a voice that contained enough carefully controlled wrath to make Tony silently grateful for whoever was turning that rage away from him, and toward themselves. The voices were too low for him to catch any of the conversation, but the billionaire's vision cleared enough to allow him to see his captor give him a cursory glance before sweeping from the room.
With the imminent threat gone, Tony's bravado followed in its wake and he sagged against the manacles keeping him upright. He was alone, as far as he knew, and had no knowledge about the location of any other members of the team. If these guys were after Thor's hammer, the Asgardian could be in trouble. He had at least one cracked rib, a concussion and a head wounded that was steadily dripping blood. He had been captured without his suit, or any of the sensors that allowed him to call for it. In short he was Iron Man without the Iron.
Tony allowed himself a moment to keenly feel the gravity of his predicament before awkwardly manoeuvring himself into a position where he could reach inside his right t-shirt sleeve with his right hand. A security camera hanging down from the ceiling was angled in his direction, but with any luck whatever had called the man away was pressing enough to be keeping everyone occupied.
In his sleeve was a silver lining, literally. The amount of tight spots he'd been in had lead him to take precautions, specifically the kind that involved having a wire sewn into the stitched hem of his sleeve. A wire ideal for lock picking. He might be Iron Man without the Iron. But he was a man with a sliver of steel.
Picking the locks was simple enough, a task he'd mastered before being able to tie his shoelaces. Everything from then onwards was less straightforward. The manacles were welded to the wall. No amount of picking would pry them free and brute force without his suit certainly wasn't going to be enough. The camera was too high to be of any use and the room was empty of anything else, leaving him with just the one weapon.
In a fight against armed enemies, Tony doubted a single lock pick was going to be any help. He instantly regretted the thought though when he reached the door. It was in the camera's blind spot, buying him a few minutes before they noticed he had broken free. Studying it, he found it to be electronically operated, one that required a card swipe to get in and out.
But the genius recognised the design as one he had seen before. They had a flaw in their manufacturing which allowed someone with the right knowledge to be able to slide off the swipe compartment and access the pad beneath. Doing so, Tony found a circuit board of wires that he had never seen before. It was annoying when people changed their designs without giving him a chance to hack their files and study them.
He fiddled with the wires, making several sparks and burning his thumb, before managing to cut door's power supply and turn off the swipe pad. Gingerly he tried the handle and found that it swung inwards without any resistance. Grabbing his pick from where it was embedded within the circuit board he left the cell.
The outer hallway was just as mundanely grey as the room where he had been held. It was irritating that these people had enough money for electronic swipe door systems, but wouldn't install windows. Irritatingly strategic. He had no indication as to where he was.
They would have seen by now that he was no longer held captive and Tony estimated he had maybe a minute and a half, depending on the size of the compound, before the spot he was standing on was crawling with adversaries, who would be all too happy to shoot him where he stood. With this knowledge fuelling his adrenaline, he chose a direction at random and stumbled away down the hall.
The concussion and blood loss were taking a toll, as he found himself bumping walls as he hurriedly turned corners at random in an attempt to put as much space between himself and the cell as possible. The colour scheme was certainly designed to be as unhelpful as possible- grey on grey made everything blend together in a mind-numbing way that did nothing to help his pounding head.
Footsteps moving his way made Tony jerk to a stop. There were several unmarked doors on his right and he quickly fumbled with each handle in turn, trying to find a place to hide. Each one was locked. He could feel a rising tension at the realisation he would have to fight his way out, when the fifth and final handle yielded.
Pushing it open, he threw himself inside, what turned out to be a filing room, as swiftly as was possible with declining coordination. The footsteps, and voices to match were close enough now that the billionaire knew they would hear him if he shut the door, so he pushed it as close to the frame as possible without it actually being closed.
The footsteps were moving at a jog, four pairs it sounded like, and were rapidly approaching the room. Couching behind a cabinet, Tony tried not to breathe, although if they searched the room it wouldn't matter as they would find him regardless.
Snatches of conversation chimed louder along with the boots. In fifteen seconds they'd either find him or pass him. Twelve seconds. Ten. Eight.
But Tony instantly stopped counting when he heard a mention of his fellow Avenger.
"…blonde God couldn't …"
"…Asgardian can't…make sure…some blood…"
Thor. They were talking about Thor. Tony involuntarily leaned forward in an attempt to eavesdrop in on more of the conversation, but their voices were already receding. He barely felt the sudden relief at not being discovered.
They had Thor. Was it even possible? He'd seen the blonde Asgardian taken down maybe twice and in those two instances it hadn't been long before the God was up and standing again. His regenerative capabilities seemed second only, perhaps, to Bruce's.
But from his stay, wherever this place was, he'd learnt that these people were unequivocally ruthless. He knew very little about the place so far, but he knew that much. Having had time to think about it, he recognised that if someone hadn't interrupted them, his captor from earlier would have killed him. Whether the man had beaten him to death or waited to see if he'd talked and then eradicated him, his life would have been forfeit.
If they had Thor, alive there might be hope. Without his suit he was in no position to escape. But from the fragments of conversation, neither might the Asgardian be. They clearly wanted the hammer, his assailant from earlier had made that unmistakeable. For what intents and purposes remained obscure.
Taking a deep breath to control the rush of fluid thoughts, and more potent rush of blood round his head, Tony stood up from where he had been crouched behind the cabinet.
One of the men had said 'Asgardian can't'. Can not. Present tense. Which meant they must have Thor here. Any Tony had to find him.
This task proved more difficult than he had envisioned. The layout of the place had been shrewdly built so that the corridors were identical and seemed to run in squares. Tony couldn't tell if he'd made progress in one direction, or doubled back on himself in another.
Fatigue and blood loss were gradually wearing him down, and the platoons of soldiers were getting harder to avoid. With the first he was lucky. With the second they missed him by an infinitesimal change. With the third they clashed inescapably and Tony was brought to his knees with four guns aimed at his glowing chest.
He struggled weakly while two of them cuffed him. One pounded him across the head with the butt of his gun, dazing him enough that they could drag him compliantly to their commander.
Tony regained some awareness of his surroundings as they reached a large, encoded door made from what appeared to be reinforced steel. After completing the security checks they forced him through before dropping him to his brusquely to his knees in the centre of the room.
With wry irony, Tony mused that perhaps his plan should have been to let himself be captured all along. For, in that one action, he had achieved his two objectives.
The ceiling and one wall of the room were composed entirely of glass, permitting him to see the location of where he was being held captive. The sense of irony increased so much that he almost laughed when recalling thinking about the gravity of his situation. He couldn't have chosen a more unbefitting word if he'd tried. Through the glass before him, there was nothing but sky. It wasn't a land compound he was being held in, it was an airship.
He wasn't being held alone too. In the centre of the room, with his captor from earlier standing imposingly over him, was the very person he'd been trying to find.
What have they done to you?
That was the only coherent thought Tony could process as he stared across at Thor.