Written for the amazing prompt: "Instead of Tony being captured, one/all of the Avengers are. And they're ransomed. The ransom doesn't say what they want, only that Tony needs to come alone and without the suit. Once he gets there he sees his teammate(s) in deathtraps and the (wo)man/men holding them give Tony a choice: The arc reactor for his friends. He's not being held or restrained, he's allowed to refuse, he's allowed the leave. The door's right there, no one's stopping him. But if he leaves the Avengers die. If he agrees and hands over the arc reactor his friends live and are free to go."
Main title and chapter titles come from Rise Against's fantastic song "Survivor's Guilt"
The call comes unexpectedly.
He's pulling at his hair, barking orders at JARVIS, surviving on nothing but coffee and cold scraps of take-out and energy drinks because his team is fucking missing and SHIELD is working on finding them but they're so goddamn slow.
The call is untraceable and he accepts it because at this point, he's ready for anything.
"If you've even fucking thoughtabout hurting them–"
"You've got quite a mouth on you, Stark. Your team is listening in, if that's a deterrent, though I imagine its not."
"What do you want?"
It's that growled question when it all clicks in maddening clarity. Those four words that stir that thing inside his chest, a gripping (love?) realization that whatever the man asks of him, he will do. It's frightening if he's honest with himself, that a group of people should have such power over him.
There is a chuckle, cruel and cold and Tony clenches his fists.
"I want you at the fourth pier in the Hudson. You'll find an address and further instructions there. Oh, and Stark? This is a private, one person invitation. Leave the suit and the cavalry at home or things will definitely get bloodier."
The dial tone and Tony has to swallow down the fury and the panic to allow his logic to carry him forward.
"Draw up the shortest route to the pier and give me scans of the area for the last few hours. Also start the auto-pilot feature on the armor. Once I get there, you'll be responsible for bringing it back home."
"What should I do with the data sir?"
Tony mulls it over, the statistics and probabilities running in his head.
"Send them to Agent Coulson directly and discretely. He'll know what to do."
"…should I prepare some sort of contingency plan?"
"No. I'll uh… Just make sure Dum-E cleans up okay? I need a clean work space for when I get back."
The AI knows how to tell a lie a thousand different ways but remains silent.
Further instructions turn out to be a group of thugs in a black Tahoe, who don't manhandle him or even speak, just stand there until he gets in. The bulges he can see through their jackets makes it clear that they're carrying, but they make no attempt to try to shoot him or restrain him or otherwise harm him.
For all anyone knows, this is a business deal. A very sketchy and silent business deal.
He can't stand the quiet after a few seconds.
"So, where are we going? Please don't tell me it's a warehouse. Or some dank basement. Seriously, there cannot be more cliché places for nefarious purposes than an empty warehouse or a basement. I mean, come on, where's the creativity? Also, castles. Castles are very, very unoriginal places to do evil. Doom loves them. Do you guys know Doom? I imagine that he's above your pay grade. What? Have all of you taken a vow of silence or something? Too badass to talk to me? Well. Here's the deal. I'm going to give you a chance. All of you. As ugly as you all are. You can give this shtick up, cause really, who are you kidding, you're messing with the Avengers. I don't know how the hell your bosses managed to capture my team or why. But you can't hold them too long. They get all antsy. Especially Thor. Thor and Steve, actually. Their metabolism is like ten times faster than any of you. They will eat you. And Natasha and Clint? They hate being chained up. Honest to God they'll shred you. And Bruce…well, the Hulk will smash you to bits. So, any takers? You can't possibly all be that suicidal!"
One of the thugs slugs him across the face and Tony grins, teeth red and jaw sore.
"Not exactly the response I was looking for but we'll get there. Baby steps, I guess."