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"


He takes a few steps, finds that the breath is heavy in his throat.

It was worth it. He knows in his heart that he did the right thing.

Someone is calling him, saying his name, Tony,

"Tony!"

His mind refocuses, eyes settle on Steve, the ragged sound of his voice.

"Can you open the doors?" Clint asks, eyes raking the room for anything useful because they need to get out goddamn it, Tony, Tony's fucking dying right in front of their eyes and Clint can't just stand there, can't just watch, no more. No more red on his ledger, not the blood of a friend, a teammate, a brother.

Tony moves toward Clint's cell. He wants to try, but fatigue settles in the deep hollow in his chest.

Hands help ease him down, he feels the bars against his back and he looks up, realizing that he's right between the cells that hold Clint and Steve.

"You're going to be fine, Tony. Just fine."

A hand on his shoulder and Steve's voice is firm, confident. Ever the optimist and Tony has to smile at him.

"Sorry to break it to you, Tony, but the Avengers is a lifetime gig. No outs and no buts," Clint, who's settling his hand on his chest, right above the hole where the reactor used to be before his hand moves up, fingers on his neck. "Jesus, Tasha, his pulse is out of control."

Whether the Russian replies or not, Tony doesn't know because suddenly the world whites out as something grips his heart and squeezes as fire blazes its way up his arms, his neck and his jaw twinges as he grinds his teeth hard and he curls up, trying to relieve the unbearable tightness in his chest, eyes closed tightly, fingers digging into his knees.

Fucking hell.

"Bruce! Bruce, can you do anything?"

"Can I even do chest compressions? Fuck! Fucking Stark, fucking To–"

"Tony, breathe, breathe with me. It's going to be fine…"

"Mjolnir, I cannot feel her. Mighty All-Father, please…"

"'S 'kay guys," he murmurs, projecting his voice as much as he can. "'S all right. You're safe. 'S all…all that matters."

Steve is glaring at him now and Natasha looks like she wants to cut him up and Clint sighs, long and loud and angry.

They want to say something, probably call him an idiot again and Tony wants nothing more than to hear them out but the wave of pressure crashes again, pain cresting in his chest as his breath hitches, catches in his lungs and he's clawing at the ground, the rough concrete, shit, head tipped back, hands on his face, his head, Tony, hang on, but he can't, there's too much hurt, white noise in his ears as he loses control of his jaw and maybe he screams, maybe its more of a whimpered groan as his muscles tense and strain, pulled so tight he knows he's trembling. His vision is fading, as quickly as the feeling of warmth as his vision tunnels.

There's a dull roar then, the sound of concrete giving way at the same time men burst into the room, is that Coulson's voice?

And Steve, and Clint and Natasha and Thor, hang on Tony, please. Hang on.


Tony fades on the helicopter, right in Coulson's arms. The agent calls for the pilot to hurry, voice clipped and terse and calm but his eyes are a storm and Steve flinches slightly, feeling turmoil roil in his own chest.

It's their first look into the deep chasm that lies in Tony's chest.

With his unbroken hand Clint points to the sharp, edged black lines that snake out from the port, "What the hell is that?"

Natasha's mouth purses, "It's old scarring from the palladium poisoning."

Steve has no idea what palladium is but his heart drops at the mention of poison. He wants to ask and to know, the same curiosity reflected in Thor's and Bruce's eyes but then they're landing and SHIELD paramedics are slipping Tony's limp body out.

He catches sight of Pepper Potts and the glowing, brilliant blue in her hand and frankly, everything after that is a blur.


"He still hasn't woken up has he?"

Steve shakes his head, sparing a glance at Clint. The marksman hands him a steaming cup of coffee.

Clint settles into the empty chair next to him and both men regard the person on the bed.

Tony is motionless, the rise and fall of his chest the only sign that he is still among them. It's such a painful contradiction to who the man is, all kinetic motion and noise and wild embodiment of life.

Steve feels the twisting in his gut again and his shoulders sag.

"I thought…I didn't know it was that deep."

They all knew about Afghanistan and the shrapnel. Had even learned, after another mission gone to hell, that Tony had been largely conscious during the crude operation.

But seeing it…seeing Tony in such utter pain…

Steve wants to rip someone apart.

"We've never even asked him if it hurts him," Clint adds, slowly and quietly and Steve is so glad, in a way that makes him feel horrible, that he's not alone in his questioning guilt.

Silence.

"He'd do it again." The declaration is rough with sleep but determined and firm and both men turn immediately.

Pepper is looking straight at them, rising from her post at the couch where Natasha is stirring awake.

"I'll give him hell when he wakes up, but what he did…" Pepper pauses, swallows, shifts.

"He'd do it again."


Steve isn't there when Tony wakes up.

It's been four days and he'd finally given in and gone home, to the Tower, to sleep and shower.

Coulson had been the first person Tony had seen, a fitting scene that makes Steve smile because Coulson had seen Tony first after he'd woken in the Tower, chest still throbbing from being stabbed. Steve had been against kidnapping the Agent from SHIELD Medical after it was discovered he was still alive, but now, now he understands how far a friend will go when moved to act.

He nearly topples over a nurse but when he walks in…

"Captain! Join us! I have brought the pop-tarts. Brother Tony has complained of the food in this place."

Thor's grin is wide and elated but Steve is looking at the bed, catching Tony's chocolate brown eyes.

The genius's mouth is quirked up into a dazzling grin, fingers relaxed against the half-eaten pastry in his hand.

"Hey, Cap! I heard you cried for hours over my body. Wouldn't be consoled they said. And by they, I mean Natasha. I think she was being sarcastic but I can't be sure. Her poker face is legendary. I hope the low cut of this hospital gown isn't too offensive. Nurse Ratched wouldn't let me change."

Bruce and Pepper chide Tony and Clint laughs and Natasha may be smiling as Coulson shakes his head and Steve wants to be angry. He wants to lecture. He wants to ask what the hell makes Tony think that his life is an appropriate bargaining chip.

He can't un-see the way that Tony crumpled in on himself, fingers clawing for purchase on the ground, overwhelmed by agony.

But Tony is alive. He's here. Tangible and breathing and joking and being so infuriatingly light-hearted and Steve just…

"It's good to have you back."

Tony beams, motions for him to sit and Steve does, all the while feeling something spark in his chest. Something warm and permanent, as powerful and resplendent as the arc reactor.

"Stark, you pull that stunt again and I will castrate you."

Natasha's glare is as deadly as ever, but there is nothing but affection in her tone.

"Nat, my favorite assassin, you wound me deeply."

Steve can't help but laugh.


Thank you to everyone that read this. Please review, one last time!

And, if you enjoyed this, I will now shamelessly plug my other story; "Forgive Us Our Trespasses, We Know Not What We Do," which can be found by going to my profile