I saw Iron Man 3 yesterday and it was so amazing but at the same time it made me sad at the possibility of RDJ not being Tony any more (it might be a slim chance but he's not currently under contract). It inspired this.

AIM had been getting better at covering their tracks and so when they find Tony again he's been missing for seventeen days.

It's Bruce and Steve that eventually break down the door to the correct room and discover the billionaire strung up against the wall like a rag doll. He's beaten and bloody and one of his legs dangles in a way that isn't consistent with his normal bone structure. It takes everything Banner has not to explode in a fit of green rage on the spot but he manages it, knowing that Tony needs a doctor right now. A closer inspection reveals pupils blown wide, shallow breathing and track marks all down his exposed arm and Bruce is fighting the pulses of rage again.

They get him out of his bindings and Steve catches him before he hits the floor but Tony is too drugged up right now to even notice their presence. All he manages is a pitiful moan as his broken leg grazes the floor, the rest of his body deathly still.

"We have to get him out of here," Bruce points out, gripping onto the obvious fact with all his concentration to hold the Hulk at bay. Focus on the goal, forget about the monster. Steve is talking to the others through his earpiece (Bruce never wears one because as soon as he hulks out it would be destroyed anyway) and during his distraction the doctor ensures that Tony is still clinging on with whatever strength he has left.

He doesn't know how the engineer is doing it but he is and that in itself is both amazing and terrifying but right now all Bruce can feel is thankful.

The Captain is talking again, hefting Tony's weight so that he can carry him without doing any more damage. Banner jumps forward to thread the billionaire's free arm over his shoulder and helps Steve to balance him so that his injured limb won't trail along the floor. Crimson drips have begun to slide down Tony's chin but there is nothing they can do to help him beyond getting him out of the compound and back into the protective arms of S.H.I.E.L.D and their medics so they force themselves forwards and try not to focus on how his breathing is becoming more and more laboured with each step.

Despite being lost in what can only be crushing agony, Tony doesn't make a sound until they're outside. Maybe he knows that they need secrecy for their plan to work, maybe he's just in so much pain he can't remember how to cry out but either way it is a blessing. When the sunlight hits his face though he flinches violently, a murmured whimper slipping out even as more blood spills from his lips.

It takes them a minute to understand the problem but then Steve seems to realise that this is probably the first daylight Tony has seen in over two weeks - his cell hadn't been bright either - and with slight deliberation he ties a cloth over the billionaire's eyes. Tony jumps a little at the contact but when the makeshift blindfold is in place he sighs in thanks.

The time that this has cost them though was sorely needed and behind them they could hear the first shouts echoing through the compound. Slightly further off there was the unmistakable sound of gunfire - Thor must have been discovered.

But it didn't matter now; they have Tony and they're almost at the quinjet where Clint and Natasha should be waiting. Seeing the familiar metal contraption comes with such a rush of relief that Bruce almost tumbles to his knees at the force of it but he corrects his stagger when he remembers that him and Steve are the only things keeping Tony upright.

Natasha is the one that runs out to meet them, Clint still strapped into the pilot seat so that they can take off immediately. Even with the Russian's normally unbreakable facade, she still needs a minute when she sees her friend and team mate hanging there limply with blood oozing from his mouth and nose and endless splatters of the red liquid adorning his torn clothes.

"боже мой" she whispers, her face pale but then she's shaking it off and helping them into the quinjet, ensuring that they're settled before dashing to join Clint - who's looking rather pale and shaky - in the cockpit.

As they launch into the air Steve uses the comms to talk to Thor and tell him that they're leaving now and he should be getting out of there. There should only be another few minutes or so before the whole compound blows, thanks to Clint and Natasha's work. Bruce is leaning over Tony where they've laid him flat on the floor of the quinjet and is doing his best to measure his vitals but it's difficult with the blood pounding in his ears and the way his hands won't stop shaking. He removes the blindfold carefully in the hopes that it's dim enough not to bother the billionaire. There's no reaction.

He's so focussed on his work that when Tony murmurs something he practically jumps out of his skin, flinching so hard that he drops the stethoscope he'd been about to use. The billionaire's eyes are barely open, his face slack because he simply doesn't have the energy to form an expression but there's something so very alive within him that Bruce wants to weep.

"Hey there," he says softly, not wanting to speak too loudly for fear of breaking this fragile moment between them. Tony drags in a breath that sounds like it hurts.

"You...Came," he forces out eventually. The words are followed by a cough that sends more blood splattering down his lips and Tony's eyes slip closed again for a moment. It must take a great force of will to open them again but he fights through the pain and fatigue and drugs and whatever else is wrong with him right now and Bruce has never been so glad that he did.

"Of course we came," he replies. "We weren't going to leave you with them. We're just sorry it took so long." And he is. So much. He has a feeling that the guilt he feels now at seeing his friend in such distress and knowing that he has failed him will never completely leave him but now isn't the time for self pity. Tony is here, he's not going anywhere and he has to hang onto that fact.

"S'not your fault." A soft, wet cough tears out of him. "You came. S'all that matters." Energy apparently spent the billionaire sags again, his eyes rolling back into his head and his eyelids slipping shut and there's half a second where Bruce panics but his hand is resting on Tony's chest, just to the right of the arc reactor, so he can feel the steadily beating heart. The gentle rhythm has his own heart calming from its sudden mad gallop.

Steve is kneeling beside them, looking as though he feels a thousand years old. Bruce can sympathise. None of them have really slept since Tony went missing and the long string of dead ends made it feel like they were fighting for a lost cause. But not one of them had given up.

There's a thud from outside the quinjet and the Captain opens the back so that Thor can come in, just in time to see the explosions tear apart the base behind them. It's an impressive fireball and Bruce can't help but feel a vicious satisfaction at knowing that the people that had dared come after his friend, his family, had paid the price. This was a message to the world: if you mess with an Avenger you'd better be prepared for the wrath that would rain down upon you.

"Will the Man of Iron be alright?" Thor asks, having only just recovered from the sight of Tony's limp, blood soaked form. The god's usually tanned skin has gone pale and he's shifting Mjölnir between his hands unhappily.

"I don't know," Bruce tells him because at this stage there's no point in dishonesty. "There's some kind of drug in his system and I have no idea what it's doing, I'm pretty sure that there's internal bleeding just about everywhere and he may have punctured a lung. He needs a medical doctor." Bruce had become their unofficial medic due to his previous experience in the third world but that had mainly just been giving comfort to people who couldn't be saved or money for medicines to those that could. This is well beyond his capabilities.

"There's a S.H.I.E.L.D base less than half an hour away," Clint calls back, his voice tight with too many emotions for the others to put names to. "Can he last that long?"

Bruce doesn't have an answer to that and the others know it. The question wasn't meant to be answered.

It turns out that Tony can last that long though by the time they land he's barely breathing and his pulse is weak and thready, his skin fading from white to grey to blue. Bruce knows that he has enough time to hand his friend over to the medical team but then he's going green and there's nothing he can do to stop it. The Other Guy has been screaming and roaring the whole time and he's simply exhausted.

The doctors are there then, rushing into the too small space to crowd around their patient, not even blinking at the fact that Tony looks like he's spent a week in hell (which he has). The rest of the team can only watch with sense of loss as Tony Stark, the great Iron Man is wheeled away.

When Tony wakes he spends a full ten seconds wishing that he could just pass out again because he has learnt by now that with consciousness comes pain and AIM scientists who are overly fond of scalpels and knives and fists. But the bliss of sleep eludes him and with a sigh of resignation he opens heavy eyelids.

This room is different, he notes instantly, his whole body tensing at the realisation of change. Change is not good - it means unexpected and unexpected means something he can't plan for, can't prepare for. Despite his loathing of his previous situation he had known what was coming and he had known that he could deal with it. This was something else.

The second thing that draws his attention is that he's in a bed, not against a wall, not sprawled on the floor but an honest to god bed with pillows and everything. And he's... not in pain. That's definitely a new one. In fact, now his eyes have adjusted to the dimness of the room he can see that it almost looked like a hospital.

He tries to think back, remember what was going on when he blacked out but everything has faded to a pain filled blur of darkness and he can't scratch out any details that might explain this.

The door opens soundlessly and he has to close his eyes against the light that pours in and stabs at him, glaring and bright. He doesn't open them again until he's sure the door is closed again. And then his gaze lands on the man who just walked in and his breath leaves him in a rush even as his heart leaps in response.

"Hey Tony," Bruce says softly, a knowing smile gracing his tired face. He looks worn down and exhausted but he still exudes a warmth that Tony had missed in its absence.

"Wha-" and then he stops because even though the rest of him is bizarrely pain free, his throat is blazing with a fierce inferno that he hadn't even noticed until now. Somehow having anticipated the need, Bruce steps forwards and offers the cup of ice chips he had brought with him, that wonderfully relaxed smile still there. "What happened?" Tony tries again and though the words are strained it's understandable.

"We got you out." Bruce doesn't appear inclined to say anything further as he sits down in the chair at Tony's bedside, leaning forwards to rest against the covers. Eventually, under Tony's gaze he elaborates. "It shouldn't have taken us so long, it was just that everything kept going wrong and you know that compared to you Fury's hackers look like preschool kids who can barely turn on a computer let alone use one and-" There Bruce cuts himself off, trembling a little. "I'm so sorry Tony." The sincerity in his voice is impossible to miss.

"Don't be," is his only response and he reaches out the hand that isn't holding the cup to pat the doctor gently on the head. Bruce huffs a laugh, his eyes sparkling with amusement even while his face seems to question the sanity of his friend.

They don't say much after that. Bruce briefly explained what had happened in Tony's absence but mostly it had just been time spent searching. Neither one will admit that they need to be there, to feel the tangible presence of something they had thought was lost. Eventually the rest of the team appear with a tearful Pepper who practically leaps at him as soon as she claps eyes on him.

Tony had known that they would come for him. It was what he had help onto when they had beaten him, cut at him, injected him, the knowledge that his friends were more than that. Family. Team mates. Guardians.

Yay, crappy deep ending cause I couldn't think up anything better.

Present tense is a new one two. I was just sort of curious about what it would be like to write and now I know. It's actually kind of fun. This whole story was really just something playful that came across as dark. Sorry about that. Try not to take it seriously would be my best advice.

I have another one shot that was requested ages ago (I'm so sorry Youwannabekate, I swear I'm doing my best) and then another one after that. As well as Taken and Honesty and Lies to update. And I'm about to go through the torment of university exams. Marvellous.

So yeah. It's all a bit scattered right now. I'll get on top of things again in the summer, I promise.