The Corrupt and the Pure • Chapters 12-17
Chapter 12: The Chip
Come morning, Tony was aching from lying on the hard floor and from all the nervous tension. He was also cranky from lack of sleep, coffee, and food – and he needed to go to the bathroom.
At least the Commander was an early riser just like Cap, having gotten up some time earlier as if he ached to go for a run or something. Instead he had settled down on the opposite side of the small space, for the most part just watching Tony in a manner that soon grew uncomfortable.
“I feel gross,” Tony complained, knowing he had next to no leverage but that wasn’t going to stop him from pushing. “I need a shower, a shave, and a bathroom break.” He raised his hand to interrupt the Commander’s reply. “I’ll refuse to do my business in a ditch, in the bushes, or in a bucket in the corner,” he added.
Tony had no leverage, but the Commander wanted to win him over – even when he said it didn’t matter. It was a small request, all in all, and Tony wanted to think that the silence following his demand meant the other was at least considering it.
“I’ll see what I can do,” finally came a reply, and the Commander rose to his feet and crossed the distance to where Tony was seated against a wall. He reached to his belt and retrieved the length of rope-like material he had used to bind Tony’s hands before.
“Really?” Tony arched an eyebrow at him.
“Can’t have you breaking out while I’m gone,” the Commander replied and motioned for Tony to turn around.
His aching bladder made up his mind for him, and Tony turned his back to the super-soldier, even going as far as pushing his hands back before they could be grabbed in order to be secured.
The Commander wasn’t taking any chances, binding Tony’s hands tight enough to almost prompt a protest, but it wasn’t as if his captor was wrong: if Tony saw an opening, he would take it, full bladder or no.
Satisfied with his work, the Commander stepped back and walked out the door without another word. Tony blinked at the sudden appearance and equally speedy disappearance of bright light, standing still and listening to the door being locked behind the other, then slowly turned to look the way he had gone. The lamp’s light didn’t quite reach the door or its locking mechanism, but that hadn’t stopped Tony from investigating it before, nor did it now. His tied hands were of no use, however, and he was very much a hands-on kind of person.
With an annoyed huff, he went to search for something to help undo his hands, but unsurprisingly nothing like that had been left lying around. Improvising a kidnapping seemed to be right up the Commander’s alley, and Tony pondered whether that was something his Steve Rogers shared with the guy. It wasn’t something he would have thought to ask, but he supposed tactical thinking could be utilized in many ways…
Unable to find a tool to free his hands and prompting his shoulders to ache even more as he tested the limits of his bindings, Tony remained trapped. Biding his time was something he hadn’t been particularly good at since Afghanistan; he absolutely refused to play by anyone else’s rules if they even slightly contradicted his own, and even then he would say they were his rules.
As it was, his options were once again uncomfortably limited, and he could almost feel phantom boundaries chafing against him, forcing him into a place he didn’t like.
Well, it wouldn’t have been much of a kidnapping if he wanted to be there…
He knew that was what the Commander wanted, though: for Tony to believe him and give in to the great love story that was supposedly in the cards for them. Tony was afraid to call his bluff because by now he was fairly convinced there was no deception; the honesty he had learned to expect from Captain America seemed to fit oddly well on the Commander’s twisted features as well.
Either that or he was being played for a fool.
Considering the things he had learned since first coming face to face with the Commander, it didn’t feel like he was being tricked. While there was a certain amount of emotional manipulation involved, it hadn’t sunk in yet. Tony didn’t think he was the perfect candidate for Stockholm Syndrome, nor was he planning on testing that theory. The moment he had an opportunity to run, call for help, or attack the Commander with some predictable success, he would take it.
Until then, he was stuck in this situation, and it might be best not to give his captor too much grief in order to be able to negotiate things like access to an actual bathroom.
Still, he had to be careful not to be too cooperative, because obviously the Commander was under the impression that demanding sexual favors from him was totally acceptable, and if Tony didn’t give them willingly… He had no desire to repeat the incident from the previous day, and just because the Commander had backed off one time didn’t mean he was actually feeling contrite – and wouldn’t push it the next time. Or the time after that.
Tony prayed there would be no ‘next time’. The mere idea made his skin crawl. No, he wasn’t afraid of the act itself – nothing to it that he hadn’t done before, one way or another – but being an unwilling participant gave it a very distinct flavor that he didn’t care for. Who in their right mind would? Even rape fantasies worked only as long as the ‘fantasy’ element was included.
So, he had to keep that from happening, and the longer he stayed within this shipping-container-turned-prison, the likelier it was he’d end up in that very same position and there was no guarantee his protests and pleas were going to be heard. Hell, he wasn’t sure what had stopped the Commander the first time, and the odds of that happening again were slim to none.
Deciding that obsessing about it before it happened was only going to make him feel like throwing up, he concentrated on taking one step at a time towards the goal of freeing himself. He had to figure out why his armors weren’t responding to his commands, and simultaneously keep looking for a way to make his position known so that the others could locate him.
‘Others’ meaning J.A.R.V.I.S., first and foremost, although he was sure that if Steve had indeed survived his confrontation with the Commander, he was in hot pursuit. Most likely they already had a trail to follow, but it wouldn’t hurt if Tony managed to help on his end.
The sooner he got away from the Commander, the better.
He was so caught up in his musings that the opening of the container’s door actually made him jump and back away. The light from the outside was painful as he stared at it, and for the first few seconds it was hard to see whether the outline he was seeing was the Commander or Captain America. The likelihood of the latter was distinctly smaller, though, and the moment the man stepped forward, his brain told him to back away some more and prepare himself for anything.
“You wanted a proper bathroom, yes?” the Commander asked sharply. It was clear he didn’t like this. Still, he gestured at Tony to approach him, and with the cautiousness of the suspicious person that he was, Tony slowly stepped forward. The Commander reached behind him and did something to release his bound hands. “You try to run or trick me, we’ll start doing things my way,” he stated, and then took Tony by the throat, right beneath his jaw, forcing him to look up at him. It certainly felt like there was already a layer of bruises there. “You don’t want to piss me off,” the Commander growled, just in case Tony needed to be told that.
He had a fairly good idea this version of Steve Rogers wasn’t to be messed with – not that he thought the other one was either, but the Steve he knew lacked the certain darkness this one wore on his sleeve for all the world to see.
“Understood?” the Commander asked, eyes boring down into Tony’s.
“Yeah,” he tried to say, but talking was near impossible with the supersoldier’s fingers squeezing his throat.
Accepting the weak response, the Commander let him go and took his upper arm in a tight grip instead, pulling Tony towards the door.
Freedom! his brain screamed, swiftly followed by too bright! as they stepped outside and his eyes burned with the rapid change in lighting.
It was daytime, and once he could actually see something, he noted they were at some kind of a dump, surrounded by a few dented shipping containers, stripped cars and all manner of used and broken down electrical equipment that was just lying around the unused plot of land. As far as Tony could see, they weren’t in the city anymore, but he could make out larger, tall buildings in the distance. Not too far from home, then.
Slowly, he flexed his arms, perfectly hiding it under the pretense of stretching his limbs after having them tied again. He kept hoping to see a streak of red and gold in the sky, responding to the remote call, but it hadn’t worked last night and he was yet to determine why that was. A simple crate couldn’t block the signal, so it had to be something else.
They crossed the salvage yard and exited out onto a shabby little side street lined with buildings in equally poor condition. The neighborhood appeared fairly dead because there was not a single car or person passing them by. Seeing as the Commander was carrying his shield and wearing a uniform, someone would have surely taken notice of that – if nothing else than to snap a picture and tweet it, which was the kind of thing people did these days.
A picture on the Net would be enough to clue J.A.R.V.I.S. in to his location, though, and Tony tried to will someone to drive by.
They came to the end of the street and turned a corner, coming across a motel. It was definitely one of those seedy pay-by-the-hour, no-questions-asked kind of places, but it looked like it was open for business which surprised Tony a little; he had fully expected the Commander to take them to the nearest uninhabited building which had a bathroom, but this was a lot better.
Tony tried not to show his excitement as they entered, counting on someone to recognize his mug and tweet about it, at the very least.
The clerk looked up at them, clearly not expecting customers at this hour – then did a double-take at the Commander for obvious reasons.
“I need a room,” the Commander stated.
“Uh, sure,” the man said, and his eyes flew to Tony.
Tony stared the man down, trying to tell him not to react to his presence – it might get him killed – but at the same time praying he would do something about it once they had left the front desk.
“One room?” the clerk asked.
“Yes,” the Commander said. “An hour should be enough.”
Definitely a seedy motel, Tony decided; the man’s obvious hesitation wasn’t directed to the amount of time as much as who was asking for it, even though the Commander’s striking resemblance to Captain America was somewhat hampered by the scarring on his face.
To Tony’s surprise, the Commander dug a wad of bills from his pocket. They looked like American dollars, and the clerk accepted them, giving the Commander a key in return. He didn’t even get to say the room number out loud before the Commander was already moving out the door, dragging Tony by the arm and following the numbered doors until he found the one matching the number on their key.
Opening the door, the Commander pushed Tony inside first, following suit and firmly closing the door behind them. “You have an hour,” he said, just in case Tony hadn’t realized that.
Accepting that, Tony checked the tiny room. A single bed dominated the space with its faded cover; wallpaper was peeling off the walls, revealing more layers of equally hideous papering beneath it; only the barest of essentials were pushed to the corners of the room. There was a TV, though, and a brochure on top of it listing some pay-per-view videos for inspiration if necessary.
Tony headed for the only other door in the room and found a bathroom behind it, with a cramped shower stall and a tiny sink with a crack in the porcelain. The toilet looked like a habitat for some of the fungi experiments Tony had seen Bruce do in his lab, but it was all infinitely better than a bucket in a corner of an enclosed space with no running water.
Hell, there was even a complimentary single-use shaving kit available, and Tony went back to grab one of the towels he had seen folded on top of the bed.
The Commander was standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest and not looking all too happy about being forced to do this. No doubt he was going to keep standing there, guarding the door and making sure Tony didn’t make a run for it. The bathroom had no window, so there was no way Tony was getting out that way – not unless he found something to blow a hole in the wall, and even MacGyver couldn’t manage that with only soap and shaving cream.
“Can I close the door?” Tony asked as he was stepping back into the bathroom. “Unless you think I can somehow escape through the pipes,” he added sarcastically despite knowing it wasn’t the best of ideas.
The Commander glared at him – damn if that didn’t look like the evil eye he was used to getting from his Steve – but eventually gave a grudging nod.
Not wanting to give the man time to take it back, Tony closed the door behind him and stripped, did his business at the toilet, then hopped into the shower without stopping to look at all the dirty corners and the things living there. The pipes groaned a bit and it took a while to actually get hot water flowing, but once he achieved that, Tony didn’t waste any time. Who knew when he would get a chance to wash himself again?
After washing his body and hair, he dried off and stepped in front of the mirror above the sink with the intent of shaving. It would be ugly with the tools he had available, but so much better than not doing it at all. He dried his hair some more to stop drops of water from sliding down his face from his hairline, then pushed his fingers through the wet strands in a mockery of styling his hair with gel.
At the back of his head his fingernail caught on something, and he moved both his hands there to inspect the area. It was tender, and as he scratched at it, it felt like a scab. Not remembering how he had got a head injury like that, he first blamed it on the initial arrival of the Commander, but as his fingers searched the area some more, mapping it out, he could feel something beneath the skin that wasn’t part of the healing wound.
He supposed it was possible he had a piece of debris lodged in there, but the shape felt too smooth and cylinder-shaped, like a long capsule. Besides, the other scrapes he had sustained in the small blast caused by the Tesseract were more healed than the one he was feeling his way around, and he began to feel increasingly suspicious of what lay beneath his skin.
Tony decided that whatever it was, it was going to come out. He worked the scab off with his fingers first, grimacing at the slight twinge of pain. Blood flowed from the exposed wound, but he could feel the unfamiliar shape even more distinctly. With determination, he grabbed the shaving kit and tore it open, fishing out the razor. It was far from an ideal cutting tool, and not seeing what he was doing wasn’t helping either, but he could feel the cylinder beneath his skin and one way or the other, he was getting his hands on it.
He clenched his jaw and inhaled as he pressed the blade against his skin, feeling the incision and maintaining the pressure as he tried to cut a line along the cylinder’s length. Not wanting to repeat the treatment, he soldiered on and pressed the razor down some more, making sure he cut in deep enough.
With a shuddery gasp of pain he finally pulled his makeshift knife away and dropped it in the sink. His fingers were covered in blood so he rinsed them quickly, leaving bloody prints all over the faucet. He reached back into his head once he had most of the blood off his hands and dug into the wound, trying to restrain from making sounds that would alarm the Commander as to what he was doing.
At first he wasn’t sure whether his cut was deep enough or close to the cylinder, but then he managed to push it towards the wound with his left hand’s fingers and felt it touch the digit burrowing into his skin. Getting his thumb and forefinger in there, wilfully ignoring the pain in favor of getting the thing out of his head, he tried to grab onto the tiny object. It was slippery, but with the fingers of his left hand pressing it towards the exit, he finally felt it pop out a bit. He almost didn’t catch it, feeling it slide down his neck, but finally managed to track it down and get it between his fingers.
Bringing it around for inspection, Tony swiped a bloody thumb across the tiny piece. It was metal, and too smooth to be something that had accidentally lodged itself in his head. Without any kind of equipment, he couldn’t tell what it had been there for, but perhaps that explained the lack of response from his suits.
Grabbing onto it with two hands as best he could, he twisted the cylinder in half. It gave a tiny crack as it broke in two. Flicking the pieces into the sink, Tony flexed his arms in a familiar motion, to try and call the armor to him once more.
Then he waited, trying to count the seconds until one of them would come bursting through the wall – or the Commander would figure out he was up to something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.
to be continued…
Chapter 13: The Spike
Manhattan, New York City, NY
The spike came as suddenly and without warning as it always did. J.A.R.V.I.S. couldn’t be caught unawares, exactly – no more than usual – seeing as his attention was always divided amongst hundreds of simultaneous tasks. However, this was something the AI had been waiting for with the virtual equivalent of bated breath: a remote call for the armor registered on the servers, gaining a priority status as soon as it was pinged through a specialized satellite network.
If J.A.R.V.I.S. had had an actual heart, it might have skipped a beat, but all the AI did was prioritize the command even further at the same time as he accessed the speakers on all the levels where the Avengers had spread out while waiting for news:
“A signal has come in from Mr. Stark. I am currently decrypting the exact location. Stand by for Quinjet launch.”
- - -
Steve scrambled up from his seat the second J.A.R.V.I.S. began his announcement. There was something in the AI’s tone that informed his body it was urgent; something was happening, and he was ready to move out before his brain even deciphered the meaning of the message.
Tony was alive and somehow contacting his AI.
“Where is he?” Steve asked even as he descended the stairs to get to the modified Quinjet he had been shown before. It was larger than the standard S.H.I.E.L.D. ones – and faster, if the user manual was to be believed. Knowing Tony Stark, Steve didn’t doubt it. The man seemed like the type who took a look at something and instantly thought of ten ways to make it better. The end results weren’t always what other people preferred, but in this instance, Steve was planning on putting the new Quinjet through its paces once they had a heading.
“Data incoming,” was all J.A.R.V.I.S. said.
Further inside the hangar, one of Tony’s armors was coming into view. It wasn’t the one Steve had seen earlier, but it looked like it was in a hurry to pull itself together and go somewhere; clearly it knew where it was needed. Steve watched it like a hawk even as he pulled on his gloves and adjusted the shield on his back.
One by one the other Avengers and their allies started showing up, in various states of readiness; some of them were in full gear while others were just getting started, clearly having relaxed while waiting for news. Steve hadn’t been able to join them, too fixated on the fact that they needed to locate Tony as soon as possible and once they did, there wouldn’t be a second to waste if they wanted to get to him in time.
That may have been a little over the top, but the Commander had managed to make the two of them vanish quite effectively. J.A.R.V.I.S. had still been searching when this new information came in, and it didn’t sound like the AI had managed to locate Tony on his own.
If Tony was sending a message, it was their duty to be ready and follow it to the source.
“Everyone’s almost ready,” Natasha told him when she arrived, zipping up her catsuit. Clearly she thought it needed to be said – and maybe it did: if they weren’t ready, Steve would take off without them.
Tony’s suit was making its way towards the hangar doors now, clearly not waiting for anyone else. Steve took a step towards it, not to be left behind. His eyes checked out the silhouette, mind calculating whether he could hitch a ride on it.
“Not the best idea, Captain,” James Rhodes’ voice reached his ears just before the heavy footfalls of his armor followed; he was exiting an elevator, already suited up. “Clinging onto one of these is hard enough for a short flight.”
“You sound like you have experience,” Steve replied.
“Some. I don’t think the armor’s taking passengers, anyway; Tony’s calling, and it’s going to break all the speeding limits to get to him.”
“You’re going to follow?” Natasha asked, taking in Rhodes’ armored appearance.
“Hell yeah,” the man nodded.
Steve felt like punching him, for some irrational reason. He wished he had an armor of his own, or the skill to safely fly the Quinjet.
It must have shown on his face because Rhodes looked a bit contrite for a moment. “The others are on their way. You won’t be more than a few minutes behind us.”
“Few minutes too long, if you ask me,” Steve stated.
Tony’s armor reached the opening doors, repulsors lighting up in preparation for take-off. Steve contemplated hitching a ride on it regardless of Rhodes’ warnings; just because something was complicated didn’t mean he couldn’t do it, and it had never discouraged Steve for embarking on an adventure.
War Machine walked past him before he could give into the impulse, though, an armored hand clapping his shoulder in a tight grip that could have been easily bruising if prolonged. “We’re gonna get to him in time, and there will be plenty of ass for you to kick once we get our hands on that HYDRA copy of yours.”
“Our numbers seem slightly excessive, considering it is but one man we are facing,” Thor mused as he walked up, followed by most of the other superheroes.
“Better safe than sorry,” Bruce stated; he was the only one not donning some kind of uniform – for obvious reasons.
“Maybe you should sit this one out,” Natasha started.
Bruce gave her a look that spoke volumes of just how much he wasn’t going to be hanging back at the Tower while the rest of them headed out to save their teammate.
The armor took off from the platform outside the hangar doors with a roar of repulsors, streaking a line across the sky. A news chopper almost got cut in two when it strayed in front of it, but the armor sped past it with only a tiny adjustment to its course, then vanished from sight behind the tall buildings of Lower Manhattan.
“It’s not gaining altitude,” Sam mused.
“The remote recall signal is coming from Brooklyn,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced.
“How did he get that far without anyone noticing?” Clint asked even as he started to make a beeline for the Quinjet.
“He did, and now we’re going after him,” Steve decided. Brooklyn made sense because it was someplace he knew – or at least had known. There was no knowing how familiar his HYDRA counterpart was with the area, but that’s where he had taken Tony.
While Rhodes walked out onto the ramp and took off after the Iron Man armor, the rest of them piled into the Quinjet. It was obvious Thor was debating whether to fly after the armors, but he eventually followed the rest of them into the aircraft and Clint shut the ramp behind them.
The engines started with a soft roar, and some kind of automated system guided the Quinjet out the doors and out onto the ramp. Steve spotted the wings opening up, and then he strapped himself into a chair for take-off. The power of the propulsion was significant, lifting the Quinjet into the air in a controlled hover and then thrusting them forward in an arch that took them past the nearby Chrysler Building and that same chopper the Iron Man suit had almost collided with previously.
Steve willed himself to sit still, knowing the flight would be a short one at the pace they were accelerating. Once they landed, he had to be on full alert, ready to out-perform the Commander. Just because he had backup didn’t mean he wasn’t going to be motivated to defeat the other on his own, but his pride wasn’t too much to endanger getting Tony back safely.
to be continued…
Chapter 14: The Delay
As nonchalant as Tony tried to be, not to alert his captor, he made one mistake: he reached out to lock the bathroom door.
Rationally, it made no difference. A normal door in a run-down motel wasn’t going to stop the supersoldier from getting into the room, but some simple part of his brain dismissed that in favor of the illusion that it might buy him some time.
Not five seconds after he turned the lock, something banged against the door from the other side and the entire thing cracked through the middle. Tony jumped back just as the Commander’s fist punched through and tore one half off the door clean off its hinges.
There was no hiding the mess in time, and Tony just stared back at the other man when he saw the icy eyes take in the blood spattered all over the sink and the smears of it on Tony’s hands he was yet to wash off.
The Commander’s eyes met his, then traveled slightly south-east. Tony didn’t feel it, but he guessed there were blood trails making their way down from his hairline and across the naked skin of his neck and shoulders.
“Put on your clothes,” the Commander snapped.
“I haven’t finished shaving yet,” Tony protested, trying to keep his voice even. “The razor slipped –”
The Commander growled and took one giant step forward, ending up right in front of Tony. He had rarely felt so naked and vulnerable in his life – the towel he had wrapped around his waist had fallen to the floor while he was digging for the foreign item in his head. He tried to be empowered by the idea that his armor was on its way, but he couldn’t be sure that was the case and until the armor actually got to his location, it was of no use to him.
“Put on your clothes, now, or I’m going to drag you out of here naked,” the Commander hissed in his face. “Your choice.”
Tony had enough shame to take the offer, and pulled his clothes on hastily. The other man was positively vibrating by then, fists clenching and unclenching, head turning slightly every now and then as if to listen to an approaching threat. Nothing seemed to be coming their way, though, and Tony started to fear something was truly wrong with the implants.
Could it be that the device that had knocked him out had damaged them? What was the purpose of the tiny cylinder he had just dug out of his head? Surely it hadn’t been there for decoration only, and he could sense the Commander was far from pleased with what he had done.
Tony tried his best to dress slowly – as slowly as he dared, anyway – but he knew that dragging his feet about it too openly would just result in not wearing those clothes at all.
When the Commander’s eyes started to dart his way a bit too often, Tony knew his time was running out. He had bought his armor as much time as he could afford, and in case it was coming, it would be able to hone in on his location even as they moved.
“I should clean the blood and dress the wound,” he stated, as a last resort to delay their departure.
The Commander just sneered and jerked his head as a negative.
“It’s just going to keep bleeding,” Tony protested, and it wasn’t a lie.
“Then I guess you’ll just have to deal with it for now,” the Commander responded. “We’ve moving out.”
“If I get an infection and die, it’s on you,” Tony pointed out.
“That’s why you have Extremis; to prevent that from happening.”
Tony supposed so, although he wasn’t sure it would actually kick in before he was well on his way to a life-threatening blood poisoning.
The Commander looked like he was seconds away from physically removing Tony from the bathroom, so he tried to wipe away most of the blood on his neck with the towel and then dropped it to the floor, signaling that he was done. That was apparently an invitation to have his arm grabbed and his body shoved through the broken doorway and then out the door of their motel room, back into the sunlight outside.
Once on the street, the Commander started heading in a different direction than where they had come from, soon dodging into an alley between two demolition-ready buildings. Tony was trying to walk at a normal pace but kept finding that the Commander’s stride almost forced him into a slight jog – up until he was suddenly thrust face-first into the broken concrete wall of one of the buildings, the air escaping his lungs rather painfully.
“If you keep finding ways to push me, I’ll just push back,” the Commander hissed as he held him pressed against the wall. Tony couldn’t breathe, and the strength the supersoldier was exerting threatened to break his ribs. “Next time you dig this out,” he said as he pushed something into the wound in Tony’s head, making him gasp in pain, “I’ll shove it so deep in your gut you’ll need a surgeon to dig it out.”
Tony whined as he felt the fingers pushing something deeper and deeper into his skin. At least that’s what he imagined was happening, because he didn’t think there was another reason for the Commander to shove a finger into his head wound.
Finally the other man pulled his finger out and stepped back, allowing Tony room to breathe and sag a bit against the wall, the back of his head throbbing with pain. He could actually feel the tiny rivulets of blood making their way down his skin, only stopping when they reached the neck of his shirt, slowly soaking into the material.
Before he could actually catch his breath, the Commander pulled him up and off the wall by his arm, continuing down the alley again. Tony stumbled along, having a hard time keeping up – and then heard the familiar engines.
His mouth opened to yell, but the Commander pulled him roughly to his chest before he could get a word out, a hand clasping tightly across his mouth. Tony struggled to throw him off, knowing that the armor was close – probably searching the area near the motel. It was only a matter of seconds before it would spot them, and he could almost taste freedom.
Apparently the Commander knew the score because he bodily dragged Tony along, keeping a close watch on the sky above them while seeking cover near the wall of the building. Near the end of the alley there was a large metal dumpster. The Commander sized it up, then adjusted his hold on Tony, using one arm to both pin Tony’s body to his and curl the fingers of his hand around his throat to effectively stop any sound from possibly escaping his lips. The grip threatened to suffocate him by the time the Commander had opened the dumpster’s heavy hatch, and Tony’s lungs burned as he was manhandled into the confined space.
The Commander had to let go of him shortly as he jumped in after him, but Tony was so busy coughing and struggling to breathe that the thought of calling out didn’t even cross his mind. Then the hatch was closed behind them, not with a slam but a soft little thud, and the Commander lay half on top of him, one hand moving up to ghost over the immediate vicinity of his throat and jaw in case Tony got the idea in his head to make a sound aside from drawing air into his lungs.
The dumpster was blessedly empty, save for some old papers caking the bottom and a couple random plastic wrappers. While he loomed over Tony in the dim space, the Commander dug with his free hand into the utility belt around his waist, which was becoming a source of dread for Tony thanks to the things that had come out of it before. The Commander pulled something out, which he positioned against the side of the dumpster, and a moment later Tony felt something like a low current moving across the surface and through his body.
All sounds became muted. Tony couldn’t hear anything past his ragged breaths. When he thought the suit might be close by – he imagined the dumpster’s walls were softly vibrating with the force of the repulsors – he moved one leg to kick at a metal wall. The motion was swiftly brought to a halt as the Commander rolled further on top of him, curling his limbs around him like a snake suffocating its prey. Tony could hear the anger in his breaths and then the fingers were on his throat again, which prompted him to mewl softly in a plea to prevent another chokehold.
The fingers settled around the top of his throat but didn’t quite squeeze the bruised flesh. The warning was clear, though, and Tony focused on breathing and being as quiet as a church mouse even though it was preventing his rescue. However, it wasn’t going to make any kind of a difference if he lay passed out, and he didn’t particularly like the idea of being unconscious in the Commander’s presence – especially when the man was obviously angry at him.
As they lay in the darkness, Tony had no idea how much time passed. It felt like hours, his ears straining to pick up sounds from the outside world, his brain trying to calculate whether the suit’s scanners should be able to pierce the metal of the dumpster. A specific search should have revealed their location, but seeing as no one came knocking, the Commander’s ploy had to be working.
Just as he began to wonder whether they were going to stay in hiding forever, the Commander moved slightly. Tony guessed he was pressing his ear against the side of the dumpster, to get a better read on the situation outside. He tried doing the same, laying his ear flat against the bottom of the dumpster, but he couldn’t make out anything.
Perhaps that was what prompted the Commander to shift. Instead of getting up, though, he leaned further over Tony, the hand on his throat shifting its hold and starting to squeeze. “This is about as much trouble as I’m going to have from you for one day,” he whispered in Tony’s ear.
Tony tried to struggle, his body instinctively kicking into high gear as he was deprived of precious oxygen. The Commander’s hold was solid, however, and Tony’s panicked struggling eventually ceased into feeble little jerks as his mind began to lose its ability to function – shortly before it all just went dark in one painful, sickness-inducing wave.
to be continued…
Chapter 15: The Frustration
“Where’s the signal?” Rhodey called out, eyes searching the HUD in vain.
“It has disappeared,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied coolly, as if he didn’t care either way, but Rhodey was fairly certain that wasn’t the case.
“That I cannot answer.”
Beside War Machine, Tony’s armor moved to search the streets below. There was still plenty of daylight, but the rundown neighborhood was a perfect place to dodge out of sight.
“Did you get eyes on him?” Rhodey asked, feeling a bit desperate. Tony had been right there, until he wasn’t. Rhodey hadn’t actually managed to lay eyes on him, but the dot representing his location had been glaringly bright.
“No,” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded, and it sounded a lot like a snap of frustration.
“How far behind are the others?”
Rhodey didn’t look forward to breaking the news to Captain America. If only they had deployed faster, this wouldn’t have happened. Or perhaps it would have, regardless of their response time, seeing as they were facing off against a celebrated tactical genius. So far this other Steve Rogers hadn’t disappointed anyone with his fighting skills, and Rhodey was kind of looking forward to seeing the duplicates clash in a re-match; it was bound to be spectacular, seeing how pissed Cap was about losing the first round.
Finding Tony was more important than a childish desire to see one supersoldier fight another – especially when it was quite possible Tony was in danger of being harmed by his captor.
As J.A.R.V.I.S. had informed him, the Avengers’ Quinjet curved to a landing a minute and a half later. Rhodey flew over to them, touching down just as the ramp was lowered and the star-spangled figure of Captain America strode out.
“How could you lose him?!” he yelled; obviously J.A.R.V.I.S. had broken the news to the rest of the team.
“He must have known we were nearby,” Rhodey said. “They can’t be far.”
“We’ll spread out to widen the search,” Natasha joined Rhodey in an effort to keep Cap from losing his cool.
Logically, there was no way for the Commander to escape, especially if he had Tony with him. With Thor, Rhodey, Sam Wilson and Mark 45 in the air, it should have been impossible for them to escape the perimeter they kept steadily widening, but as minutes kept on ticking by and there was no other signal coming from Tony, Rhodey began to wonder whether he had ever even been there.
He posed the question for J.A.R.V.I.S. “Could it be a glitch?”
“The signal was steady for several minutes. I fail to see how it could be an error,” the AI replied.
“Could it be replicated, like a decoy?”
“That would require intimate knowledge of Mr. Stark’s physiology.”
“Which this guy might just have,” Rhodey muttered.
“They were at the motel,” Clint Barton reported over the commlink. “The clerk had a pretty solid description although there are no security cameras operational on the property or in its vicinity. It also seems they left the room in a hurry and it matches our timeline.”
“Anything interesting in the room?” Cap asked.
“Blood,” Barton replied, not sounding happy about it for obvious reasons. “I’ve sent a sample for J.A.R.V.I.S. to analyze. There were no signs of struggle other than a busted bathroom door, and the amount of blood doesn’t suggest a deadly injury.”
“The blood is a match to Mr. Stark’s.” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed them.
Somehow, that had been expected.
“Well, at least we know he was here, and that he’s still alive,” Rhodey decided. That was so much more than what he’d forced himself to go on when Tony went missing in Afghanistan.
“He’s still here somewhere,” Cap decided. “Keep looking.”
- - -
An hour later, they would have literally been looking under rocks had there been any large enough to hide a person. Somehow, the Commander had slipped past them, and Steve kept beating himself up, trying to figure out how he had done it and where he would be headed next.
His frustration was palpable, and his teammates avoided him unless there was something truly pressing to report.
Steve wished Tony would have put up more of a fight. He knew that was also unfair, not knowing what the situation was like. Tony was no match for the Commander without his suit or a weapon to even the score. The man was inventive, yes, but it was unlikely the Commander would just let him run wild and put together the means to escape.
“This guy knows how to disappear,” Natasha mused, appearing beside Steve and clearly unafraid to speak her mind. “J.A.R.V.I.S. is going over satellite footage, but it’s a cloudy day.”
“Of course it is,” Steve bit out.
“He got a signal out once, he’ll do it again,” Natasha informed him. “We have somewhere to start tracking them down, and we’ll keep at it, but right now…”
“The team wants to head back?” Steve guessed.
“There’s nothing here.”
“They were here,” he snapped, stressing every word. “Right here. The armors got here too soon for them to run, so they had to go to ground.”
“From where they may have since moved on, even though we’ve been scanning the area,” Natasha pointed out. “You’ve found your way past enemy lines in tougher situations than this.”
It rankled Steve to hear the truth, and that his own skillset was being used against him and why they had ultimately lost their chance to get Tony back. “I hate this guy,” he said with a passion.
“We’ll get him,” Natasha promised. “And you’ll get your rematch.”
The way she phrased it prompted Steve to actually look at her and raise an eyebrow, which his cowl mostly hid.
Natasha gave her a smirk that would put Jaws to shame: “Everyone’s looking forward to witnessing that fight.”
She made it sound like a championship fight, but Steve didn’t care. It didn’t matter whether people would be watching, or whether he even got to deliver the last punch – although he would prefer doing it; they had to take the Commander down. Whether it came before or after rescuing Tony…
That was what he had to focus on – not the idea of beating up a rotten version of himself who happened to be holding one win over his head.
to be continued…
Chapter 16: The Temper
They were underground, in what looked like a long-abandoned subway tunnel. It was definitely the kind of place where a villain would make his escape, to put some distance between himself and the good guys and use the dank darkness to fuel his nefarious plans.
Tony didn’t much care for the tunnel, but after the incident at the motel it seemed very unlikely his opinion would matter to the Commander – especially when the other was still enraged at almost getting caught.
In true spirit of lashing out with twice the malice against those who wronged you, the Commander prowled the darkness around Tony until he simply walked up to him and struck him across the face. An actual punch would have probably broken bones, but the swipe nonetheless sent Tony crashing into the wall behind him, his hands bound once more and therefore unable to protect him from the impact.
“I told you not to play tricks on me,” the Commander spat, coming over and yanking Tony back to his feet.
“What did you expect?” Tony snapped back, head still reeling from the impact. That wasn’t enough to dampen his spirit when he was the one being held captive, and that clearly rubbed the Commander the wrong way.
“I’m angry,” he rumbled, face inches from Tony’s. His hands held him so tightly that he was almost lifting Tony off his feet, and it seemed to take much of his willpower not to simply shake him like a ragdoll.
“Duly noted,” Tony responded, letting his own anger freely color his tone. They both knew now that playing nice was just an act for him anyway.
The Commander’s fingers tightened a fraction more, and then he shoved Tony back into the wall. His bound hands stung with pain, being forced between his body and the wall. His head took a slight hit as well, but he had the presence of mind to try and tighten his neck muscles to minimize the damage, which worked for the most part; neck pain was infinitely better than a cracked skull.
Releasing his hold, the Commander prowled into the darkness again. Tony could hear his feet shifting gravel on the tunnel floor, suggesting he was too angry to care if he was making noise. It was better than the normally stealthy step, though, because Tony liked knowing where he was coming from even when he couldn’t defend himself.
Knowing was half the battle, after all…
“Just let me go,” Tony suggested. “You can slip away quietly and maybe, if you’re careful enough, we won’t find you.”
“I came here for a purpose,” the Commander snarled. “If I don’t have you, I have nothing.”
Tony closed his eyes to center himself against the pounding in his head. The darkness didn’t offer much to look at to begin with. “It’s not like you really have me now, either,” he mused, knowing how badly it would be received but also tired of the situation he was in.
“I have enough,” the Commander decided.
No one could claim he wasn’t willing to settle for so much less than what he wanted.
It frustrated Tony to no end that he wasn’t able to find an angle that would actually make the Commander see reason. The guy was so wrapped up in his own beliefs that he was totally disillusioned to how the real world worked. Tony wondered whether it was madness or just the fact that he had ended up in a world resembling his, but the key features he had been most looking for were actually working against him.
None of that meant he was justified in kidnapping Tony as his captive as if pure earnestness – or brute force – was going to change his mind. Perhaps that was how HYDRA did it, but Tony had no intention of falling prey to his tactics. He was backed into a corner with no immediate escape, yes, but it didn’t mean he was about to submit to this treatment without a good fight.
“You do realize that I can make your life a living hell, right?” Tony mused out loud. “My team will never stop looking for me. They’ll hunt you like an animal, and I’ll fight every step of the way to make you stumble and fall so that they’ll catch up.”
He heard the other man approach before the familiar grip of his fist around his throat appeared. The Commander lifted him clear off his feet and Tony wondered briefly whether his neck would snap from the treatment.
Perhaps the Commander figured the same before he snarled and tossed him to the side.
Tony’s shoulder hit the old train track, threatening to dislocate the limb from its socket. Pain flared along his right arm, and before he could roll away from the metal beam, the Commander was on top of him, heavy boot landing on his temple and pressing the side of his face into the tracks.
The supersoldier could have cracked his skull like a melon under his boot, and Tony wondered if that was how it would end, eventually; if he didn’t give the man what he wanted, he would be granted the same fate as the Commander’s previous lover. Or, he would be killed in a fit of rage, which seemed a likelier option considering the Commander’s state of mind.
Before the other could truly apply pressure on his skull, however, the Commander snapped out of it and removed his boot. Tony heard him mutter beneath his breath, perhaps counting to ten before he did something irreversible.
“Pussy,” Tony murmured, against his better judgment.
The booted foot swung against his face, and Tony’s consciousness was engulfed by a hot darkness deeper than the tunnel’s continuous gloom before his head even hit the metal beam of the track.
to be continued…
Chapter 17: The Balm
Tony woke up to the taste of copper permeating the inside of his mouth.
As his consciousness returned, there was a moment when he was floating, miles away from touching anything corporeal save for the disgusting, metallic flavor on his tongue. That didn’t last, though, and plummeting back to harsh reality threatened to overpower his senses. Sadly, it didn’t, leaving him digesting a whole lot of pain that his body was currently feeling.
His head was pounding with every beat of his heart, and he could feel coagulated blood stuck to both sides of his face; his shoulders ached, which was by now familiar from being tied down, and his right arm was dancing with pinpricks of sharp, burning pain. He didn’t even realize his hands were untied until, belatedly, he discovered that his body was laid out on its left side on a hard floor.
“I’m sorry,” was the first thing that registered in his ears. A hand brushed over his face, threatening to disturb the dried blood. “I shouldn’t have hurt you.”
It’s not Steve, his brain corrected. I’m not safe.
“I untied your hands. I hope it makes you feel slightly more comfortable.”
Considering everything, it didn’t make him feel better. Nor did he feel particularly safe, despite the other man’s soft tone.
Tony sighed and tried to coax more spit into his mouth to wash away the tang of blood, but it didn’t seem to work. Besides, his throat was a growing source of pain, aching every time he swallowed or even slightly moved his head – which also served to notify him that his neck was a single stiff mass of hurt.
It kind of made sense, seeing as he vaguely recalled getting kicked in the head.
“Shh,” the Commander soothed, his fingers ghosting over Tony’s face and combing through his hair, actually finding a spot that wasn’t bloody or particularly painful. “Just rest. Let your body heal. Extremis…” He didn’t finish, perhaps dumbfounded by how Extremis had failed to intervene so far. Tony was seriously starting to agree with him: he needed a more aggressive approach for it, to stop something like this from happening again.
How often would an evil copy of Steve Rogers drop in on them, though?
“I should try to understand this from your perspective,” the Commander went on, for all the world sounding like a contrite man learning from his mistakes. Tony thought that was highly doubtful in reality. “It is just so frustrating, knowing how well we fit together and waiting for you to realize that as well,” he went on. “I know I could have a future with you. A real future.”
Too late, Tony thought to himself. He tried to crane his neck, to move his head away from the gentle touch of the man who had hurt him in the first place, but all he got for his trouble was more pain. For the time being, the Commander’s fingers were the only sensation that didn’t hurt, and he wondered if he did that on purpose; an ingenious plan to win Tony over.
“I think I know how to fix this,” the Commander mused after a while. His fingers ceased moving and then disappeared altogether, and Tony squashed the tiny pinprick of remorse at losing the soothing caress of his touch; he wouldn’t have been in pain if not for the Commander, so there was no way he was really feeling thankful for his touch. Only, it kind of was distracting him from the pain…
The other man shifted around for a while. Tony was in too much pain to try and see what was going on, even though his instincts would have normally coaxed him to do so. Besides, as far as he could tell, they were still in the underground tunnel and there wouldn’t be much to see in the almost nonexistent light.
“This should do the trick,” the Commander said and something metallic was pressed against Tony’s temple. It wasn’t unlike the tiny disc that had caused him to lose consciousness before, and the memory made him stiffen in response. His anxiety wasn’t eased when he felt the other man press his lips to his forehead, like a lover or a parent might.
Instead of new pain or unconsciousness, Tony began to feel warm and tingly. It was followed by a blessed numbness that slowly dwarfed the pain in his body, lulling him into a much-needed reverie.
Tony must have actually slept because the next time he stirred, the pain was gone and the lingering tension of being stressed had vanished. He flexed his jaw and allowed his tongue to travel the inside of his mouth, but he could not taste blood nor feel his battered body protest. It was as if all of it had been a bad dream and he had just awoken safely in his own bed, the nightmare of the past few days just a memory gone by.
“It worked better than I expected,” Steve Rogers’ voice reached his ears, and Tony blinked his eyes to assess the situation. The darkness was still very much around them, and it would take several minutes for Tony’s eyes to adjust to it. Still, he could sense the other man at his side, slightly bent over him like a predator waiting for its prey to make a move so that it could lash out at it again.
They were still in the tunnel, and it was still the Commander, not Cap.
“What did you do to me?” Tony asked, shifting up on his arms. That he could do that surprised him; he was neither restricted nor in pain.
“I activated Extremis, prompting it to heal you,” the Commander told him. “How do you feel?”
“Peachy,” Tony replied as dryly as possible. Sure, he felt great, but it didn’t mean all was forgiven. Far from it.
“You are not happy,” the other mused, as if able to see his expression. Perhaps he did, supersoldier eyes and all.
“I’m still being held captive. Just because I’m no longer in pain doesn’t mean I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.”
The Commander huffed out a breath that may have originated from disappointment. “Alright… How could I make you happier? Aside from letting you go,” he added before Tony could say it.
“That’s not how this is going to go,” Tony informed him.
“You prefer being miserable?”
“I prefer being a free man, instead of being held by an abusive asshole who is driven to make his point no matter what the other parties involved might want.” He kind of wished he could stare the other man down, but knowing that it hadn’t worked very well before, Tony was glad for the darkness. “You’ll learn you can’t force me into doing something. If the two of us hooked up in your world, it means I wanted it. This is not what I want.”
“Then I suppose you’ll be miserable until you grow accustomed to it,” the Commander degreed, sounding just as unhappy as Tony felt. Clearly, this wasn’t working out for either of them, but the Commander was too stubborn to accept alternative options – which meant they were at an impasse until Tony managed to free himself or his team located him.
to be continued…