This place I am

lost in space, lost in time, and meaning

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fic: Again 1/6
dragon
saraid

title: Again
fandom: Avengers
pairing: Steve/Tony
rating: MA
word count: 13,246
warnings: h/c, sap

notes: this was beta'd first by the always helpful Seanchai and the lovely Marinarusalka. They haven't seen the ending because I was eager to post it. Any and all remaining mistakes are mine alone.

 

Again

“Oh, not again.”

Everyone in the cell tensed as the sound began. At first low, a ragged moan, that quickly rose in force until it became an animalistic scream. Threaded through, under and around the screams were Captain America’s quiet, desperate pleas; for mercy, for solace, for his friend.

Peter Parker, the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, wasn’t feeling at all friendly right now. They’d been captured, and were being held prisoner by an unknown band of supervillian-wannabes who were over the moon that they’d beaten the Avengers. Which wasn’t exactly what had happened – half the team was out of town, the only heavy hitter available was Tony and they had managed to take him out. With freakin’ magic. At the moment it didn’t matter how. All that mattered was what was happening now. The magic had disrupted Extremis and Tony was in extraordinary pain. The past forty-eight hours had been an exercise in torture.

They weren’t the regular supervillian-wannabes, either. No, they had aspirations. They wanted political prisoners freed, the US out of a dozen countries, and other things they just weren’t going to get.

Peter, Luke and Danny were in one cell, Tony and Steve in the next. There was a window between the two, set far up the wall, at least twenty feet. It was small and blocked by close-set bars. Peter thought he could rip them out, but if the same magical force field was protecting them that guarded the walls, he’d come away hurt. He’d tried the walls more than once already. They all had, and paid the price in bruised limbs and aching bones. Nothing like what Tony was going through, but enough that they’d accepted, mostly, that they weren’t going to get out that way.

Peter had stopped looking through the window hours ago. It didn’t help, seeing Tony’s pain.

It had been quiet for about an hour. Luke and Danny were slumped against the far wall, as far away from the window, and Tony’s screams, as they could get. Danny was tucked up under Luke’s arm, his head on the larger man’s shoulder. Peter had occasionally wondered about those two, wondered about the three of them, with Luke’s partner Jessica Jones, but he’d always thought it would be rude to ask. Rude and way too much information. Now he figured he had an answer.

The cells were pretty basic. No furniture, no toilet. Concrete reinforced with magic, which totally sucked. Magic that apparently screwed Extremis six ways to Sunday, which was why Tony was screaming again and Cap was pleading for his release, and plain old Peter Parker was curled into a ball hanging from the ceiling in the furthest corner he could find. Wearing a pair of ‘shorts’ he’d spun for himself out of webbing, since none of them had any clothes on. Those wouldn’t last much longer, he’d have to make new ones. Hard to do with no food or water for two days.

He could make himself a pretty good pair of earmuffs – make some for Luke and Danny too – but that didn’t seem fair to Tony and Cap. If the two of them had to suffer this, then the rest of them, as Avengers, should do what they could to support them. At the very least they should bear witness.

Even if it was one of the hardest things Peter’d ever done.

***

“Tony, Tony, Tony, please, please, please stop screaming. Tell me what I can do, tell me how I can help you, try to talk to me, please,” Steve Rogers panted out the words. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally. Every time Tony began tearing at his own skin, trying to scratch and bite his way free of the pain, Steve had to hold him harder. He had to re-arrange his grip, to put even more pressure on Tony’s tormented body. Tony was bruised purple and red, his shoulders, arms, torso and legs injured by Steve’s protection. But the torn, ragged bites and gouges on his biceps, forearms and thighs were worse than anything Steve had done.

Tony had tried to fight it, he did. Steve saw how hard he tried. The heel of his right hand was so mangled it hardly worked to muffle the noises Tony tried to keep in, gnawing on it while blood ran down his chin. If there had been anything else in the room to chew on Steve would have given it to him. Offering his own arm had reduced Tony to sobs. The sound had been so horrible, in that wracking, ruined voice, that Steve hadn’t tried again.

Now he just held Tony. Wedged tightly into corner, at an angle he could see the window from. The concrete was cold beneath his bare bottom and felt unpleasantly sticky.

Steve held Tony curled into a ball, cradled in his lap between his chest and legs. Tony’s forehead was pressed hard into Steve’s shoulder. He bit down on his hand until the pain became too much and he began again. First whimpers, then moans that worked their way up to throat-ripping screams. Steve’s ears were already damaged by the sound, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but that Tony get out of here alive.

Steve tried to keep talking. He tried to soothe Tony with words and his hands. When Tony screamed he held him tighter. It hurt so much to see this, to hear it and smell it, and he knew it was a thousand times worse for his friend.

The constant screaming was making everyone miserable. Danny seemed to be taking it the hardest. He was the most vocal about it, asking Luke if there was anything they could do and shouldn’t they do something every ten minutes. Steve understood completely, the need to do something, to ease Tony’s pain, but he couldn’t think of anything else to try. He could just hear Luke shushing him, buffering him, and was glad that they had each other for this. He was worried about Peter, though; he was so young, despite all he’d seen and done.

Speak of the devil, he thought, as Peter’s face appeared at the barred window.

“Cap? Is there anything I can do? I could swing a hammock or make a bed on the floor, would that help at all? Can I do anything to make him more comfortable?”

Steve seized on the idea. Giving Peter something useful to do might make them all feel better.

“A – could you make a blanket? Not too sticky, but warm? I – I can’t get him warm.”

“Yeah,” Peter said. He sounded grateful. “I don’t know how big it’ll be, since they’re not feeding us.”

“Anything,” Steve said urgently. “Anything will help.”

He could ask Peter to gag Tony, but that was rubbing salt into the wound. If Tony had to suffer this – and it always seemed to be Tony that suffered – they would suffer with him. If nothing would make it better, Steve would just have to keep trying.

***

“Okay,” Peter said. “Let me try this.”

He clung to the wall and stuck his arm through the window. He could only get his wrist past the bars. Using the one hand he spun a square, roughly 5’ by 5’, realizing that the dehydration was an advantage; it let him generate dryer anchor strands, thicker and not at all sticky.

It was harder to do using only one line, but the nature of the web made it want to stay together. So eventually he had a rough, lumpy, intertwined web in a mostly square shape, about two inches thick, that could generously be called a blanket.

“Here,” he called to Steve, not wanting him to get up. He shot the last thread to the older man, to the corner where he sat, and broke it off with a practiced flick of his wrist. Steve grabbed it and quickly pulled the spun blanket over.

“It won’t be very soft,” Peter apologized. It was easier to talk now, Tony’s screams were winding down again.

“It’s perfect,” Steve said gratefully. “You should make one for yourself, and for Luke and Danny.”

“I don’t really get cold,” Peter shrugged. Not until he got really hungry, anyway. He wasn’t going to mention that. It seemed petty, under the circumstances.

“Should we use our resources that way?” Luke spoke up. Tony was down to whimpered, drawn-out moans that he could almost tune out, though that felt wrong.

“It’s not going to help with anything else.” Peter dropped to the floor.

“That doesn’t mean we should waste it.”

“Warmth and comfort isn’t waste,” Steve spoke loudly enough for Luke to hear him. “It may affect our chances later.”

From that perspective it made sense. Peter set about weaving blankets for the rest of them. His body was running dry and he only managed to do about one and a third. He gave the larger one, about the size of the one he’d made for Steve and Tony, to Luke, then used the 2’ by 2’ scrap to sit on.

It did feel better. Luke spread his as evenly as he could over Danny and himself. Peter wondered why they didn’t just cuddle closer, if they were together that way anyhow. He was sure they were. Mostly sure. Maybe eighty percent sure. Okay, he really didn’t know anything. And he was trying really hard to keep it that way.

Twenty minutes later they were better settled. Luke’s arm might have been around Danny’s waist under the blanket; Peter couldn’t see enough to be sure, and it didn’t matter anyhow. He closed his eyes and tried, a bit desperately, to rest.

There were a few precious moments of silence. Suddenly worried, Peter crawled back up the wall and peered through the window.

Cap had Tony securely wound in the blanket, as if it were a cocoon. Tony was lying quiet and listless, his head resting on Cap’s shoulder. One hand twitched open-and-closed, on Cap’s leg. The light was very dim and sort of blue, but Peter thought Tony looked better. He wasn’t whimpering anymore. But Cap looked terrible. Nearly two days of listening to your best friend scream in agony would do that, Peter guessed. He wondered how it compared to having your best friend turned into a ravening monster by his crazy-ass father who wanted to kill you, and then seeing that ravenous-monster-best-friend killed in front of you.

Not that he was going to ask. It probably wasn’t the same anyhow. Either way Peter wasn’t going to be the one to say which was worse.

Movement caught his eye. Tony began kicking; drumming his bare heels on the floor. They were already caked with blood.

***

A sound woke Steve. He lurched up from the floor, realizing that he’d dozed off after Tony’s last episode. He must have laid down and not realized it. Going more than 72 hours without sleep or water was taking its toll.

He turned, looking for Tony, saw him lying curled up against the far wall. He must have rolled, or crawled over there. A wave of guilt swelled in Steve’s chest – he should have noticed. He was taking care of Tony, he should have felt it when his friend moved away from the protection of the blanket.

He wanted to go to him, to check on him, his fear buried as deeply as he could keep it, but right now there were noises outside the cell.

The single door creaked open, metal scraping concrete. Steve straightened, preparing himself to fight, but nothing happened. He looked up, saw Peter’s face at the window. They shared a nod, everyone was ready to take down their captors – but still nothing happened.

Steve took a step toward the door, and a bundle of things was shoved in. The door was pulled shut with a bang. Steve saw Tony jump, and winced.

Resisting the urge to check on him – at least he’d moved, and he wasn’t screaming – Steve went to see what they’d been given.

A bag of prepackaged sandwiches, several bottles of water, three heavy blankets, and a large plastic bucket. After a minute Steve identified it as a 5-gallon paint bucket, the kind you could get from any hardware store.

“What’d you get?” Peter asked. He was still as the window, so Steve turned to talk to him.

“Basic stuff,” Steve answered. “You?”

“Bucket, blankets, food, water,” Peter answered with a shrug.

“Same here.” Steve began unwrapping at all more carefully. The blankets were all different. They looked used, like they’d been bought at a Salvation Army or yard sale. He sniffed hesitantly, and they seemed clean.

“I guess we’re gonna be here a while,” Peter sounded morose. Steve could sympathize. He wished for something to use for bandages, but if he had to he could tear off strips of the extra blanket. With Extremis not working, Tony’s wounds could quickly become infected and even a small infection could become serious in dirty conditions like these.

“At least we can eat,” Steve told Peter. “You should do that now.” He didn’t know if they’d been given the same amount of food, but he could always pass some over if they hadn’t, since there were three men in the next cell.

“Yeah, okay.” Steve had never heard the chatty young man sound so despondent. He hoped it wasn’t an omen.

Keeping an eye on Tony, who was lying quietly for the moment, Steve set about making the grimy cell more livable. They’d already designated the farthest, darkest corner as the bathroom; he set the bucket over there. On the wall under the window, just a few feet from his friend, he lay the spider-spun blanket on the cold concrete, covering it with the smallest of the new ones, and lay the other two to the side, neatly folded. He lined the food and water up by the wall, at the end of the ‘bed’ closest to the door.

The light was dimmer on this side. He wondered if that was why Tony had rolled over here.

He wanted to get him cleaned up before moving him to the blankets. All that blood and crud, it would be good to get it off of him.

“Tony?” he asked, very quietly. His friend twitched, just a little bit. “They gave us some stuff. Can I – do you want some water?”

“Yeah.” Tony’s voice cracked, raw. It had been ill-used. It was the first word he’d said in days.

Steve wasn’t sure why Tony had moved, so he decided to be even more careful around him for the moment.

“Okay. I’m just gonna sit here with a bottle of water and clean you up. Okay? Right behind you. Do you want me to cover you up?”

“Nnn.” The sound probably meant no. He could be saying no to being covered up, but it was more likely he didn’t want Steve to clean him. Being helpless was what Tony hated most. Steve knew it, but he still had to take care of him, since Tony couldn’t do it himself.

The largest blanket was thin on the edges. Steve carefully tore free a series of long strips. He would need to wrap Tony’s hand and his feet, at the least. First he needed to get him to drink some water, and get him clean.

“Here,” he said, sitting down and tenderly lifting Tony’s head onto his own thigh. Tony was between Steve’s legs, still mostly curled. It was hard to tell the bruises from the dirt, but several scrapes were still oozing and his chewed hand was bleeding. Steve bit back a sigh. “Let me get this off you.”

“Mmm – no,” Tony ground out. He lifted his good hand weakly, then let it fall to the floor. His knees were drawn up to his belly, tight. The muscles stood out stiffly, Steve could see the definition. “Don’t.”

“Tony, I have to.” Steve opened a bottle and poured a little water on the rag he’d made.

“No.” Tony tried to move his head away, eyes clenched shut. Steve lay a hand on his head and stoked tentatively.

“I’ll just wash your face and then give you a drink. Can I do that, please? I need to make you feel better. It – then I’ll feel better.”

Maybe it was cruel to manipulate Tony that way, but Steve knew this had to be done. And he knew that his friend would resist it as hard as he could. Tony hated anyone to see him in pain. There had been times he’d almost died hiding it from his friends.

Tony didn’t answer. His body language didn’t change. But after a few seconds Steve thought it was okay, this was like acceptance.

He stroked the wet cloth over Tony’s lips, which were pinched tight. He did it several times, and then, finally, Tony opened them a bit, and sucked the cloth in. Steve hoped it made the dry, cracked, chewed skin feel better. He dribbled water from the bottle onto the cloth until Tony opened his mouth wider, then moved the cloth and replaced it with the bottle itself.

It had been a long time since either of them had water. Steve dripped it in carefully. Making Tony nauseous wouldn’t help.

He took it away after a couple of minutes and Tony’s hand made another aborted movement. “More,” he whispered.

“In a few minutes,” Steve said. “Let me clean your face first.”

“Steve, no –“ Tony could barely get the words out and Steve pretended he hadn’t heard them.


Part 2
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