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Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to.
Characters:  Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanov, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, Thor, Phil Coulson, Rhodey, Pepper Pots, Loki, Baron Strucker.
Warnings: Child abuse, implied child abuse, implied bullying, PTSD, torture (mostly off screen), a child seeing death first hand.  All of that as seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old, so proceed carefully.  Also, there are teddy bears. Teddy bears are A Thing.
Rating: M, for the fact I traumatize little Tony quite a bit.
Summary:  Seven-year-old Tony Stark wakes up on a Hydra base, lost, afraid, and alone.  He has to over come his fears before it's too late for the Avengers and Captain America.
Thanks: Many thanks to narwhale_callin once again for the beta, even when the first page scarred you.
Notes:  First of all, take a look at all of those warnings, and look at them carefully.  This is not a fun romp of the Avengers taking care of their de-aged team mate.  This is an attempt at a realistic portrayal of a child who gets captured by Hydra, and it's not pretty.  I'm told the first five hundred words or so are pretty intense.  More intense than the rest of the fic, at any rate.  If you find it getting to be too much, you can skip to the part with '"Hello?" a voice in the darkness said.'  That should get you over the worst of it.  Just realize this isn't a happy place for little Tony to be in and he does get hurt and see the results of the Avengers being tortured.  There is also a moment where little Tony watches as an unnamed Hydra goon is killed, and it's rather traumatizing once he realizes what happened.  So please take into consideration your own comfort levels before reading this fic.  It has a happy ending, and there is cuteness to be had, but it's also not pretty for a good portion of it.

The title of the fic comes from a poem of the same name by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who is an awesome poet if you've never heard of her and want to check her out.  This particular poem was far too perfect for this fic to pass up.

Finally, this was supposed to be my Big Bang, but I team fic'ed too hard and the mods have told me it's not Steve/Tony enough for the fest.  Which makes me a sad panda, since there will be no pictures of little Tony giving Cap a teddy bear.  But it means you get to read this all the sooner, so there's a silver lining.  XD  Whizzy has told me that though it's too team fic for the BB, it's still pre-slash and therefore post-able to the com, so not all is lost.  But yeah, it's another slash fail for me.  This should surprise no one.  In fact, I'd rather planned on this being completely gen considering Tony spends most of it as a seven-year-old and pedophilia creeps me out, but Cap was being an adorable bastard after Tony grew up again and decided he wanted pre-slash.  And really, you try telling Steve no when he pulls out the puppy dog eyes.  It just doesn't happen.  So yes, pre-slash in the end.  For those of you who haven't been scared away by the warnings, please enjoy the fic!

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


~

"You are of no use to me in that broken form, worm. Perhaps this one will suit my needs better."

A bright glow soothing the pain was the last thing Tony remembered after that voice.  He fell unconscious before he could wonder if he'd wake up again.

* * *

Tony woke up to hear men yelling above him. This wasn't his bed at home! It was hard and cold, and his hands were held above his head. Rough hands grabbed at him as Tony screamed and kicked at whoever it was. And he saw a dark-haired man with golden eyes and a gold collar around his neck watching impassively.

Where was Mom? Jarvis? Who were these men and how-

Tony stopped screaming as a hand slapped him hard. The shock of the pain made him tear up, but the angry voices were still yelling, and yelling at him, even though he couldn't understand them. He knew enough to know they'd hurt him more if he was loud, so he trembled and cried silently, like he would at home when Dad had been drinking. He stopped struggling as well, though the rough hands didn't stop hurting.

He looked up at the man whose bruising grip on his arm had yanked him forward, only to find that it wasn't a man at all. It was more of a monster, tall and black, with large metallic eyes and no skin. In his other hand, there was a gold-colored remote. Tony bit back a whimper of fear, trying to pull away from it. Aliens? But this wasn't how alien kidnappings were supposed to go. He was supposed to find some cool technology and use it against them like they did in the movies. But Tony was too scared, and the movies didn't mention that aliens hurt people.

He held back a yelp as the alien yanked him forward again down a dark hallway that seemed to go on forever. Finally, the alien pulled open a door and shoved Tony inside. He scrapped his knees and bit back another cry of pain as he hit his head against the wall. The door shut on him, leaving him alone in the dark. It was even scarier in the dark.

Tony hurt all over, and he curled up on the floor where he'd been tossed. He tried to stay quiet, because Dad only hurt him worse if he made noise. Whoever these aliens were, they were probably the same, right? If Tony just stayed quiet, they'd forget he was here and wouldn't hurt him anymore. Except it was dark, and he wanted someone to find him, but he couldn't...

It was too hard. He hurt so bad from where the alien had hit him and from where he knocked his head, and he was so very scared. It was hard to stay quiet, and every so often a soft sob escaped him that he couldn't hold back. "Mom..." He cried as quietly as he could. Aliens weren't nearly as cool as the movies made them seem, and they hurt him and he just wanted to go home to Mom and Jarvis. Even Dad didn't hurt him this much when his father had a bit too much to drink.

"Hello?" a voice in the darkness said.

Tony looked up in fear, despite not being able to see anything in the darkness. And that was almost worse. It was so black that he could almost see a monster forming out of it. Tony hid his face behind his knees and focused on being quiet. Aliens didn't have heat-sensing vision, did they? Maybe if he was quiet, they wouldn't find him again.

"Hello?" the voice said again, slightly muffled as if he were talking through a wall. Tony couldn't help the small sound of fear that he made. "Hey, I won't hurt you, I promise. My name is Steve. What's yours?"

The voice sounded hurt too. Tony recognized the slight hesitance in the voice that Tony sometimes used when he tried to convince Mom that he wasn't hurt. Did the aliens hurt the voice too? "Are you with the aliens?" Tony asked, uncertainty shaking in his voice.

"Aliens?" the voice asked, his voice slipping into a familiar accent. Steve was also from New York! He couldn't be one of the aliens. "Oh, you mean the Hydra soldiers. I'm not with them, I promise," Steve assured him.

"Hydra?" Tony asked, lifting his head again and biting back a whimper at the pain the movement caused.

"Did they hurt you?" Steve asked, his voice low and urgent.

What kind of answer did Steve want? Mom only smiled when he said he was fine, while Dad told him if anyone asked, he should say it was an accident. But if it was the aliens that hurt him, would it be okay to tell the truth?

"Hello? Are you still there?" Steve asked.

"I thought Captain America killed Hydra," Tony said instead of answering.

"I thought he did too," Steve said, his voice soft and full of emotion. "I'm sorry, but he didn't get all of them."

Steve sounded really sad as he spoke, and his apology was sincere instead of condescending. Tony still felt mad that Steve would say something like that though. "You're lying! Captain America wouldn't have missed any. Dad said Cap got them all! How do I know you're not with the aliens too?"

"I'm sorry," Steve said again, sounding like he was going to cry now. "Captain America got the leader, but he..."

Tony immediately felt bad, like the times he made Mom cry. Steve didn't sound like one of the bad guys. They spoke in harsh, guttural sounds that Tony couldn't understand. Steve was from New York, so he couldn't be with them. "Maybe they're copy-cats?" Tony said, his words rushing together in his haste to get them out. "There was an article in the paper about that where bad people sometimes copy other bad people, like the girl who was murdered last week. She was just like someone who died years and years ago. My mom wouldn't let me read the article, but Dad was talking about it to-"

Something moved in the darkness, and Tony yelped. He ducked his head again, trying to hide. He wasn't afraid of the dark. Starks weren't afraid of stupid things like that. Dad said so when Tony wanted his nightlight back. He'd spanked Tony so hard that night that Tony had forgotten to be afraid of the dark while he tried to keep from crying because of the pain. But there were aliens, or Hydra, or whatever they were here, and maybe there was something in the darkness that wanted to hurt him more and-

"Are you alright?" Steve said sharply.

"It's dark," Tony said, his voice trembling despite how much he didn't want it to. "I saw something move."

Steve said some very bad things that Mom had once told him never to repeat. "Would you tell me your name?" Steve asked again after he'd calmed down.

"Tony," he replied after a moment's hesitation. Steve had already given his name after all, so maybe he wouldn't want ransom if he knew? He wasn't with the bad guys, but Jarvis always told him to be careful with strangers.

"Tony," Steve repeated in surprise. "I've got a friend named Tony. He's one of the bravest people I've ever met. Do you think you could be brave like my friend Tony?"

"I'm scared," was all Tony said in response.

"I know," Steve said gently. "So am I."

"You're scared too?"

"Yeah, I'm scared too," Steve said, and for a moment there was silence. Dad said never to admit that you were scared, but this man did just that. It made Tony feel a little better, because at least Steve wouldn't tell Dad if they were both scared. "It's okay to be scared," Steve continued. "But that doesn't mean you can't be brave too. And if you can be brave for a few minutes for me, I might be able to help you make it less scary."

Tony considered it before the darkness moved again. "What do I do?" Tony asked desperately.

"I need you to stand up and look for the door you came through," Steve said.

Oh, was that all? Tony bit back the sarcasm though, remembering too well what happened the last time Tony had said something like that to Dad. He didn't want Steve to get angry with him and not help any more. "That's where the dark moved," Tony said instead, proud that his voice only quivered a little.

"I know," Steve said soothingly. "But by the door, there might be a light switch, and you'll feel better if you can see, right?"

There was one word Tony latched onto. Might. "What if it's not?"

"There's one in this room. There should be one in with you too," Steve said.

"Can't you turn it on instead?" Tony asked, not wanting to get closer to the movement.

There was a sharp gasp on the other side of the wall, and Tony crawled closer to it, closing his eyes so he wouldn't see the darkness move. "Steve? What happened?"

"I'm sorry, Tony," Steve said, his voice filled with pain. "I can't... I can't move right now. You're gonna have to find it yourself. You just have to be brave for a little while. Can you do that for me?"

Someone was hurting Steve, and he was still trying to help Tony. Tony bit his lip, opening his eyes long enough to peer into the darkness. Starks weren't afraid of the dark. "Yeah," Tony said, closing his eyes again. It wasn't so bad if he couldn't see the darkness, right? Tony swallowed down the fear of what might get him regardless of having his eyes closed.

"Do you remember what direction the door was?" Steve asked.

"I think it was that way," Tony said, realizing a second too late how pointless saying it was. It wasn't like Steve would be able to see him even if they were in the same room.

"Good," Steve said. "You're doing good. Hold your hands out in front of you and walk in that direction slowly. Be careful."

Tony stood, hesitating for a moment before he did as Steve said. The darkness felt endless. "I can't find it!" Tony said, panic rising.

"Just keep moving forward," Steve said. "It hasn't been that long. You can do this, Tony."

Biting hard enough on his lip to draw blood, Tony took another step forward. It was only two more steps before he found the door. He could feel the wall, and the ridges where the door was sealed. "I'm at the door," Tony said, feeling a little more confident.

"You're almost there! How tall are you, Tony?" Steve asked

"Three feet, four inches and a half," Tony said, though the half was only if Tony stood on tiptoe. Steve didn't have to know that.

"That's pretty tall," Steve said approvingly.

"I'm seven," Tony said, only sulking a little at Steve's condescending tone.

That got a low chuckle from Steve. "I see. I used to be smaller than that at your age."

"Really? That's really short."

"Hey, don't knock it," Steve said. "But I don't think that's tall enough to reach the light switch, so you'll have to find something to stand on."

"Okay," Tony said, keeping one hand on the door as he felt along the wall. There was nothing within reach though. "I have to let go of the door."

"It's okay, just remember where the door is so you can find it again. You can count your steps if you need to. You're doing swell, Tony. Don't give up yet."

"No one says swell anymore," Tony said, then froze. Had he made Steve angry? Would he stop helping Tony find the light switch because he talked back?

But Steve just laughed quietly, his breath hitching slightly in pain. "That's what my friend Tony tells me," Steve said finally.

"It's true," Tony said uncertainly. It didn't sound like Steve was mad. He pressed against the door one last time before moving away carefully. His head still hurt, but he forced himself to keep going, searching the ground for anything he could stand on. "I think I've found a step stool," Tony said, running his hands along the small step.

"That's great! That's... awesome? 'Awesome' sounds like something my Tony would say. That's 'hip' right?"

Tony debated if he should say anything. Steve didn't seem to mind earlier... "Stick to 'swell,' grandpa," Tony said without any of his normal confidence.

"No modern slang, got it," Steve said as Tony dragged the step stool back to the door. "Make sure it's sturdy before you step on it."

Tony rolled his eyes in the darkness, feeling a lot better once he had both the step stool and the door within reach. He wasn't a baby. Step stools were meant to be stood on.

That confidence faded when he heard a gasp of pain on the other side of the wall. "Steve?" He asked, hearing the fear in his voice slip out before he could stop it.

"The light switch is on the right," Steve grit out. "Sorry. I... I may pass out for a bit. I'm..."

"Steve!" Tony yelled, leaving the door to pound on their shared wall. "Steve!"

He didn't get a response, but he kept pounding at the wall until he heard the harsh voices again. They were yelling a lot and... were they hurting Steve more? "Hey, stop hurting him!" Tony yelled, pounding harder. When that didn't work, he went back to the step stool, nearly tripping over it in his haste. He frantically searched for the light switch. He panicked when he couldn't find it, his fingers brushing over the smooth wall as his fear grew. "Steve!" He yelled again, reaching up as far as he could.

His fingers just brushed the tip of the switch. He jumped up, hitting the switch and tumbling to the ground as the room was flooded with light.

His arm hit the floor with a sharp thud, and he felt his eyes tear up again as the pain from it and the light overwhelmed him. Cradling it against his chest, Tony forced himself to breathe and wait for his eyes to adjust. It didn't hurt as bad as when he broke his arm last summer, and Dad told him not to cry them. He hadn't even cried when he busted his lip and needed six stitches, and Jarvis had said he'd been very brave. He couldn't cry now either, even though he was scared and hurt, and Steve wasn't answering. He couldn't.

Finally the voices next door stopped, and Tony looked around the small room. It was a supply closet, just large enough to hold a few cleaning supplies and Tony, despite the fact it had seemed bigger in the darkness. Nothing that could have moved in the darkness. His cheeks burned as he realized that. He'd been afraid for no reason at all!

Hesitantly, he stood and tried the door. It was locked but... Tony looked over broom in the corner and did a few quick equations in his head. If he angled the broom just right and applied the right amount of pressure, he could break the knob. He'd seen Dad do it once when the door to the bathroom had gotten stuck.

He reached for the broom tentatively, pushing it up at the angle he hoped would work.

* * *

Thirty minutes later, Tony rigged up the shelves to fall on the broom, which should give it the force his seven-year-old body lacked. He was about to take out the final screw when he heard a soft groan from the other side of the wall. "Steve?"

"Hey," Steve said, his voice weaker than before. "Did you get the light on?"

Tony scrambled to the wall, hands splayed out against the faded grey. "I got the lights on. It's just a closet, but if I make the shelves fall down, it'll hit the broom and knock out the door knob. I tried to knock it out myself, but I'm not strong enough, so that's why I'm bringing down the shelves. Are you okay? Because I heard those people yelling again and-"

"Slow down, partner," Steve said, cutting through the torrent of Tony's words. Tony's mouth snapped shut and he remember to breathe at the end of his sentences. Steve didn't sound mad, at least. "I'm... I'm fine. They just took too much blood last time, faster than my body could replace. What were you saying about bringing down the shelves?"

Now there was the disapproval Tony heard so often. Rather than explain and have Steve forbid him to do it, Tony went back over to the last screw. "There might be a loud crash," was all he said before he pulled it out and gave the shelves a shove.

"Tony, what are you-"

The resulting crash and dust cloud swallowed up whatever else Steve might have said. Tony ducked his head, hoping nothing too heavy fell on him as he coughed. Thankfully, only a bottle of cleaning solution clipped him on the shoulder.

As the dust settled, Tony looked up to see the mess he created. There were cleaning supplies everywhere, which given the amount of dust in here, obviously meant they weren't used too often. But the door knob hung off the handle as the broom lay flat underneath it. "Whoa," Tony said, surprised that his plan actually worked.

"Tony? Are you alright?" Steve's voice held both pain and panic as Tony crawled over the wreckage of the shelves.

"The door knob is yanked out," Tony said cheerfully, pulling out the handle and considering the lock. An easy fix. He sorted through the cleaning supplies until he found a feather duster. He quickly stripped it of the feathers, using the wire inside to push at the lock. He barely contained his shout as the door opened. "I got it open!" he said as he jumped over the shelves to the wall, careful of his bad arm. He'd bumped it enough already. "I can get out!"

"Tony, you have to be careful," Steve said. "There are more soldiers out there. You should just stay where you-"

"I'll pick the lock and get you out too!" Tony said excitedly, bolstered by his success. The thought of Hydra soldiers was long gone as he put the feather duster wire in his pocket. He'd picked all sorts of locks before, when Dad tried to lock him in his room for discipline. As long as it wasn't the closet with the furniture pushed over the door, Tony could get out. And that didn't happen often anyway, because Jarvis had gotten very angry with Dad the last time it happened, saying something about talking to the press.

"No, Tony! Stay where you-"

But Tony wasn't listening. He'd turned on the light and unlocked the door, and the scary men weren't around, so Tony felt like he could do anything.

He pushed open the door and looked around carefully. There were no guards outside, like they didn't think anyone could escape. There was a little red light blinking in the corner of the ceiling, but Tony didn't take much note of it. It was really stupid of them, not to post a guard or something.

To his surprise, Steve's door wasn't even locked! The doorknob turned easily in his hand. "Steve? Steve, your door isn't locked! You can come out and-"

Tony cut himself off with as gasp as he looked inside, seeing Steve - seeing Captain America - for the first time. He was held down by bindings cutting deep into his skin, and there were three drips of blood being drawn from his body at an alarming rate. "Cap?" Tony asked, awe mixing with fear in his voice. He'd been talking to Captain America! And Cap was hurt...

"Tony," Steve... Captain America said, struggling weakly at the bonds holding him. It caused the blood to run faster through the tubes. "You've got to leave."

Cap stopped struggling as Tony inched forward, fear threatening to overwhelm him. Cap was safety though. And Cap would get them out of here. "I-I can pick the locks," Tony said, his voice only wobbling a little. He blinked back tears because he needed to see to pick the locks. He couldn't be afraid now.

"The alarm is..." Cap started, shaking his head as if to clear it. "The alarm's already gone off. They've got cameras."

"Cameras?" Tony asked. He hadn't seen any in the hallway, but as he glanced around the room he saw another blinking red light. This time, he noticed it was attached to some sort of device with a lens. "I'll g-get you out!" Tony said again, pulling ineffectively at the bonds around Cap's wrist, forgetting he had to pick the lock first in his fear.

"No, Tony," Cap said, shaking his head. "If you want to help me, you have to get out. Find Phil Coulson of..." Steve gasped in pain, but forced himself to continue. Tony immediately stopped tugging at the bonds, fearing he'd hurt Cap. "Phil Coulson of SHIELD. Can you remember that?"

"Phil Coulson of SHIELD," Tony repeated, looking at the bruises along Cap's wrists and neck from where the bonds bit into him. They scared him. "But I can't-" Tony didn't know if he was going to say 'leave Cap' or 'run through a Hydra base by himself'. He was terrified, and he didn't want to do either.

"You have to be brave, son," Steve said, "but you've got to leave now, before they..."

Cap trailed off, his eyes closing. "Cap?" Tony asked, abandoning his thoughts on the bindings to try to shake Cap, but he had even less success moving over 200 pounds of muscle. "Cap!"

"Find Coulson," Cap said, opening his eyes as a loud clatter was heard down the hallway. "Tony, run! You've gotta..."

"I..."

"Run!"

Tony ran, rushing out the door and nearly running into the guards as they screamed in their harsh language. He let out a sharp yelp, then ducked between their legs before they could grab hold of him. Their yelling got louder as he ran, and soon it was followed by loud bangs. That sound Tony remembered all too well from his father's workshop.

They were shooting at him.

Tony ran faster, because he knew his math. He could calculate the force and velocity faster than they could shoot, and he knew the kind of damage a bullet that small could do to him. He'd seen it too, when Obi took him on base, telling him that these bullets were why Dad made weapons. To protect the soldiers, so they could shoot first and better. He'd seen soldiers at the VA hospital that Dad's weapons had failed to protect, and for the first time Tony wondered if he couldn't make them better. He didn't protest the next time someone asked him if he was going to grow up and make weapons like Dad.

When something hit his arm, Tony cried out, but he kept running, turning down a hallway and looking for places to hide. He was very good at that, being the youngest and smallest and smartest in his classes. So when he saw a set of boxes, he hid behind them before the man turned the corner. Loud boots and harsh language rang through the hallway as they ran by, splitting into groups at the next junction.

Tony waited until the sound of their boots was gone before carefully looking over the box. The coast was clear, and he had to keep moving before they came back to search again. He'd learned that the hard way once, with some of the other kids in his class. He looked around, running back to the way he came as quietly as possible, his heart pounding and his arm hurting a lot. Tony bit his lip again, because he couldn't cry, not while the men were still looking for him.

He found a small crawl space close to the ground, but it was covered by a grate. He reached into his pocket for the feather duster wire. His arm hurt, but he could still use it, and he pried the grate off with as much strength as he could muster.

Tony jumped at the clang the grate made when it finally crashed to the ground. People were yelling again, and Tony trembled as he crawled through. He pulled the grate back in place, but it wouldn't stay put. Boots were stomping closer, so Tony leaned it up against the wall as best he could before crawling away.

Tony climbed as far as he could before his arms gave out and he curled up against a curve in the air duct. He couldn't hold it back anymore, and his breath hitched as he clutched at his arm. Captain America was hurt, and Tony didn't know where he was or how to help.

Crying softly, Tony curled up tighter as he tried to stay silent. The scary men were still looking for him, and the thought just made him tremble harder. But he had to be silent, or they'd hear him. Tony was good at being quiet, but his breaths kept hitching no matter how good he was, making small little noises. Tony was too scared.

"Is someone there?" a soft female voice asked.

"N-no!" Tony said, before he could stop himself. "Don't..."

"We won't hurt you little one," the woman said. "It's okay."

"How do I know you're not with them?" Tony asked suspiciously.

"Come a bit closer and see for yourself, kiddo," a male voice said. He sounded like he was in pain, but trying to hide it. "You don't have to come all the way out. Just close enough that you can see."

Tony tried to think of all the tricks they could use to get him out if he got too close, but he was too scared to think of any and they spoke English. Maybe he had wandered far enough away from the bad guys?

He crawled closer to the voices, hesitantly peering out past the grating to see a couple cells. This one had proper iron bars and everything. Inside the cells were two people, separated by more bars. The space was too small for them to get through, but Tony might be able to squeeze through. They both... They were both beat up really bad. Tony saw the blood on the woman's leg and her foot was twisted at an odd angle that made Tony sick when he looked at it. The man's arm hung limply at his side, and he had a lot of cuts and bruises along with a black eye. They sat next to each other on the ground, not quite touching, but not apart either.

Tony pushed the grate out, crawling through the duct on trembling arms into the woman's side of the cell. The blond man smiled at him, a crooked grin that seemed out of place in such a scary place. "Hey, kiddo. How'd you get lost in a Hydra base?"

"I-I don't know," Tony said, trying to hold back the tears. He clutched at his arm, trying to focus on the pain rather than how much he wanted to cry. Dad said big boys don't cry. "I just woke up here and there were men yelling and I couldn't understand them and they put me in the dark and they have Captain America and he's hurt and-"

"Shh," the woman said, reaching out and pulling Tony into a hug. Tony stiffened for a moment, before hiccuping and clinging to her.

Did the guards have cameras in here too? Tony didn't know, but the gentle hands on his back were soothing, and Tony only cried a little. "You won't tell Dad that I cried?" he asked in between hiccups, the thought making him tremble more. "He doesn't like it when I cry."

"Do you see anyone crying, Nat?" the man said as he winked at Tony. "'Cause all I see is a smart kid who's managed to keep from getting captured."

"I'm in a cell now," Tony said with a little sniffle. He refused to cry anymore, because these people seemed nice. Maybe they could tell Dad he did well, and Dad wouldn't be angry?

"How did you hurt your arm, angel moy?" the woman asked, one arm still holding him while her fingers gently probed at the wound. Tony reminded himself he shouldn't cry, but before he could answer, the woman started to speak angrily in another language. Tony flinched away. What if they really were the bad guys?

"Nat?" the man asked, eyes narrowing as he looked at Tony's arm. "They were shooting at you," he said darkly. "Hydra shoots at kids now. You grow up hearing they were the scum of the earth, but that's low even for them."

"Are you one of them too?" Tony asked the woman when he'd gotten his courage up. "Because you started talking like them. Only it's different."

"I was speaking in Russian, kotyonok," the woman replied with a small smile. "And you should not repeat what I said. The guards speak German."

"You're Russian?" Tony asked, relaxing a little. Russians were bad too, but at least they hadn't kidnapped him. "Dad says Russians are Communists, and that's bad."

"I defected," the woman said with a smile. "The shoe closet alone was worth the switch. I don't look back."

"Yeah, and now she lives with one of the biggest capitalists in the world. We both do," the man said.

"Oh." That sounded alright. As long as she wasn't a communist anymore.

"It looks like it was a graze," the woman murmured as her fingers brushed over his arm. Tony flinched, but didn't cry out. She smiled approvingly at him. "And you are strong. You'll live."

"So this is Natasha, and I'm Clint. What's your name, champ?" the man - Clint - said. He ruffled Tony's hair through the bars.

"I'm Tony," Tony said, watching them both trade glances. "I'm seven," he added, because he didn't want them to think he was younger just because he'd been crying.

"We've got a friend named Tony," Clint said. "Though I think you're smarter than him, since you're not captured. I'm not letting him live this one down."

"Captain America said he knew someone named Tony too," Tony said.

"Yup," Clint said with a smile. "We're all on the same team. You a fan of Cap?"

"Dad says he's the best!" Tony stated. Besides, everyone knew that.

"And what do you think, little one?" Natasha asked.

Tony ducked his head shyly. "I think he's the best too," he said. But thinking about Cap made him remember what he'd been running from. "They were hurting him though. They were hurting him bad."

"Don't worry about Cap," Clint said. "He is the best. And he always beats Hydra too, right?"

"Yeah," Tony said, rubbing his nose as Natasha snorted. Cap always defeated the bad guys. He had to.

"But now we've got to get you out of here," Clint continued. "It's not safe for a kid around here."

"Are there cameras?" Tony asked, looking for the blinking red lights. He hadn't seen any earlier, but he wasn't very good at recognizing them in the dimmer lights.

"No," Natasha snorted. "They are old-fashioned and underestimate us. Even their torture could use some work. I've seen worse in Africa. All the cameras are out there." She pointed outside the bars and into the hallway. "Stupid," she said, disgust in her voice. "Plausible deniability is one thing, but not keeping an eye on us when no one is in here is idiotic."

"Don't knock it," Clint said. "I'll take stupid villains over smart ones any day, even if it means admitting being caught by them in the first place."

"Do you know your way around the vents?" Natasha asked.

When Tony shook his head, Clint gestured to the right. "That's north. You want to go east. Can you tell me which direction that is?"

"I'm not three," Tony said, pointing behind them.

"Watch it, kid. You get much sharper and you'll cut yourself." Tony scowled. He hated being patronized, but Clint went on. "Head east, 'cause the bad guys are stupid and that section isn't well guarded. If you can't do that, then hide where they can't find you. Look for cameras and run by when no one else is looking."

"Find some place safe," Natasha said. "Only get out of the building if there's no one around, kotyonok. If you can, find Coulson."

"That's what Captain America said!" Tony exclaimed, only to be shushed by Natasha for being too loud. Tony looked down shamefully, but she pat his hair soothingly instead of hitting him, so maybe it hadn't been too bad.

"You've got a pretty good memory, kiddo," Clint said. "Try and remember this for me as well. Tell Coulson that Banner and Thor are being controlled by a collar around their neck. Got that?"

"Banner and Thor?" Tony asked, less checking to see if he got it right, because he could remember two names easily. He was curious though, why those two people got collars when the others didn't.

"They're the biggest threat," Clint explained, reading Tony's question even if he hadn't asked it out loud. "And they're useful mindless,unlike us. With those collars, they wouldn't actually be able to get information out of me and Natasha, which is what they're keeping us around for."

"The guards will be making their rounds soon," Natasha warned. "This isn't a game, little one. You could get yourself killed, so don't take chances."

Tony felt his eyes go wide at that, and he looked down. "I'm scared."

"Good," Natasha said, but she hugged him again. "Remember that. You have to be careful. But you also have to be brave, angel moy, or they'll kill you as well."

"Bright and cheery as always, Natasha," Clint said, rolling his eyes. Then he winced as Natasha pinched his good arm.

"I'm Russian. We learned not to sugar coat such things, as it only leads to more death," she replied easily. "Can you be brave, kotyonok?"

Tony looked up and nodded, even if he didn't know if he could be. Captain America needed help and was counting on him. "But what about you guys?" he asked, biting down on his rising panic. "You'll come with me? I can open the lock."

Natasha and Clint traded glances. "Can you, kid? Despite the medieval bars, the lock is electronic with a keypad," Clint asked.

"A distraction would work," Natasha said. "I can-"

"Both of us. He's small, and we're too beat up to follow," Clint cut her off. They spoke with their eyes for a long time, and Tony looked between them with growing confusion before Natasha gave him a curt nod.

"Kay, work your magic, kid," Clint said skeptically. "But you hide immediately if we tell you to. No arguments."

"Okay," Tony said, standing up and slipping through the bars. It was a really tight squeeze, but Tony was small for his age and he didn't always get to eat when he was at boarding school if too many of the bullies were around, so he managed.

The lock was too high for him to reach, but there was a box of tools not too far away. Some of them were covered in red, and Tony quickly closed it, feeling like he wanted to throw up. He missed Natasha's hug, but the compassion in her eyes and the encouragement in Clint's helped him swallow down the bile.

He looked for cameras, but they were pointed away from the box, and Tony was able to shove it over to the lock when he put his full body weight behind it. Tony climbed on top of it, and pulled at the lock's interface. That was easy to rip off, revealing the wires underneath. He set to work hot-wiring the door.

Clint whistled. "You actually seem to know what you're doing," he said, glancing down the hall.

"I've never seen one like this before," Tony admitted. Dad had the most advanced locks in the world, but they didn't come close to the wiring on this. Still, where the wires went to didn't change no matter how advanced it was. Tony just had to find the right ones.

"Another thing they've got in common," Natasha said quietly, a thoughtful expression on her face. "The resemblance is too strong."

"If you're gonna do this kid, make it quick," Clint said. "The guards will be here soon."

Tony crossed a red and yellow wire, biting back a yelp of pain as it shocked him. He couldn't afford to make that much noise! He bit his lip, making it bleed again, as he kept going.

"Kid, are you alr-"

The bars of Natasha's cell slid up, retreating into the ceiling. He pushed the box over to Clint's cell, ignoring the surprised looks. He climbed up on the box again, preparing to start on the next lock.

Natasha's hands stopped him though, pulling him away from the interface. She was standing, not babying her bad leg at all. That had to hurt. "I have to-" Tony started.

"I saw which wires you used," Natasha said, pulling the interface off for him. "You need to start getting away. Go back through the vents."

"You're not coming with me?" Tony asked, fear making him freeze. Natasha didn't look up from the wires as she started pulling them out just as Tony had, but he could see the tension in her body.

"You'll be safer with out us, little one," she said, pausing long enough to pet his hair once. "You remember which direction to go?"

"East," Tony said, tugging at her belt.

He looked up as Clint ruffled his hair with his good hand from the other side of the bars. "You can do this, champ. You just gotta be brave. We'll create a distraction for you."

"You'll get hurt more," Tony said miserably.

"Only if we get caught again," Natasha said, her lips quirking in the barest hint of a smile.

"You'll save Cap?" Tony asked, because if they were going to save Cap, then Tony could understand. If Tony could find a way out, then they could follow! It sounded like a good plan, but Tony was still terrified of having to do it by himself.

"We'll save Cap," Clint reassured him. "Now scram, kid. Get out of here and find Coulson."

"Be brave just a little while longer, little one," Natasha said.

Tony licked his lip, trying to wash away the blood that was gathering there, then nodded. He took off back towards the vent that was low to the ground, pulling at the grating and resetting it once he was inside.

"So about this not getting caught thing," he heard Clint say.

"We're a distraction," Natasha replied. "How fast can you move?"

"I was afraid you'd say that. Well, let's go make some noise."

He heard the cell open and then footsteps fading to nothing. They wouldn't lie to him, would they? They wouldn't get caught just so Tony could get away?

He nearly crawled back out again, but a loud blaring noise came through the walls. Tony had to cover his ears in pain. The sound of boots started to thunder through the hallway, so Tony tried to crawl away as fast as he could, taking the turns as they came and not caring about the direction.

It wasn't long before he was completely lost. Tony panicked, not knowing which way was east anymore. He wanted to go home. He wanted Jarvis. He wanted-

The alarm shut off abruptly, and the silence was nearly deafening. Tony could only make out his own pounding heart.

"Hello, little boy." Tony jumped at the voice with the heavy accent, looking around and seeing no one. It must have come from an intercom in the hall. Dad had things like that in Stark Industries.

"You have caused us no end of trouble," the voice continued, deep and old-sounding. "But if you come out now, we won't hurt you. I promise we'll take you home."

Tony considered it. He wanted to go home so badly, but if he went out now... Would anyone believe him if he said Captain America was in trouble? Dad wouldn't even believe Tony had actually seen him. Who would help Cap then?

Besides, would they really take him home? They were Hydra soldiers, and that meant they were bad guys. They were probably lying to get him to come out. Maybe other seven-year-olds would fall for that, but Tony was smarter.

"We have your friends here," the voice said. "The Black Widow and Hawkeye. Say hello to them."

There was silence, then a few harsh words in German and a sharp cry that sounded like... That sounded like Clint. "I would hate for anything to happen to them, ja?" the man said, and Tony started to tremble. "That would make me quite sad, to see them hurt. Even Captain America wouldn't hold up against my soldiers. They are very good at what they do."

They were going to hurt Captain America! Tony bumped his head in his surprise. He couldn't... He had to go east. Find Coulson. That's what Clint told him.

"You have fifteen minutes, boy. Come out by then, or I will kill one of the spies. I only need information from one of them, after all."

He was going to... Tony climbed through the vents frantically. He had to find Coulson! If he didn't, the others would die, and... and...

Tony scraped his knee on the vent floor, but he kept going. Finally, he found a grating into the hallway, and he pushed it open, tumbling out in his haste. There was no one in the hall, and no cameras, so Tony quickly ran in one of the rooms.

Unfortunately, he also ran into a giant green monster with glowing yellow eyes.

Tony yelped, scrambling back as the monster growled, the collar around his neck gleaming. A man with a remote like the one Tony had seen when he first woke up was shouting and pointing at him, and Tony only had a few seconds to run. He dashed over to the shouting man, running behind him as the monster roared and swiped at him.

The man screamed and there was a sickening crunch. Tony turned around to see him sliding down the wall, his eyes wide in fear and unmoving. For a moment, all Tony could do was stare back, not quite comprehending what that blank stare meant.

The monster roared again, and Tony could only duck and run for cover. He hid under a near by desk, only to find it lifted in the air and tossed aside by the monster.

He ran away again, realizing too late he was going back to the man with wide eyes. But there was the remote on the floor next to him that was the same color as the monster's eyes. Tony grabbed it just as a large hand wrapped around his middle. "Stop!" Tony yelled. He pressed the biggest button he could find and the monster roared, stumbling back as electricity jumped from around the monster's neck. The monster dropped him to the ground, and Tony's foot hurt with the impact when he fell.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Tony yelled, smashing at the button again to turn it off. The monster stopped roaring in pain as the electricity stopped. It glared at Tony. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry," Tony said, looking down at the buttons.

"I don't know which one to push," he said, feeling tears form in his eyes. The monster wasn't trying to hurt him, but he couldn't tell if that was because he had the remote or because he needed orders. "Please, they're going to hurt Clint and Natasha and Cap. You have to help them!"

The monster just stared at him, growling softly. "Please," Tony pleaded, pressing other buttons on the remote. "How do I make it do what I say?!"

He pushed at the buttons, careful to stay away from the one that hurt the monster. "You have to help them! They're gonna die if I don't find Coulson. Please!" he repeated, only just hearing the click as he pressed a small button on the left.

Tony looked up to see the gold fading from the monster's eyes, and they were turning green like the rest of him. The collar around the monster's neck opened, and one big green hand crushed the machine like it was a fly.

"Oops," Tony said, clutching at the now useless remote.

The monster roared, and Tony had to cover his ears as what felt like a gust of wind gusted through the room. Tony tried to scramble back, but a hand around his middle kept him from moving, and he opened his eyes. He was lifted off the ground and brought face to face with the monster. Tony gulped. "Are you gonna eat me?" he asked. "I'm sorry I hurt you, but if you're gonna eat me, you should know I don't-"

"Puny runt," the monster said with a snort that ruffled Tony's hair. "No meat on bones. Taste bad."

"I was just about to say that, but I'm not a runt!" Tony said, kicking at the air as he tried to wiggle free. He stopped when the monster growled again. He didn't look at the man on the ground, because the eyes scared Tony. Why didn't the man move?

The monster grunted, his other hand coming up to wipe away the tears on Tony's cheek. It was surprisingly gentle. "Why Runt cry?"

"Because - Because they're gonna kill Natasha and Clint. And they're hurting Cap because I wasn't good. I couldn't find Coulson, and I wasn't good enough, and now everyone's getting hurt!" Tony babbled, trembling when he closed his eyes only to see the man's wide ones staring back at him.

The monster roared in rage, but he didn't squeeze tighter. "Please," Tony repeated. "You gotta help them."

The monster put Tony down and started to walk away. Tony had lost his chance to control the monster, but he couldn't fail again! He spared a glance back at the man who still hadn't moved, shivering. He didn't know if Tony could do anything for that person, but maybe he could convince the monster to help the others. "Please!" he cried, running after it, tugging on one of its massive fingers. "Please, you have to-"

The monster turned and roared in Tony's face, but Tony held his ground. It didn't stop him from trembling, but he didn't move back. "You've gotta help them," he said, his voice only trembling a little. "Please."

"Hulk help," the monster growled. "Iron Runt stay."

Tony blinked, then smiled widely. "So you're gonna help? You're not really mean, are you? Your name is Hulk? You're pretty awesome now that you're not scary!"

The Hulk looked down and snorted, but Tony thought he looked amused. "Tin man not change," Hulk said, and Tony had no idea what he was talking about, but Hulk was going to help and Tony wanted to be friends.

But the Hulk stopped again and growled, moving in front of Tony protectively. Tony peeked around the big green leg to see a man wearing some really awesome armor and long blond hair. He even had a cape. Not even Captain America had a cape. How awesome was that? Except his eyes were glowing yellow and there was a collar around his neck, along with a really heavy-looking hammer in his hands.

"Is he mind-controlled too? Like you were?" Tony asked, looking down at the remote he still held. He pressed a few buttons, but nothing happened. Maybe the remotes were only connected to one collar? Tony thought that was really inefficient. He could make one that could switch between frequencies to talk to all of them. He was not impressed at all with Hydra's technology.

Hulk just smirked, roaring at the man. "This will be fun," he said, before launching himself at the man with the hammer. They both went right through the wall, leaving a gaping hole in the brick.

"Whoa," Tony said, stepping around the bricks carefully. "Awesome."

Hulk and the man were going at it, trading punches and growls. Hulk didn't hold back, looking almost gleeful while beating the other man up. But neither of them were winning, and they still had to save Clint and the others. Maybe if he could find the remote controlling this man, he would help too?

Tony stayed far away from the fight, looking fearfully at a crack that followed him along the wall as Hulk was thrown into it. He watched while Hulk leaped back into the fight with an earth shattering roar, relief spreading through Tony. He didn't want his new friend to be hurt, even if that head butt Hulk gave the blond man looked pretty painful.

Tony scrambled over to the desks, looking for the remote. He didn't find one. He could fix the remote in his hand if there was time, but there wasn't. Tony jumped at the Hulk's roar, looking over to see a very smug green smirk as Hulk sat on the man.

"Goldilocks stupid with collar," Hulk said as the man tried to get him off. Hulk just roared and hit him again.

Tony looked at the collar. There was a glowing yellow button on the front that might disable it, but Hulk was occupied holding the man down. The man still looked plenty dangerous too, and Tony would have to get close to take it off. As Hulk gave a grunt of pain when a kick hit his shin, Tony swallowed and dashed forward. He climbed around Hulk's green limbs and reached for the man's neck.

The collar reacted, shocking Tony and Hulk painfully. Tony cried out as Hulk roared, but he still reached forward as he pressed the button. There was a soft click before Tony blanked out, mercifully slipping into unconsciousness.

~TBC~