isclaimer: I do not own any of the characters used in this fic.

General Warnings: Rated M for Violence and Suggestive Themes

Author Notes: HOLY MOLY GUACAMOLE YOU GUYS ARE ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! Let's do a quick count everybody, this story on it's very first chapter got:

17 Reviews

72 Favorites

and 113 Follows!

Guys, you have no idea how much this mean to me. Thank you for all of your support! That being said, more support (more reviews) always always always encourages me and makes my day, and makes me want to write more. So let's try to hit that 50 Review mark, okay guys!

(Once more shout out to my lovely editor MagnanimousArchitect. You're so lovely I almost take you for granted. Please forgive me! *does doegeza and prostrates myself on the ground begging*)

Moving on, some quick notes and replies to some of the reviews, so if you reviewed please look for your name below:

Tenshou Hoji: Thank you so much for your feedback, honest to God I love it when people give me tips on my writing and not just "good job", or "this is good" (not that those are bad, mind you, I love every review my readers leave me) because it shows you cared enough to take the time to actually help me become a better writer. Thank you!

Blackseal84: Well, I'm sorry to disappoint your theory about Tony's meeting with Ichigo, but Ichigo does sort of bodyguard him (you'll see later in the chapter XD) so I can only hope I lived up to your expectations for Tony's chapter!

ELinkA: Wow, thank you soooo much for telling me about my bad russian. I went back and fixed it, so thanks for letting me know! I don't speak russian and was basically going on an educated guess, so that was really helpful!

Okami Princess: Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain this will be mostly gen except for obvious pairings, so it won't be a StevexIchigo fanfic. You're not wrong though, they have a lot in common! I'm definitely going to be thinking about that for Ichigo's interactions with Steve.

WolvenWarrior65: Wow, I totally didn't notice that! Thanks for letting me know, it just shows how the writer's eyes can gloss over the most basic of stuff since they wrote it! I went back and fixed the plot hole, so again thanks for telling me so I could fix it! One thing I pride myself on as a fanfic writer is that my stories are all believable. To read fan fiction you do have to have a certain suspension of belief, but I find myself unwilling to write a story if it could not physically happen in the story's respective universe.

Struggle Is Real: :) to you too!

Heavenly God: *swishes cape and says mysteriously* All shall be revealed in time… and by my estimate about 10 or so chapters! Sorry for the wait!

SAME IMPORTANT NOTICE AS LAST CHAPTER: I will soon be uploading a list of all the stories I'm currently working on, ones that I'm not currently working on but have a solid idea and outline for, and literally just ideas of HEY what if I did a _ story! That'd be fun! So yeah, if you'd like to be a part of what I'm doing here, please check out my profile soon and fairly frequently because I plan to get that list and poll up there within the next month or so. Thanks so much for all your continued support!


The scorching sun bore down upon his back as he stumbled across the dry desert, trying desperately to just stay conscious, to just keep walking Tony. His mind kept whispering to him the little facts, the minute details he had picked up here and there about surviving in the desert without food, or even water. A week without food, and only three days without water, the voice warned. Tony thought hysterically that the voice sounded a lot like Pepper. Or Rhodey, he supposed. He blanched and did his best to block out that particular thought. He'd have Pepper in his head over the loud, whiny, boring, by-the-book Lieutenant Colonel any day of the week. Tony didn't know how long he'd been trudging along all alone in the desert, but judging by the single night he remembered, the lightheaded feeling he'd for the past couple of hours or so, and the faltering of his steps as he struggled to the top of another dune, it had probably been more than 24 hours. Given that he wasn't dead, it was also probable that it hadn't been 3 days just yet either.

God he felt awful.

Tony blinked the sweat out of his eyes, and swiped his hand across his brow. He ignored the wavery hands reaching out to him, the faint cries of his name, the blurred images of his father. Some pleaded for forgiveness, while others were scalding in their criticism of everything Tony had ever done, from the decisions he had made for the company (MY company! The phantom screamed. What have you done with it, you disgraceful excuse for a son!) to the spilled paint from his kindergarten homework on the new blueprints in his father's workshop. Illusions, his mind supplied.

Don't listen, Pepper murmured soothingly in his ear. Don't listen.

As Tony lost his footing on the slippery loose sand for the fifth time in what he thought was an hour, he gave in to the aching weariness in his calves, stopped fighting to stay upright, and collapsed exhausted on the gritty ground.

And just as his eyes slipped shut, they alighted upon a figure cresting the dune above him. It was just an illusion, he thought tiredly, the last vestiges of his hope of being rescued slipping from his mind. Just an illusion….

The next time Tony awoke, he was surprised to feel something soft underneath his head, and a pleasant coolness on his forehead. Well, he was surprised he was even alive at this point. He struggled to open his eyes, crusted shut and so heavy he almost gave up, but let it never be said that Tony Stark ever relented when trying to figure out a puzzle.

Wresting his eyes open, Tony was startled to find another pair of honey ocher eyes blinking back at him. The Japanese man let a relieved smile tug at his lips.

"Good. You're awake." He said, and curiously without any trace of an accent, Tony noted. "I was beginning to think you would never wake up."

Tony let out a groan as he tried to move his sore muscles.

"Well, I never was an early riser." Tony joked, grunting at the tight pain shooting through his body. The man only turned to the side and, after rifling through something that was out of Tony's line of sight, brought out a canteen. Tony would've drooled at the sight had he had any liquids left in his parched body.

"Can you sit up?" The man asked. Tony grunted in affirmative, and the stranger helped him sit up. Something fell from its place across his temple, and Tony blinked as he realized it was a cold compress. The marvelous coolness the had surrounded his head vanished with the compress, and Tony lamented its loss.

The man handed him the canteen, waiting patiently for Tony's still-weak fingers to grasp the container. "Careful," he cautioned, "your stomach won't be used to fluids yet." Tony was too busy gulping down the precious water to hear the man's warning. Never before had water been so, so...wet. Okay, that was bad (really bad), but Tony thought he deserved some serious slack. He had almost died of dehydration for God's sake! He couldn't even sit up on his own, much less think coherently.

Predictably, he choked as his stomach churned, threatening to upheave its contents all over his lap. As he fought to keep from throwing up, a hand rested gently on his back, and suddenly it was much easier for him to breathe. Eyes filled with grim understanding, the man very gently took the canteen from Tony's shaking hands, and handed him a clean cloth to wipe his face.

Tony swiped the cloth across his mouth, coughing slightly to clear his throat. His sight was briefly blocked by a pair of large hands, and before Tony could flinch back from the hands reaching toward his throat, choking him, threatening to brand him and oh God they were going to hurt Yensen, they retreated. Tony gasped slightly, wrenching himself back to the present and out of that god forsaken cave, and focused on the new weight on his head and the blessed cold above his eyes. He reached up to feel the rough fabric of the headscarf wrapped around his head, and the cold rag tied inside to rest perfectly against his forehead. Tony shot the man a look of gratitude for his thoughtfulness, and was shocked at the bright orange color that assaulted his eyes when he glanced over.

"Uhh," he said intelligently, still dazed by the absolute luminescence of the man's bright hair in the glaring sunlight, "thank you, uh, for saving me." Tony rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. Man, he really wasn't cut out for these emotional heart-to-heart types of conversations. Or apologizing. Seriously, not his thing.

The man snorted, and Tony stared, befuddled at his reaction.

"Well, yeah, duh. It's not like I was just going to leave you there lying on the ground." You'd be surprised, Tony thought. He'd met too many cold-hearted and uncaring people to know that most of the world wasn't sunshine and rainbows. Humans were selfish creatures most of the time, and God knows Tony has met enough of them to have this lesson engraved on his chest. Ironically, Tony could probably say this was in fact true, glancing down at the soft blue light emitting from the middle of his ragged shirt. Speaking of which, why hadn't the man said anything about the glowing circle smack dab in his chest?

Tony squinted at the man suspiciously, and bluntly asked him why he hadn't. Belatedly, he realized that drawing attention to his freak condition were the man to have somehow missed the glowing light coming from his threadbare shirt, and consequently making his savior and quite probably only way to get back to the world alive, think he was some kind of aberration might not have been the best idea. Tony blamed his late reaction to his dehydration. Definitely not on his tendency to shoot his mouth off and damn the consequences, nope.

The man had simply shrugged and replied insouciantly, "I've seen weirder."

The stranger turned away from his stunned face to ruffle around in what Tony could now see was a medium-sized rucksack, before pulling out another scarf, a couple shades darker in color than the khaki headpiece wrapped around Tony's own head, and pulled it over his brightly-colored hair. For the first time, Tony took a moment to take in what the stranger was wearing. Loose, light clothing draped his broad frame, and hints sturdy hiking boots flashed from beneath the cuffs his pants. Tony noticed absently all of the man's clothing was in desert camouflage.

"So, how did you find me? Facebook?" Tony experienced a brief moment of blinding panic as the thought occurred to him that this man might be a part of the group that had captured him and they had caught up to him and he was about to be dragged back to that godforsaken cave. He forced the panic to the back of his mind as he rationalized that if the stranger was his enemy he would not have taken the time and effort to take such care of him. Unless they still wanted him to make them weapons.



"I mean, I was just hiking around and found you lying on the ground," the young man shrugged. "I travel a lot on my own, so that's why I was so far out here." He explained. Tony nodded.

"So what were you doing all the way out here?" The man looked pointedly at Tony's battered state and tattered clothing. "How come you were in such a bad shape when I found you?"

"Ah you know, Coyote needed some help catching Roadrunner." Tony's mouth shot off automatically to deflect the question. "I'm an a bit of a novice engineer, not to brag or anything, but we built this awesome trap with a hub cap from an old Corvair, a french horn, and a banana, you wouldn't believe-" Tony rambled until he ran out of breath and kept on going, but then he peeked at the man sitting next to him. What he saw on the man's face made something in his chest jerk, and Tony stopped cold.

Tony's hesitated, his instinct to lie and ignore the darkness lurking in the back of his mind, ingrained since childhood, urging him to stay quiet. But something inexplicable tugging deep within his chest told him to be honest with this veritable stranger. "I…," he pinched the bridge of his nose as he strained to get the words out, uncharacteristically stumbling over his sentences, "I was being held hostage for the past couple of months, by a, um, local terrorist group, and-." Tony cut himself off abruptly. It wasn't because of the choked feeling in his throat, or the tightness in his chest that was restricting his ability to breathe. It wasn't even because of the awful images of his time in captivity flashing before his eyes. It was because of him.

Whatever reaction he had expected from the stranger who had rescued him, this was definitely not it. The man's eyes turned cold as steel, something sharp and ragged flickering in the suddenly raw caramel orbs, jaw tight and teeth baring in snarl, his fists clenched so hard his knuckles turned white.

"I'm sorry," Tony suddenly felt the need to apologize. The man took a slow breath, and in the next moment it was as if nothing had ever happened.

"No, I'm the one who should be apologizing." The man sighed, waving off his apology. The look in his eyes turned to concern once more as the young man stared at him acutely, and Tony had the feeling that the piercing gaze had the ability to look into his very soul.

The man suddenly tensed, and looked over at the far horizon. Tony whipped his around to squint at the horizon, heart pounding. It was a long while before Tony could hear the telltale chopping of helicopter blades in the air, and a small black dot slowly appeared in his field of vision.

Tony could have cried in relief. He was finally going to get out of this hell! Tony staggered to his feet, raising his arm up high to wave at the copter, shouting at the top of his lungs and focused solely on his incoming salvation, when a hand gripped his shoulder and turned him around so fast Tony saw stars before he was shoved to the ground, a large mass settling itself above him.

"What the f-!" Tony exclaimed before a hand clamped onto his mouth and muffled his irate yell.

"Shh!" The man shushed him urgently. Tony glared at him. Squirming to get free of the close cage that was the man's body, Tony jerked the hand off his mouth and retorted angrily.

"What the fuck are you doing! That could be our rescue!" The man just pressed closer, unrelenting in keeping Tony from moving from his position lying on the ground.

"Stay down!" He hissed into Tony's ear when he struggled to try to budge the young man from his position over him (Tony likened it to trying to lift a truck off of his chest; the man's muscled frame locked in place, trapping Tony underneath arms like solid iron).

"As much as I usually enjoy this position, right now I'm really not appreciating it!" Tony whispered furiously back.

"Did it ever occur to you that it might be hostile?!" The man replied fiercely.

Tony stopped. No, in fact, that particular thought had not occurred to him. The helicopter blades beat louder as they flew closer to their position. Anxiety slowly built up in Tony's chest, climbing higher as the helicopters came ever closer. What if they are the Ten Rings?! What if they see us? What if, what if, what if-

Tony felt his heart stop (a colloquium which no longer seemed appropriate for him to use, considering his new circumstances, but Tony thought what the hell, all the more reason to use it) as he saw the American flag on the tail of the helicopters as they passed overhead. His head thudded onto the ground as his body collapsed in relief as the helicopters began to turn, apparently having seen the pair on the ground.

A few moments later Tony cracked open an eye to stare at the stranger.

"So, are you planning to move anytime soon, or is there any specific reason you're still on top of me?" Tony snarked, finding it within him to waggle his eyebrows suggestively now that he knew he was getting rescued.

To his disappointment, the man only raised an eyebrow in return before rising to his feet.

Tony huffed as he struggled to sit up, before he smacked himself in the face almost colliding the hand that had suddenly appeared before him. Tony looked at the proffered hand before swallowing any pride he might have still had and took it, allowing himself to be pulled up.

Randomly, Tony was struck by the realization of the man's height as he stood up next to him for the first time since their meeting. While Tony was considered short by American male standards at five foot eight inches, this man stood tall above him, easily reaching a height of six feet. As Tony studied the tall man once more, he noticed the man had stilled, eyes narrowed at the incoming helicopters as a look of faint concentration crossed his solemn face. Tony opened his mouth to ask what he was doing, when his face relaxed minutely and he nodded slightly in approval.

Tony didn't have time to question what had just happened even as his curiosity itched to find out, as seemingly out of nowhere Rhodey was running up to him with a squadron of soldiers following closely behind and this time Tony nearly did cry in relief at seeing his best friend.

His look of relief was mirrored by Rhodey as the Lieutenant Colonel slowed to a stop in front of the pair and put his hands on Tony's shoulders. Neither of them noticed the stranger quietly move a respectable distance away, though the other soldiers did and kept a wary eye on the unknown.

"How was the 'fun-vee'?" Rhodey asked, voice strained. "Next time," he said sternly, almost choking up, "you ride with me."

Tony couldn't do anything but nod in acceptance, physically and emotionally exhausted.

Rhodey glanced over to the stranger, hands still gripping tightly to Tony's shoulders as if his old friend would disappear should he let go.

"And who is this?" He asked Tony quietly, eyes sharpening at the sight of the tall man.

"Oh," Tony said, realizing they might think the man was one of his captors. "He's a hitchhiker who found me out here."

"Rhodey," he said, formerly exhausted eyes suddenly blazing with conviction, fingers now gripping at Rhodey's arm tightly. "He helped me." Rhodey was taken aback at the sudden turnabout, but he only nodded, jaw tightening before making his way over to the stranger, finally releasing Tony's shoulders.

"My name is Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes of the United States Army," Rhodey said, holding out his hand. "Thank you for taking care of my friend here."

The man nodded, and shook the soldier's hand.

"Kurosaki Ichigo. And it was no problem. I was happy to help." he replied.

Rhodey grinned. "What do you guys say we get you out of this place?"

As Rhodey helped him to one of the helicopters, Tony glanced back at the man following the pair. Noticed his gaze, the man, now named Kurosaki, looked back and smiled slightly.

"I wouldn't be adverse to a ride if you're willing," he said to Rhodey.

"It's least we could do after all you've done." Rhodey replied, grinning back.

They all piled into the helicopters, and Rhodey eased Tony onto the chair next to the medical examiner before he sat down across from him, while Kurosaki took the empty seat next to Rhodey. Rhodey reached up to his comms unit as the helicopter started to rise slowly into the sky.

"Sir, the is Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes reporting in, we have found Stark," Tony stared as Kurosaki whipped his head around from where he had been looking out with a strange, nostalgic fondness at the receding desert to gape at Rhodey, and then at Tony, "and he is now under our protection." Rhodey gave Kurosaki an odd look at the man's strange reaction, but continued. "We're heading back to base now. Rhodes out."

Rhodey lowered his hand and looked questioningly at the man beside him. By this point Kurosaki had composed himself, and the man hilariously no longer looked as if he had been struck by lightning.

"So," Rhodey asked, amused, "what was that?"

Kurosaki raised his hand to scratch at the back of his head, a gesture that belied his embarrassment.

"Ah, well, while I was aware that Tony Stark had been kidnapped and was supposed to be held in this area of the country, I hadn't quite made the connection when I found you in the desert." He said, a slight tinge of pink dusting his cheeks as he absolutely refused to look at Tony.

The corner of Tony's mouth twitched before he burst out laughing. The medic groaned at being rendered unable to poke and prod at his patient, while Rhodey struggled to keep himself from smiling at this interesting young man.

"Ah," Tony said, wiping the barest hint of tears from the corners of his eyes, "that is too good."

The pink turned darker as Kurosaki glared at him, snapping back in embarrassment just what it was he had said that was so funny.

"It's just that, most people would help just because he's rich and the reward is good." Rhodey explained, grinning conspiratorially at Tony.

The two weren't prepared for the outburst that followed his words.

"Well that's just stupid!" Kurosaki exclaimed indignantly, but whether it was on Tony's behalf or his own they didn't know. "I would've helped him whether I had known who who he was or not!" He puffed up in righteous anger. "What I did should be what anyone else would do!"

Kurosaki fell abruptly silent as he realized what he doing. He crossed his arms in a way that may have been defensive, but the man's fiery glare dissuaded anyone from even considering the thought.

Tony chuckled, oddly satisfied with the man's outburst on his behalf. It had been a while since he had last met someone who didn't care about his wealth or status, and saw him only as a person. The last two to do so were Pepper and Rhodey.

"Well, anyways, thank you." Tony said, moving on from teasing the poor man (though he sorely wished he could continue). "I'd like to repay you somehow."

At this Kurosaki turned silent and somber, before looking up at him. Tony was taken aback by the bitter, resigned look in the man's eyes.

"If you really want to repay me," Kurosaki said quietly after a long moment, "then please do me a favor. Do not mention my name when you tell the public about your escape. Do not even mention someone saved you." Something broken and somehow tired flickered across his face. "Just say that you walked alone in the desert until the army found you." Tony was stunned. Didn't the man realize what he could get as the man who saved Tony Stark? Stane would've obviously put up a reward for his discovery. Was Kurosaki crazy?

"Don't you want any recognition?" Rhodey asked. Kurosaki just shook his head, smiling wryly, a touch of resentment in the bitter quirk of his lips.

"I'd just rather be left alone, that's all." Somehow, Tony didn't think he was lying. By the suspicious look on Rhodey's face, however, the soldier clearly thought Kurosaki was hiding something.

"I'll have to include in my report that a civilian found Mr. Stark," he said seriously. "However, what I can do, is make sure that no one under the highest security level we have is going to hear your name in conjunction with this operation." Rhodey was nothing if not trustworthy. Tony knew if he promised you something, you'd better damn well believe he'd make sure it happened.

Kurosaki looked at Tony for his confirmation, and when Tony thought of that broken, twisted expression that had surfaced on the man's face, all he could do was nod silently in acquiescence.

Kurosaki smiled gratefully, the bitter expression slowly fading from his face as he looked once more out of the window to gaze at the barren desert, rushing past far below them.

To be honest, I'm quite proud of myself for this gem of a chapter. There are lots of hints to Ichigo's past, so read carefully ;)

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