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Anthropos Polytropos, Chapter Four

Anthropos Polytropos
By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to.
Characters:  Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanov, Bruce Banner, Thor, Amora the Enchantress, Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Happy Hogan.
Warnings: PTSD. Mentions of past torture. Temporary character death that the characters are aware is (probably) only temporary, though it still takes it's mental toll on them.  Mentions of potential child abuse.  Mind fuckery.  Minor self-abuse.  Cliff hangers.  Implied bullying.  Generally dark fic, though there is a happy ending and no one actually dies.  Not Iron Man 3 compliant in the slightest.  If you have any questions about the warnings, I'd be more than happy to clarify as best I can.
Rating: I think I'm just going to leave this at an M due to how dark it gets and some of the themes.
Summary:  He doesn't remember much from before he woke up, but he does know two things.  He doesn't like being called Tony Stark, and he hates Captain America.
Thanks: Many thanks to narwhale_callin for continuing to beta, despite certain scenes reminding you of creepy bits from Pan's Labyrinth.  And many thanks to jesabele, penscritch, Wildmage+of+galla, EternalSheWolf, Fhulhi, Teyke, wynjara, Chleom, jpottermalfoy, Salmastryon, and anon for reviewing and to those who left kudos.  Special kudos to those of you who picked up on the whole Susan Cooper quote, because everyone needs to read Susan Cooper.  XD
Notes: So it's probably still Sunday for most of you, but I'll have you know I got up earlier just to be able to post this before I had to leave to catch my train.  It's barely 6 am.  Seriously, the things I do to make sure you guys get the chapter.  You can also thank Nar for getting the chapter to me despite her busy schedule and a ready excuse on my end for her take the extra time if she needed it.  Anyway, I'll be out of touch for a little while, so don't expect replies to comments until I'm recovered from having to take a Chinese hardsleeper train.  I really hate train rides...  >.<

This is probably one of the shortest chapters.  It also has a fairly ominous name.  Look to those warnings, people.

Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three

~

Chapter Four: Because I could not stop for Death

"Tony?" Cap asked. If Tony didn't know better, he'd have said there was some panic in his voice.

"I'm not Tony," he said, crossing his hands over the reactor protectively.

"It was brighter when I saw you in the boxing ring," Natasha said, her voice tight. "Don't say you haven't noticed. Why didn't you tell us?"

"Hey!" Tony yelped as Natasha tugged at his shirt, pulling it up to get a better view of the reactor. He ineffectively tugged it back down, because it was much more obvious that it wasn't as bright as it had been when he first saw it under the desk.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Cap asked. And, oh, God. Why did Cap even bother fighting his enemies? He could just show that disappointed frown and even a giant would feel two-feet tall and wish that it were a better person. It was almost worse than the Castle.

"I told you she gave me two days," Tony said. This time when he pushed his shirt down, Natasha let him, covering the scars that she had laid bare. He couldn't let her keep doing that. She was uncovering too much, and Tony couldn't shake the feeling that was a threat to him. "So it apparently goes out at the end of that time. Doesn't change anything."

The look Natasha and Cap traded was murderous. He glanced back at the Castle in hopes of a distraction - even normal guilt was preferable to Cap's disappointment - but froze at the sight. "Uh, guys? Those don't look friendly."

"This isn't over, Stark," Natasha said, pivoting to face the threat. "And I know you're not Stark," she added before he could protest.

Cap had already raised his shield, staring down at the army amassing at the base of the Castle. "Rats?" he said, throwing his shield at the nearest group. It knocked a few of them into the lake, but more replaced them. The rats started to come their way. "I don't remember any rats in The Swan Princess."

"They're getting bigger," Natasha said. "Captain, get him out of here."

"We're not leaving-"

"They're after me, not you. And you know it, Stark. Despite what you may think, you are not an acceptable loss," Natasha said calmly, pulling out a gun.

"Neither are you!" Tony shouted. Because this? This was not cool. At all. He grabbed hold of Natasha's arm, knowing that doing so was a death sentence from the Black Widow, but the ass-kicking he might get later as a result would be worth it as long as it got some sense into her.

She didn't turn on him immediately. He had just enough time to wonder if she had decided to come with them before she punched him in the gut, forcing the air out of his lungs as he crumpled over. "Just this once I am," she said in his ear as he gasped for breath. "But that doesn't mean I'll forgive you if you waste it. If you don't come out of this alive, Tony, I will hold a grudge. Cap!"

"Natasha," Cap started as she handed Tony over to him.

"Just get out of here. Head west from here to the Shadows and keep him safe," Natasha demanded.

The air was being pushed out of him again along with a sense of vertigo as Tony suddenly found himself draped over Cap's shoulder in a fireman's carry. "No," he gasped breathlessly as he tried to fight Cap off, but any squirming was completely ineffective, and it dug Cap's broad shoulders further into his stomach where Natasha had punched him.

As Cap started running, Tony was able to look back just in time to see the rats reach Natasha. She fought off five of them that were almost as big as she was. She downed a sixth after some how getting on top of it and used a twist of her thighs to snap its neck. But soon she was shimmering, white feathers replacing the dark jumpsuit. As the swan dove at the rats' heads, a large rat with a crown upon its head snatched her by the neck and pulled her down to the ground. They converged on the bird, blinding white turning to bright red.

"No!" Tony fought for all he was worth to get free of Cap's grip. Cap stumbled briefly when Tony's foot connected with soft flesh - well, no there was nothing soft about Cap's stomach and now his foot kind of hurt - but the moment was short-lived and soon Tony found his legs completely immobilized. That still didn't stop him from trying.

He felt it when she died, a part of him was ripped apart and taken away. Tony stopped fighting after that, going limp on Cap's shoulder as he tried to block the screeches of triumph from the rats. There was no reason to fight anymore, if Natasha was... He couldn't even see the rats anymore, but that wasn't saying much since his eyes were blurring again with what he wasn't going to admit were tears. Especially not when he could feel the soft fall of rain that he could blame it on.

Cap kept running.

It was a while before they stopped, Cap panting for breath as he slowed to a stop. Tony could still hear the rain, but when he looked up, he saw they were near a building with a patio to shield them from the elements.

"Put me down," Tony heard himself say, a little surprised at the fury in his voice. He ignored the minute tremors from the body below him, focusing on the anger.

It took Cap a moment, but soon Tony was being placed on his feet, strong hands steadying him and lingering, like Cap needed the comfort. Tony slapped his hands away, taking a step back from him. Cap looked awful, leaning into one side of the building as if his muscles were cramped; his breath was still coming hard. He was pale, and haunted, far from his usual glowing self. They must have been running for longer than Tony thought for Captain America to be winded.

And how was that for crushing the dreams of one's heroes? Captain America ran away and left someone behind.

"What was that about? Captain America couldn't stop for death, so it kindly stopped for Natasha?" Tony snarled. "You left her. Just like you left Clint!"

"There wasn't..." Cap gasped, closing his eyes as if he couldn't stand to look at Tony. "There wasn't any choice," he said finally, the trembling of his shoulders growing more pronounced.

Tony punched him.

Cap sprawled back, looking up in shock as he touched his chin. It was worth the sharp, stinging pain across Tony's knuckles to see the shock on Cap's face. "There's always a choice," Tony hissed. "We could have stayed! We could have helped them fight. But you ran away each time, dragging me with you!"

Steve made no move to get off the ground, and every word Tony said left his eyes more wounded. "It would have killed you!" Steve protested

"But we could have saved them!" Tony countered, his hands fisting as he held back the desire to pound that chiseled jaw line into the pavement. "They were idiots for going into those fights without back up, but you. You could have stopped them! But you ran away instead!"

Now there was anger along with hurt in Cap's eyes. "It was their choice!" he shouted back. "We have to respect that and move on so we don't waste-"

"That's a load of bull, Cap, and you know it," Tony interrupted, not wanting to hear it.

"It was their choice," Cap said a little desperately, picking himself off the ground.

"Yeah?" Tony asked, gesturing angrily at the storm as he moved into Cap's personal space. He was about five seconds from hitting the man again, and Tony didn't feel remotely remorseful for wanting to pound a national icon to paste. "Maybe it was their choice, and great, let's all be self-sacrificing idiots. But you know what, Cap? It was your choice to run away! Your choice to leave them! We could have saved them!"

There Cap faltered, and Tony felt a twisted satisfaction as Cap took a step back and swallowed. "We have to protect you in this place. They should be... they should be fine."

"I felt them die," Tony said. "Both of them are dead, Cap. And I don't see anyone else here to blame! You're Captain America! You're supposed to save them!"

"I..." Cap closed his eyes again, his breath coming in staccato bursts. Tony felt a brief flash of guilt, because it wasn't Cap's fault, not really. Cap wasn't the one with a direct connection to this place. If anyone was at fault, it was Tony.

It was Tony's fault, so he lashed out in the only way he could, channeling all his guilt and anger into his words and flinging them at Cap. "We could have stopped it!" Tony repeated, backing Cap against the wall of the building. "But you ran away and left them to die, using me as a pretense to be a coward!"

"Please, Tony..."

But that was exactly the wrong thing to say. "I'm not Tony!" A loud clap of thunder rang across the sky.

Instead of responding, Cap barreled into him, tackling Tony to the ground. Tony cried out in pain as his wounded back hit the pavement. His vision tunneled as he fought to keep consciousness, and Cap covered him, holding Tony down.

"Get off!" he yelled, pushing at Cap as another clap of thunder sounded overhead. The sound shook through him, ringing like cannon fire, and screaming, and the sounds of battle roaring all around them. The snow was so cold.

Tony gasped as Cap clung to him, a barrage of images filtering through the link. "Stay down," Cap said, still not letting Tony up. His voice was panicked, as Tony got another flash of images - there was no battle, Tony realized with a start. The images - a train loud on the tracks, guns that rang in his ears, and Bucky falling - and it was his fault.

"Steve," Tony gasped. He didn't know who Bucky was, but he could feel Steve's hurt. He'd lost Bucky, Clint, and Natasha, and it was his fault. He hadn't been strong enough or fast enough and he'd failed. He couldn't let that happen to Tony. He couldn't... but what if he failed Tony too?

"You won't," Tony choked out, struggling to keep his thoughts apart from Steve's. The feelings were so strong that they were nearly overwhelming. "Cap... Steve, there's no - There's no train. No battle. It's just the rain, not snow. Come on, Steve, look at me. There's no gun fire."

Steve didn't look up, but Tony felt some of the feelings subside and the unsettling cold faded until he was warm again. Steve hid his face against Tony's shoulder, shaking as he clutched at the engineer.

For his part, Tony rubbed his back, trying to remember what Clint had done for him after his flashback. He glanced nervously at the sky, but the storm was subsiding. Hopefully there would be no more thunder.

"Steve? Hey, it's okay." Tony's hand stopped for a moment before he remembered he was supposed to keep it moving. "It wasn't your fault. I was just angry and this place doesn't make any sense. But if it was anyone's fault, it was mine, alright? I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault."

So Tony laid there on the ground, still damp from the rain and with the pavement crushing painfully against his back as he desperately tried to calm down Captain America in the middle of a PTSD attack. How was this his life? At least... It was hard to tell with his clothes being wet, but he didn't think Steve was actually crying. This way of coping didn't exactly feel very healthy though. Tony was getting the feeling that maybe Steve needed to cry.

Finally, Steve's trembling slowed to a halt, his shoulders rising and falling with a steadier breathing rhythm. Tony was still pinned under over 200 pounds of pure muscle, so as much as he may have wanted to wiggle away or fidget, it really wasn't an option. "Steve?" he said after a pause for breath in his babbling.

Steve pulled back slowly, as if he didn't want to give up the touch. Well, that was good, right? That meant he hadn't failed completely at comfort. But oh, he hurt. Tony winced as he sat up on his elbows. He may like being pinned down (further proof for number Thirty-six), but he preferred a lot less pain. Forty: Pain is not a turn-on.

Neither was guilt, which had just quadrupled. It took him a moment to realize the guilt wasn't his for once. "Tony," Steve said, hands around his shoulders to help him sit up as Steve now scrambled off him. "Your back! I'm sorry. I didn't-" He'd failed again.

"Would you stop calling me that?" Tony asked, with half a mind to just push Steve away again along with his thoughts that didn't belong in Tony's head. Except he wasn't sure he could handle much more of Steve's guilt. He had more than enough of his own, thanks.

Steve just moved behind him, hands gently checking over the bandages. "I'm sorry," he said again, and Christ, the guilt was almost palpable, leaving a bad taste in Tony's mouth.

Tony sighed. It was his fault Steve got that bad. He couldn't even tell where his guilt started and Steve's ended. It was getting a little ridiculous. "Look, it's alright. I'm fine, just a little sore. You don't have to feel so - What?"

Steve's guilt just... stopped. It felt a bit like the floor had been ripped out from under Tony, the cessation was so abrupt. Tony twisted around to look at Steve, half afraid Steve had disappeared or died like the others. But Steve was still there, his face blank, like he was packing all of that emotion away into the furthest recess of his mind. Tony almost missed the overwhelming guilt. "Look, I don't think I'm the sort of person with good coping habits, but that can't be healthy," he said to cover his uncertainty.

"We need to get going again, or-"

"Or what? My reactor will go out? Old news. So this is a thing you've got going on, apparently, but that I can put a stop to." Tony stared up at Steve, daring him to contradict him. He was being an ass again, but not being able to sense Steve at all though the link was disquieting, and the feeling was getting worse.

Tony didn't have to wait long for the contradiction though. Steve dared. "That's not important right now!"

"It is, actually," Tony said, pushing himself off the ground and brushing himself off. "Because I've decided it is and, hey, we don't have to keep going. I'm sure I can find my way back to the desk without too much effort."

Steve's eyes widened at the threat, letting some emotion through. Panic and anger, granted, but it was better than nothing, and Tony felt his chest loosen in relief. "You can't," Steve said, fury in his voice. "Don't you dare, Tony. You can't just give up now!"

"Why not?" Tony asked, keeping an eye on the storm and forcing himself to stay calm. "It's working for you. You just pack everything away rather than actually living!"

"Why does it matter to you?" Steve shouted back, his knuckles pale where he gripped his shield. "You hate me, right? So why does it matter?"

That... was a very good question. Why did he care if Captain America had crappy ways of dealing with his emotions? So it wasn't healthy. As Tony said, Twenty-three: he hates feelings, and a revision of Twenty-three B, he sucks at dealing with them, so there was probably a decent amount of hypocrisy going on here (Nineteen).

"Because this is..." Tony started, not sure of how to go on. "The end result, it's unacceptable. The output is all wrong, which means I'm feeding it the wrong input and the code is broken. And that's just completely unacceptable, because I should be able to fix the code and-"

"I'm not a machine, Tony," Steve said, but the anger was slipping away from him and he was no longer shouting. Which was good, because Tony wasn't sure the storm would stay at bay if they got into another full argument. Natasha had kept an eye on the weather, so he assumed it meant something with his connection to this place.

"I know," Tony said, looking down. "I'm just... I'm trying."

Relief flooded through him as he felt Cap release his vise grip on his emotions, letting Tony pick up on the surface of his feelings again. That was... not exactly better, but getting there. "You are," Cap said, coming closer again and hesitantly touching Tony's shoulder. "Which is what I asked you to do. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you for that."

"You also shouldn't call me Tony," he said, only partially managing to keep the uncertainty out of his voice. Still, it was better than the sulky tone that also threatened to sneak through. Twenty-three, still holding true.

"Yeah, sorry," Steve said, for a moment looking like he was going to hug Tony again. Instead, he continued hesitantly. "Can we... If I promise to talk to you about it once we're out of here, can we drop it for now? This place..."

This place amplified feelings, making them impossible to hide. Yeah, asking about Cap's problems here was kind of a dick move. "I - sure. That can work. It's fine. Are you okay?"

Steve leaned down a little, closing his eyes and touching his forehead to Tony's. "No," he answered with a shaky breath. "But you're the one with the time limit, not me."

"Priorities, right. That's logical." Tony stood still, not sure what to do. Should he touch Steve's shoulder, like Steve kept doing to him? Or... They were close enough for kissing, but even Tony could tell that wasn't appropriate right now. It felt like that was the only kind of physical affection he knew about though, which was frustrating.

Before he could decide on a course of action, Steve pulled away again, this time to look up at the building. A mansion, now that Tony was bothered to noticed it. "What is it?" he asked curiously.

Steve looked at him in surprise, before shaking his head. "I think this is the place Howard lived in during the war. I went there once or twice before I was sent over-seas, but this place looks a bit more worn. Older."

Tony flinched at Howard's name, though he didn't get the same feeling from the mansion as he did from the Castle. "Let's go then. Probably nothing to see in there," Tony said, trying to decide which way was west.

"Are you sure?" Cap asked dubiously. "We still haven't found Thor or Bruce. They could have gone in to escape the storm."

"It's empty," Tony said. "Just... trust me on that. It always is."

He couldn't have said how he knew that, but it was true. That didn't help the sad look Steve gave him though. The look was starting to get grating. Tony walked around the building to avoid it, not bothering to make sure Steve followed. It didn't take long to walk around the house and then take off in the direction Tony assumed was west.

It was quiet for a while, which was driving Tony insane. He didn't like quiet on good days, but right now? He kept thinking of Natasha and Clint. This place reacted to Tony, which meant the storm would only get worse if Tony started down that path, and he didn't want the thunder to upset Steve again.

But if that were true, then why couldn't he have stopped them from dying? The materials in the desk, the engine, and the pad of paper - they all changed because of him. The danger to them didn't appear until Tony realized they were getting too close. So had his mind summoned those things? It was logical. Even if Amora had influence over this place, Tony should have been able to stop them. He should have been able to do something, other than just let Steve drag him off.

Hey, apparently it was all his fault. And he'd blamed it all on Steve.

"It's not your fault," Steve said softly, interrupting his thoughts.

Tony turned to look at him, noting that he was still too pale and that he didn't look nearly as much the pinnacle of human perfection while sporting the drowned rat look. The kid looked so earnest, like he actually believed Tony wasn't to blame, even after all Tony had been forced to give away in this place. "That's not true," Tony said, not feeling his fury from earlier, or the tears. He just felt tired.

Steve didn't say anything more, and Tony kept moving forward.

The rain stopped eventually, though the sky was still dark with the threat of an on-coming storm. Tony decided to test his theory while they walked, if just to keep him from thinking about Clint and Natasha. If he were really in control of this place, then there was no reason for him to be trudging through a forest with wet clothes.

First, he tried commanding his clothes dry. When that didn't work, he tried thinking dry thoughts. He thought he caught a glimpse of Steve smiling as Tony muttered under his breath, but he still wasn't dry.

"Fourteen: I still hate magic," Tony said finally, no more dry than when he'd started.

"Maybe you gotta stop thinking about it?" Steve suggested.

Tony looked over at Steve who was no longer hiding the thicker Brooklyn accent behind a polite wall. He was more there than he had been earlier, and Tony had enough evidence to say the accent came out when Steve was more relaxed. Steve still looked pale, but Tony was willing to bet he'd convinced himself that Clint and Natasha were somehow still okay outside of this Tony-themed Wonderland.

Tony wished he could have that kind of faith. "This is ridiculous. Magic is ridiculous. Besides, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke. A futurist like me - am I? That makes Forty-one - should be able to figure it out." Tony briefly wondered who Arthur C. Clarke was, but the look of confusion on Steve's face kept him from asking. He knew a lost cause when he saw one.

It was then Tony noticed they weren't in a forest any more. They were in some sort of wide hallway without any doors and sleek, black walls. "When..?" Tony asked, a little shaken by the sudden change.

"When you weren't thinking about it," Steve said. "It was strange, but I didn't want to interrupt you. Also, you're dry now."

Tony realized with a start that he was, in fact, dry. Even his socks weren't soggy any more, and Steve looked dry as well. Had this happened earlier too? They'd started out in a jungle, but they'd been walking through a forest when they found Natasha.

"It's going to be okay," Steve said finally, rubbing small circles with his thumb on Tony's arm. Tony hadn't even noticed him move. "We're going to get you out of this place."

"I don't like it here," Tony said. He wanted to lean into Steve's chest, remembering how warm and solid it was, unlike this place.

"I know." Steve's voice turned gentle as he pulled Tony in for a real hug, if a brief one. "But we're not going to let the Enchantress keep you here, I promise."

Tony nodded against Steve's neck, before pulling away. He looked down the hall and tried not to let his shoulders tense. A short glace down at his reactor told him it was definitely dimmer now, but it was still glowing.

"Let's go," Steve said, hovering until Tony started forward. There was a door at the far end of the hallway, and it didn't take long for them to get there. Tony was relieved, because he didn't want to think about what an endless hallway would have done to his nerves.

The doorknob turned easily in his hands, so at least he wasn't making things harder on them by adding a lock. On the other side of the door was a long table set with a feast. There were all sorts of foods on the table, from burgers and fries to some sort of meat wrap that looked surprisingly tasty. The alcohol wasn't lacking either. The odd part was that none of it made him feel hungry. He looked over the candlelit table without any desire to actually eat any of his favorite foods.

"That's an odd feast," Steve said after a moment of taking it in. "Shawarma and burgers? You've only had shawarma once, and that was just recently. I'm surprised it got past the memory block."

"Maybe it was a strong memory? And what is this, comfort food?" Tony asked. Except the comfort food bit would only make sense if he were hungry, which he wasn't. He walked around the table, hand trailing along the wooden chairs.

Steve reached over the table to poach a fry off one of the plates. "I wouldn't eat that," Tony warned just as Steve opened his mouth.

"Why not?" Steve asked, looking at the fry in confusion.

"Because I'm suddenly remembering quotes about feasters who fall asleep for years upon eating."

Tony did not laugh as Steve dropped the french fry with a startled yelp, but it was a near thing. He still got a glare of disapproval for his grin, but that was one kicked puppy Tony could handle.

He looked over the feast again, trying to puzzle it out. The comfort food was obvious, but the rest of it..? "The desk, bed, and taser are undetermined, but the boxing ring was that chauffeur you mentioned, the castle was... Howard." Tony faltered over the name, somehow unable to call him dad. "That mansion was my old home. The jungle was for you, the ship for Clint, and the forest for Natasha, so what is this supposed to represent? Do I have a cook or something?"

"It's not anyone I know of. You said it was comfort food, so someone who comforts you?" Steve suggested.

"I don't really feel comforted," Tony said. In fact, he felt more daunted by it than anything, given the fact it was potentially dangerous to eat.

"Someone who knows you that well?" That suggestion sounded even weaker than the first, so Tony just ignored it. He went to stand at the head of the table, eying the chair there thoughtfully. He didn't feel any sort of strong emotion from it or the rest of the table, other than minor annoyance.

Instead of taking the head chair, Tony sat in one to the right of it. "We should probably keep moving," Steve said uncertainly.

Tony hesitated, tapping the slowly dimming reactor absently as he took one last look at the table. Something strawberry red - no, not strawberry. Those were bad for some reason, though he couldn't think of why - a pepper shaker? A red pepper shaker. He reached out for it automatically, wondering how he'd missed it the first time. It was the most brilliant thing on the table, and now Tony could barely look away from it much less contemplate how he hadn't seen it before. Frighteningly efficient too. Tony felt like he could improve most things, but this little pepper shaker felt completely out of reach to him, despite how he currently held it in his hands.

"Ms. Potts," Steve said after he saw the shaker.

"Potts?" Tony asked, feeling frustrated as he found a connection but the name didn't sound familiar at all. Shouldn't he feel some recognition towards the name?

"Virginia Potts, the CEO of Stark Industries, your company," Steve explained, but Tony felt nothing from the information. "You call her Pepper," he added as an afterthought.

Pepper Potts. Still nothing. He'd felt an automatic reaction to the name Howard, so why not Pepper or Hogan? He felt far better with the boxing ring and the pepper shaker than the Castle. It was a riddle without an answer, and Tony couldn't help but feel some sympathy for Alice, even if he didn't know who Alice was.

He opened the pepper shaker, peering inside. No actual pepper or door mice, but it didn't feel empty like the mansion had. "Who is she to Tony?" he asked, wishing he knew.

"When I asked Agent Barton about it, he said you two were... I think the phrase was 'Facebook complicated'," Steve said, looking just as perplexed as Tony felt. There's that phrase again, Facebook complicated. Tony apparently needed to ask someone more up to date than Captain America about it. "I'm not really sure what that meant, but Agent Romanov said you were both in an on-again, off-again sort of relationship. But you both seem to care a lot about each other."

"Undefined," Tony muttered to himself, though that explained contradictory unreachable feelings and why he didn't want to let it go. "Also, why was I expecting to find a door mouse in here? And who's Alice?"

"You're thinking of the teapot," Steve said with a small smile. "And it's from a book called Alice in Wonderland."

"Another quote then," Tony said absently, running his fingers along the smooth and elegant sides of the pepper shaker.

"Why don't you take it with us?" Steve suggested, touching Tony's shoulder again like he couldn't help it. "That way we can keep moving, because I don't think Ms. Potts would forgive me if we don't get you out of here. We've got a time limit to beat."

"You shouldn't beat time. 'He won't stand beating'," Tony said, wishing for a moment that she were here instead of Captain America. But on second thought, he really didn't think he could bear if if she was killed by this place as well. Maybe it was better just to have a reminder. Like the taser, this was one he could take with him. "Yeah, that sounds great. Good plan, Cap."

He gave the table one last look before standing and tucking the pepper shaker into his pocket. He hoped it would be more secure than the taser had been. "How do we know we're going the right way?" Tony asked. The building was not giving any sign of directing them westward.

"I reckon whatever direction you pick will be right, so long as you want to get to the Shadows," Steve said, and wasn't that the most comforting thought? Actually, no, it wasn't. Tony hated this place.

They passed through several more rooms, some blank, some filled with machinery and wires. Neither of them stopped to look too closely. Tony, because he knew it was something his hyper-active mind had come up with in downtime, and Steve because it made no sense to him. Finally, they came to a bigger room that was full of mirrors.

"That's... a lot of them," Steve said, looking around with wide eyes. 'It's almost like a fun house."

"There's nothing fun about it," Tony snapped. The brief hug he received in response didn't help his temper any. Though he much preferred the hug to watching Steve step out into all those mirrors and having thousands of Captain Americas gesturing him to come forward.

"It's not so bad," Steve said as Tony took a hesitant step out. He kept his eyes on the real Steve as he tried to avoid the dizzying effect of his own reflections. "Here, take my hand so we don't get separated," Steve said.

The first hand Tony reached for ended up as a mirror, but Steve reached for him without any problem before he could start to panic, and the squeeze of his fingers was reassuring. Steve tugging him forward only made him feel sick though.

"You can close your eyes if you need to," Steve said. "I think the serum is helping me see the mirrors better without the disorientation."

Tony tensed at the suggestion of walking through this blind, but Steve's thumb on the back of his hand was soothing. Taking a deep breath, Tony let his eyes fall shut. Slowly, the vertigo he'd been feeling started to fade.

After a moment, he felt a tug on his hands and Tony let Steve lead him through the maze of mirrors. They had only been walking for a minute or so when he heard Steve take a sharp breath. "What is it?" Tony asked. He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it.

"There's a body over there," Steve said, his voice strained. "And I think it's Dr. Banner."

~TBC~

Memory: Now I've gotten the obligatory Wonderland quoting out of the way.  I've already mentioned Oz, so I think I should be covered on the must quotes for a fic of this nature.  XD  Though I would like to point out to my beta reader that no matter how hilarious it would have been, this is not Duck Amuck.  Though I really sort of want that now, with Tony Daffy and Steve Bugs Bunny.

This was actually the chapter that convinced me to write this fic.  When I was toying with the idea of it and bemoaning how long it would be, I kept thinking of Natasha as a white swan being torn apart by the Rat King from the Nutcracker, and really, I couldn't resist that.  I'm not sure if that says more about my sadism, or the fact that I've just been in too many ballets.

The next chapter with Bruce, I went with the fairly obvious literary reference, mostly because I couldn't resist.  It might be a little late, depending on how much time I need to recover from this whole Beijing trip, but I'll make sure to get it out some time next week.

Quote of the Chapter: (because Tony totally butchered it in the chapter...)

"Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality."
-Emily Dickinson

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
beizanten
Jun. 3rd, 2013 12:38 am (UTC)
Great story
great story. love all thing symbolize. the comfort food symbolize sex/romantic relationship right, that would explain why the pepper shake is the only thing Tony won't let go. I feel sorry for steve that tony hope pepper is there instead of him but it understandable.

Poor Natasha she won't die but it must have hurt. And love how protective Natasha and steve is. Poor Steve all that guilt and grive for losing his friend and it is so tony to willing to sacrifice himself than leaving his friend. Love how tony comfort steve

Poor Steve, shoving your feeling is not healthy but I can see it as necessary in dire situation love Tony really concern about him. And tony should realize he have some feeling for Steve, getiing increasing worry not feeling the link.

Csan you please tell me what the hallway full with mirror represrent
dragonofmemory
Jun. 4th, 2013 07:37 am (UTC)
Re: Great story
Thanks! Tony's issues with Steve will be up soon, but at the moment he can't help liking Pepper better. XD

I like Protective Natasha. She's something I like to see in fic, so I couldn't resist adding her here. Sadly, she's not the last to die...

The hallway of mirrors is more for Bruce than representing anything. The next chapter explains it more.

Thanks for the comments!
beizanten
Jun. 4th, 2013 08:18 am (UTC)
Re: Great story
Tony feel inferior to steve, jealous beacause his father talk about captain America all the time and search him all his life, he feel like he can't match up to his father idea of superhero. Would love to see how you potray that and most of all I can't wait for how you describe thor. I like all the imaginary and literature you use.

beizanten
Jun. 4th, 2013 08:19 am (UTC)
Re: Great story
Completely understandable, pepper have been the closest thing Tony has for years.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )