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Anthropos Polytropos, Chapter Five

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, even when I've managed to actually confuse her with my word switches this time.  I'm still surprised she didn't catch something was off with 'petting' when I meant 'petty'.  XD  Also, regardless of what she might say, no tea was killed or harmed in the making of this fic.  Also thanks to T. Nielsen Hayden, thelostcity, Chleom, penscritch, EternalSheWolf, and beizanten for leaving comments.  The kudos are always appreciated as well.
Notes:  So that warning about minor self-harm?  That's this chapter.  Tony is not entirely aware of what he's doing and a lot of it is subconscious, but there are mentions of it and one particular instance where he holds something sharp a bit too tight without thinking about it.  Just be aware of that, if that's one of your triggers.  On the plus side, there's plenty of cuddles.  Just in case I didn't already have way too many in this fic...

Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four

~

Chapter Five: The Primitive Duality of Man

Dr. Banner? The name didn't mean a thing to Tony, and all he could see was green in the mirror. It was like the Emerald City, where one needed special glasses to see anything while walking around, and he had to close his eyes again. "Okay, I'll just stay here while you check on him," Tony said, willing his hand not to tense around Steve's and betray what he really thought of that plan.

"I don't want to chance losing track of you here," Steve said. The hand around his squeezed almost too tightly. "We'll keep going as we are."

"But what if he needs help? You'll move faster without me!" Tony said, attempting to pull his hand away, because really, Thirteen was tried and true when it came to his self-preservation instincts. "Just go! I'll be fine."

"Tony..." Steve said warningly.

"I'm not-"

"Not Tony, sorry," Steve finished for him, not sounding particularly sorry at all. Tony wished he could open his eyes long enough to glare. "But this isn't a negotiation. I'm not dealing with an angry Dr. Banner just because I left you behind. Both him and the other guy are way too attached to you."

With that, Tony stumbled forward as Steve pulled on his hand. "Let go!" Tony seethed.

"If you don't stop fighting, I will carry you again."

At that threat, Tony started to walk forward grudgingly. He wasn't sure how his stomach would handle being tossed over Steve's shoulder again. Tony hissed a few minutes later, "Haven't you found him yet?"

"It's... It's hard to tell where he is, with all the Hulks in the mirrors," Steve said, his voice sounding more than a little strained. There was a soft thunk. Steve cursed and muttered about the mirrors. Tony regretted having his eyes closed for that one.

It took five more minutes; Tony stayed silent. Steve seemed to need the concentration, and Tony was through with talking to the bastard after that stunt. But he did take a little bit of pleasure when he heard Steve repeatedly collide into the mirrors.

"I think we found him," Steve said finally, tugging Tony down to the ground. "Don't open your eyes."

It was too late for that, but Tony quickly closed them again. If he weren't mistaken, the reflections had gotten a lot worse. "Is he okay?"

"I..." He heard Steve take a deep breath. "It's hard to tell with all the mirrors, but it feels like he's breathing. He might've been overwhelmed by them."

"We need to get out of here," Tony said, feeling the ground with his free hand. He felt fabric first, then what felt like a shoulder. Tony traced down the arm, relieved to find that Dr. Banner's hand was warm. He was starting to get feelings of disorientation from Steve, so he could only imagine how the mirrors might over power a normal person.

"I need you to grab hold of my belt so I can carry Dr. Banner," Steve said as he guided Tony's hand to the utility belt, making sure Tony's fingers were curled around it before moving away. A rather disappointing grope, but Tony didn't dare tease when he could feel Steve getting worse. Getting out of here first, teasing later. "Don't let go," Steve said.

"So you'll sling me over your shoulder, but Dr. Banner gets the princess treatment?" Tony said. There was no heat to the statement though, and he had Steve's belt in a death grip. Getting lost in this place was not on his to-do list.

"It's hard to tell if he has any injuries. Don't want to jostle him too much." Tony heard shuffling, then Steve stood up and Tony had to scramble to his feet after him. "Ready?" Steve asked.

"Yeah," Tony replied, and they were off again.

Steve's pace was slower this time, but Tony still couldn't keep a mental map of where they were going. There were too many twists and turns for him to follow. Tony felt frustrated, because he should be able to make sense of this mess. Even without being able to see, he should be able to keep track of their movements in his head, but his thoughts were starting to feel foggy and distracted. How much of this feeling was him, or was it Steve's feelings that he was getting from this place?

"Steve..." Tony said after what felt like an eternity.

"I-I think there's a door up ahead," Steve said, his voice hoarse and breathing uneven. Tony felt alarm spike through him, but Steve continued on before he could ask. "I'm okay."

He didn't sound okay, but Tony bit his lip to keep from saying anything that might distract Steve. Instead, he shifted over to grab hold of Steve's belt with his far hand, moving the near one up to rub at the tension in Steve's shoulder blades.

He heard Steve take a shudder-y breath at the contact and Tony stilled his hand, wondering if he was doing something wrong.

"You're fine," Steve said, his voice just above a whisper. Tony didn't know if it was the link or if he'd actually said all of that out loud. "That helped. I-I just... We're getting out, I promise."

That was less of a promise to Tony and more to himself, but Tony didn't comment. He hesitantly resumed the small circles right between Steve's shoulder blades. It wasn't a lot, but he could feel some of the tension ease out of Steve's back.

That didn't stop him from nearly breaking his nose against Steve's back when he stopped suddenly. Was there any part of Captain America that wasn't hard muscle?

"C-can you feel for the doorknob?" Steve asked.

"Yeah. Close your eyes while I reach for it," Tony said, listening for Steve's relieved out rush of breath that signaled he'd complied. Keeping one hand on Steve's belt, he carefully moved around, free hand out in front of him as he felt for the wall. He found it after a few seconds and started looking for the doorknob. Thankfully, it was easy enough to find, and it wasn't long before he was pushing the super-soldier through the door.

Tony pulled the door shut behind him, finally risking a glance around the room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but when he did, he groaned.

"Tony?"

He snapped his head over to Steve at the sound of his voice, the motion making him a little dizzy. But Steve... Christ, how had he not noticed or felt it through the link? Steve was sweating, his shoulders shaking in sharp, uneven breaths. His eyes were still closed as he clutched at Dr. Banner.

"Here, let me - There aren't any more mirrors. Well, there are three, but they're on the other side of the room and you can ignore them. Just - Come on, let me take Dr. Banner. You should sit down." Tony kept talking as he tried to pull Dr. Banner away, but Steve wouldn't let go. "It's okay, Steve. Rest for a bit!"

"No time. Your reactor..." Steve gasped out.

"Still glowing," Tony said, only just remembering he was trying to hold on to Dr. Banner and couldn't tap at it. "And we've got to wait for Dr. Banner to wake up. So just rest for a bit and get your bearings. I'll take care of Dr. Banner."

That finally got a reaction out of Steve. Tony found himself with an armful of Dr. Banner as Steve collapsed to the floor.

Tony looked down at the scruffy-looking man in his arms. His glasses were askew and he was in severe need of a haircut. Scratch that. A severe need of a wardrobe. The baggy look didn't flatter anyone. When he got out of here, he was taking Banner shopping, because that was a crime against nature.

At least he didn't look hurt. Steve, on the other hand, was still having trouble breathing. It almost looked like an asthma attack, but that was ridiculous. The super-soldier serum would have done away with that, but Tony couldn't leave either of them like this.

With a sigh, he set Dr. Banner down and sat next to Steve, pulling Banner into his lap. He made sure their shoulders were touching as he checked Dr. Banner's head for any injury. "Breathe, Cap."

"Banner-"

"-doesn't appear to have a head injury," Tony interrupted, which wasn't hard to do considering Steve could barely get out a two-syllable name even forgoing the title. "Try to match my breathing, alright? We've both right here and we're fine, and you can close your eyes if you're still dizzy."

He had the feeling Steve wanted to argue, but he didn't really have the breath for it. So Tony breathed, making sure his shoulders rose slowly, and checked over the sleeping Dr. Banner in his lap. In different circumstances, this would have been an awesome night. Banner, despite the scruffiness, wasn't too bad on the eyes and you'd have to be blind not to appreciate Captain America. Sadly, he didn't think an awesome threesome would happen any time soon.

At least Steve was calming down, and Tony couldn't say he disliked it when Captain America rested his head against Tony's shoulder. It was sort of a warm, fuzzy feeling that should have given him hives (Twenty-three: He hated feelings, except for warm fuzzy ones?), but for now he could tolerate it.

Finally, Dr. Banner stirred in his lap, groaning softly. "You alright?" Tony asked, feeling oddly anxious over someone he'd just met. There was an undercurrent of feeling that he got from Dr. Banner, but it was too low to tell what it was, other than that it was constant.

"I'm fine, just a little dizzy still," Dr. Banner said, turning to face Tony without moving from his lap. He righted the glasses and then smiled up at him. "Tony. I'm glad you're okay."

The genuine concern on Dr. Banner's face sent another flush of warmth through Tony. He almost forgot to protest his name, but hey, sulking was so much more preferable to acknowledging feelings. "I'm not Tony," he said, feeling like he should be doing something with his hands to help Bruce, but unsure of what.

Dr. Banner blinked at him from behind his glasses. "You look like Tony," he said, glancing over at Steve who started to open his mouth.

"No, you just keep breathing," Tony said, getting a glare for his efforts and not caring. He tapped the side of his own head to draw Dr. Banner's attention. "Tony has memories. He knows you guys. I've got nothing, beyond the occasional quote or two and strong feelings. So I'm not Tony."

"Amnesia," Dr. Banner said thoughtfully. Tony helped him sit up, but Dr. Banner didn't meet his eyes. "That makes sense, if she was trying to turn you against us." He glanced over at Steve, frowning lightly. "Are you alright, Captain?"

Steve nodded against Tony's shoulder. His breathing was still shallow, but his color was much better than it had been. "He navigated the mirror maze," Tony explained. "If it weren't for the serum, I'd say he had some sort of asthma attack by the time we got out."

"I'm feeling better," Steve said, still too breathless. "I'm just not used to it any more. I haven't had an attack since before the serum, so I don't know why..."

"It's this place," Dr. Banner explained, rubbing his temples. "Your body still remembers how it used to react when that sort of stress was put on it. Fighting and other exercise you're used to, but the disorientation probably tricked your mind into reacting the way your body used to."

"So it's another reason this place sucks?" Tony asked, glad for once that it wasn't a personal reason for him this time.

"That's one way of putting it," Dr. Banner said dryly.

"So then, Dr. Banner, you're part of this... team or whatever we're calling ourselves?" Tony asked.

"The Avengers. And the Other Guy is." Dr. Banner had a small, self-depreciating smile that Tony felt didn't do the good doctor justice. "And you call me Bruce. You haven't called me Dr. Banner since you offered me a ride after seeing Thor and Loki off."

Bruce. Brucie. Snookums. Cookie, short for Cookie Monster, which seemed to have a story behind it that he couldn't remember. And... there were more names, but Tony felt like he was missing some bit of important information to be able to access them. "I think you should be. On the team, I mean. I like you," Tony said, surprised at the admission and the feeling. Bruce was bound to have way more qualifications to be on a team like this than Tony did.

That got a small laugh out of Bruce, which was a nice sound. Tony got the feeling Bruce didn't laugh near as often as he should, which totally wasn't cool. It should be against the law that Bruce didn't laugh enough. Him and Steve. What was it with this team being sour pusses? "I don't have a lot to offer the team as me," Bruce replied.

"You're a doctor, right?" Tony said, feeling offended on Bruce's behalf, since that was unacceptable. "I bet you can do all sorts of doctor-y things."

"I'm not really that kind of doctor," Bruce said, but he looked like he was giving in.

"Tony's right," Steve added over Tony's insistence that of course he was right, and don't call him that. "You do a lot for the team in both forms, Dr. Banner."

"Both forms?" Tony regretted asking when Bruce stiffened. He'd been tense since he woke up, but the conversation had been relaxing him slowly. Now they were back at square one.

"The Other Guy. You don't want to meet him," Bruce said, then continued on before Tony could protest. "If you don't want to be called Tony, what should we call you?"

There was still no good answer for that. "I don't have a clue," Tony said, an edge of frustration in his voice. He looked down at Steve with a glare. "You might as well call me Teddy, since I'm apparently everyone's personal teddy-bear."

Steve did not grace that with any response other than to cuddle closer. Bastard. "See what I put up with?" Tony asked.

"I'm sure you're very cuddly," Bruce said.

"That's slander. I'll sue," Tony shot back just as Steve said "Very cozy." Steve's breath ghosted against Tony's neck in a manner that sent shivers down his spine, which was just not cool. "You should try it too," Steve added unhelpfully.

So not cool. "Oh, so you'll answer him, but not me?" Tony asked, poking Steve in the ribs. Or tried to, before Tony realized he'd have better luck breaking his finger against the abs of steel. Not fair. "I am not cuddly. I don't know where you're coming up with this faulty hypothesis, but it is completely unfounded and the theory isn't - Hey! What? Bruce!"

"I'm testing the data. Captain Rogers's hypothesis is correct," Bruce said, snuggled up to Tony's other side. "You are comfy."

"Am not. You're just agreeing with him because it's annoying," Tony said, freezing slightly. Once again, unsure of how to react. Steve was pretty much a snuggle bug (that's going on Cap's list of names), taking cuddles regardless of Tony knowing what to do. But Bruce's arm around his back pulled Tony closer and left him with no idea what to do with his own hands.

"You can keep them in your lap, or you can wrap your arm around my back. It's okay for you to lean into the hug too," Bruce said softly.

"How do you guys know this?" Tony asked, wondering if he was some how defective, not being a natural at hugging like everyone else. Even Natasha had known what to do, and she was just like Tony.

"Before she... My mother used to give me a lot of hugs," Bruce explained. Tony heard what he didn't say though, about how Bruce's father had... Bruce was suddenly focusing on his adoptive parents, but Tony knew. He hesitantly hugged Bruce tighter, hoping that was the correct response. Bruce smiled at him, even though it didn't meet his eyes.

"My mother also hugged me a lot when I was little," Steve said, sounding a lot better than he had previously.

So following that formula... well, there was no question how his own father had stood on the grounds of the whole “hugging” thing, after seeing that Castle. His mother though, Tony thought back to the mansion that felt so empty. He didn't feel any strong memories at the thought of his mother. Like she wasn't ever really there. Forty-two, no, there was something special about that number. It was the answer to life, the universe, and everything, or something like that. That's a crappy bullet for Forty-two. Forty-three: He wasn't hugged very often by his parents. That felt like it should be a sad thing, shouldn't it? Tony didn't know, but he could feel both Bruce and Steve tightening their grip around him.

Finally, Steve let go. Tony looked up as Steve stood, motioning for Tony and Bruce to stay as they were. "I'm going to see if we're heading in the right direction," Steve said.

"We can't split up!" Tony said immediately, panic rising. Natasha and Clint were dead. If something else attacked or they lost Steve... But he didn't like St... Cap, right? It shouldn't matter. "You've just calmed down. You have to stay."

"Tony's right," Bruce said, growling softly as he tugged Tony closer with a wave of protectiveness. Which, hey, awesome. Someone was agreeing with Tony for once. He knew there was a reason he liked Bruce. "This place has a different kind of logic to it. We can come with you. There's no reason to stay behind."

"Tony's back was hurt when..." Steve's eyes went blank, and for a moment Tony could feel him pulling away again. It was disturbingly close to the feeling when he knew Clint and Natasha had died. Tony bit down on his terror, as Bruce let go of him to pull up the back of his shirt. Which should have been in shreds, but was somehow magically whole again.

Tony hated this place.

"I'm fine, and I thought you weren't that kind of doctor. And you, you can't leave!" Tony said, the former to Bruce, the latter aimed at Steve.

"The wound stayed?" Bruce asked, unwinding the medical wrap.

"It still hurt him earlier," Steve said. "It seems to fade in and out, mostly when he's hurting from other things."

Bruce muttered something about not believing Tony was that poetic before touching Tony's shoulder gently. Tony flinched as the pain flared up as Bruce started to unwrap the bandages. "Go. I'll take a look at Tony's back."

"You can't-"

"Fifteen minutes, Tony," Steve said, loosening some of the grip he had on his emotions and letting Tony feel some of the hurt and the need to do something productive. "I just... come after me in fifteen minutes if I'm still not back. I won't go far, and I won't shut off like that."

"Stop calling me that," Tony said, looking down.

"Sorry," Steve said, and this time when he moved away, Tony didn't stop him. "Fifteen minutes, I promise."

"Relax. He’ll be fine," Bruce said.

Steve glanced at the mirrors as he walked by, before moving quickly to the door at the end of the room. Tony wasn't sure he wanted Steve wandering around by himself in this place. It was an unnerving feeling, but he was distracted from it by a sharp intake of breath from behind him as his back was bared.

"These are deep," Bruce said, his fingers tracing along the four identical lines. It made Tony shiver lightly as he forced himself not to move. "In fact, I'm surprised you're still able to walk around."

"It stopped bleeding," Tony said defensively, attempting to look over his shoulder to see. It was a fruitless endeavor.

"Which is lucky, because you'd have bled out within an hour," Bruce replied with a sigh. "These wounds are impossible."

"I hate this place," Tony whined, glad when Bruce started replacing the bandage. He didn't like being that exposed.

"You'd be dead in the outside world, so I can't agree with the sentiment at the moment," Bruce said.

The outside world. Tony thought over the phrasing carefully as he pulled his shirt back down. The reactor was getting dimmer and less likely to draw people's attention from the scars. Not that Bruce hadn't just seen the mess on his back, but Bruce didn't seem like the type to be easily scared away by scars. Maybe that was why Tony liked him.

"So this 'Other Guy', is he-" Tony started, stopping when he saw Bruce sigh.

"I should have known you'd pick at that, even without memories," Bruce muttered. Had Tony done something wrong? But Bruce smiled, taking away some of the accusation. "It's not wrong, but I don't like talking about the Other Guy much. He... comes out when I lose my temper, and he's dangerous."

Dangerous? Tony didn't feel any sort of danger coming from Bruce, though now he could pin that undercurrent of emotion. Anger. "So you can't control him?" Tony asked, because while he didn't feel either fear or danger, he could tell that Bruce was uneasy.

"No, I can't," Bruce admitted, and the anger flared slightly as he did, like he was angry with himself for it.

"So it's a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing?" Tony asked, a quote coming unbidden. "'I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousnesses, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.'"

Bruce flinched, and maybe that was the wrong thing to say. "But you're more calm and angry, not good and amoral," Tony clarified. Not helping, he realized. "So what does he look like? I promise I won't quote any more. Just don't say he's not easy to describe, because he doesn't seem displeasing or unlikable or-"

"It's alright, Tony. You really do have a knack for quotes though. I should have expected Jekyll and Hyde references," Bruce said, carefully hugging Tony. He looked over at the mirrors up against the other side of the room with a thoughtful expression, though Tony could feel a touch of fear underlying the anger in Bruce's thoughts. "You want to know what he looks like?"

That was a loaded question if Tony ever heard one. It was a test of some sort, though Tony couldn't remember why. Whatever this was, Tony couldn't fail this test. It's good he's a genius then. "Yeah, I'd like to know. What does a big rage monster look like?" Tony asked confidently.

Bruce tensed, but he nodded, getting to his feet. He offered Tony a hand up, then looked over at the mirrors on the wall. "There weren't that many in the last room at first. I could avoid them easily enough. But the longer I didn't look, the more they started to appear."

"I'm sorry," Tony said, his good humor leaving him as he looked down.

"What are you apologizing for?" Bruce asked. He'd been walking towards the mirror, but he paused and came back to Tony, confusion on his face.

"This place is my fault, right?" Tony said, gesturing to the room. "It's keyed to me somehow. So those mirrors have to be something I've done."

Bruce took off his glasses, hming softly as he cleaned them. "That makes sense. You're always trying to get me to understand the Other Guy more, and your instincts kept adding more mirrors without realizing the effect it would have. Also, it kept me in one place, so I wouldn't be able to wander around and explore, which I don't think any of us would blame you for."

So it really was Tony's fault. This place was - "You were only trying to help," Bruce said, cutting through the guilt. "And I'm fine now. See? The mirrors aren't multiplying any more. Instincts aren't rational. I know that better than anyone."

Bruce wasn't lying, and it didn't feel like he blamed Tony, but that didn't mean it still wasn't - "Tony, look at me. It's not your fault. I know it wasn't deliberate, because you wouldn't hurt me, not on purpose. You're one of the first people I've trusted in a long time, and I didn't have to come here to know the truth of that."

"Why does this feel like déjà vu?" Tony asked suddenly, hating the feeling that this was familiar without knowing why on top of all of the guilt.

Bruce looked at him in surprise before laughing softly. "That's because you're usually the one telling me that," Bruce explained with a rueful smile. "Though the Other Guy really is deliberate with his destruction sometimes."

So, hey, more proof Tony wasn't ashamed of being a hypocrite for Nineteen. He was almost tempted to separate 'Being petty' and 'Hypocritical' into their own numbers at this point. But Bruce was apparently just as bad, so maybe it wasn't as much of a fault as he thought. It didn't stop the guilt, but at least they could be broken together.

Tony looked over at the mirrors warily, not wanting to see his own reflection. More hypocrisy, if Tony really had been trying to get Bruce to see his own reflection. Curiosity at seeing the 'Other Guy' won out in the end. Forty-four. Tony had more than enough data compiled to make that Forty-four. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

He walked up to the closest mirror, looking behind it for any tricks. Just an ordinary mirror, no different from the other three lined up in the room. He wasn't entirely sure how this would show him the Other Guy, but Tony refused to put that down to magic being useful for once. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the angriest of them all?"

When Bruce walked up to the mirror, it wasn't a slight, unassuming man reflected back. It was... wow. Big, green, and mean. "It's not easy being green, huh?" Tony asked.

"I see it's not limited to literary quotes," Bruce muttered, and his reflection growled. Those were a lot of muscles. And teeth. Tony would hate to get in between those teeth.

"Easy, big guy," Tony said. He reached up to the mirror and patted the reflection, wishing he could actually touch it. "So that's the Hulk? How does all that mass appear? That's against the laws of physics. And what about the green skin? I don't even know where to start on-"

"You're really not afraid of him, are you?" Bruce interrupted.

Something about Bruce's tone of voice made Tony look away from the Hulk to Bruce, and for a disconcerting moment, he was unable to tell which was the reflection. When Bruce was finally in focus, Tony saw the anger and surprise on his face. "Should I be?" Tony asked with honest confusion. "I mean, sure, he looks like he's got some anger management issues and could put me through a building, but there's nothing wrong with that. I'm sure everyone wants to destroy things sometimes. Besides, he's on our side, right? So we just need to point him at the bad guys and everything should be fine."

"I destroyed Harlem, among other things," Bruce growled.

Tony looked back at the green rage monster in the mirror, this time embracing the feelings he got with no effort to keep them from the link. "But that doesn't happen anymore, right?" he asked, smiling fondly at the reflection. "I may not have any memories, but I've got a lot of Tony's feelings toward things. Like towards Cap and D... and Howard. I hated both of them, but you're the first person I've liked on the spot. I'm pretty sure I'm not afraid of the Hulk either. I feel... safe. Like he's got my back. Both of you do."

"You aren't lying," Bruce said, anger giving way to shock. "You're really telling the truth."

Tony fidgeted, tapping the arc reactor as he took in Bruce's disbelief. The Hulk in the mirror almost seemed to be smiling smugly. "Why would I be?" Tony asked, wondering if he had a habit of lying. That seemed plausible, though he didn't have enough data for a number and he couldn't think of why he would lie in this case.

"I thought..." Bruce said, and Tony understood. Bruce had been on the run for so long and everyone feared the Hulk. Betty had been the only one to look past the fear, but Tony had no fear at all. It was just too much for Bruce to completely soak in.

"It's true," Tony repeated with a shrug.

Bruce closed his eyes, a cascade of emotions washing over him, flowing with the ever present undercurrent of anger. Except now the majority of that anger was directed inward. "Are you okay?" Tony asked, wondering if he should try reaching out. Where was Captain Cuddles when you needed him?

Bruce nodded, despite the fact he was shaking. He already had so many problems, and he didn't need Tony on top of that. Besides, Tony liked Bruce. If Bruce found out about the things Tony tried to hide... Tony wasn't sure he could handle that. Especially not if, like Clint and Natasha, Bruce ended up... He'd already hurt Bruce enough with the mirrors.

Carefully screening his thoughts, Tony ignored the feeling screaming that this was a terrible idea and looked over the mirror. If he were right about this place, he should be able to... Tony reached out to touch the reflection, the mirror rippling like water under his fingers. "Tony, what are you doing?" Bruce asked, regaining some control over his emotions.

"The mirror is reacting strangely," Tony said, pretending this was a puzzle to solve. "It's like it's fluid now."

Bruce reached out to touch the mirror hesitantly, his hand making ripples as well. The plan would work then. "What does it feel like on the other side?" Tony asked as Bruce pushed his hand in deeper.

"There's just air," Bruce replied, moving to pull his hand back, but the mirror refused to let him. "I'm stuck," he said with a slight frown.

It was safer this way, Tony reminded himself over the instincts that were screaming at him to stop now, while he still could. He wouldn't let Bruce get hurt like the others. Tony breathed in, then pushed Bruce forward the rest of the way into the mirror. "Through the looking glass," Tony said over Bruce's startled yelp.

The Hulk roared as Bruce stumbled on the other side. Bruce turned around quickly, pounding at the now solid glass. "Tony, what are you doing?" Bruce yelled, betrayal mixing with anger.

"I'm not him," Tony said, putting a hand up to the now solid glass. "Tony would never have killed Clint and Natasha. I did. Guess that's one thing I like better about Tony, which I didn't think was possible."

"You are him, Tony," Bruce said desperately. "You didn't kill them, and it wasn't your fault that-"

'It is my fault," Tony repeated. "But I'm not letting that happen again. Not to you."

"You're trying to protect me," Bruce said, eyes narrowing. "And yourself. Tony, this is a cage! You don't have to do this! We knew what we were getting into by coming here, and nothing will change the fact that you're our friend."

"I think killing someone puts a bit of a strain on any relationship," Tony said dryly, trying to contain his panic at Bruce's words. He couldn't react to that. That's why Clint and Natasha...

"Tony, we're not going to abandon you just because we've learned something you've tried to hide from us!" Bruce growled again, his voice sounding thicker in what Tony assumed was closer to the Hulk's voice. The Hulk roared as well, and he could feel both of their fury, currently aimed at him.

But that didn't change the facts. Everyone leaves in the end. Tony wouldn't surround himself with anyone who couldn't get out of a bad situation. His friends had to be strong enough to break away when the worst happened, so that Tony wouldn't drag them down too.

"Tony..."

Bruce had heard all of that.

Tony realized it was too late when the floor started to tremble. "No!" Tony yelled, grabbing the mirror. He steadied it desperately as the trembling got worse. The other mirrors shattered loudly around them. "You have to get out of there!"

"The mirror is still hard," Bruce said, pounding from the other side.

Tony tried to grab Bruce's hand through the mirror, but it wouldn't go through. Biting down his panic, Tony concentrated on making the mirror fluid, but when he pounded at it again, it was still hard. "It's not-"

The mirror nearly slipped through his hands and Tony scrambled for a better grip. "I'm going to put the mirror on the ground," Tony said as he stumbled against the wall. He hissed in pain as his shoulder struck it harshly.

"Tony, get to a doorway," Bruce said. "It'll be safer-"

"I'm not leaving you! Clint and Natasha are already..." Tony shook his head, trying to get the mirror turned around without dropping it or falling flat on his ass. The earthquake was getting worse. It had to be a five pointer by now.

"Tony, you're the only one in danger here. If you die, there's no coming back." He heard the furious roar of the Hulk in the background as he tried to wrestle with the mirror again. "And the Other Guy's not going to forgive either of us if that happens."

"I can't-"

"You can," Bruce growled. "You have to survive, Tony. Promise me."

"You have to be around to make me keep-" The ground rocked violently, sending Tony flying across the room. He held the mirror against him, throwing his body underneath it to cushion the fall. The breath was knocked out of him as he hit the floor, but he still heard the crack of the mirror shattering.

The quake gave one last tremble, then stopped, leaving Tony nothing but the sound of his own labored breathing.

Ignoring the pain in his ribs, Tony crawled out from under the broken glass from the mirror, already knowing what he would find. It was in pieces around him, with no sign of Bruce or the Hulk in the fragments. He couldn't feel Bruce anymore, just like it was when Clint and Natasha had died.

Tony picked up one of the fragments, finding red, not green, reflecting on his hands. He didn't know how long he sat there, staring at the broken glass. He eventually became aware of a loud banging at the far door, but it took him a few moments to assign a meaning to it. Steve.

Without looking up, Tony opened the door with a thought. Steve came tumbling in with a yelp, but he quickly regained his balance and spotted Tony. At least, Tony assumed that was what the small gasp meant. Tony was still staring at the mirror, and he didn't dare stop looking for bits of green in the red.

He heard Steve walk closer, kneeling down beside the broken mirror. "Tony," he said, his voice choked.

"Out flew the web and floated wide," Tony recited. "The mirror cracked from side to side. 'The doom has come upon me,' cried the Lady of Shallot."

"Tony, where's Dr. Banner?" Steve asked, brushing his fingers over Tony's wet cheeks, but he barely felt it.

"Dead."

Steve's fingers stilled, and he heard Steve swallow. "What happened?"

"He was in the mirror. I put him there to keep him safe."

"Why don't you put down that shard?" Steve suggested.

Tony didn't answer, staring down at the mesmerizing red on his hands. "Tony, please," Steve said, red gloves moving down to join Tony's hands around the shard. "Let me have the glass. You're hurting yourself."

It took a little more coaxing, but Tony finally released the bloody shard, catching a glimpse of a small, frail man with Steve's eyes in the reflection as Steve put it down with the rest of the broken mirror. "Let me try to clean your hands," Steve said as he took off the gloves.

"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand," Tony said, but he let Steve dab at the cut with a cloth from his utility belt. Once he'd cleaned the cut, Steve wrapped his hands tightly with a medical wrap. Not all of the blood was cleared away, but Tony didn't think that was possible anyway. His hands had been stained long before he'd cut himself on the glass. That counted for Forty-five, didn't it?

"It's not your fault," Steve said, holding Tony's hands gently. He resumed his attempts to clean them. Tony must have said that out loud.

"Is that why your gloves are red too?" Tony asked.

Steve didn't answer.

Even Steve had to admit defeat against the stain eventually, though Tony could feel the frustration rolling off of him. "I'm sorry," Steve said finally. "You were right. We shouldn't have split up. I shouldn't have left. I didn't even find anything, and I couldn't get here in time."

Tony flinched away as Steve pulled him closer. He didn't want to leave the mirror.

"I'm sorry," Steve repeated, sounding more broken.

"It's not your fault," Tony said.

Steve shook his head, letting out a bitter laugh. "I'd believe that more if you believed it yourself."

Tony didn't respond, but he let Steve hug him this time so long as he wasn't pulled too far from the broken mirror. He wondered absently if seven years bad luck counted in a place like this. Even if it didn't, Tony figured killing everyone who was trying to help him was pretty bad karma anyway. The only one he hadn't killed was Steve. Steven Rogers. Captain America. A childhood hero who should be dead. The one person who could save him. It was a nice fantasy.

It was a pity that it wasn't true.

"Tony?" Steve... Cap asked as Tony stood up and wiped away the remainder of his tears.

"Time to go, Cap," Tony said, looking down at the arc reactor. It was barely visible from under his shirt, a faint glow where it had once shone through.

Cap immediately jumped to his feet, reaching out to touch the reactor before pulling back as Tony flinched. "The reactor..."

"It's fading," Tony admitted. Logically, he should be feeling his heart failing as the reactor lost power. The electromagnet should be getting weaker. But Tony only felt pain from his back and hands, and even those were a dull ache. Fairly fitting, that he felt nothing from his chest. Bruce had never been the real monster here.

"Tony, are you..."

"Doesn't matter." Tony being okay had no bearing on the situation. They had to get moving.

"It does matter!" Cap touched his arm, and Tony made himself stay still instead of flinching away again. "Tony, the others... They're okay. They have to be."

"Because they're on the outside?"

"Yeah, they're on the outside," Cap said it as if he were clinging to the thought like a life line. Not exactly glowing with confidence.

"And how did you get here exactly?" Tony asked, changing tactics to keep Cap off balance.

"Thor..." Cap hesitated over the words, like he hadn't fully understood it. "Thor got some sort of fruit from Asgard that he said would let us enter the - enter this place."

"Enter the dreamscape, you mean," Tony finished for him, gleaning the information from Cap's thoughts.

Cap flushed, then sighed. "You weren't supposed to know that."

"This is a dreamscape, one that reacts to my emotions and thoughts," Tony said, putting more distance between them. "It creates things based off the memories slipping through the cracks We're in here, versus being on the outside world-"

"Tony, you shouldn't-"

"We're in my mind, aren't we?"

Cap was silent for a moment, debating if he'd get caught in a lie. Then he nodded. "Yeah, we are. You're in a coma in the real world."

"So if the team dies in here, they'll just wake up. While if I die, that's it. Brain dead. Kaput."

"That's what Thor said," Cap replied. "We'd just snap back."

Which meant Clint, Natasha, and Bruce were probably okay in the outside world, though probably with more trauma than they'd entered with. That was good. Hopefully his team would be safe.

He looked back at Captain America, then to the changed scenery. They were in a coliseum, empty and ancient with packed dirt on the ground that kicked up dust in the wind, but exactly what he needed.

"Tony?" Cap asked.

"See, here's the thing," Tony said conversationally as he glanced over the weapons against the wall. "All of the others were completely unknown to me, even though I had some emotions to go with it. Which means they're probably real, rather than figments of my imagination. Of course, I've really got no way to prove that, but the fact my self-preservation instincts kicked in when they got too close - which, hey, number Thirteen: They may be low, but I do actually have them - lends plausibility to this theory. But you, you've never pushed passed that boundary. Now why is that?"

"I... don't know," Cap said.

Tony took in Cap's baffled expression and smiled. "It means you're probably not real, maybe you're even part of those survival instincts because of how you've kept me from dying. Captain America died in World War II. There's no way you could be here now."

Cap froze, his eyes widening. "Tony that's not... Natasha told you about the ice! The others all recognized me!"

"Yeah, Natasha probably warned the others about the weird things they might see in here, given how you were all set against me figuring out where I was," Tony said.

"The ice-"

"Come on, not even the super-serum could do that," Tony said, shaking his head. "I wouldn't put it past Natasha to lie on the spot like that. Out of all of you, she's the only one who might have managed to lie in here."

Cap considered Tony for a moment, obviously going over his options. "Is that the only evidence you have? It sounds like you're just twisting the facts to suit you."

Tony snorted. "Should be enough on its own. But you were the first to find me, when everyone else was isolated so that they wouldn't be able to search too deeply into my mind. You also convinced me to leave."

"Then what does that mean to you?" Cap asked cautiously. "If that's true, what are you going to do about it?"

"This isn't a fairy tale, Cuddle-bug," Tony said with a shrug. "I don't need to be saved. You're obsolete."

Cap flinched at the last word, taking a step back. He closed his eyes, then took a deep breath before answering. "I can still help. I'm not just a figment of your imagination, Tony."

"Don't call me that," Tony said, walking over to the line of spears and swords. As far as he knew, he didn't have experience with any of the weapons. A more modern setting probably would have been more helpful, but he couldn't chance trying to change things without Amora meddling again. He pulled out a sword, sharp and heavy in his grip, but comforting. Forty-six: There wasn't a weapon made that wouldn't yield to Tony Stark.

He held it in front of him, falling into a defensive position he wasn't sure how he knew. "I don't need anyone to save me, Cap," he said. "Which means it's time for you to disappear. Now, are you going to go quietly or do I have to make you?"

~TBC~

Memory:  I would like to point out at this time that I did, in fact, use more poetry.  I forgot about Tennyson.  Which is silly, because I've even quoted that particular line in a different fic before, but hey.  It'd been a while since I've looked at this chapter.  Also, congrats to those of you who guessed they were in Tony's mind.  I suppose I could have been a bit more subtle about that, but ah, well.  Unfortunately, Natasha was actually right in trying to keep the information from him.  I suppose we'll have to see what happens with the next chapter.

Anyway, quote of the chapter:

"It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil."
-Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
beizanten
Jun. 10th, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
amazing
The story just get beeter and better, epic and intriguing, I waited for the continueing everyday. They are very IC and deep. Is Tony mother really never there. Sorry, I am planning to start writing Tony/Steve but they don't really tell about tony past in full detail especially about his mother, Maria.

Love the interaction, It is so tony to thought about threesome. Not that bad on the eyes. I think Bruce is handsome enough. Love that He put bruce on his lab and Steve put his head on his shoulder. Awww, I want a threesome with this pairing. And the 'you might as well call me Teddie' and they both snuggle to him is just so cute. Awwww, poor tony his parent neglect him.

Love that Tony show that he is not at all afraid of the hulk. Very moving make me want a Tony/bruce romance. Then of course tony have to do the wrong thing and put Bruce in the mirror to protect him. Poor tony, keep blaming himself. Love the Lady Macbeth quote 'Even all the perfume of Arabia can't sweeten this lithe hand' my favourite quote from my fav character.

And Tony excuse Steve as imaginary is kinda logical especially since he just remember his guilt about the weapon he make before iron man, and prefet to die. oor guy, Steve would have to save him and I believe a large part of Tony want Steve to save him. In the comic Tony said 'Steve is his rudder. That he don't know if he could do it without him. He might not do it as well' Steve trust give his strength.

I would love to see those two battle though
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )