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Anthropos Polytropos, Chapter Six

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 if I wasn't overly happy this chapter.  Also thanks to Redrikki, EternalSheWolf, traversability, penscritch, Wr3n, Salmastryon, beizanten, Teyke, Chleom, iBlameGlobalWarming, Wildmage+of+galla, and RacquelDee for reviewing and all the kudos.
Notes:  Why is this chapter so short and there's suddenly nine instead of eight chapters total?  Blame my beta reader.  While I am not overly happy with splitting this chapter and making it and the next one so short, Nar argued for it and this didn't seem to be enough to fight her over.  So you get two short chapters rather than one normal length chapter.  Hopefully the sword fight will be forth it.  And yes, Whitman was clichéd to use, but really, I don't have the will power to resist that sort of thing.


Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five

~

Chapter Six: Where on the deck my Captain lies


"Tony, I'm pretty sure you don't know how to use that," Cap said skeptically.

"It's a sword. Angles and pressure, plus agility," Tony replied. "We're not in the real world and my body doesn't react the way it should normally. Given my penchant for quotes, I'm willing to bet I've seen a few action movies when I was younger. I've seen it used, so I can try to replicate it here. Really, it comes down to your will against mine, and I think I'm going to win this one."

"Why would you choose someone you hated to protect you?" Cap asked, eying the sword.

"Well, I've never liked my self-preservation that much. It even got an unlucky number," Tony said with a shrug. He lunged forward with a feint as Cap stepped back, a look of surprise on his face. "Maybe this is revenge for that?"

"I can help," Cap said, finally understanding Tony was serious. "You don't have to do this, Tony. Let me-"

"No can do, Cap," Tony said. He brought the sword down in a straight cut, putting all of his weight behind it. There was a loud clang as the sword struck the shield, and Cap took a step back. "I've got a good guess at what the shadows are, and no one gets to see that. You can't save me from myself."

Tony leaned on his back leg before pushing forward again, this time aiming for Cap's side when the shield blocked him again. He pushed back, then lower, until Cap had to dance out of the way to avoid getting his legs cut off. "I don't want to hurt you!" Cap said desperately.

"Yeah, that'd be counter-productive if you are a figment of my self-preservation," Tony replied, not even feeling winded. Cap looked like he was feeling a little out of breath though, and Tony kept attacking. Tony pressed his advantage.

Tony didn't have time to wear Cap down, however. The arc reactor was barely giving off any light. He needed to get Cap to lose the shield before this dragged on for much longer.

"Tony, stop this!" Cap pleaded gain.

"I'm not Tony," he repeated, sliding the blade up the shield with a screech. The move never would have worked in the real world. Cap was too fast and much, much stronger, but here? Here it was a battle of wills, and while Tony had no problem going full throttle, Cap was unwilling to fight. The sword slipped over the shield, and Tony put all of his weight behind the blow to Cap's arm with the flat of the blade.

Cap cried out in pain as Tony heard a sickening crack. His shield arm fell limp against his side, and Tony wasted no time raising the sword to Cap's throat. He calculated the quickest and least painful way to end this, because Cap deserved that much at least. He wondered what the crowd would think, if there had been one. Thumbs down or thumbs up, living or dying on the whim of the public. That was a far more familiar sensation than Tony would like to admit.

"Tony..." Cap gasped. He stood still, not even clutching at his broken shield arm. "Don't do this."

"You'll be safer on the outside if you actually exist," Tony replied, really wishing for some kind of firearm. There was too much of a chance he'd screw up with a sword, and he didn't want to hurt Cap. He was really starting to wonder why his brain went so low tech. He blamed his reading habits. Obviously, he needed to be reading more science fiction.

Cap closed his eyes, swallowing heavily. "Okay. That's... Take my shield with you after... You don't have your armor, but the shield should help protect you against Amora."

"I can't take-"

"Promise me you'll take it," Cap ordered.

Tony gaped at him, forcing his arm to remain steady. "I'm trying to kill you, and you want me to take your damn shield for protection?"

"You want to protect me," Cap said, opening his eyes and staring back at Tony with a calm gaze. "We won't leave you no matter what we see here. You're a good man, Tony. Even when you're in the most danger, you're still trying to protect us."

"Now, see, why do I not believe that, 'specially coming from you? Wait, okay, really, why especially coming from you?" Tony asked, anger slipping from his voice as confusion set in. "Is that a thing? Why is that a thing?"

"No offense to Thor, but sometimes I really hate his brother," Cap muttered under his breath. He sighed, a look of guilt and wistfulness on his face. "We didn't start off on the right foot. I'd just woken up and you were... I guess you hating me for whatever reason didn't help. We both said some things we shouldn't have, and Loki's staff amplified our reactions to make things even worse. But now... I know we aren't exactly friends yet, but I'd like to be. You are a good man, Tony. Worth the time I didn't spend trying to get to know you like I should have when we first met."

Tony's arms were trembling as he held the sword up against Cap's throat, and he had to stop himself from taking a step back. He didn't want to listen to this. Number Twenty-three still applied. "Let me help, Tony," Steve pleaded. "I don't want my blood on your hands any more than you do, and nothing I see in here will make me abandon you like I did before I knew you."

"I'm not Tony!" he shouted, shaking his head. "I don't have-"

"No, you don't have his memories," Steve said, his words soft and gentle, but still managing to carry over Tony's frantic ones. "But you're still Tony where it matters the most. Under all that bluster and talk, you're one of the most selfless men I've ever met. You've worked endlessly on rebuilding New York-"

"Which I don't remember doing. And I doubt you were all to blame in whatever happened when we first met!" That seemed like a safe topic, picking at old wounds rather than whatever Steve was trying to say right now. Anger was better than panic.

"No, I wasn't. But you're doing it again, trying to take my portion of the blame. And maybe you don't remember helping out the city, but you do remember pushing Clint aside when that whale attacked," Steve said, not letting Tony change the topic. "You tried to save Natasha and Dr. Banner from things that tried to hurt them. You took out the arc reactor to save me from the Hydra, and I know you knew how that would affect you before you did it."

Tony shook his head again, trying to clear it. It just made his throat tighter. "But I killed all of them. I didn't save them."

"You protected us," Steve said, bringing his good hand up to put a gentle pressure on the sword still pointed at his neck. "Even me, someone you don't even like. You didn't let me in when you were trying to save Dr. Banner because of how I reacted to losing Clint and Natasha, trying to take all the blame yourself. You're still Tony Stark, and Tony Stark is someone I'm proud to know. You are a good man, no matter how much you've fooled yourself and everyone else into thinking otherwise."

Tony blamed the sudden twist in his chest on the fading arc reactor. His arms buckled under the strain of the sword, lowering it until the tip scraped against the dusty ground of the coliseum. If he were honest with himself, this had been the foregone conclusion ever since he first dropped 'Cap' for the man's given name. "Steve..." Tony said, his voice hoarse and broken as the sword's hilt fell from his fingers.

"It's alright," Steve said, pulling Tony close with his good arm. Tony crumpled against his chest, holding back a sob through sheer will power. Steve simply held him tightly with his one arm, murmuring soft assurances. "It's alright. We'll get you out of here, I promise. We'll beat Amora and get you out, and then I want to try and fix whatever went wrong between us. You won't be here alone."

It was embarrassing to admit, but Steve's words were soothing, and they loosened the knot in his chest as Steve leaned his head against Tony's. "I'm sorry," Tony said finally, his voice rough. "Your arm-"

"It's okay," Steve said, giving him a pained smile as Tony looked up. "Don't think it matters much out in the real world. Just gotta think myself better, right? Mind over matter."

Steve even attempted to raise his bad arm in proof, but it ended with a pained gasp. "You know, that's not working," Tony said, feeling the pain from the link and burrowing closer to Steve. "Complete failure to apply the procedure. Your scientific method sucks."

That got a laugh out of Steve as Tony carefully slid the shield off his broken arm. He didn't meet Steve's eyes as he looked around for something to brace the broken bone with. The shaft from one the spears maybe? He'd have to move away from Steve, but it would be better to brace the arm.

"Hey," Steve said, catching Tony's shoulder before he could move back to the weapons rack. "Thanks for giving me a chance and letting me stay."

"Steve..."

Before Tony could look up, an earth-shattering roar started both of them. "Uh, Cap? Now's a good time to retest your hypothesis on mind over matter. And be proven right, because it looks like my own hypothesis about tasers killing lizards was proved false," Tony said as the nine-headed Hydra crawled over the coliseum walls.

"Maybe I should just keep repeating my arm's not broken," Steve said, standing up in a swift motion and wincing when he tried to pick up the shield with his still limp arm.

"The little Captain that could," Tony agreed, picking up the shield for him.

"Go," Steve said, taking the shield from Tony with his good hand. "I'll take care of this."

"I'm not leaving-"

"You're the one who has to survive and find the edge of the shadows to-"

"I'm not leaving!"

"Tony, you don't have the armor! You're just going to get killed!" Steve yelled.

Tony didn't get a chance to respond as one of the many heads struck at them, forcing them apart. Steve raised his shield, stumbling back a step as two of the heads double-teamed against him.

Tony rolled to his feet, grabbing the sword that he'd dropped earlier. Except the sword wouldn't do any good against the Hydra, not by itself. He needed something to cauterize the necks. He needed fire or...

His arms were red and gold again.

Armor.

Tony ran towards Steve and the heads attacking him. The Hydra mostly ignored him, which meant he could duck under the winding neck to get to the other man. Steve struggled to fight off that many at once, using the shield to cover him from the poisonous breath as he was forced onto one knee to repel the attacks. One of the heads was attacking Steve from behind, and Tony didn't think. The only thing he heard was an electronic whine before he was blown back, slamming into the coliseum wall.

Ow. Forcing his eyes open, Tony gasped in pain. One of the heads was blown to smithereens, which was a plus. Tony fired up the repulsors again, bracing himself against the wall as he shot two more heads off. And look, totally not growing back. The repulsors really were that awesome.

Unfortunately, it meant the beast's attention was now on him. Steve was shouting his name - what the hell, might as well claim the name as his since everyone seemed so attached to it - as the Hydra lumbered towards him, but Tony forced his arm back into position. His arm wasn't going to take much more of this, but that was an acceptable outcome. He fired at another head, crying out in pain as the kick-back dislocated his shoulder. One more head down.

It was his last thought before one of the massive heads knocked him to the ground.

* * *

Pain was an understatement for how Tony felt when he woke up. The fire flooding through his body was almost crippling. Psychosomatic, he reminded himself. He didn't even have a physical body right now, so this much pain should not be debilitating. Finally, Tony managed to push the worst of the pain aside to try to sit up.

"Cap?" he asked, his voice raspy. And again, ow. His shoulder. At least it was back in place and in a sling, but next time he needed to remember he'd dislocated it before he tried moving. "Steve?" he called again when no one answered, because someone had to have tended his wounds.

He noted he was still in the coliseum as he looked around. There was a small fire off to the west of him, but far enough not to be a danger. One giant lizard carcass laid a little ways off, all of the heads severed and cauterized. The smell of burnt flesh nearly choked him when he turned to face it head-on. And Steve...

Steve was holding a torch up to the last neck, one arm hanging uselessly by his side as blood poured out of an open wound on his stomach. His good arm holding the torch was burned, and his uniform was torn in so many places that the tears had to correspond to other wounds from the Hydra. He dropped the torch after the neck was well and truly cauterized, staggering back as he fell to one knee.

"Steve!" Tony yelled, forcing his legs to support him as he stumbled over. He caught Steve before he fell forward, struggling out of the sling to lay Steve back and put pressure on the wound in his stomach. "Steve, stay with me."

"Take... Take the shield," Steve said, coughing between words.

"You're keeping it, Steve. You're staying alive and you're keeping it. Damn it, stay with me!" Tony shouted. Steve's eyes looked blankly out at the sky regardless of Tony's screaming, shaking, and threats. That stupid star on his chest stopped moving up and down like it was supposed to. Steve's presence in the link blinked out.

Steve Rogers was dead.

That didn't mean Tony gave up. He attempted CPR for a good ten minutes after, until he was out of breath himself and he could barely see straight. There was no pulse, and no sign of Steve's mind, but Tony tried anyway. Finally even Tony had to admit it was useless. Captain America was dead, and it was all Tony's fault.

Tony hiccuped as he sat back, folding Steve's hands and closing his unseeing eyes. He tried to make the uniform as neat as he could, which was ridiculous because it was torn and bloody with dirt from the coliseum floor only making things worse. No amount of straightening out the fabric would change that, but he couldn't stop himself from moving. If he did, he'd have to focus on the small hiccuping sounds he was making, or the fact that maybe the lack of oxygen wasn't the reason he was having trouble seeing. The quote came unbidden, tearing through him like the sword he'd held against Steve.

'But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
'

He brushed the hair out of Steve's face, then patted it down until it looked like the old pictures that he didn't remember actually seeing. "O, Captain! my Captain!" Tony said to him, glad to hear his voice didn't shake, though it sounded awfully distant. "I was lying, you know. I said the only reason you'd stayed so long was that you were some self-preservation instinct to keep me alive. But that's not true. I don't know... I don't know if any of you were real, but the others, they found out things they weren't supposed to know. Things that might make them leave. Everyone always leaves."

Tony paused in his administrations, sitting back and curling in on himself. "But I guess... Even though I hated you, I still thought... Well, if anyone could help me, it'd be Captain America, right?"

It was funny, but even when Tony had thought he hated Steve, he'd still believed. He preferred thinking that it was just Captain America's personality rather than him just being that pathetic. "I wish I still hated you," Tony admitted. "It'd be easier. Except you're impossible to actually hate. You never just gave up on me like you should have. It's annoying. You should get that checked out before you kill some old miser with a heart attack. It's completely irresponsible of you.

"I... I wanted to be better," Tony said, his voice quiet in empty stillness of the coliseum. "I guess that was impossible in the end."

Everyone else had died, after all. If he'd been more in control, none of that would have happened. He should have protected them better. He'd isolated Clint on the boat, kept Natasha tied to the lake, and kept Bruce from wandering around with the mirrors... None of it had worked, and they all died anyway because of his mind being threatened. And his biggest failure of all against the Hydra, where he couldn't even have Steve's back in battle.

"What's the point?" he asked furiously, anger pulling his body into the present when he wanted to remain in that empty state of unfeeling. "Where's the goddamn point, if I couldn't do anything? Why bother coming here, if all it was going to accomplish was me watching everyone die?"

It was only when he opened his eyes to shout at Steve that he realized the body was slowly disappearing. It was fading right before him, like a ghost.

"No," Tony said, scrambling to Steve's side. His hand went right through Steve's chest "Don't leave too. Steve, please." It was irrational, but he hadn't been able to stay with the others after they'd died. Steve's body couldn't disappear too. "Don't leave," Tony whispered as the last of Captain America faded completely.

Tony sat there numbly, looking around for any trace left when he caught sight of the Hydra. He supposed he needed to bury one of the heads. Wasn't there an immortal one? But Tony couldn't bring himself to care. He walked over and kicked it hard in the bulk of the body, ignoring the near overwhelming smell of burning flesh and wondering how true it was about the blood being poisonous. Of course the disgusting body of the Hydra would stay. That was just how his life went.

It wasn't until his throat started to feel sore that Tony realized he'd been screaming at it.

Finally Tony stopped, coughing as he tried to catch a breath. His chest hurt and it was hard to... Tony looked down at the arc reactor to see it flickering. Not emotional crap giving him the pain then. This time his chest really was hurting. He needed to start moving if...

Did he want to keep moving? He was alone now, completely and terrifyingly alone in the chaos that was his mind. A quick glance around proved that Steve's shield was lying on the ground next to the Hydra. He'd asked Steve's body what the point of it all was. Without Steve to keep him going, did he really want to continue?

Gingerly, he picked up the shield, the one remainder of Captain America left to him, and he ran his hands along the unfamiliar metal almost reverently. Vibranium, smooth under his fingers and it could completely absorb the vibrations from any blow. It was beautiful, in its own way. A rare and fantastical element that made up a representation of all that was good and worth protecting. Except it couldn't keep its promises, and sometimes the blows weren't always physical. The real one, in the outside world, would it protect Steve from the guilt of failing another teammate if Tony died?

He supposed that answered his question.

Tony took the shield, sliding his good arm through the straps. He wouldn't be able to throw it like Steve did, but that didn't mean it was useless. If there had still been a body, he might have left it with Steve, but he didn't want to leave it here with the rotting Hydra body, especially if there was a chance it wasn't totally dead. Besides, it was Steve's last... Steve had asked him to take the shield, for all the good it would do without Steve attached to it. The shield was heavy on his arm, but it wasn't as bad as the guilt was, so he figured it was the least he could do.

The scenery shifted around him until he was in a blank, nondescript place. He couldn't tell if there were walls, and he had no idea where the light source was coming from, but the place itself was an off-shade of grey. "My mind is such a pleasant place," Tony said, wincing as his heart spasmed. He placed his bad hand over the arc reactor for a moment before looking up at the wall of shadows. He eyed it with a growing sense of dread. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing," he quoted absently, staring at the darkness before him. "No point in staying here," Tony told himself, a blank calmness in his voice.

He stepped forward into the swirling mists without hesitation, immediately bombarded with the inability to breathe and with bruising hands holding him down in the water. Tony stumbled forwards as he breathed in putrid water, the weakened flickering of the reactor the only light visible.

It's just a trick of the mind, Tony told himself firmly as he forced his legs to move forward. This wasn't really happening. He wasn't really drowning.

Except there was so much water. It was terrifying enough to nearly stop him in his tracks, it nearly was, but then he felt hands ghosting over the reactor. Betrayal. Never good enough. Tony screamed as he tried to pull away, but he was paralyzed as familiar hands reached in to pull the reactor out of his body. The reactor was poisoning him - so much pain - as his organs started to fail, and someone was trying to take it out, killing him that much quicker than the poison could. He fell again, his knees scraping against the ground as he folded his hands under him and rolled.

A trick of the mind. He forced himself up and forward through the terror that was as paralyzing as the memories had been, only to feel empty stares all around him. The stares of the dead. Of the people he'd failed. Of the people he'd killed. Tony fell to his knees, unable to move as the reactor flickered and went out.

Fear. An overwhelming sense of fear and drowning, being unable to move. But he needed to. He had to keep going and push through the shadows. He had to. It was an imperative. A promise. One of the very few promises he'd made in his life that actually meant a damn.

Number Forty-seven: He could not waste his life. Not without breaking a very important promise. He couldn't die here, because there was still so much he had to make up for. He stumbled, but got up again, the promise driving him forward.

When Tony could no longer push himself to his feet, he crawled He honestly didn't know where the will to survive came from when his self-preservation had been so low before, but he had to keep going through the terror and the water. To push forward through the poison and the hands holding him down and ripping out his heart. He couldn't die like this, not when he'd be breaking that promise!

But even Tony's stubbornness couldn't last forever against the onslaught of fear and the failing of his body. He was going to die here regardless, drowning in the terrible between of the worlds with an alien sky, alone in the eternal dark. It was endless, and he couldn't... Tony pulled himself up another inch as his chest and lungs burned and he choked on water. He couldn't move past that, no matter how he screamed at his muscles to move, his lungs to breathe, and his heart to beat. As that familiar pair of hands reached in for the arc reactor again, Tony couldn't help but think he deserved it all.

Then it was a different pair of hands - a steady, gentle pair replacing the brutal ones, holding him up above the water, and pushing him forward. When Tony stumbled, those hands held him fast, wrapping him in comfort. The fear and pain were still swirling around him, but he could move again. Tony took a stumbling step forward, and then another, pushing his lungs to keep breathing and letting those hands keep the terror at bay.

It wasn't until a second pair of hands joined the steady ones that Tony realized how ghostly they were. The new pair was warm, solid, and firm, and though they didn't bring the comfort of the other hands, they gripped his shoulder and carried him along. The steady hands could only hold him up, but these ones pulled him along without a choice in the matter.

Tony decided that this once, just this once, he wasn't going to argue. He wanted out of the darkness, and they were getting him there.

The light, when they finally reached it, was blinding, and Steve's shield clanked against the ground. It was then Tony's heart stuttered to a stop, the shrapnel pushing in too deep.

~TBC~

Memory: You can also blame Nar for the cliff hanger, since she made it necessary.  See what she forces me to do?  Though I may have enjoyed writing the scenes in this chapter far too much.  I kept thinking of that scene in Sailor Moon of Usagi-chan leaning over Mamoru's body to kiss him, but pulling back saying she couldn't, not when her friends died without their first kiss.  If I'd managed slash, that totally would have happened.  So I suppose that's one thing you guys can be grateful for, because I am far too much of a shoujo writer for my own good sometimes.

Anyway, have the quote of the chapter.  Because I really won't apologize for using Whitman.  I don't even like most of his poems, but if you can think of anything more appropriate for Cap's (temporary) death that is equally patriotic and ironic, let me know.  Because I sure as hell couldn't.  XD

"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                       But O heart! heart! heart!
                          O the bleeding drops of red,
                             Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                Fallen cold and dead."
-Walt Whitman, "O Captain! My Captain!"