There was a distant sound of shattering glass.
Steve wasn't sure how he'd come here, or even where here was. He was only mostly sure he knew who he was; his immediate memory didn't seem to stretch back more than a few minutes.
He couldn't work out where the sound was coming from, or why it was so drawn out. It wasn't as though glass kept shattering, but rather like the sound was simply taking a long time to happen. And yet he could tell, very clearly, what it was.
He turned around, trying to find the source of the noise, but the world was washed out, like the first few seconds of waking after the ice -- or was it the last few minutes before the ice claimed him? Not for the first time, he wondered if the crash and his life after the ice had been the dream, and he was preparing to wake up. He'd dreamed before that he'd woken up back home. Thinking about it made his head hurt.
His mind didn't feel the sharpest anyway. It was pleasantly fuzzy, like the time he'd tried hash with Bucky, though this time without the coughing fits. He blinked at the grey landscape, strange shapes hovering in the distance.
"Bucky?" he called hopefully, and then, after some confused thought, "Bruce? Tony?"
Something moved and he turned his head, arm coming up defensively, tucked against his ribs as if he still had the shield on it. A person -- no, too slim for a person, moving towards him in a slow undulation, as tall as him but tapered where a person would be broad. He braced himself for battle.
Instead, emerging from the grey was a sinuous golden...not quite a snake, it had no eyes or mouth, but it was covered in tiny, fine scales like a snake's. The tip of it hovered at eye level, as if considering him. Steve kept as still as possible, unblinking.
They stayed that way for ten heartbeats, by Steve's count. It gave a single ripple, and Steve lifted his hand to touch it, curious now that it didn't appear to be inclined to harm him.
It allowed his hand to get within six inches of its burnished tip, and then suddenly, so fast even his enhanced reflexes had barely reacted, it dipped down and tightened itself around his wrist, pulling him forward and off his feet.
He jerked past it, caught his balance, and turned to tug his wrist free, one booted foot shooting out in a futile kick that it dodged easily. He wasn't even in his armor, just a t-shirt and some workout pants, but at least he had his boots on and the thick grips could do some pretty bruising damage with his muscle behind them.
There was nothing else to call it: the tentacle let him go when he yanked, pulling back as if to study him. They had another strange staring match, and then Steve reached out again, more curious this time, less startled when the warm gold scales wrapped around his wrist. He watched it slide up to his elbow, twining again and again around his forearm, and realized that as it went it was spreading something on his skin, a thin layer of some viscous liquid.
Another heartbeat and the last of the fear in his chest faded away. Some of the relief, he thought, might be that it still hadn't actually hurt him. Some, a distant corner of his mind warned him, was that his skin was warm and tingling everywhere the liquid spread. When he felt a second tendril sliding up his back, catching his shirt as it went, he absently leaned into its grip, craving more of the tingling warmth. He couldn't think of a good reason not to. It didn't seem to want to hurt him. It seemed more like it wanted to explore -- to play.
He stared down in fascination at the tentacle now completely encircling his right arm, the thousands of tiny, soft scales, the cord and bulge of muscle underneath. It contracted and relaxed in a way that was somehow obscene, and he felt the warmth seeping right down into his bones, filling him up and gathering in his belly. The one that had come from behind him was now sliding over his shoulder and down his left arm under his shirt, and a third, slimmer than the others, was snaking around his boots, under the hem of his pants and up his calf.
He panted, head tipping back, eyes sliding shut -- confused, uncertain, but unwilling to pull away from the warmth and the new sensation of constrictive safety that the tendrils tightening around his limbs were providing. There were more now, cupping his shoulderblades, curving around his hips, dipping under the waistband of his pants. He couldn't remember being so warm, not since before the ice.
The ones wrapping around his arms pulled them up, securing his wrists together above his head. Others, having pushed his shirt up as far as they could, were stroking around his ribcage, one sliding heedless over a nipple, giving him a sharp, brief jolt of pleasure when it stiffened under the scales.
There was a moment of disorientation when his boots left the ground, but the thick trunklike tentacle curled around his chest and hips supported him effortlessly, more of them cradling his legs, and in another second he had a new distraction -- the tentative rub of soft scales up the inner flesh of his thigh. An inquisitive touch, a slick slide against his dick, made him realize he was hard, the sensitized kind of arousal that made touch itself almost unbearable. It was the kind of erection he'd sometimes had in the war, after battle and before the weariness set in, when the blood was pumping and the body wanted to fight or fuck or both. He made a startled noise and the touch withdrew, then hesitantly returned, like it was waiting for him to object again. When he didn't, it tightened lovingly.
One of the thinnest had discovered his nipples and teased across the hard swell of one before wrapping around it, almost like a mouth. He arched against the constricting muscles holding his body, huffing indignantly, uncertain even in his own mind if he was trying to break away or lean into the caresses. When he looked down, his body slightly reclined in the grip of the tentacles, he saw some were pushing his pants away from his body, creating room to touch and move, making a wide, filthy-looking bulge in his crotch.
A thick, broad one encircled his balls, rippling enticingly, and he let his head fall back again, aware that he was making short, desperate gasps, soft and full of longing. He just wanted to thrust up into the grip of the thin strand of gold wrapping around him, squeezing him slowly from crown to base.
He grunted in surprise when the very tip of the tendril rubbed against his slit, but it just kept moving, occasionally brushing up against the edge of his foreskin. Steve bucked, thrashing in the grip of the tentacles, testing their limits and finding himself tightly restricted. No matter what he did, the tentacle wrapped around his cock kept up a slow, inexorable ripple.
Another one, sliding down over an ear and ruffling his hair ticklishly, bumped the corner of his mouth and then rose up, hovering in front of his eyes when he opened them. It wasn't quite the same shape as the others -- not so tapered, with a bulbous head slowly dribbling the clear, warm, wonderful liquid. Steve blinked dreamily at it for a moment before realizing what it wanted; when he let his jaw fall it nudged past his lips, pushing into his mouth insistently. He didn't bother fighting it. The liquid was mild, sweet, slightly thicker than water, and when he swallowed some down, stars burst behind his eyes. He suckled more eagerly, choking around it when it pressed against the back of his throat.
He swallowed and sucked and thrust, hazy now, desperate for just a little more, hungry with arousal and almost completely unable to do anything about it. All he could do was give the thick muscles binding and penetrating him what they wanted, and when the one in his mouth finally shot a heavy burst down his throat, the tentacle around his cock gave a convulsive squeeze and Steve came like a firecracker, in what felt like every part of his body at once, came and came and --
The sound of shattering glass finally came to an end, and Steve was aware of a pleased hum before the tentacles withdrew, laying him out on the soft ground: panting, sore-throated, bruises tingling on his wrists and from thigh to ankle, completely satisfied.
He woke to a terrifying, painful sense of deja-vu: the smell of bleach, the feel of a thin bed-cot under him, rough hospital sheets. His first thought was that it had happened again, that he'd slept decades away again, and he was about to panic about it when he realized he wasn't in control of his own breathing, and then the panic really kicked in.
He was secured in the bed, wrists bound to the rails, but with a jerk of his left arm he neatly snapped the strap and reached up to his face. A tube was coming out of his mouth, and he choked and yanked and gagged, trying to pull it out (where had they put it, his colon? it just kept emerging and emerging) until a nurse ran into the room, a nurse in what he hoped was an authentic twenty-first century set of scrubs, and helped him get it out.
"What year is it?" Steve gasped hoarsely, once he had control of his lungs again.
"Captain, please be calm -- "
"What year is it?" he demanded, ripping IV lines out of his arms and pushing himself off the bed. He staggered and stumbled once he was upright, still woozy from whatever they'd done. She got one shoulder under him, hefting him back to lean against the bed. He was probably twice her weight, and he'd apologize later, but he had to know.
"It's 2014," she said reassuringly, trying to get him to lie down. He brushed her hands off and then held his own up in surrender when she glared. "Doctor Banner said you might be concerned. He said to tell you the Jets game hasn't happened yet."
Steve nodded, sucking in breath after breath. The world seemed to calm, color and motion settling into their proper spheres. He'd been talking to Bruce about that the other day, looking forward to seeing the Jets play the Patriots. He couldn't have been unconscious long.
He settled back up on the bed, sitting on the edge. He still wasn't sure why he was here. He tried to remember, but his memory was still hazy. The last thing that passed through it brought heat to his cheeks.
The nurse had a hand on his pulse, was counting it as she studied the watch on the inside of her wrist, the same way his mother had eighty years ago. The little mannerism reassured him.
"Why am I here?" he asked. "Where's Doctor Banner?"
"Resting," she said with a smile, now that he was being civil. Kind of her, he thought, embarrassed. "You've had a long night, Captain, and he was here for most of it. Now, your pulse is good -- a little fast, to be expected -- so just keep breathing deeply. You're safe here, and nothing's wrong. You're going to be fine."
"Thank you. I'm sorry I shouted."
She smiled. "Believe me, compared to the others, you're a lamb. I'll go get Doctor Banner. Mr. Stark's waiting to see you too. They'll explain what happened."
He faintly remembered the sound of breaking glass. Breaking glass, and an alarm klaxon, a fire door descending too fast. He'd shoved his shield under the door and crawled in, gotten Bruce out, gone back for Tony, then -- then darkness, greyed-out shadows, and the golden --
He was going to have to stop blushing.
A hallucination, then; hypoxia, maybe, or gas from whatever had blown in Bruce's lab. That in itself was a little baffling. Bruce was paranoid and compulsive about lab safety, and Tony -- well, Tony wasn't, but Tony had a scientist's respect for a fellow man's lab. Steve had never known him to break Bruce's protocols, even the really difficult ones.
"I'd like to speak to them," he said, and she nodded. "May I have some water?"
"Of course. I'll send it in with Doctor Banner."
Steve was left on his own for just a minute, long enough to take stock -- sore throat from the intubation, already-fading bruises from where the restraints had held him, but (when he checked) no sticky drawers. No evidence of the creepiest erotic dream of his life.
The most erotic, too, a voice said in the back of his head. Being taken like that, safe but helpless except to submit, ruthlessly used by a faceless entity -- it sent a dirty thrill through him. He put it aside to examine later, or possibly repress forever. He'd decide when he wasn't in a hospital gown anymore.
Bruce put his head in, smiled, and came into the room, carrying a glass of water that Steve took and downed eagerly.
"You're looking better," Bruce said, when Steve had drained the glass.
"I feel like I've gone a few rounds in the ring," Steve said.
"How much do you remember?"
"I was bringing lunch down to the lab when the fire alert sounded. The fire door was dropping too fast -- I thought Tony fixed that?"
"He did on most of the other levels. I think he figured mine could wait, considering I'm, well, me," Bruce said.
"I pulled you out and went back in for Tony. I don't think I got out, did I?"
"No," Bruce said gently. "And also, thank you. I would have been all right, but I would have gone all Other Guy and might have hurt some people once I battered my way out. Tony wouldn't have survived either me or the smoke."
Steve sucked in a breath.
"The fire was my fault -- you can put all kinds of controls on what you do but there's no accounting for a stray elbow bumping a beaker at the wrong moment," Bruce said. "Clumsiness. Being fair, I was trying to hand coffee to Tony, so I can blame some of this on him."
"I would," Steve said with a smile.
"Anyway, Natasha actually went in and got you out." Bruce gave Steve a careful look. "You were hallucinating, as far as we could tell. She had to hold you down on the gurney until I could get a hypodermic in you."
"Uh," Steve said. "I wasn't aware Natasha could do that."
"Well, you were confused, and the muscle spasms helped us get you subdued, at least," Bruce said. He gestured to the IVs hanging limp next to the bed. "We had to get pretty heavy with the sedation once we got you to the hospital. Then your breathing stopped...well, it's not your first close call, but it was certainly one of your most dramatic. I'm kind of sorry you missed it," he added with a smile. Steve grinned back.
"You know how much I like drama," he said.
"Speaking of which, Tony's desperate to come in and pretend he's not abasing himself for your forgiveness. Be nice to him?"
"Aw, you know I wouldn't give him a hard time," Steve said. "Not about this."
"I appreciate it," Bruce said. "I'll see about getting your release paperwork."
He left, and Tony must have been waiting outside the door, because as soon as Bruce was gone, Tony was there, bouncing on his toes.
"So who'd have thought Tony Stark would be the one to break Stark Tower's safety-incident-free record?" he asked. "Rescued by Captain America though, that's very exciting."
"I thought Bruce knocked over the thing," Steve said, ignoring Tony's lack of manners. One had to, in order to live a peaceful life in the Tower.
"Yeah, but the fire door, that was me -- well, technically it was the contractor who didn't understand my fire door schematics, and there will be lawsuits. But I should have made changing Bruce's a priority so you didn't have to go running in and haul us out on your knees."
Steve gave him a mild look. "Well, you knew Bruce is pretty nearly indestructible. Are you all right? You were coughing when I pushed you through, I think."
"Little bit of smoke inhalation. I've had worse at good parties," Tony said.
"You didn't have any, uh. Hallucinations?" Steve asked carefully. Tony shook his head. "Oh."
"We think the Serum might have interacted differently with the chemicals you were exposed to," Tony said. "Are you familiar with the phrase tripping balls? Because you were."
"Good to know there's a term for it," Steve said drily. Tony fidgeted with his phone, clearly not quite settled yet. "Are you, that is, you seem like maybe you know a few things about...that stuff. Hallucinations."
"Drugs?" Tony asked, looking amused. "Never my thing -- scotch is legal, and less likely to give me brain damage. Once or twice though, sure. In the name of science. And impressing girls at college. That never went as well as you'd think."
"Hallucination, is it...like dreams?" Steve asked carefully.
"It's different for everyone, generally, in terms of visual effect. There are some common experiences that we think has something to do with the chemical structure of the brain -- "
"No, I mean..." Steve struggled to vocalize what he wanted to ask. "Are they like in dreams, where you dream about things you...want? Subconsciously."
Tony's lips twitched. "I hope I don't always want the things I dream about. I'm going to need more therapy than I'm currently getting."
"You know what I mean, though."
Tony leaned against the bed, crossing his arms, face thoughtful. "I don't suppose you'd give me context and tell me what you were seeing? You weren't very vocal."
"I'd rather not."
"Well, taking a stab in the dark, I'd say that sometimes our lizardy little hindbrains want things we don't understand. That doesn't make them wrong. Even if we act on them -- regardless of how strange they might seem -- as long as you're not hurting anyone, there's no harm in it. The heart wants what the heart wants, all that stuff. Was it unpleasant?"
Steve frowned. "No. Probably not...no. Not unpleasant. Just...surprising."
"Incidentally, I'm going to spend a lot of time speculating about what's in Captain America's subconscious now."
"Nothing too awful," Steve said, smiling.
"Gee, there's a surprise. Well, if you ever want to talk about it, come find me. I'll give you the number of a really good therapist," Tony said. Steve chuckled.
"Just food for thought," he said. "Bruce said you two could spring me once the paperwork got done. Any idea how long that'll be?"
"Not very long at all," Bruce said, entering the room. He had a cloth bundle under one arm and a StarkPad in his hand. "Though we need to have a brief discussion about the hallucination."
"Oh, good, another one," Tony said brightly. Bruce glanced at him, narrowed his eyes as if trying to decide if he should respond to that, and then ignored him.
"I've consulted with an actual medical doctor," he said to Steve, a hint of dry amusement at his situation in his tone, "and while we don't think it's likely, there is a non-zero chance of recurring symptoms."
Steve frowned. "What, just...any old time?"
"I wouldn't put money on it, given the Serum seems to -- "
" -- reboot you to factory settings," Tony put in.
"Yes, thank you, Tony," Bruce said. "The likelihood is extremely slim, but if you experience any visual distortions or anything you think might be a hallucination while awake, we should get you checked out. I'd like you benched for a few weeks in the meantime."
Steve nodded calmly, even though a strange little hope was leaping in his chest. "Of course. I'll notify SHIELD."
"In that case, we can go home," Bruce said.
"Thor's been stress-cooking and Clint and Natasha are taking turns texting me every two minutes, so there will be a lot of food and probably some awkward hugging," Tony put in. "I personally can't wait."
"How is Natasha?" Steve asked, accepting a set of SHIELD-branded workout clothes from Bruce. "I should have asked sooner. I didn't hurt her?"
"She has a few pulled muscles, nothing a little heat and some rest isn't fixing. She said it was like bull riding, trying to keep you down," Bruce said. "Apparently that's a thing she's done."
"Bull...riding?" Steve asked. "Is that a terrible euphemism, or...?"
"Oh man," Tony said. "You've never seen bull riding. Oh man. We're gonna eat whatever Thor's roasting and watch bull riding. It'll be so painfully American. I can practically see the fruited plains."
"Is it actual bulls?" Steve asked in an undertone to Bruce. There was a limo waiting at the hospital exit, and Steve started to go around it until Happy got out and Steve realized it was for them, which was mortifying and typical of his life.
"Don't worry, it's mostly family friendly," Bruce said, patting his shoulder. "In you go. We're earning our needless opulence badge for the day."
It felt like it took forever to fall asleep that night. His body clock was still resetting from all the...unconsciousness, and bull riding had been remarkably exciting. Plus Thor had roasted most of a pig. And after their resident SHIELD agents had started to grate on Thor with their fretting (Clint) and restlessness (Natasha), Thor had put them to work making Jello salads. Jello salad had been a treat when Steve was a boy and by God, he was not hearing a word against it now.
By the time he went to bed, he was full of food and more or less satisfied with being alive, but sleep was elusive. Now that he was alone he supposed he could consider the entire...event, try to work out what to learn from it and what to do about it. Maybe it was just some strange invention of his unconscious mind, as Tony had suggested, and maybe it had been the dosage levels they'd had to use to keep him sedated -- he was sure that warm, tingling, careless feeling had to be linked to the drugs. He had enjoyed it, he just still wasn't sure he'd wanted it.
At least it was harmless, as these things went; he hadn't dreamed about hurting anyone, putting anyone in danger. In fact, the combination of constriction and threat had been part of the thrill, having something like that which could hold him down, which could take responsibility for controlling things off his shoulders for at least a little while.
Maybe he should sleep on it. He was trying, but even now that his racing thoughts had slowed, now that his mind was sluggish and his body warm and relaxed -- now that the world seemed a little unreal --
In the darkness of his bedroom, he thought he saw a glint of burnished gold catching the red light of the clock on his nightstand.
A second later he was sure of it, and then a heartbeat after that, the thin tip of a tentacle, covered in gold scales, slunk up over the blankets and across his fingers invitingly.
Steve smiled, turned his hand over, and offered his wrist.