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Never Seen by Waking Eyes

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It was late in the evening, and Tony and Jan were seated on the floor in the middle of the living room, yellowing, dusty cardboard boxes strewn across the floor in front of them. Jan sat with her legs folded under her, a large throw pillow under her knees. She had a cup of coffee in one hand, and in the other, a yellowing book.

There was a fire flickering in the mantle, flames dying on the last crumbles of a charred log. Outside, rain pattered against the windows, blown by the wind. Tony glanced up as Steve walked into the room and smiled.

Steve paused, taking in the mess with no small amount of amusement. “You two have been busy,” he commented.

Jan blew a cloud of dust off the book and flipped it open.

“Pictures!” she exclaimed cheerily. “These must be older than you are, Steve.”

Wow,” Tony said, mock-astonished, “That is old.” Steve gave the back of his head a gentle shove, mussing his hair.

“What is all this stuff?” Steve asked. Jan scooted one of the boxes to the side with a foot and patted the floor next to her, inviting him to sit.

“My mother’s aunt passed,” Tony said, and then, before Steve could make sympathetic noises at him, added, “I didn’t know her. All of this stuff was willed to the estate of Maria Stark.” He picked up an old rag doll from the box. “Her will was a little outdated.”

“Aw, that’s cute,” Jan said. She took it from Tony, and placed it into one of the boxes behind her.

“I bet my mom really would have liked this stuff,” Tony said. He picked up a garish and, admittedly, somewhat creepy porcelain doll. Jan made a face, but took it to place with the other doll. “Well, some of it.”

“I’m helping Tony decide what to keep, and what to donate,” Jan said. “Join us?” She gestured toward the stacks of unopened boxes behind her.

“Sure.” He grabbed the top box off a stack, and ripped the tape off the top. “Books,” Steve said. They were in fairly good condition, and Steve didn’t recognize the titles. “You could add them to the library?”

“The ‘keep’ pile is over there,” Tony said, gesturing vaguely toward a somewhat crooked stack in the corner. He’d dragged the box of photographs that Jan found over next to him, and was currently leafing through one of the photo albums distractedly.

Steve saw him pause on one of the pages, a fond expression on his face. Steve glanced over to see what had caught his eye, only to find a photo of an older woman, maybe sixty, caught not smiling at the photographer, but in the middle of saying something to the woman in the hospital bed that she was leaning over. The younger woman in the bed beside her was, unmistakably, Maria Stark. Steve could see the resemblance clearly—Tony had her eyes—but more than the physical resemblance, the way she was smiling was very clearly something Tony had gotten from her.

And in her arms—

“Looks like you stand corrected,” Steve said, and Tony jumped a little, having failed to notice Steve looking over his shoulder. He gave Steve a quizzical look, and Steve clarified, “You have met her.” Steve smiled. “And you made a cute baby.”

“Oooh,” Jan said gleefully, all but tearing the album from Tony’s hands, “let me see!”

“Good genes,” Tony said amicably, while Jan cooed over the photo, and when Steve nodded in agreement, his grin broadened.

“You look just like her,” Steve said.

Tony turned a critical gaze back on the photograph. “You think so?”

“Oh, definitely,” Jan agreed. She handed the album back, but not before flipping through the rest of the pages, hoping for more baby pictures. The rest of the photographs were filled with people they didn’t recognize, and although Maria made a few more appearances, Tony did not.

“Photos definitely go into the “keep” category,” Tony said, passing Steve the box. “Stick these in the corner, plea—”

“Oh, What’s this?” Jan asked. She had already moved back into the stacks of unexplored items.

There was a tall object covered in a black cloth cover. It was covered with dust, visible handprints where the bag had been grasped to be moved, and the words printed on the front were faded and illegible. Tony shrugged and stepped over the box he was rifling through to go find out. There was a seam for a zipper, and Tony followed it with his thumb until he found the start. The teeth of the zipper were rusted, and it took a couple tugs to shake it loose before he could uncover it.

It was a mirror, decorated with a black, gothic frame. The designs along the frame, like creeping vines on a wrought iron gate, were elegant in their tangles. The mirror itself was slightly tinted. It was also very dusty, though less so inside the dust sleeve, and covered in cobwebs. Tony hummed.

“It’s a little tacky,” Tony said.

“I like it,” Steve said.

“Do you?” Tony considered it for a moment before zipping the bag closed again. “I’ll put it in your room, then. You can decide what to do with it.”

He stooped to pick up one of the smaller boxes he’d sorted out—a couple small paintings, and an old sketchbook filled with leaf pressings and old sketches that he thought Steve might appreciate, as well as a few other odds and ends, and then picked up the mirror under the other arm. It was a full-length mirror, which made it awkward to carry, but it wasn’t heavy, so he would manage.

“Are you sure?” Steve asked. Jan had set one of the larger boxes down in his lap, and Steve paused between admiring an old china set to glance up.

“Sure thing,” Tony said. “You’d appreciate it more than I would, anyway. I’m going to run these upstairs, and I’ll be right back.”

“Okay,” Jan said, clearly distracted. She’d found his great-aunt’s absolutely impressive amount of jewelry, and Tony already knew that she’d have claimed or stored most of the pieces by the time he got back.

Tony climbed the stairs, listening to the mansion creak and groan as it settled, and let himself into Steve’s bedroom. It was dark, and he flicked on the overhead light on his way. The place was tidy, as always, and he stepped around Steve’s shield where it was propped against the wall by the door to let himself inside. He set the box at the foot of Steve’s bed, and then moved to put the mirror down, propped up against the wall beside him, and dusted his hands off on his jeans.

The mirror would look right at home in Steve’s room, Tony decided. Most of Steve’s furniture was practical and old-fashioned. Tony had tried to make the place looked lived in, back when Steve had been new to this century and Tony’s home. He’d thought that it would make Steve more comfortable. He wasn’t really sure that it had mattered in the end—Steve had fit in with the Avengers as easily as they could have hoped—but at least now it would make the antique mirror look like it belonged.

He reached up and pulled the zipper down, slipping the dust-cover off entirely. The mirror’s surface still looked a little dirty. Tony pulled his sleeve down over his hand, intending to give it a quick dusting.

When he glanced back up, he froze.

The mirror’s surface looked oily black, quivering like the ripples in a pond. His reflection was still there, but there was nothing but darkness behind him. Tony glanced over his shoulder quickly, checking to see if the reflection matched what was behind him, but no. The room behind him looked completely normal.

“What the hell…?” he said, reaching out to touch the glass.

His reflection blinked at him, and then grinned.

Tony cried out in surprise and flinched away, but the hand bursting through the mirror was too quick, and it grabbed him around the wrist, hard enough to bruise, and dragged him forward. A spiderweb of cracks split the mirror from the point that it reached through, and the light reflected off the shattered glass, and it grinned at him, sharp and vicious, before dragging him in.

Suddenly, everything was dark, and deafeningly silent. Tony whirled around, just as the last edge of his shadow slipped through the glass, and Tony lunged for him. His hand smacked against the surface. All traces of the cracks were gone, and Tony slammed his fist hard on the glass.

“Let me out!” he shouted. “Fuck.” He smashed his hand against the mirror, then his heel, but it didn’t break. “Let me out!

His reflection turned to look at him, smirking, and his eyes glittered with the same inky blackness that the mirror held. It rubbed its hands together, a little gleefully, and sauntered over to where the box was sitting on Steve’s bed, sure in its steps and moving uncannily like Tony moved. It dumped the items out onto the covers, picking through them idly. Finally, it pushed aside several before finally settling on a clock, hefting it in its grip as though testing its weight.

“What are you doing?” Tony asked, eyeing it nervously and taking a half-step away. “Don’t,” he pleaded.

He didn’t think it could hear him, didn’t think that it cared, and it lifted the clock up over its head, its smile suddenly turning vicious, and then—froze.

It glanced over its shoulder, and Tony watched it mouth a curse before tossing the clock back onto the bed. It grabbed the dust-cover from the floor quickly and shook it out, then threw it over the mirror.

The last glimpse of the outside world that Tony saw was Steve casually walking through the door, a smile on his lips, with no idea who or what he was walking into.

No!,” Tony shouted, then everything went dark.

 

 

“Did I hear something breaking?” Steve teased. He glanced around, but didn’t see anything that might have been the victim of a clumsy accident. When Tony didn’t turn to look at him, Steve’s brow furrowed. “Tony?”

Tony shook himself, and turned with a shrug. “I didn’t hear anything,” he said, sounding a little defensive.

“...Okay,” Steve said. He’d been joking around with Tony a few minutes ago, but clearly he wasn’t in the mood for it anymore. “Jan wanted to know what we should do with all of the boxes we’re not planning to keep.”

“Throw them away, I don’t care,” Tony said shortly.

“Throw them—Tony, are you all right?” Steve asked. He took a step forward, and Tony took a step back. He still didn’t look up.

“Fine,” he said. “Go bother someone else.”

Steve frowned. Something was clearly wrong, though, and Steve wasn’t going to let it slide just because Tony was trying to drive him away. “You don’t seem fine,” Steve said. “You seem—”

“I said I’m fine,” Tony snarled, pointedly not looking at him, and Steve only had a moment to be stunned before he scowled, reaching out to grab Tony’s arm and force him to face him.

“You’re clearly not fine,” he said.

Tony finally looked up, his eyes completely black and empty, and hissed at him.

Steve recoiled, surprised, and pulled his hand back, and at the same time Tony...or whatever it was lurched forward to grab a clock from where it lay on the blanket. He spun, aiming for the mirror, and Steve grabbed him without thinking, ripping it out of his hands.

He shoved it hard, and it stumbled and fell at the foot of the bed. His shield was by the door, and he vaulted over to it, grabbing and throwing it in the same motion. The creature rolled up to its knees, growling in frustration, and turned toward him just as the shield stuck it in the chest—

—and then it was gone, in a whisper, the reflective surface of the shield inky black and rippling with some strange energy. It bounced harmlessly off the bedpost and ricocheted off toward the wall. The shield struck the wall next to the window, and the darkness slipped like a shadow across the glass.

“Shit,” Steve ran over to the window, but the surface had already returned to normal. Lightning streaked through the sky, and Steve threw the window open to look out into the storm.

There was no trace of the creature anywhere. Steve stooped to pick up his shield from the floor.

“Tony?” Steve called. Whatever that thing was, it sure as hell wasn’t Tony. But he’d said he was bringing the mirror upstairs…

The mirror was leaning against the wall. The cover it had come wrapped in had been removed and then haphazardly tossed over it. That thing had tried to smash it with a clock when it had realized that Steve was onto it. Steve walked over and pulled the dust cover off.

Tony.

His knuckles were red where he’d been smashing them against the glass, and he stopped himself mid-swing. He’d been shouting mutely—no sound seemed to make it through the glass—but the words died on his lips when he saw Steve. He leaned to glance over Steve’s shoulder, probably checking to see that the doppelganger was gone, and then began speaking too rapidly for Steve to read his lips, but the sheer relief on his face lent to their meaning.

Tony pressed his palms to the mirror, and Steve covered them with his own without thinking.

“Thank god,” Tony mouthed at him, no sound making it through the glass.

“What happened?” Steve asked. Tony pulled up his sleeve a little further to reveal a nasty looking mark on his wrist. It was shaped like handprint, and it was going to bruise spectacularly.

“That thing grabbed me, pulled me in—” he paused, glancing behind Steve again. “Where—?”

Steve shook his head, and Tony’s expression sombered. He stared at the mirror, trying to figure out how to convey what he wanted to say.

“I…” he began, finally. “I should go get the others.” He began to turn away, to head back downstairs and get Jan, find Hank and Thor and Iron Man and get Tony out of there. The movement he caught out of the corner of his eyes stopped him in his tracks.

Tony looked… scared. He would never admit it, of course, and he had enough bravado that Steve knew better than to point it out to him, but the look on his face, when he’d thought that Steve was going to leave him here alone would probably be ingrained in his mind for a long, long time.

Steve was only happy that he’d caught the motion out of the corner of his eye, the look of Tony trying to follow after him, shouting something.

“Wait—” Tony had mouthed at him—probably shouted, though Steve hadn’t heard the words. He’d immediately looked embarrassed when Steve turned around again, shaking his head as though to deny that he’d said anything.

“Okay,” Steve said, slowly so Tony could read his lips. “Okay, I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.”

Tony hesitated and then nodded, and Steve pulled out his Avengers Identicard, sending an alert to the rest of the team that way, instead.

Jan was the first on the scene, zipping down the hallway less than thirty seconds after Steve sent out the alert.

“What happened?” she said, almost before she’d entered the room. She glanced around, looking for the threat. When she caught sight of Tony, she gasped, “Oh my God. Tony.”

Tony said something, but Steve couldn’t make out what.

“I found him like this,” Steve said. “There was some kind of… creature pretending to be him.”

Jan touched a tiny hand to the glass, and then turned back on Steve, growing to full size. “What do you mean, pretending to be him? Like a shapeshifter?”

“Almost. But when I tried to hit it with my shield, it disappeared. And it wasn’t a perfect copy… its eyes were black.”

“Where is it now?” Jan asked.

“Out the window,” Steve said. “I don’t know where.”

Steve could hear someone coming down the hall, and a moment later, Thor and Hank followed Jan inside. When Thor caught sight of the mirror, he stopped short.

“What manner of magic is this?” Thor asked.

“I was hoping you might know,” Steve admitted. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what that thing that trapped him in there was, let alone how it did it.”

Tony was watching them curiously, not able to follow the conversation. When Jan shot him a worried glance, he smiled reassuringly at her.

“Hank and I will go visit Doctor Strange,” Jan volunteered. “We’ll see if he can help us.”

“And I have contacts of my own. I shall return as swiftly as possible,” Thor assured him.

“Say,” Jan added thoughtfully, “Where’s Iron Man?”

Steve paused at that. He’d sent out an alert to all of the Avengers, but Iron Man was the only one not to show up. Surely he would be worried about his employer as much as the rest of them?

He turned toward the mirror to ask. “Where is Iron Man?”

Tony looked confused, so Steve repeated himself. That time he understood. He looked thoughtful, probably trying to come up with a way to explain with Steve’s limited ability to read lips.

“Busy,” he decided on, and he gave Steve an apologetic look, shrugging. Steve frowned. Iron Man’s first priority was supposed to be to the team, then to protecting Tony. Now that those duties were overlapping, he couldn’t imagine what would be keeping him.

“You know he would be here if he could,” Tony explained after three attempts, and Steve nodded. He knew Iron Man. Trusted him. Whatever errand Tony had sent him on must have him occupied… out of range or otherwise. They could do without him for now.

Steve turned back to the rest of the Avengers, though he was careful to keep himself open enough to the mirror that he wasn’t cutting Tony off entirely.

“You should go,” he said. “I’m staying here. If that thing comes back, I’ll be ready for it.”

“We’ll be as fast as we can,” Jan said, already shrinking enough that she could grow her wings. She zipped down the hall, Hank and Thor following shortly after. Steve watched them go, and then moved to close the door behind them. Then he went over to the bathroom door and did the same—this thing seemed to be able to travel through reflective surfaces, so the first thing he needed to do was block potential entrances.

After that, Steve grabbed his shield off the floor, and moved to sit beside the mirror. There wasn’t anything to do now but wait, and with any luck, either Strange or Thor would manage to produce a solution. Tony sighed, dropping to sit beside him, and resting his forehead lightly against the glass.

“Are you okay? It didn’t hurt you?” Steve asked. Tony looked confused, shook his head, and so Steve repeated himself. This time, even though Tony’s eyes were firmly fixed on his lips the whole time, he just shook his head slowly, obviously still not understanding. He gave Steve as small, apologetic smile.

Steve leaned forward. Tony’s smile faltered, his eyes darting between Steve’s eyes and his lips, looking confused. Steve breathed on the glass, and the spot fogged over. "Are you okay?” he wrote on the spot. Tony smiled said something, shaking his head at himself when he realized what Steve was doing. Steve didn’t catch what he’d said, but he recognized the self-deprecating look from well enough. Tony waved dismissively at Steve’s confusion, though, and instead glanced down at the message.

Steve could see the gears turning for a moment, and then he breathed on the spot just above it.

"Fine,” he replied. The words were backwards, but Tony wrote each letter carefully so it would be easy to read. ”Not hurt.” He lifted his arms and stretched for Steve just to prove it.

Steve nodded approvingly, and leaned in to breathe on the glass again, when a clap of thunder so loud the lightning may as well have struck inside the bedroom shook the walls. Steve jumped at the sound, his hand going for his shield and aborting the movement just as quickly.

He laughed at himself, just a little, but when he glanced back at Tony the smile dropped. He had written "what happened?” on the glass, not nearly as neatly as he had the other notes, pounding on the glass to get Steve’s attention. He stopped as soon as Steve turned back, picking up on Steve’s relaxed posture, but it was pretty clear what he’d thought, and that Steve had scared him with his reaction.

Steve quickly wrote out "thunder” and then, ”I’m sorry. I’m jumpy.” Tony relaxed a little after that, but Steve could tell that he was nervous, and he could practically see the effort Tony was going to in order to appear calm.

"We’re going to get you out,” Steve wrote quickly, underlining it. Tony started to nod, but Steve wasn’t finished. ”Trust me,” he wrote, and Tony stared at the note for a moment, even though Steve knew he wasn’t having any trouble reading it.

Finally, he glanced back to Steve. Tony smiled, just slightly, and Steve smiled reassuringly back.

"Some inheritance, huh,” Tony wrote.

"Some was better than others,” Steve agreed. ”Probably shouldn’t donate those creepy dolls, though. With our track record, they’re probably possessed.” Steve watched Tony’s shoulders shake in a silent laugh, and he couldn’t resist grinning at him.

Eventually, Tony sighed, and Steve couldn’t help but notice that he seemed a little more relaxed. Steve took a moment to clean the glass with his sleeve where it had smudged from repeated messages. Then, he leaned in to write again.

"I knew it wasn’t you,” Steve said.

"How?” Tony asked.

"Obvious. He was cruel. Cold. Not like you.” Steve wrote each bit out piece by piece, having to breathe on the glass between each bit. He saw Tony’s face screw up the way it did whenever someone paid him a compliment that he didn’t think he deserved. He flicked the mirror, and it drew Tony’s eyes to the spot. He raised an eyebrow.

"Quit,” Steve wrote. ”You’re a good man. That thing was…” he wiped that away with his palm, then wrote, “Of course I could tell the difference.”

"You’ve been paying attention, then,” Tony wrote.

Steve hesitated, considering, and then wrote simply. "Yeah. I have.”

 

 

The longer that he was trapped, the more restless Tony became. There came a point where Steve didn’t think that trying to hold up a conversation was helping—Tony spent more time staring at the widow and the door than actually engaging in what he was trying to say.

Steve leaned against the wall instead, so that he could both face the mirror and protect it. Tony looked restless inside—Steve couldn’t blame him, he had to feel like a caged animal, completely powerless to do anything but wait for the other Avengers to return. And then there was the problem of his double. Who knew the kind of damage that someone malicious who only looked like Tony could theoretically do to his reputation.

Still, Steve was fairly sure that it wasn’t his reputation that Tony was worrying about, if his frequent glances between the window and door were any indication.

His communicator chirped, and Steve perked up. He pulled it out of his pocket, holding it up to show Tony, who was watching curiously. Tony sat up quickly, looking hopeful, and Steve held up one finger then, not wanting him to get his hopes up too quickly.

“This is Captain America,” Steve said.

“Wasp here,” Jan said. The line sounded a little distorted and oddly distant, in the way it always did when trying to cut through the protection spells around the Sanctum Sanctorum. “I think we’ve found what we’re looking for.”

She explained what Doctor Strange had told her, with Hank jumping in, presumably over her shoulder, to give his own input.

“According to Stephen, it’s still bound to the mirror,” Hank said. “It needs to break it in order to free itself, and make the switch permanent. Until then, it can’t go far.”

“It tried to break the mirror when I walked in on it,” Steve said, feeling a little sick. If he’d arrived only moments later, what would he have found? That thing pretending to be Tony, sheepishly claiming he’d broken the mirror by accident.

Steve probably would have helped him sweep it into the trash.

“It will come back to finish the job if we don’t find it first,” Hank said. “Stephen says he has a way for us to trap it.”

“That’s great,” Steve said. “Have you heard from Thor?”

“He’s out looking for it now,” Jan assured him. “We’ll call him next.”

"Doctor Strange says he can fix this,” Steve wrote. ”Once the others find your double.”

"It’s probably long gone by now,” Tony wrote.

Steve paused. "No,” he wrote, finally. ”It’ll come back.”

He explained, painstakingly transcribing everything that Jan and Hank had told him.

"If it breaks the mirror, will it kill me? Or will I just be trapped in here forever?”

"It won’t,” Steve wrote.

"You don’t know that,” Steve slapped a palm against the glass, and Tony’s hand stilled.

"Not going to let that happen,” Steve wrote, and after a long moment,Tony nodded.

 

The Avengers returned long enough to give Steve Doctor Strange’s solution to capturing the creature. Jan handed him a small wooden box, hardly much larger than a shoe box. The interior was lined with mirrors, and Steve peered inside. The surface seemed to ripple in the same way that Steve had seen earlier, when the creature had jumped from his shield to the window, but whatever darkness lay beyond the mirror Tony was trapped in wasn’t contained inside.

Jan, Hank, and Thor had left hours ago, each with a box of their own. Someone had spotted Tony Stark wandering through the halls of the Stark Industries branch in Long Island, and then again minutes later riding the L train through Brooklyn. It seemed like it was… exploring its environment, probably, through it was really hard to say, with it moving too quickly to pin down. They’d split up to search for Tony’s doppelganger, hoping to cover more ground that way.

So far, they hadn’t had any luck.

Tony had fallen asleep with his head leaning against the glass, one hand resting in his lap and the other lying open at his side, so that maybe, if things had been different, Steve could have reached out to take Tony’s hand in his own.

Instead, Steve reached out to trace his fingers over the glass, and tried to imagine how it would feel to reach through, and run his fingers through Tony’s hair, brush his cheek, his lips, cup the back of his head and pull him forward and—

Tony’s eyes flew open. Steve jumped, trying not to look guilty, but… Tony wasn’t even looking at him. His gaze flicked around the room, and Steve could see now that his breath was coming in plumes. He was shivering, as though the temperature had dropped suddenly, and when he pressed his hands to the mirror it fogged around his fingers.

He blew out a shuddering breath and scrawled ”It’s coming” on the glass.

“How do you know?” Steve asked, even though he knew Tony couldn’t hear him. He rose to his feet anyway, and pulled out his com badge, and at the same time the bedroom overheads flickered once, twice, and popped spitting feeble sparks and plunging them both into darkness.

Steve blinked, and pressed his thumb over the com button. “Avengers—”

The badge let out a piercing shriek, and Steve winced, dropping it on the floor, where the speakers wailed pitifully and died. Okay. So the comm frequencies were down. It didn’t matter—he’d at least seen the link established; the Avengers would know to come investigate what the trouble was, anyway.

He just needed to hold it off for a little while.

He looked at the way the city lights cast shadows across the ground and thought easier said than done.

 

It didn’t slip through the window, or slink through the shadows. Steve blinked, and it was there, half-obscured by the darkness, unmoving. He drew in a breath, curling his first around the leather straps of his shield.

It grinned, and its teeth seemed to glow in the moonlight.

Steve hurled the shield, knowing that he couldn’t land a blow—not like that. The creature didn’t disappear like it had last time; it simply stepped to the side. The shield bounced off the closet door, the wall, and returned to Steve’s hand.

The creature laughed, and it sounded so… broken, coming from Tony’s throat. Steve grit his teeth and lunged at it, holding the shield back to keep the reflective surface from its reach. It was fast, seemed almost supernaturally so in the darkness, and it dodged out of the way of Steve’s blow. He rolled to his feet next to the mirror and tossed the shield behind him, hoping to catch it off guard, aimed just so, so that the shield could carry it on the rebound right back to him—

The creature whirled and caught the shield by its edge, not even flinching under the force of a throw that easily could have rendered a man unconscious in a single blow.

It threw the shield directly at the mirror, and Steve dropped to the floor and kicked the stand out from underneath it. The mirror tipped onto its side, and Steve stretched and caught the edge of the frame with his ankle before it could hit the ground. The mirror rattled as it hit the ground, and a chunk of the frame broke loose.

His shield struck the wall hard enough to punch through the plaster where the mirror had been resting moments before. He reached up to yank it out of the wall, and then paused.

“You can’t stop me,” it said. The creature’s grin was cruel, and it looked so wrong on Tony’s face. It trailed its fingers along the edge of Steve’s bedspread as he walked. “You can’t even touch me.”

“Not with that,” Steve agreed. He grabbed jagged edge of the mirror frame and swung it back-hand. The old wood wasn’t even polished; it slammed into the creatures cheekbone, splintering on the impact. He gripped it hard enough for the wood to cut his hands, rammed it forward, and the creature staggered, stumbled—

Steve dove for the mirror box.

He caught the creature off balance. Maybe that was why it went so willingly into the mirror, maybe it was an instinctual reaction—the flight in “fight or flight” taking over before it could register that it had stumbled into a trap. Steve jerked the box toward him as quickly as possible. Already, the shadow in the glass was jumping from wall to wall and almost as soon as Steve hinged the lid over it, it was pressing back against him.

He forced the lid shut with more effort than he ever would have expected, and it let out an unearthly shriek, so piercingly loud that for a moment Steve feared the noise alone might be enough to shatter glass.

The box rattled once, and then it was silent.

Steve dropped to his knees and let out a breathy laugh. The lock held. After a moment he pushed himself to his feet. The mirror had fallen face-down, and Steve stooped to pick it up. Tony looked—so relieved to see him, blinking owlishly even at the dim light. He pressed his palms to the glass, and his smile was blinding.

”Steve!” Tony mouthed, and he didn’t need to be able to hear to know his name.

His eyes flicked to the edge of the mirror, and his face fell. He reached out to trace the glass, and Steve looked to see what had drawn his eye.

There was a smear of blood on the edge of the mirror, from where Steve had picked it up.

”Steve?” Tony repeated, suddenly looking stricken, and Steve quickly moved to sooth his worries. It was just a small cut; it wouldn’t even require stitches. At worst he would have to put up with some splinters.

Tony frowned, biting his lip, and Steve tapped the glass with his other hand to draw his attention. He shrugged, flexed the fingers on his injured hand, and smiled. Despite himself, Tony smiled back.

”I’m okay,” he said. His comm had begun to crackle, the hiss and pop of communications coming back online. He needed to contact the team and tell them what happened. The sooner they got in touch with Doctor Strange, the sooner they could fix this. ”Let’s worry about you, okay? Let’s get you out.”

Tony nodded. ”Thank you”.

“Of course,” Steve said genuinely. He smiled warmly at Tony, pressing his hand briefly to the glass. Then he turned his back on the mirror to retrieve his comm badge off the floor, and added quietly, “I’d do anything for you.”

 

 

 

It was one in the morning when Steve found himself outside Tony’s bedroom. He hadn’t even intended to look inside—didn’t really know why he’d gone that direction at all—but when he arrived outside the door, it was standing very slightly ajar.

Steve pushed the door in just slightly, barely enough to peek inside through the darkness and—

Tony wasn’t in bed.

Huh.

Steve shut the door again, allowing it to latch this time. He had nearly arrived at the library when the faint murmur of voices and soft music from the living room drew his attention. Tony was sitting in the corner of the sofa, his legs pulled up beside him and a book in his lap. On the radio played a radio drama that Steve wasn’t familiar with, but then Tony had probably picked the furthest thing from Lights Out that he could find. Every light in the room had been turned on, and even though Steve wasn’t quiet at all on his approach, Tony still jumped when he entered the room.

“What’s the matter?” Steve asked gently. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“No.” Tony hesitated, looking almost ashamed. “I guess not. I—“ he sighed, closed the book in his lap, and leaned his head back to watch Steve come around the couch. “Nightmares.” He drummed his fingers against the cover of the book, a nervous motion. “I know its stupid. A grown man afraid of the dark… but don’t worry about me, Cap. Give me a few days, I’ll get over it.”

“You don’t need to get over it,” Steve said.

Tony was quiet for a long moment. When he finally spoke, the admission was pitched low enough that Steve hardly heard him over the sound of the radio. “For a while there, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get out of there.”

“Tony—”

“Claustrophobia isn’t exactly an ideal condition for a man who spends all his time in—” he faltered, “crawling around inside ships’ engines.”

Steve stepped up behind him, dropped a hand on Tony’s shoulder, and tried to believe he wasn’t imagining Tony leaning into the touch. “Give it some time,” Steve said. “I know you’ll bounce back. Stronger than ever.”

Tony hummed. “I’ll be fine.”

Steve wanted to believe that, but it was clear that he didn’t really believe it himself. For once, Steve didn’t know what to say to comfort him.

“I’m here if you need me,” Steve offered instead. “Someone to talk to, or… anything.”

Tony was quiet for a long moment, before he set his book on the table, patting the sofa beside him with the other hand.

“If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can join me,” Tony offered, nonchalant.

“Thanks,” Steve said. He dropped into the seat beside Tony. After a second of silence, with only the radio playing as background noise, Steve felt Tony lean into his side, just slightly, his hesitance clear in the stiffness in his shoulders, as though he were preparing to pretend that it had been an accident.

“So, what have I missed?” Steve asked, indicating the radio drama.

“Well, I’m not so sure myself,” Tony admitted. “I wasn’t listening.” Steve felt Tony shrug beside him, relaxing by degrees every moment that Steve didn’t pull away, and when Steve took a risk and put his arm around him—or around the back of the couch, really—Tony dropped his head on Steve’s shoulder.

“All I’ve gathered is that the main character’s name is Jack, and he’s in a desert,” Tony said finally.

“Sounds interesting,” Steve teased, and Tony hummed quietly in response. .

“It is,” Tony said quietly. Steve could hear the exhaustion in his voice, and wondered if Tony had gotten any sleep at all since he’d been attacked. “Well written… at least,” he added. Steve hummed quietly but didn’t answer, didn’t want to risk shocking him awake again, and sure enough, it wasn’t more than a few minutes before Tony had dozed off, still leaning against Steve’s side.

His was going to hate himself in the morning when he woke with a crick in his neck, but right now, with a warm weight pressed against his side and the soft lulling combination of the radio and Tony’s measured breaths beside him, Steve thought he could live with that.