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A New Dream Every Morning

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"I'm fine – now that that piece of garbage isn't among our ranks anymore."
– "Captain America" (Iron Man Vol 3 #41)

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"Tony!"

Tony's head snapped up. Hadn't he just done this? He thought he remembered... but no. He'd been alone in his cell since they'd locked him in this hole. Cap had said he was a flight risk at... at his sentencing hearing? Or had that been after? Tony wasn't sure. He could hear Steve saying that, each word cutting deeper than the last, but he didn't remember when.

He could hear Steve calling his name too, but that time had been relieved and now he was angry, no, furious, the kind of roiling emotion that Tony had rarely seen on him.

"Cap," Tony said evenly, but he didn't look up.

Steve closed in and took hold of Tony's collar, dragging his head up until their eyes met. Tony still couldn't believe they'd put a tracker around his neck, like he was an animal. One step outside his... cell? His ward? The prison? and it would either shock him unconscious or blow his head off. He should know: it was his design. They'd taken all his designs, everything he'd once had, and turned them against him.

"If you confess, you might qualify for parole," Steve started. He was trying to sound calm, reasonable, even friendly, but Tony could hear the fire under his voice. Steve never had been much of an actor, and the corners of his mouth gave him away now too. He looked like he'd bitten an apple and found a worm.

"In twenty years," Tony shot back.

"Better than life."

Tony shrugged. He wouldn't make it twenty years, so life was actually the shorter sentence. "I won't lie," he said.

"Oh, now you won't lie?" Steve laughed, and the sound made Tony shiver. "But you were happy to hide the truth about being Iron Man, even from us, for years. Wiping everyone's minds, mine included, so that you could keep on lying, that was fine. Why not now?"

Of course Steve had never forgiven him for that. Just like he'd never forgiven him for his drinking, or for taking his armour back when they'd gotten out of his control. Like he would never forgive him this, even when it was something he hadn't actually done this time. Tony had thought they were past this, that now that they'd finally admitted their feelings, after all these years, that Steve would trust him, would lay their old battles down. Clearly not. "What do you want me to say?" he asked tiredly.

"For once in your life, I want you to tell the truth," Steve said, and oh that still stung, even now. "How long have you been a gun for hire running inside our team, from out of our bed?"

Tony shook his head. "Never."

"Bull," Steve said flatly. "We have proof. You were convicted by a jury of your peers. Why do you keep lying?" He seemed disgusted still, dropping his hold on Tony's collar and looking away. Yet when he turned back, his jaw had relaxed and voice softened, and when he spoke, he really did sound like the friend that Tony missed like his true heart. "Can't you at least tell me the truth, Shell-head?"

Of all things Tony knew he could face, all the horrors he'd had to battle over the years, Steve being disappointed in him had never been one. He turned to look at the wall, pulling his knees to his chest. Nothing he could say would make Steve believe him, so he didn't say anything at all.

Steve made a frustrated grunt in the back of his throat and left the cell.

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"Tony!"

Tony's head snapped up, not just at the name, but at the tone. Christ, Steve sounded excited, happy even. Had he come for him? Had Steve finally realised that this was all a horrible mistake, that kicking Tony off the team, and the trial, and the life sentence, that breaking their relationship had been all wrong? Yes. Tony could see it in the determined set of his jaw and line between his eyes. Steve going to get Tony the hell out of here.

"Cap!" Tony said, shoving himself to his feet too fast, even as his knees threatened to give out. "Thank God."

"We don't have much time," Steve said, throwing an arm around Tony's waist, "Come on!"

Tony did his best to keep up as Steve hurried them out of his cell and along the long prison corridors. His bound hands slowed him down, but Steve hadn't even tried to undo them. There were no alarms going of, yet, but Tony had a sinking feeling that this was not legal. "What's happening?" he asked, but Steve just hurried him along.

"We're getting you out of here," he said. "The quinjet's parked in the yard, your collar's switched off, and all the sensors are down."

"The whole team?" Tony asked. "They all believe me?" He was having trouble imagining it, especially after they'd all testified against him then refused to visit, but they must have found out the truth. That had to be it. They had to know he was innocent.

Steve was half dragging him now, his powerful stride tearing up the distance to the yard, a place Tony had never been allowed.

"What do you think?" Steve asked, and pushed open the heavy door, leading Tony into the daylight.

Daylight, two dozen armed guards, and no quinjet. Tony looked at Steve, then at the guards and their levelled guns, and tried to step in front of his friend. He wouldn't let Steve die, not for him.

The blow caught him in the small of his back, driving him to his hands and knees, and Tony only just kept his face from smashing into the cement. Tony had spared with Cap too many times not to know that feel, but his mind refused to believe it. He wouldn't. Steve had not hit him with his shield, because that would mean...

"I told you he was a flight risk," Steve said. His voice was unbearably cold. Colder than when he'd called Tony "garbage" on the day of his arrest.

"Isn't that entrapment, Cap?" one of the guards asked.

"I won't tell if you won't," Steve said, and gave Tony a shove with his boot, hard enough to knock him to his side. Tony curled around himself protectively, but the expected blows never fell, except for the one delivered by Steve snapping, "Now take this traitor back where he belongs."

He didn't resist as the guards dragged him away. What was the point?

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"Tony!"

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"Tony!"

Steve was angry again, like he had been in court, and... before? In the yard? But they didn't let Tony out in the yard. He'd been in his cell since they put him here, and no one had... but now Steve was furious with him, and Tony didn't know what to say.

"Cap," he said tiredly. He wanted to pull his knees up and hug them, but knew that would look childish and weak, and he couldn't be those things in front of Steve, not any more.

Steve wrapped his right hand around Tony's collar, knuckles of his gloves digging into Tony's throat, and cocked his left. "Are you going to tell me, or not?"

"Or what?" Tony wasn't sure why he cared any more, but this was just stupid. "Is Captain America going to hit an unarmed man?"

"Not a man, no," Steve snarled and punched him in the eye.

Tony's head snapped back, bouncing off the wall, the back of the collar digging into his neck. Fuck, he hadn't been braced for that. Steve hadn't even hit him that hard, not nearly as hard as he could have, but the shock of it stunned Tony even before the pain kicked in. He wanted to feel his face to see if Steve had cracked his orbit, but his hands were still tied, pressed close between their bodies in a way that he would have loved, once. Tony tried to knee Steve in the groin, then to twist his legs around him and pull him down, but Steve stood like an oak, and prison had made Tony weak. "This isn't right!" he snapped, and shook the blood out of his eye.

"Neither is what you did to us," Steve snarled, and this time his left caught Tony just under the ribs and knocked his breath away. If Steve hadn't been holding his collar still, Tony would have fallen off the bench. If not then, certainly as the next blow fell, or the next.

"Stop," Tony gasped, and fuck if that didn't work. "Stop it," he said again, to be sure, but Steve had paused, at least long enough for Tony to cough, swallow back blood, and ask, "Steve, what's the matter with you? I've never... you don't..." Something was wrong with this, so wrong he didn't know where to begin. "You don't believe in torture."

"What about retribution?" Steve asked. He hadn't even paused; Tony's words hadn't even touched him. "What about the consequences of betrayal. I thought I could trust you, Tony. I–" now he hesitated, his determination wavering, "I thought you loved me."

Then he hit Tony so hard that the whole world went back, and Tony welcomed it.

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"Tony!"

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"Tony!"

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"Tony!"

Tony curled himself into a ball, keeping back to the door. His side hurt, and he couldn't open his right eye. The guards? Yes. The guards had really worked him over. Only he didn't think it had been the guards, and why couldn't he remember? He pulled his arms up so that he could bury his face in the crook of his elbows, even if his shackles dug into his head.

"Oh, Tony, what have they done to you?" Steve's voice was soft and sad, and so was the touch to his shoulder a moment later. Tony wanted to lean into Steve's hand, but he... he couldn't trust Steve. Steve had been angry at him: he'd testified against Tony, called him garbage, and... Tony couldn't remember. There was another reason, he knew.

"Tony," Steve said, a little louder, but he sounded worried, not angry. "Tony can you hear me?"

"Don't–" Tony swallowed, wetting his throat, "don't trust you."

The hand left his shoulder, then returned, softer and warmer, without the glove, and rested on the back of Tony's neck. "I'm so sorry, Tony. I never wanted this to happen."

Apparently Tony was a total sucker, because he did press back against Steve's hand, soaking in the first touch he'd felt in... months? Why did he remember Steve's hands on his throat? He flinched away. "Why are you here?"

Steve didn't try to touch him again, but Tony could hear his breathing as he crouched right next to the bed. "I needed to see you," he said, almost wheedling now. "I couldn't stop thinking of you locked away in here, all alone."

"Fuck you," Tony muttered. "You're the one..." the one who'd done something. "You shouldn't have..." what? He'd testified against Tony, but he'd also... something worse. Something later. The words came to him, "I thought you loved me."

Leather creaked as Steve rose to his feet, but Tony heard no answer. Finally, he rolled over enough to see Steve standing over him, his hands on his hips, his expression deadly.

"You thought what?" Steve demanded.

"You heard me." It was too late for games, and Tony was tired of them. He was tired of everything now, Steve most of all.

"I came to see if you'd admit to your crimes," Steve said, voice cold. "I wanted to get you a better cell, for old time's sake, but clearly you're delusional."

"That sounds about right," Tony muttered, and turned back to the wall. It hadn't been real, the care, the soft touches; it had just been another of Steve's tricks to get him to admit to... something. Tony didn't remember why he was here, not really. He hadn't done it. "I didn't do it," he said, and knew for certain that he'd at least said that before.

"I'm going to recommend a psychiatric evaluation," Steve said, already turning towards the door. "Perhaps with treatment, or medication..." he didn't finish, because of course he couldn't promise anything, not a better cell or an earlier release or his life as an Avenger, and certainly not his old place in Steve's heart.

Tony knew with certainty that he'd never see Steve again, and the worst part was that came as a relief.

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"Tony!"

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"Tony!"

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"Tony!"

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"Mr. Stark?"

Tony lifted his head. That wasn't Steve, but then why had he been expecting him? He'd been here for... for a long time, he didn't know, and no one had visited him, except Steve, or no he hadn't he seen... Steve came everyday, didn't he? Or he came the same day over and over again.

What Tony did know was that he had never seen the Vision here before. He turned to see Viz hovering half way though the cell wall, or was he? Every apparently solid thing he touched scattered into strings of code around him, the strings of numbers swirling like sea fronds as the Vision ghosted through.

"Vision?" Tony asked. He was holding out his hand for Tony to take. "What's going on? Where's Cap?"

"Captain America is not here," the Vision said, and stood there, hand extended, an immovable point in a whirlpool of data. The cell was dissolving around him. Would Tony dissolve too? Did he want to? "You must take my hand."

"I... I can't leave," Tony said. Every time he tried, something terrible happened, and then Steve... "No. I belong here."

The cell continued to fragment, and now the Vision was starting to fade with it, not into date streams, but growing dimmer and less distinct.

"Mr. Stark," Viz said again. "I do not know what has happened in your time here, but if you would not continue in this way for the rest of your life, you must choose to leave. Now take my hand."

A choice. Steve had never offered him a choice, not in all the days he'd come. Hadn't come? Tony didn't know, but he did know that if he was to choose, it would be to leave. "Right," he said, "Let's blow this joint."

Tony took the Vision's hand with both of his, and the world dissolved around him.

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"Tony?"

"Cap, he's coming out of it."

"What's his heart rate?"

"One hundred."

"Good. Vision, report."

"We are completely disengaged, Captain."

"Shut it down!"

"Powering down now."

"Tony, can you hear me?"

Tony's chest hurt, and the room was too bright, and he couldn't think. Where was he? On the floor, somewhere, he thought. Red, white and blue filled his vision, and he rolled away, covering his head. "I didn't do it."

"Heart rate's spiking. Back off, Cap." That was Carol.

"Is he afraid of me?" Steve sounded appalled. "Vision, what did you see?"

"Nothing conclusive." Viz was still hovering above Tony, partway dissolved though what looked like Tony's charging apparatus. When had Tony been charging his heart? Hadn't he been in prison? "He asked about you."

"Oh, God." Steve's voice was low and exhausted. "We should've got him out sooner."

Tony rolled onto his back and pushed himself up on his elbows, blinking against the light. He was in his lab after all. He could see Carol and Hank over by the monitors, the Vision still hovering, and Steve, his cowl pushed back and several days of stubble on his chin, crouched a few feet away. He was watching Tony with a mixture of concern, fear and alacrity, like any moment Tony might run, and Steve would chase him down.

"How did I get here?" Tony asked the Vision, ignoring Steve.

"You never left," Viz told him, sinking down through the floor until his eyes were level with Tony's. "Tiberius Stone had infiltrated your mainframe and linked your mind to his virtual reality Dream Vision."

"It took us two days to get you out," Carol said. Steve had dropped his gaze, and no one was moving any closer. "We didn't want to risk shutting it down until we separated you from the program."

"So..." Tony struggled to separate the start from the end, to work out what had been dream, and what had actually happened. Every time he tried to think back, he saw Steve's face twisted in anger, felt Steve fist coming down again and again. "I wasn't..." he didn't know what to say. He could already see Carol watching him with pity, and didn't want to risk telling any of them what he'd experienced. "I need to talk to Steve."

"I..." Steve said, but the others were already leaving. Steve stayed frozen where he was until they were gone, then slumped back to sit on the floor. "I'm sorry, Tony," he said miserably. "This never should have happened. We should have..." He stopped when Tony leaned forward and touched his boot.

This did feel different from the cell, more detailed, but at the same time less intimidate and hyper-focused. Still he had to ask, had to make sure. "Steve," he said carefully, "I need to know the answer to two questions."

Steve was still downcast, but now looked up tentatively, blue eyes bright behind blond lashes. He looked exhausted and Tony felt his heart pulling him to go over and kiss away that worry and let Steve wrap his arms around him, but he had to know.

When Steve promised to tell him anything, Tony asked, "First, before you sent the Vision, did you go into the virtual reality?"

"I wanted to," Steve admitted. He'd dropped his gaze again, and studied a scuff mark on his knee. "I tried to convince Hank that even if I got stuck, at least you wouldn't be in there all alone, but Hank didn't think it would work like that, and Viz didn't know if he could control the program long enough to rescue two people before everything came apart." He looked like he wanted to apologise again, this time for not getting his brain scrambled in a futile attempt to keep Tony company in hell.

"Second," Tony carried on, heart lifting because Steve hadn't been in that machine, so he hadn't seen the real Steve in the infinity of repetitions inside the program. Maybe he would have to run through the security footage to be completely sure, but now he could ask the more important question, the thing he really needed to know: "Do you love me?"

"Of course I do, Tony." Steve reached down and rested his hand on top of Tony's, both still covering the toe of Steve's boot. "I'll always love you. I, uh..." he paused and blushed, colour creeping up the back of his neck as well as spreading across his cheeks, "I told you that, when you were in the machine, but I guess you didn't hear." He sounded betrayed by that, and of all things that was what convinced Tony that he was telling the truth. No computer could invent a Steve Rogers who took offence at an evil program not letting him tell his boyfriend he loved him.

"I can hear you now," he said, and rolled to crawl forward until he was kneeling between Steve's spread legs. He rested his unbound hands on Steve's shoulders, and leaned down to kiss him. At first Steve's lips were passive, unresisting, but not moving to accept Tony. But then when Tony licked his bottom lip Steve responded by tipping his face back a little and opening his mouth. He moaned against Tony's mouth, and brought his arms up to hold him.

When Steve lifted his hand to comb through his hair, Tony forced himself not to flinch; when Steve pressed his lips to Tony's neck, he forced himself not to flinch, and when Steve slid his hand up his bare chest, digging in his fingers just under his rib cage, Tony didn't have to force himself to do anything he didn't want to do, at least not at that moment.

He would have time later to sort out the margins between simulation and reality, and determine which memories he would have to learn to ignore, but right now he'd chosen to make something good to remember.