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Nightmare Fuel

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The grand finale of Mikas' scheme to conquer Atlantis came to a crashing halt roughly three minutes after it began. Namorita grabbed his power amulet and kicked him in the balls, and in the ensuing yowls of pain, his enchantments disintegrated, the walls of blue flames collapsed, and Steve was himself again.

The aftermath took somewhat longer. On a practical level, all of the Avengers except Iron Man had spent the past two days transformed into lizard monsters, so no one had any clothes, and most of them were now piled on top of Iron Man. At least Namorita was a champ about looking the other way, and Wanda eventually found all their stuff.

Then there was the matter of getting off the island stronghold and back to New York. Mikas had well and truly crashed the quinjet when he'd captured the team, and Iron Man wasn't admitting he had a problem, but Steve could see literal cracks in his armour. Namor finally showed up and, after a moderate amount of bluster, arranged for a submarine. He said it was to get them out of his hair, but Steve figured it was the least he owed the Avengers for dragging them into Atlantian dynastic politics yet again.

All of which was not unusual post-mission hassle, and Jarvis even had tea and biscuits ready on their return, which took the edge off everyone's ill humour. Steve had a shower, then another shower for good measure, wrote his report, drank a cup of hot chocolate while reading his book, changed into pyjama bottoms, lay down, closed his eyes, counted slowly backwards from two hundred, and fell asleep.

In the dream it went like this: Steve was a snake again, impossibly long, with teeth capable of rending steel. His blue-scaled coils wrapped around Iron Man, ever tightening, his jaws open wide and poised to tear through the neck of Iron Man's armour to the soft throat beneath.

Iron Man struggled, against Steve's coils and against the others who were taking hold of his limbs. He kept saying that he knew Steve was in there, that Steve was strong, that Steve would break free of Mikas' control, that even transformed into a snake Steve was still Captain America, that Steve would never hurt a teammate.

None of Iron Man's faith in his team was true. Steve bit down until he tasted blood. Iron Man screamed, and then Steve was screaming too, wide awake, and covered in perspiration.

"Damn," he muttered. That had not only felt real, but it had been far too close to happening. If Namorita hadn't broken free when she had, Steve would have torn Iron Man's throat out, and then gone on to conquer Atlantis besides, forever Mikas' thrall.

Steve got up and had another shower, then went down to the living room to watch the morning light spread over the park. He tried not to think about the dream. He knew that if he recalled the details, they would fix in his mind, whereas keeping them carefully blank would eventually efface them. Every time his mind edged towards an image or sensation, he made himself think about something else.

His favourite fantasy involved flying with Iron Man, their arms wrapped around each other. Steve would have his eyes closed against the wind, so he wouldn't realise that Iron Man had opened his faceplate until their lips met. Steve would keep his eyes closed, but tighten his hold and kiss Iron Man back. The exhilaration of flight would make it feel like his first kiss, the first time he'd ever fallen in love.

"You're up early, Cap."

Steve started, flushing guiltily at the sound of Iron Man's voice. He'd been so out of it that he hadn't even heard a teammate in full armour come in. "You know me," he said, making himself smile. He was being friendly. Iron Man had definitely not just walked in on Steve fantasising about kissing him. "Might go for a run, in a bit."

"I'll leave you to it," Iron Man replied, and Steve could hear a smile in his friend's voice, even through the metallic distortion. He had on slightly different armour, the cracked suit most likely back in Tony Stark's fabrication room. "Don't forget the briefing."

"Right," Steve said, then, "Like the new look, Shell-head."

Iron Man offered a half salute in way of reply, and continued on to the monitor room. It didn't occur to Steve to ask how much sleep he'd gotten until he was already gone.

Steve went on his run, had breakfast, and attended the briefing. Everyone looked more rested than he felt, but Jan still called for a day off for everyone. Steve agreed that it was a good idea, for the others. He would have taken a mission over having to invent his own distractions right now. He went to the Met until it closed, then jogged around the park a couple of times.

That wiped him out enough to sleep, but still the dreams came. He was coiled around Iron Man, and instead of biting through, he constricted his muscles and began to crush the suit. He felt sounds more than heard them in his snake form, and each cracking plate and grinding joint reverberated through Steve's whole body, base notes under Iron Man's pleas for him to remember who he was, to stop, for the love of God. Steve could not, and again they both screamed.

Putting on a robe, Steve padded along the hallway, listening at each door as he went. His enhanced hearing picked up only the normal breathing of sleep from Clint and Wanda, and soft sounds from Carol's room that made him blush and back away. Jan and Hank lived at their own place, as did Iron Man, even though he had more right to the place than any of them.

Steve made himself drink a sweet cup of milky tea and go back to bed, but could not fall asleep. Every time he started to drift, either the dream or memories of Mikas' island would return. He really had started to crack open Iron Man's armour. He would have bitten through. Steve could not escape that. No matter what Iron Man had told him, Steve had not been strong enough to break free of Mikas' control.

Steve got up with the sun and went jogging again. If the team noticed that he was sluggish during training, they didn't comment. Steve knew that he should go find Sam, take up one of his own projects, distract himself, but he couldn't seem to pull out of the mansion's orbit. He took the evening shift on monitor duty from Clint, who was happy enough to be sprung.

"How are you doing?" Steve asked as he entered his codes for the handover.

"You know me," Clint replied, giving him his best smarmy grin. "Nothing a little wine, a few women, and some dancing won't fix."

The echo of Steve's own words to Iron Man struck him, but he didn't have time to say more than, "Don't have too much have fun," before Clint made his escape, stripping out of his costume as he went.

How were any of them doing, really? Hank had been making noises about mandatory psych evaluations, and Steve was beginning to agree. He also had to wonder if he'd be the first one benched when the results came in.

He'd taken monitor duty because he thought it would be a distraction, but in all honesty absolutely nothing of interest was going on. About an hour in, he got a brief note from Namor that, Order had been restored, whatever that meant, and then a whole lot of silence. He ended up tuning into the NASA frequencies to find out how the boys in the space station were doing, but it turned out to be their sleep period, and his Russian wasn't up to the cosmonauts' jargon. He left them on anyway, the steady chatter comforting in its precision.

Steve was flying with Iron Man, their arms wrapped around each other, the wind in Steve's face making him close his eyes. He knew they were high above the Atlantic, but all he could feel was the thrum of Iron Man's repulsors, the vibration echoing through Steve's body until it felt as though he were the one wearing armour. The wind whipped against them both, and Steve tightened his hold. His arm wrapped all the way around Iron Man’s waist, and then circled it again, and when Steve looked down, he understood that what he'd thought was the blue mail of his costume was actually scales, and that his body was wrapping around Iron Man in ever-tightening coils. The armour cracked, the chest plate beginning to fracture, and Iron Man cried out, calling Steve's name.

"Cap! Steve! You okay?"

Steve spun around, or tried to. His legs tangled in the chair, and he ended up sprawling face-first across the floor. A pair of red metal boots filled his field of vision, and when Steve rolled over, he found he was looking up at Iron Man. "I'm fine," Steve said.

Iron Man laughed, the speakers crackling the sound. "I can see that." He reached down, and Steve let him pull up. "But I'm serious, I've never seen you so much as daydream on duty, let alone whatever that was."

Behind the faceplate, Iron Man's blue eyes were fixed intently on Steve, the only real sign sometimes that Iron Man wasn't a robot. Looking at them, Steve couldn't find it in him to lie. He rubbed his hand over his mouth before admitting, "I guess I've been having nightmares, since I got back."

"Well, no wonder!" Iron Man said. "You were turned into a giant snake. That'd put me off my feed for a bit too." His gauntlet rested heavily on Steve's shoulder as he added, "I'm sorry Namorita and I didn't get there sooner, in time to save you."

"You made it in the end, partner," Steve told him, hoping his words would somehow convince Iron Man that he, of all people, was not to blame. "It all came out in the wash. I don't know why I can't shake it."

Steve could feel the servos whirring inside Iron Man's armour as he lightly squeezed Steve's shoulder, and for a moment was back in his dream again, the armour crunching under him, and soon they would both be falling. Steve flinched back, shrugging out of Iron Man's hold.

"Looks like you really can't," Iron Man said, sounding so sympathetic that Steve had to look away. "Anything I can do?"

Steve should have said no, told Iron Man he'd be fine, at most let him take over his shift since Steve clearly wasn't capable right now, but instead he found himself asking, "Would you sit here for a while, Shell-head? I could use the company."

"Of course." Iron Man pulled over another chair, and settled in next to Steve. "You want to talk these nightmares of yours, partner? I hear it helps."

"You never tried it yourself?"

Iron Man laughed. "Nope."

That figured, though maybe he couldn't with his identity secret. Steve hoped that at least Iron Man had a friend in Tony Stark, but they talked about each other so oddly sometimes that he had to doubt it. Steve sighed. "I'd rather just pretend it hadn't happened."

"Sound policy," Iron Man replied. One of the monitors crackled, and he took up the obvious change in topic. "Those the cosmonauts?"

"Only game in town right now," Steve answered, shrugging, "but it's all SMS this and M1 that. Can't work out what they're talking about. "

Iron Man listened for a moment, then said, "Well, my Russian isn't much, but my space jargon is excellent. You tell me what they're saying; I'll tell you what it means."

They ran that back in forth between them for the rest of Steve's shift, the sound of Iron Man's voice making the time pass easily and Steve's worries fade. It felt silly to worry about might-have-beens with his friend right there, obviously fine, and happily explaining the divergence in Russian and American rocketry, using the Nazi V-2 as a base. Like the war that had brought those terrifying rockets to flight, Steve knew that the memory of Mikas' island would stay with him, but like his time in the army, he also knew that he would move on from it, in time.

With only a few minutes before Carol came to take over, Iron Man turned to Steve and asked, "You going to be okay tonight?"

"Should be now," Steve replied, hoping it was true. "Thanks for sitting up with me."

Iron Man pushed himself up, moving stiffly for a moment, and Steve wondered again when he had last slept. "No problem, Cap. Let me know if there's anything else I can do. Anything at all."

For a moment, Steve flashed to his original fantasy of flying, and a deeper-held one of Iron Man taking him to bed, their naked bodies and how they'd feel together, of Steve's eyes still closed as Iron Man slowly fucked him. He said, "Thanks for the offer, but I think I'll be all right."

Even if that wasn't quite the truth, Steve went to bed and slept through the night without remembering a single dream.