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Horn and Ivory

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Steve was finally permitted to retreat to his new room under the guise of unpacking. He shut the door; then he felt strangely claustrophobic, and opened the door and window. The breeze chilled him more than it should, and he shut the window again, pausing to look out over the garden. Neat and green, with a tennis court; he could hear the distressingly unfamiliar sounds of New York. Even the cars sounded different, looked different. Still, it was better than the top-secret facility he'd spent the previous fortnight immured in while they ran test after test.

Unpacking didn't take long. He only had the few clothes he'd been issued, which all fitted into one drawer of the dresser. I'll take you shopping, Janet van Dyne had offered. I'll send Pepper shopping, Tony Stark had offered. You can just order clothes over the Internet, Hank Pym had said, and gotten scandalised looks from both Stark and van Dyne.

Thor hadn't said anything. Steve wasn't sure if a Norse God or a global computer network that let him buy shoes from China were more bewildering. He certainly had trouble believing either was real.

And if they weren't real...

Steve pulled out his dogtags, and slipped one tag off the chain. He spun it on its end. Then again. Then again. It landed name up, every time, and Steve bit his lip. It wasn't the first time he'd tried it since waking up here. He knew how he'd gotten here, too. It all checked out as reality.

Name. Name. Name.

"What are you doing?" Steve snapped his hand shut around the tag and glanced up to see Tony Stark standing in the doorway, a brown paper bag clutched in his hands, watching his hands. He hooked the tag back into place, and shrugged.

"I was just... fiddling, you know." He tried a smile. "Nervous habit, I guess."

"Right." Stark kept staring at his tags, and Steve resisted the urge to tuck them away. "Do you have everything you need?"

"Yes, yes." Steve glanced around the room. The gleaming dark wood of the furniture and the rich texture of curtains and rug gave the room an air of quiet simplicity instead of bareness, rather like a very expensive hotel. Steve supposed any of his own knick-knacks or posters would only look cheap in this setting. "Thank you for letting me stay here."

"It's really no trouble at all, Captain." Stark caught his lower lip in his teeth for a second, brows drawing together, and then his face cleared into a smile, though his fingers worried at the paper bag he held. "We're very glad to have you here. Please, if you need anything at all; don't hesitate to ask."

A Coke in green glass, music that didn't hurt his ears, a fountain pen to write with.

For the last two weeks to have been a bad dream; to wake up and stretch out his hand and ruffle Bucky's hair.

"Thanks, I will." The insincerity registered in Stark's expression, and Steve felt stab of guilt; but then it vanished under the mask of smooth politeness.

"Well, I'll leave you to it."

Steve listened to his retreating footsteps, and put up a hand to his tags. The way he'd looked at them...

On the edge of his hearing, the footsteps stopped, and a door creaked. Then the sound of shoes on bare wood; stairs, he was walking on stairs. Up stairs, if Steve's ears were right. After a second, Steve got up and padded after him. Ridiculous, no need, Stark was walking around his own house.

But Steve's room was on the top floor, and why would Stark be digging around in his attic? He didn't dress like a man who did his own unpacking. But there were plenty of reasons he could be up there, maybe he had a study up there, there was hardly going to be a room labeled Nazi plots.

Steve followed anyway, because this was the first detail of this elaborate new world that didn't fit, the first time one of these strange people had broken character. It wasn't hard to find the attic door, and ghost up the steps. He could always tell Stark he'd developed a sudden need for - an alarm clock, or a wastepaper bin, and followed him to ask for it. If Stark had nothing to hide, he wouldn't mind Steve following him up here.

Off-key humming came from the top of the stairs, where the door stood ajar. Steve breathed dust; this clearly wasn't a well-frequented area of the house, though the paintwork was clean.

Rustling, a bit of a clatter; clicks. The familiar sound of a gramophone starting up, needle settling into the groove, but no music or voice followed. The creak of a chair, and then a few unidentifiable sounds. And then, silence.

Steve waited, watching the dust motes gleam in the light spilling through the door. The attic must have skylights; perhaps Stark did have a den up there. He was probably reading a book, or -

A soft sound, familiar somehow, and after a second Steve recognised it as a snore, and felt extremely foolish. Stark had gone upstairs for a nap. He half-turned to retreat down the stairs, and then hesitated. If it were Stark's hideaway, perhaps he kept important things there.

It was unlikely he'd keep details relevant to Steve in the same house, though.

Still, a quick look wouldn't hurt.

He took the last remaining stairs with glacial slowness, and tenderly eased the door wide enough he could slip through. The first thing he registered was that this was not a den or a study, not unless Stark was a hoarder. Boxes and old pieces of furniture swathed in dustsheets were dotted about, and Stark sprawled peacefully in an old leather recliner, feet up in front of him, head lolling, slumped half on to a mahogany table piled with clutter. The gramophone sat on the corner of the table, turning almost silently, surrounded by - Steve stepped closer, and blinked at the scattered items. Old war posters, and brochures, and - and -

He shut his eyes, and opened them again, but a PASIV device still sat in the middle of the table. He ran a finger over the case, and came up with dust. The PASIV was old, very old, maybe even a model from his time. He leaned in for a closer look, and memory met new knowledge and he blinked at the small words engraved on the steel of the vial cradle.

Stark Industries.

That - surely wasn't right, was a trick. But no, it sounded right, Stark Industries had lent the PASIV device to Project Rebirth, it hadn't been any use to them because they couldn't maintain a reliable level of sedation except with dangerous drugs. Repeated use of the PASIV caused slow damage to the pancreas - unless you had an enhanced metabolism.

So Steve had gone, day after day, into a carefully constructed dreamworld, to be shot and stabbed and blown up and learn to take a bullet and defuse a bomb and, if necessary, kill someone.

The first person Steve had killed had been a wild-eyed Nazi with a knife; he also hadn't been real. Steve had lost count of the dreams he'd killed before he left his training, and it had been months until he'd had to kill a real person, and - it had been different, entirely, but - he couldn't deny it had helped, doing it before, in dreams.

But why was it here?

Was the PASIV a trap?

His hand went automatically to check the infusion line, and he followed it coiling around a battered old canteen and then into Stark's arm. Surely that meant this was real? There couldn't be a dream within a dream? Except that if Stark were a projection, he would just be pretending to dream. But why would the prime mover in the dreamworld be a projection? Was this all simply a phantasm of his mind, with no enemy agents trapped in here with him?

If this were a dream, then this must be a trap; he should investigate, even if it meant risking it being sprung.

If this were reality? Then Stark was dreaming in a sixty-year old PASIV machine, and not one that saw regular use. If Stark wasn't an experienced dreamer, anything could happen to him.

Steve rifled the case, looking for the Somnacin. Would sixty-year-old drugs even be potent? Perhaps he should just call Stark an ambulance. The cubbyholes that usually held the vials were empty, but Stark had to have used something. His eye fell on a paper bag, surely the one Stark had been carrying; sure enough it was full of small vials. Modern drugs, then, so Stark had to have used this before. A sheet of paper lay next to it, with the conversion rates written on it in a round, childish hand. That would do.

Steve sat cross legged on the floor, back against the table leg, and hooked himself up.


Stark stood in the centre of a park, hands in his pockets, looking around as if waiting for someone. He wore the same suit he had worn in the other place, but Steve had his Captain America costume on, not the sleek modern one he'd been given but the old familiar second skin. Steve took an instinctive step towards the cover of a tree, but the motion caught Stark's attention, and he turned and smiled.

"There you are. I was just going to come find you." Had he been waiting for Steve? Was this a trap? "You're the same..."

"The same?"

"You haven't - " Stark took a step towards him, and frowned. "That's odd. You're still in the old costume, but your face... " Stark stepped up and cupped his jaw familiarly. "This is the real Cap's face. I'm sure I used to imagine you more lantern-jawed."

"Oh," Steve said blankly.

"Aren't you going to tell me you missed me?" Stark's mouth curved in a teasing smile, and Steve smiled back, as he seemed to expect it. "You're as dumbstruck as the real Cap."

"The real Cap?"

"The meatspace one. Sweet, but tongue-tied. I had to come back to compare him to you... but I guess it's not surprising you're him too." Stark made a wry face. "I suppose it can't be helped."

"You say it like it's a bad thing." Steve's mind worked frantically, trying to work this out. Was Stark trying to fool him into some kind of familiarity? Why would he have dreamed of Steve - of Captain America - before? That made no sense; surely this was some trick, some game.

"Well, it... seems more appropriate to play games with a bad copy, rather than a exact duplicate. Oh, God, look at you, that is just how he looks when I talk nonsense to him. Come here." Stark clasped the back of his neck and planted a kiss on his lips, and Steve froze. Stark pulled back, and laughed. "Look at you! Oh, now I want to kiss him just to see if he goes that colour."

"You didn't want to kiss him before?" Steve felt his cheeks flush deeper. He'd been told it was... acceptable to be a homosexual now, but he hadn't expected it to be so blatant. Like you could just kiss someone. But Stark thought he was a dream, or was pretending to think he was a dream, of course. He probably wouldn't just kiss a man in real life, he hadn't tried to kiss Steve in real life.

"Well, of course I did." Stark slid a hand casually over his chest, like he had every right to touch Steve. "He's so... he's perfect. I always thought that was hyperbole, but he's perfect."

What was this? Steve caught Stark's wrist, and got a sweet smile, Stark leaning casually into him. Was - did Stark use the PASIV for - he was talking again.

"Cap was... I think he had a totem." He drummed his fingers on Steve's armour. "He was doing something with his tag... "

"He trained using the PASIV." Stupid, stupid, to test his totem with the door open. Like he didn't know better.

"I know." Stark frowned. "Why was he playing with his totem, though?"

"Maybe he thinks this is a dream." Stark's eyes widened with what looked like genuine alarm. Of course, if he were a Nazi agent, he would seem genuine. Maybe this second dream was to convince him of the reality of the first one.

"That's... not good. But as long as he trusts his totem..."

"They don't stop working."

"Not as far as I know."

But he would say that if he were trying to fool Steve. And it wasn't at all impossible that someone had figured out his totem, and duplicated it...

"You look as worried as I feel." Stark smudged his thumb over the corner of Steve's mouth, forcing it up. "Smile, sweetheart. You never used to frown at me. Probably it was just a nervous habit, not a totem at all. I was just hung up on the PASIV today."

Steve opened his mouth to ask more questions, but Stark took his hand and turned away, pulling him across the turf. The dream reshaped itself around them, and Steve suppressed the urge to tell him that was dangerous. By the sound of it, he'd logged more dreamtime than Steve; maybe the new drugs made the dreams more stable.

The walls that formed were spectacular, woven twisted metal and crystal, sweeping into smooth gleaming floors below and great spacious arches and domes above.

"Remember this?" Stark spun them around, taking in winding corridors and coloured-glass windows. "I was convinced when I grew up I was going to build a fantastic palace to live in."

"Uh huh." There were flocks of brightly coloured birds nesting in the crannies of the walls, and a fat blue cat was sauntering towards them. Steve scooped it up, and it purred and batted at his face. The pads of its paws were lilac, and the tips of its whiskers shaded into gold. Every last detail here was perfect; Steve had never seen such a detailed, elaborate dreamscape. If Stark could hold all this in his head, from the complicated weave of the wall to the velvet touch of the cat's lilac nose, the strange New York of the future would be well within his powers. "Why..."

"Somewhere around here there's a herd of white deer with golden antlers." Stark plucked the cat from his arms. "And also there are quite a lot of tigers."

"You were an odd child."

"Give me a break, I was twelve. Well, when I started."

"How long..." Steve peered around. How long would it take to conceive of something like this? Steve had trained in very basic dreamscapes, and even then the floor was often too spongy or the sky an odd shade of blue.

"Three years? I sort of lost interest when I was fifteen."


"Oh, well. I went to MIT... I used it again the first summer," and surprisingly Stark flushed pink, "But then I just... I don't know. I had other things to do. Other... interests. I just forgot about the PASIV. Until we dredged Cap up. I came up here to find my totem and test it as soon as we got back to NY."

"And started using the - " Steve broke off. Stark had said there you are like he hadn't seen Steve in a while...

"I had to get new drugs made up, of course," Stark said. "The stuff they used during the War was practically corrosive, Cap must have a constitution of iron. I had to put together a new mix as a kid; I'm lucky I didn't kill myself, I never was good at bio, but I did a pretty neat job. Kids are dumb, I guess." He looked around. "I'd forgotten how fun dreams were; I should really look into marketing this..."

"There's an awful lot of potential for abuse."

"True." Stark frowned. "Why are you asking me all these questions?"

Steve shrugged. Stark sighed.

"Talking to my own subconscious used to be easier, I swear. Come on, hot stuff."

They wandered through gates tall enough for a giraffe into a broad court, with black gravel paths and swirling flowerbeds - no, they were planted with - Steve tried to pluck a flower, but the stem stretched in his hand. It was a bizarre little construction, the petals faceted, intensely coloured crystal with a tiny mechanism in the centre, set atop a copper spring that let it wave in the breeze.

"The mechanism makes it open and close," Stark said, with a touch of pride, and put the blue cat down to stalk a fluttering metallic butterfly that also seemed to have wings of clockwork. "Less maintenance than real flowers."

"But..." Steve turned the bloom in his hand. "There's no smell."

"Oh," Stark looked chagrined. "Well. I guess maybe there could be some kind of perfume reservoir..."

"They're great, though," Steve added hastily. "Beautiful." It was true; every petal and leaf sparkled in the bright sunlight, so the court looked like a giant stained glass window. Stark perked up at the compliment, and took his hand again, leading him through - it was a maze, Steve realised. At the centre there was a small pavilion, somewhat reminiscent of classical architecture, if classical buildings were built out of golden wire and blown glass.

Stark dropped his hand and bounced up the pavilion steps, and shook his head.

"I don't remember it being this tacky," he called back to Steve, who mounted the steps with caution; they didn't look fit to take a person's weight. In the real world, they almost certainly wouldn't have.

"Uh," Steve looked at the bed, a smooth round silver bowl made up with black silk sheets and crimson pillows. There were no curtains or walls; just the bed, open to the surroundings. What, Steve wanted to ask, but it was obvious what. "It's a bit public."

"Yes, who knows who might wander into my dreams and judge my elaborate masturbation fantasies?" Stark shrugged off his jacket, kicked off his shoes and flopped onto the bed, looking entirely at home.


"Well, it's not sex. I don't think I lost my virginity to a figment of my subconscious. I don't think it works like that."

"Lost," Steve struggled for words, trying not to picture a much younger Tony Stark curled up with his dream of Captain America. "I thought you stopped using it when you were fifteen?" It wasn't like he hadn't suspected when Stark kissed him, but...

"Well, yeah." Stark winked. "A fifteen year old with the ability to create anything he wants? I'm surprised I stopped at you; lack of imagination on my part, or maybe I was being faithful to my pretend boyfriend. It was all a bit, ah, vague though. I didn't have very clear ideas of how it would feel, and of course..." He ran his eyes over Steve's body, and his gaze turned thoughtful. "I would now."

"Uh," Steve's mind went blank for a second at Stark's appraisal, the way his eyelids drooped a little, surely indicative of thoughts that were - Steve swallowed hard. "But, uh - "

"It's probably wrong now there's a real Cap," Stark said, sitting up. "I mean, it used to be just... a hero worship thing. For someone who wasn't even alive any more."


"But now there's a real Cap, and I've met him, and it's probably not right to have really, really vivid sexual fantasies about him." The way Stark looked at him. Was this some kind of honey trap, maybe? To lure him into... improper behaviour, with a man, and then blackmail him? But you couldn't record dreams, he was sure of it, and with no proof there was no lever.

"Probably not," he said, and Stark's fingers hooked into his belt, pulled him closer. He tugged downwards, and Steve obediently dropped to one knee and put his palms on Stark's thighs.

"Still, it's an interesting scientific exercise. To see how much changes when I know the person." And his lips closed on Steve's, soft and careful.

Steve's brain tried, helplessly, to parse the best thing to do. All it could come up with was feels good. He let Stark ease his lips apart, slide his tongue in, tug his cowl down and push long, strong fingers into his hair.

It was just a dream. What did it matter? He folded an arm around Stark's waist and pulled him close, and thought suddenly of Bucky, who would only allow a second's hug before wriggling free because he wasn't a kid anymore, Jeez Steve -

He shoved the thought away, focused on the rough-smooth texture of Stark's mouth. The scratch of the beard on his skin reminded him of stolen moments in the dark, with other lonely soldiers far from home -

That thought could go, too, he was in a bright sunlit room with a handsome man who wanted him, and that was enough for now.

He kissed back carefully - how would a kid's dream of Captain America's kiss? Gentle was safest, so he cupped Stark's face with great care and concentrated on slow, on deep, on soft teasing strokes of his tongue and light nips of his teeth. Stark's breathing picked up, and he pressed closer.

"This," he whispered as Steve kissed him again, and the words were lost in it. "Different," he said finally.

"How?" Steve murmured, smoothing his hands down Stark's back.

"The other Cap..." Stark's cheeks turned very slightly pink. "It was all more... melodramatic. He, uh, used to dip me a lot...carry me sometimes. Apparently I somehow absorbed romance novels by - ack!" Steve rebalanced him carefully in his arms, not quite used to carrying men about like this, and Stark let out a breathless giggle. "Oh, God, this is so embarrassing. And weird. I was fifteen, don't judge me."

"It's all right." Steve hefted him a little, and leaned in to kiss his throat. "Shh."

"I'm six foot tall, this is - oh, who cares. Mmm." Stark was still blushing, flushed all down the long line of his neck, and Steve took gentle bites at his pulse. Surely, Stark couldn't be this silly and playful if he were an enemy agent. But would Tony Stark, billionaire industrialist and engineer, be this silly? Maybe Stark was Steve's own projection, a gorgeous man to seduce him, and Steve had dreamed a dream within his dream to explain why this man wanted him. It was all too confusing; Steve nuzzled at Stark's collar, and he tugged his tie loose and flicked open the top button of his shirt.

"Leave a mark," he invited, and Steve obediently sucked a bruise into the hollow of his collarbone. "Yeah, I - oh, just - " he pushed Steve's chin up and and jammed their mouths together, clumsy with eagerness.

Steve put a knee on the bed, laid Stark out, pushed him back down onto the smooth dark sheets when he tried to sit up. Another kiss, and Stark moaned, lashes fluttering over his blown eyes. Steve felt a pang of guilt. This was - okay, this wasn't - Stark didn't know he was real -

"Would you... if the real Cap kissed you like this, would you let him?" Steve cupped his face, and Stark's tongue darted out to try and coax his fingers in. Steve pulled away, and got a sigh and a pout.

"I'd beg him to kiss me if I thought it would work," Stark squirmed closer, reaching out for Steve's hand and pulling him closer. "So goddamn hot. All that leather. All that idealism."

"You find idealism hot?"

"So hot," Stark said fervently. "And he's so innocent looking. Usually I don't go for that, but I just, wow, I want to debauch him."

"He's probably not actually an innocent." Steve felt a twinge of irritation. "He did fight through a war."

"True." Stark grinned. "But a man can dream, and the dream of Cap batting his eyelashes and acting all bashful... " he eyed Steve thoughtfully. "You know, this is a dream."

"I don't think so," and Stark sighed theatrically.

"Well, what are you going to do, then?" Stark pulled off his tie, and then reached down to yank his socks off and threw them on the floor. Then he tucked his hands behind his head and grinned sunnily up at Steve. "Here I am, at your mercy."

That was true; there was no one in shouting range but the blue cat. Steve could question him, force information out of him, and any harm he did would be healed when Tony woke up.

Interrogations was one of the things the army had planned to use it for, back in Steve's day. He'd been glad they'd never worked out the kinks in the system.

Steve unbuckled Stark's belt, and flicked the button open. Then he pushed up the edge of his shirt and nuzzled into the skin there, and Stark snickered.

"Tease," he said breathlessly, and tried to squirm up the bed. He groaned when Steve held him still. "How about you suck my dick."

"We'll see." Steve nuzzled higher, and Tony put a hand on his head.

"Don't," a little higher pitched, and Steve gave him a puzzled look as he felt the tension quivering in his belly.

"Why not?"

Stark ran a hand over his own chest, and his eyes widened a little. Then he undid another shirt button and pulled it all over his head. Steve watched, puzzled, as he stared down at his bare chest in apparent surprise.

"Uh... nothing. Carry on, I guess."

Steve hesitated, then dropped his head back and dipped his tongue into Stark's navel, which got a squeak from him. He mouthed his way up Stark's chest - nicely muscled, smooth skin, not much hair - and the heartbeat under his lips was speeding, and Stark threw his head back and groaned.

"That feels so good," he muttered, and Steve wondered if he were faking it; it seemed rather over-the-top to respond so ardently to a few kisses. He scraped his teeth cautiously over Stark's nipple, and watched his fists clench in the sheets.

"Don't stop, that's so..." Stark's breathing stuttered as Steve sucked gently, nipped, rubbed his fingers over the other nipple. "Oh, please."

Rougher, and Stark just got louder and more desperate, hips bucking against nothing as Steve bit and sucked. He fumbled for his zipper, tried to get his pants open, but Steve grabbed his wrists and held them against the sheets, biting harder until Stark yelled, but nothing like no came out of his mouth.

Steve pulled away and surveyed him, feeling faint guilt at how red his nipples were. That was going to be sore. He let Stark pull his wrists free; he tried to draw Steve's mouth back down to his chest, but Steve ducked out of his grip and reached for his pants instead. Stark made a pleading urgent whimper, running his hand down over Steve's shoulder, the scales rippling under his palm.

"Lift up," Steve ordered and Stark wriggled and kicked out of his pants and spread his legs eagerly. His cock looked strange; it took Steve a moment to realise he was circumcised. Was Stark Jewish?

"Get, get in me," he begged. "Come on. Inside me, please."

"Slow down," Steve ran his palm over the curve of Tony's hip, the long curve of his thigh. The skin of his inner thighs was "You have lubricant?"

"I... " Stark blinked, then let out a rusty chuckle. "You know, we never used it before. I didn't realise you needed it, then." His brow furrowed for a second, then he reached under the pillow and pulled out a bottle, a fragile-looking bubble of blown glass like the pavilion. Steve raised his eyebrows, and Stark rolled his eyes. "What, I like things to match. C'mon, open me up."

Steve didn't touch his cock, just pressed two wet fingers slowly into his body. He was hot inside, and soft and yielding, so welcoming he hardly seemed to need stretching, like Steve could just shove on in. The thin oil dripped messily down over his ass, and Steve kept taking his fingers out to add more. Every time he forced Stark's body open he got a desperate throaty moan that made his cock ache; he tried to ignore it, focused on drawing more noises out of Stark, searched for the places inside him that would make him melt.

"You'd let the real Cap do this to you?" he asked, and Stark jerked his head in a nod, eyes hazy as Steve stroked him inside, fingers moving in small circles, barely any pressure.

"Fuck yes." Stark squirmed on his fingers, panting. Steve put a forearm across his hips to hold him in place, and he grumbled softly.

"So what are you going to do with him?" Steve murmur, thrusting deeper, reaching as far as he could, feeling Stark's thigh tense under his other hand. "Now you have him."

"I, oh..." Stark's heels dragged at the sheets as he tried to work Steve deeper, and Steve let his fingers slacken so Stark got nothing. "Ah, Christ, I don't remember my subconscious being such a sadist. I don't know. He's going to - to help us make the Avengers work, and, and, I want to. To. Oh God."

"To do this with him?" Steve twisted his fingers, digging into the soft hot flesh, and Stark arched up with a keening sound, hips coming right off the bed.

"No, no, I mean of course, but..." Stark slumped back onto the bed and glared at him, chest heaving. "Is this one of those guilt trips? Oh, for a really good psychiatrist. I'm not being selfish. Maybe a bit. I really do want to help him, poor guy."

Steve's fingers drove in harder, and Stark yelped. He didn't need pity. He was just... He kept his fingers moving in a hard rhythm, listening to Stark's sobbing breaths. He'd never seen anyone so shamelessly abandoned; he couldn't keep himself from rocking his hips into the bed in time with Stark's groans.

"Why," he said finally, keeping his voice steady with an effort, but Stark didn't respond, barely seemed to register the words. Steve eased off the pressure a little, and he gasped.

"No, no, please - " Stark half sat up, grabbing at Steve, nails scraping on the armour. "Don't, I - I - " Steve made a soothing noise, increased the pace, rubbed his cheek against the tender skin inside the curve of Stark's hipbone, and Stark almost purred, thighs spreading wider.

"Why? Why do you want to help him?"

"Because, mm. I, he just, he's sad and I want to make him smile, God. He deserves... Oh Jesus." Stark got a handful of Steve's hair, too tight, but Steve endured it. "He's Captain America. He can have whatever he wants, seriously, people are lining up to give him stuff, if we hadn't found him I wouldn't be able to get near him for the crowd."

Stark's dick was red and wet, and Steve's mouth was watering for it. He turned his face into Stark's skin instead, licked up the beading sweat, then set his teeth against the bone.

"Fuck!" Stark bucked so hard he jarred Steve's teeth in his jaw, and then the grip around Steve's fingers rippled and clenched, and warmth striped along his cheek. Steve shut his eyes and tried not to think about it, tried not to hump the bed like an animal. "Oh, fuck. Oh." Stark shuddered, and moaned, and then tugged on Steve's hair, pulled him up for a kiss, whimpering as Steve's fingers pulled free.

"Really," Steve mumbled as Stark nuzzled clumsily at his mouth. "What's your game?"

"I..." Stark's lashes fluttered, words slurring. "Maybe I'm... still a little hung up on my imaginary boyfriend. He was the best boyfriend I ever had." He smiled, and Steve felt like a profoundly shitty person.

"I - " I'm sorry. "Okay."

"Hm," Stark's smile widened, and he fumbled lazily at Steve's belt. Steve caught his hand and kissed the fingers; he couldn't, quite, let Stark do that to him, not even in a dream. Maybe especially not in a dream. "You should let me..." he frowned. "I guess it doesn't matter."

"No, of course not."

Stark cast a glance towards the bulge in his pants, and made a doubtful face, like he was shirking a social obligation. Steve couldn't help but feel a creeping affection for a man who wanted to play fair with a figment of his own imagination.

"Want to, though," and he licked his lips as if anticipating a delicious treat, then sighed and flopped back onto his back. "Oh, it wouldn't matter. Your dick and your O-face would all be my imagination anyway."

"You've seen me naked."

"We'd just fished you out of the ocean and were trying to work out if you were about to drop dead again. I wasn't looking at your dick. Much. And you weren't hard." Stark blinked. "I mean, he wasn't. He..."


"He looked so lost." Quiet, like he was telling a secret. "I wish I could do something, you know? He just says he's fine and doesn't need anything. If he thinks it's all a dream..."

"No. No, he... he has to know it's real. He just wants it to not be real. Because if it's not real, he can wake up. Go home." Steve swallowed the lump in his throat, and kissed Tony's fingers again.

"Shit, of course he does," Stark bit his lip. "What should I - "

"Nothing, just, you're doing all you can. He'll get used to it. It's just so strange and different."

"I want him to be okay."

"He will be." Steve tried to make his voice convincing, and Stark studied his face.

"Yeah, of course," he said after a moment, and then nodded decisively. "It's only been two weeks, right? He needs time. He's Captain America, he'll be fine," and the ring of confidence made Steve smile.

"Yeah. I mean, I'm sure he will be fine." Steve pressed a kiss to Tony's shoulder, and watched his eyes drift shut again. Would the dream dissolve if he fell asleep?

There was a tiger wandering the maze; it was wearing a silver collar. Steve watched it paw hesitantly at the flowers until a distant sound caught his attention. Music; scratchy, and fuzzy, but music. Steve tapped Stark's chest.

"What's that noise?"

"The signal it's almost over," Stark caught his chin, and kissed him firmly. "I'm not coming back again."

"You're not?" Steve felt, foolishly, a little hurt by that.

"It's kind of a dick move to... cop feels from him in dreams. I'm going to limit myself to the occasional dirty fantasy and encouraging him to wear tighter jeans." He kissed Steve again. "I doubt he can be as sweet as my imagination, really. Jesus, why am I letting my subconscious projection down gently? I'll be sending flowers to my right hand, next. Goodbye, darling, thanks for everything."

"It's fine," Steve said, and Stark faded away out of his arms like the Cheshire cat, his grin departing last.

Steve pulled out his dogtags, and spun the tag that was weighted in the real world. Name, name, blank, name, blank - it faded under his hand, and he looked up to see the spiderweb cracks racing across the glass roof, heard the tinkling of crystal petals falling. Stark was awake, then, and had no doubt noticed Steve hooked in to the device. That was probably going to be an awkward conversation.

Steve shut his eyes, and prepared to face the real world.