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Empires Of Wood

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So, Loki is a great big bag of dicks and Tony is going to punch him in his lying, life wrecking mouth and then shoot him and watch him bleed out just for kicks.

Ironman, Tony’s significantly shinier and greater appreciated half, dives right into another one of Nameless Supervillan Number 3’s electromagnetic whatsits and promptly falls to the ground twitching. Again. Because Loki is a bag of weeping sores who deserves an incessantly slow death.

Surprisingly, this is not because Loki whammed him with some magic hooplah that breaks the suit or turns it evil or makes it pulse rainbows instead of rays of destruction or something irritating but otherwise liveable like that. This is not because he made the Guild of Evil –and what even is that as a name besides stupid, what were they even thinking?- invulnerable or invincible or another type of in word. This is not because Steve has just been thrown into a building for the sixth time today which could have been avoided if Tony wasn’t say, lying on the ground in a tin can of uselessness. Loki is a great big bag of flaming turdsicles because Tony has just broken his favourite ridiculously complicated pocketwatch with the thousand visible moving parts and the impossible to replicate hour hand that has a hairline fracture shaped like a C and a minute hand that is always three behind.

Basically, the impossibly complicated, one of a kind, would know it in his sleep Tony loves it so well watch is in fucking pieces and Tony is fucked three way’s to Sunday and back again and none of this would be a problem if Loki had just had as much therapy as Tony did to get over his fucking father issues.

Tony is fucked and it is Loki’s reality screwing fault.


Six months ago Loki showed up injured at the Avengers door.

Pepper remembers this because she is downstairs Tony-wrangling her way to finally, finally closing the Tokyo deal and maybe averting a small war between her stockholders and the middle man that is the working class of America when it happens. She remembers standing in her cherry red Louboutins and being interrupted mid rant by Steve’s politely concerned face and Natasha’s pointed grip on her shoulder and Peter saying, ‘Holy Hell and a half this is a problem, no, guys, really, this is a problem.’ And Natasha’s hand always too low on her back guiding her to the exit that’s apparently always been in the garage and Natasha’s face, controlled and beautiful as she says, ‘Avengers business. Go. If I don’t contact you in the next three hours call Fury and raise hell.’

Pepper nods displeased and irritated that she didn’t get Tony’s signature and climbs up the tunnel ladder, walks around the house and the last ten metres to where Happy and Tony’s favourite car is waiting for her. She’s barely in the car before a shock knocks it over and Pepper is once again standing next to a crater where Tony should have been.


Three days, three hours and three minutes from the exact moment Pepper Potts, Stark Industries CEO yells at SHEILD agent Maria Hill, Resident Badass and All Around Scary Bitch In Charge to get her skinny ass down here, the Avengers Mansion reappears all residents accounted for alive and unconscious.


Incidentally, Pepper lost the Tokyo deal. Tony pays through the mouth, the ass and oh yeah, a good third of his monthly allowance for that one.


Tony can’t sleep.

And yeah he’s a raging insomniac and crazy person who appreciates a fine cognac like most people appreciate cold lemonade on a hot day and not sleeping regularly is like a normal person having a regular bowel movement –that is to say, not uncommon and very rarely mentioned in polite society. But it’s not that Tony cannot get to sleep, no, Tony is fucking exhausted and would like very much to sleep, it’s that if Tony goes to sleep he will wake up crazy (and not the charming, pitiful kind he’s always been, the legal, psychotic kind he’s been religiously avoiding) and it will be no one’s fault but his own for carrying that fucking pocket watch with him in a fight.

He looks at the bed again like it will spontaneously give up and tell him how to fix this, fix the watch, manage his fucking subconscious. The bed sits pristine and perfectly made and says ‘Sorry Tony, you can be crazy from lack of sleep and slip up in battle and die disappointing everyone or you can take a fifteen minute nap and wake up a little crazier in a dangerous way and go on being half useful for awhile longer.’
Tony closes his eyes and breathes deeply; slipping out of his work clothes and between the sheets, cool against his legs, the scarring around the arc reactor sensitive like it always is when he’s in the grip of stupid basic emotions like fear, panic or unrequited love.

Tony thinks, ‘Any other stupid ideas?’ before he lets go and dreams.


Tony wakes up three hours later, sure that he’s just lost the pivotal battle of a war he didn’t know he was fighting.


Peter of all people is the first to notice.

This isn’t to say that Peter isn’t brilliant in his own right it’s just that he lives in a house with people who, on any day of the week, will be taken seriously more frequently than he ever will and have enough PhD’s to sink a boat three times over.

(Seriously, the only one besides him currently without one is Captain America and he’s Captain America. People want to give him honorary ones for breathing.)

Clint said that if he shaved off the mop he claims is cool everyone might start thinking he’s a real boy.

Clint is a dick. Clint is a dick who does not understand how coolness works. Peter would tell him but what would be the point?

Anyway. Peter wakes up one fine morning without MJ cuddled into his side to discover that he no longer is entirely sure he is awake. He pinches his arms and runs his hands over his suit and feels a detachment from reality, like his arms been blown off and he’s just getting phantom sensations. He calls MJ, listens to her voice and decides that, yeah, he’s awake, she sounds right and what the hell is going on anyway?
The detachment doesn’t go away and when he wakes up the next day he feels just a little bit less real then he did yesterday.

When Peter mentions it at dinner he’s only mildly surprised by the relieved ‘good it’s not just me who’s crazy’ looks and he’s only half sarcastic when he mentions they need better hazard pay.


Actually, that is a lie, Natasha notices first because she is extremely paranoid and catalogues every minor change in her body or mind. She assumes PTSD is catching up with her, after all, it is not like she has a shortage.

It is after the third time in a week and a half that she dreams of the Winter Solider smiling over a cup of coffee (and he never smiled, not in uniform and nothing else ever happened, there was never a chance-) that she decides something else may be going on.


Peter suddenly viciously regrets ever bringing his dreams up. Not because everyone’s sitting around telling him he’s crazy but because, with the exception of Tony and the Black Widow, everyone else is using this as a sharefest to see whose dream-alternate-reality-which-may-be-true is the best.

Well. Okay, it’s actually just Thor and Clint getting increasingly loud and everyone else looking ashamed to be here. But that happens a lot, so, whatever.

Tony slaps a hand on the desk, ‘Okay, so, we’re having weird dreams, don’t know about you guys but that’s pretty normal for me. I’m fairly sure we can keep all the dark corners of our id to ourselves.’

‘I don’t know maybe talking about how much you hate swimming and Middle Eastern food would help. Maybe we could change up our dinner plans once in a while.’ Steve smiles as he says it, missing Tonys flinch and it’s not like Steve’s ever really noticed Tony being desperately in love with him or that he is, according to Clint, a bundle of untreated PTSD and barely functioning psychosis. If even half of what people say about what happened to Tony is true it makes sense that Tony wants to talk about his dreams like Peter wants a heart attack.

Tony picks up a pack of cards left over from when they tried to teach Thor Texas Hold ‘Em with minimal success and major property damage and shuffles them from hand to hand, ‘I’m just saying,’ he palms the King of Spades and puts it on the table, ‘that maybe there’s no problem here.’

Black Widow -and okay, yeah, maybe he can think Ms Romanoff in his head or something, she’s not actually psychic or out to kill him- sighs and taps the table with a knife she just somehow has, ‘I’m missing three days from about a month ago. I’ve checked SHEILD logs and I was apparently on assignment.’

‘So?’ Tony says as he pulls out the Ace of Clubs. He makes a face at it and flicks it at Clint. Clint stabs it with the broken arrow head he’s been aimlessly twisting between his fingers.

‘There was no possible way I could have been on the assignment they said I was on.’ Her tone says that they sure as hell better not ask what the assignment was, ‘and when I asked Pepper about it she stonewalled me.’

‘You talk to Pepper a lot?’ Steve asks, barely dodging the five of diamonds Tony flicks at him, ‘Tony. Stop throwing cards at people.’

‘I work for Pepper.’

‘Like that means anything,’ Tony mutters and pockets the cards he hasn’t thrown at people.

‘I’m missing time too,’ Banner grumbles, ‘have to keep track ‘cause of the Hulk, about a month ago I have three days or so I know I wasn’t all-’ he makes hand motions, ‘angry.’

‘How do you know,’ Peter asks because, well, how does he know?

‘Because there was no crater of mass destruction and I don’t think Hulk would just sit down and be quiet for three whole days.’


‘Okay. So. We call Pepper.’ Tony says, phone out and dialling, ‘easily solved.’

There’s about ten seconds of tense silence between Tony calling Pepper and Pepper answering the phone.

‘Who did you kill Tony?’ is the first thing she says with, ‘It better not be a politician,’ as the follow up.

‘What, Pepper, would I kill someone without telling you-’

Steve sighs, ‘That really shouldn’t be the bit that concerns you Tony.’

‘-I mean, I can imagine the schedule rearrangement would be awful on short notice but you could do it and after I‘d buy you a puppy, puppy’s are great, wait, are you allergic to those or is it just strawberries? Anyway, Peps, Pepper, my heart, what do you know about a weird occurrence about a month ago-’

‘That lasted three days.’

‘-Yes, thank you, Banner, but I am capable of having a conversation with her all by myself, a month ago for three days-’

‘Three hours, three minutes.’ Pepper says curtly. ‘Ask Hill.’ She hangs up immediately after.

‘So,’ Peter says falsely bright and obvious about it, ‘my spidey senses are telling me we’re about to get screwed over.’

Peter is often surprised about being right. Everyone else tries not to let it happen too much lest he get ideas.

Maria Hill regrets three things about her job.

1- Tony Stark.
2- The fact that Director Fury will get to shoot Tony Stark before she does.
3- The fact that when the Black Widow is off being heroic, she is the one to deal with Pepper Potts who is more bulldog/shark then she is small woman with minimal defensive training.

Never has the last one been more apparent than now.

It’s an hour after the Avengers mansion reappears out of nowhere with an assortment of human weapons of mass destruction inside all of whom are currently unconscious. She’s standing above an operating room in the helicarrier watching a gaggle of scientists who technically don’t exist check the Avengers over with equipment the world considers fictional. Potts stands next to her, tapping her toes and firing texts off like she’s got everywhere else to be and no time to get there. There’s mild chatter through the open comm. system that’s going from pleasantly distracting to irritating.

Doctor Williams, a neurosurgeon who will probably be dead next week, not by her hand but by his inability to follow orders and keep his dick out of his subordinates, exclaims and points to an x-ray.

‘Marvelous brain structure do you see the-’

Potts snaps a pen against the side of a table, disturbingly loud and distorted by the comm. system, ‘Yes, Dr Williams, the Asgardian has a beautiful mind, I need to know why they aren’t awake.’

‘Well, Ms Potts, simply put,’ Mr Williams says, waving a scanner over Banner for the third time, ‘they’re dreaming.’

For one brilliant crazy moment Maria thinks, ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’ before she leans over, whooshing Potts out of the way, ‘And why are they dreaming?’

A short bottle blonde with an unattractively masculine face opens Rogers eyes and peers at them with a light, ‘Because they’re not awake, sir.’ She says like this isn’t all perfectly obvious.

She fucking hates smartasses.

‘The thought never occurred doctor. Now tell me why aren’t they awake.’

After a moment in which they all look perplexed at each other the same bottle blonde clears her throat, ‘Well, sir, um, magic?’
Potts pockets her phone and leans forward to knock on the glass. Ten beady pairs of eyes look up at the gallery blinking owlishly, ‘I suggest,’ she says, reasonably and polite but with that edge her drill sergeant used to have, ‘that you have a better answer then ‘um, magic’ for when Fury finds out.’

Potts flicks off the comm. system and turns to Maria, ‘You’ll tell me, right, what happens, you’ll tell me?’ voice small for a woman who’s got a better command of her life and Starks life and maybe the entire world then everyone else put together.

And this is the bit Romanoff didn’t put in her assessment of Ms Potts but was heavily implied.

Pepper Potts has no idea what she’s doing here.

‘Sure, Ms Potts. I’ll call.’


Hill texts her 13 hours later. Pepper is asleep for her daily 5 hour allotment when she does and wakes up to the pale blue beep of a message on her phone.

‘Found traces of magic. A source tells us that it’s the same kind that’s in Thor’s hammer. Almost certainly Loki. Looks pretty harmless. They’re awake. Stark’s asking for you. Send someone soon or I will hurt him and not regret it.’

Pepper dresses with extra efficiency that morning, a sharp pantsuit and shoes beyond impractical looking. Tony has long since known that the more frighteningly well put together Pepper looks the more screwed he is.

When she arrives at the mansion Hill takes her aside and squeezes her elbow until it hurts, ‘They don’t know, they don’t remember, there’s no need to tell them. Leave this alone Potts.’ And Pepper nods, ‘yes, of course,’ and writes everything she knows down and sends it to an email account Natasha suggested three weeks ago with a cryptic comment about never really knowing what you know unless you can prove it. Over the last year or so the Avengers have been running Pepper has learned to appreciate Natasha’s paranoia.

She’s swept into a hug by Tony and a swing around the room by Thor. Everything looks fine. In fact, they all look very well rested.

‘This’ Pepper thinks, sitting legs crossed at the dining table with Tony prattling and a rare visit from Rhodey making everyone slightly better behaved. ‘Is a trap.’


Pepper would be disturbed but not particularly surprised by how often she's right.

‘So, to be clear, we got whammied by magic’s foreign and strange and you didn’t think to tell us for an entire month?’ Tony yells directly into Hill’s face, hands swinging around and an entire team of pissed off, in costume superheroes (minus Tony, who had a business meeting to which he wasn’t allowed to take the armour) glowering behind him. If Fury’s desk wasn’t between them Tony would probably be punching her face.

Hill hisses low in her throat, ‘Calm down Stark. It was for your own good.’

‘With all due respect ma’am,’ Cap says, inching between Tony and Hill, ‘it wasn’t your call to make.’

Hill turns and opens her mouth, only to close it again, ‘Director, sir, I hadn’t expected to...’ And lo and behold Fury walks into his office, snarl firmly in place.

‘You think I don’t know when that lot is on my property?’ Fury growls, gesturing at the Avengers. ‘They’re a walkin’, talkin’ accident waiting to happen.’ He nods at Cap, ‘This about last month?’

He nods back, ‘Sir, I’d like to-’

Fury holds up a hand, ‘Save it son, we got a lot more to worry about then Hills little cock up.’


‘A month ago Loki kidnapped you for three days, when you got back you were in some kind of dream state. We couldn’t find anything wrong with you so we released you.’

‘My brother stole us away for three days and you did not think this worth mentioning?’ Thor sounds cold. With the bubbly nature and the gold hair and the hugs it’s easy to forget that Thor has already fought more battles than they ever will and that some of them have been against his brother, against chaos itself.

Spiderman raises an eyebrow, ‘That’s pretty shifty, even for you guys.’

‘I, myself, wasn’t even told till two hours after it happened so you can take your complaints and shove them up your ass.’ Fury moves behind his desk, effectively shoving Hill out of any authority.

‘Sir, yes sir!’ Spiderman barks back with a mock salute.

‘We don’t know anymore about what happened than that. What we do know is –you can’t go looking for Loki. Not this time.’

Tony slams his hand down and then regrets it, because, ow, ‘Why the hell not!’

‘Despite what you may think Stark I don’t work for you. I have no obligation to explain my orders to you. Do not go after Loki.’


‘You’ll lose the support of SHEILD. See how long your merry band of vigilantes lasts then.’

‘You’d throw us out in the cold over this?’ Tony yells, ‘This isn’t even the worst thing Loki’s done!’

Fury’s lips tighten, a brief strain and a pointed little laugh, ‘That’d be a matter of opinion Stark. Now, get the fuck outta my office.’


‘I don’t like this.’

Tony looks up at Steve, the debris of one of his repulsors around him on the floor; he’s been here for the hour and a half they’ve been home. Lost in something he understands instead of thinking about how he might be losing something he’s never really had, ‘How long have you-?’

‘Long enough for my coffee to be half cold.’ Steve taps the mug on the bench next to Tony’s head.

Tony grimaces, ‘You should have said something.’

‘Nah. You looked like you needed to do whatever you were doing and I just needed somewhere quiet.’ Steve walks over to the stool and sits on it, his weight causing the chair to creak just a little. ‘Natasha’s ‘talk’ with Pepper only got worse.’

Natasha had called Pepper on the way home. From the very little Russian Tony knows –which is actually pretty much limited to ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘I’m a billionaire and you’re lovely,’ and ‘vodka on the rocks’- he can tell that all is not well in their little paradise. And that’s something else Tony’s not touching with a ten foot pole. Who knew there’d be a day he doesn’t want to think about hot redheads having hate sex?

‘Most people don’t look at me and think ‘quiet’. It’s usually got a more loud and obnoxious bent.’

‘Yeah, well, people think all kinds of stupid stuff about you.’

And see, that right there is why he needs this dream shit to stop. It’s not a remotely new fact that Tony is brutally, disgustingly in love with Steve. Dreaming about him stopped being new a week after they met. But it’s –okay, he can deal with it most of the time, the fact that Steve likes treating him like a person who deserves things like praise and acknowledgment. Steve is a team building kind of guy; he says nice stuff to everyone who isn’t evil. He made his brain stop lighting up with hope signals about a month after the first time Steve said ‘Good job, Ironman. You did well.’

But then these fucking dreams and the fact that, well, Thor keeps dreaming about being a detective in a film noir world where Loki never fought with his parents and he’s married to Jane. Clint is a cowboy with a SuperBow that kills everything, always has arrows and never misses and he’s happily in lust with someone named Bobbi. Peter dreams about being an ultra successful photographer that fights aliens in his downtime. Banner dreams, mostly, about not being the Hulk. This thrills him deeply. Natasha won’t talk about it. And Steve, well, Steve apparently dreams of a world where there was never a war and he grew up non-sickly and everyone lives happily back in 1940-whatever and oh yeah, he’s married to Peggy. And the worst bit is that Tony isn’t even a shitty enough person to resent him for it.

Tony dreams of having Steve love him back in a world where his father wasn’t such a dickbag and he doesn’t have a pressing need to be in the spotlight just so people know he hasn’t died while they weren’t looking.

Everyone’s dreaming of their perfect world and even though Tony knows in his head that he wasn’t going to be Steve’s perfect it’s worse knowing for sure.

‘Nice of you to say so.’

Tony continues to build. The silence stretches outward, it’s not uncomfortable, never really is. Steve’s foot starts to tap.

‘What’s up solider?’ Tony asks, he’s almost back in the zone, can feel the technology coming together. He needs a new copper wire. The old one is burnt to crap.

‘I, I sort of have an idea. For how we can tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.’

‘Hmm,’ Tony stands and stretches. He has a box of copper wire pieces somewhere. ‘What is it?’

‘There was that movie we watched awhile ago. About the invading dreams thing? You said the math was off.’

Where is that box?

‘It really, really was.’

‘But they had those, things, you know, that they carried with them.’

Oh! Bench! Next to the drafting paper!

‘Yep. Okay.’

He leans around Steve, who has graduated from sitting on the stool to resting his hip against the bench.

‘Tony. I need you to listen to me.’

Steve’s kind of big and the bench is kind of small and Tony needs to put himself off balance just to get his hand around Steve to reach the box. His hand grasps the box just as he over balances, tries to adjust and goes rolling backward. Steve wraps an arm around his waist and brings them down less than gracefully, most of the weight on Steve’s knees. Tony’s under him with Steve’s elbow next to his head. Steve lets him go and goes from elbows and knees to hands and-

Oh, that’s a dirty thought.


Hands and knees in Tonys workshop. Wow.

‘Yes, Steve.’ He replies. Breathe, Tony, it’s been 40 years, you should be able to do that.

‘We need totems. Something unique. Unreplaceable. Ours.’

Tony hums, contemplating, ‘Something only we’d know.’

‘Yeah.’ Steve says, relief evident, ‘You’ll support me?’

Tony doesn’t really think before he says it, ‘I’d support anything you did.’

Steve smiles big and strong and gold, ‘Great, I mean, if you thought it was a bad idea I wouldn’t bring it up at all. It means a lot that you always support me. Um, we should get up.’

‘Yeah.’ Tony says suddenly breathless. ‘We should get up.’

The totem thing doesn’t really start for a week. It all sounds a little preposterous, even for superheroes. One night Clint stabs himself in a dream and simply stares at the wound for five minutes.

When asked why he didn’t do something about it Clint says, ‘Because when I wake up it’ll be gone.’


Clint is the first one to find his totem.


By unanimously unspoken agreement the first time they sleep plus totem they arrange themselves in the lounge. Even Natasha, though, she does glare at them a lot while she takes the couch.

‘Alright! Into the great unknown!’ Peter punches the air like he’s five and this is a carnival.

Clint throws a pillow at him, ‘Shuddup and sleep kid.’

One by one they all nod off until Steve and Tony are left awake leaning against the glass windows, New York lit behind them.

‘Sweet dreams, Tony.’ Steve says as his eyes close.

‘Yeah, sweet dreams.’

Eventually, Tony’s dreams become something of a respite. When he can’t deal with reality or when he simply doesn’t want to he takes a nap. It’s nice, it’s good, there’s an entire world inside his head where Tony Stark is welcome. He toys with the idea of forgetting his totem once or twice. Staying asleep and warm. He doesn’t. Tony Stark is a realist and reality is here for better or worse.


Except not. Not anymore. The watch is broken and Tony is unanchored.

He’ll never know if he’s dreaming again.