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Wake Up (Can't Live Without You Remix)

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Steve’s asleep, and dreaming.

He hasn’t had a dream that wasn’t a nightmare in—longer than he can remember, really. He’s not yet sure this one won’t turn out to be the worst nightmare of all. He’s in a white emptiness, nothing around him. He can’t distinguish the floor from the walls, but he’s definitely standing, not just floating through space around him.

And opposite him is standing Tony Stark, pale, in the weird, thin undersuit he has on in real world, asleep in the Starktech pod.

He looks as if he just woke up and walked out of it, really, and this is how Steve knows it’s a dream. Tony’s unconscious, comatose, maybe dying; no one knows, and Steve begged him to wake up and didn’t get any answer.

Figures he wouldn’t be safe from thoughts about Tony even asleep.

Weakness, he thinks. But it’s not as if he can wake up. And it’s not as if it’d hurt, to talk to Tony, here, now, either. It’s not real. Steve can have this.

He takes a step towards Tony, and Tony smiles weakly and says, “This is not a dream.”

Steve freezes.

“Or, I suppose it is,” Tony continues, “in that that yes, you are asleep, and as for me—I am not conscious, either.”

Steve tenses at once, because suddenly there is a lot to lose here. “How do you mean?” he asks.

Tony shrugs. “You’re asleep,” he says, “but I’m not a figment of your imagination.”

Steve’s getting a headache. Is that possible in a dream?

“And—I can’t quite tell how much time it’s been since I . . .” Tony trails off. Shame; Steve would like to hear him describe his condition. If only so he could wake up and get Selvig on solving it. “Extremis, I suppose,” Tony says. “It’s not telepathic, of course not; and lately it was only a stripped down version of tech interface anyway—”

“Tony,” Steve interrupts. “If this is you, what is going on with your body?”

And did you hear anything I said to you is another thing Steve needs an answer to, but he can’t outright ask that.

Tony stiffens.

Maybe it is a nightmare, after all. Steve’s subconsciousness offering him a chance to talk to Tony, offering him hope, only for Tony to lie to him again.

And it can’t be Tony, because it’s impossible, and—

Steve sits up.

He’s covered in cold sweat and he shivers. He instinctively pulls the cover closer to him, but they don’t help any.

He’s annoyed. At Tony, for being unresponsive; at himself, for still being so weak. For wanting to believe that the dream-Tony said the truth. For hoping so.

Steve closes his hands into fists and forces himself to breathe in, out, in, out. He’s got plans to follow.

Tony Stark is not a part of those plans anymore. Steve should remember that.

(He’s still mad, because Tony should be here; Steve’s going to win now, but it’s not really satisfactory if Tony’s not here, fighting against him with all he has. Tony’s not here, Steve can’t break him anymore; Carol has stolen it from him.)

Steve finally glances at his clock. It’s almost five. He doesn’t want to get back to sleep.

Director of SHIELD never rests, does he, he thinks, and gets up.

He goes through his day, and nothing seems as real as the Tony was in his dream.

***

Steve’s dreaming again.

It’s the same dream, and he steels himself. He knows how it’ll go; he won’t let himself hope this time. It’s a dream, and soon enough he’ll wake up . . .

Tony walks towards him through the nothingness. “Hi again, Steve,” he says.

“This is a dream,” Steve states.

Tony cocks his head to the right. “Don’t dreams usually feel real enough it doesn’t even occur to you they might not be?” he asks.

Steve doesn’t want to get into it, and yet . . . “How can it not be a dream?”

Tony shrugs. “My money’s still on Extremis. Do I even have any money left? My hypothetical money, then.”

Steve stares at him. “You have no idea what’s going on, do you.”

Tony shakes his head. “I know it’s real. The way I know I’m in a coma.”

“How do I wake you up, Tony?” Steve asks.

Tony laughs this time. He doesn’t sound amused. “You just said it yourself. I have no idea, Steve,” he says.

So it’s a dream, because Steve also has no idea and even his imagination can't come up with anything; or it’s not a dream, and Tony really fucked up his own body bad enough he doesn’t know . . . Or it’s not a dream and Tony’s lying to him, except in this case why.

Tony’s looking at him, worriedly. “I made many bad mistakes,” he says, winces. “Terrible mistakes,” he corrects himself.

“You’re not responsible for everything,” Steve says; he’s not sure why. It’s the truth, but he should be trying to destabilize Tony—because of course he believes this is Tony—rather than help him.

“A lot of things are my fault,” Tony says.

The whiteness around them changes, and for a moment Steve sees images; Rhodey’s body in a morgue, Bruce falling down, Steve himself, killed by Spider-Man.

Tony shakes himself, and they’re gone, just like that.

Which, if Steve’s going with the it’s real theory, would suggest their surroundings react to Tony’s emotions. Interesting. Hopefully not to Steve’s.

“None of those were your fault,” Steve says. He’s sure; Bruce’s death he orchestrated himself, after all. “And I’m still here.”

And wouldn’t Tony just love the truth behind the vision of Miles killing Steve?

Steve could tell him, now. But he wants the real Tony to wake up and fight him.

“I’m not—Extremis serves as a receptor, too. You—well, you’re a supersoldier,” Tony says, weakly. “We know each other well. Maybe it latched to you at some point. Maybe it’s because you have all my overrides.”

Steve nods, but there’s something there that worries him. “You’re not . . . ?” he asks.

Tony winces. “I’m not conscious. I’m not dreaming. When we’re here—I’m me. I’m aware. I remember it. But when you wake up . . . There’s nothing. Or maybe there is and I just can’t remember. Empty and cold and—”

“Like ice,” Steve finishes for him.

Tony looks at him, surprised, and then nods slowly. “Like ice,” he agrees.

“I went to see you,” Steve says. “You wouldn’t even move. I—I hated seeing you like that, almost dead.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony says. The worst part is: he sounds like he means it.

Steve closes his eyes tight.

When he finally opens them, ready to face Tony again, he finds himself staring at his own ceiling, wide awake.

He still wants to cry.

***

Steve avoids sleep, after that.

He goes to the secure room with Tony’s body inside and congratulates himself for not snapping the agent’s neck when he jokes again.

Tony’s the same as when Steve had last seen him; pale and a still in an almost scary way.

“Hearing you in dreams isn’t enough,” Steve whispers. “Please wake up. I have plans for us.”

Tony doesn’t move.

Steve wants to touch him. The pod would probably open to his override codes, but he’s too scared to try. What if it’d kill Tony? No one knows what’s wrong with him, after all.

Not even Tony, or so it seems.

Or maybe Steve’s finally going crazy.

***

He sleeps, and he doesn’t have any dreams.

When he wakes up, he all but runs to see Tony’s comatose body. No change. There’s never any change.

“Don’t do that to me again,” he orders Tony, as if Tony can hear him.

Steve throws himself into work that day.

He gets a plan to build better prisons for superpowered criminals approved, and considers putting the Inhuman Royal Family there first. But no, this would be too much of a diplomatic incident, he should start with someone else . . .

He’s in a fight, and he’s distracted, and Wrecker hits him in the side, sending him to his knees.

One of the SHIELD agents runs toward him. “I’m okay,” Steve calls, but his own voice sounds distant to him. He tries to stand up, but suddenly there’s pain in his side, overwhelming him, and he can’t get his body to listen to him.

Something hits him in the head. He goes down.

***

He must be unconscious, he thinks, and even so, he’s lying down, the white nothingness he came to associate with dreaming about Tony around him.

Tony’s kneeling next to him, his hand extended towards Steve, but not touching him, as if he’s scared.

“Tony,” Steve says. “I’m okay.”

“No you’re not if you’re here, and—you were unconscious, I didn’t think that was possible here.” He sounds panicked. He’s still very pale and very thin. Steve should be the one worried.

But Steve hurts all over, and he must be unconscious in the real world—and okay, so he is somehow connected to Tony Stark now.

The comatose Tony Stark.

“Don’t do that to me,” Tony whispers. “I—I saw you die once, I can’t—don’t do it to me, Steve, not when I can’t help you—”

Steve shakes his head again. “It was the Wrecking Crew.”

Tony tilts his head. “You’re kidding me.”

“Pathetic, I know,” Steve says. “The point is, I had support, and I’ll be okay.”

He manages to sit up. Tony’s immediately next to him, his arm around Steve’s shoulders.

They haven’t been this close in ages. Steve doesn’t mind.

“You saw me die?” Steve asks after a moment.

Tony shudders. “I didn’t lie,” he says. “I—After the war, when you found me, and—you know what happened, you were there. I didn’t lie. I didn’t remember.”

“You do remember now,” Steve says.

Tony nods.

He looks like he’s fighting with himself. Steve’s too tired to guess at what’s going on.

“It wasn’t worth it,” he whispers, and the words are a shock, are more than Steve can deal with.

He sees Tony’s memories around himself again; his own body in the morgue, much like Tony’s body looks now in the real world, except Steve was still bloody and injured and very, very dead. He feels Tony’s sobs and despair. He feels Tony’s love, and that gives him a pause.

There’s a sudden pain in his chest, another shock, but this one physical—

***

He’s conscious enough to understand they’re resuscitating him. But it’s not necessary anymore, he’s here, he—

“Enough!” one of the doctors yells. “Heartbeat is back.”

“That soon?” Someone else asks. “Oh. And it stabilises.”

“It’s Captain America,” the first doctor replies. “We never know what to do with superhumans.”

Steve’s too tired to keep on listening.

Unconsciousness is welcome.

***

There are no dreams, not even visions, but when he wakes up, feeling pretty much healed up, Sharon’s there, staring him down.

“That was irresponsible,” she says. “And you were distracted.”

“I was thinking about Tony,” he says, because apparently this sort of thing gives him a free pass.

Sharon looks at him sadly. “We all know what Tony meant to you, Steve. Take a few days off. SHIELD won’t—”

“You and I both know days off don’t exist in this job,” Steve tells her. “I’ll be fine.”

Red Skull will expect a report soon. Steve is prepared, though; he can talk about the prisons—or camps—and their successes to come.

“Your doctors told you to take it easy for two days,” Sharon says.

Steve nods, tiredly. Normally, he’d argue, and they both know it. But this way, he could personally oversee some of the Hydra cells, and . . . Yes, and try to make sense of the Tony situation.

“I’ll go home and sleep it off,” he promises, and he’s not even lying.

***

He is tired. He’s lost some blood, and he heals faster than a normal human, but still. He’s tired and he wants to sleep. He also wants to see Tony, not-Tony, whoever he is, again.

He’s asleep almost before he touches the pillow.

Tony’s there, sitting with his legs crossed, whiteness all around him.

“You’re back,” he says, but he doesn’t look at Steve.

“I’m back. And I’m not a ghost. Come on, Tony, look at me.”

“I’m—you weren’t meant to see that,” Tony whispers.

Fuck this, Steve thinks. Even if it’s real . . . Tony’s comatose. Steve can do whatever he wants.

And what he wants is to walk to Tony, pull him in tight, and kiss him, strongly, on the lips.

He wants Tony.

There’s nothing about love, here.

“I love you,” he says anyway, because he knows it matters to Tony.

Tony looks surprised, surprised and sad. Steve panics—what if Tony’s looked right through him; Tony’s always known him the best, and he was his weakness, Steve couldn’t pretend otherwise now . . .

Then Tony kisses him, and sex in dreams seems to be just the same as sex in reality.

Steve holds Tony down, his hand around Tony’s wrists, almost hoping he can bruise a dream. It’s fast and rough and Tony keeps moaning, swallowing Steve’s name, and it’s glorious, and after, Tony flips them around, and the hesitation is still there in his eyes.

Steve kisses him again.

“I love you,” he says.

He doesn’t get to see Tony’s reaction this time.

He wakes up, his alarm going off.

Another SHIELD emergency. Another distraction. He’s not allowed in the field, of course he’s not, but he stands in the helicarrier and barks orders and tries not to think of Tony.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s better to be awake now.

***

When he lies down on his bed that evening, he’s not sure what to expect. But he has to know. It’s important. And it’s not like he can just keep avoiding sleep forever.

Tony’s already shown up when Steve was unconscious, after all.

It’s like their first meeting, in this weird dreamscape neither of them seems to understand. Tony’s still pale as death, clad in his undersuit; Steve realises he’s wearing the thin mesh he puts on under his Cap costume these days.

“Tony,” he says, and stops himself.

“Steve,” Tony says. He bites on his lips. “I—I’ve always loved you, Steve. I won’t apologise for the incursions, but—I loved you, and I did it anyway.”

“I know,” Steve says, almost compelled to tell the truth. It’s a dream, after all. “I love you too, and yet . . .”

Tony’s watching him closely.

“You love me,” he repeats. His eyes are closed, now. Maybe he wants to remember the sound of the words.

“I love you,” Steve repeats, wondering what it’s about. There’s a tone of honesty to his words, he supposes, but that’s just because Tone needs honestly right now, not because Steve’s like his past pathetic self. He’s not. And . . . He can’t see through this dream-Tony any more than he could through a real Tony. It should be infuriating. It makes him weak. He shouldn’t be weak anymore.

But loving Tony never made him weak.

He freezes. Something’s wrong.

“You love me,” Tony repeats, his voice sounding off. Steve can’t move. “Not, ‘he loved you’. An ‘I love you’.”

Love is a weakness.

It’s not, a part of him argues.

Tony’s still not looking at him.

“Tony,” Steve says, because he has to know. “Open your eyes.”

And Tony smiles, straightens up, and finally does. For a brief moment, before Tony blinks, Steve can see it: the dark, glassy look, lines of codes reflecting in Tony’s eyes.

He wonders if he can kill Tony in a dream.

He can’t hurt Tony.

“Steve,” Tony says. “If that matters to you. The true you. I do love you.”

He starts to disappear.

Steve stares at him, and—

“Steve Rogers, override code, 34–” And then he can’t speak. His body doesn’t listen to him. His thoughts change.

He wakes up with a scream on his lips. He jumps out of bed, unsteady, leans against the wall. He spots the mirror on the wardrobe and smashes it. He’s not sure what he saw inside.

Tony is—

A weakness.

Everything.

There’s one thing his body agrees on right now, and it’s this: he must go see Tony. So he stumbles through the corridors, convinced he looks like he’s going crazy, but it’s 4 AM and no one dares disturb the Director anyway. He opens the door to where Tony should be.

The pod is empty.

Tony’s leaning against the wall, looking exhausted. His eyes on Steve are wary.

“I’ve no idea who did this to you, Steve,” he says, “but I can promise I will destroy them.”

Steve shakes his head. “Everything’s all right, Tony,” he says, and he lunges himself at Tony—

Steve messes up the last step and he flies to the left, crashes into the floor, away from Tony. Anything to keep him safe. Anything. He closes his eyes. There are . . . a lot of memories he’d rather not have, all things considered, but he can’t let himself fall apart just now. He seems to be alone in his head, but how long will it last?

“Tony?” he asks. “Are you okay?”

Tony slides down to the floor, his back against the wall. He looks at Steve and smiles. He taps his knee, and for a brief second, Steve sees an outline of an armour around Tony.

“Good,” he says. “Good.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony mutters. “I should’ve noticed earlier something was off.”

Steve shakes his head. He can barely process what happened to him; he can’t deal with Tony’s brand of guilt just yet.

“How did . . .” Steve’s not sure what he’s asking. He’s feeling empty.

“I’ve no idea. I guess you’re stronger than any mindcontrol,” Tony replies. He sounds honest. “What I said—it wasn’t a scheme, Steve. I do love you. And I know, time and place and all that—but I thought you should know that.”

“Thank you,” Steve whispers. “I meant it to, you know. Or—he did. He was right. I love you, Tony. Always.”

And yet they both fought each other so many times.

He wants to cry, or maybe laugh. He’s too tired for either.

Tony reaches out a hand towards him, slowly, so very slowly—he must be exhausted too—and Steve grabs it. Tony’s hand looks normal, but Steve can feel the armour under his fingers. But that’s okay. It just means Tony’s safe.

They don’t move for a long time. But they stay together.