Title: Arc Halo
Author: Del Rion
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Era: Takes place during "Iron Man".
Genre: Drama, angst
Rating: K+ / FRC
Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Summary: Tony takes his first bath since Afghanistan. He's in an odd mood, and J.A.R.V.I.S. notices.
Complete. Part of "Genius, AI & Bots" series.
Warnings: Vague mentions of PTSD, torture and body horror.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
About Arc Halo: Imagine Tony in a bathtub, the bathroom dark save for the light of the arc reactor coming from under the water. (That's the image this little story was built upon.)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
. . .
Malibu, California, USA
Afghanistan changed everything for Tony: how he saw his life, his company – how he saw himself; it changed his priorities, his plans for the future, and how he breathed.
It was that last change that was, shockingly, the easiest to deal with. It was also the most intimate.
A device was embedded in his chest cavity, perhaps for the rest of his life, but in the grand scheme of things, it was something Tony had complete control over: he had designed the miniaturized arc reactor, then built it; he knew it, layer by layer, from materials used to operating manual.
Tony had control.
His life and company were much harder to rein in – as were the nightmares, ghost pains and the burning need to finish what he started.
That's why he was constructing Mark II: to finish something, although he wasn't sure what.
After another sweat-soaked marathon in the workshop, Tony debated between bed and bathroom. He needed to clean up, though, which helped him make up his mind – whether he really liked that decision or not.
Anything related to bodies of water larger than what a single glass could hold had become a bit of a stumbling block since Afghanistan. It was another thing Tony had little control over – even though he was forever trying to master it.
In the first several days since his return home, he hadn't entered a bathroom with a shower attached to it. If he had to wash his hands, he leaned as far away from the sink as possible, and he never, ever put his face under the spray. Soon he told himself that kind of behavior was too much to handle, even for him, and forced himself into a proper bathroom. It had taken him another day to turn on the water, and even now he was still cautious about getting his head wet.
The things he had taken for granted when pushing his face under the spray in the past, enjoying the beat of water against his skin…
"J.A.R.V.I.S., fill the tub," Tony ordered.
"Sir," the AI acknowledged the command.
Tony dragged his feet all the way to the master bathroom; he found things to straighten up, notes from Obie and Pepper to read – even a message from Rhodey… all of which was a systematic delay before he had to shed his stained clothes and step into the well-lit room.
Tony pointedly didn't look at the mirrors. "Dim the lights," he ordered, and J.A.R.V.I.S. did his bidding.
The bathtub was steaming with hot, clear water – not cold and murky.
Tony stared at the water, then resolutely stepped in and sank down, seating himself at the bottom of the tub. The heat of the water felt like it was searing his skin and it was a bit harder to breathe, but his chin was still above the water and he was fine.
Tony sat there for a minute, entire body tense. He refused to pull up his knees and kept his hands underwater instead of gripping madly onto the edges of the tub. The tightness in his chest slowly eased, and then the tension. Neither left for real, though, and that pissed him off.
To agitate himself further, Tony inched a bit deeper into the water. Chin, cheeks, nose –
He shot back up, irrationally fearing he would inhale water up his nose the moment the water touched it.
"Sir?" J.A.R.V.I.S. prompted.
Tony closed his eyes. "It's fine."
"Your heart-rate –"
"Is fine, J. I'm fine."
"Of course, sir."
Tony sat there a while, straightening his legs that he had pulled up somewhere in the midst of his miniature freak-out. It left him feeling vulnerable, but he wasn't a child cowering in a corner!
Slowly, he slid a bit deeper once more. He took it slow this time and tried not to think of why submersing himself fully was a bad idea. Inch by inch, his shoulders became engulfed, but Tony smartly kept his face above the surface.
Once at a desired depth, Tony closed his eyes, acted serene, then looked down at himself. "J.A.R.V.I.S., turn down the lights a little more." The room grew darker.
"All the way off," Tony decided and darkness engulfed him, leaving only the lone, shimmering halo in front of him, eerie and blue beneath the water. Tony couldn't crane his neck to properly see the source of the light – not without risk of getting his face wet – but he kept looking at the outer edges of the arc reactor's glow.
The slight ripples of water made the light twist a little, looking alive. Elusive, like Tony's control.
"Sir," J.A.R.V.I.S. said after a bit. When the AI didn't go on, Tony knew there was no message – it was just J.A.R.V.I.S.'s way to prompt for an answer when he didn't comprehend something. The AI was incredibly smart and resourceful these days, but sometimes J.A.R.V.I.S. became puzzled. It was as if the AI knew he was lacking necessary data to comprehend something, and as always, J.A.R.V.I.S. turned to Tony for guidance.
What the issue was right now, Tony wasn't sure. They had gone over the arc reactor schematics and its purpose in his life – even built a better version of it – so it couldn't be that.
"Are you alright, sir?" the AI finally voiced his concern – or began eliminating factors.
"Sure," Tony replied.
"Your body language seems… forced."
"That's because it is," Tony smiled a little.
"Are you in pain?"
"Constantly. That… This is just a mood, J. It will pass. Always does."
Silence met his words. Whether that was a sign of acceptance or skepticism, Tony didn't know.
He did know, however, that he had built one hell of a smart AI.