Light Me Up
Chapter Summary: Sometimes – The worst are also the best.
The series of gentle tugs and touches had been gradually slowing, and finally stopped. Slender fingers slackened and slipped loosely through shadowed blond strands. Soft fingertips came to rest as tiny points of cool behind his ear and dotting across the back of his neck.
Marking his place in the novel he was working through with a blunt fingertip, Steve tipped his head back slightly, looking up at his lover from where he was resting against the soft curve of Tony's hip.
It wasn't very often that he and Tony had the opportunity to just relax in each other's company. Generally it was business; whether 'Avenger' or 'Stark', that was getting in the way. Sometimes it was the other members of their chosen family; as much as they loved the rest of the team, alone time was not something that was easily achievable.
On top of all that, there was Tony's own 'work until exhaustion' mentality. The genius often spent every waking (and refusing to sleep) moment and expanded absurd amounts of energy on his, admittedly brilliant and very necessary, creations.
This didn't leave them a whole lot of spare time just to be together though.
Reaching up, Steve curled a large hand around the cool fingers, smiling indulgently as Tony snuffled sleepily, sinking a little further into his mound of pillows.
It was barely 9:30 and the usually sleep deprived genius, who Steve all but carried to bed on occasion, was dead to the world; completely relaxed and content to lie beneath his lover, as Steve used him as a glorified reading light.
The genius was barely 11 hours into his newest working stint, still fresh and energised from his most recent 'Steve Coaxed' night of 6 hours proper rest.
So when he'd wandered into their bedroom earlier that evening; ostensibly for a shower, given the grease build-up that was caking his hair down and staining his skin and clothing and obviously still distracted by whatever formula or invention he was currently working on, Steve had been satisfied to receive the absent and rather messy kiss Tony had bestowed upon him on his way to the bathroom.
He'd grinned and turned back to his novel, half way through and decidedly invested in the thriller, semi-listening to the subtle sound of his lover's bathroom rituals; lights and air ventilators being switched on, the soft rustle of clothing being removed, the clatter of soap being moved from the sink to the shower, water spraying against tile.
The water switched off after only moments and Steve knew that Tony, in such a work driven mood, wouldn't linger past basic cleansing in the bathroom; no time for the luxury of warm cascading water, soap slicked skin or insatiable super-soldiers.
Anticipating his unmindful lover parading gloriously naked about the room in a distracted meander for clothing, Steve set his book open face down against his chest, fully intent on enjoying the freely offered show.
He'd expected Tony to sweep back into the room, half dry, hair still dripping little rivulets of water down damp skin. He'd consider it a job well done if Tony actually took the time to find a new set of clothes, rather than just pulling the same grease smeared jeans and top on from earlier back on.
Which is why Steve had been surprised when Tony padded into the room several moments later, towelled passably dry. He reached for his dark green sleep pants, tugging them up over slim hips, shooting an all too aware smirk in his staring blonds' direction.
Sliding across their soft cotton sheets, Tony had propped himself up on the veritable mountain of pillows that adorned the head of the bed, most of which would probably end up on the floor before the night was through.
Steve, reclined against his one, sensible pillow had willingly met the warm lips that sought his, revelling in the soft, slow roll of Tony's tongue against his own, returning the sweet kiss with undeniable pleasure.
Tony pulled back a moment later, settling against his pillows again as he directed, with a nudge in Steve's direction, "Go ahead and read your book..."
Foreplay and sex could have ensued, easily could have ensued...but Steve could see the want for simple closeness that was hiding in warm brown eyes, and understanding the rarity of Tony allowing, let alone seeking, this soft, gentle intimacy, he just smiled and turned back to his novel.
It took only a paragraph for the story to tug at his attention, sprawling across the paper in bold black ink, sharp against the cold white pages, and Steve went willingly, eagerly falling back under the spell of any fantastic novel.
Deep engrossment didn't stop him from leaning into the touch that caressed the side of his head moments later, humming appreciatively as deceptively strong fingers sank into his hair and gently pulled through the golden strands, carding with soothing repetition.
Somehow, over the course of the following hour, Steve twisted around slightly and inched closer his lover's warm presence, until he'd settled, quite comfortably, with Tony's hip replacing his pillow. His long legs were sprawled out diagonally across the huge bed and crossed at the ankle.
The sun had slowly gone down, casting increasingly long shadows from the windows, until finally it was night instead of late afternoon. Steve had stopped his lover from ordering the lights on; instead insisting that he actually preferred just the blue glow of the reactor, softening the stark white of the pages.
Tony had fallen silent again, fingers returning to twist gently in soft blond hair, awash with radiant blue luminescence.
The Captain was more than content to read and let Tony gently massage his scalp and play with his hair, and from the gradual slowing and final relaxation of Tony' body into actual sleep, it was clear that Tony was content as well.
So here they were, 9:30 pm and Tony, completely relaxed into a light doze.
His motive hadn't been to put Tony to sleep, which, gods knows, was a goal he was all too familiar with, to varying degrees of success. But Steve wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, slowing his page turning and quieting, hoping that for once, just once, Tony might actually sleep for a few hours, before he got to the stage where he was too exhausted to even get to sleep.
Releasing Tony's hand to turn the page, Steve stifled a chuckle as the slender fingers tucked themselves down between his shoulder blades, wedging between Tony's waist and his own broad back.
The book drew him deeper, the plot thickening, the characters peril becoming mortal and the fear for their survival seeping into his own mind. Enthralled by the fascinating thriller, and desperate to know the outcome Steve frown as his light dimmed infinitesimally; hardly noticeable, were you not a super-soldier.
He barely even had time to register the change when it settled and he continued reading. And then it happened again, seconds later – just a tiny, insignificant dimming of the light.
He growled quietly, irritated at the bothersome disruption that kept pulling him from the world the book was creating, and that really was very annoying, why hadn't Tony –
Steve dumped the book carelessly and flipped over onto his knees, hands clenched into shaking fists as he stared in disbelieving hope at the bright arc-reactor. Then one of the tiny individual points of light in the circle flickered and, as he watched with terrified eyes, it went out.
His breathing hitched, caught in his throat and white stars burst across his vision as panic swamped him. The silently screaming impulse to 'Do something, anything!' was paralysed by the horror-struck dread that settled deep in his chest.
This wasn't an enemy he could beat into submission or an adversary he could convince to behave...this was science...this was...medical.
The image of his calmly sleeping love suddenly seemed to morph before his very eyes. Tony's smooth, creamy skin now appeared chalky white in the fluctuating light. Darkness cast beneath closed eyes became more than just the sunken shadows of the dim evening. Was it a trick of the arc-light, or were those slightly parted lips actually tinged blue?
What had been appreciation of Tony's unusual sleepiness was suddenly replaced by 'is he even breathing?'
That last terrifying thought was enough to finally break Steve from his motionless horror.
Bruce...he needed Bruce.
Acting more on panic stricken fervour than common sense, Steve hastily gathered Tony's still form towards him, easily sweeping his smaller lover to cradle against his chest, one hand over the fluctuating arc-reactor as he slid across the mattress and lunged from the bed.
Jarring to an upright stop, the panicked Captain turned and dashed towards the door of their room, and more importantly, the help beyond.
Tony knew the terrifying shock of 'Falling Awake' very well.
Being tossed head-first through a 90th floor window sometimes did that to a guy.
In his experienced opinion, the terrifying feeling of dropping and then the inevitable jolt was, without a doubt, the absolute worst way to awaken from sleep.
Apparently, he'd been wrong.
Being suddenly yanked from completely peaceful sleep, surrounded by possibly the safest, most protected feeling he'd ever known, and swept weightlessly into the air, was far worse.
The Arc-reactor light was obscured against a wall of immovable strength, plunging him into engulfing black. His sleep fuddled mind struggled to ignore the flashback of 'dark' and 'restrained' while trying to fight the absolute terrified panic of 'touching' and 'Arc-reactor'.
Definitely a far, far worse awakening.
One arm, bent at the elbow, hand resting against his collarbone, was as-well immobilised as if tied by rope. The other, however, was free, dangling limply from his side.
Sleep addled and irrational with fear, he still immediately fought back, jerking as if burnt, body thrashing wildly against the unwelcome confines, deciding to stop hanging around like a limp noodle during his own abduction.
He bit a muffled curse out against dark fear, masking, and hiding behind his patented 'Tony Stark' bravado, and he swung his free arm up with full strength, in a feral blow towards where he assumed his assailants head was.
His mind chose that exact moment to finally tick over, fog of sleep clearing in an instant as adrenaline flooded his system, and immediately began categorising-
And then, less than a microsecond later-
He managed to check his wild swing, fingers sinking deeply into silken soft strands, rather than, no doubt, shattering his wrist against his lover's skull. Sagging limply he turned his face into warm, salty skin with a barely restrained shudder of pure relief.
Fully awake and mind whirring at its usual genius speed, Tony quickly recognised what the sudden onset of fright had masked. Despite the stripe of warm steel that snaked across his upper back and further down, across his waist, backside and thighs, rendering him completely immobilised, the engulfing grasp was infinitely gentle.
He wasn't being crushed to Steve's chest, but rather, cradled against the warm mass and as he slowly came down from his panic induced fear, he relaxed into the strength holding him, looking up into the dark shadows, calmly intent on finding a reason for Steve nearly scaring him to death.
"What the hell! Steve!" Tony tried to pull back enough to look up at his loves face, but the darkness wasn't exactly cooperating with his non enhanced eyesight.
It took 2.7 seconds for Tony to realise that something was very wrong.
Steve didn't answer him, didn't even acknowledge him, just rushed towards the door, and damn, but his boyfriend was fast; they were already nearing the corridor entrance, on the other side of their apartment.
Tony ordered, "Lights on JARVIS" and had to shut his eyes as the room flared bright, blinding after the darkness.
Opening them again a second later and looking up, Tony really started to worry.
Steve hadn't reacted to the light, still charging towards the door, but Tony could now see the huge pupil blown eyes, tiny rings of blue around pools of black, sunken into waxen skin.
Tony easily recognised the hallmark signs of shock.
"Steve!" he called again, trying unsuccessfully to wriggle out of the solid grasp, concern shooting through him as the blond didn't even pause, obviously not aware of his partners concerned queries.
Tony had no idea what had caused such a deep level of alarm, such upset as to send Steve- his calm, composed Steve, into such a state of shocked hysteria.
What demon of a past 70 years in the making; what nightmare, what memory... he may not be able to understand, but he couldn't stand by and watch as Steve fell apart.
Not on his watch.
Sweat slicked hair slipped between his fingers as he tightened his grip, firmly dragging Steve's face downwards, pulling him close, until they were nose to nose, eyes locked and unwavering.
Steve came to an abrupt halt as liquid brown filled his entire vision, drawing his focus like a moth to flame, breaking through the shocked panic.
The concern infused word lingered in the air between them, and Steve stood, unmoving, gazing with rapture for another instant, before a quivering breath huffed between his lips and he blinked, once, twice...finally seeing Tony.
The engineer grinned gently, relief visible in the softening of the angles of his face, fisted grip loosening to a soothing presence in blond hair as he reassured himself by asking, "Steve?...You with me, love?"
The blond seemed to shake himself a little, pressing his lips against Tony's forehead as he nodded, breathing deeply the comforting scent of musk, engine oil, hints of sandalwood and the sharply warm aroma that was just Tony.
"Yeah...yes, just...I guess I...the arc, and you...you were so, still... " he trailed off at Tony's confused frown, realising that he was babbling and not making much sense, but just so relieved that Tony was awake (alive), moving and talking and so not dying.
Seeing the confusion starting to morph into concern, Steve took a calming breath and tried to explain, "Your Arc-reactor...it...well, a little part of it...the light, a part of the circle of light... went out..."
Tony blinked, his face drained of colour and he leaned back in a manner that would have seen him thrown to the floor if it hadn't been for the quick reflexes of Captain America; the blonds' strong arms tightening from their relaxed hold, supporting Tony's form as the genius gazed down in alarm at the revealed arc-reactor.
Nine points of blue light remained around the middle glow, one conspicuously black spot glared from the bottom left of the circle.
A sigh of relief escaped Tony's lips and raking a hand through his hair, the genius leaned forwards again, slumping against Steve's chest as he spoke, "It's okay...just an elect-"
Tony cut himself off as the whole situation became clear to him, looking up at Steve with wide, unbelieving eyes as he demanded an answer, "Are you telling me this whole freak out was because a fucking light went off on my chest!?"
With his coherent, animated and somewhat mouthy lover ensconced safely in his arms, Steve had the good grace to blush as he acknowledged his over-reaction, but he tried to make Tony understand, "...I know...I probably overreacted a bit...I just...I was reading and you were asleep and then the light flickered and...went out...and I just, I couldn't..and..."
Tony could feel the slight tremble of the arms that held him, hear the hitch in Steve's voice and noted the lingering paleness, remembering that, despite how unnecessary he thought the reaction was, it had been genuine, and Steve was still riding the remnants of a pretty decent panic attack and moderate shock.
His fingers were a gentle presence, soothingly caressing the back of Steve's neck as Tony spoke, "I'm okay...I'm fine...but I think you need to put me down, and then sit down...before you fall down..."
Steve shook his head slightly at the advice, but moved to half-obey; padding across the room to sink into their plush sofa, but keeping Tony firmly situated on his lap, not yet ready to give up the hands on confirmation of his loves healthy presence.
Tony, glad that Steve was off his feet just smiled as he conceded to one out of two, burrowing closer- after all, Steve wasn't the only one who'd had a fright.
They sat in silence for several minutes; Steve soothed enough by Tony's obvious dismissal of the dead light to slowly relax, colour seeping back into his face and his usual calm, steady persona settling under his skin.
Tony was content to wait until his lover was calm again, silently musing on Steve's ridiculous over-reaction, and why- despite his concern about his loves panic attack, in some small, strange way, it made him feel good.
Several minutes later, calm and collected, although emotions still thrummed beneath the surface, Steve leaned over and tapped the arc-reactor, fingers blunt and gentle against the protective casing, as he asked, "So...it's meant to do that?"
Tony grimaced, catching Steve's hand with his own as he shook his head, "Well, no...Not exactly...at all."
Blue eyes widened, and Tony squeezed the hand engulfing his as he elaborated, "There's nothing wrong with the actual reactor. It's an electrical fault...just a shorted wire, or a blown fuse...its fine, I'll fix it lat-"
The genius fell silent as Steve interrupted heatedly, "No! It's not fine...what if that had happened during a fight!"
"It's a damn Electrical fault...nothing actually happened!", Tony bit back, swinging his legs to the floor and sliding off Steve's lap to sit beside him on the sofa, exasperated by the unwarranted concern.
Steve growled, "Yeah, this time! What if something actually does go wrong...none of us have any idea how to fix it! No one knows where the spares a- You do have spares right?"
Tony didn't get a chance to answer as Steve ploughed on, "It's one of your greatest strengths, but it's also a liability!"
The words hit harshly, despite their truth, and brown eyes dropped away.
Captain America softened, and became Steve, as he added, "Sweetheart... I need to know...I won't risk losing you because I don't know how to change a damn battery!"
The arc-reactor was his greatest strength, his greatest creation and his greatest vulnerability, and Tony was immensely proud of it, extremely protective of it and slightly resentful of it. It was his most closely guarded secret – he waxed lyrical about it, boasted about it, flaunted it and never, ever trusted anyone with it.
He'd needed Pepper's help that once, and although he'd been grateful for the assistance (better grateful than dead), the need for such had left him physically ill afterwards, and he'd never asked again; which he was pretty sure had suited Pepper just fine.
Besides, as much as he loved Pepper, and she loved him...she didn't have access to his heartstrings like one specific blond soldier.
Speaking of, Tony could see the fear on Steve's face, and knew that if he rebuffed that fear, this was as close as he'd ever get to anyone.
And he'd be damned if he didn't want more, want everything.
Coming to a decision that, in a single instant, pulled him closer to anyone than he'd possibly ever been; he made Steve's fear his own.
Sagging back into Steve's embrace, Tony capitulated, "I don't talk about it...I've never told anyone...the why is too...what happened is too...hard...but, next time I change it, I'll show you how..."
Steve leaned forward as he spoke softly, "I know it's not easy for you to trust, especially with this...so, thank–you. I know the basics of what happened...and as long as I can fix it – that's enough..."
He pressed warm lips against the corner of Tony's mouth, smiling as his lover turned into the kiss, smouldering heat curling through him, especially sweet after the emotional wringer he'd just been through.
Tony seemed to be on much the same thought path, because he breathed cheekily, "You know – if you'd just asked, instead of swinging me up into your arms like some Tarzan/Jane situation...this whole freak out was a little unnecessary"
Steve pulled back a little, bringing his hand up to run through sweat damp hair as he spoke incredulously, "Unnecessa- ...the light went out and I suddenly couldn't seem to tell if you were even breathing and I had no idea what to do if your heart had stopped and it was just...I was...I freaked because I thought your heart had stopped beating!"
Sitting up straighter, Tony replied, "My heart? Why would my hear- It's not a pacemaker Steve."
Steve looked a little sheepish as he answered, "Well no, I figured that...but, it keeps your heart beating, doesn't it?"
Swivelling around to see his lover more easily, the genius said, "Well – in a manner of speaking...it doesn't make it beat though...my heart beats just as well as...well, maybe not yours... but as well as any normal humans..."
The blond eyebrows wrinkled in confusion as he asked, "Your file just said it kept your heart beating...I assumed..."
Tony almost snickered; his file was as accurate as he himself was shy – basically, not very accurate. His lover was still looking at him with wide, inquisitive eyes, shadowed with confused concern, and so he explained, "The arc-reactor powers an electro-magnet, which keeps the shrapnel from tra-"
"SHR- Shrapnel!" Steve almost shouted the word, but cut himself off and repeated it in an almost strangled whisper. The super soldier was familiar with the tiny flecks of metal, and the long, drawn out death they could inflict.
Tony almost wanted to laugh at how shocked and anxious Steve sounded, as if any of this was recent news, but the fact remained that it was his own fault – how could he expect Steve to know, when he himself, was the only source of the correct information.
The report he'd given the military had been as brief and concise as he could manage, and his Avenger's portfolio basically stated 'Tony Stark was dragged kicking and screaming into a cave and three months later Ironman blasted his way out' – needless to say, Tony was starting to understand Steve's unfounded panic of earlier; if he'd thought Steve's heart might be going to stop beating at any moment, he'd probably panic too.
The thing was that Tony knew all of Steve's past,hell; Steve's past had been Tony's bedtime stories. And Steve had shared further; personal anecdotes, viewpoints and opinions. At night, curled around his 'present', Steve had told Tony all about his 'past'.
Yet Tony had never truly shared with Steve; sure, they'd spoken about Tony's genius and they'd discussed his friendship with Pepper and Rhodey. He'd taught Steve about JARVIS, and his workshop bots, they'd even spoken a little about 'Howard, Tony's father' – so different to 'Howard, Steve's friend'.
But, in that instance, sitting on that sofa, with Steve, so loving and safe and secure and his, Tony realised that he had never shared anything that could be used to hurt him, in the here and now- never shared anything that had very nearly, and could again, break him.
And so he said, "In Afghanistan, I was kidnapped..."
Steve interpreted with a steady hand on his shoulder and an understanding voice, "Tony- it's okay, you don't have to tell me-"
Tony didn't smile, memories already taunting him, but his answer, when it came was steadfast, "Yes...I do." and he turned, nuzzling into Steve's side, his own hand coming up and pulling Steve's from his shoulder, down into his lap.
One hand wrapped around a wrist he could barely grasp and a finger drew lazy spirals and equations on Steve's palm. Eyes resolutely following his artwork, Tony began quietly, "I was kidnapped...actually, I was shot at first – hence the shrapnel...and then I was kidnapped..."
"I can't remember much of the surgery that would, in the end, give me 'this'" -he tapped the arc-reactor – "Just...darkness, and bright lights...but I remember screaming..."
Steve shuddered, hand turning between those of his lover, fingers curling around Tony's wrist, as he confirmed his fear, "You...you were awake, during the surgery?"
Snorting derisively, Tony answered, "No...Not exactly...I was more out of my mind with fear and pain..."
"... was a cave...no cave anymore...I kind of blew it all to shit...but, I woke up in this cave, which was bad enough, but the real cherry on top was the fucking car battery attached to my chest...which has -"
"Wait, what! A car battery!? – How, I mean...the...I thought the reactor..." Steve babbled, unsure how a car battery had become the arc-reactor.
"The doctor...Yinsen...he...saved my life, in more ways than one..."
Tony's voice was softer and more distressed than Steve had previously heard it, and knew that this Yinsen, was someone he owed a great deal to...more than he could ever repay...for what was his love worth?
He could also tell that it was a debt he would never get the chance to make good on.
"...he told me not to waste my life...and sometimes I wonder..."
Perhaps there was a way to repay his debt, Steve thought as he chided gently, "Don't Tony...You're doing more with your life than he could have ever dreamed...and I'll never let you do any differently."
"...wouldn't have built them a damn toaster if they'd begged, let alone a Jericho missile...but I had to do something...I mean, do you know how hard it is to keep a car battery attached to your chest, without getting electrocuted, while being repeatedly drowned!"
Despite the almost glossed over mention in the report '...physical persuasive techniques...', Steve knew torture when he saw it, and his lovers aversion of deep water, up to and including pools and bathtubs...well, you couldn't scream torture any louder if you tried.
But Tony had never just come out and said it.
Steve wanted to calm the gentle quiver he felt in the hands under his, wanted to say something to sooth the slight tremble of the otherwise nonchalant voice, but Tony's eyes stopped him, and Steve realised that Tony needed to tell him this.
"I agreed to build them their missile...but built Ironman instead...and then I kicked ass." It was said with a certain amount of relish, and Steve felt that Tony was entitled it, but wanted to make something clear.
"Sweetheart, you didn't build Ironman...you built a suit. You are Ironman".
Tony's smiling lips against his indicated that he'd said the right thing.
The tale had settled heavily in the pit of Steve's stomach, and he could see that the recounting had shaken Tony. For a moment there was silence, stillness, as Steve wondered what to say...where to go from here, because it was obvious that they'd just come to a cliff in their relationship, where they'd normally skirt the edge, but had instead, clasped hands, and jumped.
Thankyou wasn't the correct response, even though Steve was more than eternally grateful that Tony had finally let him in. They were both a little shaken and unsettled, but not broken, at least, not anymore.
Tony moved first, his arms going around Steve's neck as he pulled himself back onto his lover's lap, facing Steve this time, one leg on either side of Steve's waist. Half kneeling, leaning forwards against Steve's chest, Tony met his lips in a gentle kiss, before leaning back into the arms that had come up to support him.
The closeness of their bodies created a slightly shadowed space between them, alight with a soft blue glow.
Seeing Steve's rapturous gaze, the reverence that shone from his eyes as they rested on the arc-reactor Tony said softly, "In the most simplified terms, its a battery...and if I tried to explain too in-depth you'd Tony me and push me off on Bruce...but, basically, It's the most powerful energy source of it size anywhere in the world...I made it, and it keeps me alive."
Fingers casually tapping against one of the most expensive, elaborate and sought after technologies on the world, Tony continued, "I love you. I know, you know that...but I felt I should say it...because it's the only reason I'm telling you this...I love you. Trust you... I need you-"
Steve stared at him across the endless expanse of his lap, easily interrupting with, "You've got me...", voice both softly indulgent and firmly obvious – I know you know that.
Tony smiled softly at his wide eyes, adding, "Don't look at me like that. I know, I know...I just...I don't talk about the arc-reactor...especially not how it works...it's just too dangerous... but that... that's not you... that rule doesn't apply to you...so, please...let me tell you this?"
Steve could only nod.
"I love it, the arc-reactor...it's my shining glory, my Pièce de résistance, my everything...and I hate it!" Steve's hand caught Tony's as it thumped down on the arc-reactor, still wary of damaging it, despite Tony's reassurance.
"Hey...hey! Sweetheart..." Steve brought the hand that tried to jerk away from to his lips, pressing a kiss against Tony's palm. He'd understood that Tony had issues with the arc-reactor; he hadn't wanted Steve to even fully see it, let alone touch it when they'd first got together, so he knew, but he couldn't say he understood the paranoid fear.
Tony shook his head, a grimace on his lips as Steve sealed his hand against his thigh, captured tightly beneath his own. "It's not breakable, not from my strength...diamond bonding alloy...but I can't...I never relax...If someone gets a hold of the technology...someone like Vanko or Hammer or...I don't have any schematics, plans or breakdowns of this anywhere except here ..." he tapped his forehead.
Steve thought he was beginning to understand; this was Tony, his Tony, worrying about the possible fallout should someone steal his technology and use it to potentially devastating results.
This was something he could help with, "Tony, love...you've done everything possible to ensure no one can take this technology... and if anyone ever did somehow manage to...well, you'd take it right back...and this time you'd have the Avenger's at your side..."
Tony managed a weak smile, but asked, "This time?"
Steve nodded with a grin, "Yes! Exactly...you've already done it once, alone...you got it back from Stane-"
Choking back what could have been a watery laugh, but became more a sob, Tony as he gasped, "...and then there's that..."
Thoroughly confused, Steve sounded it as he asked, "What? Tony, sweetheart...you destroyed Stains prototype...you did get the plans back? I mean – you had to have, I know you wouldn't leave them floating around out there-"
This time there was no mistaking the bitten-back half gasp-sob as Tony rasped out, "Steve...I told you – there are no plans..."
Steve stared at him, not comprehending, perhaps not wanting to comprehend.
He took in the hand spread protectively across the blue light of Tony's chest, the wide beseeching eyes that lingered on his and then slowly dropped to the light.
And it all came crashing down.
Pieces of a puzzle Steve hadn't even been aware of slotted together, creating a picture Steve didn't really want to see.
The incessant paranoia that someone would steal the technology, Tony not wanting him to touch it, the nightmares that ended in Tony wide eyed and terrified, clutching his chest; Obadiah Stane hadn't stolen the plans like Steve had assumed... He'd stolen the arc-reactor right out of Tony's chest.
Steve wanted to scream, to yell, to cry, to kill, wanted to throw up...
And then Tony was pressing in close, and here in Steve's arms and that was all Steve could afford to think about, because Obadiah Stane was already dead, dead, dead.
The long suppressed rage was near rolling off Tony in great sweeping waves, smothering and cloying in its weight, Steve's arms tightened, able to feel the underlying heartbreak.
He knew then, that this wasn't something Tony had really talked about; not about the actual hurt beneath the indignant anger, not about the deeply personal sense of betrayal that the 'last of his family' had carved, and knew that his lover did need to talk about it, to purge the poison, before it killed him from the inside out.
But not tonight.
Not when Steve was unable to even think about it without wanting to scream, yell, cry...kill.
So, not tonight.
Tonight, all he wanted to do was comfort.
Tony was leaning forwards against his chest, and looking down, all Steve could see was a disarray of dark tangled waves and the smooth stretch of bare back.
Running a large hand over the still back, the captain could feel the bridled emotion coiling beneath the skin, and tightening his other arm around the slim waist, he wondered how to best sooth his upset love.
And knowing as he did, that Tony always found comfort in the solid familiarity of science and technology, Steve leaned back, separating them and flooding the space between them with blue light.
Gently he tapped on the arc reactor, blue eyes catching brown as he murmured, "Talk to me...tell me what the lights mean."
Tony looked between his face and his hand, a soft tumultuous grin slowly forming as he settled into Steve's supporting arms, his own hand coming up to rest on the reactor, fingers interlocking with Steve's.
"...it's much more powerful than that though...this little baby could power my heart for- well– the original model, from the cave would power it for 50 lifetimes...this one, indefinitely..." Tony was happily babbling on, Steve listening avidly as the mysterious device that had long fascinated him suddenly became less intriguing, yet strangely, even more so.
Unlike Bruce, who found it tedious and difficult, Tony loved the challenge of 'dumbing-down' science for lesser mortals, and he was certainly very good at it, allowing those like Steve and Thor to understand complicated theories with minimal effort.
"I'll show you when I swap it...but, the core generates the blue glow you see... the ten separate lights around the edge are a...power gauge..." at Steve's confused look, Tony elaborated, "When I'm in the suit, it fine- I have JARVIS to measure the energy levels and I can pull out, recharge or swap before I shut down..." Steve's eyebrow jumped and Tony added grudgingly "..usually ...but out of the suit, there's no way to determine..."
Tony's fingers traced around their joined hands as he explained, "It's just an electricity circuit...the less power there is, the fewer lights are lit...see-" he tapped the top most light, slightly to the right side of the arc reactor, "100%", he touched on the one to its right, "90%...".
His fingers lingered over the dark spot as he said, "60%...and so on, all the way down to 10%...", he tapped the final light as he added, "A 10% energy output will still run my electromagnet for a good 100 years or so...plenty of time for a swap, so as long as I'm not in the suit, there's no need to worry..."
Steve looked half reassured, half terrified as he asked, "...and if you are in the suit?"
Tony answered, "The Mark VII uses a hell of a lot more power, but the arc-reactor is capable of the required output...its only if we encounter an electricity draining alien or an electromagnetic megalomaniac that I...we, need to worry...Don't panic until the lights start going out – in order–very rapidly..."
Steve grimaced as a memory flashed across his vision; blue light surrounded by damaged red and gold, flickering, blinking, dying...
"Like after the Chitauri invasion?" he asked, fingers squeezing Tony's, pressing over the arc-reactor.
Tony half-nodded as he answered, "Rapid power drainage will look like that, the light just going out...but, that...that really was my heart stopping..."
Steve jerked as if burnt, and Tony watched as his blue eyes widened and flew to the arc-reactor, and, oh yeah...Tony hadn't exactly told the team that little titbit.
Sensing an imminent meltdown about 'medical emergency' and 'Idiotic Genius's' and 'withholding important details', Tony slid from Steve's lap, pulling his lover from the couch with him and led the way across the room to delve into one of the many draws containing a mess of electrical gadgets and technological bits and pieces that had migrated to their rooms.
As he rifled one handed through the contents, discarding wires, fuses, plugs and tools, Tony spoke back over his shoulder. Steve was leaning against his back, a warm, living blanket, arms wrapped around his Tony's waist, one smaller hand still caught between his and a decidedly displeased look on his face.
"Really Steve...I was in space... of course my heart stopped beating! But it was fine...it's been months and I'm fine...Aha! Here, hold this..." He placated and cajoled as he pressed a tiny clear bead into Steve's hand and dragged him over to the bed.
Steve sighed, able to see that Tony really was fine, but still added, "I know sweetheart. Just...just, tell me next time...better yet...don't let there be a next time."
Tony pushed Steve to a sitting position on the bed, and then stepped in close, standing in the 'V' of Steve's parted legs, and then he stilled, and, even after telling the story of his kidnapping, Obadiah's treachery and the science behind his most precious possession, for the first time that night, he looked unsure of himself.
Settling his left hand on Tony's hip in a warm steady presence, Steve held the other, palm up, showing the small bead as he questioned softly, "What's this, love?"
Tony seemed to relax a little as he answered, "It's a bulb, a light-bulb...normally I'd have to go to the lab and take the reactor out to swap it -the angles too bad when it's in – and that turns a simple 10 second job into a half-hour ordeal... so I thought maybe- that you might?"
Steve immediately blanched and spluttered out, "W-what! You mean – Tony, I can't- I- It's too- "
"It's okay – I just...never mind, of course you don't want to...I guess it is a little gross...I'll swap it later.. ", Tony's voice was calm and resigned as he soothed Steve, but the captain caught the hurt and the way Tony pulled back from him slightly, and hurried to rectify the situation.
"No! No, that's not what I meant...I think it's fascinating! It's just...what if I break it, or hurt you!" Steve was almost manic in his fervour to reassure his lover, because there was no way he wanted Tony thinking that he found the arc-reactor- the thing safeguarding Tony's life, his most astounding creation- as anything less than mesmerizing.
It worked, as Tony relaxed again, an indulgent grin on his face as he reached up and unclipped, turned, un-clasped and removed the clear cover, saying, "It's easy, I want you to and I trust you..."
He brought Steve's hand up and rested it flat over the open reactor, and Steve marvelled at the added heat that removing the cover released, before looking up into sure eyes, and simply asked, "...What do I do?"
Tony's answering grin told him he'd said the right thing as the genius explained, "It very, very easy...just snap the blown one out of the brackets and clip the new one in..."
Looking at the blown light bulb, Steve could see the tiny bracket clamps that held it in place. Holding his breath, he reached out, hands trembling and fingers suddenly seeming four times their usual size... tongue peaking out the corner of his mouth as he concentrated every element of his focus on carefully, carefully touching that tiny and 'oh so' fragile gla-
Steve jerked in surprise, hand flying back from the reactor as he gasped in shock.
Tony doubled over, twisting to the side, one hand settling on Steve's leg as he held his shaking body up, the other wrapping across his stomach as he sniggered and chocked on badly suppressed laughter.
The hard swat that landed across his backside and Steve's accompanying "Dammit Tony!", only set the genius off harder, sending him all but collapsing onto Steve, who to his own credit, pulled his lover closer, smiling his own grin into dark hair.
A moment later, Steve rolled Tony onto his back on the bed, and with deft fingers, gently and with slightly more confidence, snapped the dead bulb from the reactor, placing it on the bedside table.
Tony's smug, "See – that wasn't so har-" was cut off by warm lips as Steve reached for the new bulb.
"Just...push it in?" he confirmed, and with Tony's nod he gently lined the glass bead up with the brackets and carefully applied only the most minimal amount of his strength, not wanting to risk breaking the glass, and sending it showering down into Tony's body.
Tony shook his head, exasperated as he said, "It's virtually indestructible Steve...just shove it in."
The captain's reply was a softly spoken, "It might be...but you're not", even as he pressed and snapped the bulb into place, grinning with breathless, speechless unspeakable delight as it came to life beneath his fingers, radiating the same gorgeous blue glow as the rest of the reactor.
Tony's passionately murmured, "Oh Steve! You just light me up..." executed the enthralling atmosphere and Steve snorted an indulgent "Idiot".
Tony, grinning, didn't bother arguing as he clipped, clasped and slid the cover back into place, probably knowing that any argument he could make would prove futile, instead, he just patted the reactor once and reaching up, he tugged the watching Steve down into a kiss.
Steve smiled against the lips below his own and happily accommodating his smaller partners demanding nudges by dragging him closer. Tony hummed his approval as Steve settled heavily down his left side, one leg thrown across Tony's thighs and a hand coming to rest over the arc-reactor.
Pulling back, Steve settled his head on the pillow and noting the 11:57pm time stamp, he suddenly started to feel the sleepiness that adrenaline and concern had masked. Tony, tucking his head under Steve's chin and pressing his lips against the warm hollow of his throat, was obviously flagging as well, emotionally drained.
Silence settled across the room, as soft even breathing filled the space, the low smack of meeting lips and rasp of the occasional fingers through hair or brushing over smooth skin all that was heard, and then Tony's softest voice murmured out into the quiet.
"I'm really sorry I frightened you..."
Steve snorted as he pressed a kiss to the crown of Tony's head, "Frightened me! You scared the living hell out of me...let's not do that again."
Fidgeting with the blanket and frowning, Tony repeated, "...sorry..." and turned his face away.
Steve sighed and pulled him closer as he replied, "Sweetheart, it really wasn't your fault...", Tony went to interrupt but Steve continued, "Yes, maybe if we'd talked about the reactor earlier it wouldn't have happened, but WE hadn't, and what's done is done..."
This answer seemed to satisfy Tony (for now), and he turned back into Steve's embrace, eyes closing as he ordered "Lights off, JARVIS", plunging the room into a muted blue glow from beneath Steve's hand.
Ignoring Tony's muttered, "...gave you a fright!...manhandled and...", Steve tucked him ever closer, silently vowing that the hand resting over the arc reactor, possessively, protectively, and another just like it, would ensure that no one Tony didn't want to, would ever, ever touch it again.
A/N - Please read and review!
I don't use a beta - it's just me, and while I do the best I can, mistakes inevitably escape my notice...so please, if you happen to notice a glaring spelling or grammatical error - let me know. Thanks.
And that's it folks, for 'Light Me Up'!
Thanks to all who read and a huge thanks to those who took the time to review!
I really hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing this little fic.
Keep an eye out for more in this series soon!
Hope you enjoyed reading this little piece of angsty sweetness as much as I enjoyed writing it.