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5am, Saturday, 5th July

“You need to sleep.”

“Ummm, no.”

“Tony,”

“Steve.”

A silence hangs between the two of them.

“Do it for me.”

Tony pauses, blowtorch in hand, quizzical and then “When have I ever done anything for you?”

Exasperation.

“Well, there’s a first time for everything. You’re always telling me to try new things, so.”

Tony laughs, flips his visor back down “That’s a good one, actually, I’m gonna remember it. Verrrry funny, Steve, you’re getting a sense of humour.”

“So you think there’s something funny about not sleeping once in 24 hours?” Steve presses, arms crossed, wearing his ‘I mean business, no, don’t laugh at me Tony’ face.

Tony sighs again “Well, that’s a matter of perspective. I personally don’t find lack of sleep funny, I do, however, find it incredibly productive. I find your persistence irritating. I find the way your hair is sticking up adorable. I think the fact that Captain America is in my garage at five in the morning watching me prototype my suit is hypocritical,” he smirks “and, yeah, I’m fairly buzzed right now, so you could argue that this is all very funny.”

Put the blowtorch down and come to bed.”

He stops “Are you offering?”

“I’m telling you to sleep.”

Tony looks affronted “What? Oh my god, is that why your here? Wow, I thought we’d been discussing graphite and it’s practical uses for the past fifteen minutes.”

“That’s not actually funny.”

“Perspective.” Is all he says in return.

 

11:30pm, Saturday 5th July

“Tony. Stop being dumb, go to sleep.”

“Captain, I am working. I struggle to see what part of that you don’t understand.”

They’re in the workshop. Again. 17 hours since Steve last petitioned Tony to sleep.

Steve crosses his arms “Don’t lie, Tony.”

“Lie?!” Tony looks genuinely insulted “Steve, I have a job. I have to work. I would actually appreciate it greatly if you fucked off,” he snarls “or, if you want to be helpful,” he add, false brightness radiating from his pores “go get me a coffee.”

“You haven’t slept in,” he calculates in his head “forty-one hours.”

Oh, good for you, you can do basic math.” He’s getting increasingly irritated, no longer looking up from his screen “Please, Steve, fuck off.”

 

7am, Sunday, 6th July

“No, Steve, go away now please, I have a lunch date with some clients.”

He’s tightening his tie, hands fumbling, exhaustion written in his features.

“Actually I was going to tell you that your jacket is inside out.” 

Tony meets his eyes in the mirror “Thanks.”

“Also, that it’s not unusual to suffer from insomnia and that you shouldn’t be afraid to seek help.”

Fuck off.”

 

4pm, Sunday 6th July

Tony dry swallows adderall.

He’s tired but he has to process schematics from R&D that he couldn’t do yesterday because his suit needed to be updated, no question. Absolute priority, doesn’t matter that he has a perfect functional suit already working. That sort of stuff can’t wait. 

But it’s fine. He’ll check these over and tomorrow he’ll get to sleep, nice and long, in a bed, soft, plush pillows, crisp sheets, white noise, maybe some pills to help along the way. He’ll sleep nice and deep and hopefully the nightmares won’t be a problem. 

The nightmares. He can’t. He. He has work that needs to get done. Yeah. 

He drinks some coffee for good measure.

 

10pm, Sunday, 6th July

Tony is at his desk. There are papers spread around him, designs and letters, and there’s a cup of coffee by his hand.

“I didn’t know you wear glasses,” and Tony jumps “that’s new.”

“I don’t, I– migraine.” He rubs at his temples to emphasise this.

“You know what would help?”

“Go stick a cactus up your asshole.”

“Sleep, Tony.”

Steve,” he looks up, exasperated and angry “please, I am trying to work. I have to get these in, okay? And then I’ll sleep, it’s fine. Jesus, why are you so persistent?”

I worry about you.” He says, soft.

“Well go fucking worry about someone else, you’re wasting my time. Jesus, how much time have I lost talking, fuck off, go.” He’s running a hand through his hair, crossing something on the specs.

“I though adderall was for ADHD.”

That gets his attention and he looks up.

“And narcolepsy.”

“Tony, please, that’s ridiculous–”

“Steve, listen to me, because I am only going to say it one more time. I have a job. I am Iron Man, I am a consultant and I am head of R&D at the largest engineering company in the world. I am working. I am not an insomniac, or depressed or fucking ADHD. Stop trying to treat me like a child, please, just let me do my job,” There’s actually a desperate quality to his voice “I need to get this done. And then, yes, I will sleep, I want to sleep, Jesus. Sometimes I don’t get that choice. Now, go. Please. I’ll sleep tomorrow.”

“Okay. Okay, fine, I’m going. I’m sorry, you’re obviously busy.”

Thank you.” 

Dummy brings him more coffee and spills the old cup as he swings his one arm.

Tony stops, takes off his glasses and stares at the ruined designs.

“No.” Is all he says.

 

5am, Monday, 7th July

They are given the call to investigate a portal in Arizona. It takes an hour by quinjet, six hours of scientific bullshit and bureaucratic red-tape and another hour trip back to New York before Tony can begin to even finish the specs.

By lunch, he has 16 voicemails asking for the processed designs and he hasn’t even eaten yet.

 

4pm, Monday, 7th July

Tony downs two more adderall and four cups of coffee to fight stagnation. He also feels so buzzed that he’s a safety hazard to everybody in the vicinity

“Dummy, Dummy, Dummydummydummy, no no no, that is not, that is not good,” he sighs, bangs his head on the table “please put that away, nope, no not drinking that, ever, ewww, what the fuck is it? Did you puree broccoli again? Dummy, we’ve talked about this, c’mon–”

Steve enters

“– oh my god, oh my god, Captain America is in my workshop, oh happy day, oh joyous hour, how is the Captain, oh, my captain. Do you want some broccoli? Dummy, give him some broccoli.”

He turns in his chair, begins to type wildly, erratically.

Steve shoves away the vegetable concoction. 

“No, Tony, no, that’s enough, this is ridiculous. Two days, two days, nearly three? Enough. You promised you’d go to bed. Do you even know what you’re typing? Can you even see?”

“Go ‘way Steve, I’m working.”

“On what? What could you possibly still be doing.”

Tony pouts “… Stuff.”

“You’re not, are you? You’re not working, you’re hiding.”

“Stop it, Steve, go away.”

“Go to sleep. This is enough, this is bad, what happens if we get called for a real fight? You’re going to out of your mind with exhaustion, Tony.”

“Steve I have done this a million time before. Before you were here and after you go. This is nothing fucking new. Go save someone else. Jesus Christ, stop trying to play the fucking martyr, oh, Tony, he can’t sleep, there’s obviously some deep-rooted issue there, I should stick my fucking patriotic asshole into his business in order to blow up my own fucking ego,” he sneers “Stop trying to be helpful – you’re not needed, go and pander to your fucking needs somewhere else and stop trying to save me.”

His voice drips with sarcasm and irritation, his hoarse voice spitting insults with more venom than a serpent. And the words, well, they hurt.

“You’re obviously tired. I’ll come back in the morning.”

“Yeah, go on, fuck off, leave me here to get some fucking work done, leave, walk away, leave you fucking asshole, blown up on your own self importance ‘oh I’m Captain fucking America and I am very important because I’m just a kid from Brooklyn, I’m so good, I’m so better than you, I’m better than everyone but Tony I’m just trying to help out of the goodness of my fucking heart because that’s what good people do’ yeah fucking right as if people do shit like that out of the goodness of their souls bullshit, I call bullshit, Dummy, you call bullshit, everyone calls it, bullshitbullshitbullshit,” he rocks forward, knocks his monitor with suck force that is smashes to the floor and litters the table with shards of glass.

I’m fine!” he screams “why does no one ever fucking believe me!” his voice is hoarse and he’s panting, hands braced on the desk, head hung low, and Steve is long gone.

 

5am, Tuesday, 8th July

“Dummy, hit the… uh,” Tony’s hand slips on the broken glass on his desk and he collapses, head first into the glass. It sticks to the side of his face and parts of his neck. Both forearms are lying by his head, scratched and bleeding, and Tony has no choice, no choice at all, really, when he succumbs to darkness.

It’s so dark in space and Tony cannot breathe.

He’s falling, so far, so fast, and yet so immeasurably slow. Time ticks by in the blur of light that flashes past his closed eyelids. He can feel the anxiety in tight, hot ball, in his chest, and tries to take a breath to fight the asphyxiation.

Outside his dreamscape, Tony whimpers.

He’s done this before, he has. He knows how it ends. He feels the pull of gravity that takes him down, down, down, until his world is a mass of brown and yellow, sand in his throat and he can’t breathe–

He’s gasping when Steve enters the room.

He hits the ground with a bone-shattering thud. This, usually, is where he wakes up. He’s clawing at his throat because of the sand there, tries futilely to cough it out, back bucking and head banging to dislodge the material there. The pressure on the back of his head – there has always been a pressure there – pushes him into the water and he screams as bubble rush past his head, the fear so hot in his chest, he can’t–

Tony is whining, small little whimpers as his face crumples. Steve watches, places a hand on his bloodied arm

“Oh Tony.”

‘Please’ he tries to say, please, please, what do I do to make it stop, he’ll do it, he’ll do what they want, build what they want, anything, he pushes against the force on his head, sucks in water, feels it in his lungs, can’t breathe can’t think can’t move fear and fear and fear so large in his chest, his chest is burning, burning, oh god, he thinks he’s dying, he’s going to die now–

“Stop, ‘lease, ‘top,” he murmurs as his eyebrows draw together, his lip quivers and he presses his face deeper into the glass.

“Tony,” Steve says, gently, “Tony, wake up, honey, shh,” he gently presses his shoulder “it’s just Steve.”

They’ve tied him down and then they cut into him, the faceless men, the one with the green eyes, the one with the comforting face and snake-like features, the one with the burn that has stolen his face and they smile and laugh as he begs them, as they stuff cotton in his mouth and stretch his limbs and slowly drag their knives along his chest, into his heart, oh the pain, oh the pain, he can’t.

The one with the blue eyes and kind smile sits at his head, strokes his hair as they hurt him and hurt him and screams and pleads and sobs.

“Nuh, nuuhh,” he’s moaning, his mouth not forming the words it needs to be coherent and Steve pulls him up, he can’t watch this, he pushes him back into the chair as Tony thrashes.

“TONY, Tony, listen, it’s just me, it’s just me, please, wake-up, honey, wake-up–”

Tony startles, sits straight in his chair, and screams, desperate and loud, his face creased and his eyes wild, terrified. He kicks his legs, pushes his arms, head flails, trying to escape, checking his surroundings, showing himself he’s safe, that he’ll be okay, that it was just a dream.

“Tony, it’s me, it’s okay, just a dream, just a–”

“GO,” he roars “GO! LEAVE ME! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, HOW DARE YOU, HOW, get out, GO, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE, you, god, go, go, leave me alone–”

“Tony,” Steve begins to protest “you’re hurt, please,”

“NO, no, you need to go,” and he’s shaking, he’s shaking in his seat “I told you to leave, I’m fine, I have to work, leave me now, Jarvis? Jarvis, get him out, make him go, make him – oh god – ” he retches over Steve, into his lap, bringing up a disgusting green bile, but he can’t stop, his stomach protesting and his mouth open.

Steve moves back on instinct and he fall to the floor, stomach contracting and bile falling from his lips, crouched on the floor, panting, shaking, sweating.

“I told you to go,” he gasps “I told you to leave, why are you still here.” He can’t stop shaking, it’s ridiculous, it was just a dream, so why is he so scared.

“Tony, no,” Steve says quietly “I think you need someone to stay with you. Why don’t I take you to bed? Then–”

“What part of leave, go and fuck off,” he grits out, still on all fours in front of Steve “do you not understand?” 

He makes to stand, he can’t stay on his knees in front of this man, he can’t be weak, not now.

“I can help.” Steve says, sadly.

Leave. Me.”

Steve is looking at him, looking down at him, and Tony can see the shame and horror and melancholy in his eyes. And then he turns, walks out the door.

Tony curls over himself, allows himself to sob, now that he’s alone, in the safety of his workshop.

He’s so tired.

 

4pm, Wednesday, 9th July

Five days.

Tony sits. He doesn’t do much else. Whenever his eyelids droop, Jarvis plays ‘back in black’ until he awakes.

He gently twirls in his chair. He won’t succumb to the darkness.

But he’s so tired. 

Steve said he could help?

But he sent Steve away.

But maybe he would help Tony? Maybe he wouldn’t mind maybe sitting with him so he can shut his eyes and the faceless men won’t hurt him. 

Could he ask Steve? He was so rude, Steve is probably angry, he hasn’t visited Tony since he shouted.

But Steve is good and he said, what did he say? ‘I want to help’. Does that mean Tony can go and ask him to help, or does he mean that Steve has to come here first. Is it rude if he asks for Steve to help him? Maybe he doesn’t want to help Tony anymore.

Tony is really sorry that he was so un-nice because he doesn’t think he can do this any longer.

Maybe if he asks Steve nicely, Steve will just stay long enough to fight the men away and then Tony will sleep?

If he says no then. If he. Tony can just. Do something else.

He has to gather his courage, for some reason. It’s okay if Steve says no, he deserves it. He can find another way to shut his eyes and fight away the green eyes, the snake face and the burned man.

He reels to the elevator, asks Jarvis to take him to Steve. Stumbles as the door opens.

He’s sitting, reading, on the sofa overlooking New York.

Tony shuffles closer. He keeps his hands fisted in his cotton t-shirt, keeps them playing with the material.

(it’s a sign of nerves that Tony hasn’t used since he was a little boy.)

He perches at the other end of the sofa that Steve is sitting on, at the far end, looking at the floor. 

Steve doesn’t look up from his book.

“Uh,” he starts, trying to get his head in order “uh, I can’t, uhm, I’m sorry I was, I mean, that I shouted. That was… that was bad.” Steve looks up and Tony keeps his eyes fixed on the floor.

“I was, uh, well, I was maybe wondering,” he falters “I think. You said, maybe, that you could help? I, uh, sorry.” He plays with his shirt, rolls the cotton over his knuckles “you don’t, I won’t…” he falls silent, darts a glance at Steve’s face, trying to gauge his reaction.

“What do you want?” Steve isn’t angry, his tone is equal. Measured.

“Maybe, you maybe, you don’t, you know, have to, but, uh, if I could just,” he frowns, panics a bit, doesn’t quite know what he wants to say “I mean, I could maybe sleep if… if you were in the room. So, so that the, uh,” he taps clumsily at his temples “you know. So they don’t… get me.”

“It’s four in the afternoon.”

“Is it? Oh, I mean, you don’t, you don’t have to, I’ll, sorry, I’ll go,” he stands, hangs his head, desperate and panicked, yet so weary, his hand clutching at the fabric of his top “I’m sorry, uh, I’ll just, sorry, it’s not you, it’s me, I just, uh,” and he begins to shuffle away.

“Tony?”

He winces and turns back “Sorry, I’m just, it’s early, you don’t want to, I’m sorry, it’s… selfish. You shouldn’t, uh, can I go? Please? I just. Sorry.” He’s mumbling pitifully, his hands won’t stop worrying his shirt and he cuts a pitiful sight, his face and arms scarred, flecks of dried blood, old bile on his shirt, sweat on his brow and his hair greasy, sticking out at every angle.

When he looks up Steve is in front of him. He gently moves Tony’s hands from where they’re bunched in the fabric.

“Why don’t we go to your room, hmm?” Steve starts to guide him, one arm around his shoulder.

“You don’t, you don’t have to, it’s really just until I fall asleep and then you can go, I don’t want to keep you–” He keeps turning his head as he stumbles along, keeps trying to look at Steve face, eyes wide.

“Don’t worry, Tony.” And he steers him in the bedroom. 

He removes the shirt soaked with sick and his dirty socks. Then he takes off his own shoes, socks and jacket and climbs into the bed. Tony watches him warily.

He pats his chest “Come here.”

“I… are you sure? I don’t, I don’t want to make you stay, you can go, if you want.” He tries, he doesn’t want to impose, doesn’t want this to be a chore.

“I don’t want to go,” Steve smiles “unless you want me to?”

“No.” Tony’s response is quick. 

“Then come here.”

Slowly, Tony shuffles to the bed and crawls to Steve. He sits in-between his legs, the side of his head resting against his chest, listening to the beating of his heart.

He gently smooths his hair and Tony panics

“Maybe, uh, we don’t, maybe I shouldn’t sleep, I have work, and, uh, you have work, and the men might… you might not get them and I can’t—” 

“Tony,” Steve says “shh, please. Relax.”

He draws the covers over Tony’s quivering form.

“It’s okay, honey, you can shut your eyes now.”

“But what if, what if I dream.”

“Then I’ll wake you up.”

“D’you promise?”

“I promise.”

“Will y’stay?” 

“I’ll stay.”

“Th’nk you v’ry much.”

“It’s okay, honey.”

The setting sun throws light on crisp sheets and Tony is held, safe, in Steve Rogers arms.