It even took Tony Stark a few weeks to figure out the odd side effect of the new element powering his arc reactor core. Beyond the not 'poisonous and slowly killing him' thing, which was good. And the increased power levels which pretty much fit his definition of awesome. No, when he said 'odd,' he meant odd. The darned thing made the reactor glow change colors. Not all the time – one of the reasons it took so long for him to notice. Like the palladium core, day in and day out it glowed light blue. But at random intervals it also gave off white, red, green or purple light. Never lasted long – often not more than a flash of color before he noticed it and the thing instantly went back to light blue. So random color changes that neither affected him nor interfered with the output -- definitely odd, but before he could devote any time to figuring it out, the Loki-Avengers shit hit the fan.
One world-invasion thwarted later, the Avengers descended on the remains of a small neighborhood restaurant to appease Tony's desperate need to find out exactly what shawarma was. Turned out to be meat on skewers and the perfect thing to eat while unwinding from … saving the world. No, that was never not going to sound equal parts awesome and terrifying. In any case, unwinding, they definitely had the need to unwind. Except, small flaw in the plan – only thing keeping them all conscious was adrenaline. Losing that left them with barely enough energy to chew, so talking was pretty much a no go, leaving Capsicle spit out of luck if he'd hoped for a team-bonding thing.
Tony might have taken the opportunity to smirk or something, but, nah, no energy. Besides, Rogers had pretty much face planted into his palm with only the whole chewing thing proving he hadn't frozen solid again. Yeah, so finish this stuff, then bed. Maybe right here. Floor, table, all looked better to him than trying to travel the million miles (two blocks) back to his poor Tower and comfy bed. He'd assumed the others were surreptitiously eyeing surfaces for enough debris-free space to conk out on, so he jumped when Natasha shattered the whole 'silent, catatonic chewing' thing they had going on. "Stark, why is your damned light white?"
Tony's only solace in the way the loud, scary lady made his heart pound was that everyone had so jumped as hard as he had. He glared at her, looked down at his chest to see the usual light blue, then favored her with another glare.
Unimpressed she continued to stare at his chest. "Huh."
Could have left her hanging, but there was still the 'scary' part and he'd gotten enough bruises for today. "Random fluxuations in the core output. Nothing to worry about." And hey, speaking of side effects, the adrenaline spike caused by her … outburst had made two blocks seem a lot more manageable. He stood, intent on getting out of here while the getting was good, but then he made a disastrous tactical error – he looked at his teammates as he opened his mouth to say 'been fun, kids, let's not do it again soon' and saw the most pathetic group of exhausted, battered people this side of a war zone. Somehow this confused the signals to his tired brain and he heard himself say, "Come on. There are enough bedrooms in the Tower for all."
And somehow that translated into them moving in with him, lock, stock and deadly toys.
Beyond the penthouse itself, the Tower hadn't sustained much damage, but the surrounding area hadn't been so lucky. So after crashing for a few hours, Tony crawled into one of his older suits, and let Iron Man help on clean-up detail. And for the record, the corpses of those giant alien things were a bitch to dispose of. Stank to high heaven, too. Even through the suit filters.
Thor helped, and right in the midst of all the … squishy lifting, he said, "Man of Iron, your chest glows a sickly yellow. Are you certain all is well with you?"
This time he reacted fast enough to catch the faint glow of what Thor saw before things went back to light blue. "Yeah, no problem. Now where do we put these things?"
Even Tony noticed the black pulse of light when they found a young woman's body crushed beneath one of the alien sky sleds.
During hour 22 of the great clean-up, Clint pointed out that the longer they worked, the whiter the reactor glowed.
"Get that red light out of my face, Stark," Fury snapped after he'd told them Coulson wasn't as dead as he'd claimed. "It was a necessary strategy to get your collective heads out of your asses long enough to save the damned world, so pardon me if it upset you, because that was the whole fucking point!"
'Red light?' Tony frowned in confusion wondering how he'd earned a sexual harassment warning, then thought to look at his chest – light blue – and wait, a damned minute, "Fury, you, manipulative son of a –"
Never shy to take advantage of his money, Tony made a phone call and by the time it was his turn to visit Coulson, he had a brand new vintage set of Captain America cards to give him. He decided it was his way of saying 'fuck you, Fury, and your dramatic gestures,' but as he handed them over, 'his first name is too Agent' Coulson gave him a weak smile.
"Thanks, guess mine were a little worse for wear."
"Well, maybe now you'll have the sense to start collecting Iron Man cards."
"They have those now?"
Tony nodded. "Be in stores by the end of the week along with a lot of other Avengers merchandise." He tried not to think of all the people hurt and killed, but he'd seen enough death and destruction in the last few days to last a lifetime. Another flash of black pulled him out of his thoughts, and he shook his head. "All profits are going to help the victims and rebuild the city."
Coulson gave him a pleased and proud look – the kind Tony had always wanted to see on his own father's face, but never had. Tony decided he approved of Pepper calling the guy 'Phil' instead of 'Agent,' and handed over the cards to the glow of a bright yellow light.
Two weeks later, Tony staggered into his kitchen while his brain screamed, 'coffee' over and over again. Wasn't until he had his fix … mug in hand that he noticed he wasn't alone. In fact the others were all present and apparently already caffeinated enough to be holding some sort of conversation.
"White," Natasha said, "but, wait for it…"
"What?" How had he ended up sharing his home with these strange people?
"And light blue." She sat back giving the others a satisfied look over the rim of her own cup.
"I've missed something," he said. "Doesn't happen often," a huge lie at least where people were concerned, "but I've definitely missed something."
Bruce gave him an amused look, probably thinking the disclaimer about people thing, too. "We've figured out the riddle of your reactor changes."
Far too pleased with herself to make him ask the obvious, she continued, "It changes color to reflect your moods."
"No, it doesn't," he said. He wasn't an idiot, he'd considered that, but, "it's light blue most of the time."
Rogers, no, Steve, he'd told him to call him Steve and things were rocky enough between them to add fuel to the fire by using his last name when he called everyone else by their first. Anyway, Steve smiled, "Light blue equals curious, and you're almost always curious about something." That made … an annoying amount of sense. Every time someone had mentioned the color change or he had noticed it, he'd gone into curiosity mode.
"Yep," Clint agreed. "Black is sorrow."
Natasha sipped at her coffee. "Red is anger."
"The unpleasant shade of yellow when dealing with the foul remains reflects a sickly disposition," Thor said around his Pop-tart.
'Sickly disposition?' Must mean about to puke.
"But bright yellow is happy." Steve refilled Tony's cup then smirked when the stupid reactor went all perky yellow.
Bruce retrieved a slice of toast, then dropped another two Pop-tarts into the toaster for Thor. "Green, in what I personally consider one of the more ironic statements of the ages, is calm."
"But our personal favorite is purple," Clint said with a smirk that told Tony to run for it because he so did not want to hear this. But he knew Barton would only haunt him until he gave in.
He sighed. "Fine, what is purple supposed to mean?"
"Lust, and since you are surrounded by our collective hotness, you flash that at all of us a lot." He practically crowed the words, and added in a waggle of the eyebrows for that special Barton overkill touch.
Tony Stark hadn't blushed since before he hit puberty, and the coolness of his cheeks indicated that hadn't changed, but apparently he didn't need to since –
"Mauve means embarrassed," Natasha said, picking up a pencil to add an entry to something that looked a lot like a spreadsheet.
Tony exercised the better part of valor and retreated to his lab.
Not totally afraid to laugh at himself, Tony could see the situation had its humorous points. Okay, a lot of them. He'd even admit it was useful in that he had far fewer conflicts with his … towermates, fine, his friends, since they could see what he meant no matter what he said. And bright yellow was the second most common color after light blue. At least whenever he was around them. And nothing seemed to put Pepper or Natasha in a better mood than looking kickass enough to make the gay guy's reactor glow purple when they were strutting their stuff. (Although they also forced him along on their shopping trips to use the damned light as a 'fashion consultant.')
So yes, big positive side here, but the negatives existed as well. First, while the world might know he was Iron Man, the number of people who knew the arc reactor was part of his chest or what would happen to him if someone pulled it out was very small. Since some of their foes could call themselves geniuses, too (although not in his league), offering up a clue of the close connection between his body and the device didn't seem a great idea. Second, he was a business man and flashing his moods all over the place didn't seem like a good idea when trying to broker a deal. And finally, he didn't want his friends worrying about him if the light when sickly yellow or white in battle.
Took him four days to develop a filter cap that made certain the light escaping it always looked light blue no matter what fed into it. Took him about as many hours to mull over all those positives and decide to install it in his armor, not on the reactor itself. While harder to hide now that it flickered, he went with the usual silk linings in his dress shirts to hide it when he was playing business man or out on the town. And that should have been the end of it. Positives high, negatives handled. All good.
Except after three months of hanging out with his friends while bathed in the glow of his happy yellow light (or the good natured ribbings about the occasional flashes of purple when he wasn't really, really careful where his thoughts drifted) it all came to a confusing halt when one movie night Pepper asked, "What does the pink light mean?"
Pink? Oh, fuck.
The Pink Puzzle quickly consumed everyone. The obvious and immediate answer had been it was a deeper happiness than bright yellow coupled with a greater contentment than green, but no one completely bought it, especially Tony.
Again, not an idiot. Terrified, but not an idiot, because pink? Well, pink meant love. No, worse, 'in love.' With Steve. He'd tried not to fall for him. He really had. Hell, at first he hadn't liked Steve any more than Steve liked him which was not at all. Then, they'd sort of grown on each other enough for mutual dislike to give way to respect, even a fond tolerance that had turned into something close enough to friendship for Steve to trigger the same bright yellow light everyone else had. And if Steve was personally responsible for 80 percent of the purple flashes, that was nobody's business but Tony's. It worked. Everyone was happy, including Tony. But, true to form, he had to go and ruin things. And … go all pink.
He tried to use the same 'don't go there' process that prevented most of the purple from flaring, but Steve was so damned … Steve. Gorgeous, thoughtful, fun, and the list of wonderfulness went on and on. No, he could control the purple light, but he was as helpless against the pink as he was the bright yellow. Far too late to try the filter since it would raise the 'something's up' riddle to 'die before we give up on it' levels.
In the end, he did the only thing he could, he focused on all the reasons why, if Steve had a 'mood light' it would never glow pink for Tony. He made a list, even wrote it down. He led with the least of them – the age gap. Contrary to popular thought, the average soldier in World War II was 26, not a kid. And after being turned down for enlistment several times, Steve had been pushing 30 not 20 when he got his super-soldier-serum upgrade. But that still left almost 17 years between them (and, no, outside of 'old man' cracks, Tony did not count the 7 Capsicle decades.) Not many parents out there who would be thrilled with that.
But as Indiana Jones had once observed it was the mileage not the years that counted, and even there Tony came up short. He'd been through hell, no one would deny that, but all his hard miles had failed to remove a huge immaturity streak. Which somehow let him fail to be a good match for a very emotionally mature Steve in both the mileage and year departments.
Got even worse when one started breaking down his experience bedroom-wise. Even the most charitable of souls called him a slut or a manwhore. Hadn't really played revolving beds since he'd become Iron Man, but anyone who could use the Internet (and Steve could) had all the evidence they needed to know he wasn't anyone they wanted for anything more than a quick fuck. And that was purple, not pink.
He drank too much, too. Again, not as much and not as often since he'd become Iron Man, but he still skated the fine line between alcohol abuse and flat out alcoholism. Then there was the fact that he was not a nice person. As far as he was concerned the world revolved around him and he liked it that way. Pretty much the opposite of the Captain America model of approved behavior. So selfish, obnoxious, needy, with no brain-to-mouth filter. Not. A. Nice. Person.
Or a good one. Everything, damnit, everything he'd done anyone could hold up as a contradiction to the above was all atonement. As Natasha would put it, he had buckets of red in his ledger and his whole life from the moment a chest full of shrapnel had made him see the truth until the day he died was a monument to trying to make up for all the harm he'd caused. So, not nice, not good, not a hero.
All in all, he was pretty much exactly what Steve had thought when they'd first met, but had allowed Tony's infamous charm to convince him otherwise. Guess that meant the man did have a flaw – he wanted so badly to believe the best in a person, even Tony, he'd let himself be fooled.
For days Tony went over and over the list, adding examples, proving to himself conclusively he was a lousy mess of a human being who didn't deserve pink. Or bright yellow. Finally, it sunk in enough his light went black.
The others noticed, of course. After months of bright yellow and a week of pink peeking through, the change was far too abrupt for one of his t-shirts to hide when someone, usually Steve, came down to drag him out of the lab for food or sleep or movie night.
They tried talking to him. Or staring at him hoping he'd break in Natasha's case, but he was adept at the game. Never a chance they'd find out what pink meant or why it upset him so much. After a week of trying they all gave up. Sort of a bitter victory, but hey, a man took what he could get. That's when, he woke up from crashing a few hours on a cot in the back of the lab to find things not quite hidden around the room.
A cup of coffee with a lavender rose next to it and a note. You make me feel better about myself, N.
A plate of pasta and a light green rose. You make me like the color green, B.
A Pop-tart and a sickly looking yellow rose. You remind me that humans care and are a noble race, T.
An Iron Man action figure with a black rose adorned with yellow tips. You are proof there is more than one way to save the world, AC.
A Captain America trading card and a red rose. You keep me honest, F.
A YouTube link featuring a video of Fury ranting about the giant robot rabbits AIM had sent to destroy Cleveland and a bright yellow rose. You make me laugh when even the worst shit happens, C.
A bag of glazed goodness from Randy's Donuts and a white rose. You show me how to keep going no matter how tired I get, P.
And finally he found his 'I'm scum' list defaced by a huge scrawled, Don't be an idiot. Of course, I love you, too, S. In pink ink.
The bright yellow glow from his chest almost blinding, Tony ran up the stairs into the living room. They were all there. All his friends. Everyone he loved, but his eyes swiftly found Steve, who held out a pink rose. Tony walked over to him, asking, "How did you know it was you?"
Steve smiled and pulled him gently into his arms. "I was the only one who was always in the room," he said, then pressed a soft kiss to his lips. The rose fell to the floor as a matching glow shown between them.