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The Pillow Box: Collected Slave-verse Tumblr Fics

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Tony woke up already in the act of freezing, heart racing with the awareness that he was not alone. He didn't dare open his eyes and give himself away until he knew for sure where he was, who was in his space, what they'd already seen--

32557038, sir, JARVIS murmured in his ear, and Tony's eyes flashed open before JARVIS even got all of Threetoo's designation out. Tony was sitting up as JARVIS went on, He seems to be in some distress.

Tony nearly kicked Threetoo in the head swinging his legs over the edge of the bed; he was curled down on his knees, touching his forehead to the floor less than a foot from Tony's bed. Tony jerked his feet back just in time for Threetoo to raise himself up so his body was parallel to the floor, his face still turned down. He supported himself on his hand for a moment, then raised it to touch to his heart and his lips before spreading his hand across his eyes and lowering his forehead to the floor again.

"J," Tony breathed, trying to get his own heartrate under control and parse what the hell was going on beside his bed. "What...?"

He arrived at your bedside and began this series of gestures just before you woke, JARVIS informed him as Threetoo pushed up again. He had been asleep; given the evidence I would suspect he had a nightmare.

And now he was panicked, thinking he'd done something wrong and needed to plead for his master's forgiveness. Tony had seen this kind of thing before, though never from this angle.

As he thought it, Threetoo touched his forehead to the floor for the third time. Instead of rising back up he lowered himself further, lying facedown with his right arm and the bandaged stump of his left arm extended in would-be symmetry.

Tony shook off his own blank paralysis, double-checked that he was wearing both a t-shirt and pajama pants, and slid down to the ground, kneeling by Threetoo's left side. "Hey, sweetheart, no, no, come here."

He saw a little jerk go through Threetoo's body. He wondered what voice Threetoo had expected, where Threetoo thought he was. Not Tony, and not here, he was pretty goddamn certain.

"It's okay, you don't have to do all that kneeling and bowing for me, Threetoo. Come here, let me see you, can you look at me?"

He dared to touch Threetoo when Threetoo's head turned fractionally toward him. Tony still couldn't see his face under the dark mop of his hair, but at least he knew Threetoo would know whose hand it was. Tony put his hand on Threetoo's right side and tugged gently, drawing Threetoo closer.

"Come here, sweetheart, let me see you so we can figure out what's wrong. Whatever it is, I'll figure out how to fix it, but I need to know what the problem is. I need data, remember?"

Threetoo's fingers twitched through something that looked like the signs he used sometimes that JARVIS refused to translate. Threetoo also gave a tiny twitch of a nod and curled himself closer to Tony.

Tony actually pulled then, using his other hand to help him haul Threetoo up. Tony spread his knees wide and sat back on his heels, and Threetoo halfway cooperated with being propped against Tony's chest, hiding his face against Tony's shoulder. That was an improvement over the floor, at least.

Tony petted his hair and nuzzled against his temple. "Hey, baby, it's okay. Whatever you're worried about, it's gonna be okay. All I want is for you to get healthy and strong, so I'm worried about you missing some sleep, but I'm not going to punish you. We've just got to figure out what you need. Can you tell me why you thought you needed to do that? Did you think I was going to be angry about something?"

Threetoo nodded against his shoulder, and he raised his hand enough for Tony to see him start spelling. Tony made a one-handed version of the sign for translate, not that JARVIS really needed to be told.

JARVIS murmured, in the monotone that was marginally less creepy than him trying to interpret Threetoo's body language into vocal tones, Master. Sorry. Sleeping. Sorry. Master.

"Shh, shh, baby." Tony got one hand down to Threetoo's hip, patting lightly up his thighs to check for some sign that Threetoo was apologizing for making a mess in his sleep. They'd been around that block before, but Threetoo was clean and dry this time, so it was nothing that straightforward tonight.

"Threetoo," Tony pulled back a little and coaxed Threetoo more upright. Threetoo immediately contorted, cringing, and Tony knelt up to make it easier for Threetoo to be positioned lower than he was. He put his hand to the back of Threetoo's neck as he did, squeezing reassuringly.

There was probably a right and a wrong way to ask what he had to ask, given that Threetoo had to have more real trauma floating around in his past than any given nightmare could hold. It was the middle of the night, though, and Tony was just barely past the adrenaline of his own terrified jolt into consciousness.

"Was it a bad dream, baby?" Tony murmured, brushing back Threetoo's hair enough to show his eyes squeezed shut and tears on his cheek. "Did you dream you did something bad, or I was angry about something, and wake up and think you needed to fix it?"

Threetoo's eyes opened, and he looked up at Tony with an expression Tony couldn't even guess at the meaning of.

"Maybe not, maybe it was something else--you can tell me," Tony offered. "But JARVIS told me you were sleeping before you came in here, so I thought it might have been a dream you had that scared you. I have dreams like that sometimes."

Tony really, really had to stop compulsively not-lying to Threetoo at some point. But it seemed okay to say it in the middle of the night, with Threetoo crying on the floor in front of him. More than okay: necessary, to tell Threetoo that they were the same in this.

That hypothesis crashed and burned immediately, as Threetoo's expression shifted to anxious concern--for Tony, when it was Threetoo who had been scared into desperate submission a few seconds ago. He raised his right hand toward Tony and then jerked it back before he could touch.

Master? JARVIS translated quietly. S... C... A... R...

When Threetoo's faltering fingers stilled, Tony said, "I get scared, sweetheart, yeah. I do, even me. When I dream that someone's angry with me or someone's going to hurt me, or someone I care about is hurt, or lost, or..."

Threetoo pushed himself up to lean against Tony's chest again, patting quickly at Tony's shoulder with his right hand. Tony shifted expertly to keep Threetoo away from the unyielding shape of the Machine at the center of his chest without seeming to be hiding anything, and gave up on getting any more words out of his tightening throat. He hugged Threetoo again instead.

"But I'm okay now," Tony said quietly, and that was close enough to not being a lie. "And you're o--you're here, and I'm here with you. I want to help you know that whatever you dreamed, it's not happening now. Can I help you do that?"

Already, JARVIS translated. Threetoo snuggled closer against Tony, and Tony pressed a kiss to his hair and squeezed him gingerly.

"Well, anything worth doing is worth overdoing," Tony informed him. "So, even though now you know where you are and who's here, before you go back to sleep we're going to make sure that you're feeling very, very sure that your master is looking after you and only wants you to feel good."

Master wants me to get fat, JARVIS translated, and then added with his own distinct intonations, U will be bringing up a tray shortly.

Tony smacked a noisy kiss on the top of Threetoo's head and said, "There's your reward for reminding me that you need a midnight snack before you get back to sleep, sweetheart."

Threetoo gave a happy little wriggle and Tony smiled and pushed him gently back before he pushed himself up to his feet. "Come on, back to your room, your floor is softer."

Threetoo crawled at Tony's side, moving with his usual confident gait on three limbs. He pulled a few pillows out of the box so they could curl up on the floor together while they drank the warm beverages JARVIS had sent up--sweetened steamed almond milk for Threetoo, and some kind of aggressively soothing herbal tea for Tony.

Threetoo, as he mostly did with beverages, managed to drink his warm milk on his own once Tony gave it to him. Tony's job was to dunk gingersnaps in it and feed them to Threetoo bite by bite until he was dozing in Tony's lap, full-bellied and content.

Tony prodded him back into his nest of pillows, where as usual Threetoo declined to pull the curtain shut on himself. Tony leaned his elbow on the edge of the box, watching Threetoo burrow in to sleep. He smiled back at Threetoo's drowsy grin when he squirmed around to lie facing in Tony's direction.

Tony meant to go back to his own bed after that, where his own nightmares wouldn't bother Threetoo. He stayed to keep watch just another few minutes, relaxing against the pillows Threetoo had left behind on the floor.

When he woke to find Threetoo still peacefully sleeping while the view through the skylight faded from black to blue, Tony was facedown on the floor. Even before he picked his head up to look, he already knew exactly where he was.