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Heaven Was Blue

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Heaven Was Blue


The poem the title was taken from, that partially inspired the story can be found here!

 

1.

 

Tony comes to, out of the armor. He doesn't remember hitting the release latch, he doesn't remember stumbling across the field, and he sure as hell doesn’t remember getting hit in the first place. The puddle he passed out in is cold and muddy; he groans and rolls onto his back, the cold seeping through his undersuit like roots coming up through the earth to entrap him. His ribs ache, and his wrist is swollen, the skin starting to darken with a purple blossom. It's a few minutes before he moves again, this time to his knees, the fingers of his left hand curled into the gritty slosh as the pain takes his breath away. His right hand is cradled to his chest, but the solid bumps from the arc reactor aren't helping. He whimpers, the sound coming out involuntarily. 

 

"Guys?" he chokes out, his voice trembling with the jolts through his ribs. "Little help here?"

 

There's no answer, and Tony gingerly leans back. The moment he settles his weight onto his calves, a burst of pain flares through his left foot. "Fuck!" He tries to swallow the sob, but it's too much. He hurts from head to toe. "Guys, please, I'm hit. I'm down. Anyone?" Silence, and Tony reluctantly lifts his right hand to check his com. It's gone. 

 

He tries to stand, lifting from one knee, but as soon as he touches his left foot to the ground, sparks of white hot pain shoot up through his foot and ankle into his leg. The sound that leaves his mouth is something he'll take to the grave. 

 

Trying again, the pain is worse the second time. And as Tony's eyes roll back into his head, he pictures his bed. Soft. Warm. Enveloping and comfortable. A good novel. A cup of coffee. And a frayed, greying blanket - once blue - that he can hold in his hand. 

 

In the moments between him trying to stand up and hitting the ground unconscious, his fingers twitch over the ghost of the blanket, muscle memory from years of seeking comfort. 

 

He should never have left his bed that morning.

 

-

 

He wakes again to lights that are too bright and the smell of antiseptic. There's a brief flash of Steve, concerned and talking to him, but he can't make out the words. His hand reaches up, fingers curled around something that isn't there, and he brushes his knuckles against Steve's cheek. The world whites out again.

 

-

 

Mommy. He can hear her, laughing in the music room, the tinkling of the piano, her strong alto voice rising above the party guests. He's good at keeping to the shadows, hiding from the light that streaks through the painted glass of the windows, the colors splashed across the floor like spilled juice. 

 

He always avoids the red. It looks like blood. 

 

"Mommy?" He's able to slink across the floor to the side of the baby grand, his tousled head poking around the shining white of the wood. He knows how to play - she had insisted on lessons - and when she's affable enough to allow the attention to be away from her, she plucks him from the floor, tucking his blankie around him, and holds him in her lap.

 

He loves the smell of her perfume, jasmine and something smokey, the way the furs she wears tickle at the back of his neck. She'll push the pedals for him, and he'll play, his chubby little fingers tapping out Beethoven. The guests love it. They adore the entertainment of a beautiful little genius, clapping and encouraging him. 

 

"Mommy?"

 

This is not one of those times.

 

"Petra! Petra! Why is he out of the nursery?" 

 

He clings to her skirts, tears welling in his eyes. He misses her. "Mommy!"

 

"Petra! What the hell am I paying you for?"

 

"Mommy!"

 

"Tony, it's okay. Come on, wake up now."

 

"Mommy...!"

 

"Come on, Tones. Open those eyes for me."

 

The sounds of the party vanish in an instant. The silence hurts. It's too sudden, too confusing. He rolls his head to the side, and there's Steve. He tries to smile, but he's too tired, too worn out from living, an exhaustion that has smothered him since childhood. When he falls unconscious this time, he welcomes the darkness. 

 

-

 

It's slower the next time. A gentle pull from the abyss. He feels himself ascending and opens his eyes to a world fuzzy around the edges. This time it's Natasha bent over him. She cups his cheek, smiling softly, but somehow it's wrong . Why is she touching him? 

 

His skin heats under her palm, and he feels the wetness in his eyes roll down his cheeks.

 

"Hey," her voice is quiet, gentle. "Hey, it's okay. You're okay."

 

He blinks, and she's gone. The room is empty, the light across the floor shifted to the other side. The fuzziness is gone, and the room around him is pulled into sharp focus. He swallows, his tongue dry and swollen in his mouth. 

 

"Hello?" he rasps. "Water? Please?" No one answers, and he lifts his hands, fumbling for the call button. It's next to his left arm, and his fingers curl around it, hitting it once. He hears the clicking of heels along the corridor outside the room, and a woman enters. She wears a white coat and a stethoscope around her neck. 

 

"Mister Stark, welcome back." There's no preamble. She holds his chin and shines a pen light into his eyes. He jerks, but she's determined. Nodding, she turns to his monitors. "Everything looks good. Your teammates have just stepped out. I'm sure they'll be back soon."

 

"What happened?" Dry. His throat is scorched with it. "Water?"

 

"I'll have the nurse bring some in," she says, marking in his chart. "You were knocked out of the sky, fell a long way. But aside from a few broken bones and superficial scratches, you're going to be okay." Pausing in her notes, she looks at him over the clipboard. "That is one heck of a suit, Mister Stark. It saved your life. You should be proud."

 

His head falls back against the pillow. "So they say."

 

"I'll let the nurse know to bring you something to drink." She's gone as quickly as she came and he closes his eyes, reaching back in his memory to find anything that will tell him what had happened. 

 

There's not much. He remembers falling, he hates falling. Stars he's never seen before. No. That was the wormhole. This is tumbling sky. A vast expanse of blue dotted with clouds. Twisting, turning, free falling until he sees the green of the grassy meadow coming closer. A dandelion. Bright yellow in the sea of green. Closer. Closer. Then nothing. 

 

His hand opens and closes. Opens and closes. He reaches around the blankets, searching for softness, but there is none. He lets his head fall to the side, looking out the window. It's nighttime, and he can just make out the moon in between buildings. His eyes fall shut. 

 

-

 

"He's too old for it!"

 

"Mister Stark, it-it comforts him. Sometimes it's the only-"

 

"-I want it gone, Petra! Do you understand me!"

 

From his hiding spot in the closet under the stairs, Tony holds his blankie to his face, letting the softness run along his lips and tickle his nose. The shadows along the grate move, and he holds his breath. They won't take it from him! He'll run away, he'll hide. They can't have it! 

 

"Please, Mister Stark, he'll be inconsolable!" His nanny. Sweet, blonde, young. She sings him Russian lullabies. He loves her.

 

She'll be gone by summer.

 

"He's a Stark, Petra! When I return, I don't want to see it! Burn it!"

 

She finds him after Howard leaves. Teaches him to hide it. "Don't let them see, little one. Don't ever let them see." He clings to it, crying softly as she pulls his little six-year-old body onto her lap. "You are strong, sweet boy. Stronger than he will ever be. But to survive him, you must hide. Are you listening, kotenok ?"

 

"Yes, Miss Petra, I am."

 

"That's a good boy, Anthony." She kisses his head, rocking him back and forth. "Sweet boy, my little kotenok."

 

"Kotenok, time to wake up."

 

His eyes open; it's Natasha again. "What did you call me?"

 

She smiles, her hand coming to brush his hair away from his forehead. "It means 'kitten.' It's a term of endearment."

 

He flinches, and she sits back with a knowing grimace. Looking away, he explains, "Petra. She used to call me that."

 

"Who was she?"

 

"My nanny, she was with me from five to seven." 

 

"Did you like it?" she asks, her hand twitching to move again. She stills it in her lap. "Being called that?"

 

"I did."

 

"How are you feeling?"

 

He laughs. It's tired and hollow. "I feel like I got knocked out of the sky." 

 

"That's because you did."

 

"Can I go home?"

 

"Soon, kotenok, I promise."

 

 

2.

Steve carries him to the couch. 

 

It's surreal. He could have wheeled him over then lifted Tony from chair to cushion, but instead, he stops Clint at the doorway where the archer was pushing him and scoops Tony up into his arms. He's warm and steady. Careful with Tony's broken body. 

 

"We'll set up here, so you don't have to move much." It's so gentle, the way Steve lays him on the sofa. Bruce hurries over, lightly lifting Tony's broken ankle and placing it on a pillow. 

 

He looks up at Clint. "Where are his prescriptions?"

 

"Right here," Clint says, tugging the packages from his coat pocket. 

 

Tony is tired. He's exhausted. The trip from medical back to the tower took everything out of him. He makes no fuss when Bruce helps him take the pills. 

 

"Rest, Tony, we'll wake you for dinner."

 

Steve unfolds a comforter. It's a spare one, taken from the hall closet, blue and soft. Thick and warm. It's not enough. He spreads it over Tony, his hand lingering by Tony's shoulder before falling back to his side. "I'm-" he swallows, looking away. "I'm real glad you're okay, Tony."

 

His eyes are already slipping closed, and he's out moments later.

 

It doesn't last long. 

 

In his sleep, Tony reaches. His hands trail along the cushions, dipping under the comforter, searching. There's panic. A flash of a cave, the last time he was without. 

 

Dum-E's arm hands him a curved plate. "Just in case," Tony says, taking the plate and fitting it on the inside of the suit, "so I never have to go without it again."

 

A garage.

 

A couch.

 

A little boy.

 

He sleeps, and his hand isn't empty.

 

"Where is-?" It's been barely fifteen minutes, and his eyes dart back and forth.

 

"Where is what, kotenok?"

 

Natasha is on the floor by his head, leaning against the couch. She's reading. Where the Heart is. He points, "That's a movie."

 

"Uh-huh. With Natalie Portman." Closing the book, she turns fully toward him. "Where is what, Tony?"

 

He's so tired. "Petra said I had to hide."

 

"Hide?"

 

His eyes are already falling shut. "To survive my father. I have to hide." He won't remember saying it. 

 

Just before he edges away into sleep, she whispers, "You don't have to hide anymore, kotenok."

 

The nod he gives is barely perceptible. "Yes, I do. Have to hide me. Have to hide it. She saved my life."

 

"Petra?" But he's already asleep. 

 

-

 

When he wakes again, Natasha is still at his side. 

 

"Tony, are you in pain?"

 

He mumbles, his hands searching. "No."

 

"What are you looking for, kotenok?"

 

"But to survive him, you must hide-"

 

"Can't tell you."

 

"-You must hide. Are you listening, kotenok?"

 

"I'm listening, Miss Petra."

 

"-To survive him-"

 

"Tony? Go to sleep, Tony. You're okay."

 

"-Are you listening, kotenok?"

 

"Can't sleep. Want it."

 

"Tony," her voice is alarmed, "what do you want?"

 

"That's a good boy, Anthony."

 

The world fades away.

 

-

 

He's up again not a half hour later, his hands opening and closing. 

 

Clint is inches away. "Hey, food's ready. You hungry?"

 

Open and close. "Yeah."

 

"I'll make you a plate." He glances down at Tony's hand. "You good?"

 

"I'm fine." Close and open and close and open and close… 

 

He falls asleep while eating.

 

-

 

Blue sky. Green grass. Blue sky. Green grass. Blue sky. Dandelion.

 

A weed. A worthless weed. 

 

Blue sky. Dandelion. He hates falling.

 

He jolts awake, the movement setting off the pain. Steve is by his side in an instant. "Too soon for your pain medication, Tony. Breathe through it." He mimes, exaggerating his own breathing. He looks foolish, but Tony hurts too much to laugh. "Like this. You're okay, Tones. That's it."

 

He can't breathe.

 

In and out.

 

Open and close.

 

The world is moving. 

 

"Wanna see how long I can hold my breath?"

 

"Show me, little one."

 

He likes to dip backwards so he can open his eyes and look up. Above him, the lights shining into the pool sway with the blue water. 

 

"I think he's having a panic attack!"

 

The surface breaks as he kicks his feet, pushing himself above the water. "That was so long, right!?"

 

"Let's see how long you can hold your breath, Stark."

 

"Yinsen!"

 

"Come on, Tony, you gotta breathe!"

 

"Wanna see how long I can hold my breath?"

 

"In and out! Bruce! I can't get him to- I need help!"

 

He's barely slept. He's tired. Exhausted. The water jolts the magnet. Shocking him. 

 

"Yinsen!"

 

"Tony, Tony, come on, man." Bruce is cupping his face, his eyes wide with worry. "In, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four, five…"

 

"That's a good boy, Anthony."

 

He doesn't dream, but he floats away to somewhere in between. 

 

-

 

Hushed voices. 

 

"He won't sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time. It's fitful. I'm worried."

 

"We all are, Steve." Natasha's voice is close. He feels a hand on his forehead. It feels nice, but wrong. Strange. Unfamiliar.

 

"Who's Petra?" He hears the shuffling as Steve moves closer. "He keeps saying that name." The blanket shifts as Steve pulls it higher, adjusting the comforter so he's warm. 

 

Natasha audibly sighs. "His nanny when he was little."

 

"He told you?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Why does he keep doing that with his hand?"

 

Open and close. Open and close.

 

"I don't know, Steve." The hand leaves his forehead, and he moves slightly, chasing it. It's strange, but it's nice. "Tony Stark is a mystery to me."

 

"He's a mystery to us all."

 

"Will you ever tell him?"

 

Steve scoffs. "No way."

 

"You're an idiot."

 

Open and close.

 

 

3.

The morning light filters across the floor. Steve watches as the shadows grow with the rising sun, his head propped up on his fist. He hasn't slept. He's rumpled, unshaven, hungry. 

 

Tony is restless, slipping in and out of sleep, his hands constantly sliding along the cushions, under the comforter, behind the pillows. His eyes snap open into panic before dissolving into acceptance. It's a cycle. Sleep for fifteen, wake up. Search. Resign. Sleep for fifteen.

 

Steve has kept a steady vigil throughout the night. He can't leave Tony to suffer alone.

 

He loves him.

 

It wasn't like the old films he snuck into with Bucky. It didn't happen all at once. It was a slow, creeping sort of love. One that grew, like vines curving up a building, twisting up around him, from his legs, to his torso, then up around his heart. 

 

One morning he woke up and realized he didn't hate Tony. He appreciated him. Respected him, his genius, his willingness to sacrifice. He found himself seeking out the other's company, enjoying time spent with him. He learned about him. Not just his intelligence, or his heroism, but about Tony. His favorite movies, his favorite foods. He learned that despite his aptitude for science, he loved to read, could devour a whole novel in a single night and often stayed up to finish. 

 

He read everything. The classics, the contemporaries. Books of poetry, trashy drug store novels. Tony read whatever he could get his hands on. 

 

He loved movies, especially those from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and they bonded over Cary Grant and Gene Kelly, Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall. Spoke of their crushes on both and giggled at the old horror movies, throwing popcorn at the screen and yelling at the characters.

 

Tony played the piano, and he played beautifully. Enough so that Steve would take his sketchbook out and let the music guide his hands. They'd spend hours just like that. No need for conversation. It was cozy. Natural.

 

Over the course of several months, Tony had gone from teammate to friend to confidant to the best friend he’d ever had next to Bucky. 

 

And like he was slipping on wet steps, he fell right into love with him. 

 

It was terrifying and wonderful. Tony had somehow shifted everything. All of Steve's priorities switched. He didn't want the white picket fence anymore; he wanted coffee grounds and workshops. Reading nooks and sarcasm. 

 

And then he watched him fall from the sky (again).

 

-

 

Bathing Tony when his wrist and ankle are wrapped in fiberglass casts is difficult enough without the added complication of his exhaustion. Two days of the same cycle of sleeping and waking, panicking and searching have left him a little stale, and in the moments when he is awake long enough to hold a coherent conversation, he begs to be able to wash. 

 

Steve volunteers. It is - for the most part - because he is the only one able to lift Tony with no difficulty. Thor can, but he isn't there. Tony needs stable arms to bring him to the bathroom, arms that won't jostle his ribs too much and can bear the weight as he is stripped and cleaned. Steve, of course, forgot about the stripping part.

 

He does his best to maintain an air of professionalism, but his cheeks burn red as he carefully pulls Tony's shirt off. He almost flees after helping him step out of his pajama bottoms, his eyes anywhere but on the man in front of him. Tony, at the very least, is too tired to protest or make any snappy comebacks. 

 

Steve is gentle as he wraps the casts and washes him, edging around the arc reactor and rubbing lightly over the bruising and scrapes. When he washes Tony's hair, Steve lets him rest his neck on his left forearm, and lathers with his right hand, always conscious to not allow any soapy water to get into Tony's eyes. 

 

Tony is a puddle by the time he's finished. The combination of the heat and the gentle ministrations have left him boneless and happy, a sweet smile playing on his lips. Steve hopes it's enough to lull him into a sound sleep. Gingerly, he dresses Tony in a fresh tank top and a pair of thick, cozy sweats and lifts him into his arms again. 

 

Eyes closed and face pressed against Steve's chest, Tony whimpers at the movement. 

 

"Crap, I'm sorry, Tony." The steps he takes back to the living room are slow and steady, and by the time he's reached the couch, Tony is fast asleep in his arms. He's afraid to wake him. With a sheepish smile toward the only other occupant in the room - Clint - he sits and lays back on the arm of the couch, cradling Tony against his chest. Clint shoots Steve a knowing look and goes back to whatever he is doing on his tablet. Blushing, Steve pulls the comforter over both of them.

 

Tony sleeps for two hours. It's not as long as he needs, but it's a step in the right direction. His hand fists into Steve's shirt, opening and closing in movements that are considerably more relaxed than they had been.

 

When he's sure Clint isn't looking, Steve indulges himself. He kisses at Tony's hairline and breathes in his scent.  Halfway through his nap, Tony stirs, and Steve rubs his head, letting his fingers sluice through the curls - curls! Tony's hair, unstyled, is curly! - and the genius mews softly, falling right back to sleep.

 

Steve feels pride in that. He presses his lips against Tony's forehead and continues until Tony's eyes flutter open, vastly more lucid than he has been. 

 

"Cap?"

 

Smiling, Steve gently adjusts him. "Hey, Shellhead." He's happy to see clarity shining out from the wide brown eyes. "Hungry?" Tony nods, pushing himself up and wincing. "Careful, Tony, let me help you." 

 

Clint takes initiative, setting his tablet aside and standing to help Steve move Tony off of him. His agile fingers and quick reflexes catch Tony as he stumbles, and with Steve guiding him, is able to prop Tony up with a few pillows at the other end of the couch. "It's just us," he says to them, stepping back so Steve can drape the comforter over Tony, "Bruce mumbled something about time sensitive reactions - to be honest, I was only half listening - and Nat has a meeting downtown."

 

"Do you want to order in from the diner?" Lifting Tony's legs, Steve sits and places them in his lap. He doesn't miss the confused looks Tony is sending him. 

 

Dropping back into the armchair, Clint plucks his phone from the charging dock on the end table, scrolling through to find the menu.  "I'm always down for a diner-burger, Cap."

 

"Tony?"

 

He can see the wheels turning in that brilliant mind. Tony's brows are furrowed, dissecting the puzzle set before him. "Yeah, burgers sound good."

 

Looking back to Clint, Steve nods. "Same, only make mine a double. Deluxe."

 

"Four deluxe burgers coming up. Cheese?"

 

Steve scoffs, "Obviously."

 

Finally turning from Steve, Tony chimes in, "Mutz on the fries and brown gravy on the side. Extra coleslaw and pickles. Please," he adds as an afterthought. 

 

Steve likes how he says 'mutz' instead of mozzarella. He's only ever heard it in cities that boast a large Italian population, but the way it rolls off Tony's tongue is both adorable and attractive. "Definitely extra on the pickles."

 

A creature of habit when he's not in the field, Clint lifts his phone to dial, but an affronted JARVIS stops him. "Do you see me trying to shoot a bow and arrow, Agent Barton?"

 

"Uh, no?"

 

"Then do not do my job for me."

 

His face colors, thoroughly chastised by an A.I. with attitude. "Sorry, JARVIS. Meant no offence."

 

"Apology accepted. Pick up ready in twenty-five minutes."

 

A mischievous grin spreads across Clint's face. "Need me for that though, huh?"

 

There is a pause, and Steve is amused to see Tony snickering, the sound is like wind chimes dangling in the sunlight. JARVIS speaks again, his voice smug. "Saint Jude's thanks you for your generous donation of your gaming devices, Agent Barton. The children will be so happy."

 

"What?!"

 

Throwing his head back, Steve laughs loudly. "Serves you right for messing with JARVIS."

 

Tony waves his hand, placating. "JARVIS, be nice. I'll donate fifteen new PlayStation consoles if you leave Clint's alone." He hasn't even been up long, but already his eyes are slipping shut. That's what several days of only sleeping in increments would do to anyone, let alone someone recovering from being injured. 

 

Steve ignores JARVIS' response, too focused on Tony, scooting down the couch to gently tug him up.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"You slept pretty soundly using me as a body pillow," Steve says it like a question, asking permission even though he's already pulling Tony to his chest. 

 

Tony's voice is soft. "Oh. Yeah, I guess I did."

 

"It'll take Clint fifteen minutes to get to the diner and fifteen back. Take a nap, Tony." 

 

"Can I go to my room? I'll sleep better in my bed." There's a pleading quality to Tony's voice, and Steve pauses in shifting him. He glances at Clint - who shrugs - then back to Tony.

 

"I mean, I guess if you really want, but we set you up here so we would be close if you needed help." Steve slides forward, intending on standing to bring Tony to his room. "But, you may be right. Maybe you'll sleep better." It is a little shameful to realize none of them had figured that out before this. The couch is cushy and plush, large and cozy. Not a single one of them has been able to escape falling into a deep, restful sleep on it. But it's still not a bed. 

 

Tony looks torn. He glances at Steve's chest then over to the door and back to Steve's face. "I'll stay here. It'll take too long to get upstairs and it's only for a half hour, and I'm really hungry."

 

Steve's overjoyed to hear that Tony wants to eat, but even more so that he wants to lay on him again. It's a little selfish, but as long as Tony is sleeping, he's not going to argue. Sitting back, he carefully tugs Tony against him, tucking his head under his chin. 

 

Clint is shaking his head knowingly, helping Steve tug the comforter over both of them. "I'll be back."

 

He receives a sheepish smile from Steve. "Thanks for getting the food, Clint."

 

"No problem." He disappears. And Steve has another half hour of holding Tony to look forward to.

 

 

4.

Tony's lucidity doesn't last. Despite the solid two hours he got from napping on Steve, he's still gone days without a proper sleep. By the next morning, he's slipping back into his drained, disconnected state. Steve, freshly showered and in a shirt not nearly as soft as the one he was wearing the night before, shifts under Tony's weight, his hand coming up to cup Tony's head so he doesn't jostle him too much. 

 

"Tony," Steve says softly, continuing the comforting massage of Tony's scalp, "I'm going to take you to your bed, is that okay?"

 

He shakes his head, feeling a wave of dizziness. He knows what he wants - what he needs - to finally get the restful sleep his body is deprived of, but the solid form of Steve under him is everything he's longed for. He cannot possibly be allowed to have both.

 

He sees the smiling face of Petra, cradling him on the swing on the back porch of the Stark Mansion in Glen Cove. "Life is difficult, little one, you must grab happiness where you can." 

 

The trees are swaying with a gentle breeze, and the heat of summer rises up around them. He smells the salt and seaweed from the Long Island Sound not far from where they are, and the distinct scent of freshly mowed grass. Petra smells like baby powder and strawberries. It's his favorite scent of all. 

 

He looks up at her fair face and senses the worry in her eyes like only a child can. "What do you mean, Miss Petra?" One tiny hand curls around her upper arm, the other plays with the cross that hangs from her neck. He likes the blue sapphire that is embedded in the middle.

 

"I must leave you, kotenok."

 

"Where are you going? I want to go too!" He smiles up at her, innocent despite the attempted stripping of such trivialities by his father. Lessons, taught with belts that are silver tipped and leave welts the size of dimes on his young, olive skin. Some he will bear forever. 

 

"You cannot come with me, little one." She pauses, blinking away tears. "Your father has released me from my contract. Come tomorrow, I will be gone."

 

"Will I see you on Monday?" There are times, few and far between though they are, that she takes time off, usually to visit her family.

 

"No, Anthony. Come Monday you will have a new nanny, and I pray she is gentle with you."

 

He doesn't understand. "But I don't want you to go!"

 

"I know, sweet boy, I do not wish to leave either. I have no choice in the matter. Your father says I coddle you." She hugs him close, kissing his head and lets herself cry. It's as if she can read the future, can see every slice of turmoil that will cut into him deeply. "Kotenok, you must listen. Your life will be hard, you must learn to chase your own happiness. Find those little sparks of joy, and never let them go. You are more than a Stark, little one, you are a brave, strong, and sweet soul. 

 

"Are you listening, kotenok?"

 

"Yes, Miss Petra, I am."

 

Tony never thought he would find the happiness she spoke of in another person. They always seemed to let him down, time and time again, but laying in Steve's arms, he feels something inside him ignite. A small, struggling flame, a short, barely there wick, and Steve is the hurricane lantern, surrounding him. Protecting the weak burst of light he emits. Cajoling him to grow brighter and fight against the wind, to weather a storm he's so familiar with that it's like a blanket, soft and warm, comforting in the memories it possesses. The threads weaved together in what was, what is, and what should have been. It protects him from the cold rain. 

 

He doesn't fight it as he's lifted carefully into strong arms. Steve carries him with a gentleness born of a deep love and Tony wonders why he's never seen it before. 

 

His hand slides beneath his pillow almost before he's completely set down, pulling out the worn, once blue blankie from where it lay hidden. He's not ashamed that Steve sees. 

 

"Stay?" he asks, lifting his other hand to tug at Steve's sleeve, "Please?"

 

But I don't want you to go! 

 

There are no words as Steve slips into the bed beside him or when Tony haltingly moves so he's curled up against him. He lifts his good hand and cups Steve's cheek, bringing him down to press a soft kiss against his mouth. Steve's eyes are blue like the gem that gleamed from the cross around Petra's neck. They shine and catch the sun just like it did, drawing Tony's gaze even when the clouds hide away the sky and cast long shadows across Tony's face. Shadows like fingers. Like belts. 

 

Steve looks surprised. "Tony?"

 

"This is Na-Na," he says in lieu of answering the unspoken question. He holds the blankie up. "I can't sleep without it."

 

Steve's face is crestfallen, he pulls Tony closer. "Why didn't you say anything?"

 

"You're only the fourth person I've told. Rhodey, then Pepper. Yinsen. Now you." Around the blanket, his hand moves on its own, a habitual motion cultivated from years of repeating. Open and close. Open and close. His fingers glide along pulled threads; they're a softness he could never find words to describe.

 

"You should have told us. No wonder you weren't sleeping." 

 

"I liked you holding me. I didn't think I could have both." Looking down at the blankie, he runs his hands over it again. "Can I have both?"

 

This time it's Steve cupping his cheek and drawing him into a kiss. "Yes. You can have both."

 

"Find those little sparks of joy and never let them go."

 

In Steve's arms with his blankie tucked up against his chin, Tony finds the sleep he had sought after. He's warm and sated, comfortable and safe. In the morning, he holds Steve's hands against his chest, watching the sparks of blue as his eyelids flutter open. The storm outside calms. Clear skies ahead.

 

"Are you listening, kotenok?"

 

"Yes, Miss Petra, I am."

 

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