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Smashed Heart: III - Smashed!

Title: Smashed Heart
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Avengers
Era: Some time after the movie “Avengers” (2012)
Genre: Drama
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Nick Fury, J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor (, Jane Foster, Happy Hogan)
Pairings: Happy/Pepper, Pepper/Tony
Summary: Heartbreak isn’t really Tony’s thing – unless it’s meant literally.
Complete. Part of the “Turquoise” –series.
Warnings: Language, violence, deadly injuries.

~ ~ ~

III – Smashed!

Avengers Mansion
Manhattan, New York, NY, USA

Bruce came back slowly and painfully – too slowly when he began to realize what had happened.

This was why he didn’t want to be involved in training exercises, didn’t want to be around people, doing this, being part of a team, even if it occasionally meant saving a few lives, or Manhattan, or the entire world.

“Stark!” Steve barked in his best Captain America voice. “Get up.”

Bruce held his head, feeling like it was splitting in two from the pain. He usually just woke up, but he had to transform – he had to come back.

“Stark,” Hawkeye’s voice joined that of their leader, “that isn’t funny, man. Put the lights back on and keep rolling, Shellhead…”

The lights in the room were on, so Bruce knew he didn’t mean those lights. He groaned, opening his eyes, feeling like he was still shrinking, too tight for his skin, and Tony – Iron Man – lay at his feet. The lights on his helmet were off, and more disturbingly, the light on his chest was flickering on and off like a lamp about to burn out, emitting a barely audible sound, and Bruce knew it most certainly wasn’t supposed to do that. Nor was his chest supposed to look like someone had just struck it downwards a good ten inches at least.

“Maybe… he’s not faking it,” Natasha was the first to dare to say it, and the others began shuffling closer, wary of Bruce and his unusual transformation back from the Hulk. On the floor, Tony didn’t move or make a sound. The arc reactor let out one final rasping hiss and went out.

“No,” Bruce managed, tearing at his hair, forcing the other guy to recede, to be gone, to leave him in charge. The other guy never liked that, as rarely as it happened, but Bruce was adamant.

“Stark?” Steve asked again, more hesitant this time, coming closer still, shield in one hand, the other fisted, in dread and determination.

“He seems unwell,” Thor noted.

Bruce fell onto his knees beside the suit, which was as unmoving as always, but it seemed different to him. Not just because the lights were gone, but because he could tell

“Tony, please,” he whispered, yanking at the suit. The chest – or where it had been – was twisted and dented, and Thor and Steve stepped forward to remove it. Thor, not even consulting anyone, ripped off the helmet, which luckily didn’t end up rolling across the floor with its owner’s head stuck inside.

Tony’s face was very still. Bruce recalled another time, quite recently, but it was hazy, not his memory, but the other guy’s… There was blood on his lips now, smeared slightly, and Bruce went for his neck, to trace the pulse, which was so thready he could barely find it.

“We need to get him out of the suit,” he said hurriedly. There was still a chance that the suit had taken all of the damage, as it should, and the arc rector mounted in Tony’s chest was fine even if the one powering the suit had gone out.

Steve just nodded.

It was not as easily done as said; clearly the suit wasn’t supposed to come off by force, and although Thor may have been able to take it to pieces, given a little time, it would have injured Tony even more. By the time they yanked the chest piece completely free, Natasha took a step back, gasping, and even Steve stopped for a moment.

There was blood, more of it, but not too much. The arc reactor was… well, suffice to say, it looked like someone had hammered it just a tad deeper, and it’s familiar blue flow was barely there, flickering on and off, much like the one in the suit just before it shut down completely. Bruce could tell Tony’s ribcage had taken most of the impact after the suit failed to protect him, but the arc reactor was broken, and he recalled what Tony had told him about it.

“We need to…” Bruce thought hard. What else had he learned about the man? Before the arc reactor…

“I’m sure he has a spare somewhere,” Hawkeye noted.

“It wouldn’t do him any good; the socket wall is broken. It needs to be reset, and… the shrapnel.” If nothing else killed him, they surely would, floating into his heart…

“I believe he used some kind of magnet, powered by a car battery, before creating the first miniature arc reactor,” Natasha cited a file she must have read about Tony and his world-renowned escape from a cave in Afghanistan.

“It will have to work,” Bruce nodded.

“Just tell us what you need,” Steve said firmly. “We will get it for you, Doctor.”

- - -

It looked like a caveman version of life-support, but it worked; Tony lived. That had been Bruce’s first concern, and now that they had the shrapnel under control, it was time to focus on the other problems.

Mainly, mending broken, shattered and bruised ribs, fixing or completely replacing the socket wall – and finally, creating another arc reactor.

Bruce had things pretty well in hand before it came to the last obstacle. Tony hadn’t shared his latest modifications to the arc reactor, and even if he had, it wasn’t Bruce’s strongest area. Sure, while he had been staying in the Stark Tower, he had seen much of the process that went into the Iron Man suits, possibly more than anyone because Tony liked to impress him… yet it didn’t mean he could even dream of replicating it.

He had almost killed this man, though, and he was damn well going to fix him up again. However, as long as Tony remained unconscious, and he seemed quite happy to do that, all he could do was try to have S.H.I.E.L.D. hack into his files and then make sense of them.

Of course another route was to try and sweet-talk J.A.R.V.I.S., whether or not that would even work. Perhaps a logical enough explanation would make the AI release the needed information and even aid him, but Bruce kind of doubted that. There were some basic rules there, under the sophisticated voice, and he knew Tony would have not included a loophole so that people could steal his work through J.A.R.V.I.S.

Also, Natasha was rather good at ruining even his last hopes of success: “Stark created a new element to power the arc reactor about two years ago.”

Fantastic. Unless Tony had some of those lying around, he was screwed – and they had checked, and double checked, and it seemed Tony didn’t have any spare arc reactors or energy sources available at this time.

“What did he use first?” Bruce asked, trying not to sound like someone had just kicked him in the gut, hard.

“Palladium. But it caused a poisoning in his system, the more he used his suit.”

“That, I think, I can replicate,” Bruce pondered. “He built the first one in a cave, right?”

“Yes,” Natasha said doubtingly. “People have tried re-building the miniaturized arc reactor, but haven’t succeeded. We might be able to get his plans for it, though, if he ever had those.”

Bruce, for the time being, wanted to imagine that Tony, like most scientists and inventors, would like keep some kind of record of their success. Which meant that somewhere, Tony had the plans for both new and old arc reactor models, and their power sources.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he called out.

“Yes, Dr. Banner?”

“Is there any way you can show to me the blueprints and notes including the miniaturized arc reactor and the palladium core?”

“I am sorry, but that information is unavailable to you.”

“Great,” Bruce sighed, taking off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose.

“S.H.I.E.L.D. will get on it,” Natasha reassured him, and with one final look at Tony, she escaped from the room, judging from the pace she took.

Bruce glanced at Tony, then sat down near the bed. The man’s chest was a myriad of bandages in an attempt to allow his ribs to heal in the right position and to protect the wounds where the suit had cut to his flesh. Bruce had raised the socket wall back to where it should be, the doctors had tended to the internal bleeding although it still worried him, but Tony didn’t as much as stir. His vital signs were steady, although not perfect, his brain activity seemed normal, but he remained unconscious, completely unhelpful in providing Bruce with the information he needed to save his life.

- - -

It could be said that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t often disappoint when it came to procuring information the source of which didn’t want them to have. Of course it didn’t come with assembly instructions, but Bruce appreciated the chance to work with something; staring at Tony’s unmoving, barely-breathing body was driving him crazy, making him relive the moment when he began to realize something had gone horribly wrong. Amazing as it seemed, he thought even the big guy had known he had done something he shouldn’t have, and that was why Bruce had been able to come out so quickly.

Tony had granted him access to most of the labs he owned, and Bruce used that access to start his work on the arc reactor, although there was always at least one screen keeping an eye on the room Tony was in, and J.A.R.V.I.S. has been willing to inform him should anything change in his condition.

Even with plans, notes and blueprints, he kept running into dead ends at least once an hour. It took a lot of willpower to not start hurling objects at the walls – and turn into the other guy – to express the desperate need to make this work. Tony’s life depended on his success or failure, quite literally, and he was determined not to let him die on him.

So, he kept pressing his fingers against his nose, taking deep breaths, and looking for clues as to how to solve the next problem. It was like walking, he told himself; one foot at a time.

Fury stopped by the next day, visiting Tony’s bedside, asking whether he could provide any help from the extensive selection of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s doctors and engineers, but after Bruce rather irritably asked him whether they could re-create the device that had kept Mr. Stark alive the last few years, Fury didn’t offer him any more help.

“It wasn’t your fault,” was the only thing he said to Bruce. “He should have known better than to attack you in that fashion.”

That still bothered Bruce; he had reviewed the tapes from the incident, over and over, and he could see how Tony had brought this on himself. What had provoked him to do something like that? He might have acted like he didn’t have any fear towards the other guy, but he had always been rather respectful of Bruce’s darker side, what with all the poking with pointy objects and stuff.

“He seemed a bit off for a few days,” Bruce shrugged. “And regardless… I cannot see how it wasn’t, at least partially, my fault as well.”

Fury looked at him as if he still disagreed with him on that point, but said nothing else before leaving. Bruce went back to work, but every time he closed his eyes, he recalled that part of the tape where Iron Man shot Hulk in the face, then was hurled down, and one strike later, he moved no more. To actually see the metal of his suit denting, unable to take the raw, inhuman strength… to witness the moment when the arc reactor took a hit…

The moment when Hulk broke his heart.

No, Bruce wasn’t about to let him die. Not on his watch. Not as long as the world had the technology to save him.

- - -

Pepper Potts arrived several days after the incident. Apparently no one had managed to tell her beforehand, and she said it was due to ‘Tony being difficult’. She had a strange, troubled expression on her face when she said it, and sat by his bed, Happy Hogan at her side. Bruce, when he briefly saw them while checking on their patient, thought there was something a bit off about it, and later, after Pepper had left for a short while to freshen up, Natasha said she and Tony had broken up just a few days before the incident.

That, somehow, explained things to Bruce, although everyone else seemed to think Mr. Stark could not be affected by such a human thing as a broken heart. Be that as it may, Tony had been acting out ever since Pepper said they had split up, and he had refused to talk to her after that – or Mr. Hogan, for that matter, who seemed to be directly involved – and he had pulled his stunt on Hulk almost as soon as he showed up at the Avengers Mansion.

It left a bad taste in Bruce’s mouth, although he didn’t think he was responsible for dealing with Tony’s emotional life, especially when he clearly hadn’t been willing to just talk about it with one of his teammates. Well, not that Tony was the type, but he could surprise you, and Bruce thought they had a bit of a connection, whether he wanted to or not. Tony had made sure of that after they met, even before their first battle together.

All that made Bruce work even harder in the lab, and some days he even thought he had managed to talk J.A.R.V.I.S. into helping him. It didn’t make his task easier, and it was a lot of trial and error, but finally, after many painful failures and sleepless hours trying to rest but thinking about arc reactors instead, a faint blue glow lit his face, and Steve, who happened to be in the lab at the time, a silent shadow by the wall not wanting to disturb his work but needing to feel like they were doing something to help Tony, walked over and lay a firm yet careful hand on his shoulder.

“You did it,” Steve said, voice almost faint. Perhaps they had all stopped believing at some point. Bruce certainly had, although he was unwilling to accept defeat. But repeating Tony’s designs…

“Let’s hope it works,” Bruce prayed. If it didn’t, he was back to square one, because he had gone over every detail and couldn’t find anything that was incorrect.

Whether Tony would miraculously wake up when the arc reactor was mounted on his chest, he didn’t know. It didn’t have an actual physiological function, far as he knew, short of keeping the cluster of shrapnel from entering his heart, but it might give him some kind of boost.

Of course the palladium core was another problem; he hadn’t even dreamt of replicating whatever Tony had replaced the palladium with, and since he had no replacement at hand, this was the best he could do, short of the electro-magnet that resided in his chest for the moment.

Hopefully it would be enough.

With the socket wall fixed, the arc reactor slid in smoothly. Bruce’s hands shook a bit when he put it in place, plugging it in, then hoped. He was aware of others gathering at the door of the room, besides Steve, although everyone was quiet. It didn’t make him feel pressured to achieve some kind of scientific breakthrough as much as trying to pour all their collective hopes into this one gesture.

The arc reactor glowed, back in its rightful place.

Tony’s face didn’t even twitch.

Bruce watched, and watched, as if frozen in time. Everyone else waited too, but eventually he heard them shift, Clint murmuring something, people leaving. Still he stood there, watching, waiting, until he felt Steve’s hand on his shoulder again, and the weight of it made him sink down into a nearby chair.

“You did all you could,” Steve said. “It has to be enough.”

“And if he doesn’t pull through?” Bruce asked tightly. He didn’t like thinking about it, but he imagined it, every hour, awake or in troubled sleep.

If Tony died…

No; he wasn’t dead yet, his body was healing, and there was absolutely no reason for him to give up. He was just unwilling to wake up. Maybe he needed a little motivation. Bruce was half-tempted to let the other guy take over and roar until the walls shuddered if that would startle him back to the world of the living.

Steve remained there for a moment, then left, perhaps to join the others.

Bruce wondered if they would start coming to him one by one now, trying to make him feel better.

If only he wouldn’t keep remembering the sensation of metal twisting under his hand… the memory perhaps just an illusion of replaying the video feed over and over again, fleshed out by his guilt, but feeling very real already.

- - -

“I don’t know if they ever scientifically proved you can hear me…” Bruce muttered.

It was another strange hour to be awake, the rest of the world sleeping, but he was in Tony’s room, sitting by his bed, talking to him. That was becoming a habit, especially every time the others tried to make him sleep before he flipped, and he woke from another distorted dream, feeling like the other guy was coming out, his heart hammering in his throat, and he would wander back in there since everyone else was asleep and unable to stop him from doing so.

Tony’s bedside was peaceful, the blue glow and a light coming from the hallway. Almost like that night after the battle against the Chitauri ended, and he sat in Tony’s room on the edge of his bed.

They had never talked about that, if Tony even remembered it. Well, he ought to, since he had woken up at some ungodly hour, leaving Bruce slumbering on his bed.

Was that why he had asked him to stay after they parted ways?

Had that been why Bruce said yes, even knowing the risks it presented?

“I don’t know why I stayed,” he mused out loud. “I certainly didn’t stay for this. If I hadn’t… I would have been long gone… and you wouldn’t have to lie here.”

But if Tony had been determined to hurt himself, he would have just found another way; if it had been a conscious choice, or even an unconscious one…

“Why did it have to be me – the other guy?” he asked, almost accusingly. “You know I’ll feel like shit about this for the rest of my life…”

His hand shifted, almost idly, because it didn’t really matter whether it did or not, and he touched Tony’s hand, unmoving on top of the sheets, an IV attached to it, and he held his fingers with his own a bit awkwardly.

“I’m sorry,” he said, not for the first time, hanging his head tiredly. He felt tired all the time these days, drained and ineffective. He had failed in the only thing he’d set out to do. Well, not exactly; he did re-build the arc reactor, and it was working just fine, but the main objective had always been to heal Tony. To bring him back.

“You know, right, that I’ll take all the snarky comments from you that I can get if you’ll just wake up?” he mused next. True to form, Tony would let him hear about how he almost killed him, endlessly.

He must have really hit rock bottom when that felt preferable to anything else.

Against his fingers, Tony’s twitched slightly.

Bruce lifted his head, to peer at him, but it may have been just another muscle spasm, a random burst in his brain causing an involuntary jerk in the body, or he may have even completely imagined it.

Well, he could just as well imagine he had felt it, and that it was a sign that Tony was listening. Such optimism wasn’t becoming of him, but a little bit of healthy madness might do him good. It was preferable, certainly, to any reality where Tony never woke up at all.

“You’re actually making me want to snap,” Bruce chuckled. “You would be so proud…”

Again, he felt a jerk, and was quite certain he hadn’t imagined it. There were half a dozen medical reasons why it would occur, without Tony ever having any conscious part in it, and it dampened the moment a little. Sometimes he wished he didn’t know, that he didn’t possess the information he did, so that he could be in the same blissful ignorance as the families of his patients back when he was still running from his past, the other guy lurking in the shadows, trying to do something good for a change.

Tony had thought it had all happened for a reason, for some greater purpose. Certainly it wasn’t fair it would end with Tony lying here and Bruce falling to pieces at his bedside.

“I don’t think you’re really even trying,” he noted. “It’s kind of unfair, seeing as I’ve put my all into this.” His fingers tightened against Tony’s, curling further around them. He didn’t feel calm, sitting here, but the other guy hadn’t tried to come out, as if there was an actual agreement for once that Bruce was more useful than the big green rage-monster.

Tony’s entire hand jerked in his grip, and so did his head. A faint groan escaped his throat, and it was the first sound he had made in days. Ever since the incident, actually. Bruce almost fell off his chair, unbelieving, then forced himself to wait, to… keep doing whatever he had been doing, which was to hold Tony’s hand, and talk.

The dark, finely-trimmed brow twisted into a frown, another sound escaping his throat, and his chest rose and fell a few times, and then the brown eyes regarded him almost blearily, the frown still there, perhaps from confusion and pain both.

“About time,” Bruce blurted.

Tony still frowned, then craned his head with difficulty, looking down at himself.

Bruce reached over for a cup of water, which actually was his, but he had no recollection whether he had even touched it, and Tony didn’t need to know that. He offered him some, to ease his dry throat, and Tony flexed his jaw a few times, as if testing something.

“How do you feel?” Bruce asked, trying to sound professional, but after the long wait, he wasn’t sure how he should feel. Well, relieved, probably.

“Palladium,” was the first thing Tony said.

“Yeah, I… had no idea how to… replicate your newer design, so this had to do,” he noted a bit defensively. “How could you tell?”

“I can taste it,” Tony said, speech coming a bit easier. He regarded himself for a moment longer, then looked at Bruce. “I pissed you off.”

“You pissed the other guy off,” Bruce clarified. “Don’t do that again.”

“Should improve armor…”

Of course that was Tony’s logical answer, instead of choosing not to piss off the other guy in the future. Never the easy way out, although Tony might say it was.

“You’ll have to do better than this,” Tony said then, and Bruce wasn’t certain what he was talking about.

“Just so you know, I did pretty well,” Bruce started, knowing that was the truth in all possible variations, whether it came to trying to kill Tony, or fixing him up.

“Yeah, I know… but the arc reactor needs an upgrade,” Tony said.

“Well, you’ll have to help me with it, then,” Bruce rolled his eyes.

Tony smiled; a weak, pained smile, but a smile nonetheless. “It’s my design,” he noted.

“Indeed it is.”

“But I’ll let you play with it.”

Bruce felt like rolling his eyes again – or just sighing, or perhaps crying from cheer exhaustion, but instead he simply leaned back in his chair, his hand still holding Tony’s, and watched him drift off again, yet he was confident he was just asleep this time, and was going to wake up some time later, hopefully more well-behaved and respecting the fact that Bruce had saved his life, but he wasn’t about to bet all his money on that kind of drastic character change.

As long as he’s alive, he told himself.

The End

I - Smashing Once...
II - Smashing Twice...
III - Smashed!