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Del Rion [userpic]

Nuking the Stars; Chapter 4: Renovation

Title: Nuking the Stars
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie, between “Sleeping It Off” and “Smashed Heart” fics.
Genre: Drama
Rating: T / FRT
> Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor (, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan)
Pairings: Pepper/Tony
Summary: With all the Avengers have been through in their short time together, flying through a portal and then falling back doesn’t seem like much – nor does it feel like much to Tony either before he realizes he might as well carve a line into the wall next to Afghanistan and the palladium poisoning. While he tries to manage yet another potential breakdown, the Avengers begin their journey to actually become a ‘team’.
Complete. Part of the “Turquoise” –series.
Warnings: Vague (or very strong) symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), intended but disrupted attempts of self-harm, references to possible alcoholism, language, spoilers for The Avengers movie (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic movie universe).

~ ~ ~

Chapter 4: Renovation

Stark Manor
Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York, NY, USA

There was no way Tony wasn’t going to remodel the mansion a bit, especially to include some lab space for him and Bruce. He had been about to hire someone for the job but as usual, Rogers refused the idea outright:

“We can do it. Well, as long as there’s no need for professional input, in which case we’ll get it,” he had noted, looking around the living room.

“I hear you built a particle accelerator in your basement in Malibu; this ought to be a walk in the park,” Banner had chorused.

Tony had never taken Banner for a do-it-yourself guy, other than what being on the run demanded, but Rogers seemed to think working on their new home was the least they could do, plus it was a good team exercise.

Thor and his hammer arrived just in time for renovations; whether or not he knew something was going on, he didn’t say, but he landed on the front yard the very morning they started tearing down some walls and seemed cheery at the prospect of physical labor: “Mjolnir is both a tool to build and destroy,” he declared and Tony hurried to tell him not to start smashing every wall that stood before him; they weren’t taking down the entire building, although that might have been easier.

Everyone picked up some tools – well, most of them did, because Banner was still a bit leery of such physical destruction and the chance it might trigger the other guy.

“Let him out; there are walls for him to smash here, with permission. I’ll spray paint targets for him,” Tony offered.

“As much as I… appreciate the offer, I think I’ll pass,” the scientist replied and instead made himself comfortable next to the construction plans, which was something someone needed to keep an eye on anyway should Thor get a little hammer-happy. Plus, once Rogers got into the swing of things it seemed like something he enjoyed, too, seeing as there hadn’t been any villains to combat for the last week or so.

It was a good stress reliever, there was no denying that, and Tony threw himself at it with gusto.

At some point during the first day he climbed out of the room where they had destroyed each of the four walls around the load-bearing pillars. Dust was in the air and he smelled of sweat, dust sticking to his skin. He wandered outside for a break and something to drink, finding most of the Avengers already lying down on the grass.

Barton, as usual, was perched higher than the others, on top of one of the cabinets they had carried outside. “I didn’t think he was capable of breaking a sweat over such menial work,” the archer commented, sipping bottled water, sunglasses on his nose.

Tony raised an eyebrow at him, one hand dropping the tools and rising up to ruffle his dirty hair, the other diving for an untouched bottle of water. “No one may have told you but engineering is hard, dirty work. You should look into it sometime.”

“Now, now,” Banner started like a teacher rebuking two loud-mouthed students.

“Do you Midgardians not value the work of your elders?” Thor mused, looking sweaty and dirty but not particularly weary, leaning casually on one of the tables which was creaking slightly under his weight.

Tony swallowed a mouthful of water the wrong way and had to cough a bit before he could actually retort. “Elders?”

Barton bellowed with laughter.

“I meant no disrespect,” Thor put on his puppy-face, earnest to fix a mistake he had clearly made.

“You called me ‘old’,” Tony pointed out.

“He called you ‘elder’,” Rogers dared to remind him, as if that was better.

“Capsicle here is an ‘elder’,” Tony informed everyone present. “And if I’m correct, you’re millennia old, so you don’t get to call anyone here ‘old’, Thundercat.”

“Is that a species on your planet?” Thor inquired. “I have not heard of such a thing but it sounds interesting.”

“No,” Romanoff informed the Asgardian calmly. “For further reference, though, don’t call Stark anything that might make him feel his age; he’s really sensitive about the grey in his hair.”

Tony shot her a dirty look. “Really? We’re going there?”

“I’ve seen the hair products in your bathroom.”

“Ouch,” Barton grinned.

“Is no one going to ask what she was doing in my bathroom?” Tony asked, trying to imply something other than that she had been snooping around his private areas, which really wasn’t acceptable, but there was no need to tell anyone that. They might as well envision the two of them together –

“Fat chance, Stark,” she shot that image down.

“But you were in my bathroom,” he insisted as if it was some kind of victory.

Rogers let out an uncomfortable sound as if something were stuck in his throat. “Can we agree not to go into each others’ bathrooms – without the owner’s express permission?” he suggested.

“It’s my house,” Tony started.

“Where you’ve invited us to stay. It’s very gracious of you and shows that you want us to feel at home here – which means giving us our privacy,” Banner noted, the bastard; in order to have him stay, Tony would have to give in to a lot of demands from the others, he guessed. Still, having the scientist there would be worth it.

“Fine,” he shrugged. “See if I care what you do in your private areas.”

Rogers nodded happily. “Shouldn’t we get back to work?” he asked next, to move them back towards something that didn’t require so much heated debate.

They went back indoors and worked for another few hours. There were a few possible safety risks, such as when Thor grew weary of the unyielding – or maybe too yielding – section of a wall and sent Mjolnir pummeling through it, which accidentally cut through three more walls in the process, as well as one water pipe. Not only did Barton almost lose his head, but Tony was completely drenched and almost drowned – not to mention in danger of electrocution – on the lower floor where he was working on some wires.

“That was not supposed to happen,” Thor offered when he pulled Tony’s soaked form out of the hole in the floor.

“I would hate to see what happens when you mean to do that,” Tony observed dryly, then thought about it for a split second. “Okay, scratch that; I would love to see what happens when you go into full demolition-mode, but preferably not when I’m in the building – without the suit anyway.”

“I found the valve!” Banner yelled from another room. There was a brief silence, then he called out again: “It’s stuck. Steve, come give me a hand.”

That should have been a very bad sign. For a moment there was no more discussion, then a slight creak echoed out all the way to them, followed by double-yelps. All the remaining Avengers rushed over to see, only to be faced with a new spray of water and Rogers standing there with a couple pieces of the valve in his hands. “I didn’t mean to –” he started helplessly.

Banner moved to the side, shielding his face from the water. “We need to close it,” he said needlessly, looking like a drowned rat; for whatever reason Tony had the sudden inclination to take him home and gently dry him with a towel for the rest of the night.

Thor stepped closer, punched his fist through the wall, then yanked at the pipe and twisted it into some kind of half-bow. The spray slowed down to a dribble then was cut off completely.

“I guess that works, too,” Tony mused then shivered from the sudden cold.

“I think we’re done for the day,” Romanoff said from behind them all. It looked like she hadn’t been caught by one drop of water.

Rogers looked at Tony apologetically, still holding the valve pieces, which Tony took from him and tossed to the side. “Let’s go eat something,” he suggested then.

“I think we should change first,” Banner smiled wryly, attempting to dry his glasses that had been thrown askew on his face by the water’s pressure.

“Agreed,” Tony relented.

They had a change of clothes at the mansion and there were still working showers in the other part of the building so they decided to shower there and then head out to eat before calling it a night.

Tony was among the first to claim a shower, enjoying the warmth of the water and the clean clothes, settling down to wait for the others. He yawned and stretched out on a couch that was still covered in plastic, then shifted and pushed the annoying cover off to the side and lay down again. Might as well test the furniture and see how much new stuff he should bring in once they had the rooms done.

That was how he fell asleep, warm and dry, worn out from the day’s activities and the lack of proper sleep…

The darkness is all-encompassing. It has swallowed everything – every star, every light in the suit – and it will devour his soul next, sucking out his very life.

It will hurt.

It won’t be quick.

He wants it to be painless and fast, just like everyone who has ever had to face the inevitability of dying.

Most of all, he realizes he doesn’t want to be alone in this, but there is no one here but the vast darkness and the last glow of the explosion, pushing him backwards, further away from the last signs of life he’ll ever see –

“Is he breathing?”


He felt something like a slap on his face, jerking up, breath caught painfully in his throat. Nostrils flaring, he stared straight ahead because moving his head or eyes seemed impossible.

Banner’s face loomed right there, Barton at his shoulder, looking concerned.

“What?” he finally managed to croak. Say. Well, okay, it was a croak – he could barely breathe so speaking was a little hard.

“Fuck, Stark!” Barton snapped, pacing a little, wandering in and out of his field of vision. “Don’t do that! Do you know how creepy that was?”

“Clint, shut up,” Romanoff’s voice commanded from the side.

Banner shifted and Tony realized only then that his face was kind of numb, yet it stung on the left side beneath Banner’s hand. The other cheek felt fairly normal under the numbness.

“Did you… hit me?” Tony asked, narrowing his eyes. His lungs were trying to work, to compensate for the lack of activity, making him shake and shiver although he tried to stop. His mind was locking down on itself as if in a seizure.

“Yeah, I… Tony, breathe. You have to breathe. Here, hold my hand. Can you feel my hand?”

Tony felt it, distantly. He tried to look, tried to squeeze, to tell him he didn’t need it, but… “Yeah, I…” He didn’t know what to say and he was shaking so badly it was ridiculous. Breathing evenly was impossible.

“Steve,” Banner called, “come here. Hold his hands for me.”

Tony wanted to tell him no, that it was fine – he would be fine – but then he felt a firmer, warmer grasp and a glimpse of Rogers’ golden hair.

Banner had raised himself up a little higher, touching his face again, searching his eyes. “Breathe with me. In. Come on, do it slowly, there’s no hurry. In,” he repeated, breathing in as an example and Tony tried to copy it, he really did, but his mind was still in full panic-mode and his heart felt ready to tear right out of his chest.

“Breathe. Stop thinking, you’ll just make it worse. Focus on something else,” Banner went on, unhurried, un-panicked, unaffected – yet there was concern in his eyes. His hold on Tony’s face was gentle yet firm. “You’re awake, you’re okay,” he went on talking, keeping the tone and speed in check. Tony wondered if he used to do it a lot, although he didn’t think this was what he had been tackling while playing doctor in one of those piss-poor countries. “You’re safe, Tony,” he added, which seemed to trigger… something.

“You’re safe,” Rogers chorused, shifting his hold on his hands, strong fingers holding him, encompassing him, steadying him, and as much as Tony wanted him to let the fuck go, it was all he needed.

He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t floating in space, afraid, dying, suffocating…

“You’re safe,” Banner said in almost a whisper.

Tony felt his mind stop spiraling out of control and his heart calmed down. He felt lightheaded, as if the blood had gone into all the wrong places, the world a bit hazy around him until he could properly focus again. Everyone was gathered around the couch where he had decided to take a nap, the entire room hushed.

Banner’s hands slowly fell from his face and he smiled gently. He didn’t smile like that a lot, Tony knew. It was reserved for very few people in very special moments. “Okay?” he asked.

Tony nodded, trying to find his voice.

“You can let go now, Steve. Thanks.”

Rogers nodded and slowly let go – without a parting pat which Tony was totally waiting for – then straightened up and took a small step back as if to give him space and remove himself from the potential snark-zone.

“What was that?” Barton asked again. Tony could remember his voice, moments before he was jarred out of the dream. A second before Banner struck him across the face. He raised one hand up to feel his cheek but knew there would be no sign when he found an actual mirror; the pain wasn’t strong enough to indicate bruising.

“That was a panic attack,” Banner said casually, as if Tony had just pulled a muscle or something.

“Is it common?” Thor asked – as if he expected it to be contagious in some way. “My people experience unease during their rest at times, but I think I have not witnessed something like this.”

“Common enough,” Rogers said surprisingly. Everyone looked at him and he shrugged. “I was in a war. Panic attacks or freezing under pressure were not exactly uncommon.” He then looked at Tony. “What triggered it?”

Tony shrugged. “Who knows. I’m fine now, let’s go and… What were we going to do?”

“Eat,” Romanoff reminded him but didn’t make a move from the foot of the couch. “Not before you’ve stopped shaking.”

Tony gave her a challenging look, ready to raise himself, but Banner chose that moment to sit by his feet – which meant they were not going anywhere right now. “Was it the dreams again?” he asked, pulling out his glasses, cleaning them, playing with them so that he didn’t have a reason to look at Tony – which was very clever, considering that Tony would have stared him down and not answered a damn question. This way he was almost coerced to do it.

“Perhaps speaking of it will ease your mind,” Thor nodded, looking all too sympathetic for someone who didn’t understand what was happening. Tony wondered if he had ever had a bad night’s sleep in his life.

“I doubt it,” Tony grunted.

“You won’t know till you try,” Rogers ganged up with the rest of them. “This isn’t something you can fix with a warm shower and a refreshing run.”

Tony glanced at him, wondering if Cap was talking from experience. What did he dream about? Falling into the ice?

Suddenly he didn’t feel so suspicious about the man’s concern.

“Stark,” Romanoff started, “if there’s someone you’re willing to talk to – or someone you don’t want to hear about it – that’s fine. But this isn’t…”

“Healthy,” Barton threw in. “I’ve had my share of nightmares recently. I sure as hell don’t want to know what caused yours.”

Tony didn’t know where to look without looking at one of them so he stared at his lap, his feet, finally ending up looking at Banner again.

“Do you want the rest of us to go?” Rogers asked.

“No,” Tony said before Banner opened his mouth. “Let’s just… go and get some food, okay? I don’t want to dwell on it.”

“Sooner or later, you’ll have to,” Barton responded but they were all hungry and Tony wasn’t going to be coerced into talking about it, although he’d been pretty damn close.

He pushed himself up, taking a few minutes to get his limbs under control, then managed to follow the others out of the room and into the outside world that was just as full of life and light as the last time he saw it.

to be continued…

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