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Del Rion [userpic]

Nuking the Stars; Chapter 5: Rehashing

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 5: Rehashing

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

He shoots up higher and higher, fighting against gravity – until it suddenly stops. His stomach drops, the speed seems to both accelerate and slow down at the same time, the familiar skies changing into the darkness of space.

He has flown high before, higher than most, looking at the world as it lies small and distant beneath him, but the difference between sky and space is shattering and fear grips him like never before.

His arms release the nuke, letting it fly forward. Its course stays true and their enemies are out of time.

So is he; the suit is shutting down, the power gone. He won’t pummel back to familiar ground, instead floating, slowly, like a discarded piece of metal shot out of orbit and forgotten forever.

Just scraps and one dying human being.

The explosion is brilliant and he wants to watch it forever, doesn’t want to forget this last thing he did; this is why he’s here, this is why he’ll die alone and it should mean so much to him, yet at this last moment it means nothing at all and he wants to take it all back, to crawl home, to be safe and alive again, but the light’s gone and he’s alone, screaming in his head, wanting it to be over if it has to be, anything but the silence, his own labored breaths sending him over the edge to full-blown panic.

He woke with the familiar horror coursing through him; animal fear and terror.

The room was dark as he sat up, tearing off blankets and clothing until his bare skin touched the night and the arc reactor illuminated his front.

“God,” he whispered, restlessly moving up onto his knees, but he didn’t know where he should go, what he should do. “Lights,” he called out but nothing happened. Another wave of fear crashed towards him and he began to yell – then remembered they weren’t at the Tower. They were at the mansion, still renovating, having decided to spend the night instead of going off to wherever they were all staying – which in most cases would have been the Stark Tower.

J.A.R.V.I.S. hadn’t been installed yet, although he would make it his top priority come morning, no matter what the others said. Hell, he could start on it now because there was no way he was going back to sleep – back to the dream.

He struggled to put on some clothes and then stumbled out of his room, trying to find some place to anchor himself long enough that he could work. Coffee would be ideal to jump-start his brain, to drive him the rest of the way out of sleep and the haunting darkness that wasn’t there anymore. Hadn’t been, not really, but his mind kept expanding the experience, twisting it until he couldn’t cope anymore and he had to get out –

“Are you having another panic attack?”

He almost jumped out of his skin but it was a sufficient scare to jar him free of the remnants of the dream. In the darkness he saw Barton, sitting on one of the wide windowsills, illuminated by the light coming from the outside. Like a ghost, or a statue, still and silent. Who did that, especially in the middle of the night?

People who couldn’t sleep like normal folks, apparently.

“No,” Tony managed. “I’m fine.”

“Okay. Just checking.” It sounded like Barton was onto him, though, yet had the surprising grace to not say anything.

Tony continued past him to the half-finished kitchen. Well, more than half-finished, but it had a coffee machine and that was all that counted. It was all Tony needed right this instant.

With shaking fingers he started the machine then waited anxiously. The comforting aroma filled the corner of the kitchen and he inhaled it greedily. He consumed enough coffee on an average day to not actually care how expensive it was, but right now the mere reminder of something earthy and normal put him back in his place – or thrust him in the right direction, anyway.

He clasped the cup once it was full and wandered around the quiet halls, perhaps attracting some ghosts of the past to follow his steps…

At the back of the mansion he found that perhaps more of the Avengers had issues with rest than he had originally thought; he saw Thor’s form on the back patio, seated and head thrown back, eyes gazing upwards. He wandered outside to see if there was something of interest the Thunderer was looking at but he could see nothing but the sky.

“You can’t really see the stars here,” Tony noted, refusing to admit a shudder may have ran along his spine as he envisioned the stars they couldn’t perceive in the light pollution of New York City.

“I have noticed this,” Thor nodded almost gravely. “My Jane likes the stars very much and she has told me much of them. Did you know your iron armor has as many lights as the Big Dipper has stars?”

Tony frowned then counted: hand and boot repulsors, eyes and chest. “Huh,” he mused, sipping his coffee, looking up although he knew there was nothing to see but a shroud of clouds and a bleak imitation of a starry sky. Honestly, he had never thought Thor had even noticed his suit had lights, least of all how many. Maybe he didn’t give the guy enough credit.

“Do your dreams bother you again, my friend?” Thor asked next, looking at him.

Tony shrugged. “Maybe a little. I’m not big on sleeping anyway; a waste of my time. A necessity, though, for the brain and body to recuperate.”

Thor accepted this in stride, whether he understood it or not. “The good Captain seems to require very little recuperation,” he commented then.

Tony tried not to sneer. “Yeah, well, super-soldier…”

“He does not sleep much.”

“Good for him,” he replied, taking another gulp of the still-hot coffee, wondering why Thor cared about their leader’s sleeping habits.

“I suppose he fears what awaits him when he sleeps,” Thor kept going. “You have that in common.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Tony couldn’t help the bite in his tone. “He’s just afraid he’ll skip another lifetime if he snoozes.”

“That, too,” Thor nodded. “I cannot imagine the pain of losing everyone you have ever known, no matter how long you have known them. I might not be able to cope with such a loss.”

Tony was tempted to make a comment at Loki and how easily he had seemed to get over the ‘loss’ of his family, but that part of Thor’s family history was tangled at best so he refrained from doing so. Thor got all emotional whenever his brother was mentioned and Tony didn’t want to handle that even on the best of his days.

Instead he thought of Rogers, wondering if he had ever really given the man some serious thought, least of all his possible adjustment problems and the fact that he had, in what was like an instant to him, lost his entire world.

Maybe he would keep that in mind the next time Rogers nagged at him about something…

The sound of steps on rough sand abruptly broke through the silence and Tony looked to the side, suddenly feeling vulnerable. The security systems worked but were nothing as sophisticated as when J.A.R.V.I.S. was running them, leaving him feeling like a glowing target painted in the night – which he was, quite practically, the darkness making the arc reactor glow even through his shirts.

Rogers emerged from a grove of trees, looking like he had been out on a run. Tony guessed the guy either really enjoyed working out or was trying to run away from something. “Hey,” the super-soldier nodded at them, panting a bit, leaning on his knees although it wouldn’t be long before he was back to normal. “I didn’t think anyone else was up.”

“I find the nights very peaceful,” Thor answered.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Tony responded.

Rogers gave him a look. It was hard to say in the darkness but Tony was pretty sure Rogers would bring up the panic attack if he didn’t somehow divert his attention. “Should you be drinking coffee?” the man asked instead.

“I’m not going back to sleep,” was Tony’s very reasonable reply.

Rogers just sighed; not one of those long, annoyed huffs, but something that sounded like a personal failure. “Okay. Do you want to talk about it instead?” he asked then, hands moving to his hips, chest still heaving but not as much.

“Nope,” Tony refused.

“When your fears begin to control your life, it will be even more difficult to –”

“It’s not fear,” Tony snapped, cutting Thor’s attempt at some ancient piece of wisdom.

“No? It keeps you from your bed, seizes your body and steals the very air from your lungs. Tell me how that is not fear,” the God of Thunder demanded, eyes piercing even in the dark.

“I… No, it’s not…” Tony stopped himself and resolutely glared into the darkness.

“It’s not weakness to ask for help when you need it – especially from those who would give it freely,” Thor kept insisting.

“I’ve got it –”

“Under control?” Rogers interrupted him. “Yeah, we’ve all seen that you have it well in hand. So well, in fact, that Miss Potts refuses to stay under the same roof with you and a mere nap makes you panic.” Tony met his steady gaze, neither one budging for a moment, then Tony threw back the rest of his coffee and looked out into the night again. “A bit longer like this and you’ll be useless to the team when we need to assemble again,” Rogers went on ruthlessly.

Tony straightened, stance changing. “That’s not your call to make.”

“Yes, it is,” Rogers met his aggression head-on. “If it comes to that, whom do you think Fury will pick if I tell him you’re unable to function and put everyone else at risk?”

Tony clenched his jaw.

“I will do it, too,” Rogers promised.

“That’s not very supportive,” Tony murmured, but of course the man heard him.

“We’re trying to be supportive. It’s all in your hands, Stark. Don’t force mine.”

Tony chuckled. “Right, because you’re not tempted at all…”

“You’re a part of this team. As a leader, I’m supposed to be concerned for all of you and know what you’re capable of – and where to draw the line.”

“So how about you go inside and have this little chat with Barton?” Tony snapped. “I’m sure he would love to give you his two cents.”

“He’s already getting himself help,” Rogers deadpanned. “He’s smart enough to do that. I heard you’re a genius so I’ve been waiting for you to do the same.”

S.H.I.E.L.D. probably had some mandatory post-mission evaluation Barton had been forced to take, especially after being mind-controlled by Loki and his magic staff. Clearly it still bothered the archer but no one seemed concerned with that. Tony, however, had no intentions of sharing his innermost demons with someone who claimed to understand his problems. He had no doubts that J.A.R.V.I.S. would be able to give him an equal amount of therapeutic help at a fraction of the cost.

Rogers and Thor seemed to be having some kind of wordless discussion while he concluded that, leading Rogers to take a seat on the patio’s edge as well, a good distance from Thor. “Please, sit down,” he said, patting the space between them.

“I don’t feel like it,” Tony evaded the request, knowing where it would lead.

“Just because I asked politely doesn’t mean it wasn’t an order,” Rogers half-snapped.

“We’re not on the field,” Tony narrowed his eyes.

Rogers just looked at him, as if asking whether he wanted to be in the future.

Tony let out an angry hiss of air and slumped down between them. “If we’re going to share war-stories –”

“I dream of the ice,” Rogers started before Tony could continue his rant. “There’s no way I could remember it, because I don’t even remember the crash, but my brain seems hell bent on snapshotting the seventy years I never lived. There’s not much more than darkness and cold in there, and the unbearable feeling of losing everything and everyone.”

Tony could relate to that but he wasn’t going to say anything of the sort. “Hasn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. provided you with someone to talk to about this?” he asked. “Because I’m not paid enough for this shit.”

Rogers gave him a glacial look. “I talked to people, in the beginning. Getting adjusted to a new era after missing a few took some effort. But when they ask whether there’s anything else, I say no.”

“And you’re getting all hypocritical on my ass for not wanting to share about my dreams? Figures.”

“Well, I just told you why I don’t sleep at night,” Rogers shrugged.

Tony looked at him suspiciously. “Just because you spilled your beans doesn’t mean I’ll do the same. You know that, right?”

“I do,” Rogers muttered. “But sometimes it feels good talking to someone who gets it; someone who’s been there; someone who doesn’t judge you.”

“I didn’t spend time as a Capsicle,” Tony noted.

“I hear space is very cold any time of the year,” Rogers noted right back.

Tony felt his breath catch then tried to force it to move again but knew there was no way Rogers hadn’t heard him fall right into his trap. “This isn’t… You’re not going to make me accidentally blurt it out,” he finished tersely.

Rogers waited. On his other side, Thor was equally hushed and Tony wondered if he had fallen asleep, then looked and saw the demigod looking at them both with a calm expression. The silence continued, oppressing, pushing closer and closer and it felt like he was trapped in another kind of dream.

When his breaths began to shorten, Thor reached out a hand and squeezed his shoulder. “You’re safe with us,” he insisted. “You can unburden your soul and none shall breathe a word of it outside these walls.”

Tony felt like pointing out they were sitting outside at that very moment but instead he closed his eyes, trying to get his emotions under control. He wasn’t this man, ready to fall apart at the mention of something he secretly feared. He would take that fear and empower himself with it!

“Nelson Mandela once said that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it; the brave man isn’t he who doesn’t feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear,” Banner’s voice cut in suddenly and they all jumped a little. The man stood behind them, giving them a brief smile, then cocked his head at Tony. “This needs to stop. I know whatever happened up there isn’t something we can ever grasp or understand, but talking about it might help. At least we would know not to say the wrong things.” And just like that he sat down, behind Tony, sort of sliding in and if Tony leaned back far enough, he could lie against him.

He felt boxed in and the patio seemed to vanish, leaving only a gaping abyss in front of him. Either he stayed where he was – or attempted to escape and would probably fall into the awaiting darkness. Tony could argue, could tell himself he wasn’t scared, but part of him knew these men might not use this against him. They had their own concerns and fears, but sharing his own…

“I keep thinking that had I given the order any sooner, we would have lost you,” Rogers spoke up after a while. Thor tensed on Tony’s other side. What Banner’s reaction was, it was impossible to tell without turning around or touching him. “We thought you were gone, that there was no way…”

Did Rogers actually choke up? Tony looked at him in the dark, seeing his profile, the expression on his face shadowed yet pained. “Well, you didn’t lose me,” Tony tried to quip, to make it into a joke. “Tough luck.”

Rogers glanced at him, not turning all the way as if he didn’t want to give Tony the satisfaction. “We almost left you on the other side,” he went on then, and Tony felt the unnatural cold of his dreams slither in.

He swallowed, looking straight ahead, tense and silent for a long time. No one spoke; he could barely hear them breathe. The idea that he might have actually lived through those horrible dreams… “I dream about it,” he finally admitted, painfully and with immense regret. “Of being there, in the dark, with no way back, dying…” He cleared his throat sharply. “It’s not real, I know that. It was just… seconds. A minute, maybe. A few minutes. I wasn’t even conscious when I fell back through. It shouldn’t be so fucking hard to just… let go of it,” he admitted, hands squeezing his knees painfully.

Banner shifted behind him, his body’s warmth closer yet not touching. “The mind cannot be fooled like the body can,” he stated. “You thought you were going to die, right?”

Tony didn’t speak – couldn’t say it – but he nodded. He remembered watching the nuke sail across the darkness, then hit the mothership; forcing himself to look before letting it all go… “I didn’t want to die. That’s all I remember in the dreams, and it makes me feel so…” He looked at Thor. “I’m sure your people have a grand way of expressing how honorable it is to die for the right cause.”

Thor nodded. “A warrior’s death. Yet it is one thing to embrace such a glorious ending and another to actually face it.”

Tony let out a nervous laugh. “I’m sure all of you would have done better than I did.”

On his left, Rogers shook his head. “No, Tony,” he said softly. “We would have all been afraid, and none of us would have wanted to go out like that, alone.”

“You flew a plane into the sea of your own free will. Don’t give me that bullshit,” he retorted.

“Listening to the voice of the woman I loved,” Rogers bit right back. “By the time I realized I didn’t want to do it, it was too late to do anything about it. Doesn’t mean I didn’t regret it in the end – that I wouldn’t have chosen to live had there been a way. To have that dance with her…” He took a sharp breath, looking away from them all for a moment.

Tony didn’t buy it, not really. Rogers was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a coward. Never had been, his father had told him, and it was the one lesson Tony had taken to heart. Maybe there had been regret, a pang of fear, but he never would have turned that plane around if someone might get hurt because of it. That was the difference between the two of them.

“Do you feel any better?” Banner asked.

“No,” Tony groused.

“Good,” the scientist commented, giving his shoulder a squeeze as he hoisted himself up. “That means you’re not fooling yourself into thinking that this one talk changes everything. Give it time… but not too much time.” Then he just left, in the direction of the kitchen, and Tony hoped there would be more coffee available soon.

Rogers picked himself up next, shuffling off towards his room. Tony wondered if this had hurt the blond more than it had hurt him.

Thor went next, clasping his shoulder, smiling slightly, then disappeared. It was odd to not hear the whisper of his cloak when he was in his ‘human’ clothes.

Tony sat there a moment longer, shivering slightly, then rose and stepped inside, closing the patio doors, deciding he might as well start working on bringing J.A.R.V.I.S. into the mansion; chances were he would dream of space and ice both if he tried sleeping now.

When he walked past the window where Barton had scared him upon his first entrance, he saw another figure had joined that of the archer; Romanoff was seated across from him, their feet touching in the middle, both of them quiet and still yet it seemed like a comforting gesture of sorts.

For reasons Tony would never admit to anyone it reassured him to know that those two looked out for each other – just like it seemed the entire team was looking out for him.

to be continued…

Story Info