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Del Rion [userpic]

Exercise in Control

Story Info

Title: Exercise in Control

Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)

Fandom: Iron Man & The Avengers (MCU)

Timeline: before ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

Genre: Hurt/Comfort

Rating: T / FRT

Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man). Also: J.A.R.V.I.S.

Summary: It’s ‘code green’ at three in the morning and Tony would rather stay in the comfort of his bed, but he is obliged to go and help Bruce through his rough spot – the same way Bruce has helped Tony through his.

Written for: Hurt/Comfort Bingo’s (hc_bingo) round 5 (prompt: “unwanted transformation”)

Warnings: Language, implied/referenced PTSD & panic attacks.

Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Louis Leterrier, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.

Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)

Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.

Exercise in Control

~ ~ ~

Exercise in Control

Avengers Tower, New York City

First came the alarm, soft enough to not painfully jar him out of his sleep – then J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice, firm with urgency: “Sir, Doctor Banner is feeling a bit green.”

“Really?” Tony mumbled into the pillow then shifted his face to see the time. “It’s 3am. Can’t he wait?”

“You know he cannot, sir.”

With a groan, Tony levered himself up, abandoning the soft warmth of his extremely comfortable bed. He knew that if it were just a stubbed toe or a bad dream, J.A.R.V.I.S. wouldn’t be waking him up.

After pulling on some clothes, Tony left his room, wandering into the dimly lit hall. “Where is he?”

“The lab. He is attempting to self-medicate.”

Tony guessed it wasn’t going well and headed to the main area of the Avengers floor onto which their labs were connected. The lights in this area were dimmed for the night, providing just enough luminance to see the obstacles as Tony made his way across the room, heading for the brighter lights coming from Bruce’s lab.

He entered, not bothering with the code; J.A.R.V.I.S. overrode the security system that was, for the most part, governed by the AI to begin with. “Bruce?” Tony called out, to make sure the man would not be startled by his entry. “J tells me you’re feeling a bit on the green side, and seeing as we’re not at sea...”

His lame joke was met by a crash and Tony headed towards the origin of the noise, rounding a couple tables, finding Bruce sitting on the floor, leaning against a cabinet. An array of lab equipment was scattered around him and a tray that lay face-down on the floor – which must have caused the crash.

Bruce’s skin was sweaty, his facial muscles tense. Tony didn’t detect green in his eyes but could tell that the other man was fighting it. The short, sharp breaths made Tony feel uneasy, seeing as he still occasionally had to fight down a panic attack and knew all too well the shortness of breath that came with it.

“Breathe,” he murmured to Bruce and sat down in front of him, scooting closer and closer until he had to slip his legs over Bruce’s in order to continue his approach. His ass landed on something hard, making him hiss, and he stopped to tug it out from under him, tossing it aside without looking at what it was, eyes nailed on Bruce: if he Hulked out, Tony knew it was in his own best interest to try and keep some distance between them. Predicting the big guy’s mood was hard, seeing as he hadn’t made an appearance all that often, but Tony was still unafraid of him – at least when compared to other people.

But even he had a healthy respect for the Hulk and the zeros on the repair bills his appearances often brought with them.

Bruce’s eyes flashed towards his face, then away, as if he did not dare to look at Tony for too long. His hands were clenched, shaking – his entire body vibrating with barely contained pressure. It had to hurt…

“You always tell me to breathe through the attacks,” Tony mused and reached out, placing his hands on Bruce’s, slowly coaxing them to loosen. “You’re setting a very poor example,” he admonished softly, looking at Bruce’s face as intently as the other refused to meet his gaze. “You’re not turning me into stone if you look at me,” Tony noted after the avoidance started to border on ridiculous and Bruce’s breaths were still coming too fast.

Bruce’s eyes flickered towards his face, on and off, and he started to pull his hands away.

“You think curling up under the table is going to help?” Tony challenged. He knew how attractive that option seemed; to hide and will it to go away until it did, because if no one saw you like that, maybe it wasn’t so bad.

If only one could hide from themselves, because then it really wouldn’t be a problem to begin with.

“You could try being nicer,” Bruce managed, voice strained.

“I’m being honest,” Tony deadpanned. “That’s more valuable.”

“It’s not helping.”

“You know that literally everything I could do and say won’t make a difference: it’s all on you, Banner,” he proclaimed. Well, he could always go and put on the suit – and the other suit – but that was not why he built it, no matter what Bruce insisted. “Are you gonna trash our labs or fight your way through this?” he asked.

Bruce let out a sound closely resembling a whimper, and Tony was briefly concerned the other man was losing the thread of control. It prompted Tony to lean his weight backwards, in a subtle attempt to distance himself from the danger – an instinct he could not prevent from making itself known. The Hulk was no joke, even on a good day, and for all of Tony’s carefree act and talking big, he knew the risk of provoking Bruce beyond what the man could take.

Green colored Bruce’s skin even further, and Tony felt the urge to physically remove himself from the situation. However, he was at least somewhat obliged to try and prevent a Hulk-out – even though he had tried to provoke it many a time in the past. Other than the sense of obligation and responsibility, the pained expression on Bruce’s face steeled his resolve; he understood the guilt that often came with the Hulk’s rampage, and the number of lives that would be at risk in the process.

“Even breaths,” Tony encouraged again. “Think outside the box; don’t let yourself get tangled in the fear and dread. It feels like it’s inevitable, that you can’t control it, but all the factors are within your grasp. You just have to locate the right strings and pull to unravel the mess.”

Tony knew how hard it was to see past the despair of his own episodes; they didn’t call it panic for nothing. Bruce’s situation wasn’t exactly the same, but the look on his face had a familiar edge to it, like the glimpses of himself that Tony had caught in a mirror back when he thought that staring himself in the eye would quell the panic attack.

It did not.

Sometimes, it had made it worse.

Tony shifted his hands where they still lay half on top of Bruce’s. After reinforcing the connection between them, he looked at Bruce’s face again, but tried not to make it feel like he was staring or scrutinizing. It wouldn’t help Bruce if he felt cornered, but maybe it would be useful if he didn’t feel alone, either. An outcast…

“I don’t know if me talking is actually helping, but as long as you don’t tell me to stop, I suppose I’ll just provide a distraction, or feedback, or an alternative annoyance like the buzz of that lone mosquito in your bedroom that keeps you awake until you’ve found it and killed it.” He checked whether Bruce was looking at him yet, but no such luck. “Most people think I can’t hear myself talk – or that that’s all I can hear. I know it’s annoying to some. Why do you think I do it?” He grinned. “Not to people I like, though. Not unless it’s a means to an end.”

Bruce’s eyes flickered towards him, and then past him, as if he could not focus enough to see. Tony knew how it was, in the middle of an attack; the entire world blurring around you, narrowed down to the few things you could pay attention to, and even those kept going in and out of focus and it was annoying and terrifying and felt a little bit like dying, every time, and that just made it worse. Hyperventilating and sweating and seeing spots…

Dying in space hadn’t been as bad as some of the episodes caused by it, and that was all kinds of wrong. Just goes to show how a brain as awesome as Tony’s could ramp itself up and fuck him over without any outside help.

Well, there were always triggers – not that he recognized them all even now – and he wondered what had caused Bruce to snap. After all, Bruce was notorious for figuring out what triggered a green, rampaging result. There was, however, a downside to obsessively attempting to prevent a Hulk-out: Bruce had taken so many precautions to eliminate just about every possible threat from his vicinity that he no longer recognized friend from foe – or rather, a real danger from an imagined one.

On the Helicarrier, Tony had zapped him and nothing had happened. Bruce hadn’t seemed too agitated about it, accepting it with good humor, but Tony would bet half his fortune that when Bruce first became the Hulk, he was afraid stubbing his toe would create an uncontrollable result of big, green, and mean.

“We’ve both come so far,” Tony mused. “You’re almost Zen about the Hulk, and I’m able to sleep on most nights. You let me talk you into staying with me after the Battle of New York, and you gave me advice on how to control the attacks even when you kept claiming you weren’t that kind of doctor. You really should consider expanding your degree collection. I think you did okay. You keep telling everyone what a dangerous guy you are, with the wrong temperament for this kind of thing, but I swear, you’re the only guy in a decade who’s spent this much time with me within four walls without eventually wanting to kill me –”

“I might be considering killing you now, to make you shut up,” Bruce muttered, and as he spoke, the green faded a little from his skin.

Tony grinned. “Talked you out of a Hulk-out. I told you I could.”

Bruce grimaced, the green resurfacing briefly, but he was starting to regain a healthier shade of pink. “There’s tetrodotoxin somewhere in here… I was trying to…”

“I thought we ruled that out as a bust?” Tony reminded him. “You’re out of the green zone, I think. No need to medicate you now and potentially make it worse.” He moved his right hand and patted Bruce on the shoulder. “How about some tea?” he offered instead.

Bruce managed a nod, and Tony untangled his legs from the other man’s, stood up and went to turn on the electric kettle while Bruce put himself together a bit more. Tony knew he had done his part, pulling Bruce out of his own head, and the quiet, thankful look he received from the other man when Bruce, too, got to his feet was a sign that it hadn’t gone unnoticed.

“I thought your attacks were a thing of the past,” Bruce mused while he poured them both a cup of hot water and added tea bags to the mix.

Tony pursed his lips. “Didn’t think you were listening enough to pay attention.”

“I wasn’t,” Bruce replied.

Tony gave him a confused look.

“That time you told me about the thing with AIM and Killian and the whole hassle with Extremis?” Bruce explained.

“You were snoozing,” Tony recalled easily enough.

“I’m fairly sure, after tonight, that the other guy wasn’t,” Bruce said. “So when you went on rambling about panic attacks just now… He just drifted back and gave up the stage.”

“So what you’re saying is, the big guy either thought you’re better equipped to deal with that,” Tony started.

“Or he fell asleep listening to it, too,” Bruce added with a roguish smile.

“You’re a prick, Banner,” Tony accused. “When people say ‘but for a rage monster he’s such a nice guy!’, I know what’s really going on in your head.”

Bruce chuckled – then sobered in the next second, and Tony was afraid he had stepped out of line. Too much, too soon wasn’t exactly new for him.

“All I know is, if you’re ever facing odds like that again and I get wind of it… I’m not sure I can stop the other guy from coming to help you,” Bruce said at length and looked Tony in the eye. “The Hulk may be the stuff of nightmares when unleashed, but he also knows a thing or two about fear, oddly enough.”

It wasn’t odd, Tony wanted to say. The only thing that puzzled him was how little understanding there was between Bruce and the Hulk – and it went both ways, from his interactions with the Hulk. “I’m happy to have him in my corner,” Tony replied. “Both of you,” he added, as if Bruce needed him to say it out loud. There were times when people just didn’t seem to know they were important to him, and Tony wasn’t sure why that was.

Bruce gave him a ghost of a smile, a nod, and then busied himself with his tea.

Tony kind of wanted to crawl back into bed, but he knew this moment was more important. He didn’t want Bruce to slip back down into that perilous place in his head, and there was a lot of work to be done, so they might as well distract each other with that.

The End