cog_nomen: (epic bromance with benefits)
[personal profile] cog_nomen
Title: How Many Scientists Does it Take to Screw in the Stark Tower?
Fandom: Avengers
Pairing: Tony Stark/Bruce Banner
Rating: G, this part.
Word Count: 3,131
Status: Chapter 8 of 9
Summary: Honestly, Bruce hadn't gone into this looking to form any lasting attachments - if he was honest with himself, he knew better.

Pepper jerks upright in a sudden flash that rouses Bruce's attention and a faint stirring in the back of his mind as a second attention focuses.

"Jarvis?" Pepper asks sharply, glancing back to make sure Bruce is seeing what she is, that she hadn't had a nightmare and carried her upset over into reality. She passes Bruce his glasses and he puts them on, the lightless tower coming into clearer view. Usually a dozen LED indicator lights call various appliances at ready to notice, but the darkness is complete except for the moonlight and city glow that pours in the massive windows.

Only silence answers Pepper, and she's on her feet and moving as fast as Bruce realizes how wrong that seems. He's following her on instinct, trying to hold his breath and thoughts at bay, to give nothing to the other guy.

"Is there a generator?" he asks her as she presses open an emergency levered door down into a stairwell. No alarm sounds.

"It will kick in automatically in a few minutes," she assures him, running down the stairs ahead of him, barefoot. "What floor was Tony on?"

Bruce has to think, but it comes back to him quickly. "R&D four, last I knew."

Pepper doesn't bother responding, she just continues determinedly down three more flights of stairs and starts to force the emergency bolt on the door before Bruce hits it behind her and shoves all of his strength into the lever, heedless of the danger involved. The presence at the back of Bruce's mind is alive and aware, fidgeting and pacing the bars like a tiger in a too-small cage. Pepper gets out of his way quickly enough that he realizes even she must be aware of how close that is. She isn't panicked, but she is desperate enough to step aside and look at him levelly, accepting whatever it is that has to happen, other guy or no, to get this door open and get to Tony.

They both implicitly seem to understand that whatever's happening is probably a result of Tony's efforts. The shape the lab is in when Bruce gets the door open confirms his suspicions. It doesn't look quite like a bomb has gone off, and nothing's on fire, but even in the darkness where emergency lights don't shine, the shapes inside are wrong and toppled. One whole half of the wide room is in utter disarray. Nothing moves that Bruce can see.

"Tony?" Pepper calls into the dissarrayed darkness in a small voice. Bruce should be able to see at least one thing glowing, and the absence of light from the arc reactor worries him.

"Yeah," Tony answers, though his voice is muffled and strange. Pepper gasps, lingering on the threshold of the doorway as if she didn't enter the lab nothing will have happened. Her hands are up over her mouth as her eyes adjust, already preparing for the worst.

A flicker of reflected light near the floor snatches Bruce's attention and he's moving toward it before he can even think about it. Pepper has to pick her way a little more carefully, mindful of all the sharp debris on the floor.

"I'm here," Tony corrects him, just barely keeping Bruce from inadvertently stepping on him. Correcting himself, Bruce takes the situation in by what he can make out in the ominously flickering glow diffused by Tony's reactor. A whole section of cement wall has come down, complete with the racks of equipment that were once anchored to it. Tony - and Bruce's heart nearly stops - is trapped, pinned beneath it all the way up to his shoulders. He looks pale and pained, and Tony can't make out how it didn't just crush him outright until he peers underneath and sees the wreckage of - Dummy, he thinks. Wedged in and under almost at Tony's side, lifting the debris off of his chest just enough for him to breathe a little.

"Jesus, Tony," Bruce says, looking down at what he can see of Tony. He doesn't look good, but he's awake - he wasn't dead yet. It's better than it could be already. Pepper doesn't seem to have anything to say, but she's shaking when she kneels next to Bruce and puts her hands gently on Tony's face until he rolls his eyes up toward her.

"Hi," he says, very calmly - as if in conversation. It seems to help abate her shock.

"Tony, what do you need me to do?" Pepper asks, instead of crying or threatening to murder him once they'd saved his life. The reactor flicks off for long seconds, and Bruce hears Pepper catch her breath worriedly.

"Pepper," Tony's not speaking loud, but he remains clear and calm. "I need you to go upstairs to my locked safe and get one of the backup reactors. The password is 'Captaindouchemerica', all caps, all one word. Numbers instead of vowels."

"What?" Pepper asks, incredulous before she can quite stop herself. Tony's calm logic, dire as it seems, appears to be contagious. She nods to herself, as if memorizing what he'd said, and then asks. "Tony, what's the 'u'?"

Bruce has to think about that before he can follow her train of thought - there wasn't a number with an appropriate shape to fill in for 'U'.

"It's just a 'u'," Tony tells her levelly. "Hurry, please."

Pepper starts to get up, then a thought strikes her. "Tony, all the backups are palladium based." She sounds worried - Bruce doesn't like the sound of that either. Palladium was toxic on the best of days, but for Tony to keep it right next to his heart couldn't have been good for him.

"Okay," Tony reassures her. "One problem at a time here, Pepper. Please."

As if to reinforce Tony's point, the reactor fluctuates again, and Bruce realizes that he can hear it when it's on, a high pitched grinding of metal on metal that can't bode well. Bruce worries further - though the Palladium will kill him by being crushed or the complete loss of the reactor's power for any significant amount of time, if they can't get Tony out the reactor can't be replaced.

"Okay Tony. Hang on," Pepper touches him one more time, knowing she need to do what he asks, but not quite wanting to leave him. She looks up at Bruce, fierce and almost warning, but she doesn't say anything. She trusts him. And then she heads back through the rubble - faster this time, even with bare feet.

Bruce curls his hands under the edge of the section covering Tony and lifts experimentally. Nothing - the racks themselves must weigh nearly a ton all together, which was likely why they were anchored to the wall for safety.

"What did you even do, Tony?" Bruce asks, when they're alone.

"I'll tell you some other time. It did seem like a good idea." Tony is looking up at Bruce with an absolutely serious expression, and Bruce knows what he's about to ask. Honestly, Bruce isn't quite sure how he's kept it together even this long, but he has, even though he can feel the other guy looking through his eyes and practically stretching his skin already.

"No surprises, you said," Bruce reminds him, trying to keep his good humor while he worries about how close it is and yet hasn't happened yet, afraid that he'll wake up from the oblivion in the ruins of another life and still just as helpless to stop the momentum.

"This is kind of a surprise for me too," Tony answers, sounding quiet and tired. "But you know we could really use a little-"

The emergency lights snap back on, when the generators kick in with a series of thuds and a steady hum.

"Resuming function," Jarvis' voice cuts into the light, and Bruce's eyes are still adjusting when trumpets blare cheesily over the sound system apparently picking up where it had left off and resuming the functions Tony had been running. The rest of the lights come back on after the music resumes, and Bruce notices the clear demonstration of Tony's priorities. Johnny Cash's voice chases the opening of the song.

Love's a burning thing and it makes a firey ring...

"Really?" Tony challenges Jarvis' musical selection even in mortal danger. "This? Jarvis, I could die, and this is what you play?"

The music lowers in volume but doesn't cease. Jarvis dutifully informs Bruce - who has closed his eyes and can feel every muscle in his body straining with his attempt to lift the debris - that Tony has accomplished something past his usual level of self-imperilment. Tony laughs, then aborts the sound with a pained hiss.

"Bruce," Tony says, and the sound cuts through the distraction, even as the presence of the Hulk feels heavier and heavier in his mind.

"I need you back after," Tony tells him, when Bruce opens his eyes helplessly to make contact with Tony's gaze.

"Tony, I can't guarantee..."

"It's okay. It will be okay."

Bruce hesitates, pushes hard against the Hulk because he's not as sure as Tony is, and doesn't know how Tony can be sure.

"No pressure, but not only does this hurt an astonishing amount, but I'm going to go into cardiac arrest in about two minutes here-" and Bruce realizes the high pitched efforts of the arc reactor have ceased, as Tony continues. "So if you could maybe..."

Bruce speaks over him. "Tony I could lose control and break the... everything, and what would that really help..."

"...I need help. Really big, really strong help. So I'm not sure why this is even an argument..."

"...he could kill you!"

The emotions that accompany that statement are enough to undo Bruce. His control slips and - it's enough to start the change. Tony's voice is still going, though it almost loses meaning it still pushes into Bruce's awareness as time seems to slow between beats of his heart.

"Or he could help me. Look, he lifts this off me, hooray, I survive again. If he crushes me the end result is the same as you sitting there like Miss Indecision 2012. But hey-" Tony's voice seems more distant, interrupted by the sounds of ripping cloth as seams burst over Bruce's skin.

"Hey, look at me," Tony says, and both Bruce and the Hulk do. "You got this."

Standard consciousness doesn't seem to be a trait the Hulk possesses. He doesn't have a linear train of focus, but scatters his attention onto whatever catches his eye and his strong forward drive to keep moving pushes him from one interest to the next, and through all the obstacles in between. Bruce is limited to riding along through his own senses, looking at what the Hulk does. Usually everything fades in importance until only one thing flares into the point of attention at a time, the rest forgotten and un-dealt with as soon as something different stole their attention.

Bruce is aware of lifting the weight he couldn't even have begun to budge with an effort that starts to tax even the Hulk before the section of wall tears free with a shriek of parting rebar. He's aware of how the objects feel in his fingers, and a determination not to drop the whole thing again until - and the desperation here in the 'feeling' of the Hulk is totally alien and new to Bruce. It feels strangely like a purpose. Like somehow the Hulk has found focus.

When the Hulk looks down, Bruce perceives Tony heaving himself slowly backwards, dragging himself free, and when a huge green hand reaches down for him, Bruce briefly loses all hope. He wants to close his eyes, wishes he could truly disassociate from the Hulk. He is going to - to undo everything again, and Bruce is going to be the one to wake up with Tony's blood under his nails, because anything small and struggling always gets the worst of the other guy's attention. And everything is small to the Hulk. Bruce feels his heart stop when a green fist closes on Tony's shoulder, and he can't even look away-

But the Hulk just drags Tony free - and if Tony protests the manhandling a little bit, or exclaims as his injuries are jostled, it's at least an indicator that he's still alive to feel both pain and injuries to his pride. He's too aware for shock or paralysis. The Hulk slides him free with only a little more force than is really necessary, only capable of so much restraint and begins to drop the section of wall -


-and then miraculously stops. A green, heavy awareness collides ungracefully with Bruce's thoughts, and Bruce holds on with all his years of practice and tries to build a bridge of understanding as to what he wants. Bruce and the Hulk reach back under the wall and drag the half-destroyed robot free. When they turn and deposit it next to Tony, he's watching them where he's propped himself up, panting and limp. Though he's pale-skinned and the lab lights give him a dangerous pallor, he still notices the gesture.

Helpless, but still absolutely confident in his safety, even with the Hulk towering over him. Tony can't smile, but he shifts, manages to give a weak thumbs-up, and Bruce's relief meets the most unexpected echo. The Hulk has one clear, well formed image of a thought. It's not organized enough for words, but clear enough in meaning. And then when Bruce - tentatively, unbelievingly - pushes forward, the Hulk retreats, leaving him alone with Tony.

It's exhausting - as if he'd run a marathon against the current midstream, and it leaves Bruce trembling with expended energy and the loss of all his reserves. He wants to eat and sleep until tomorrow night sometime, maybe the morning after, but with the help of the adrenaline still running strong in his veins he forces himself through it.

"That wasn't so hard was it?" Tony asks him, voice muted with calm professionalism.

"He thinks you should just wear your armor all the time, Tony."

"Might not be a bad idea except for the cramp it would put on my social life," Tony says, as if he were seriously considering it. He takes a pained breath, and lifts a hand - scraped and bloodied, but whole at least - to gesture vaguely at himself. "I'm a little over dressed by comparison."

"There are easier ways to ask me to take your shirt off," Bruce tells Tony, as he unbuttons his shirt, without granting Tony the victory of embarrassing Bruce over his nakedness.

"Oh are there? Can you list them for me?"

"Jarvis, where's Pepper?" Bruce asks, and the answer is prompt.

"On the way, sir. With a spare reactor as instructed."

"Oh, hey," Tony realizes, as Bruce examines the damaged device in his chest. "You figured out the password. Shame. I thought it'd take you longer than that..."

"Tony." Bruce says, wishing Tony would focus a little more. "Tell me what I'm doing here."

"Okay, if the housing is mostly intact, and it is, you just need to pull the damaged reactor out and re-calibrate the interior electromagnet for the palladium based device."

Bruce waits for further explanation, his hands hovering over the silent reactor.

"It's easy. Go ahead and grip the sides and pull up," Tony coaches him with patience Bruce is still surprised by - then again it's Tony's life on the line and getting upset wasn't going to help the situation. Not in Tony's case anyway - Bruce is so tired that the thought almost makes him laugh inappropriately as he feels the reactor give a little in one direction, he twists that way and feels it disengage. He lifts it clear, and the metal splinter protruding deeply from the center of the device makes it obvious that the device had saved Tony's life again, even more directly than before. Bruce holds it up for Tony to inspect, and Tony arches his eyebrows, impressed.

"Well, that's obviously unfixable," he says, and Bruce hears Pepper scrambling over the debris to get to them.

"Tony," she says, with some relief to see him freed. "God, you're - not okay. Alright. I brought-" She displays the unit she has in her hands.

"Good. You're just in time," Tony reassures her, before he looks back at Bruce. "Check the magnet."

It looks whole, uninterrupted. Bruce doesn't hesitate to explore the armature with his fingers, probing into the bottom of the reactor's carriage. He's still not sure how painful that might be for Tony - or if it doesn't hurt every minute, embedded in muscle and against bone.

"It's intact," Bruce tells Tony, aware of how quickly Tony's temperature is climbing by the heat of his skin.

"Okay. There are four contacts on the new device, and only two on the old. So I need you to carefully change the orientation-"

"So only two contacts will be touching?"

"Yes. That's pretty important."

Crossed contacts would result in large, irregular discharge - possibly blowing the replacement device. Bruce doesn't want to think about what that would do to Tony's cardiac rhythm. He looks at the bottom of the device in Pepper's hands, which she tilts helpfully toward the light, and then rotates the magnetic receiver. It resists a little, in a moment of nervous tension that would have put Bruce right back on the edge if he wasn't already so exhausted.

"Okay," Bruce says, as it finally gives under gentle pressure. When he reaches for the device, his hands are shaking. He stops himself.

"Pepper, you'd better-"

She understands and moves forward to take Bruce's place, and after carefully orienting the device - Tony corrects her only weakly - she pushes the replacement into place. It click audibly, and with its circuit completed, comes soundlessly to life.

Bruce has never been happier to see a light come on in his life.

"Crisis averted," Tony agrees.

Pepper sits back with a sigh, only then crying, and she doesn't let go of Tony's hand while she dials for emergency services.

Bruce sits back as adrenaline flushes totally out of his system. The world fades back from him. He doesn't quite pass out, but sounds grow muffled and distant, and he feels trapped in slow motion while the world speeds up around him. But - it's going to be okay.

That's what matters.

It's okay.
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