“Last on the agenda,” Fury continued, which was met with barely veiled sighs of relief. The meetings were getting painfully boring, they all knew the drill when it came to fights. It was a small enough team that they had figured out each others’ strengths and weaknesses well enough and worked around them. Fury smirked slightly, he’d only held this until last because he knew he’d be getting hell for it.
“We’ve hired a therapist for you,” he raised an eyebrow and the smirk disappeared from his face, “Appointments are mandatory.”
“You’re joking,” Tony said, his face too serious, “You can not think that I’ll let some shrink pick my brains just because you said so.”
Fury shook his head, “These orders came from over my head, Stark. Not that I put up any fight- this is necessary.” He walked out of the room before there could be any more objection, although Steve and Bruce were too busy trying to explain this sort of therapy to Thor- with helpful interjections from Clint- to raise any and Natasha seemed unphased by the announcement.
“Well that’s just great,” Tony muttered, shoving together the papers he’d been looking over during the meeting. He paid attention fine, but did have a business to run in addition to being an Avenger, a business which did a great deal of funding for the Avengers, so was allowed to look over contracts and the like during these meetings.
“Just prove to them that you don’t need a therapist and they’ll leave you alone,” Natasha pointed out, shaking her head, “A psychiatric evaluation should hardly come as a surprise, I was more surprised they didn’t require one for the team.”
“Yeah, but if they did it’d just be you and me,” Clint pointed out with a chuckle, stretching as he stood up, “Don’t worry, Tony, everything you say is purely confidential- so naturally it’ll end up in the SHIELD database for all the hackers of the world to see.”
Tony sent him a glare before walking out, on the phone with Pepper to find out how to get a hold of those above Fury’s head to fix this, artfully dodging exactly what they were making him do that was so objectionable.
Later that day, Bruce found himself doing breathing exercises in front of Fury’s office before knocking on the door. He was not good at standing up for himself, or whatever it was he was doing here, especially with someone who would probably throw him in a cage without batting an eye. He brought his knuckles up to the door and heard an annoyed “Banner, get your ass in here already.” before he had a chance to knock. He nervously opened it, all confidence shot.
“Well?” Fury was looking straight at him, a few papers that Bruce didn’t dare properly look at scattered in front of him.
“It’s, um, it’s about the meeting…” he said uncomfortably. He hadn’t felt like this since he was in grade school and had been sent to the principal’s office.
“Let me guess, you have the same objections as Stark.”
Bruce glanced down, “Actually- I was wondering-” he shook himself, stood up straighter and tried to sound confident, “I don’t think it’s fair to make everyone go through this just because I need to.”
Fury laughed for a moment, shaking his head before his face went stern, “Doctor Banner, do you really think that you’re the only person on the team who could do with a shrink?”
“Then I’m guessing it’s escaped your attention that you’ve got on your team an alcoholic, a man from World War 2, a God who until recently thought you could buy horses at a pet store, and someone who jokes instead of facing problems. You are actually the last person on this team I’d force into therapy- and probably also the last one I’d have to,” Fury pointed out, “The next time you come to my office, I expect you to have an actual problem.”
“Does that mean that I don’t have to…?” he asked, not sure if this was the right time to make a joke. The look on Fury’s face suggested otherwise. He awkwardly excused himself and hastened back to the comfortable familiarity of the lab.
Pepper had eventually found out exactly what Tony was so opposed to doing, and made sure that he did do it. Rumor had it that she’d been trying to get him into therapy or at least some form of AA program ever since he’d become Iron Man. Seeing as she’d personally went to SHIELD to schedule the appointments, that did seem like the truth.
Tony’s first appointment ended up being scheduled right before Bruce’s. It seemed to be an unnoteworthy coincidence until Tony came up with an excuse to get Bruce to go to the office and wait with him. Actually, he came up with a series of excuses that Bruce pointed out weren’t necessary before it got it through Bruce’s social awkwardness that Tony just really wanted someone there with him and he agreed to. And so they ended up discussing the research they’re doing for the lab, which actually meant joking around about things like radiation and quite a few things that could kill them, until the assistant who’d been watching them uncertainly informed Tony that he could go in now.
Bruce stood up as well, about to go back to the lab until he had to come back, before he noticed that Tony was wearing a nervous look that did not suit him, and decided it wouldn’t hurt him to go over the papers he had until Tony was done.
“Thanks,” Tony muttered, quietly enough that Bruce might not catch it.
50 minutes or so later, Tony walked out looking fairly annoyed. Bruce raised an eyebrow, glancing up from the chart he’d gone over a dozen times already.
“Complete waste of time, like I thought, I’m going to tell Pepper to cancel all my appointments, I have way better things to be doing than sitting around talking about my feelings ,” Tony scoffed, shaking his head.
Bruce nodded, “Of course, I understand.” He smirked slightly, “Same time next week, then?”
“Yeah…” he grumbled, shaking his head. Tony shifted uncomfortably for a moment, “Want me to hang out while you go in?”
“Just until I have to, thanks,” he said with a nod, handing him the charts, “Next time I say we bring cards, though.”
“Yeah, that must have been a fun hour for you.”
“Doctor Banner, he’s ready to see you now,” the assistant said helpfully before going back to her computer, the first words she spoke after ignoring Bruce’s attempts to make a conversation to pass the time.
“Good luck, then.” Tony said, straightening the papers in his hands as Bruce gave him a slight smile.
Bruce walked over the door, suddenly noticing his stomach shifting a bit. There really was no reason to be nervous, Tony looked fine and he’d been thinking about the need to see a therapist- and this one would hopefully be briefed on all of his “issues”… rather than thinking of his descriptions of turning into a green monster as indication of a psychosis. Still, his stomach squirming got a bit more severe as he reached for the doorknob and turned it, all the while telling himself how unnecessary it was to be getting worked up over some stranger with a psychiatric degree.
He opened the door with a gentle smile, hoping to make a decent first impression. “Hello, doctor—”
“Samson,” the man supplied, standing up as the smile on Bruce’s face froze uncomfortably.
They went through the motions, although Bruce would later wonder if it was just habit on the psychiatrist’s part. Samson shook the hand that Bruce had failed to take back, motioned for him to sit down and they both did. Afterwards the two men looked each other over, measuring each other up, neither willing to be the first to speak. They hadn’t gotten along badly the one time they met, of course that was before Samson’s live-in girlfriend ran away with Bruce for a few days.
“You look surprised,” Bruce commented, doing his best to avoid getting a glance of the other man’s ring finger.
Samson opened the file in front of him, “I had been hoping it wouldn’t be you, after hearing your name, you’re hardly the only Doctor Banner running around.”
“I take it you didn’t look through my file, then.”
“Well, I didn’t want to ruin the surprise,” he said with a terse smile, not looking up from his reading. “I suppose you now have quite a bit to talk about.”
“How’s Betty?” Bruce asked calmly, trying not to look rattled.
“I wouldn’t know, she left me after you showed up, and then broke up with me after you left.”
Smug satisfaction and guilt battled each other, neither showed on his face, “Is that why you took the job?”
Samson snorted at that, “Don’t be so full of yourself. I had no idea that I’d be expected to evaluate you.” He smirked slightly, “General Ross told me about the job, though, so I wouldn’t put it down to fate.”
“He hated that SHIELD got me, so I’m sure this was his clever way of trying to get me kicked off the team,” Bruce glanced at his hands, folded in his lap, “I’ll have to thank him for that.”
“Yes, I imagine we both will,” he muttered, writing down a note in the file.
“I think it’s safe to say that we probably shouldn’t be doing this, I’m fairly certain that there’s a conflict of interests here,” Bruce said coolly, standing up to leave.
“Well, you may have a point- but you’ve already been scheduled for the hour and I’d hate to have to tell your superiors that you walked out on your appointment. It may take me awhile to mention why and…” he pointedly glanced at the file, “I’d really hate to think what they’d do if they thought you were becoming a problem.”
The two stared each other down for a few moments, Bruce finally sitting back down, “So, what would you like to talk about?”
“This is your session, Doctor Banner, that’s really your call.”
“I thought therapists were supposed to ask questions.”
“Do you really want me to?”
“Not particularly, but I doubt you’d answer mine.”
Samson smiled slightly, “We aren’t here for me, so no I won’t be answering any questions that aren’t relevant to your treatment.” They stayed in silence for a moment, “So- you asked me how Betty was, I take it you aren’t in contact with her.”
“I kind of lost contact when her father decided to send an army after me.”
“But you still haven’t gotten in contact with her since working with SHIELD?” he flicked through the file in front of him, “It says here you’ve been here for months .” Samson looked up to Bruce and raised an eyebrow, “She ran off with you without a second thought- and you’ve taken this long to get back in touch with her? Why is that?”
Bruce stared resolutely at the floor, refusing to answer that as he tried to keep calm.
“You realize, Bruce , that we’ll never make progress if we don’t talk,” he smirked slightly.
“It isn’t my fault she left you,” Bruce pointed out, trying to remain calm and aloof.
“Oh really?” he asked, “Because you must admit that the timing was fairly suspect.”
“Do you really think she would have left you if she actually cared for you?” he asked quietly, “She’s not like that.”
Samson chuckled, “Perhaps, or perhaps I just wasn’t nearly interesting enough for her. Dating you- she gets to rebel against her father who never approved of her, gets danger and someone pathetic to take care of. She didn’t get any of that with me.”
“No, she clearly didn’t get nearly enough of what she needed from you,” Bruce said tersely, “No one would leave someone they were happy with to go on the run.” He wondered if anyone else would know, how long it would take before someone put it together and realize that it wasn’t just a random Hulk-out from unrelated stresses brought up. Just what they would do to him for losing control now. He felt the monster stir in the back of his mind and snapped back to reality.
“It was for the best, really. I don’t know how you could manage staying with someone so unfaithful,”he said casually.
“You had moved in with her by the time I’d gotten there-” he prayed that Samson wasn’t aware that he’d never even reached that point with Betty, “why don’t you tell me how staying with her worked until I showed up. You must have been pretty serious to be building your life around her- and it turns out you were just a place holder until I came back.”
Samson’s jaw stiffened slightly and checked his watch, “I’m afraid that seems to be all the time we have today.”
Bruce didn’t believe that but he also wasn’t about to argue. They shook hands, doing the clichéd manlier-than-thou attempt to break the others’ hand for a moment before giving up. “You’ll tell them that I can’t see you anymore?”
“After I give Ross that thank you note for setting us up,” he replied.
Bruce walked out of the office and managed to remain composed. He gave a polite smile to the assistant who still had no interest in noticing his presence and hoped to go out to an empty hallway to have his breakdown in relative privacy.
And with that, all hopes of private breakdowns were lost. He glanced over to see that Tony had, in fact, decided to wait for him. He managed what he hoped was a grateful smile and nodded to his teammate.
“You really didn’t have to wait,” he mumbled nervously, grabbing Tony’s arm after the other man had stood up and dragging him out the door.
“I’m starting to think that I really did,” Tony said after they were in the hallway and Bruce let go of his arm. He glanced at his watch, “What happened? That didn’t even take half an hour.”
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” he snapped, refusing to look at Tony afterwards because if there was fear in his eyes he couldn’t deal with that right now. Bruce ran a hand through his hair, “I’m going to go back to my room for awhile, okay? I’ll be fine.”
“Anything I can do?” Tony asked nervously, not sure whether or not to be jealous that the hack shrink had gotten so close in half an hour to what Tony hadn’t been able to do since Bruce had gotten there, or deeply disturbed that a therapist would and could get Bruce to this point.
“No, sorry,” he muttered before rushing down the hall.
It wasn’t long before he was in his room, splashing cold water on his face and trying to figure out what to do. He hadn’t thought about Samson since meeting him, he really should have. Betty left the man she was with, who she was living with, to run off with him and he had to leave her again anyways. He ruined her chance for a normal life. He didn’t want to get in touch with her, he didn’t want to find out where she was or what else he’d ruined for her. He didn’t want to make things worse for her. His living with SHIELD was tentative, he didn’t think he could get visitors here, he basically had a curfew and rules on when and where he could go if he wanted to leave the base. He couldn’t get in touch with her, try having a life with her, and then get shoved into a cage or forced onto the run. Not again.
He dried his face off and looked into the mirror, he could feel the disdain from the Hulk in the back of his psyche. He knew that he was being selfish here- it had nothing to do with what was good for Betty, he thought it was for the best but she was an adult who could make her own choices and he wasn’t giving her the chance, this was just for him.
He couldn’t handle it.
He had the option to see the woman he loved and wasn’t even going to try, because he couldn’t handle it.
Staying on the bathroom floor for the rest of the day seemed like the best option.
Tony tracks down Bruce and learns to make tea, Samson makes a phone call.
Tony wasn’t great with people, he’d never really had to be. Money, the ability to throw it around, combined with his incredible intelligence bought him pretty much everything he needed. Being on a team, however, throwing money at problems suddenly wasn’t the answer and his lacking people skills were put in sharp focus once he had to start being a team player. Not that he was as bad with people as Bruce, and his ability to get along in this time made him come out as better than either Thor or Steve. No one complained, but he noticed.
Having a highly distressed Bruce run off on him was one of the times that made him notice it. Someone else would probably have known what to do, but he knew the value of privacy enough to know that actually telling someone else what had happened was the wrong idea.
So, he bought himself some time by going to the lab to drop off the charts that really didn’t need to be there. He checked the equipment that he already knew was running perfectly, and decided to give it some time. If Bruce was close to going Hulk, Tony’s presence would not help. If he wasn’t, then he could afford to give Bruce an hour or so to collect himself.
He got to work, making the changes according to the notes on the charts that weren’t bored doodling. None from Bruce, which made him raise an eyebrow. Sitting around for an hour with nothing to do and no scribbling. Tony had been there for 5 minutes and the notes were obscured with ridiculous little comics. He was not sure where Bruce got the patience, must have been part of that ridiculous meditation training.
Occasionally he considered trying it.
Once he did, actually, Bruce threw him out of the room after 5 minutes of sarcastic questions.
Tony hit his music on and realized that it was the first time since they’d recruited Bruce that he’d had it on. Bruce had gotten annoyed about having to shout over it and Tony was not going to have music outperform him at being obnoxious to his teammate. Also, Bruce had just gotten headphones and put his own music on. Probably some boring “sounds of the sea” yoga thing that meant Tony would have to actually go over and tap on his shoulder to get answers, and that wasn’t really something Tony cared to do.
It was a bit strange to work to music again, rather than while bantering with Bruce- who had turned out to be much better at it than he’d expected.
Tony finished making the changes to the charts and a few other things he had to do before checking his watch. Half an hour really was more than enough time to collect yourself, really.
Someone else may have felt guilty about this being the first time he was going to see Bruce outside of the lab. Of course, that person probably didn’t spend 18 hours of the day in the lab so where else were they supposed to hang out?
He rapped on the door and didn’t bother waiting for a response before shouting, “Hey, Bruce, you in there?”
After a few minutes there was no answer, he tried again to the same lack of response before trying the door knob. It was unlocked so he let himself in.
“Bruce?” he called in warily, somewhat hoping that the man had just gone for a walk or something. He heard a strangled sort of shout from the bathroom and started towards it.
The door to it opened and Bruce poked his head out, visibly using the door to balance himself. “I’m fine. Please—- please leave.”
“Yeah, no. You look awful, can I get you anything? Possibly alcoholic?” The man did, in Tony’s rather expert opinion, looked like he could use a stiff drink.
“I really don’t drink alcohol,” he said gently, “It’s not safe.”
Most people, Tony would have argued that just a little. Pointed out that he’d gotten completely trashed on more than a few occasions and never woke up with an unwanted tattoo or anything else that’s supposed to happen when you get drunk. This time he knew that a tattoo was probably the last thing on Bruce’s mind, and was not going to push the matter.
“Tea?” he offered awkwardly, not even knowing how to make the damn stuff. Not that it could be difficult, he’d just never had to do it before.
Bruce smiled, and Tony hoped that meant he’d made the right suggestion. He could always look it up on his phone how to make it. “Alright, but I have everything to make tea in my room.” SHIELD’s coffee-addicted personelle never bothered stocking tea in the break rooms or communal areas, but he quickly learned that leaving some for his own use would get it stolen quickly.
“Then I can keep an eye on you while making it,”Tony said easily. Making tea turned out to be fairly easy, and mostly required sitting around and waiting. He didn’t really know what to say as the water in the electric kettle heated up, so he leaned against the desk while Bruce sat on his bed looking a little bit better.
“I would, uh, ask if you want to talk about it- but it seems like talking is what started this,” Tony offered weakly as the silence started to get too awkward. Not that he was great at serious talks, he wasn’t really sure who he should go to about this. None of them seemed to really get along with Bruce and no one was great at talking about things. They were a team of superheroes, not really known for touchy-feely talks. Although he wasn’t sure if that was even what Bruce wanted.
Bruce smiled and shook his head, “No, it wasn’t talking… I, uh, I knew him before and it brought up some bad things.”
“Oh, I know that one,” he said, although he wasn’t entirely sure he did. “How’s it going to work if all your “therapy” sessions leave you worse than you started?”
“He’s supposed to tell SHIELD that he can’t be my therapist, hopefully they’ll listen,” Bruce said quietly before shrugging, trying to act like it’s no big deal. “I was thinking about seeing someone outside SHIELD, anyways, the only issue is, well, clearance.”
“Yeah, I can see why you wouldn’t want to go up to a psychiatrist and say that you turn into a raging green monster that destroys things without some evidence.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time I was locked up,” he said with a slight laugh.
Tony laughed uncertainly, mostly because Bruce did. The kettle boiled at that point, clicking off to alert them that it was done. Tony poured it into the cup that Bruce had prepared with a tea bag already in it, he briefly wondered if this really counted as making someone tea, but he hadn’t been tossed out so he’d take it.
“How did yours go, by the way? He’s supposed to be a great therapist.” He didn’t really look at Tony when he asked, not sure what answer he wanted. His problems with Samson weren’t the psychiatrist’s fault, they were his.
“I just hate therapists, feels like they judge every little thing you say or do, trying to pin some diagnosis on you,” Tony shook his head, “If I’m going to have to talk about my feelings, I don’t want to feel like someone’s going to call me crazy for it.”
“And with SHIELD, I have a hard time believing anything we say is truly confidential. Even if he’s moral about it, I can see them looking at the records,” Bruce added with a sigh. Not that he thought there was a lot they did that SHIELD didn’t know about, but it ruined part of the point of therapy.
Tony rolled his eyes, “Yeah, that’s the main thing. I’m glad to be with the Avengers, I really am, but I have a hard time trusting SHIELD.” Tony took out the tea bag and tossed it, Bruce reached out a hand for the cup before he could ask about milk or sugar, not that he saw any, so he handed it to him as is.
“I can’t blame you for that,” he said gently, lifting the tea to his lips and blowing gently on it before taking a sip. He was starting to learn to trust his teammates, but he couldn’t trust an organization that he knew would lock him up if he stepped out of line too much. “Thank you for this,” he added, not specifying if he meant the tea or the talk.
Doctor Leonard Samson had not been joking with his intentions to call up General Ross. As soon as he had a break in appointments, which he actually had to schedule for himself as this place might as well be a heavily armed asylum, he went to his assistant.
“Denise, I need to call Ross- do you still have the number?”
“Of course,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “Are you sure that’s a good idea, though?”
“No, but I have to,” he said with a grimace, “If you can dial it, take a break for the next hour while I take the call, alright?”
“If that’s what you want,” Denise replied, shaking her head as she dialed in the number. She handed the phone to him with a “Good luck” before leaving and making sure to lock the door on his way out. Leonard smiled after her, she had been a great assistant and he was grateful that she came with him when he got transferred to SHIELD.
After a few rings, Leonard heard the “Hello” and was getting ready to lay into that bastard when—-
He knew exactly what had happened. Denise had thought he was asking for Betty Ross’s number, of course she did when had he ever tried to get a hold of General Ross before? He sighed heavily, “I’m so sorry, my assistant gave me the wrong number- I wanted to get a hold of your father.”
“Oh, that’s alright,” she paused, “Why did you want to call my dad?”
“He got me a job somewhere…” to have me act as that guy you never got over’s psychiatrist “where I have to work with someone I really don’t want to, and I think he did it on purpose.”
“Wouldn’t put it past him,” she said a bit bitterly, before her tone turned curious, “He never hated you, though, why would he do that?”
“I don’t think he did it to get at me, it’s a really great position- the, well, the person I have to work with is Bruce,” he paused, she didn’t say anything, “I don’t have to work with him so much as, well, evaluate him.”
“Oh,” a few more moments of silence, “I can see why you'd want to talk to my dad about that."