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Crying Out For Help (Actually Hurts)

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After the Mandarin, after freaking Pepper out like that, after moving in with the rapidly growing Avengers team, he’s forced to acknowledge that dreams happen. They all wander at weird times, sleep in strange-ass places, even Sam. They all get injured and fucked up and hospitals are not secure: Bucky won't let Steve stay at them now, after he managed to get into Steve’s room easy as you please after the helicarrier debacle. So Tony makes, he builds, it’s kind of his thing. It’s the opposite of the armor in every way, soft and fat and the colour of unbleached cotton.

JARVIS approves in that it won’t hurt anyone ever, and he thinks building things like that are good for ‘Sir’. Dummy thinks the bubble-puff is hilarious, and starts getting into the stocks of insulation to pad his chassis to get in on the joke. U is quiet and helpful for once, and makes sure the cameras are always polished, before the bot is even installed.

Tony appreciates the bots’ gigglybeeps, cleaner now than they had been in years, because he’d been able to --had to-- upgrade once the bots were out of the water. He tries not to think about the water; there’s a downward spiral there, from having his house fall on him, to watching Pepper fall, to falling from the sky--

Yeah. He needs to make himself safe until the thing Sam’s VA guy talks about actually happens.

‘It gets better’ is such a damn distant prospect, he needs something in the meantime, because being Pepper's little spoon is good, but not enough to keep him nightmare-free, and the armour-call system is better, but he knows the command too well; he's called it again since the Mandarin. JARVIS pilots it while he's asleep, now; Pepper said that he needed to call it, that the one night he turned it off, it was worse.

He doesn't remember that night, but Bucky had looked at him weird the next day, Bucky.

So, Baymax. He doesn't know where the name comes from, strictly speaking, but there was something about air pressure and batesian mimicry and boolean splines. The guy is about as unthreatening as its possible to get, and looks like a deflated souffle when in standby. Tony's used t-shirt-screen tech in the indicators, and JARVIS was in charge of programming in a whole mess of medical and psychiatric information. Tony feels apprehensive about that; if Baymax tries to get them doing trust-falls, he's throwing JARVIS' favourite vintage hard disk out the window.

"Okay, JARVIS. Start him up."

The box --made up like the first-aid kit it...kind of actually is? But also isn't-- lights up with a soft, sleepy boop and hums quietly as the miniaturized compressor fills the pressure vessel.

"Charge complete; battery at 100%. Congratulations, sir."

"Thanks, J, but we've got to test it out first. Champagne and kisses afterwards." He clears his throat, glances at the workshop floor to make sure there's nothing that could trip a baby bot up, and then very carefully says "Ow."

It's embarrassing, and his face feels slightly warm, so he clears his throat again. The top of the first aid box lifts off and glows green --as unthreatening and recognisable as he could imagine to make it-- and Baymax inflates its proper body for the first time. Tony'd run tests, but the mind had never been installed before, so it's the culmination of the week's work, and the birth of a bot; he'd been drunk when Dummy had gone from arm to AI; he's never made that mistake again.

"Hello," it says, in a cheerful but also serious tone that makes Tony blink. He'd been uploading voice protocols after the latest sleepless night, he hadn't quite realised... huh. It was pretty comforting, in a nurse/EMT kind of way-- "I am Baymax, your personal healthcare companion."

"Hey, Baymax. How's it feel? Are your servos alright? Stretch out, take a walk."

The bot's cameras blink and its head tilts. That was on U, the emotive stuff, with JARVIS helping link it into the bot's heuristic circuits, which they'd all worked on together. It wouldn't be fair for a first aid bot to have so much empathy it felt all the pain its patients did, but it had to have a lot, so that it would be able to prioritize different injuries.

Baymax steps out of the crate with a squeaky, new-sneakers sound, and watches the ground for a few steps, turns slightly to pass the corner of the workbench, then squeaks up to Tony.

"I feel fine. Thank you." It’s-- his voice is still a little stiff, but he'll get used to it. His camer-- eyes, his eyes-- jheeze, it's amazing what eyelids do for a pair of cameras, make them emotive and expressive. He uses them to look at Tony with a friendly gaze, that doesn't linger uncomfortably anywhere, not even Tony's unnecessarily bare feet. "I detected [distress], what seems to be the trouble?"

Tony feels his eyes go wide, and he steps backwards. Suddenly, this seems like a terrible idea, like Baymax is looking right into his soul, and the balance of power shifts abruptly in his head. "I-- I'm fine, really, this is-- ah..."

Baymax doesn't interrupt, even though Tony can't get words out, he just listens, with this kind, listening expression, and the soft blue light on his chest is really calming, and Tony blurts out what he's really thinking without meaning to.

"I get nightmares.I-- I can't sleep."

"May I scan you?" he asks, softly, kindly. Tony couldn't say if he nods or not, but he must make some wide-eyes kind of assent, because Baymax scans him with a soft humming sound --the ultrasound-- and steps a little closer.

"Please rate your pain on a scale of one to ten."

Tony hadn't thought he was in pain, but he thinks about it, puts a hand to his chest, and realises that normal isn't exactly a one anymore. The reactor is gone, and the new prosthesis, nylon and titanium grafted in to replace his sternum, hasn't healed up yet.

"I'm fine, really. It's not... not the main problem."

"Your brain chemistry and activation patterns indicate you have not been sleeping for [four months]. Would you like to talk about it?"

Tony pulls himself together, gives himself a little shake. "No, uh, thank you, Baymax. I am satisfied with my care."

If the bot doubts him, he doesn't say anything, and goes back to his crate.

Tony sits on a stool at the bench, which is scattered with baby monitor parts and 3D printed plastic eggs, and tries not to shake.

Mission accomplished.

 

XXXXXXX

 

He tries not to think about the red crate in the living room. It lives behind the couch, and becomes the semi-permanent resting place of one of Barton's shoes. Steve activates Baymax once, by stubbing his toe and swearing, and politely submits to a little anti-inflammatory spray, but Tony stays out of the room until Baymax goes back to bed. It takes a while, because the bot decides Steve needs to watch a film about Hawaii and aliens, while drinking hot cocoa.

Tony did not program that in, so it causes a spike of pride and anxiety; Baymax is supposed to learn, become their safe place, but it's scary how perceptive he could become.

Natasha activates him next, by tapping on the crate and having an almost silent conversation with a half-inflated bot. He prescribes her some pills, and disinfects a graze on her elbow, and then Tony leaves the room, and goes to the workshop.

At dinner that evening, the food is different from their usual, richer and slightly saltier, and Natasha eats with actual enthusiasm, rather than the picky finickiness he thought was normal for her.

Tony's curious, but JARVIS had included nutritional studies and Tony assumes there was something wrong with their diet, at least for Natasha's needs.

It's like they're introducing themselves to him, over the three days since he brought Baymax up from the workshop: all the first-string Avengers and three of the second string have activated the bot for some bullshit reason or another. Sam legitimately just went up to him and said "Ow, I have PTSD."

Tony had been working on his scrap-box, on the couch, and he freezes in place while they have a serious, compassionate conversation about group therapy, and Baymax reminds Sam to stretch after exercising.

Their first mission after inventing him, Baymax patches up four abrasions, three lacerations, a broken finger and a black eye, before making them all sit, together, and eat something.

Tony can't even pay attention long enough to know what he's putting in his mouth, because the black eye has come with a massive headache, and his tylenol hasn't kicked in yet.

 

XXXXXx

 

But the real purpose, his real purpose, doesn't get used for almost a week. It's been a good run, really, a whole week without someone waking up screaming.

The Baymax Eggs that people have been choosing, or refusing, to have on their bedside tables are just ears, so Baymax can hear them scream, but they turn out to be unnecessary; everyone can hear Bucky. The bellow is more of a defiant sound than a frightened one, and they know Bucky's come up swinging. Tony, Pepper, and the other unenhanced people hang back while Thor and Bruce make sure Steve is okay, and then Baymax's squeaky footsteps join the fray.

There's less yelling that Tony's expecting, and JARVIS very politely asks them all to go back to bed.

In the morning, Bucky even looks well rested, and cuffs Tony around the ears over their coffee. It's as good as a smile, and Tony starts to feel lighter. Maybe Baymax's scary, all-seeing gaze isn't so bad after all.

He dwells on it, thinks about it before bed, thinks about it when Steve joins him on the couch for Insomniacs Movies one night.

He's afraid of people who know he's in pain, but Steve looks like he knows, Pepper certainly does, and Baymax is literally designed to know, so he gives in to his own plan and takes a damn baby monitor to bed with him the night Pepper's in LA.

Surprise, surprise, he has a stinker of a nightmare; Pepper falling away from him, the portal rushing towards him, the blazing death of an alien army against stars from another arm of the galaxy. All of them at once, all bound together by the fire. He's going to die by fire, that's what this means. It's not going to be a blaze of glory, it's going to be a scream that runs out of air, or one that lasts a breath after he's dead.

He wakes up thrashing, trying to beat out the flames in his clothes, eating up his hair. A burning lump of magnesium in his chest threatens to destroy what's left of his heart, and he scrabbles at it.

Horror tightens his throat when he can't reach it; it's burning him, it's real-- he thought he was having a nightmare, but now he knows it's real; something has broken his chest, and Yinsen's drugs must be off, or contaminated, because the Avengers are just a nightmare--

He wakes up with a deep gasp; there's no air left in his lungs and he struggles to fill them and cough out the smoke of his burning heart simultaneously.

"Check--Check the--"

"Your heart rate is very high, Tony. How can I help you calm down?"

"It's-- burning, they--"

"Please count with me, time your breathing to light on my chest. You will be fine."

Tony fixates on the swelling and dimming blue light and struggles to breathe at all, let alone in time with it. "My chest--"

"You struck your prosthesis in your sleep, Tony; it will bruise, but there is no lasting damage."

Tony gasps in a lungful and holds onto it stubbornly, until the blue light starts to dim again. His chest feels tight and sore, but what he'd thought was burning is fading into a stinging ache.

He's not on fire.

"Fuck."

"On a scale of one to ten, please rate your pain."

Tony presses his hand over Baymax's, over his sternum, and tried not to wind himself with laughter.

"Seven? God, I have no idea anymore."

"Please remain still, I will administer topical pain relief. Would you like to take your prescription sleep aid?"

Tony doesn't; it doesn't stop him dreaming so he only uses it if he's been awake long enough to give him palpitations.

"Research indicates that you are in need of companionship; would you like me to stay? Or retrieve the Captain? Observations indicate the Captain's physical contact is the most effective at reducing the incidence of nightmares."

Tony can't help it, he laughs again. It's not funny, it's hysterical. "No, I think you'll do just fine, buddy. Just fine..."