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In Waking Moments

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It started with the nausea. Rising up his stomach like a tide. Tony cleared his throat, trying to act cool, "I-I'll be back. Bathroom."

Hardly anyone looked up from the movie as he left. Thor's eyes were glued to the screen and Clint was busy catching popcorn in his mouth. He hadn't missed a piece yet and under normal circumstances that would be pretty cool but at the moment...

It seemed like hours before he finally stumbled into the bathroom, a hand on his stomach and vision going fuzzy at the edges, a sweat breaking out on his brow and palms. He took a few more steps before sinking to his knees, knowing that if he took one more step he would completely loose it. Putting a steadying hand on the wall he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his system down. What the hell was going on, he hadn't eaten anything weird, he'd been getting good sleep, he'd-

And then it it him. And before he could stand to search for pills that had long been forgotten, it hit him.

The pain crashed over him in a flash, the migraine searing through his head and down his spine like a forest fire. He fell to the floor of the bathroom, the cool tiles doing nothing to alleviate the burn in his head. But as bad as it was, Tony knew that it was only about to get worse. An old enemy resurfacing, one he wasn't at all happy to meet.

With trembling limbs his pushed himself up off the floor, clutching at the sink as he tried to pull himself up through the veil of pain.

Gritting his teeth he ground out, "You will not let this beat you, Tony Stark..! Come on, you can do this...!"

Another wave had him back on his knees, vomiting into the toilet. His stomach clenched as the bile stung in his throat, the bitter taste left on his lips doing nothing to help him. Fuck, fuck this wasn't him he could beat this, if he could just-!

With one last attempt at standing his hand slipped against the rim of the toilet, sending him crashing to the floor again. It was all too much, too much sensory input. Hands snaked into his hair and he pulled for that that was worth, body shaking as he tried to control the pain that just wouldn't listen. The ringing in his ears reached a crescendo before a new shot of pain that seemed to go right through his skull with a vengeance, plunging him into torturous darkness.


Bruce found himself playing with his glasses a lot. Nervous habit as it were. It gave his hands something to do besides picking at his clothes or playing with his hair. When the movie started, some big-budget blockbuster that was out a year or so ago, he wasn't playing with his glasses. Mostly he was trying to keep Tony from stealing his popcorn while mostly letting him take as much as he wanted. But now Tony was gone, had been gone for nearly twenty minutes, and there was something in the back of his mind telling him that maybe he should be worried about that.

"Um, guys?" he started. When no one looked up he cleared his throat, "Tony's not back yet."

"Don't worry about it," Natasha said from her arm chair, "He was probably struck with some sort of inspiration and went to go work. Its Stark we're talking about."

"Yeah, I guess," he fiddled with his glasses for another thirty seconds before standing, "I'm going to go check on him. Just in case."

Steve glanced up, "Want us to pause it?"

"No, that's fine," he smiled a little, "I can guess how it ends anyway." Tucking his glasses into his pocket he walked out of the room, footsteps echoing in the quiet of the hall. He paused at the bathroom door- still closed.

"Tony?" he rapped his knuckles against the wood, "You still in there?"

Silence greeted him. Maybe he was off working on some new invention or something. About to pull back, he was stopped by the sound of a sob, muffled by the doorway.

"Tony?" pulling the door open he almost didn't see him for a second before his eyes locked on to the trembling figure at his feet. In an instant he was down on his knees, pulling Tony's hands away from his face and checking his temperature, "Tony, its Bruce, can you hear me?"

All he got in response was a whimper which, considering the situation, he took as an affirmative. He didn't know what was wrong, but he had to get Tony out of here and he didn't think he could lift him by himself. Moving to stand he froze as Tony's hands lashed out, grabbing onto his clothes in a death grip, mumbling the word 'no' over and over again to himself.

Settling on the floor again he pulled Tony into his lap, gently cradling his head before calling out, knowing at least Clint would hear him, "Someone get in here and help me!"

Tony whimpered again and Bruce held him closer, feeling how much the man was shaking. In another second Clint was standing at the door, Steve and the others following almost immediately. He looked up, eyes set and easily falling into the doctor he had become from years of working in areas of panic and chaos, "Someone help me get him to his room."

If there was one thing you could say about the Avengers it was that they worked best as a team. Without a question Clint and Steve stepped forward, carefully lifting Tony between them and carrying him off. He thrashed in their arms, not taking kindly to being moved, incomprehensible words pouring from his lips. Bruce stood and followed, Thor and Natasha close behind, "Jarvis, what's going on?"

The intelligent voice of Tony's AI followed them down the hall, "I believe Master Stark is suffering from an intense migraine, Doctor. He used to get them chronically but hasn't had one for nearly six years now."

"Then any medicine in the house will be outdated. Right, Natasha, get a printout of what he needs and go pick some up at the pharmacy," she peeled off silently, heading to the closest room with a computer, "Thor, go down to the kitchen and get a basin of cold water with ice. Bring some washcloths when you come back."

"I shall return," Thor did as he was told, leaving Bruce to follow Clint and Steve as they entered Tony's room and set him on the big king-sized bed.

"Jarvis, cut the lights and close the blinds," as the room grew dark he sat down next to Tony, still giving out orders, "Clint, go out and turn off anything that's making a noise. Especially that TV. Steve, can you go into Tony's closet for me? Find a new t-shirt, sweat pants, and the warmest socks you can find."

As the super-soldier and assassin both went to perform their duties Bruce took another look at the form of Tony Stark. It was shaking him a little, to see a man usually so energetic and full of life brought down like this. Reaching out he put a hand on Tony's cheek for a moment, pulling it back as if burned when Tony started to scream.

"No! No!" the man twisted, sheets wrinkling under his weight as his hand sunk into his hair and started pulling, "Get it out of my h-head!"

"Tony!" grabbing his arms he pinned them to the bed, holding him down. Steve reappeared, tossing the shirt he was holding to the ground and reaching forward to grab his legs. Bruce tightened his grip on the man's arm, "Tony, listen to me, focus. You're going to be alright, we'll get it to stop but you need to calm down! Five, four, three, two..."

As he counted down Tony slowly stopped resisting although his hands were still clenching and unclenching at his sides as his whole body language spoke of the pain that was still working its way through his skull. He looked back at Steve, "Go on, I've got him."

With Steve leaving to get the rest of the clothes he pulled back, nimble fingers undoing Tony's shirt. The glow of the arc reactor in his chest cast his shadow on the wall and ceiling, and he couldn't help himself but to study it a moment. It all seemed so simple. This small little device that was keeping him alive. Everything that Tony was. A groan of pain from Tony brought him back, and shaking his head he continued unbuttoning the shirt, moving on to undo his pants next.

Steve stepped in with the new clothes and paused, "What are you doing?"

"We need to relax him, and these clothes aren't helping. Set those down for a moment and help me get them off," Getting his hands under Tony's arms he lifted, more pain-driven noises coming from Tony's lips. Steve hesitated for a moment, "Come on, Rogers. You were in the army, weren't you? Now stop standing there like a teenage girl and help me get his clothes off."

Together they took turn supporting the fallen hero and pulling off his clothes and getting the new ones on. Only a few seconds later Thor burst in with the supplies he had requested, Tony's hands coming back up to his head at the noise.

"Doctor, your supplies."

Bruce winced, taking them. It wasn't the man's fault that his natural voice was about twice as loud as everyone else, "Thanks, Thor. Um..."


All three looked around as Clint appeared in the doorway, "Lets get out of here and give them some peace. I think its about time to introduce you to laser tag."

Thor nodded, "Very well," he glanced back at Bruce, "Please. Assist the Man of Iron in returning to health."

"Will do," He smiled gratefully at Clint before turning back to Tony, gently prying his hands away from his head again. The pressure was doing him more harm then good and he didn't think that Tony could stand much more pain then this.

As if on cue Natasha appeared, holding a small pill bottle and a glass of water, "Here. Did I just see Clint leaving with Thor?"

He nodded, unscrewing the cap and setting two capsules on the nightstand, "Yeah, they're going for laser tag or something. Why don't you two go with them?"

Steve's brow knitted in concern, "Are you sure? But Tony..."

Bruce shook his head, "What Tony needs is rest and quiet. And something is more likely to go boom with all of you here anyway."

Almost like he was enunciating the point Tony groaned again, a strained sound that didn't seem right coming from his mouth. His hands moved toward his head again but Bruce held them back, "Go. I've taken care of worse then this before."

Natasha nodded, "Understood. Come on, Cap."

Steve lingered at the door for a moment, looking back at them, "Thank you, Bruce."

He smiled, "Its what I do. Used to do. Now go and play or something."

Once they were gone, the door closed softly behind them, Bruce was finally allowed to turn his full attention back to the man shaking beneath the sheets. Gently supporting his head he dipped one of the cloths in the water, placing it with care on Tony's head. He shifted at the new contact, eyes squeezing closer together.

"No, Tony, relax..." placing a hand on either side of his face he gently started to rub at the back of his jaw, applying just enough pressure to relax the muscles, "Listen to my voice, just focus on that. Everything is going to be fine..."

Slowly Tony relaxed under his fingers, obviously still in intense pain but perhaps a little more aware of the world then he was a few minutes ago. He started mumbling again, incoherent but at least conscious.

"Alright, Tony, listen to me. I'm going to sit you up now..."

The genius whined, pushing himself back into the pillows. Sighing Bruce re-soaked the cloth, dabbing it gently at his temples before settling it back onto his forehead. Shifting about, he lifted Tony despite his mumbled protests and settled against the headboard, letting his teammate come to rest again on his chest. Tony turned toward him, fingers curling in his shirt and legs encasing him like a child seeking the comfort of a parent. Once again he was struck by how vulnerable Tony was. When they were all together each of them seemed to forget that they were just human (except for Thor but he was the most human god Bruce had ever met).

Grabbing the pills from the bedside table he leaned close, pressing his lips to Tony's forehead as he had seen so many parents around the world do for an ailing child that he was charged to cure, mumbling the words as softly as he could, "Its going to be over soon, Tony, I promise. Just open your mouth for me."

Tony hissed, a garbled noise rising from his throat, "Hurt."

"I know. Come on, Tony, open."

Slowly Tony opened his mouth. With a practiced hand Bruce slipped the pills in, just as quickly bringing the glass to his lips, supporting Tony's head and helping him drink. Some of the water spilled down his chin but Tony either didn't care or didn't notice, turning his face back to Bruce's chest when he was done. Setting the glass down he shifted as if to move but was stopped by Tony's grip tightening on him, panicked words tumbling from his lips.

"No, no don't go... please, you-you can't go, don't leave me no."

"Shh, shh... I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here," And he was. If this man, the first to accept him and the first to treat him as human in years needed him, then he would stay. Settling down again he refreshed the cloth on Tony's head, holding the man loosely in his arms. Tony was still shaking, but as time wore on they seemed to subside at least for the most part.

As Bruce held him he stroked his hair, knowing it had a calming effect even on those who claimed to be more then human. He closed his eyes and, sitting there, in the darkness, with Tony's ragged breathing the only sound, he recalled one of his first patients. In Africa somewhere, maybe Chad, a mother singing to her child in a language he couldn't hope to understand. In words no more then a whisper he started to sing, in some ways more to himself then to Tony.

The song was more a jumble of disjointed notes then a melody and he was sure he was getting at least eighty percent of the words wrong. But in this space, in this moment it seemed to fit. And eventually Tony stopped shaking and his hands went slack, breathing evening, the medicine finally taking effect and letting the man sleep. Bruce continued to sing, the only voice in all of Stark Tower until he fell asleep as well, never letting go of his friend.


When Tony woke up it was hard to tell what time it was. The lights were out and the blinds shut, giving no indication as to what time of day it was. And no clocks to be found as he believed that the bedroom is the one place where one should not have to keep to a schedule. If he needed to be up Jarvis would always wake him anyway. Sighing he closed his eyes... And noticed that his was not the only breathing pattern in the room.

Twisting around a bit he was mildly surprised to see Bruce wrapped around him, back to the door in what Tony guessed was an inherently protective manner. Not that he needed protecting but it was kind of cute.

Rolling away to the other side of the bed he groaned, rubbing away the last of the pain in his head. That had been hell. Or at least pretty close by his estimates. At the very least he knew that that had been nothing like his migraines before.

"Nnn, Tony...?

Wincing he rolled back over, coming face to face with a slowly waking Bruce Banner, "Shit, I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep or something."

"No, No, its fine," he shifted, pulling his arm up under his head to rest on. They could barely see each other in the faint light of the arc reactor through his shirt but it was enough, "What about you? Are you feeling better now?"

"Yeah, thanks," He ran a hand over his face, rubbing his eyes, "It's been a while. Since that happened."

"Jarvis filled me in. Sort of."

"Right..." he glanced up from over his hand, "You stayed?"

A smile smile danced across the man's face, "Of course I stayed. What kind of a doctor would I be to leave my patient all alone?"

He chuckled a bit, "Yeah, got me there," shifting onto his back he stared at the ceiling, acutely aware of Bruce still watching him. Maybe he'd install a skylight or something, "... They started when I was young. Well, not that young. College. Okay that's young. Sorry, I doubt you want to listen to this, go back to sleep."

"Tony, if you want to talk... you know, why not talk to me? I'm a pretty good listener, I think."

The corner of Tony's mouth twitched upward, "Contractual obligation?"

Bruce returned the smile, "Comes with the territory, yeah."

He sighed, kneading the mattress below his hand, "It's not like I don't know why they happen, or used to happen, or whatever. It's always come back to my old man, trying to make him proud and all the other fucking daddy issues you could think of so don't bother suggesting anything because I already know. It took me ages to move on, to stop trying to live up to his image of me, and just start being me," he let out a quick breath, a small puff of air, "So there you have it, Tony Stark on a platter and fuck all if I know what happened to trigger one today. It's not like good old dad is around to impress any more."

They fell into silence for a while, the only sound the soft humming of the building and the traffic far below. Tony let his eyes fall closed, ready to leave the day behind for good, when he felt Bruce's hand land on his, their fingers lacing together in a way that was both hesitant and comforting.

"Maybe..." Bruce spoke softly, as if trying not to disrupt whatever kind of balance they were having, "Maybe you're trying to impress someone else now. Us. The rest of the Avengers. I mean, we're not exactly the most average people around. About half of us have a hard time even fitting into the category of human."

Tony snorted, "Impress the Avengers? I'm already impressive enough, I don't have to impress anyone here."

"... Then how come you're trying so hard, Tony?"

His eyes snapped open, head twisting to look at the man lying next to him, "What are you talking about?"

Bruce had a wrinkle between his eyes and a small frown on his face. Tony knew that look, it was the look he got when looking at the unknown variable in whatever new equation he was toying with, "I see you, you know. I know what you're thinking because somehow we seem to end up thinking the same things. We both... don't really know how we got here. But you're still trying to prove that you belong, aren't you?"

"... That is the most ridiculous thing I'v ever heard."

"Of course it is," Bruce started to draw his hand back but Tony stopped it at the last minute, keeping them together and connected. Bruce looked at him curiously, mouth about to open for a question but he beat him to it.

"I don't think it would be too bad if you stayed, Dr. Banner. Just to make sure I'm fully recovered."

Slowly Bruce settled down again, letting their fingers weave together even more, "I wouldn't be a very good doctor otherwise, would I?"

"No, no you wouldn't. And seeing as you're the best doctor I've ever had I'd hate for you to ruin your reputation," Taking a deep breath he rolled onto his side, looking Bruce in the eye, "And maybe since you seem to think you know me so well we could go out for some kind of food later so that you can really get to know me. Data collection. For science."

Bruce smiled, brown eyes lit by the arc reactor, "That may be the best experimental design you've come up with all week."

A small smirk spread over his face, "Shut up, I'm full of amazing ideas."

"Full of something, that's for sure."


Chuckling, Bruce reached out and started to gently rub at the muscles in his jaw in a way the was absolutely intoxicating, "Go back to sleep, genius. Its the oldest cure in the book."

Tony hummed, closing his eyes, "Will you be here when I get up again, handsome?"

He could practically hear the smile in Bruce's voice as he replied, "I think we can work something out."