When Bruce woke up again, he was warm. Not only that, but laying on something soft.
The pain was still there, but dull. He opened his eyes, blinking in the dim light. It took him a few moments to realize where he was; Tony's bedroom. Stark Tower. He heard the steady beep of a machine, and started to move, but one of his hands was pinned down.
He realized the other sound he heard was steady breathing, and he looked down to see Tony, having fallen asleep on his arm on the edge of the bed. His free hand was clasping Bruce's.
It wasn't a dream. Not a hallucination. He really came to save me. They all did.
He tried to push up onto his elbows, but fell back with a moan. It fired up the pain in every muscle, every nerve, and Tony was already awake, looking concerned.
"Hey, don't move. I've got this," he said, reaching to the side table and grabbing a remote. He pressed a button, and with a soft whirring sound, the top of the bed lifted until Bruce was comfortably in a sitting position. "Better?"
Bruce nodded. "Yeah…what happened?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
"Oh, the usual. There were bad guys, we defeated them," Tony said with that trademark smirk (and Bruce was sure he would trademark it if he could). "How are you feeling?"
"Like…I got hit by a truck."
"Understandable. Need more morphine? The doctor gave me the magic button when he left," Tony said, holding up a control button for the morphine drip. Bruce just nodded numbly, and Tony clicked the button, setting the control aside.
"How'd you guys…"
"Your phone went the wrong way."
"Your phone. It was headed back toward Calcutta. You said you'd head south," Tony said, and Bruce frowned.
"You…came looking just because of that?"
"Call it intuition. That and some pushy investigating on the SHIELD database."
Bruce closed his eyes for a few moments. "I…thank you, Tony."
"Don't thank me. I should have gotten there sooner."
"I wasn't expecting anyone to come at all," Bruce admitted softly, looking away. A hand on his chin tugged his gaze back to Tony's.
"You're a part of this team. You're important to us. Important to me," Tony said, his voice serious for once. "We will never leave you like that again."
"I was the one who left."
"And I let you. Won't happen again," Tony said, pulling his hand away from Bruce's face. Bruce missed the touch, the warmth, immediately. "Your apartment and private lab one floor down are almost done. They'll be ready to go long before you get off bedrest."
Bruce felt a strange mix of gratitude and nervousness at hearing that. "Are you sure…?"
"Your name is already on the door, Banner. You're not saying no."
Bruce would have laughed, if he had the strength. "How long…?"
He didn't even need to finish the sentence. "Doctor says two weeks, at least. After that you're only allowed to move around if you've got someone to help you. Which is going to be me. You can come help me with equations in the lab, get your mind off…things."
Things. Water, just water, no air, can't breathe…
"Bruce. Bruce. Look at me. Right here," Tony said, pulling Bruce's chin toward him again. "I know this, okay? I know it. Been there. I need you to focus on me. Every time you get that feeling, in your chest, just like right now, I want you to focus on me instead. Got it?"
Bruce took a couple of deep breaths, nodding as he stared at Tony carefully, trying to think of anything but that.
"Good. Now get some sleep," Tony said, and Bruce blinked in surprise when Tony hopped up on the bed next to him, pulling Bruce's head down against his chest, right next to the soft glow of the arc reactor. His fingers trailed through Bruce's hair, gently, slowly, and Bruce focused on that feeling and on the rise and fall of Tony's chest as he drifted off again.
Within a week, Bruce was breaking the rules. He couldn't stand laying there, flipping aimlessly through channels, and the brief visits from the other Avengers brought back the reminders of the pain- he could still see it in their eyes, the pity for him, for what he'd been through. He didn't want pity. He wanted some normalcy.
So it had been only six days when he was in Tony's lab, sitting at one of the monitors, trying to figure out why they weren't getting proper thrust on the right foot of the Mach VIII after installing an extra power source in both legs. He could tell that Tony was watching him carefully, but he'd come to expect that, and he continued to work.
"I think I figured it out," Bruce said softly, picking up one of the components and motioning Tony over. "See these wires, here? We just-"
His mind shattered as two of the wires touched and a small shock went up his arm. Nothing even remotely painful or harmful, but he just broke. He felt his heart rate jump, and he stumbled away, falling over the chair in an effort to get away, to put as much space between himself and the wires as possible.
"No, no, no," Bruce was moaning, trying to breathe. Air, he needed air, oxygen, why couldn't he breathe…?
Someone was kneeling in front of him, grabbing his hands, and he saw Tony, but not really. He couldn't focus. He mind was back on that table, currents wracking his body, his brain starved for oxygen.
"-just focus, right here, I told you," Tony was saying, and Bruce realized that the Other Guy was rearing his head. Pain, fear, his heart was thudding quickly in his chest, and he met Tony's eyes.
Focus. Focus on Tony.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he worked back down. Deep breaths, and his heart slowed, the monster inside him backing away from the bars he'd been rattling. Bruce felt himself being tugged, and he went limp against Tony's chest with a dry sob.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry-"
"Ssh. Stop being sorry. You didn't do anything," Tony said, and Bruce closed his eyes, feeling the soft vibration of Tony's voice in his chest. "Deep breaths. Stay calm. JARVIS, get some tea ready."
"Of course, sir," the AI replied.
They stayed like that until Bruce could tell that he'd stopped trembling, that the fight-or-flight was working its way out of his system. He pushed away a bit, looking up at Tony, so close that he could feel the other man's light breath on his face.
"If you say you're sorry one more time, I will have one of these idiot robots use a fire extinguisher on you," Tony interrupted him, and then he leaned forward.
It took Bruce a few moments to realize what was happening. Tony was kissing him. He froze, eyes wide with shock, his hands clenching on the fabric of Tony's shirt.
Tony pulled back a little, studying his face carefully. "If you don't object, I'm going to do that again, Dr. Banner," he said, his voice quiet, low.
Bruce tried to find words, and couldn't.
He didn't want to object.
This time, when Tony caught his lips in a second kiss, he returned it.
And for the first time, he felt safe.