Tony was drunk again; that much Bruce could tell. It was evident in the way that he was slumped in the armchair, arms loosely dangling over the sides, legs crossed at the ankles and head slightly to the left. There was an empty shot glass on the floor and an even emptier bottle of Jack Daniels that had been tipped onto its side. Bruce shook his head and walked all the way into the room.
He stood in the doorway, just studying the man who he loved. When they had first started dating, shortly after the whole Chitauri incident they had discussed Tony's drinking. Bruce thought that Tony's drinking was just a cover, Tony was in a constant state of emotional pain and he was trying to drown it in alcohol. So Tony had agreed to cut down, and he'd been doing so well...and now this.
Tony's brows furrowed in his sleep, the peaceful look suddenly being contorted, it was obvious to Bruce that whatever pleasant dream he had been having were being replaced. Tony moaned, his hands shaking as he tried to curl in on himself.
Bruce knew that if he didn't wake him up soon, the entire household would be awakened by his screams. Tony's breathing was coming in fast spurts and he had curled into a fetal position. Bruce was no stranger to post traumatic stress disorder so he knew that there was no good way to wake someone up when they were having a nightmare induced panic attack.
Bruce did the only thing that he knew he could do. He sat on the arm of the chair and gently rubbed slow circles on Tony's back. The way that Tony was curled, it looked as though he was cradling his arc reactor; almost like he was trying to protect it. He was rocking slightly and mumbling. Bruce made soothing sounds and just rubbed his back hoping that the other man would wake without too much of a fuss. Sometimes he got lucky and other times Tony either screamed himself awake or Bruce was punched. It wasn't that getting punched hurt, he was just worried that the sudden onslaught would cause 'the other guy' to come out…that was the last thing that he wanted when he was supposed to be there to calm Tony down.
Tony's hands left his chest where they had been laying and at first Bruce thought that this was a good sign. Then he watched as Tony covered his mouth with both hands to muffle his own scream. Bruce didn't move from his position but he also didn't stop rubbing Tony's back either. He was there, he would always be there. He knew that Tony liked to think that he could do this on his own, that he could face his monsters all by himself but the fact of the matter was that even he needed a little help every once in a while. That was just the way it went. Bruce watched as Tony's brown eyes opened, slowly clearing. He lowered his hands, looking slightly confused. He took a shaky breath and tried to calm his heart that was hammering in his chest.
Bruce put his hand under Tony's chin and turned his head so that they were looking at one another. "Are you alright?" He knew that this was a stupid question to ask, he knew that Tony was anything but alright but he also knew that Tony needed to say it. If he needed help, support, guidance, he needed to ask for it. Bruce flattened his hand so that it lay against the other man's cheek and Tony leaned into the touch. It was on the tip of Tony's tongue to say that he was fine. He could even visualize himself saying that he was alright, calmly walking up the stairs, closing his bedroom door and screaming into his pillow until his throat bled. But as he looked into Bruce's eyes he knew that he couldn't do that.
He nuzzled Bruce's hand. "No, not really. I honestly don't think that I am ever going to be okay. I don't know how to handle this. I mean, I had been kidnapped for 3 months and I was fine. But this? Somehow when the Chitauri attacked they had taken something from me, something that I have been unable to get back. I can't say exactly what it was, but something in me is broken. And I'm not sure how to get it back, if that is even possible."
Bruce looked around the room, he knew that they were alone but he was unsure as to how long that would last so he knew that he needed to try and get Tony to agree to go upstairs. "Look, I can help you. I know how to help you but you need to let me. Why don't we go upstairs?"
Tony tried to figure out if Bruce was up to something. There was a nagging feeling in his stomach that told him that he should say no, that he should just tell him that he was tired. He knew that if he told Bruce that he was tired and that all he wanted to do was sleep, there was a pretty good chance that Bruce would leave him alone. But at the same time being left alone isn't what he really wants, what he wants is to be held, for someone to tell him that despite what he knows to be true everything will be alright. For the first time since he had learned that his mother and father had been killed, all he wants is to feel his father's arms around him, to inhale his cologne and to feel safe. The entire time Tony is having this internal snafoo with himself, Bruce is waiting patiently. Although by the time that Tony remembers where he is and what was asked, Bruce has moved so that he is standing in front of Tony, with his hand extended.
Tony inhaled another shaky breath. This wasn't going to be easy and he was probably in for a very long night but at least he wouldn't be there to face everything alone. He took Bruce's hand and let the other man pull him to his feet. As they walked upstairs he briefly wondered if he was doing the right thing.
Bruce had been in Tony's room before. He was still surprised that there was no picture of himself or Iron Man anywhere. It's not that he thought that Tony was that narcessistic, or maybe that was exaclty why he was surprised. Tony walked into his bedroom behind Bruce and closed his door. "Jarvis, lock the door and don't open it until I say so. No one is to come through that door. Understand?"
"Of course Sir. Shall I dim the lights?"
Tony looked at Bruce. He wasn't sure exaclty what the other man had in mind but he was pretty sure that for whatever it was they didn't need to be blinded by the suddenly too bright lights of his room. "Dim the lights to 20 percent."
"Of course Sir." The lights were dimmed considerably and the AI was quiet. Tony sat on the bed, Bruce took one of the chairs and slid it across the floor so that he could sit across from him. Tony put his head in his hands, not even daring to look up. That was when it hit Bruce just how old Tony looked and how exhausted.
He put his hand on Tony's shoulder. "I've dealt with PTSD before. Having 'the other guy' in your head, being constantly on the run or waking up naked countless times in strange places that hardly anyone has head of, will do that to you. But you have to realize that that is all in your head. There's nothing here, there's no one here that will hurt you. Especially where you're concerned, you built most of the things in here. When you are here, you are as safe as you can get. But Tony, cacooning yourself in alcohol won't always work. Sooner or later you are going to have to deal with what went on in New York."
Tony looked up so that he was looking into Bruce's soft brown eyes. He had expected them to be harsh, he knew that he had crossed an invisible line when he picked up the bottle of Jack Daniels. "I hadn't planned on getting so drunk that I had passed out. When I had picked up the bottle I was only going to have one shot, two at the most. But the more I drank the more I realized that I was having a very hard time processing everything. It was easier to pretend that none of it happened by just concentrating on shot after shot after shot, then realizing that we had been attacked by aliens."
Bruce was silent for a moment. He knew that they were at a very critical spot. If he said or did the wrong thing, all the progress that they had been making in their relationship would be for nothing. Tony was a very private person (when he wasn't being a complete shit to the public) and he was used to being hurt and having the people that he cared about the most leave him. Bruce needed him to see that he wasn't going to go anywhere, no matter what Tony did and no matter how badly Tony thought he had fucked up, Bruce would always be there.
Tony broke eye contact, he was pretty sure that he was going to cry. He dug his nails into his palm so hard that he was pretty sure there was blood but it stopped him from crying, from being any weaker in front of Bruce then he already was. A part of him wanted Bruce to just hold him and the other part wanted him to slap him until his head rocked with pain and he couldn't tell up from down.
Bruce knew that he had to say something. Tony was broken, he was pretty sure that this wasn't the first time. In fact he was willing to bet that Tony had never really been whole. He knew that Tony felt that his father didn't love him, had neglected him and that he was always having to fight Captian America for his father's affections. Bruce knew that he had carried most of this with him into adult hood, that was why Tony often came across as over confident and cocky. But the fact was, Tony was just as scared as an adult as he was when he was a child. He had built robots and AI's around himself like a wall. Bruce had worked too long and too hard to put little cracks in that wall so that he could get through to have it all fall apart now.
He put his arm around Tony's shoulders and was relieved when he felt the other man sink into his side as if all the air had left him. He was surpirsed when Tony pulled himself so that he was curled into his lap. His head was resting against the other man's chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart. Bruce picked up one of Tony's hands and they interlaced their fingers as Bruce used his other hand to rub Tony's back.
"I understand that you're scared. I am too. I think that to a degree we all are, there will always be a new threat and we never know if we're all going to come home. But you can't let that run you. I could be terrified, the Other Guy doesn't always play nice and I can't always control him but I take what I can get. You can't live in a shell. There's no where to hide where people can't find you, where the threats can't find you. Trust me, if there were, that is where I would be." It took Bruce a minute to realize that Tony was shaking against him.
When Tony spoke his voice was barely above a whisper. If Bruce hadn't had his hand against Tony's back he probably wouldn't have noticed that Tony had spoken at all. "What happens when I can't deal with the threats? What if Pepper was right, what if all this is for nothing? What if I'm too scared to do anything the next time that earth is attacked?"
Bruce put his hand under Tony's chin and made the other man look at him. "That doesn't matter. If there comes a time when you think that all of this," he'd stopped rubbing Tony's back long enough to gesture at the room they were in, "is too much and you quit being Iron Man, I will always be here. There is nothing that you can do or say that would make me change my mind. I love you Anthony and I will be here for as long as you want me. Can you promise me one thing?"
Tony searched Bruce's face for any hint of the promise that he was trying to extract from him. He was trying to figure out if it was something impossible or if he actually stood a chance at trying to do what Bruce wanted. As always though, Bruce's face gave away nothing. "Sure."
"The next time all the crap inside your head becomes too much, will you just come talk to me instead of looking for the answer at the bottom of a bottle." The smile that Bruce gave him was genuine.
Tony took a deep breath. It was a relatively simple request. It was Bruce's way of trying to get Tony to realize that by trying to drown out his issues the only thing that he was hurting was himself. It should have been an easy 'yes Bruce,' but Tony struggled. His alcoholism for a long time was his coping mechanism. Bruce was asking him to find a new one and he wasn't sure that he could.
Bruce kissed Tony's forehead, the side of his neck and then placed a gentle kiss on the metal rim of the arc reactor. He smiled against Tony's shirt as he felt the other man shudder. "Tony, I'm not asking you to do it all at once. I knew that would be asking too much. What I am asking is that you just take it one step at a time. If you feel the need to drink because something is bothering you; whether it is something recent or something that happened years ago, why don't you come talk to me instead? After all, that is partially why I'm here isn't it?"
Tony shook his head. "No Bruce. You're here because I love you, because I want to be with you and because one day I hope to marry you. You're not here to try and pick up the pieces of my damaged life."
Bruce looked into Tony's eyes and smiled. "Tony, like I said, I love you. I know that the road ahead won't be easy but at the same time it is something that we will work through together. I am more than happy to help you with your problems. You're the first person in a long time that I have allowed myself to get close to, the fact that the Other Guy doesn't seem to want to smash you to bits helps.
Tony laid his head back against Bruce's chest. "I guess then we'll be fucked up together." He felt Bruce nod as he closed his eyes. He wasn't sure how they were going to make this work, all he knew was that if Bruce was with him, maybe everything would be okay. It wasn't long before Tony fell sleep. Bruce was soon to follow, seeing as he wasn't able to get up with the other man using his chest as a pillow.