Do or Die, We can Only Try
Summary: This is not the sequel to Just a Consultant. I have that nearly completed and mis-saved it on my computer and had to go through all my documents to find it – and found this little gem.
Post Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has no choice but to get the Arc Reactor removed. He does, however have his choice of doctors… and they are not cooperating.
Author's Note: I don't own the Avengers Universe or the Iron Man Movies – pretty sure Marvel's got them locked up tight on that. HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMANDA!
It was a few months after the whole Mandarin/Extremis Thing (and yes, it was so totally a thing) and Tony Stark thought he was doing pretty well all things considered. Sure his Malibu mansion had been blown off the face of the cliffs (dragging him down into the water always the fucking water with it) his girlfriend (love of his life/one thing he can't live without) was injected with a highly unstablized version of Extremis (boom, just boom), and he totally blew up all of his suits (that he spent all of his time building so he wouldn't lose his mind). He was doing okay. According to the press, the Iron Duo – really? Who thinks up this crap? – saved the day. Rhodey as Iron Patriot was credited with saving the President of the United States of America, while Tony (J.A.R.V.I.S.) as Iron Man (Men?) blew up everything and destroyed the threat (okay, yeah, he might have made things go boom, but he wasn't the one that destroyed the threat – uh, digressing).
So moving on from the newest cluster fuck that he had managed to make of his life, Tony stabilized Extremis – no boom for Pepper. They decided to keep that little tidbit under wraps, of course. They would rather the world think he'd "cured" her of it rather than stabilized it. Who knows what would have come out of the woodwork looking for working non-exploding Extremis if word got out, and then Tony dragged Bruce Banner back to the one place Stark himself never thought he'd return to. New York. Stark Tower, New York to be precise. See, the thing was. Pepper was fixed now, and Tony had to be too. No more ticking time bomb eating away at his weakened heart. His greatest strength was his arc reactor – and it was also his greatest weakness. Begging Bruce to come back was the easiest part. Convincing him to lead the panel of surgeons working on removing the shrapnel that was playing peek-a-boo in Tony's aorta – not so much.
Bruce Banner was afraid that the pressure of such a delicate surgery would set off the Other Guy, and Tony would die. It wasn't Bruce's field. There was only a 23% success rate for the surgery in the first place. How would the other Avenger's handle the Other Guy, knowing that he had killed their teammate? Or worse? That it was Bruce himself? Yeah, he couldn't handle that. So he said no. Hell no in fact. What Bruce didn't get was that Tony was going to be dead if he didn't do the surgery. The reactors had been removed too many times, or damaged, or stopped throughout the years (Obadiah, Palladium New York, the Thing), and the shrapnel had moved too close. He had maybe a month tops before even the reactor wouldn't stop the slicing and dicing from sending him to finally meet Yinsen's family. So he asked the only person in the world he trusted with the most powerful technology in the world (the Arc Reactor) – and got turned down.
In, the end, it was Pepper, fighting dirty (she did not survive as his personal assistant for so long for being nice – "I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash"). She had found the paper work finalizing the updating of Tony's will in the event of Mr. Stark's Untimely Demise and poured over the sections giving her Stark Industries, Happy the cars, Rhodey the "toys", the tower to the collective Avengers (provided that they rename it the A or Avenger's Tower – and did NOT let Fury into J.A.R.V.I.S.), the billions and properties were split and scattered among them, and all intellectual property (weapons designs, Stark Pads & Phones) – which Tony had seen fit to include the Arc Reactor plans (even the ghost server nineteen -the one that held J.A.R.V.I.S. and everything that Tony would never let even her touch) was willed to Bruce. He was just going to give everything the man that wouldn't even lift a finger to save his life.
Don't mistake what Pepper was thinking when she walked up to Bruce Banner (he was alone in the lab for a rarity – Tony was at yet another final check before the surgery, that most likely was going to take him away from her) and bitch slapped him right as he opened his mouth – probably to ask her if he could help with anything. An open palm. The widest swing she could surprise him with. She'd hit him so hard her wrist popped, her hand went numb, and she'd like to think that that was why tears had sprung to her eyes. Banner's (because he couldn't be Bruce, not when he was refusing to help) head had jerked to the side and then snapped back eyes blown wide to green. She threw the will paperwork into his face as his stumbled back trembling seemingly afraid of not for her.
"Whether you're there or not Banner, the Arc's coming out. He's dying. Again. Stands a better chance of living with you manning up." Pepper had to stop. Now she was the one trembling. The thought of losing Tony Stark – of having to face the rest of her life without him – well she just didn't think that she could. They say it's possible to die of a broken heart. Virginia 'Pepper' Potts firmly believed it. Standing in front of the man who could be her salvation but was too big of a coward – yes, she was trembling.
"Miss Potts, please. I can't do this. You know I can't. He starts slipping away – the other guy – and we won't just lose him. We'll lose the whole surgical team and anyone else the gets in His way," Bruce finally growled out an octave lower. Unbeknownst to them, alarms were blaring on Tony Stark's cell phone – as well as the Helicarrier for CODE: PMG (Possible Mean Green, their warning that there was a possible Hulk out coming). "I care for him, just as much as you. He was the first person to accept not just me – but the Other Guy too. We lose Tony – you're probably going to lose me too…" Bruce trailed off noticed an orange fiery glow shimmering from the hand that Pepper had slapped him with. S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents were scrambling to their location, as well as Tony, but only Tony had audio and visual into what was happening in the lab between two of the most important people in his life.
"The only person that I care about in that response is Tony. You have no idea what man has been through. What he has risen above. He didn't have to respond to the Avenger's Initiative – he wasn't even supposed to be in it! And yet, he's the one that save your collective sorry asses by flying a NUCLEAR WARHEAD INTO A SPACE PORTAL KNOWING IT WAS A ONE WAY TRIP!" She was screaming by the time she paused. She also had tears running down her face. Orange, glimmering, fiery tears. Both of the men privy to her outburst – the one on the receiving end – Bruce Banner – and the one listening in – Tony Stark hunched in on themselves a little further with each exclamation. They both knew this story – they'd been there. They also both came from abusive childhoods – and raised voices were never good.
Banner's voice had returned to its normal octave and the green was bleeding its way back to the chocolate brown normally so weary. Now they clearly expressed pain as he took in what Pepper was saying. He was starting to understand that she was desperate to save his friend – he just didn't think that he was the one that could do it. "Listen, Miss Potts, I'm sorry. I truly am. I can't be the one to kill Tony Stark. That's what this'll be." He paused; looked down; took a deep breath, "sometimes I wonder, that maybe if I hadn't had saved him during New York, maybe he would have died peacefully in the fall?" Both Pepper and Tony froze, unsure of Bruce's meaning.
By this time it was clear the Other Guy was not going to make an appearance so Tony called off the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents trying to weasel their way through J.A.R.V.I.S. and started making his way to the labs. He didn't want Banner to run, so he needed Pepper to back off. Surgery was looking grimmer and grimmer – even if they used and emergency/not supposed to exist dose of his stabilized Extremis; he needed Banner to stay to help Pepper in R&D – and he was hoping to pull Thor's girl Jane in from New Mexico too – if he had the time. It was starting not to matter whether Bruce was there for the surgery or not. It was looking more and more like it was already too late. And when Stark Industries lost the one remaining Stark in the world – well, he couldn't think of anyone better to take of the mantle than Bruce and Dr. Foster. Hell, if he'd had more time, he could have seen them becoming one hell of a Team Science in their own right. Tony was snapped out of his thoughts. He was still listening in on their conversation. He'd spoken to Bruce about what happened when he fell – well what he remembered. He seemed to be sharing that.
"You see, Tony tried to call you – as I'm sure you're aware and this is old news," he paused at her squeak and watery glare. "I don't know if he's ever told you about it, but the last thing he remembers before blacking out is seeing your smiling face on his HUD's screen and thinking that at least he can go in peace knowing that you, Pepper Potts, were safe. That's why he made the one way trip. Not for the glory. Not for the good of mankind – but because he wanted YOU safe. And then I caught him and woke him up and he's still with you and you're still not safe. And he feels like it's his fault that you're still not safe. He would have never have felt it – the imp-", Bruce cut off – choked – unable to go any further. He's realized – and what he's trying to explain to Potts is that everything Tony has gone through after New York – is his entire fault.
"For someone that is supposed to be a genius in Gamma Radiation, you're pretty much a God Damned Idiot, you know that don't you Bruce?" Pepper asked, taking a tissue from a newly repaired dummy with her newly repaired hand. "You didn't save Tony. The Other Guy – and you are so keen to point out you and he are two separate entities – saved Tony and brought him back to life. And if you hadn't – Thor would have. So if this saying no bullshit is you trying to make up for that… I think… I think I'm going to hit you again.
"You hit Bruce?" Tony startled the pair finally making his presence known. He'd been listening for the entire conversation – he'd missed her actually hitting him though. And with her rocking his perfected Extremis, well she packed quiet a wallop. Both spun to look at him, Bruce finally noticing the pallor of Tony's skin, the deep, dark wells below his eyes, and the slight bluish tint to his lips. It hit him so hard, so fast, he collapsed, his knees cracking against the tiled floor of the lab Tony had lovingly given him. Never asked him for anything in return. Cracked jokes about how he had plenty of money if the Other Guy made a mess. Just wanted Bruce there so that he could have a safe place to stay. And now, now Tony was dying.
Both Tony and Pepper – mad as she was, she was still a compassionate person – rushed to Bruce's side. "Easy Banner, breath. It's okay. It's gonna be okay." Tony was making those nonsensical comments that you're supposed to when someone's whole world has just been rocked and you know you can't make it okay. Pepper was rubbing reassuring circles on his back and they each held one of his hands. He noticed how chilled Tony's hand was compared it the burning heat of Pepper's. He suddenly found it so laughable that they would comfort him the man they were counting on to save Tony (and was too chicken shit to do it) when Tony was the one that was dying and Pepper was the one that was going to have to go on without him.
"W-why?" he finally croaked out. "Why do you want me on the surgical team?" Bruce didn't bother looking up and meeting the eyes of either person kneeling on the floor with him. He was falling apart under the crushing weight resting in his shoulders – and they were still treating him like he wasn't a monster.
"It's pretty simple Brucie. That's it. Take a deep breath for me. Ya know, I can't really do it for myself right now." Bruce shuddered but drew in the deep breath that Tony coaxed him too. He held it a second or two, released it, and then drew another. He could do that for Tony at least. "The single most dangerous piece of technology on the face of this planet right now is the Arc Reactor currently embedded about 5.4 inches where my sternum used to be. In the event that I don't make it through the surgery to remove it, that has got to be in safe hands. If nothing else, someone that can destroy it beyond all attempts to recreate it. If it makes you feel any better, Brucie, I'm not really trusting my life to you – just my mechanical heart."
Pepper stood and smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt. Her hand and wrist were perfectly fine now – Bruce was still sporting a greenish five fingered reminder that she'd slapped him in the first place. "If it makes you feel any better Bruce" (because he could be Bruce again – because he was thinking about it, she could see it in his watery brown eyes) "we do have a contingency plan. It'll improve the odds from 23% to 39% - but without you it's completely off the table all together." Bruce looked up to where she was standing and looking down at him completely regal – and remembered the orange fiery glow shimmering from when she'd slapped him harder than anyone of her stature should have been able to manage –and her tears that had burned tracks down her face and had healed already.
"It looks like you're trusting me with the second most dangerous piece of technology in the world at the same time," was his response. Pepper paled while Tony gave a weak impersonation of his signature smirk. He vaguely wondered if this made them selfish – willing to go such great lengths to save the life of one man – and then he remembered the great lengths that one man went through to save all of them. "Tell you what. Get Betty Ross. Get Eric Selvig, get Jane Foster. Hell, even get their intern, Darcy, and I'm in." He managed to wobble to his feet and gently lifted Tony to his own (my god how much weight had he lost?). He started a mental catalogue of everything they would need for the procedure. "Its times like these, I kind of wish you wouldn't handle all your threats by blowing them to kingdom come. We could use some original data here," Bruce sighed.
"I believe Dr. Banner, that is where I can be of assistance," J.A.R.V.I.S. intoned from the ceiling. It was the first time he had interfered with the conversation between Pepper and Bruce – and he fully supported Dr. Banner being on the surgical team. "I have all the original data from the creation of each and every Arc that has ever been in Sir's chest, all original data concerning initial and all subsequent scans showing shrapnel pieces, placements, movements, and the status on which ones have begun to corrode within Sir's chest." J.A.R.V.I.S. paused as Pepper whipped around to face Tony. Apparently he had neglected to mention that certain pieces of the shrapnel were being essentially rejected by his body – they were corroding – another reason he was getting so sick so fast. "Sir and Master Rhodes were able to obtain all of Dr. Maya Hansen's original data prior to the attack on the Elephant Graveyard, and I myself, completely obliterated the firewalls Aldrich Killian had in place around his data files." J.A.R.V.I.S., for a computer, sounded very, very smug. So very much like what his creator would normally sound like, were he not dying – again. "What, I am saying Dr. Banner, is that, we do have all the original data pertinent to Sir's care. All we need is a competent physician, capable of understanding all of the technology involved – and that can be trusted."
Tony and Pepper were both looking at Bruce and Bruce knew what he had to do. Knew what he had to say. No matter what he was afraid of. No matter what he knew the final outcome of the surgery would be – he had to try. This man – Tony Stark - had single handedly saved the world. He'd built a miniaturized Arc Reactor and flying suit of armor out of a box of scraps in an Afghanistan cave. He'd found a frozen super solider from World War II and brought him back to life (Howard Stark couldn't fucking do that). He'd helped a worthless physicist accept his big green alter ego (he'd gotten low, but what a terrible privilege). He'd offered a home to the entirty Avenger's only to be turned down – he'd drug Bruce back nearly kicking and screaming hoping that he would help to save his life. So Bruce Banner said the only thing he could.
"How soon can we be prepped?"