All characters © Marvel Comics
Summary: After a telepathic baddie Tony decides he should learn how to meditate. The Avengers provide assistance. It doesn't really work.
Note: I really needed to write something fluffy!
The Quiet Mind
"I'm on a mission, Pepper."
Pepper, who had been going through the recycling bin on her laptop, paused to give Tony a frown. "Please tell me you haven't been watching Top Chef again."
Tony waved her off reassuringly. "You know Mr. Purple People Eater last week who tried to turn the Earth into his personal protein bar?" he asked.
"Wha—" Pepper blinked, "you mean Galactus?"
"Yeah. Well." Tony rubbed the side of his goatee. Pepper, recognizing the reluctance in that gesture, closed her laptop and gave him her full attention.
"What are you thinking, Tony?" she asked.
Tony sighed. "That's the problem, Pep," he replied. "I'm always thinking. Galactus was able to get as far as he did because was latched on to my mind. I wouldn't say I'm a liability, exactly (because I kind of protect the world on a daily basis now), but I thought it couldn't hurt to be more prepared the next time we have to deal with a, well, telepath. In our line of work lot of people tend to get their minds taken over and I kind of don't want to be one of them."
"Are you going to call Xavier?" Pepper asked.
"Absolutely not. I'm perfectly capable of doing this on my own," Tony said.
"Then what are you suggesting?"
"Meditation," he announced. "Calming my mind, being able to clear it and such. I'm not really into the whole Feng Shui-Zen thing—"he wiggled his fingers—"but I bet a ton of people are dying to get their hands on my mind. One sixty-nine IQ here."
"It still sounds like you need protection rather than calming," Pepper argued. "Why don't you just give the X-Men a call? I'm sure there are a number of people there who can give you the exact training you need."
Tony pulled a face. "Charlie's just going to get inside my mind and be all…probe-y," he said. "But that's my stuff, my business, and I don't intend to share anytime soon. I just need to have control over my thoughts."
Pepper reached into her pocket to get her phone. "I could call my yoga instructor and set up some appointments—"
"Nuh-uh," Tony shook his head, "I have everything I need right here." He pulled out his own cell. Pepper tilted her head questioningly, to which Tony grinned.
"Luckily, I happen to know the calmest person on Earth," he informed her.
"I'm incapable of doing this on my own."
"So I hear," the voice on the other line said, slightly crackled through long distance. It sounded amused. "My first suggestion would be respiratory exercises; you know, concentrating on the breath. That's how you start."
"Trust me," Tony tapped the reactor at the center of his chest, though he knew no one could see, "I've had enough heart problems to have mastered several breathing techniques. It's not enough. My problem is focus."
"Focus?" The voice fell silent for a moment.
"Look," Tony said, climbing into the nearest Rolls-Royce and plopping into the driver's seat without even bothering to open the door. "I have seven doctorates. I was in college before I was in puberty. I can speak more than four languages and I can beat Kasparov at chess in under an hour. Now, you and I both know that genius is nothing to complain about but my mind is like a racetrack and I can't slow it down for five minutes unless I'm unconscious."
He could almost hear a laugh on the other end. "Nirvana's currently looking like my kitchen after Dummy's been in it," he added. "I need your help here, Banner."
"Well," Bruce began (Tony could just picture him doffing his glasses and scratching his scalp), "you could try, uh, directing your focus to something else to help you meditate, if breathing doesn't work. You know there is some rather interesting Bengali folk music in Kolkata? There's an instrument they have here called the ektara…"
Tony listened to Bruce ramble about different spiritual and meditative music for a while, finding it mildly interesting but not really his brew of scotch. "So you think ACDC can produce a state of mindfulness?"
"Mozart might be a little better," Bruce offered.
Tony kicked off his shoes and tossed them over the side of the Rolls-Royce. "Hey, it's worth a try," he said. "I'll get some hoodoo chanting and piano music going and see if it can put me in a trance. Oh, and sorry if I woke you up. I kind of forgot about the time difference." They both knew that was far from the truth, but Bruce did not mind. He did not sleep much anymore and enjoyed what little company he could get. Even if it was across the Atlantic.
"Good luck, Tony," he said.
"Roger that." Tony disconnected the line and pulled up his main internet browser (his own design). He splayed his arms and fingers, stretching the screen to fit the expanse of the entire wall in front of him.
"Turn up those speakers full, JARVIS," he ordered. "I'm about to reach a state of mental bliss."
'Usually you do not make those claims without a woman at your side, Sir,' JARVIS replied.
After two albums of Enya, three of Gregorian chants, the complete piano works of Liszt and Mozart and various recordings of wind chimes, Tony admitted that the music wasn't really helping. Sure, it was all pleasant and calming, but for him the effects were not what he'd had in mind (what he wanted was nothing in his mind).
First, instead of bringing fresh awareness, the music put him to sleep. After a while Tony instructed JARVIS to poke him with a wrench if he started nodding off.
In addition the music, when it was not acting as a soporific, actually cluttered his mind instead of clearing it. It especially presented a problem during the piano works. Tony would play a track and immediately get to thinking about the composers, analyzing the chord progressions, the words—anything, really.
(Perfect authentic cadence there with a four-three suspension. Beautiful. Uses a French augmented sixth chord instead of a German because he loves the major second. Pepper took me to see Die Zauberflöte two years ago at the Met and I drank three glasses of champagne during intermission and fell asleep… One six-four to—wait, why is she using Dorian? Her diction is satisfactory but she modulates too much. I can't understand what these guys are saying but Romanoff would because she actually knows Latin…Okay, four-six to diminished seven…my god why does he keep using Neapolitan sixths; it doesn't get you anywhere except five…) And so on and so forth.
After a few days Tony could not take it anymore and popped in one of his Metallica CDs. The sound of people screaming their larynxes out over banging percussion filled the lab. Tony made himself a power-shake by the sink and turned the volume up so that his molars buzzed in sync with the amplified bass.
Having a session with a trained assassin was only slightly better than having one with a yoga instructor.
Tony would only ever ask Natasha or Clint for help in these delicate matters of the mind, as the alternative instructors (Steve, Rhodey, and, god forbid, Thor) augured less promising results and possibly therapy.
For a bottle of 1957 Stolichnaya and a promise to stay out of her hair for a week Natasha had agreed to instruct Tony on the finer points of beginner's meditation. She was one of those people, Tony suspected, who could sit through all fifteen hours of the Ring Cycle without fidgeting. There must be some trick to it that undercover assassins are secretly taught at a young age.
"You need to find your center," Natasha said on Monday afternoon. They were ensconced on some of Tony's silk pillows snagged from the guest bedrooms; he in his undershirt and sweatpants and she in mauve cotton slacks. A light rain drizzled outside.
Tony tapped the lambent glow of his reactor and sniffed. The metal clinked softly as his fingernail made contact with the outer surface. "Got it right here," he declared.
Natasha closed her eyes and folded her legs. "I'm doing this in the hopes that you will become less annoying, not more so," she said. "Now I want you to try again and keep in mind everything that I told you."
"How long this time?" He sniffed again.
She considered. "Let's try five minutes," she said. "I think you can do it. Just breathe normally and focus on that and the silence. Remember: no interruptions, Stark."
The rain pattered against the sash windows in a steady fall. Tony let his eyes slide shut and he began to even out his breathing. He tried, he really did. But after about a minute he crinkled his nose and cracked an eye open. "Does sternutation count as interrupting?" he asked.
Natasha still had her eyes closed, but the edges of her lips tightened ever so slightly. "Why?" Her tone was low and even, but only someone who knew her as well as Tony did could detect the fine line between calm and dangerous. Tony ran a finger under his nose.
"I love the incense, I really do, but you should have gone with the Tibetan sticks because I'm kind of allergic to lavender and I'm about to start sneezing uncontrollably in like thirty seconds."
"The trick is not to cut off all thought," Clint Barton said two days later, stretching out his arms, "but to separate your mind from your body. Don't think like Descartes."
Tony's brow furrowed. "What, 'I think, therefore I am?' "
"Yeah," Clint said. "You don't want to identify who you are with thought, but rather with feeling."
"But I am who I am because I think," Tony said. "And shouldn't you be one to talk, Barton? You were controlled with your—"he motioned to Clint's chest.
Clint sighed. "Exactly. Loki controlled my heart, not my mind, so technically it doesn't really count as telepathy so much as full-body possession. But," he smiled grimly, "this is exactly what I'm saying. My thoughts remained unaltered but my sense of self disappeared. Therefore, your mind and your body are two separate things."
Tony blinked and flopped onto his back. The grass tickled his arms. "Wow, um. That's kind of existential. You know, I don't think I'm ready yet."
"None of us were really expecting Galactus," Clint said with a faint smile. "Don't worry, we'll take it slow. It took me years to master meditation and control. I know you're smart but I don't expect even you to get this in a day. Especially you."
"It feels weird, not knowing how to do something," Tony admitted. "And awkward. Like sticking your hand into a bowl of Jell-O and finding out it's dog-yak." He was only half-joking.
Clint snickered at this and squinted as the sun poked out from behind a cloud.
"So?" Tony's head lolled over in Clint's direction and he raised his eyebrows up at him. "You never actually said how you got over the whole intergalactic brainwashing thing. After Manhattan you took a leave of absence from S.H.I.E.L.D. for three weeks and came back fit as a fiddle." Tony considered. "Mostly."
Clint's eyes met Tony's with a look that said 'my case was slightly different' all too clearly. He folded his hands beneath his head and turned to stare at the clouds, choosing to think for a moment before speaking.
"What Loki did was extremely personal," he began. "It was violating, for one, because he managed to entirely undo who I was while keeping my mind intact and functioning at the same time. And that somehow was the worst part of it."
Tony knew a thing or two about personal abuse, but in a rare moment he chose to grace Clint with his taciturnity.
"Meditation helps you get in touch with your sense of self," Clint continued. "For starters, you need to find a place where your mind cannot be distracted. No gym, no lab, no people. Like here." He gestured to the field around them. "Granted, I went further than the Catskills then but you get the picture. I thought this was the next best place."
"Very green," Tony agreed.
"Isolation can be dangerous, especially if you're prone to PTSD. Nat actually found me a few times," Clint confessed. "But for peace it's perfect. The only thoughts in your head are your own, and you can focus on stilling them as you would the surface of a lake, no ripples."
"Hm," Tony grunted, closing his eyes as a comfortably warm ray of sun passed over him. "You're getting all metaphoric on me, Barton."
"When you're talking spiritual shit you kind of have to be," Clint replied. "Anyway," he sat up, brushed his hands off. "I want you to pick an image of peace and hold it in your mind. Stick with it no matter what, Stark. No clocking out on me."
Tony settled on the first thing his mind conjured up: an empty concert hall—dark, save for a pair of spotlights. A cello lay abandoned on its side by a padded chair. He pursed his lips, eyes still closed. "You sound like you've given this lesson before. Have you given this lesson before?" he asked.
"No." Even through his eyelids Tony could detect a smile in Clint's voice. "I just had a very good teacher."
"So what do I do now?"
"Now you feel your body, conscious, present. Your mind is in one place, wherever that image you are seeing is. Meanwhile, your body is here, separate. Now slowly, I want you to let go of that image."
It almost worked. Ten full minutes went by. But then Tony's mental eye saw that the cello on the stage had no bow. He wondered where it had gone. In fact, what was a cello doing on the stage in the first place if there was no concert to be held?
Tony sighed, sitting up. "Sorry, it's not working. Can we go for a burger and try again later? I'm kind of craving a Philly cheese steak something awful."
Clint looked at him pointedly. "I never got breaks."
Tony rolled his eyes. "I know you're an agent but contrary to your beliefs this isn't Sparta," he said. "What'd your teacher do when you couldn't get something, have you do twenty laps? Make you wash his car? Or her car?"
"Nah," Clint replied. "He made me watch a marathon of his favorite show. Five hours straight."
"Oh jeez. Please tell me it wasn't Jersey Shore. Wait, let me guess. X-files?"
"Supernanny," Clint said.
Tony collapsed on his suede couch face-first a week later. "My mission is failing, Pepper."
Pepper looked up from her book, sympathetic. "I'm sorry to hear that—"
"—would be sorry to hear that if you hadn't bet against me with Natasha," Tony corrected. "Forty bucks, I know all about it." Pepper only laughed in response and put her book down after carefully marking the page.
"Tony," she said, coming over to sit beside him on the couch, "meditation is hard. I know," she added, rubbing his shoulder.
"How do you think I've dealt with you all these years?" Pepper sat up. "I'll tell you something I'm surprised you haven't realized, Tony. And it just may cost me forty bucks, but with the salary I get I think I can afford it."
Tony ruffled his hair and quirked an eyebrow at her. "You're very bold, all of a sudden," he remarked.
"You ever hear of being in the zone?" Pepper asked.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well, you wouldn't be Tony if you weren't thinking," Pepper said and readjusted her position on the couch, bringing her feet up, "so calming your thoughts is probably like beating a dead horse."
Tony frowned. "You're telling me this now?"
"But," she continued, "whenever you're down in the lab, working on your stuff, your mind is in the zone. Completely at peace, even though it's still engaged in thought. It's not just on autopilot."
"Yeah I know that," Tony replied. "That's all fun and great but if someone tries to access my mind I could be…dangerous again. It's like trying not to think about spotted hippos and jackalopes once someone says to you 'don't think about spotted hippos and jackalopes.' "
"And that's why I suggested Xavier first," Pepper said. "He can teach you to redirect; not just to block everything out and stop thinking—"
"Pep, I really don't think I'm ready for that level of intimacy—"
"—so if another telepath tries to get information from you, simply think about something else—"
"—I'd like to see you try that—"
"Fine," Pepper said. Her eyes glinted. "You're a telepath for five minutes. I am thinking about the passcode to Tony Stark's Swiss Bank account, and you want that information. Try to get it." Tony played along and narrowed his eyes at her. His brow furrowed in mock concentration.
Pepper held up a finger. "Now I've just switched my thoughts to the most glorious orgasm I've ever had. You as the telepath could interpret that as quite distracting from the information you need."
"You're saying that to redirect you need to replace your thoughts with another thought that is so distracting it diverts both you and the invasive outsider from the original thought," Tony concluded. "Why Miss Potts, I'm impressed."
"You forget that you're not the only smart person around here, Mister Stark," Pepper said.
Tony folded his arms, giving Pepper an approving once-over. "Agreed. Does this mean I should call Bruce and tell him not to send his weed over after all?" he joked.
Pepper rolled her eyes. "And that I should probably cancel your appointment with Miss Grey," she said.
"Wait, what? You scheduled—seriously? Yeah we don't need another redhead. Three's a crowd." Tony slid his shoes back on and prepared to head into the kitchen, suddenly hungry. As an afterthought, he added, "And for the record, please tell me that orgasm was one you had with me."
"Read my mind," Pepper said. "Your five minutes as a telepath aren't up yet."
"Yeah, but that was a purely hypothetical case," Tony protested. "Why don't you show me something a little, ah, less hypothetical?"
Pepper only smiled.