Summary: His relationship with Tony is the only thing that has ever gone right in Bruce’s horrific life.
After overhearing an argument between Pepper Potts and Obadiah Stane, he realizes there’s nothing right about it at all.
His life had been a dark place, before they’d met.
When the lights to the manor are turned out, leaving the house as nothing more than a shadowed structure on a cliff by the sea in the middle of the night, Bruce balances on the back of the couch and stares out of the window – watches the maddening glitter of the stars to the soundtrack of ocean waves crashing against the rocks below.
He has no real interest in the contents of space – he knows the planets (and their compositions), knows their moons (and their compositions), knows how long it takes each of them to revolve around the sun; he knows the other galaxies that spin and the theories of other Earth-like planets and the plausibility of life outside of Earth, but when he looks up at the sky, those thoughts are silent. Because when he’s looking at the stars, he’s looking up at the process of death – brilliant flashes of stars that have long since exploded, the agony of their deaths silent and beautiful by the time he’s able to see them.
And he finds peace in that. He thinks about the vacuum of space, the way it surrounds everything it touches in a freezing, encompassing darkness, squeezes and drains away the warmth of life until each thing is left at the brink with no other option but to combust, blow apart, and die.
There’s probably something wrong with him that he finds both the concept and the opportunity to experience it, beautiful.
“What are you doing out here?” A groggy voice grumps from behind him. “You left me alone so you could stargaze? Really?”
“Sorry,” he says automatically, not meaning a syllable of it as he twists to straddle the couch instead, and he can feel the softness of the smile the cuts his face as his eyes land on the half-dressed form standing in the middle of the room. There’s no moonlight to bathe the tanned expanse of skin, but his eyes adjust quickly enough that he can make out the quiver of the subtle abdominal muscles under the caress of the air conditioner. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
He watches as Tony shuffles forward, feels those too-damn clever eyes trace over his own outline, can feel the tension that births instantly at his words. He wants to stop it, whatever thoughts are going through the other man’s head, but times before have taught him the uselessness of any such attempts. Tony’s mind is a bullet train, races and produces at inhuman speeds – by the time anyone can think of stopping a line of thought, a conclusion has already been drawn with evidence and fact, stamped and embedded.
“Nightmares?” Tony asks softly, the usual odd note to his voice that always forms at the topic. “Again? You just had one a few nights ago.”
“And two nights before that,” Bruce admits with a wince, ducking away from the sharp look he knows he’ll receive for the confession. “Like I said, I didn’t want to wake you. And … I didn’t think it’d be a good idea to be so close to you, or anyone really, for a while after.”
In truth, ‘nightmare’ is only a correct term in the vaguest sense, for what he’d gone through only a few hours ago, what he’s ever gone through during them, really. Terror would probably be a more accurate description; horror. The visions that wash over him at night are violent, suffocating, and inside of them he can’t breathe or move under the fear they chain him down with. They always feel real, as if he’s truly back in the past of his life, and the burn of his father’s raging eyes always sears against his skin with the blows of his attack; he chokes on the hatred of words he can hear as clearly as he had when they’d first been said – he wakes up not struggling for breath, keeps from flailing in panicked desperation only because some part of his mind, small and alert, screams that Tony’s beside him, too close to lose himself in the waves of fear, to lash out against what isn’t even there.
“I wish you had woken me up.” The brunette sighs as he steps closer still – Bruce can see the draw of his shoulders, stressed and upset. Guilt stabs him low in the belly. “I don’t like you being out here by yourself in that state of mind.” He reaches out then, slowly as if he’s unsure he’ll be allowed to touch, and it’s so absurd that Bruce immediately closes the distance, snagging the extended hand as he slips off the couch. He always wants Tony’s touch.
“I’m okay,” he assures quietly as arms wrap firmly around him. He returns the hug just as tightly, feels the world righten. “They’re just nightmares, Tony, I know that. The past isn’t now. He can’t hurt me now.” Even if every time the belt falls in the nightmares, it feels exactly like the first blow. Every time.
The grip around him squeezes harder. “No one can hurt you now. I won’t let them.”
Bruce buries his head into Tony’s neck, and the shivers that he’d managed to get under control just minutes before return full-force under the security of Tony’s arms. He tries to hold them back, but this is Tony, and in the hold the other man has locked him in, the feelings of safety and love he always manages to envelope him in, and he breaks down at their first wave.
“God, sweetheart,” his lover murmurs against his temple, hands soothing up and down his back in increasing desperation. The touches wash away the stinging reminders of phantom pain. “Stop doing this to yourself. I’m here now, Bruce. Come to me when this happens. You have me to come to, now.”
He closes his eyes and soaks in the warmth.
“Let’s go back to bed.”
[story continued on Ao3]