Characters: Tony, Demira, Bruce, Nemi, Pepper, Lev
Rating: R (mostly for swearing)
Warnings/Triggers: quite a bit of swearing, a panic attack, a bit of sexual humour, a touch of people feeling sad about themselves
Spoilers: Basic MCU verse ones
Word Count 6,642
Summary: A unexpected visit from The Other Guy puts a dent in Operation Friendship, but Tony and Mim make sure it's not a as big a dent as Bruce and Nemi think.
Author's notes: Inspired by several random Science Bro Pinterest posts, which gave me ideas and then daemons got involved. Science Bro epic friendship fic ensued.
Set post IM3, pre Cap 2 and is a sequel to "Baby Steps".
For reference: Demira ("Mim") (a common tailorbird), Nemi (a qinling panda), and Lev (a veiled chameleon).
Knowledge of His Dark Materials is not required. All that's necessary to know is that, in this world, humans' souls live outside of their bodies in the form of animals. There's an excellent primer here.
Nemi woke up with an itchy nose, so she reached up her paw to scratch it. Then her forehead was itchy, so she reached up to scratch that. Then her nose was itchy again, so she scratched that. Then her forehead was itchy, and she opened her eyes to try to figure out what was going on.
“Hey, watch with the claws!” Mim's voice said. “I'm starting to feel unwanted.” She landed back on Nemi's nose again, and Nemi's eyes crossed as she tried to take her in. “Mornin'.”
Beside Nemi, Bruce sneezed violently from the itch in Nemi's nose.
“Gesundheit,” Tony said.
Nemi realized she was on the floor. That usually wasn't good. Waking up on the floor meant she'd gone to sleep on the floor and, most of the time, that meant The Other Dæmon was the one doing the sleeping. She sat up in alarm, almost in unison with Bruce. Mim tumbled down to the floor with a little 'meep!' noise. Nemi and Bruce looked at each other in fear. This hadn't happened since Bruce had moved into the Tower. The Other Guy had stayed nice and quiet, except for controlled instances when Bruce knew it was going to happen and made it happen and they were in a safeish place for it to happen.
The very nice apartment that Nemi really, really liked was in pieces. DUM-E and Butterfingers were collecting bits of furniture and putting them in a big portable dumpster.
“You done being big and green now?” Tony asked. He didn't look mad, but he probably was. He should.
“Yeah. I'm really sorry,” Bruce said. He looked down and pulled a blanket that was covering his lower half up a little.
“I didn't look,” Tony said. “Okay, I looked a little, just to sort of aim the blanket, but I didn't dwell. You okay?”
He still didn't sound mad. Nemi glanced over to Mim, who cocked her head and smiled like this was any other time they saw each other.
“Yeah, I'm fine,” Bruce said.
He put his hand over to stroke Nemi's head, and she nuzzled him in apology. She could sometimes stop him turning if she tried, but she obviously hadn't succeeded. They were going to be kicked out, and it was her fault.
“I'm sorry,” Bruce said. “Did I hurt anyone?”
“Nope, you just went heavy metal on the décor,” Tony said, looking around at the damage. “Nice and loud, though.”
“I'm sorry,” Bruce said.
“And J.A.R.V.I.S shut the elevators down, for safety reasons,” Tony said. “But, you know, we have stairs. Pepper reminded me about them.”
“I'm sorry,” Bruce said.
“So, we decided not to bother you,” Tony said. “Figured you'd get yourself sorted better than me trying to talk you down. I don't think it lasted long.”
“I'm sorry,” Bruce said.
“But all the protocols worked, which is awesome,” Tony said, pointing upwards. Nemi looked up and saw that the ceiling had opened up, so there was twenty feet of space instead of the normal ten. “Didn't bump your head. And the windows held up, too. Not even a crack.”
“Tony's going to patent them,” Mim said, excitedly. “For use in Tornado Alley and hurricane zones and warzones. It's flexible but really strong. So you can batter at it, and it doesn't break. And you did! And now we know, which is awesome.” She did a little happy dance.
Nemi and Bruce looked at each other again, confused as to why Tony wasn't evicting Bruce on the spot, or yelling at him, or really pissed off with him.
“Yeah, so basically you were like a one man college rave,” Tony said.
“I'm sorry,” Bruce said.
“Are you broken?” Tony said. “Say something else. You're worrying me.”
“I'm—” Bruce began. Tony raised his eyebrows in warning. “Okay.”
Tony smiled. “Cool. No harm, no foul then.”
“Um...” Bruce looked around at the room. “Kinda a lot of harm.”
Tony looked around as well and shrugged. “Meh,” he said. “It's not like you destroyed a five million dollar priceless artifact by getting drunk and trying to use it as a football.” He cleared his throat. “I might have done that once. This is only a few thousand dollars worth of damage, which basically means you owe me a dime comparative to the amount of money I have.”
“Maybe...” Bruce said. “Maybe living here wasn't the best idea?”
Mim made a very upset sounding noise, and Tony looked completely confused. “Because you hurt a chair?” Tony said. “Come on, man, do you think I'm that shallow that I would just send you packing because you insulted my interior design skills? I'm hurt.”
Bruce's face relaxed in a slow smile. Nemi felt floaty with relief and nuzzled up against Bruce's side.
“Unless you want to go,” Tony said. Mim shot Nemi a worried look. “I mean if you're not happy here...”
“No!” Bruce said, quickly. “This is...I like it here. I just...didn't mean to...break it.”
“We all make mistakes,” Tony said. “I'm hardly a paragon of self-control. It's not like you're doing this every night, and hey, even if you were, I don't really care. I've told you, you and the Other Guy are one person. Everyone has stuff about them that isn't as awesome as the rest. I'm a narcissistic asshole, you get mad and break things. Live and let live.”
Mim took on a zen pose, making Nemi giggle.
“Now, stop being woe-is-me guy,” Tony said. He shoved a box toward Bruce. “I brought donuts. I thought you might like some donuts.”
“They're from Bangers,” Mim said to Nemi. “Have you ever been there?” Nemi shook her head. “Tony's mom and him used to go a lot when he came home from school. He likes it there.”
Bruce opened the box and Nemi could hear his stomach growl at the sight of the fried, sugary, iced pastries in there. He pulled out a jelly one and began to eat it.
“I pegged you for a jelly guy,” Tony said. Mim hit his hand in a high-five, apparently triumphant for guessing correctly.
Tony sat crossed-legged and pulled out a cronut to eat and started talking about a project idea he had while Bruce chewed and still looked a little unsure about why no one was yelling. Nemi was a little unsure about why no one was yelling. Usually, there was a lot of yelling involved. Sometimes screaming, which was even worse.
“So, whatcha get mad about?” Mim asked, curiously.
Nemi thought back and came up blank. She remembered even less than Bruce when the Other Guy showed up. It was all just a burning anger. Not that low boiling anger that Bruce had learned to keep tame, but a scary, violent one that almost hurt.
“I don't remember,” she said. “I know Bruce woke up and went to the kitchen and...something happened. Sometimes it doesn't take much. When Bruce gets angry he gets scared about being angry, and if he doesn't move fast enough to calm down, he gets angry about being scared and angry and that makes it worse and then it all escalates.”
Mim nodded. “That's like when Tony has panic attacks,” she said, matter-of-factly. “He's all 'oh no, I'm panicked' and I'm like 'no, don't panic, it's okay' and he's like 'I'm panicked about being panicked' and I'm like 'well that's stupid' and he's like 'I know' and then bam!” She spread her wings out dramatically. “Panic city. You can panic about panicking, so I think you could get angry about being angry, too.”
Nemi grinned at the expressive use of wings and Mim's mimicking of Tony's voice as she jumped from side to side to play both parts of the conversation. “It's like that, yeah,” she said. “Only we break more things.”
“That's okay,” Mim said. “You haven't broken stuff in a really long time. Maybe you just needed to break some stuff to get it out of your system.” She turned in a little circle. “And now we can make new stuff. That's always fun.”
Tony wiped his hands on his shirt. “You should get dressed and get out of here so the clean-up crew can work."
“I should do the cleaning up,” Bruce said. “I made the mess.”
“Don't you dare,” Tony said, pointing a stern finger. “DUM-E finally found a thing he can do. Don't even think about breaking his heart. He's loving it, aren't you?”
DUM-E dropped a piece of the coffee table to click its grasper and made a few weep-whoop noises of happiness. Bruce chuckled.
“Come on, get your naked ass up and come down so we can play,” Tony said. He got to his feet and Mim flew up to his shoulder. “You have ten minutes, then I'm having fun without you.”
He and Mim left without waiting for a reply.
Nemi rose and put her head under Bruce's arm to encourage him to get up. “Come on,” she said. “You'll miss the fun.”
“Yeah, because Tony's brand of fun is what I need right now,” Bruce said.
“It's way better than what you thought would be happening right now."
“He didn't really think I was going to kick him out, did he?” Tony asked, as he got in the elevator.
Mim didn't know, but she was very indignant that he might have. Tony was an asshole, but he wasn't a jerk. “Probably a lot of people would have,” she said. “And have. He's probably used to pitchforks.”
“I thought I made it clear this was a pitchfork-free zone,” Tony said, frustrated. “I thought we'd made progress. How long do I have to throw friendship at him before it sticks?”
Mim nipped his ear to tell him to snap out of his self-pity. It was Bruce he should feel sorry for. They were throwing all this awesome friendship at him and he wouldn't let it stick. “You just have to keep trying,” she said. “Until it sticks.”
The elevator opened out onto one of the R&D levels, and Tony sat down and booted up J.A.R.V.I.S at one of the work stations. “J.A.R.V.I.S, get some info on eco-friendly, recyclable furniture and hit me with ideas,” he said. “Bruce's apartment needs a new look. A cost-effective, green one.”
“No pun intended,” Mim said, with a giggle.
She and Tony high-fived.
“Yes, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S said.
3D models popped up all over the workspace and Mim walked along and looked at them while Tony picked up the ones he liked and moved them around and swiped the others away.
“You could use cardboard,” Mim said. “And just throw it in the recycling if he breaks it. Or you could use plastic, and you could melt it down and reform it if he breaks it.”
“Yeah,” Tony said. “Less waste the better. J.A.R.V.I.S make those into a brainstorm file and give me some clay to work with.”
A lump of digital wireframe appeared in the middle of the workspace, and Tony started pulling and shaping it with his hands. Mim offered her opinions and flew over it to make sure it looked good from all angles.
The doors slid open with a sigh and Pepper and Lev came in. It had been a rough night, and Pepper looked a little frazzled, but Lev's danger spots were almost gone now. They were loud and clear throughout the whole of Bruce's hissy-fit. Mim thought if she had danger spots, they probably would have been out, too. Even knowing Bruce and how the whole Other Guy thing worked, it was still super stressful to have him crashing around a couple of floors below you. Especially when you didn't know if the protocols were going to be enough. Tony had had his suit on standby, just in case a quick exit was needed, but it hadn't been.
“Hey, I got donuts,” Tony said, gesturing to a nearby workbench.
“Why did you get five boxes?” Pepper asked.
“I didn't,” Tony said. “I got six boxes. One's upstairs with Bruce.”
“Oh, of course,” Pepper said. “I thought five was weird but six makes perfect sense. It's all clear now.” She opened one of the boxes and looked in, then selected a cheesecake one. “How is Bruce?”
“Bruce-sized,” Tony said. “Intact. His room, not so much. I'm making him a chair to show good will between our two nations.”
Pepper came over to where he was working, and Lev crawled down her arm to the table. Mim hopped over to greet him.
“Hey, babe,” she said.
“Good morning,” he replied.
He wrapped his tail around her and put his head on hers for a moment. She rubbed her face against his.
“Did you get any sleep?” Mim asked.
“Not after you left, no,” Lev said. “Pepper just got up and did some work. It's okay, we got some sleep earlier.”
“After the awesome sex?” Mim said.
Lev swiveled his eye to glare at her. “After the awesome sex,” he said. “When Tony took up three-quarters of the bed and almost pushed Pepper off the edge.”
“But he didn't!” Mim said. “Because he loves her!” She gave him another nuzzle to let him know that she loved him, too, and then hopped away to see how Bruce's chair was coming on. Lev followed her.
“So, it's kind of like origami Lego,” Tony explained. He maneuvered the wireframe around in demonstration. “Cardboard that folds into shapes and then you put those pieces together to make furniture. If I can figure out a way to use one model that'll connect to make a bunch of different pieces we can just manufacture replacements if one or two or all get destroyed and recycle the broken ones.”
Pepper manipulated the wireframe herself, examining it. “If it's cardboard, will it hold weight?”
“Yeah, it's all about pressure points and distribution of weight,” Tony said. “It's like, you can break an eggshell with one hand, right? But if you put three of them in a triangle shape you can pile tons of crap on top and they'll still hold. I'd just have to figure out how to distribute the weight.”
“If it works, how much would it cost to make it?” Pepper asked. “On a large scale. It'll be really light, won't it? You could sell it to campers and people who live in rentals or dorms or even send it to Third World countries. Or in army camps to make them homier.”
Tony grinned. “I like when you think big,” he said. “Let me make it work first, and then we'll get rich and retire to the Caribbean.”
The doors slid open again and Bruce and Nemi came in, looking washed and like themselves, if a bit nervous, like when they'd first come to the Tower. Mim was frustrated; she felt like they'd lost ground. Two steps forward, two steps back.
“Be cool,” she told Lev.
“I will—I am being cool,” Lev said.
“Don't be a dick.”
“Why would I be a dick, I've never—”
“Nemi is really sensitive and we have to be nice to her.”
“Excuse me, I don't think that you have any place to be teaching me about how to be nice when you—”
“Don't make her feel weird.
“I'm not going to make her feel—”
“Good morning, Bruce,” Pepper said.
Bruce knitted his hands, and Nemi was pasted right to his thigh. “Hi,” he said. “I'm sorry about last night.”
Pepper's smile was a little too smiley, but Mim wondered if Bruce would pick that up or if it was just because Mim knew Pepper well enough to know when she was really smiling or scared smiling or annoyed smiling. “It's fine,” she said. “It doesn't even rank in my top five bad nights. I've had a very interesting life.”
“I'm sorry if I scared you,” Bruce said.
“Mysterious loud noises no longer bother me,” Pepper insisted. “It's fine, Bruce. I'm glad you're okay.” She reached out and touched his arm, and he seemed to relax a smidgen.
Nemi ventured over to the table and used her paws to pull herself up so she could see over it.
“Be cool,” Mim told Lev.
“I am cool!” Lev said back, through his smile. “Hello, Nemi.”
“Hi,” Nemi said. “I'm sorry, too.”
“Don't be sorry,” Lev said. He came over to her and patted her nose. “It's not your fault, and Pepper isn't mad. You've really never seen what Tony can get up to in the middle of the night. Ask J.A.R.V.I.S, he'll tell you stories. Mim might enjoy them, too. She probably doesn't remember, considering how drunk Tony was for most of them.”
Mim couldn't even argue that. It was true. It was kind of a bummer that half of her life of being badass happened when she couldn't remember it.
“Once, he built a time machine,” Mim said. “But he didn't use because I was worried about paradoxes.”
“Also because it was actually a bunch of milk crates with a TPV generator in the middle,” Lev said.
“It had dials and switches!” Mim said. “Don't make it sound like it wasn't awesome.” She held out a wing to assure Nemi. “It was awesome. Plus, he'd invented the TPV generator two hours earlier, and he patented it and now it's powering stuff. So don't throw shade on the TPV generator.”
“I'm sorry,” Lev said. “The milk crates were ridiculous, but the TPV generator was very good.”
Mim nodded. “Thank you.”
Nemi gave a soft giggle. “Where was Tony going to go?”
“The Future, duh,” Mim said. “Where else?”
“I don't know, there are some things about Bruce's past I wish I could change,” Nemi said, thoughtfully.
“You'd miss me,” Mim assured her.
“I wouldn't have met you so I couldn't miss you,” Nemi said.
“Oh, man, that'd be really lame,” Mim said, genuinely very sad at the thought that Tony might not have met Bruce. “It's a good thing the machine didn't work.”
“I should go,” Pepper said. “I have to be on a plane in an hour.”
“Hey, excuse me for a second, I have to make out with my girlfriend,” Tony told Bruce, holding up a hand.
“I'll get some tea,” Bruce said.
Nemi joined him and they went over to the kitchen area, leaving Tony and Pepper to their privacy. She was feeling quite a bit better about things, really. Almost.
“See, Pepper wasn't mad, either,” she told Bruce.
“Sure,” Bruce said. “Just a little terrified.”
He looked over the selection of teas. When Tony had found out that Bruce drank green tea, he'd gone very Tony and promptly acquired every variety and flavor known to mankind. Bruce was able to try a new flavor every day and still had tons to choose from. He picked up a box labeled 'movie night', which said it had flavors of apple and popcorn in it. It sounded weird, but Nemi supposed it was sort of like genmaicha. Bruce put the kettle on.
“Everyone is scared the first time they see you do it,” Nemi said. “If they stick around after that it gets better. Sometimes.”
“If,” Bruce said.
Nemi nudged him. “You can't just stop being happy because one thing happened,” she said. “Especially when it didn't turn out as bad as you thought it would.”
“This time,” Bruce said. “What about next time? There's always going to be a next time.”
“Maybe the next time doesn't matter to Tony,” Nemi said. “I think he knows about next times, a little.”
“Whatever,” Bruce said. “He'll get sick of it eventually. Just don't get too comfortable yet.”
“Bye Bruce!” Pepper called.
Bruce turned and smiled. “Bye,” he said. “Have a good week.”
“You, too,” Pepper said.
Nemi waved to Lev, who was waving to her. Bruce poured water over the tea bag and put some sugar in, then took the tea to a workstation.
“Hey, come here,” Tony called. “What are you doing over there? Come over here.”
Bruce picked the tea back up and came over to Tony's workstation. Some sort of model was folding and unfolding itself into various shapes. Tony picked up the shapes and stuck them together and stacked them.
“What do you think?” he asked. “Too modern for you? A little too De Stijl?”
“What is it?” Bruce asked.
“Furniture,” Tony said, as though it should be obvious. “For your apartment. I figured you're more of a cozy guy, though, so I'd have to figure out how to soften the edges. I'd add pillows and stuff, and we'll paint it so it doesn't look like a homeless guy's place.” He painted some bright colors over the blocks.
Bruce looked to Nemi, who didn't know what Tony was talking about either. She looked to Mim, who just smiled and gestured with a 'ta-da' motion to the model.
“Why are you making me furniture?” Bruce asked.
“...Because all yours got broken?” Tony said, looking confused now. “And I mean, I like minimalism as much as the next guy raised by mod and art deco billionaire parents, but there's minimalism and then there's nothingism and we're kinda bordering on it if I don't at least put a lamp in there or something.”
“But I broke it,” Bruce said. “You shouldn't have to pay for it.”
“I want to,” Tony said. “I like to pay for things. I'm good at it. You should see how fast I can spend a million bucks. Once, I did it on sushi.”
“It was really good sushi,” Mim said to Nemi.
“Tony, you don't have to be nice,” Bruce said. “It's okay, I know that I'm—”
“Oh my God! Would you stop that?!” Tony burst out with sudden passion. “I don't know what you're expecting me to do here, Bruce. Do you think I should get my arm blaster and come up and tell you to get out of my tower and don't come back because you slipped up once in, like, a six month period?”
Bruce and Nemi both took a nervous step back from the workstation.
“Because, listen, you are a friend, okay? And I don't have a lot of those,” Tony went on, in full, frustrated rant. “I have spent my whole life talking to people who don't have a fucking clue what I'm saying. I have people who care about me and love me, which is more than I deserve most days, but people who understand how my brain works just don't exist. You are the only person who I've ever met who is both my level of smart—smarter than me possibly—and not an asshole. So, I'm fucking thrilled that you are living in my goddamned tower and I want to build you a fucking chair, so just stop being all meek and self-sacrificing and let me do it!”
Nemi looked wide-eyed at Mim.
“That is, like, 4000% true,” she said, throwing up her wings in exasperation.
Bruce had one hand on Nemi's head, and she put her paw on his leg to keep him calm. But he wasn't angry or scared. She didn't feel that. He was just surprised.
Mim made an 'oh no' expression and flew up to Tony's shoulder to peck at his cheek.
“Okay, yeah, yelling at you about your low self-esteem might not have been the best way to handle that,” Tony said, holding up a hand in apology. “I'm still working on how to express feelings in ways that don't terrify others. I'm in therapy for it.” He pointed at Bruce. “But I meant it.”
“That was actually really nice when you break it down,” Nemi pointed out to Bruce.
“Yeah,” Bruce said, a bit bewildered. “I know.”
“You shouldn't leave him hanging,” Nemi added.
Bruce swallowed and stepped back to the workstation. “I think if you put an extra fold here, it would curve,” he said. “But I like it how it is, too. Maybe not quite so bright in the colors, though? I like neutrals.” He reached out and manipulated the model to make it curve. “I'm sorry I pissed you off when you were trying to help. I'm not really used to having friends, either. I'd really like to have a fucking chair.”
Tony let out a half-laugh. “So, what beige, maybe?”
“Beige is good,” Bruce said.
“Beige is boring,” Tony said.
“Boring is good,” Bruce said.
“Never mind, I don't want to be your friend anymore,” Tony said. “We can't be friends now.”
Bruce chuckled. “I'll settle for brown."
“Deal,” Tony said. He accessed the color palette and started searching for neutrals. “So, are we gonna hug it out? I feel like a hug is in order here. We've hit a hug milestone.”
“No,” Bruce said.
“God, fine,” Tony said. “...Fist bump?”
Bruce raised his fist and bumped it with Tony's across the workstation. Mim flew down to Nemi's level and knocked her head into Nemi's nose with the same enthusiasm.
“I'll send this to the 3D printer and we can get a first look at the prototype,” Tony said.
Mim flew ahead of him to the printer to watch it, chasing the printer nozzle as it moved around. Bruce let out a deep breath and shook his shoulders a few times. Nemi nudged him and smiled up at him.
“Do you feel better now?” she asked. “I feel better now. I don't think Tony would say that if he didn't mean it.”
“No,” Bruce admitted, with a smile. “I guess not. I've been kind of a jerk, huh?”
“Maybe,” Nemi said. “But you can stop now. Because I think it's okay.”
“Yeah,” Bruce said. He still sounded bewildered. “Me too.”
Mim stepped onto the prototype chair, which was about her size, and jumped up and down a few times, experimentally. It was made with elasto-plastic but about the right thickness as the final corrugated would be and flexible enough that they could make sure the folds were working.
“I think this corner is unstable,” she said, taking a few extra bounces and successfully collapsing it. “Yeah, that needs some work there.”
Tony put his chin on the workstation and examined the area with his hand like a telescope over his eye. “Is it a weight issue or a connection issue?” he wondered. “What if I just changed the slot to make a more secure lock? Or do you think I need to add a support connection to spread out the weight? It worked fine in the simulation.” He folded it back up into the shape again. “The connection looks solid; I can tug and tug on it, and it's not slipping out.”
Mim jumped up and down and it collapsed once more. “I'm just saying, it won't hold up in an earthquake,” she said.
“Yeah, well Bruce isn't the kind of guy who's going to be bouncing on the furniture. The Other Guy might, but I'd rather have it collapse under him than stay firm enough to hurt,” Tony said. His head cocked back and forth. “But I'm not manufacturing anything with a flaw, so I'm going to work on it.”
Mim agreed. Tony brought up the wireframe again and moved some parts around. Mim looked over to Bruce and Nemi, trying not to be annoying about it. Bruce was working at the end of the table on a treatment for MS and that was super serious stuff, first of all, and she didn't want to bother him, but also she thought that it might be best to back off now that Tony had made his point. Bruce was kind of like a scared little puppy; you had to show him that you were friendly and then let him come to you. He and Nemi worked quietly but offered input when Tony asked, and Bruce was pretty firm about what he liked and didn't like, and that was actually progress in the relationship, even if Mim still felt like they'd taken a big step back overall.
There was probably an introvert/extrovert conflict going on, in addition to all the other stuff. Tony and Pepper sometimes had that, too. Tony liked to be right up in your face and talking and doing things, and Pepper sometimes needed him to go away and not talk to her for a while and it took a bit of dancing about before Tony (and Mim) understood that it wasn't that she didn't like him or was angry at him, she could still love him and not want to spend time with him right then. So, maybe Bruce was the same way and Tony trying to hang out and make him not alone all the time was too much for him. Maybe he didn't mind being alone sometimes.
Mim would talk to Tony about it when he wasn't working. She couldn't tell Tony anything when he was working. For now, she'd just be cool. Even if it was hard because she wanted Bruce to be happy and Nemi to be happy and for everyone to be friends and not be sad.
By the afternoon, Tony was on the third prototype, and Mim couldn't make that one fall apart no matter how hard she jumped on it, and it took the scaled equivalent of six Bruces before it gave up the ghost.
“Okay, final product?” Tony asked Bruce. He tossed the prototype over. “Like the style, like the color? Any changes at all?”
Bruce caught it and Nemi pulled herself up to look from where she was working with her Nemi tablet on the floor.
“I like it,” Bruce said, after a minute.
“Awesome,” Tony said. “Okay, full-scale attempt next. J.A.R.V.I.S, let's rock and roll. DUM-E, get the cardboard loaded.”
DUM-E wheeled off to be useful—or try to be. He brought over the big sheets of corrugated and fed them into the clicking machine to cut them out. Mim liked watching machines work. You started out with something not a thing and then it was a thing! It was very cool. It made her happy.
The first sheet came out and Tony laid it out on the floor and took the outside bits off to reveal the shape. He started to fold it up and slotted the shapes in place.
“Sir, Ms. Potts is on the phone,” J.A.R.V.I.S said.
Tony pulled out his Stark phone and put it on the floor. Pepper came up on the projection screen. Mim waved to Lev, who waved back.
“Hey, how's Cali?” Tony asked.
“Warmer than New York,” Pepper replied. “Is that your chair?”
“It's almost my chair,” Tony said.
“It looks good,” Pepper said. “So, I literally just got into the office and the board is pushing me about the Hayden acquisition?”
“No, I told you,” Tony said. “Hayden is not a reliable company. They fucked over my dad, they fucked over me when I gave them a second chance. I'm not going to bail them out now that all their fuckery has caught up with them.”
“I know that you've had some bad experiences—”
“They completely failed to deliver on the Osiris—”
“I know that, but they do have facilities in several cities that we could be using for—”
“Fuck their facilities, Pepper. If What's-his-Face Hayden the 14th—”
“Williams Hayden IV—”
“Whatever, who names their kid Williams once, let alone four times? I never liked him as a kid and he's grown up to be an even bigger asshole than me, so no. I don't want to play with them. I don't want their stupid crappy facilities. I don't want their leftovers. No.”
“Well, that's fine, but I am actually the CEO of the company now, and I have to take an unbiased look at what he's actually offering, which is a very good deal for a very good price. If you want to expand out the pharmaceuticals division, you're going to need the space.”
“That is my mother's baby, Pepper, and we're not letting Williams Hayden IV get his grubby hands on it.”
“His dæmon is an idiot,” Mim added, just because it needed saying. “She's a newt. You can't trust a person who's dæmon is a newt.”
“I know, I'm explaining that,” Tony assured her.
Pepper and Lev sighed in unison. “Okay, I'll put them off for a bit longer,” she said. “But can you at least promise to think in a detached, reasonable fashion?”
“Yes,” Tony said. “I can. And I can tell you in a detached, reasonable fashion that their money management is appalling, they have more recalls per year than we've had in a decade, and they bleed employees like...blood. So, I will think about it, yes, but you take a good look at them, too. I did run Stark Industries for 20 years. I know something about it.”
“Yes, okay,” Pepper said. “I'll do some more research, and we'll talk about it again. Anyway, I just wanted to talk to you about that and to let you know I got safely to L.A and all is well and you don't need to fuss.”
“Thanks,” Tony said. “Let me know when you're coming back.”
“Yep, I'll call before I get on the plane,” Pepper said. “Love you.”
“Back atcha,” Tony said.
The call ended.
“Am I being unreasonable?” Tony asked Mim.
Mim shrugged. “When have I ever known when you were being unreasonable?” she said. “But Hayden's dæmon is an idiot. That's a fact.”
Tony nodded. He continued to fold up the unit as the next one exited the clicking machine. But Mim felt uneasy for some reason she couldn't put her wing on. She realized it was because Tony was feeling uneasy, and she was getting it. Then she realized what kind of uneasy it was. Tony was starting to flush red.
“No, don't have a panic attack,” she said. “We're doing stuff. Don't be panicked. There's nothing to be panicked about.”
Tony gave a grunting nod. He didn't stop being panicked. Mim started to feel panicked.
“Why are you panicked?” she asked. “Is it because of the acquisition? Or because of Pepper flying? She's safe--you saw her. She's alive and safe. You weren't worried when she was in the air.”
“I know!” Tony snapped. “I don't know what's wrong.”
“Well, be calm and take deep breaths! You're being really uncool,” Mim said.
She felt herself starting to feel hot and like her chest was on fire. Tony was sweating. Nemi looked over at them, curiously. Mim tried to smile, but it was hard because she was panicked and Tony was panicked and they were both panicked and it was stupid.
“This is stupid!” Mim said. “You haven't done this in a long time, and there's no reason to do it now.”
“Stop saying things I already know! It's not helping,” Tony said. He closed his eyes and took in some four count breaths and Mim snuggled into his neck and tried to think calm thoughts to help him.
“Tony?” Bruce said. He'd come over and was crouching down in front of Tony. “You okay?”
“Yep, fine," Tony grunted. "I'm totally fine,”
“Are you...having an anxiety attack?” Bruce asked, gently.
“No, that would be weird, there's no reason to have an anxiety attack,” Tony said.
“Is there anything I can do?” Bruce asked.
“No, it'll pass,” Tony said. “Just don't judge me. And don't look at me, it's worse when people look. I feel all conspicuous and not in the way that I like.”
“Not judging, not looking,” Bruce assured him. Nemi turned her face away. He took the next sheet of corrugated from the clicking machine and started to fold it up. “Does this one go in here?”
“No, there,” Tony said, pointing. “Tab A in Slot A.”
“That's what she said,” Mim mumbled, making Tony's chest rumble a little with an uneasy chuckle.
Bruce fitted the tab into the slot. “Okay, I see,” he said. “So, this one goes in here. That's easy to do. I thought it would be more work.”
Tony was starting to calm down, so Mim started to calm down, too. “No, I made it to be simple,” he said. “Which is very unlike me. It's a sign of my respect for you.”
Bruce gave a half-smile. “Thanks,” he said. He snapped the last piece in place. “So, how do they go together? Like this?”
He slid one of the units into the other with Nemi's help.
“Well. That's a chair,” Bruce said, sitting back on his heels. Nemi stuck her chin over the back of it and looked down at the seat. “Huh.”
Tony didn't feel panicked anymore, so Mim didn't either. And just like always, there was a weird moment of 'what the fuck was that about?' where they looked at each other and shook their heads. Tony wiped some of the sweat off his brow and Mim ruffled her feathers.
“If you, uh, if you rock it over, the back becomes a seat and the seat becomes a back,” Tony said, trying to sound normal but not sounding much like it to Mim. “If you want a different look. You should try sitting in it, make sure it works.”
Bruce took a cautious seat and then settled in more comfortably. “This is actually really nice,” he said. “It has some give.”
“Stop sounding surprised. I have never built anything that wasn't amazing,” Tony said, now sounding more normal.
“Except a time machine,” Nemi said to Mim, a bit cautiously, like she wasn't sure if joking was cool or not.
Mim lolled and Nemi smiled. Tony stood up and took a few quick laps of the clicking machine to get the rest of the nerves out. Panic attacks left them both feeling all wobbly and weak and tingly. Bruce ignored him and reclined in the chair.
“Thanks for not being weird,” Tony said to Bruce after he'd completed his laps and was back to feeling calmish again. He'd managed not to panic too much about panicking, which made it easier to recover and not go right back into another one.
“Returning the favor,” Bruce said.
“What do you think?” Tony asked, nodding to the chair. “Put the paint on it, call it a chair?”
“Yeah, I could sit in this,” Bruce said. “It'd be good for reading.”
Nemi patted the back of it and did a sort of somersault next to it, which Mim had noticed she tended to do when she was happy about things. It was the most random, endearing trait that she would somersault out of nowhere. If you made her happy while she was The Other Dæmon, she would totally do it then, too. Usually when the Hulk was patting Tony on the head and calling him 'nice shiny glowy man'.
“Groovy,” Tony said. “Okay J.A.R.V.I.S, put the BFC into production. Let's get some units out and see what else we can build.”
“What does BFC stand for?” Bruce asked.
Tony grinned. “Bruce's Fucking Chair,” he said.
Bruce laughed harder than Mim had ever seen him, with Nemi on her back giggling. Mim landed on her nose. Nemi swatted at her. She moved to her forehead.
“Are you okay?” Nemi asked.
“Yep!” Mim said, brightly. “Are you okay?”
“Yep,” Nemi said. “I'm sorry Bruce was difficult earlier.”
“No, it's cool,” Mim said. “I'm sorry Tony attacked him with friendship.”
Nemi giggled. “It's okay."
“So, we're good?” Mim asked.
“We're good,” Nemi said.
“Awesome,” Mim said. Two steps forward, maybe only one step back. “Let's make you a fucking couch.”