Why do we fall Bruce?
So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.
Gotham used to be bigger. That is the first thing that to occurs to him as he is stepping off his jet and hops down the stairs two at a time. He remembers it towering over him when he was first here, but that was some time ago and he was a lot smaller then.
Bruce Wayne was smaller then, too. A lot smaller.
"Brucie!" Tony throws open his arms as he descends down and makes his way over to the other man. He wonders idly, with the sun behind him, if he looks rather like the Messiah, because Tony Stark has come back from the dead with a message.
He flashes a large smile at Bruce and the other man flashes it back. That's all it is; a reflection.
And no one else would have noticed, but it's a smile Tony himself has perfected over the years.
"Anthony." Bruce says with the hollow smile and the empty eyes as he returns the hug.
"Tony, please. Right. Enough with the small talk," Tony says immediately after the curt reintroductions, "let's get down to business." He can hear Pepper's high heels following behind him.
Bruce shakes his head with an amused smile toying on his lips. Tony is fairly certain that he is staring at Pepper and he feels an anger rising in him that he knows he needs to quell down quickly if he wants to pull this off.
"I'm afraid I never do business on an empty stomach, Tony." Tony almost forgot about the time change so he glances down at his watch. Three hours difference from Malibu to Gotham, but it's only one o'clock in California right now.
"Please, call me Mr. Stark." Tony says with a bright grin and a malicious twinkle in his brown eyes. He wants to get this over with. He doesn't like Wayne. He never did. Not since his father had forced him to make friends with the younger boy during a dinner party over twenty years ago.
He is thirteen and frowning in his overly starched shirt. He wants to get back to the new car he is working on, but his parents had dragged him here. He was supposed to make friends with the boy, but Tony would be graduating from high school soon and attending college and really did not want to talk to someone who probably still counted on his fingers…
"Hi." The boy had said in a soft voice. "I'm Bruce."
"Hey," Tony replies after a few moments of long silence. He doesn't offer his name and Bruce waits and waits patiently with his wide curious blue eyes until the young boy gives up and looks down at his left arm. This catches Tony's attention and he looks out of the corner of his eyes.
"What happened?" He finally asks, because Tony is always curious and he always wants to know.
"I fell." Bruce says simply.
"And braced yourself with only one arm and it put too much pressure on the bone and fractured your wrist?"
Bruce looks up from his cast, plain white save for Rachel's large purple signature, and over at Tony.
"I just… fell. Rachel was chasing me and when I ran over some boards and they broke and I fell."
"Who is Rachel?" Tony asks disinterestedly, "Your girlfriend?"
"Ew. No. She's my best friend. She found an arrowhead in the garden and got angry when I took it."
"Why did you do something stupid like that?" Bruce shrugs and doesn't respond. Tony feels a little bad and sighs.
He doesn't want to talk to Bruce anymore, he never wanted to in the first place...
"Four is a little too early for me for dinner." Tony snaps, not bothering to keep the annoyance out of his voice. He wants to get this over with, sell the shares and move on. He's got people to do, things to see, a suit to build and a world to save.
But, he needs to save his company first. Tony glances quickly behind him to see Pepper. He can spot the frustration in her body. She carries it all in her shoulders. He was trying to be on his best behavior. Unfortunately, often his best was equivalent to many's worst.
Bruce laughs and it's one that bugs Tony, because something in that laugh is not right, but he can't place it.
"I'm not having dinner," he says with a sly smile, "It's breakfast time, Mr. Stark."
"…On second thought, I liked Anthony better."
"Alright, Anthony." Bruce keeps his voice from becoming clipped and Tony wonders if the idiot even realizes that he is mocking him. Pepper does, because he hears her hiss out of the corner of her mouth 'behave.'
"Y'know, I'm kind of digging Tony now."
"Alright Tony- the limo is this way. You can talk while I eat."
"When you say Tony are you saying Tony with a 'Y' or Toni with an 'I'? Because, Brucie, I'm thinking I should start shaking things up and change the spelling, so please, Toni, Toni with an 'I.'"
"Right, Tony." Bruce is still smiling and it doesn't look strained, so it occurs to Tony maybe the other billionaire really just is too stupid to realize when he is getting made fun of. Bruce turns around and heads towards the limo, the driver opens the door for him and he slides in with a grace that Tony doesn't remember him possessing.
Tony doesn't move yet; he turns to Pepper and glances at her with the most innocent look he can muster.
"Did he use an 'I'? Because, I really don't think he used an 'I'. It's rather disrespectful of him, isn't it? I mean I asked him one simple request and he goes ahead and ignores it- I'm not sure if I can work with him, Pepper."
The redhead only sighs angrily in response and click-clacks off in her high heels towards the limo.
When he slides in, Tony and Bruce catch each other's hard gaze and they both remember: the parties, the talks, the proposition from Stark to Wayne. The meetings is informal and relaxed, still at the dinner table.
With the gin comes loose tongues and flaring anger.
"I'm a doctor," Bruce's father says with a low voice. "My job is to try to save lives not help destroy them."
"It will save the lives of our soldiers."
"And destroy the lives of others."
"I help protect America." Tony's dad says standing up and glaring.
"You protect only yourself, Mr. Stark." Thomas Wayne says evenly. Bruce is watching his father with wide, worshipping eyes and Tony is looking at both Waynes with all the hate he can muster...
Bruce Wayne is wearing a black suit with a dark blue tie. He looks debonair, dashing, and dapper. Stark and Potts are sitting across from him. He is leaning back with the relaxed posture that signifies the large size of his bank account.
Tony Stark is wearing fading blue jeans and a dark gray grease stained MIT shirt with the hint of an ethereal blue glow over his chest where the letters are. There is some grease still under his fingernails; it is quite obvious that he had been preoccupied working on or building something.
"Mrs. Potts is it?" Wayne says with a disarming smile.
"It's Miss Potts; Mrs. Potts is from Beauty and the Beast." When she catches what she's said there is a slight blush of red under her freckles.
"Well, Miss Potts, I believe we talked on the phone before, but I have never had the pleasure of meeting you in person." Bruce says offering a hand to Pepper.
Pepper is hesitant to take it, but when she does she is thrown off by how callused his palms are and by the scratches on his knuckles.
"No, Mr. Wayne we haven't met, but I have heard much about you."
"All bad, I hope. The entertaining lies are much more fun than the boring realities."
"Like how you came back from the dead?" Tony drawls out.
"Exactly!" Bruce says with an enthusiastic grin and tone that Tony knows- just knows- he is faking. "I read that I had joined a Lithuanian circus and another article on me said I had been studying to become a Hindu priest. The truth, of course, is far less interesting."
"So, what's the truth then, Brucie?" Tony challenges. He can't stand how Bruce isn't reacting. He's keeping his voice even and his tone polite. Bruce keeps acting like he's so much better than him.
"I had to get out of the city; I was drowning here. Gotham has always been my home, but I felt like the city had taken so much from me that I had to get a way for a while. Have you ever had that feeling, Miss Potts?"
"Well, actually…" she begins feeling thrown off slightly. She is used to charming men, so she's not sure why Bruce Wayne should be any different. "It's Pepper. You can call me Pepper."
"Pepper? That's an adorable name." There is his stupid smile again.
"Thank you, Mr. Wayne."
"Please, call me Bruce. Mr. Wayne was my father, and I am not my father."
Stark snorts, "Clearly." He mumbles.
Tony can't stand being ignored. What he can't stand even more than that is the fact Pepper is falling for this stupid act. She should know better. She should know Bruce Wayne just charms the pants off of girls and then moves on. Bruce Wayne can't commit. Bruce Wayne doesn't care about Pepper…
Pepper deserves more than Bruce Wayne. She deserves better than him.
And although he didn't like him at least Thomas Wayne was trying to save his city.
What is Bruce Wayne doing for it?
Tony is watching the boy. His arm has healed but something else is broken. The butler holds the umbrella above both of them. Tony didn't bring an umbrella so he stands in the rain and watches.
Tony's father delivers a eulogy about how dedicated Thomas Wayne was and how caring and wonderful Martha Wayne was and how despite their differences in opinion the he admired both Waynes and what they were doing to save their city.
But, Tony doesn't listen, because if anyone can think that what his father does is wrong, what he wants to do is wrong, there can be no good in them.
"So, Pepper, how long have you worked for Tony?"
"Toni, with an 'I'." Tony interrupts from his seat. His posture is slouched and he's glaring, but trying to keep it subtle. He's not doing a very good job at it.
"Nearly five years…. But it's felt like a lot longer."
"I can imagine. How has he managed to keep you around for so long? When we used to know each other he went through a new administrative assistant every few months-" Pepper's large eyes widen and Tony is certain it's because Bruce Wayne didn't call her just a secretary like everyone else does.
"Mr. Stark and I have, reached an understanding."
"See, that's something Brucie and I never managed to do." Bruce just ignores him and leans forward so he's closer to Pepper and smiling at her with that damn empty smile.
"He's lucky to have you, Pepper. Alfred has been with my family for the past" he pauses and turns around to the driver, "How many years, Alfred?"
"Thirty one, Sir." Alfred says without turning around. Tony begins to play with the partition.
"Alfred became my legal guardian after my parents were killed." Bruce adds with a small shrug and Pepper, despite herself, looks at him with a new level understanding. Maybe Bruce Wayne isn't like what the tabloids say.
"He's the trying, moody, young man I never did have myself." Alfred adds before Tony closes the partition.
The next time Tony sees Bruce it's at his own parents' funeral.
The little boy looks too serious when he approaches Tony after the crowd begins to clear. It's a bright sunny day and Tony is annoyed. Why is the day his life is turned completely upside down so goddamn sunny and clear? Doesn't the world realize what has happened here?
"It doesn't go away." He hears come from his side. Tony looks over at him, then back to the graves that are being filled in. He is never going to see his parents again.
"When I need advice from a seven year old I'll make sure to give you a call." Tony says as he begins to loosen his black tie.
"Well, then you're not even useful for that. And for the record- you suck at comforting people." Tony doesn't look at him and assumes he has left when a few minutes pass by in silence.
"I just think you deserve to know the truth- Everyone is lying to you right now. It doesn't go away. And you'll never feel the same." Tony is glad when it finally starts raining, or at least he'll claim that it's raining when he feels the hot liquid running down his cheeks. He's glad no one is around to bother him.
"Thanks." Tony says, to no on in particular after the little boy has left, because sometimes the truth is better than comforting lies.
They take a seat on the second level of the restaurant overlooking the fountain below them and the sky line of the city is on their right. It's private and no other tables near them are occupied, though the bottom level is overflowing with people and there is a large group waiting for the next cleared table.
The waiter brings menus. Tony hands his back. "I'm not getting anything."
Pepper hesitates a few seconds longer before she closes the menu and moves to hand it back as well.
"Pepper, are you sure you don't want something?" He smiles and his handsome and clear blue eyes are sparkling a bit.
"Yes, I mean. I'm not all that hungry…" Bruce reaches across the table and places a hand over hers. She is flustered. Tony fumes.
"Get whatever you want, Pepper, it's on me."
"On second thought," Tony says taking the menu back from the waiter, "I'll have whatever's most expensive."
"Tony!" Pepper bursts out.
Wayne just laughs in his not-quite-right laugh that is getting under Tony's skin.
"Don't worry about it, like I said, get whatever you want."
"But, Mr. Wayne…" Pepper protests.
"Bruce, please, and don't worry about it, Pepper. I own this place. Get whatever you want…" She flushes. Tony fumes. He snaps the menu closed and hands it to the startled waiter.
"Bring me two of whatever I just ordered." Tony adds.
Bruce Wayne is probably tall for his age Tony supposes, because he knows he is much too serious for it.
"Shouldn't you be in school?" Tony asks with a raised eyebrow. The room is filled with full wallets and empty smiles.
"Probably, but a Wayne is supposed to be here. They have for the past twenty years; I'd hate to be the one to break tradition." Tony shrugs and grabs a glass of champagne from a waitress as she walks by. He looks over at Bruce and notices the hint of a bruise under the boy's left eye that he missed earlier. It extends down towards his jaw and under his ear.
"What happened?" Tony asks because Tony is always curious and he has to know.
"I fell." Bruce says simply before he changes the subject,"Congratulations, I heard your stock prices jumped when you took control of the company back from Stane." Tony nods. He doesn't care all that much about what the teenager is saying, by his age Tony was almost finished at MIT, he wasn't attending some preppy boarding school filled with other rich snobs.
"Yeah. I'm surprised you knew anything about it. It's all very technical business stuff." It's an underhanded jab, but Tony doesn't care.
"I bought most of them." Bruce says with a shrug as he walks away.
"I know this is just an informal meeting, because you don't own Wayne Enterprises…"
Bruce laughs. Tony feels angry again. He hates that stupid laugh.
"When the company went public I bought it out; it was all over the news. Where have you been, Stark?"
"A cave. In Afghanistan. It's where I got this." Tony stands up and pulls up his shirt to show Wayne in the empty level of the restaurant.
And a look of surprises flashes across the other man's eyes that can't be real, because no one not even the prodigal son of Gotham- whose intelligence peaked at sixteen -could have missed the news about how Tony Stark was kidnapped in the Middle East. There was no way in hell the playboy could have been so preoccupied with anything he didn't hear about Tony Stark's disappearance and return.
"Well," Bruce says, "I guess I really should look into reading the Gotham Times more often; I do own it after all…"
Tony is readjusting his belt and his secretary looks flustered when the door opens and Bruce Wayne is standing in the doorway looking solemn.
"Brucie, what an unpleasant surprise."
"I wanted to ask you a favor, Anthony." Bruce says; the secretary rushes out and Bruce walks in. He stands in front of the chair opposite of Tony's, but does not sit.
"I would appreciate it if you could keep an eye on my father's company. I might be away for a while and I don't know how much I trust William Earle to run the company the way my father wanted it." Tony doesn't like those too serious eyes in Bruce's face. The kid acts like he's seen too much.
"You're going to college now, aren't you?" He says changing the subject, "Let me guess, Harvard?" Tony has been straightening the files on his desk where it's obvious something has just happened. He glances up at the young man before walking around his desk to stand in front of him. He's taller than Tony now, but still rather thin. He almost looks undernourished.
"Nice try, Princeton, actually, but not for long." Bruce looks impassive.
"Why? You don't like it?"
"I liked it just fine. The faculty doesn't feel the same way."
Stark raises his eyebrows and Bruce continues with the same sad emptiness in his eyes.
"You're getting kicked out?"
He doesn't say anything for a while.
"Not all of us are destined for greatness, Mr. Stark."
"You never were that bright."
"No. I wasn't. There's only one thing that I know I'm supposed to do."
"Your destiny?" Tony mocks. He can't stand how empty Bruce seems. He wants to make him react. He wants to make him feel. He wants to knock down the Prince of Gotham to the ground. Dirty his pale hands. Wants to bring him to his own level.
"You think because your parents went and got themselves killed that you're somehow better than the rest of us?"
Tony gets exactly what he wants.
Bruce punches him.
And later, when they both are sitting in the emergency room, side by side unspeaking, Bruce using his shirt to slow down some of the bleeding, they reach a sort of understanding- almost.
"My god." A nurse says, "What happened?"
"Crashed my motorcycle." Tony says holding his side where he's pretty sure he has a broken rib or two.
"….I fell." Bruce says simply, through bleeding lips.
"I know why you had Pepper call for this meeting; when I was declared dead Alfred had my stocks sold, but I feel like there is something you should know-"
"I want you to reinvest." Stark interrupts.
There is a flash in those pretty blue eyes- so quick that Tony almost misses it -which has the fierceness he remembers from his youth and the night long ago when they tore each other apart.
"I've had a change of heart, Stark," Bruce says with a dangerous tone that catches Tony and Pepper both off guard. "Wayne Enterprises will never do any business with arms manufacturers again. Earl did a lot of stuff that my father wouldn't have been proud of."
"Where have you been, Wayne?" Tony almost yells, "Did you seriously miss my press conference? I've seen firsthand what those weapons can do… And I never want to be responsible for something like that again."
Wayne blinks. Tony stares. They come to an understanding- almost.
"I'll see what I can do…"
"And remember," Pepper says while Tony refuses to look up from his circuit board, "behave. If you can pull this off, interest from an established company like Wayne Enterprises will make other investors feel comfortable enough to buy from you again…"
"Brucie!" a model looking girl calls out from the lower level of the restaurant. She is with two friends. They're near the fountain and dressed in rather skimpy, but expensive, dresses.
"Come join us Brucie!" the other one calls as she takes off her heels and jumps in the fountain.
Bruce casts a glance at Pepper from the corner of his eyes and Tony realizes that Bruce has come to the same conclusion.
Pepper deserves better than him… So Bruce smiles his empty smile and takes off his jacket and begins to unbutton his shirt. When he has pulled it off Tony can't believe how big Bruce Wayne is now. His broad shoulders and defined muscles were mostly hidden under the slimming suit and he looks nothing like the sullen young man who came into his office seven or eight years ago.
There's a large fading bruise running its way across the side of his ribcage and on to his chest. Tony remembers in the periphery something about a polo accident in the tabloids, but he knows it's a lie.
"What happened?" Tony asks, because he's curious and Tony needs to know the truth… and he knows Bruce Wayne will do him that courtesy.
"I fell." Bruce says simply as he makes his way down to the girls. He doesn't look at Pepper, but he catches Tony's eyes and looks at him with the too serious gaze Tony remembers from Bruce's young face so many years ago.
It is rather sad, Tony supposes, that the son of Thomas and Martha Wayne has fallen so far that it looks like he can't get up again.
Please review, kthnx. If you're interested in more Tony/Bruce interaction I've got two small ficlets in my collection "Lost Knight." I am also working on a sequel to this. That however, will take some time.