After seeing the friendship between Bruce Banner and Tony Stark and the fact that the Hulk saves Tony… this demanded to be written. Be warned, pronouns and usage of last/first names will vary, but this is intentional. Don't freak out. I do everything on purpose, unless it's stupid, in which case it's a typo, preferably caused by my keyboard. True story.

Disclaimer: The people that own these characters are gods. I am humbled by the mere thought that I might play with them for a moment.

There's not many things the Hulk is "gentle" with. There may have been a woman once, incredibly beautiful, who held enough of Bruce Banner's heart to bring something like gentility into the Hulk's crushing, smashing hands. Even as it manages to adapt to the team, mark friends and enemies as separate, the Hulk remains a violent model of animalistic rage. Such is its nature.

But Tony Stark manages to earn the Hulk's own brand of care. The way he catches Stark in the midst of plummeting to his death is almost, almost an embrace. Buffeting Stark's armored body with his own is certainly a new one, maybe even more careful than necessary.

Maybe it's because Tony is Bruce's only friend who respects, admires, likes the Hulk. The only person who believes in both Bruce and "the other guy." Maybe it's because Tony isn't just friends with Bruce, he's also friends with the Hulk, and the Hulk really doesn't have many friends, if any. Not really. Still, whatever the reason, Stark is special. He's special and the Hulk likes him, loves him even, in an animal, protective, possessive way.

For hours they've been picking through rubble. Clint is up in a skyscraper a few floors, saying nothing to anyone, which just means he's looking harder. He sees better from a distance. Natasha occasionally looks at the window where she knows he is, silently judging what her teammates would think if she hobbled up to where he is and sat, crippled with him. She still thinks love is for children, but with her leg broken from rubble, sitting helpless while everyone tosses away rubble like it was made of empty paper, she sort of feels like one. Not that she'd ever show it.

With every rock turned to find nothing, the air of frenzy increases. Lesser men would have broken down and cried by now.

Steve is the worst. He's lost so many people, everyone he knows, the world he knows and he won't lose another. He's not sure he can. It's his heart that makes him strong, he's been told, and his heart can't stand losing Tony Stark. He's fond of the guy, really. He's accused him of being selfish and arrogant and a lot of other things Tony probably once was sand always will be on the surface but isn't really. What he really wants to do is sit and sob and think of Peggy and Bucky and Howard and pray that Tony is alive and knows that he's one of Steve's best friends, that he's lived up to Howard's legacy, his family legacy.

Instead, he keeps hauling away rocks because God helps those who help themselves.

The god of thunder, on the other hand, is quiet. He's usually booming and boisterous (hence the name), but now he's quiet through to his core. Quiet and cool. It's slightly frightening for everyone involved. He wasn't this quiet when they caught his brother, nor when he took him home to be locked away in prison indefinitely, and Odin knows that he loves his brother even when he's ashamed and angry with him. He's never this quiet. Erik Selvig may have been the only person ever to see him like this, numb throughout, right after he lost his way home, his power.

Now the Avengers can see it too.

They're all a little out of character now, in the end. They've all lost so many people before and Stark just grows on you. The team wouldn't be the same without him. Maybe it wouldn't be the same without any of them.

Hulk is the most surprising. He's not smashing through rubble recklessly. He's gingerly lifting piece by piece and then smashing those, throwing them angrily. It's amazing what control he suddenly has. Occasionally, he sits back and roars, not angry, but like a wounded animal, in total agony. It sends shivers down everyone's spine. Then he goes on, rock by rock.

It's been hours, and nothing. They don't even know what room Tony was in when the explosion went off. All they know is that it took them all by surprise and they're not suited up and Tony's just flesh and bone and hasn't checked in with them all this time.

Hulk announces his discovery with an especially loud, angry and pained roar. There's a change, a different emotion, one that makes everyone look over.

All Steve can think is that at least the idiot managed to go fetal, because for a self-obsessed genius, his sense of self-preservation is awful. Still – Tony's bloody an unmoving and they all surge forward to see if he's breathing.

The Hulk lashes out, wild and impulsive, like a mother lion, with a snarl, shaving Steve away roughly. Steve steps forward to calm him, he sees the way the Hulk edges back, breathing deeply and looking between them. He steps back, stopping Thor with a flung out arm. Thor moves to protest, but Steve points out the protective way the Hulk backs up against Tony, grunting and huffing warningly. It takes Thor a moment to focus on anything but a fallen comrade, but when he does, he falls back. He's not an idiot, despite what many think.

The Hulk doesn't seem satisfied with their small change in distance, and neither of them wants to be an enemy of the Hulk again. They back up even further, further, until the Hulk finally looks away, one final snort at Natasha to prove his point, then turns around to look at Tony, prodding aside his limbs with a less than shattering force. Tony doesn't react, and Steve can't breathe until he sees that Tony is.

The Hulk roars, as though having determined that this is the medicine for all hurts of Tony Stark. He does so a few times, but he knows when to acknowledge a failure. Some of Bruce's scientific thinking still lives in him. He collapses to his knees when he realizes his meager knowledge cannot solve this problem. Snarling, he reaches for Tony. It is all Steve can do to hold back Thor and shake his head at Natasha, who, despite sweating with pain, is reaching for the gun on her at all times.

Not exactly softly but not brutally either, the Hulk is pulling Tony into his arms, cradling him like a baby. Tony groans quietly, mumbling as the Hulk rocks him. It reminds Natasha of a gorilla she saw once, huge and rocking her baby as it nursed and how Natasha marveled at the fact that so tiny a baby would become so massive a creature. Not many things make her cry, but her nose prickles just a little. If anyone asks, she'll deny it.

The Hulk rocks himself straight down to Bruce Banner, collapsing onto Tony for a moment before he looks back up, dazed, as though wondering why on Earth he's holding his battered friend in his arms like a child. Steve and Thor are by his side before he can fully sit up and look around, tending to Tony. Before they pull him away, Tony sluggishly opens his eyes – totally out of it – and mumbles something into the crook of Bruce's neck. Bruce smiles calmly, gives Tony the smallest little squeeze and then surrenders him to the rest of them.

-X-

Bruce sits alongside Pepper while Tony struggles through the nasty concussion in his bedroom surrounded by ridiculously well paid doctors. He's throwing up and dizzy and can barely get two words out at a time, so Pepper and Bruce go ahead and tease him mercilessly like nothing is wrong and silently promise never to speak of this again.

They never do, and it's not sure if Bruce or Tony remember the remarkable exchange that happened between them, but no one brings it up. They don't bring up the room that Pepper and Tony leave open for Bruce in their vast expanse of extra rooms, either. Or how increasingly frequent Bruce's visits are. Or even the fact that right between the old picture of Tony and his father and the newer one of Tony and Pepper there is a picture of Tony, Pepper, Bruce and some kind of engine or something they built together.

Hell, they don't even mention the way Bruce makes Tony wear a coat in the rain (he looks serious, anyway) and it's near impossible to make a remark at the look on Tony's face when he does it.

It's just one of those things.

Hope you liked. If you didn't, tell me why. If you did, tell me why. Either way, review.