A/N: This is my first, post-movie multi-chapter fic. Woo! This may not be as action-y as you are used to, but I hope you enjoy it all the same. There's a few plot points taken from both the Incredible Hulk movie and the tie-in Avengers comic, Nick Fury's big week. If you have questions, feel free to ask if it's not clear. Thanks for reading!
Tony sipped from his mug of coffee, staring out the newly-replaced windows of the tower down to the wreckage below. It had taken nearly a week for workers to de-armor the serpent things and then blow them up whale-style to remove them from rooftops. He had helped when he could, but once the adrenaline (and the shawarma) had worn off and he had gone to bed (on the ruined couches of his ruined penthouse), he had woken up and found himself unable to move from sheer muscle fatigue.
It had been like that for almost three days.
Pepper had helped him of course, but it was a trial.
Bruce had moved in, not wanting to leave Manhattan in the state it was in. He technically wasn't allowed to leave unless it was to go to a SHIELD-operated facility, but Tony knew he occasionally snuck out to help with small cleanup jobs that were getting fewer and fewer as days went by and daily life returned to normal.
Clint, Natasha and Steve, while not "officially" having moved in, had rooms and spent all their free time here as well. Clint especially. He didn't want to spend any more time than necessary around SHIELD, too crushed by what he had done under Loki's influence.
Even Thor had apparently found a way to occasionally woo his father into letting him take the newly repaired "rainbow bridge" (Tony would believe it when he saw it) back to Earth for short visits both to New York and New Mexico.
So all in all, it wasn't a bad setup.
Today, only Bruce was around, Thor being in Asgard and the SHIELD agents and Steve doing something for Fury. Even Pepper was out of town, working on her clean energy buildings in DC.
Tony had always had to make his own company for most of his life, so it was a bit of a jarring change when suddenly he found himself with a steady girlfriend and five new roommates. He wouldn't say he didn't like it, but he would also say he relished the silence when most of them weren't here. They all got along fairly well, but anyone living in close proximity with any other can grate on your nerves occasionally.
Although Tony suspected it was the rest of them that would say he grated on their nerves.
Whatever, they were free to move out, even though he knew they wouldn't.
So here he was, sipping his coffee, actually having a quiet moment of reflection, when Jarvis' voice (sounding somewhat alarmed which in turn immediately alarmed Tony) interrupted him.
"Code Green in the lab, Sir."
Tony didn't think, he just dropped his mug and ran.
He rushed down the stairs, skidding to a halt in front of the glass doors. His eyes widened as he saw…the Other Guy inside, ambling around aimlessly. A computer array lay smashed at his feet, and Tony winced when he roared and threw another computer across the room.
"Open up, Jarvis," Tony said.
"Sir, I don't advise-"
"Do it!" he snarled. The door clicked open, and the Hulk's head whipped around, huge teeth crunched together as he breathed through them loudly.
Tony raised his hands in what he hoped was a calming gesture. Bruce had hulked out a few times since Loki, but it had always been warrented, and they'd always been around to sort of…guide him. Tony wasn't sure what had brought this on, but he hoped Bruce would recognize him, despite him not being there when it had happened. "Woah, big fella, woah. Did Dum-e startle you?"
The robot clicked quietly from the corner, where it seemed to be hiding.
Hulk snarled and took a step forward. Tony didn't flinch.
"I'm not going to hurt you. Just, you know, Bruce. Hey. How…are…you?"
Tony wouldn't lie and say he had a lot of experience with this.
He sort of wished he had had the foresight to put his armor on, but…maybe that was the last thing Bruce needed right now, the sound of metal pounding over slate floors and robotic voices. So, he lowered his hands, straightened up, and gave a cocky grin.
He felt a rib (or three) snap as he was effortlessly swatted through the glass windows and into the hallway.
He sat up and gave a weak cough, which set his whole left side alight with fire. His eyes widened and he fought not to whimper in pain as the Hulk stepped slowly through crunched glass.
"Sir, shall I call SHIELD?"
The Hulk looked up, surprised, searching for the source of the voice.
"Belay that," Tony said weakly.
The Hulk looked down at him again, before blinking in confusion. "That's right, buddy," Tony said, pulling himself up the rest of the way, and scooting forward towards the Hulk, wincing. "You know me. See? We're all friends here." He leaned forward, patting the Hulk's big toe.
The Hulk actually looked amused, before reaching down and scooping Tony up. The hold would have been bone crushing even if he hadn't already had broken ribs. Tony's vision went white, and he forgot how to breathe.
It felt like hours, but in reality it was probably only about a minute before he found himself sitting haphazardly in a chair, blinking painfully up at the Hulk.
"Wait." The beast grunted. He flopped down on the floor in front of Tony, making the ground shake, and just…stared at him.
Tony gave him a small smile, which the Hulk returned, before Tony found himself drifting off.
He woke up to Steve's face inches away from his. He sucked in an alarmed breath, before remembering that was a terrible idea with broken ribs, and jammed his eyes shut in pain as his hands gripped the armrests of his chair.
"Tony! What happened? I'm taking you to the hospital!"
"No, no, " Tony managed to grit out from behind clenched teeth. He opened one eye to see Clint and Natasha standing over an unconscious Bruce (not Hulk, thankfully), who was just beginning to peel himself off the floor. "Just ribs…can wait…"
Clint snorted, as Steve helped Tony to his feet. Now that he wasn't slouched, it was a little easier (but still painful) to breathe. "Just…just you guys?" Tony looked around anxiously for the SHIELD Hulkbuster unit, and relaxed a little at seeing they were still alone.
"Jarvis called me," Steve said. "He said just our services were required." Steve gestured to Clint and Natasha.
Tony leaned on Steve a little, who held him steady. "Thanks, buddy," he said.
"Despite your slightly inappropriate behavior, I do have both your and Dr. Banner's best interests at heart."
Clint raised his eyebrows, before he glanced from Bruce back to Tony. "'Inappropriate behavior'?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Barton. I simply walked into a room which…had the Hulk in it."
"You what?" Tony could practically see the lecture forming in Steve's mouth.
"Don't get your star-spangled panties in a twist, we worked it out."
Bruce had returned to consciousness now, and was sitting up with Natasha's help. "Tony…" he looked around, seeing the smashed computers and Tony holding his side leaning on Steve and his eyes widened.
"No, I'm sorry," Tony said as Bruce opened his mouth.
"…what?" Bruce looked confused.
"Sorry that I wasn't-here-you know, for your initial…thing."
"Tony that's not-"
"No, really," Tony interrupted, pushing himself off Steve. "It might not have been so bad if I was around."
"I don't want you around," Bruce growled. "I don't want any of you around. It's too-"
"Dangerous?" Tony interrupted again, and Bruce shot him a glare. "Look, you may have broken some ribs, but it was nothing I wasn't asking for. Besides, afterwards you put me to bed. So everyone wins."
"Tony," Bruce and Steve said at the same time, in an annoyingly nagging stereo.
"Seriously, just chill. We've been over this. You're fine when you're around us. You know us. We're fine! You're fine! Everyone. Is. Fine."
"You need to get medical attention," Steve pressed, putting his hand on his shoulder.
"In a minute," Tony snapped, picking up Steve's hand by one finger and depositing it off his person. "So. I'm sorry. Now," Tony sank into the chair again, wincing, ignoring Steve's disapproving look. "What made you Hulk out in the first place?"
Bruce glanced worriedly from Tony to Steve as Natasha helped him stand. "You're…not going to like it either."
One quinjet ride to the helicarrier later found all five of them in the med bay while Tony got patched up. Fury had shown up about a minute after they had arrived, inquiring as to what happened. Tony opened his mouth to say something along the lines of "buzz off", but to his surprise, Steve was quicker.
"Stark was experimenting with his armor and blew himself up."
Oh that was...well, certainly plausible. Tony shared a look with Bruce, and felt his respect for their "team leader" grow. Tony grinned widely at Fury.
Fury looked dubious. He glanced from Tony to Bruce who gave his own disarming smile. Tony didn't doubt for a second he knew what actually happened.
"Try to be careful in the future," Fury said, and turned around, his coat whipping around his ankles.
Before Tony could contemplate what just happened, the other man was gone.
It seemed Natasha hadn't been lying about Fury trusting Bruce after all. That was certainly eye-patch opening.
"You didn't have to do that," Bruce mumbled.
Everyone in the room just shot him a silent look.
"Thanks, though," he mumbled again.
Clint had alluded to Tony before about how some secret, shadowy organization was already breathing down Fury's neck all the time. The same shadowy organization that had authorized a nuclear strike on Manhattan which Tony ended up riding to he certainly thought may be his demise. His fists clenched of their own accord. It seemed that for all of Fury's tamperings, maybe he did have their bests interests at heart.
It gave Tony mixed feelings, knowing the same man who had tried to make weapons with the tesseract was actively trying to hide Banner from a lifetime of imprisonment. Or worse.
After his x-rays, the doctors sent Tony back home with a handful of orange bottles and his groupies. When they got to Stark Tower, Tony collapsed on a couch in the living room and pulled up his shirt inspecting his mottled black and tan torso. He noticed Banner out of the corner of his eye looking as well, and biting his lip guility. Tony hurriedly lowered his shirt.
"Well," he said. "What did you want to show us?"
Bruce hesitated, looking at them all again. The others patiently waited, Clint chewing a muffin he had taken out of a box on the bar.
"A year ago, I met with a man who claimed he had an antidote for me. He was actually making copies of my blood."
Clint and Natasha didn't look surprised, but Steve and Tony's eyebrows shot up.
Bruce continued. "In fact, when combined with ineffective prototypes of the super soldier serum," he nodded to Steve, "it created the thing that broke Harlem with the Other Guy."
"Blonsky was Ross' fault though," Tony pointed out. He had met Ross. Hated the guy. He did own a new bar out of the whole ordeal though. Well, owned. It was an office building now, maybe. He didn't really keep track of these things.
"It was. But after everything was done, I had an associate go back to Dr. Sterns' lab, the man who was copying my blood. Everything was gone. I discovered earlier, thanks to Jarvis' hacks…both Sterns and the blood are being held by SHIELD in an undisclosed location."
"That's…" Steve looked shocked.
"You have no idea," Banner smiled bitterly.
Natasha shifted in her seat at the bar, and Tony looked over, picking up on her unease immediately.
"What aren't you telling us?" he growled at her.
Clint was on his feet in an instant, half-eaten muffin on the floor. "Back off," he hissed, narrowing his eyes at Tony. "She's not-"
"No Clint," she interrupted him, sighing. "I'm done with secrets." She looked Bruce in the eye. "I was the one who found Sterns. He was still alive after Blonsky found him. He didn't look…" she glanced away, remembering. "…too good. But he was alive. I called in SHIELD before Ross could recover anything from his lab. I don't know what they did with him afterwards."
"You what?" Bruce hissed, and Steve quickly stepped between them putting a hand on his chest. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?"
"Lay off. She was just following orders," Clint snarled back.
"Know a little something about just following orders, do you?" Banner said lowly.
Clint flinched like he'd been slapped, face pale and drawn as Natasha's mouth opened in shock.
"That's enough," Steve said quietly. "No one here is going to hold anyone else responsible for their past mistakes."
Nobody moved for a minute. Finally, Bruce sighed, turning away. "I'm sorry, Clint. That wasn't fair."
Clint didn't say anything, just sat back in the chair at the bar, staring at the floor. Natasha unconsciously moved between him and Banner, arms folded across her chest.
Tony stood up, wincing, and moving between all of them.
"I think what we have to do," he said slowly, making sure he had all their attentions. "Is find out where that blood, and Sterns, are now."