It started, really, back in the lab.
Back when all their voices rose angrily at each other and threats and accusations flew like well aimed bullets. Tony Stark had had the time of his life taking the piss out of his spangled target, riling up the good captain into a frenzy. Everyone had been supremely on edge and that amused him. It pissed him off, sure, but Tony was never one to take anything super seriously.
It was when Nick Fury threatened to escort Bruce out of the room that Tony started paying real attention. "You rented out my room", had been the sarcastic reply (that's something Tony really admired in his lab partner. Despite everything, the man had a sense of humor). Nick said something about it being just in case.
And that's when the real bomb hit.
Tony liked Bruce the moment their eyes met. It was more than just being able to talk shop with someone on par with, or even smarter than, himself. That was a miracle in its own right. And it wasn't his self-effacing, nervous, sarcastic humor or the way he threw himself into his work. Tony knew plenty of guys like that. No, it was Bruce's smile. The fact that the man could smile, even if it was forced. He knew who the "other guy" was, and what he could do, and how badly NYC had suffered. But he thought maybe Bruce had a lid on it. And really, Tony was very curious. He prodded and dug and teased, not really hoping to see it happen, but testing the waters, so to speak. And through the process of elimination, he had come to the conclusion that Bruce Banner was either the calmest motherfucker on the planet, or he smoked a LOT of weed. Or both. Probably both.
"You can't kill me! Believe me, I tried!"
Tony felt all the air leave his lungs at once. All eyes were on the frantic doctor, no longer looking in control at all. In fact, he was shaking. "I got low. I didn't see a way out, so…I put a bullet in my mouth. And the other guy spit it back out."
He hadn't really heard what came after that. Until Captain America picked their quarrel up again, all Tony could hear in his mind was the confession. I put a bullet in my mouth. I didn't see a way out….
Dear god, Bruce had tried to kill himself.
Now that a couple months had passed, most of New York was up and running again, he had done a few publicity runs as Iron Man, and his attention could be turned full tilt back onto his tower, now called the Avengers Tower, Tony found Bruce's words running through his head again. After the Chitauri were wiped out and Loki taken wherever the hell Thor took him, the remaining Avengers had met in the smoking ruins of Stark Tower to tentatively celebrate their first real victory. Only Tony had gotten drunk. After that, they had gone their separate ways. Steve had taken off to see what America had become in his absence. Natasha and Clint were off on some couple's retreat, after vehemently denying their "relations". And Bruce had stayed long enough to check the new blueprints for bugs, then said his goodbyes and headed out to some remote location that he refused to tell anyone about.
Tony, of course, tracked his every move.
It was well past two a.m. wherever Bruce Banner was now, which looked, from JARVIS's monitors, to be some kind of jungle. Tony hadn't been sleeping too well anyway, so he figured he'd watch his friend (his GOOD friend) for a while. Bruce was still awake, hunched over some small device and wincing as he drew drop after drop of his own blood and fed it to the machine. No wonder he was fine with pointy objects. He wished he'd noticed all the small scars on Bruce's hands before, all the spots where he jabbed himself in his attempts at a cure. The smaller man sighed, wiped some sweat off his brow, and continued on. It was deathly quiet on both ends.
If he could help it, Tony didn't like to think too deeply about things. Cap'n wasn't wrong when he accused him of being all about style. He liked parties and good times and laughing and being the center of attention. Deep thinking was meant for psychiatrists, and he was FAR from that.
But Bruce made him think.
And he didn't like it. He hated it, actually. He hated how sad the man looked, all alone in his makeshift lab with dirty instruments (second hand, no doubt), stabbing himself over and over and over and OVER again, day in and day out, because he thought he was too dangerous to be around normal people. He hated how that made him feel. It was a mix of guilt, pity, and some other strange emotion that Tony didn't bother to think about just in case. He especially hated to see that the gun had never left Bruce's side. How many times had he attempted suicide? How many more times would he try?
Standing suddenly, he walked towards where his suit was. "JARVIS, hold my calls. I'm going out."
It was not an easy task to hide the Hulk and still be able to help people.
In the end, Bruce Banner had chosen a remote island in the Philippines where he had once visited and had befriended the tribe. They were in desperate need of clean water and a steady malaria antidote, so he stayed and provided that for them, in exchange for them never telling anyone where he was. They referred to him as a god in human form, a visage of their demon god of anger and fury, and damn near worshipped the ground he walked on. He really hated it, but it was better than nothing. And besides, something about hot, steaming tropical air seemed to calm the "other guy".
That was part of his latest test. See what outside variables could influence the Hulk's behavior for the better. He hadn't given up on a cure, far from it. Someday, he kept telling himself. Someday. But he was part of a team now, albeit begrudgingly. And like it or not, they needed the Hulk. So anything that could help focus the monster's mind would be welcome. The pinpricks to his wrist had long since stopped bothering him. Not enough to trigger him, but just enough for a workable sample. Bruce had learned the hard way which was which.
"You do realize you're trying to do complicated science on a 5th grader's chemistry set, right?"
Bruce jumped, knocking over a few vials and cursing under his breath. He glared up into the insufferably smug face of Iron Man himself. "It's not the best idea to sneak up on me." Bruce took a few breaths, trying to stop his hands from shaking. It's Tony. It's a friend. It's alright. Keep it together Bruce. "What do you want, and how did you find me?"
Tony shrugged, taking the faceplate off and unsuiting a little. "Oh you know, I was in the neighborhood. Been tracking you since you left, that kind of thing." He grimaced. "Doc, of all the shitholes you've lived in, this one's the shittiest."
Bruce sighed, relaxing a little. "You're not here on business?"
"Not really. I just….you know." Tony motioned to his equipment again. "I saw what you were working with and said to myself, wow. The man can do SO much better." He chuckled. "What are you working on?"
Despite himself, Bruce smiled uneasily back. "Ways to control myself once…" He didn't need to finish. They both knew what he meant.
Trying to liven it up a little, he offered Tony a seat. "Getting a lock on what makes my blood tick is difficult, given circumstances and how irradiated my blood is, but I have noticed that certain things affect it more than others—"
"It'd be easier with a better lab." Tony gave him a strange look, halfway between a smirk and a frown. "It's a shame you don't have any billionaire playboy philanthropist best friends willing to let you stay with them till your work's done. Pity."
"Ah." Bruce tried to hide his surprise. "So that's why you're really here." He sighed. "It's a…generous offer, Tony. It really is. But….Until the world needs my kind of 'talent', it's much better for me to stay out here and—"
"And what?" Something in Tony's voice didn't sound right. Was he…worried? He scowled. "Sit here far away from the world and hope the Hulk will go away if you ask nicely? Sit here playing with baby's first laboratory and praying to find a centrifuge in the garbage?" Tony leaned forward, grabbing the gadget he'd been working on. "You're smart but no one is smart enough to make a miracle from this crap."
Bruce clenched his fist a little. "It doesn't matter what you say. I can't go back."
"They're calling you a hero, you know."
He shook his head. "They wouldn't if they knew me."
Tony sighed heavily. "Oh drop the pity party, Banner. You're incredible and you know it. Or if you don't know it, I do, and I think you need to come back to New York with me and stop living like a hobo and enjoy the kind of life you SHOULD be having."
He shook his head again. "….Why are you doing this, Stark? Why do you care so much what I do or where I live?"
Tony hesitated for a little while, searched for the right answer, then dropped his hands to his side. "Would you believe I'm lonely?"
Bruce laughed at that. "Not even a little."
"Just think about it? Please?" Tony got down on one knee and mock-begged. "It's so lonely with my billions of dollars and huge mansion."
"Alright. I'll think about it." Bruce pushed him good-naturedly. "But you have to promise to stop watching me. That's only slightly disturbing."
"I make no promises."
"What JARVIS? I am sort of busy."
If artificial intelligence could sigh exasperatedly, JARVIS would've ten times by now. Really, he was being a pain in the ass. "Sir, forgive me, but I just don't see how this is fiscally responsible."
"Well this is why I'm me and you're a computer."
The room was almost completely empty, and brand sparkling new. Soft, soothing colors ran in patterns on the walls, in what that old feng shui lady said would help clear the mind. It had taken him a week to get it built from beginning to end, and now that it was done, Tony couldn't help but grin in excitement. It was perfect.
"Sir." JARVIS was going to earn himself a time out for this. "You do realize the danger, yes?"
Tony growled a little. "I actually think everyone is being jumpy and creeped out for nothing. I know this guy. He's not dangerous. And if he needs to blow off steam, he can come in here."
"Won't he see this as a cage?"
"Absolutely not." Tony glared at the console. "And no one's going to even say the word cage when Dr. Banner gets here, got it? He's more than a guest, JARVIS. He's going to be living with us for a while."
"What?" Pepper had never liked the idea of having Bruce in the same house as her. She'd been against the idea from beginning to end. It wasn't because she hated Bruce, it was for the same cowardly reasons that everyone else seemed to have about him. "Ok, Tony? We never once talked about this. That thi-um…Dr. Banner is living with us? Since when?"
Tony rubbed his forehead. "Peps, can we NOT do this? You didn't see his house. Dude needs a place to stay very, very badly. And also, I'm determined to get him drunk. I can't believe I'm the only one who thinks that'd be hilarious."
Pepper grabbed his hand. "Tony, I know you like him. You like him a lot. But even you can't tell me he isn't dangerous."
Grabbing her shoulders, Tony stared right into Pepper's eyes. "He's. Not. Dangerous." He turned back to the console. The temperature read a balmy 90 degrees. Warmth seemed to calm the beast. Duly noted. "Bruce is one of the smartest men I've ever known, and…" His voice wavered. "The Hulk saved my life. You don't know him like I do. None of you even bother to get to know the man behind the beast."
Pepper's hand found his hand again, gently this time. He didn't have to look at her to know she was on the verge of tears. "What's the real reason, Tony? This isn't like you at all, and I'm worried."
"He tried to kill himself again." He lowered his head.
The call had come, once again, in the middle of the night. This time, Tony had been asleep, but had woken up completely when he heard who it was. Bruce's voice on the other end of the phone sounded shaky, distant, like he'd just woken up from a horrible nightmare. He'd just gotten out of the Hulk, he said, and though his mind was always a little foggy after an incident, he remembered the gun. He remembered feeling so alone, and the failure of his latest attempt at a cure had made him….there was a long pause, with heavy breathing and the sound of choked, muffled crying.
Tony had bought the plane ticket right then and there. He didn't take no for an answer. In fact, he said, if Bruce refused, he'd just have to take him by force.
Once all that was done, Tony had poured himself a very stiff drink and stared into space for a few hours.
His jaw fell.
"I…don't know what to say."
"Well you could start with a thank you."
After an almost 24 hours flight back to the states, Bruce was exhausted, mentally and physically. The ever present pressure on his brain had flared during the flight, but it was terrifying enough that his rational mind had held and he spent a few hours holed up in the bathroom. Bruce had begged, BEGGED Tony to reconsider, to use reason, to do anything but make him come to the states. The Hulk had been acting up lately, and now Tony wanted him to stay in his house?
But the room was comfortable, and Tony's company was very welcome. Pepper had been on edge, but still polite to him. A nice girl, he thought. In some ways, smarter than Iron Man himself.
But when Tony had grabbed his shoulder and led him to a locked room, he hadn't been prepared for what lie ahead.
The laboratory was flawless. Everything he could ever want or think of was there, shining under the harsh lights. He hadn't seen a lab this beautiful since before his accident, and nothing since could compare. He turned back to Tony, shaking a little. "You really want me in here? It'll be like a bull in the china shop."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Nah, that's what the Hulk Out room is for." Sensing Bruce's confusion, he continued. "Say something isn't going your way and you absolutely have to hulk out and let off steam. You go in there, smash around, and boom! You're back to normal in record time. You let off steam, and New Yorkers don't have to worry about falling debris."
"…you built a whole room just for me?"
Tony nodded. "It looks a little fruity thanks to some bad feng shui advice but-"
Bruce's words completely failed him. "But…I….T-Tony, that's just-you shouldn't do that, I'm not—"
His team mate slapped him good-naturedly on the back. "Shut up. Of course I did. This is our tower, after all. And God willing, you'll be spending a good chunk of time here." Tony smiled a little to himself and continued a little softer, "If I have anything to say about it, you'll never have to be alone again."
His eyes widened. It was official, Tony Stark had gone insane. "B-But—"
"Banner. Just…just don't." Tony shook his head. "I know you don't think you deserve friendship or companionship, and I know you've convinced yourself to stay alone, but cut the bullshit. Believe it or not, I like you. There are people who care about you. And you're never, ever gonna find a cure sitting on your ass in the jungle." He slipped an arm around the smaller man's shoulders. "Stay here. With me. With people. And I promise you, the full power of the Stark name will be thrown into helping you out. Ok?"
Before either of them knew what was happening, Bruce had wrapped his deceptively strong arms around Tony in a hug. "No one's ever…. I mean…I…Th-thanks."
Nothing else was said about it for the rest of the day, but Tony woke up the next morning to breakfast already cooking, and a big smile on Bruce's face.
A/N: I love this pairing more than I need to breathe. Fuck Cap/Iron Man. The bromance between Tony and Bruce is so amazing it kills me that their is so little fics about them.