There's a place that I know
It's not pretty there and few have ever gone
If I show it to you now
Will it make you run away
It was Bruce who was invited first. Obvious, in retrospect. He didn't have home, or a place where he felt safe. Tony had connected with him from the beginning, as well. Science bros, Bruce mused. The best thing about living with Tony (and Pepper, he reminded himself), was how Tony was different from the public persona he put on. Sure, he was still all over the place, eccentric and erratic, but he seemed calmer, and less arrogant that on the street. More genuine. He wore jeans, sometimes, and Bruce had even garnered a real smile from him.
Tony had a tendency to have fake, but realistic smiles. Bruce didn't even know that they weren't his real grin until he had been at the Stark tower for a month. They had been watching a movie, Tony actually upstairs, out of his lab and not working for once, and Bruce had commented on the science in the movie being rubbish. Tony had laughed, and smiled at him after it was done. Even asked, shyly for Stark, if Bruce would like to do it again.
Bruce vowed to get that unguarded, surprisingly sweet, charming smile from Tony Stark again.
Tony also made him feel safe, which was something surprising. Not safe from harm, no, living as an Avenger tended to put them in danger. No, it was the fact that Tony wasn't afraid of...of the Other Guy. He teased Bruce, and irritated him sometimes, but Bruce didn't feel angry around Tony, and that was different. This loud, brash, confident man he met turned out to be someone who could talk a lot about nothing, think things over a million times in his head if it was something important before he decided on a course of action, and was surprisingly self deprecating, and unsure of his place, even in his own home.
He was spontaneous and random most of the time, but Bruce caught him puzzling over one problem for a few days before he made a seemingly spontaneous decision to the rest of the world.
Another Bruce had noticed, was that Tony worked. Worked a lot. They had underestimated this man many times. He was constantly leaving on business, going to meetings, working on new designs, and running a multi-billion dollar business with Pepper. He was tired constantly, just from work, but spent time with Bruce, made an effort to take him to see the things he'd missed while he was in Kolkata, and to become his friend. He also was dating Pepper, and acting as a full time Avenger, not that they were that busy now. Bruce didn't know how he did it.
The last shocking thing to Bruce had been the demons Tony had. His facade was well in place, and made the truth more of a surprise to the doctor. Tony's first time working with armor hadn't been in his job, or making Iron Man. No, Tony had made an armor to protect him from the world when he was five, after a harsh lecture from his father, Tony had said. A mask, constantly evolving until what it is today, protecting him. Bruce had wanted desperately to know who Anthony was, and not talk to Tony Stark all the time.
Bruce appreciated that Tony trusted him enough to let him live in the tower, and to have the threat of the Other Guy constantly looming, even if Tony seemed unconcerned. Bruce asked, once why Tony was alright with having him there, why he was so willing to do things to deliberately push Bruce's buttons, to try and get him angry.
"Stress testing." Tony had answered. "You push until someone breaks, and then you learn their limits. If you can, you make them stronger the next time through."
Tony was constantly pushing, trying to find the point when Bruce would turn and leave, to have had enough with him.
He pushed at everyone. He pushed, and when they left, he wasn't hurt, not like he had been times before, because now he expected it. It was what people did.
"I learned when I was young, Bruce, that people who have their monsters for everyone to see and know about, they're the safest people to be around." Tony said once, when Bruce was agonizing over endangering Tony and Pepper and staying, or leaving, and letting them be safe. Tony patted his shoulder. "You don't want to hurt us, so I don't think you will." Regardless, Bruce asked, and Tony gave him a plane ticket, one week in a remote country place. When Bruce returned, a reinforced room, made to hold the Hulk, but also providing a way out was built into the tower. Bruce asked about it, Tony shrugged and gave him a rare, real smile.
"This way, you worry about losing control, you can come in here. You can leave if you want to, but it won't let you smash the tower or Pepper and I, if that's what you're worried about." Tony shrugged it off, and never spoke of it. Bruce had used it occasionally, but he never thought about leaving again.
When Clint asked for a place to crash between missions, Tony sighed, cleaned out his old house on the outskirts of the city, and made rooms for all the Avengers. Clint didn't leave.
The others didn't come, not now, but they knew they had a safe place, a place away from SHIELD. That meant a lot to people who never had a safe place before. Steve said he was exploring the world. Figuring out how it worked. The undertones of, 'and you're completely annoying to be around' was heard by everyone. Natasha flatly turned it down. Missions, and constantly moving around made her decline. Clint tried to persuade her to use it as a place to squat, and she denied him. "I can't live with Stark, he's insufferable. Bruce is a time-bomb. I'm not living there, not if I want to relax." Clint seemed a little off put, but didn't push the issue. Thor was in Asgard, but accepted the invitation for when he was on Midgard.
Clint was quickly accepted into the tight friendship that had formed between Tony and Bruce. They even shared close to the heart stories about themselves.
It started with Tony telling them college adventures with his friend 'Rhodey', and things he'd done with Pepper. Safe, enjoyable stories. Clint told them about funny things that had happened in the circus, and crazy acts he'd seen. Bruce told them about Betty, and his life before.
Over a midnight soufflé, or omelette, which one of them would make sometimes, Clint broke the first barrier by telling them that he hated Loki. He said it darkly, with a loathing that didn't surprise the other two. Tony loaded Clint's place with food and sat expectantly. With a little prompting, his insecurities about what he'd done, and the remainder of the pain he had from killing so many people spilled out. Tony had interrupted, as Tony was wont to do, harshly, telling him that Clint wasn't to blame. The angry tone was so unlike the genial man that they had been surprised.
"Damn it, Clint," Tony had snapped, "You weren't in control. Magic, which I hate, was. And there was nothing you could do. You're blameless. You couldn't control your actions. You tried to stop it. I was called 'Merchant of Death' for years. I killed people, knowingly, with my weapons for years. I was in control. I could have stopped it at any point. You don't blame me for that, there is no way in hell you can blame yourself for something that wasn't your fault."
"I tried to make myself better," Bruce interjected. "Ended up becoming a monster. I killed hundreds of people, because of stupid pride, and thinking I could change the world." Clint had smiled a little, and the dark recesses of their minds that were deadly and hurting, the parts that were their closest secrets and feelings, lightened a little.
After that, Tony willingly told them one night about the Arc Reactor, about how it was originally a car battery. He told touched a little on the torture, on why he'd given in, and he told them about a man, Yinsen. The seriousness of his eyes had humbled Bruce and Clint, and when Tony left, his eyes dark and shadowed, making a jerky escape to his lab, Clint and Bruce swore to not tell anyone else, not with Tony's trust given to them like this, with him letting them see how he was broken. How he was trying to fix it.
JARVIS trusted them eventually. He was protective of Tony in a way that was impressive. Even if he had been human, and not a computer. The first time Tony had mentioned the arc reactor, even in passing, JARVIS stopped Bruce and Clint later, and showed them a video. A warning. It showed a man, talking softly to Tony, tearing the reactor out of his chest. As they were walking to their rooms after that, shaken, JARVIS not so subtly showed them the weapons Tony had built into his house, and how he could control them. He also showed them how, because of Tony, he could hack into almost anything. Including places that had the power to completely destroy both of them.
Pepper had smiled at the them, accepting them easily. She liked Bruce and Clint, because they were two of four people who could drag Tony out of his lab. She also warned them he didn't talk about his family. Not ever.
They all became aware of how dark each other's thoughts were. Tony confessed once, that although not suicidal, his mind moved so fast that he was able to calculate the probability and ways of killing himself with different objects. Bruce had looked horrified, and Tony consoled him.
"It's a thing. I see something, and I just have enough information in my mind that I automatically calculate these things. I calculate everything."
"You've never considered suicide?" Bruce asked, trying to confirm that his best friend wasn't about to off himself.
Tony offered a wry, sad smile, and turned back to his tablet in front of him.
Bruce outright told them he thought about it after Tony's shocking confession.
"Not anymore, not here," Bruce said softly. "I just don't want to be a monster." Clint had glared at the table before telling them that he knows how it feels.
"It hurts really bad sometimes, and I thought it was the only way out. I had no one then." He flashed them a pained little smile. "I do now."
Bruce was constantly checking in with himself. Clint and Tony acted as though there wasn't a Hulk unless they were making jokes about it. He thanked them once.
"The others, they're great. Make an effort to ignore...to ignore him." He said once. "You don't. You don't have to. Even when you joke about it, well, you make me feel like an actual human. Just...thanks, alright? It means everything."
All three of them shied from contact. Tony had Pepper who could touch him freely, and Clint and Natasha were thick as thieves. But besides that, people usually didn't touch them. Steve was touched, hugged, thanked, people grasping his hands in a cheesy, touching way. Natasha was able to slip on a public face, and let others touch her. She didn't like contact, but her team, and SHIELD agents consistently made contact with her. People hugged her.
She accepted it, but she knew part of the reasons civilians trusted her, was because she was a human, and she was a woman. Supposedly approachable and warm. Her team knew she could kill any of them, but trusted her enough to pat her, or to give her contact that they all craved, all wanted to ground them and remind them that they were still people.
Thor hugged unreservedly, but even he stayed away from the three of them. He hugged Natasha, Steve, Fury, the recovered Coulson, Maria Hill, strangers, his brother, anyone. But not the three of them. He tried with Tony once, who was so unused to human contact he flinched violently and backed away, laughing it off, and looking a little shaken. The public didn't touch before of his playboy, eccentric image. They loved him, laughed at him, and exploited him, but didn't touch, unless they were trying to sleep with him or sell him something. Clint was evasive and smirked when others were hugged, and jumped out of range whenever Thor had turned to him. Bruce wasn't hugged because other people were afraid of having a rage monster attack them.
Bruce noticed that they trusted each other when they would touch each other. Tony was fine with initiating contact, kissing a woman's hand, shaking someone's hand. It was necessary in business. But catch him unprepared, he shied away like a frightened animal. Clint seemed disdainful of contact, and ever since Loki entrapped his mind by touching the spear to Clint's chest, he seemed more adverse to it. He would lean in next to Natasha sometimes, and then flit away. Bruce didn't try anymore.
The first time Tony didn't jump when Bruce accidently brushed his shoulder, he tried again, to place a hand, deliberately on Tony's back when they were working together. Eventually the two were sitting next to each other, legs pressing together, or giving a short, warm hug. Bruce had even grabbed Tony's hand once to pull him someplace, and the other man even squeezed back.
Clint found in amusing to drop in and scare the two of them, but they grew used to that, and once, catching Clint off guard, they both grabbed him, and squashed him into the sofa. After shamelessly pinning him, laughing, and doing something normal for them, Clint let himself be touched, and he would touch them too.
They knew each other well, in just five months, Tony had two real friends, two of four people that he actually trusted, that hadn't been bought or bargained, and genuinely liked him. Bruce had two friends, his only ones, that weren't afraid to touch him, to call him on something and to laugh with him. They made the Hulk more human instead of Bruce more like the Hulk. Bruce asked them why. Clint shrugged.
"You're like, together forever, and I figure everyone deserves a friend. It usually makes them less angry."
"It's the same for me, yeah? People think, 'Tony Stark, ass, Iron Man, astounding!' I'm actually not two different people. The bad qualities from Tony Stark are carried to Iron Man and good things people see in Iron Man are in me as well. It's stupid to try and differentiate. You got that, but you get Iron Man too. I get you, and I get him. Monster's aren't monsters if you can see them. Besides, you have it under control. You'd tell us if you didn't. You're not a lying, manipulating person who's going to blindside you."
Bruce nodded. Clint had made two friends, his only other friends being from SHIELD, he liked the 'civilianess' that the other two brought. "You know who I am, and still hang out with me. I can't tell most people I'm an assassin. Defeats the purpose. I can't talk to any of them. I can talk about it with you."
Bruce was caught off guard with the strange group they had. Clint coming in and out, on missions or visiting Natasha or Phil, Tony disappearing into his workshop, losing days, or coming to Clint or Bruce, looking bewildered about something. Usually something to do with regular human interaction. Tony's brain moved too fast for anyone else in the world, and he left regular people behind. His childhood failed to let him understand regular people, just those in business.
Bruce was shocked when he wanted to stay with this makeshift family, and the fierce protectiveness he had. Five months past, and they willingly shared the dark parts of themselves, and gave each other a sanctuary. They made themselves friends, a small, dysfunctional family.
I own nothing!
This is the first in what could be a series of oneshots...
It will be about the whole team later on, promise :)
Song is Dark Side, Kelly Clarkson