12,947 words. Crazy, people. Crazy.
Bruce likes labs.
When it's said like that, it makes him sound like a six year old talking about his Legos. It's not any less true, though.
That is where he feels the most comfortable; not exactly secure, since it's been a long time he's felt like that at all, but he's comfortable there. The sights, the sounds, the motions, it's all familiar to him. Calm. Centered. Home. He spends most of his time there, coming in when he can't sleep-which is often-and staying well into the wee hours of the morning. He's crossed paths with Tony before on his way to the lab, and has found that he is much the same, going down into his basement and fiddling with his gadgets when he can't sleep; though this hasn't happened for weeks.
Bruce absolutely does not miss the brief but frequent company. Absolutely not.
So when Tony bursts in holding two cups of some kind of steaming liquid in an extremely expensive looking suit at midnight, Bruce is understandably confused.
"Tony?" He says, reaching up to adjust his glasses while his eyebrows furrow. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I sort of own this building." He replies dryly, handing over one of the steaming cups and keeping the other for himself. Bruce takes it, setting down the clipboard of equations he'd been going over and briefly takes the lid off to peer suspiciously into it.
"I didn't poison it, if that's what you're thinking."
Bruce jolts guiltily and snaps the plastic lid back on. "Uh, no. Just wondering what the occasion is?"
"Oh, no occasion." He shrugs. "Or, uh, almost no occasion. Kind of. I need your help."
He blinks, then goes immediately into professional mode, snapping to attention and voice going brisk and business like while he sets the Styrofoam cup on the table. "Is everything alright? Is it the suit? Arc reactor? Do you-"
"Whoa there, Brucey." Tony's smile is cocky and huge, and Bruce unconsciously relaxes at the sight. Tony wouldn't be smirking like that if something was really wrong, right? ...Who was he kidding? "It's none of that; much more domestic and embarrassing."
"Yep. You're going to help me shop today."
"I thought... Uh, don't you basically own every item for the lab and autoshop known to man? And several that aren't yet?"
"Oh, not that kind of shopping. Though that would certainly be interesting; I take you for an old fashioned wrench kinda guy. But yeah, no. I mean actual shopping."
Bruce watches as Tony's smile turns self-deprecating and he nods knowingly. "That's what I thought! But it's Pepper, you know, she's got this way of just drop kicking whatever objections you might have right in the teeth, that's Pepper Potts for you, hot as hell, but yeah. I guess you could kinda say this is 'cause of Pep, but, uh, I guess I've also kind of wanted to do it for awhile too. Maybe. As like, a passing thought. Kind of. A frequently visiting passing thought."
"Wow. How long have you been working in here? You're usually quicker than this. C'mon, drink that gross herbal tea crap you're usually sucking down. I put enough sugar in there to keep an elementary school hyper for a month, so you're welcome."
While his most likely overworked mind tried to keep up, Bruce retorts absently, "That's sort of missing the point of herbal tea, Tony."
"Yeah, but now at least it doesn't taste like crap. I tried it, so I know. You've got the Tony Stark seal of approval... For real, look." With a proud leer that reminded Bruce of a ten year old who just won his first baseball game, or ribbon at the science fair, Tony took the cup from him and turned it around so the scientist could see the badly drawn arc reactor on the side with the words 'Tony friggin' Stark Seal of Approval' scribbled around it.
Also a miniature, shakily drawn Ironman sitting on top of the shoulder of an equally failed-sketch of the Hulk.
"I'm so artistic," he cackles.
Against his will, Bruce feels his lips start to twitch in an unapproved miniature smile. "This is ridiculous. You're ridiculous. Get out."
"Hey, this is my lab. And I'm asking you to go out, but, y'know, with me. So let's go."
Bruce thinks he's just been kicked out. Which is a little bit weird, because this was definitely not how he'd expected it to go; in his version there were lots of screaming and yelling and quite a bit of property damage.
But here's Tony, kicking him out so they can go shopping(for Pepper?), and that is just a little trippy.
And because this is Tony, he sighs. "What kind of shopping are we going to do, exactly?" Then a thought occurs. "What kind of shopping will we be doing at one in the morning?"
Bruce is startled when he bursts out laughing. "One in the-? Oh wow. This must be what Pepper feels like every time she has to drag me out of the shop, except with probably a lot more irritation and restrained curses. Bruce, it's seven in the morning."
He gapes. "Seven...? But the clock...!" A quick look at the digital clock on the wall reads that, yeah, Tony is right and oops, there goes another sleepless night. "...Well, what do you know."
"You are so cute," Tony decides, slinging a friendly arm over the scientists shoulder and leading him out of the lab. "Like a puppy dog I built when I was five. He barked and peed and everything."
"That does sound terribly adorable." Bruce drawls.
"It so was. C'mon, you get a quick shower and then it's off to the farmers market for us... Whatever that is."
Jaw going slack, Bruce has just enough time to look into smirking brown eyes and silently mouth 'Farmers-?' right before Tony shuts his bedroom door in his face.
And then he realizes he's in Tonys bedroom and not his own.
"Wha-? Tony! What am I suppose to-"
"It's on the bed!" He shouts back cheerfully.
Bruce should feel disturbed that there is a suit on the bed that definitely isn't his but actually really looks like it would fit him, and that Tony Stark is not so much demanding or manipulating so much as telling him to get a shower, but he's just too tired to deal with that thought process. Instead he says, "JARVIS, I realize that you're Tonys AI, but do you think..."
"I will restrict all access to this room until further notice from you, Doctor Banner." JARVIS calmly cuts him off.
"Thank you, JARVIS."
They both ignore the whining protest from the other side of the door.
When he's had a cold shower-he can't do hot, if he even thinks about how amazingly relaxing that would be he'll probably fall asleep right there in the tub that could fit a small beached whale-and he's dressed in clothes that are definitely silk and what the hell is Tony thinking, seriously, he tells JARVIS that he can open the doors now. He has already established in his mind that this trip must be for Pepper, some kind of anniversary or special date between the two of them that Tony inexplicably felt the need to include Bruce in.
"Of course, Doctor Banner."
The door swings open in the next instant, and there's Ironman at his feet.
"Rawr." He says dryly.
"Touche," Tony mutters into the carpet.
"Were you just trying to break into your own bedroom?"
"Someone has turned my household against me," he replies smoothly, standing up and dusting imaginary dirt from his suit. "JARVIS, from now on you're only to listen to Doctor Banner in the case of a dire emergency. Like, with zombie parakeets or something. Understood?"
There's a distinct pause. "Shutting down now for periodic upgrades, Sir. All orders will have to be instructed afterwards."
Tony is gaping, and Bruce has a hard time not laughing outright. "My AI just blew me off."
"I believe you said something about shopping?" Bruce asks, all business and maybe just a hint of laughter leaking out into his tone.
"You've turned my AI against me." He accuses, following Bruce as he strolls out of the room and towards the elevator. "First Pepper, and now JARVIS. Stop stealing my friends."
"I can't help it if they like me better," Bruce snarks back. It's kind of hard not to get sucked into banter with Tony, and he has long since stopped trying. "Maybe if you remembered their birthdays-" Could that be what they're shopping for...?
"JARVIS is an AI!" Tony bursts out as they stepped on the elevator and he punched in the first floor. "He doesn't... Well, wait." He purses his lips. "Okay, I guess that would kinda work. Damn it. You win this round, Banner."
Bruce dips his head as if to say 'Well, yes, I know.'
The elevator ride down is actually peaceful and quiet, something Bruce was unaware could actually happen in Tony's presence, but there it is.
It's only when they reach the limo and Happy closes the door behind them that he realizes, what the fuck are they actually doing.
"Tony." He says, and Tony looks up from where he's playing with the built in bar. "What are we doing?"
"Sitting," the playboy replies helpfully.
"Thank you. I meant, why are we shopping at seven in the morning?"
"Well, technically, it's seven forty-" Tony catches the look on Bruces face and hastily backtracks. "Geez, sorry! Okay, uh, well, we're going to go look for strawberries."
"...Strawberries," Bruce repeats slowly.
"Yep! But not just any strawberries." Of course not. That would be too easy. "It's these strawberries from this vendor that I ran across before and they were amazing and I need to find him again-"
"You didn't get a name or address?" Bruce blinks.
"I was sort of in a hurry. Dying and all that."
"...You were dying and you went and bought strawberries?"
"Well, it wasn't like, quick dying." He taps a knuckle against the arc reactor beneath his suit and hums. "The old reactor was giving me Palladium poisoning, which really sucked, but it's all good now."
Bruce just cannot wrap his mind around this. He should, even with going on twenty four plus hours of lack of sleep, it's not like it's the first time and he knows how Tony is but... But this.
"...Do I even want to know?" He finally muttered, putting his hand over his eyes and using it to rub away the dull throbbing in his temples.
"Probably not. But, hey, I'm alive, so at least everything's cool now, right?"
Bruce keeps silent and half wonders if anyone felt this disturbed when he revealed he'd nearly died, too, even if that wasn't nearly the same as this. He tries to quell the sudden nausea that rises at the thought of Tony dying in such a horrific manner.
Of Tony dying at all, really.
"Aw, shit. Don't do that." Bruce looked up, startled, when Tony's voice began to turn edgy with panic. "Pepper did that. I hate it when people do that. You're not allowed to do that."
"Do what, exactly?" He murmured, one eyebrow raising.
Tony gestured wildly. "That. You're thinking, and I know what you're thinking about, so stop it. Peps did the same thing, and I couldn't get her to stop for days."
Bruce coughed, turning so he could adjust his glasses while facing the window and away from Tony. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Tony groans. "You're worse than Pepper. And she cried." There's a pregnant pause, and then he's gripping Bruces' arm with enough force to have the scientist glance over sharply. "...You're not going to cry, right?"
Sighing quietly, Bruce reached over and gently patted his hand. The corner of his lips twitched involuntarily. "No, Tony."
"Oh. Good. Good." It was Tony's turn to sigh, this time in relief. "That's good."
It took a few moments, but Bruce eventually realized that his arm was still caught in a vice grip, albeit the strength in it had relaxed. Very pointedly he drilled holes into the side of the playboy-superheroes face.
Very pointedly, said playboy-superhero ignored him.
Bruce could not for the life of him figure out a good enough reason to draw away.
"Tony," he began in a disapproving tone.
"Oh look!" Tony cut him off, reaching over to tap an obnoxious beat on the glass separating them from Happy. "Happy, bro, stop here. We'll walk."
"I don't think this is such a-" But how are you suppose to successfully tell someone you'd rather stay in the car when they're already shoving you out into the street? "-Tony!"
"Yes," he said seriously, hands on Bruces' shoulders and still shoving. "That's me."
"I-stop pushing me, damn it-I'm seriously, what part of shoving me into a large crowd is a good idea?" But Bruce is already out on the street and there goes Happy and any hope Bruce has of today being a good day.
"You know what's funny, Bruce? Well, funny in a sad kind of way that's not really funny at all, but still." Tony's hands haven't left his shoulders, steering him towards the large stands full of people and goods that are more delicate and fragile than one would think. "You don't trust yourself."
He wants to reply with 'Well fucking obviously' but can't find a suitable amount of air in his lungs to complete the sentence when Tony disregards all social conduct for personal space and moves his face close to Bruces.
"But that's alright. I do."
Then he pushes them both into the crowd.
It's not as if Bruce hasn't gone shopping with Tony before; he has. Kind of. Mostly it was online with Bruce sending him links and Tony sending in fake bad feedback when he couldn't find whatever tool he wanted. Then it was just Bruce in his lab and Tony in his shop, both of them exchanging instant messages riddled with technical and scientific equations and theories in the form of chat-speak that gives Bruce a headache to decipher after he's had a decent amount of sleep.
But they're surrounded by people now, fragile people with easily broken bodies who don't know their life could end at any moment because there was someone dumb, stupid, arrogant enough to believe they'd all stay safe even with a monster walking among them.
"Stop it." Tony orders suddenly, fingers tightening on Bruces' suit. "You're doing it again."
"Thinking?" Bruce murmurs. "Sorry, should I be doing something else? Perhaps becoming enraged?"
"Don't be like that," he mutters back, flashing charming smiles at the people who look up and start to stare. "I already said that I trust you. You didn't transform back on the ship when Captain One-Eye got us all together, and there was tons of more people on there than there is here."
"Right before I, you know, did."
"Okay, yeah, but that technically wasn't your fault. I doubt a bomb is going to go off here between the pottery and tomatoes."
"You don't know that."
"Well, no, but it's severely unlikely. Like, ninety nine point nine percent unlikely. But look," and here Tony reaches a hand forward and shows Bruce his nifty little silver bracelet. "New invention, kinda. Came in handy when Loki decided to see if I could fly. Lets the suit know my location, then it comes to me. Rigged it so it'll avoid civilians and if I'm, er, missing in action JARVIS'll do what he can to get rid of the problem till he can get to me. Also updates my Facebook status. 'Tony Stark is kicking ass, nbd.'"
Bruce let out a startled laugh. "You're lying."
"I am not! I never lie about ass kicking." Then Tony paused beside a booth that held a large variety of herbs, their smell wafting up into the air like a thick blanket, each smell distinct and separate from the others so they didn't all merged into one big disgusting odor. "Is this rosemary?" He pointed to a plant, and the old woman sitting in a fold up chair behind the table continued fanning herself and talking to another older woman across from her didn't even glance up. "It looks like rosemary. Hey, is this rosemary?" Breaking off a bit, he waved it at Bruce.
His nose wrinkled. "Tony, this is lemon balm. Rosemary is that one over there." He gestured to the end of the table.
"Huh. Do we need rosemary?"
"Why would we need rosemary?" Bruce wondered, absently taking the lemon balm from Tony and rubbing it between his fingers, letting the scent drift and mingle strongly in the air.
"I don't know. Can't it be made for like, tea or something?"
He shrugged. "Lemon balm can."
Contemplatively, the playboys head tilted. "Is it good?"
"Sure. It's not my favorite, though."
"What is your favorite, then?"
Why so interested? Bruce wondered. "Does it matter?"
"'Course it does. If it's important to you, it matters." Tony reprimanded gently, meeting Bruces' stare head on.
After a moment, he looked away. "Catnip," he mumbled.
Tony blinked. "Catnip?" He asked incredulously. Against his will, Bruce felt his face flush and raised his hand to hide it under the guise of fixing his glasses.
"It's, uh... It's a natural sedative for humans. Not a potent one, but it's..." He really wished Tony would just look the fuck away or put on his stupid five hundred dollar sunglasses or go blind or something, this is embarrassing enough without having eyes-his eyes, especially, damn it-trained on him the entire time. "...The Other Guy likes it."
There's a wicked light in his eyes when Bruce finally gets up the courage to meet them, and he's raised one hand to stroke his beard thoughtfully. "You don't see invisible butterflies or anything right?" He asks seriously, but that light shines a little brighter when he speaks, and Bruce lets out a breath he doesn't realize he's been holding. "Because if you're going to run around New York chasing imaginary insects after I've bought you catnip, I'm telling Fury it was your idea. Or Bartons."
"What?" But Tony doesn't wait for a reply and instead waves at the old woman until she looks over in irritation mid sentence.
"Yes?" She asks shortly.
Tony's already pulling out his wallet. "Got any catnip here?" He asks casually.
Eyes locked onto the wallet, and in half a second the old woman's disposition has made a drastic three sixty. With a wide smile full of nicotine stained crooked teeth, she says, "Of course, sir." She points to a decent amount of plants that looked suspiciously like lemon balm but that definitely didn't smell anything like it when they approached. "Those are a dollar fifty each, or three for five."
"Do these look okay?" Tony asked, turning to Bruce.
"Uh, yeah." He said, gently touching a fingertip to one of the leaves. "They look very healthy. Do you use pesticides?"
The woman gave him an affronted look. Probably because he wasn't the one holding the wallet. "Absolutely not!"
"Well, that's good," Tony said cheerfully. "Do you have any more than this?"
"Of course. We have two more crates, medium size." The woman gestured to under the table. "Would you like to see them?"
"Nah. I've got a guy that'll be around to pick'em up later, that okay?" Without waiting for a reply, Tony handed the woman several hundred dollar bills. She blinked at her hand. "Keep the change."
And then Tony walks off, leaving both Bruce and the old woman staring dumbly after him, because what the hell was that?
Bruce is so focused on getting to Tony, who's already three stalls down and admiring a pair of ponchos made from hemp that he only realizes people have been politely moving out of his way when he finally reaches him. That thought is put on hold when he hears what Tony is saying.
"You wouldn't happen to be selling it's cousin, would you?" Tony asks the Hispanic man conversationally, and Bruce isn't sure if he should laugh outright or facepalm. The Hispanic man looks distinctly uncomfortable.
"No understand," The man says in a tone that betrays his words.
"Awh, come on. You've gotta know what I'm talking about." Tony makes a very distinct motion with his hand that involved pressing forefinger and thumb together while moving said hand to his pursed lips. "Y'know, it rhymes with piranha, often referred to as Miss Mary Jane-"
"Tony," Bruce hisses, torn between exasperation and amusement while he unconsciously reaches up a hand and tugs on the playboys wrist. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I believe I'm trying to refresh your stash, Doctor Banner." He replies diplomatically, hand still poised with an invisible joint near his lips. Bruce drops his head. "I don't smoke pot, Tony."
He doesn't even have to look up to know the man is smirking. He can practically hear the mischievous wink in his voice when he drawls out obnoxiously, "Right."
"I hate you."
"Do not. I bought you catnip."
He sounds entirely too gleeful about that.
"I didn't ask you too," Bruce mutters. His arm moves as Tony shrugs, and only then does he realize that he's still holding onto Tony's wrist, which has somehow shimmied it's way up until his fingers are being squeezed by a warm hand.
"You didn't have to." He says, matter of fact.
It takes all of 0.10 seconds for Bruce to realize that his face is burning.
At 0.46, his stomach does a series of flips not unlike that time he had gotten severely seasick on one of his on-the-run-travels.
At 1.4 seconds, Bruce lets go of Tony's hand like it's the Anti-Christ and takes several steps back, bumping into a poor woman who quickly steps out of his way. "I'm so sorry," She says politely, flashing him a brief smile and moving on.
"Hey, it's true." Tony says dryly, but when Bruce looks over his usual flippant smirk is looking a tad strained. "Farmers market people are obnoxiously polite."
"I thought it was the opposite," Bruce mutters, holding himself rigid and tense and as close as he can possibly get to the stall so the people can maneuver around him with little trouble. His heart's pounding, he can feel it beating a distinct rhythm against his ribcage, and Tony is standing there with his stupid unruffled attitude and Bruce is beginning to realize what a seriously bad idea this was.
"Usually. But Pepper told me about this place and said everyone here was supposedly really chill besides the stall people and I should've known better than to doubt Peps." Tony leaned forward, as if Bruce was standing right next to him instead of several feet away. "And Pepper Potts is never wrong."
"Apparently." He murmured, then unconsciously ran a restless hand through his hair, taking several deep breaths as he did so. "Tony, I really don't think this is a good idea. We should go.. Now."
"Nonsense." Tony waved a dismissive hand. "We're having a good time. A great time, even. I bought you catnip; you owe me."
He half groaned, half laughed as he took off his glasses and rubbed the side of his face with the back of his hand. "Yeah, I know."
"Good. Besides, a; we still haven't found those strawberries, and b; I still trust you not to go all," Tony gestured with wild arms in a move that made him look like an incensed bird. "Just because a little old lady happens to grab some baskets weaved from hemp before you."
"What is your obsession with hemp?" Bruce demanded, trying to ignore the serious quality of everything Tony had just said and failing miserably.
"...You know," Tony says after a minute, eyes squinted. "I don't know. It's fun to say though. Say it. Say hemp. Say it."
"You're an idiot," he says instead.
"Say it. Say hemp. I'll buy you a new lab if you do."
"Which I'm sure Miss Potts will vastly appreciate."
Tony's voice is surprised when he says, "Of course she will, she likes you. She thinks you're a responsible influence on me."
"Of course she does. Anything that refrains me from drinking at three in the afternoon is A-okay in her book."
This was news to Bruce. It's not that he's unaware of Tony's self destructive tendencies, or that Pepper severely(as in scarily so, throw a beat down upon finding out) disapproves of those habits, but Bruce was pretty sure, as in absolutely so, that basically everyone was not on board with the idea of Bruce staying in Stark Tower, let alone spending time with the man behind the suit.
In fact, Bruce was completely positive that Pepper Potts would be the last person who'd think he was a good influence on her employer.
Seriously. What the hell where these people thinking?
"Bruce," Tony whined, dragging the syllables out obnoxiously. "You're doing it again. If you keep stopping every fifteen minutes to have some kind of internal debate then today is going to drag on forever." Then, so quietly that Bruce is absolutely sure he must have misheard, Tony mumbles, "Not that I would mind, really."
Snapping out of his thoughts, Bruce narrowed his eyes at the sulking man in front of him. He opened his mouth to protest, or argue, possibly snap out a very sarcastic reply... And then he sighed almost inaudibly. So, what Tony said was true... Bruce didn't trust himself. Not as if he had good reason to, really, but still.
But Tony did. Which may be the damnedest thing of all.
Years of self loathing and paranoia couldn't be wiped clean in the blink of an eye, certainly not because of an admittance from a self proclaimed philanthropist, but...
Hell, it was a start. He might not trust himself... But he trusts Tony Stark.
"Holy-! Banner, Banner, look at this; soap made of hemp!"
...Most of the time.
"Tony," He says warily, carefully weaving his way through the crowd to reach said playboy, who is at the next stall positively leering at a box of hemp jewelry. "Remember our objective."
"Pretty." Tony says, stroking a light green and pink woven bracelet.
"You are a child, Jesus. Stark, come on now." Unwilling to go anywhere near the vicinity of Tony's hands again(he swallowed, must not think about that-) Bruce mimicked his earlier position and planted his hands on Tony's shoulders and gently directed him away from the stand. "Come on, it's time to find your strawberries."
"But Pepper would love that bracelet," he whined, throwing a mournful look over his shoulder.
"No. No she would not."
"...Are you sure?"
The market is, admittedly, not that large; Bruce has been to backwater humble villages with three huts tops that are bigger than this little area of town devoted to the farmers market. But there are tons of people, people of every age and ethnicity and shape that it takes them nearly two hours to visit every stall and stand there.
What's more, everyone is polite and friendly(almost disturbingly so), bustling around each other but never shoving or pushing, each somehow in sync with the other as they weave in and out of each others way. The only person he has stumbled into was the woman from earlier, and she was the one who apologized for it.
"Tony," Bruce says, uncharacteristically slouching sloppily against a wall on a nearby bench while Tony ordered them Philly cheese-steaks and alarmingly large sodas from a nearby truck. "We've been looking. For hours. Why don't you just buy a strawberry plant? Or seeds?" Voice rising a little in desperation, Bruce angled his head so it rested on his shoulder, boneless. "Don't you want to grow your own strawberries?"
Arms full of delicious smelling food and drink, Tony strolled over to the bench and set the steaming prizes on his other side so he could sit next to Bruce, picking up one wrapped sandwich and plastic cup so he could hand them over to a starving scientist. Bruce gratefully accepted the offering, and tried not to pay attention to how close Tony was sitting. "Why would I want to do that?"
"It's unlikely you'll find the man you bought the strawberries from before again. New York is a big city; he's probably got a variety of hot spots he'll go to for customers." Bruce says after tearing off the wrapper and shoving a huge bite into his mouth, forgoing manners and speaking around a mouthful of food.
Tony, of course, thinks this is hilarious.
"You are the cutest thing." He says again gleefully, reaching up pat Bruce's cheek affectionately who consequently begins choking.
"Don't do that!" Bruce finally manages to cough out, taking a drink from the first cup his hand can reach.
"Hey!" Tony objects, although there's a sly quality to his voice. "That's my drink."
"So?" He mutters, taking another drink just to make a point.
"So... Indirect kiss!" Tony's voice is gleefully evil.
The mouth full of rootbeer that Bruce had just taken is spit out with amazing trajectory and distance. Tony holds up an invisible scorecard.
"Seven point eight." He says seriously.
"W-what did you just say?"
"And hey! I made you stutter. I am on a roll today." He looked pleased with himself while Bruce stared in dumb shock at him.
"What in the hell is wrong with you-" Bruce starts, and then stops rather abruptly because Tony has taken back his drink and is purposefully...
Tony smacked his lips, making a borderline obscene 'Ahhh' as he leans back and sets his freshly drank from cup on the bench next to him and begins to unwrap his own sandwich. "Indirect kiss," He says again, satisfied even before he's taken a bite of his sandwich. And then he does.
"I love you." He says immediately afterwards, and Bruce twitches until he realizes that, yes, he's talking to the sandwich.
Bruce is torn between affection and the urge to smother himself with his sandwich. Or possibly smother Tony with his sandwich... But he has the sneaking suspicion that he'd only laugh.
With a sigh, he took another bite of his sandwich.
Despite the trepidation he's still feeling at being out and around so many people, Bruce is feeling... Okay. Not great, since he's still warily scanning the crowds(it's basically habit by now) and he's trying to ward off the, to quote Clint, 'epic mindfuck' that is threatening to take over as he sits next to Tony Stark on a bench in busy New York farmers market eating Philly cheese-steaks.
This was his life.
"So," Tony said cheerfully, swallowing a mouthful before continuing. "Was this a good idea or was this a good idea?"
"This was a crazy idea," Bruce pointed out. "Suggested by a crazy person whom I would bet my best set of beakers on has had far too much sugar today."
"Um, okay, one, you don't have beakers. I have beakers. Those are Stark beakers, not Banner beakers. That shit won't shatter even if you toss it full force at a concrete wall; they are magnificent and should not be placed in a bet as pitifully transparent as this one. Of course this was a good idea. I had it."
"I would like to point out that not every half-formed thought that pops into your head is a good idea, Tony." Bruce said calmly.
"You tell nothing but lies." Tony accused, waving his already half empty drink at him.
"Arrows that released knock out gas?"
"We swore we'd never bring that up again," he said quietly. Bruce shrugged.
"You and whoever else was in range of those noxious fumes. I, however, was safely away in my lab." Morosely, he stared down at his half eaten sandwich.
"Don't pout, we'll get you back to the lab and working with unreliable chemicals soon," Tony admonished, balling up his wrapper and tossing it in a nearby garbage bin. "Jesus, you're a grown man. Grown men don't pout." He thought about it, then amended, "Besides me. And Barton. I think I saw Thor do it once. Oh, fuck it." He threw up his hands. "Pout all you want, it's not like there's a mature adult in this clubhouse anyway."
Bruce hid his answering smile behind a napkin.
"Awh," Tony cooed after a moment. "You're all gentlemanly and whatnot. Who taught you manners in the middle of bumfuck nowhere?" Before Bruce can even finish snapping his head towards him, Tony continues on in a rush. "Christ, shit, nevermind, that was stupid and rude I guess, you've talked to Pepper and I know she's told you stories. Most of them are lies, I assure you, but no, yeah, that was stupid, sorry, shit, sorry."
He's not entirely sure if he should still be offended or not, but he's known Tony long enough to realize that most of the time, any rudeness on his part was unintentional. Usually.
Also, because flustered Tony is dangerously attractive and-
Must not follow that train of thought. Bad Banner, bad.
Bruce is so understandably distracted by this train of thought that he doesn't catch the increasingly panicked expression on Tony's face because of his silence, and consequently can't cut him off before he starts babbling.
Which he does.
"Uh, not that I was trying to insult you or the places you've been. I'm sure they were really nice in their own ways. Um. I know a little something about bumfuck nowheres; and trust me, my place had no manners whatsoever, so if you found some backwater boondocks out in the sticks that I don't know about, you need to tell me so I can issue a worldwide email. 'If you plan on kidnapping Tony Stark and somehow magically succeed, take him to this place. Free torture devices.' No one would do it though. Bummer."
Bruce had heard a little about Tony's time in Afghanistan, kidnapped by a terrorist group intent on coercing him into creating weapons, although he had mostly skimmed this information off of the Internet. That hadn't worked out in their favor.
Instead of working through the word vomit, Bruce says, "That must have been hard." And immediately wishes he hadn't just given Tony Stark of all people the opening for a dick joke. The instant rebuttal he had been preparing himself for never came though; instead, after a brief moment of quiet, in which Bruce had taken the opportunity to study the silent man from the corner of heavy lidded eyes, Tony just shrugged.
"Shit happens," he says, not meeting Bruces' eyes. "You deal with it or you break." He made a sad, strained attempt at a flippant smile. "And spend the rest of your time chewing on crayons and licking windows."
Damned if Bruce didn't know exactly what he was talking about. Inside of him, something twisted and ached. Not because he understood what Tony was saying, no.
But that Tony did.
He absolutely hated seeing that blank, faraway expression make its way into the mans eyes, the exact same expression he wore to social events and ritzy parties and charity functions Fury and Pepper bully him into going to. Not that he was ever around for the party itself, Fury had promised Clint full reigns of Stark Tower vents if he caught wind of Dr. Banner at a charity auction or some such(Tony had vehemently protested this, saying it was his tower he chose what crawled in the goddamn vents and Clint had just sat there, a slow smile stretching over his face), but he would occasionally see Tony off, and, consequently, that expression as well.
'Helpless' was perpetually a constant state of emotion for Bruce. He was helpless in controlling that other side of him, helpless at protecting those that truly mattered, helpless to stop the self loathing and anger and despair. Feeling it now though, feeling as if he was(most likely) helpless to pull Tony from his inner demons, that was a new one that should've just been another stone in his pocket-it definitely should not have felt as heavy and pressing as it did.
Tossing the rest of his breakfast, he stood up and watched Tony carefully. "Well," he said. "Now you've infected me with this ridiculous scheme of yours. Let's go find those god damn strawberries."
And if Bruces' heart rate picked up when after a beat, a heart wrenching earnest smile made its way onto Tony's face, well, who was to know?
"Fuck yeah!" He said happily, startling an old woman nearby so badly she bobbled her antique mirror. That look is gone from his eyes now, or maybe just retreated behind that slight shine of light that's twinkling through, but whatever it is Bruce still feels a little helplessness slide off his shoulders like water.
Since they've already made short(?) work of the farmers market, Tony whips out his sleek little phone and has Happy on the other line in no time, who arrives far sooner than Bruce had thought physically possible.
"Did you have him just sit on the next street, waiting for your phone call?" He asked in exasperated amusement, sliding in the back seat easily. He's there, out away from the crowds and the too-fragile too-delicate people and potentially triggering situations; not that, of course, sitting in a glorified tin box is any more reassuring, but he knows he can deal with this, at least. He can't help but let out a full body sigh that comes out just a bit too loudly for his liking.
Tony, of course, doesn't miss a damn thing. "See," he says, slipping in and sitting just as close as he had been on the bench, entirely too smug for his own good. "That wasn't so bad. Now, what did I tell you? You were a very good boy today, yes you were, not punching any little old ladies today."
He turned and gave Tony a flat stare. "I'm not a dog."
"Adorable," he reminds him, and then cracks up. "Can I call you R2DOG2?"
"It's what I named my dog." He explained.
"...Even I think that's lame," Bruce said, but there was a distinct smile on his face that he couldn't seem to get rid of.
"Liar. You're thinking, 'God damn that Stark is so pretty.'"
"I am?" He drawled.
"Well, I mean, maybe, right?" At the look on Bruces' face, he faltered. "Probably? ...Yeah, too much of a long shot, huh?"
Bruce snorted but didn't reply. "Hey, Happy?" Tony asked after a few silent moments.
"D'you think you can drive us to Peps office? Take the shortest route. I think she mentioned she had a meeting sometime this morning, so maybe we can catch her at the end of it. Or, er, maybe that was tomorrow. Last week?"
Bruce blanched. "If I'd known you were going to drag me all over hell and back I'd have stayed in my lab."
"My lab," Tony reminded him. "Besides, even if you'd tried you wouldn't have succeeded. I'm told I'm particularly mule headed when I get some idea in my head. Which is a baldfaced lie, I'm merely... Persistent."
Bruce choked down a laugh. This was bad, he decided. Things did not work out well for Doctor Bruce Banner when he actually didn't have to force himself to laugh; that meant that he was happy. The world, he had found, did not approve of this change in emotional state and in fact took every opportunity it could find at rectifying the situation.
He wouldn't be surprised if for some reason the car decides to explode and they all just die horribly.
...Well. They would.
And isn't that a mood killer? He thinks, a little self-deprecating smile twisting on his face. Nothing like thinking of his... His...
...What the hell was Tony to him, anyway?
No. Wait. What was he saying? Friend, he told himself firmly. Tony is your friend. Just your good, good friend... That you occasionally dream about. And think of kissing.
The drive to Peppers office takes considerably less time than it did for them to reach the farmers market, but even still, Bruce spends the entirety of the car ride internally arguing with himself. Whether Tony is actually picking up on the tense vibes or not, he has opted to instead pull out his phone and start fiddling with it.
"We're here, sir." Happy says a bit later, pulling up to an admittedly impressive building with so many floors and windows and really what the fuck was Tony thinking?
"I'm going to-" Bruce begins, but Tony has already latched onto his arm with one hand while holding and focusing on the phone in his other, thumb flying over the touchscreen.
"Come inside with me and talk to Pepper." He finished, never taking his eyes off the screen. "C'mon, you big baby."
Which was how Bruce found himself being half carted, half dragged through Stark Industries. He had already opened his mouth to protest against this treatment, there were people staring for Gods sakes he was making a spectacle of both of them-
-except they weren't.
Those that they passed barely spared them a glance, hardly bothering to get out a 'Good morning Mister Stark' before they were back to doing whatever it was they had been doing before.
In short, they didn't give two damns about either of them or what they were doing.
"...Okay," Bruce admits quietly when they enter an empty elevator, Tony waving his hand dismissively when others approach before the door closes. Without a word, the employees turn and head to the elevator across from them. "This is a little weird."
"Told you," Tony drawls, eyes on his phone. "You're fine. Nobody's going to bug you here. Y'know, except me."
He cracks a wry smile at that that turns to wide eyed shock when the elevator doors open seconds later to reveal a leggy redhead standing like a mother dragon over her eggs.
He might have also recoiled just a little.
"Tony," Pepper hisses, all righteous fury and tasteful cream-colored suit. Beside him, Tony jolts and cries out before looking up, a partially started, partially traumatized expression on his face. "Oh! Jeez, Pepper, it's you. You'll never guess what just happened. I'm pretty sure I made a connection with the Beyond-a demon spoke to me, hissing in its Satanic tongue my name, I thought I was dead for sure-"
"What," Pepper cuts him off, enunciating each word slowly. "What, Tony, are you doing here?" After a moment, she turns her ire on Bruce, who flinches back. Her eyes soften. "Doctor Banner, always a pleasure to see you."
"A-ah, you too, Miss Potts." Bruce is not ashamed to admit that Pepper Potts scares him a little. The woman is efficient, almost viciously so, allowing little room for mistakes but still encouraging learning from experience and tall.
There are probably rumors around the new employees about those heels, too, as loosely disguised torture devices.
"Please, Pepper." She smiled. Bruce couldn't do anything but return it.
She spares him one last warm smile before she turns to Tony and it frosts over. "You haven't answered me."
"Why are you nice to him?" Tony complained, eyes raising from his phone to sulk at Pepper even if his thumbs never slow down. "You're not nice to me. You just tried to possess me."
Peppers expression only darkens.
"Uh, yeah, okay. Look!" Reaching out, he clasped a hand to Bruces' and proceeded to hold them up, clasped together as if Bruce has just been named the Middle Weight Boxing Champion. "I followed your orders. We're having fun."
Bruce doesn't comment on that.
"If you're having so much fun," Pepper says dryly. "Then why are you here?"
"Sharing is caring, Pep."
Bruce can only shrug when the woman turns inquiring eyes onto him, reaching out a hand to stop the elevator doors from closing. "I have no idea what he's planning," he admits.
"I don't plan things," Tony says, sounding extremely insulted by the very insinuation. "I am a doer, not a planner. I don't have to plan things to go well, they just immediately do what my awesome wants."
"You've been dealing with this all day?" She asks Bruce sympathetically, ignoring Tony's indignant squawking at being ignored.
Bruce shifted and tried a grin. "Only since seven."
"You poor thing. I am so sorry you've been subjected to this mans company." Pepper reached out, looping her arm through Bruces' and tugged him out of the elevator, following closely by a texting or working or something to do with his phone Tony, who still had not relinquished the hold he had on Bruce's hand.
The receptionist didn't even look up from her desk.
"...Are all of your employees alright?" Bruce can't help but ask.
"This is Stark Industries," Pepper replies casually, opening the door to her office and leading them all in. "Compared to other things Tony has brought with him when he's came, this is really very normal."
"There was a duck once," Tony piped up from behind him absently. "But I didn't know about it. It was a ninja duck."
Was it insane that he wasn't too surprised by this?
This is my life, Bruce thinks again.
"So, gentleman. And Tony," Pepper said, ignoring Tony's insulted 'Hey!' as she sat down behind her desk, gesturing for them to take a seat. They did; Bruce politely lowering himself very carefully while Tony just plopped his ass down in a way that made the chair squeak. "What can I do for you? That has nothing to do with jets, science or dangerously unstable chemicals."
Tony opened his mouth-
"Or anything Tony has to say."
-and promptly closed it, scowling.
Bruce coughed to cover his laugh, but judging by the look Tony sent him, he wasn't buying it.
"As I was going to say before I was so rudely interrupted," he goes on pointedly, once again blatantly ignoring them for his phone. "We're here for strawberries, Pep. So cough'em up."
There's a very distinct awkward silence settling in the room.
"You came here on my lunchbreak to ask for strawberries?" She finally asks, incredulous. "Tony, do you even realize-"
"Hey, this was your idea," Tony replied, glancing up from his phone and whoa, wait, what?
"Yes, but I thought you actually knew what you were doing." Looking down, Pepper reached a hand up to rub her forehead. She sighs. "You realize how completely unromantic this is, right?" She asks bluntly.
Tony frowned. "I liked to think it was a part of my natural charm. Besides, Bruce doesn't mind. Do you, Bruce?"
Both of them are looking at him now, and he feels kind of rude for gaping but he's sort of lost all basic control over motor functions and thought process and no, seriously, please can someone just tell him what the fuck is going on?
"I don't... What?" He asks helplessly, floundering.
Neither of them look like they know what's going on.
"What, what?" Tony asks.
"I don't... I don't know what's going on." And since he just can never get a straight answer from Tony, Bruce turns to Pepper. "Can you...?"
And suddenly her face clears, recognition lighting her eyes and her hand unconsciously raising to her lips. "Oh." She says, and her eyes are huge and slightly horrified. "Oh."
"What?" Bruce is about to ask, feeling a little defensive and a whole lot confused.
"Oh, o-oh no, Bruce," her head whips to Tony, who's looking just a tiny bit frozen in his chair, thumbs paused mid-air. "Did you even tell him what this was? Tony, Tony-"
But there he is, already up and halfway across the room with his head ducked low close to his phone, shoulders hunched and spine just the barest bit curved forward. "Tony-" Bruce begins, but he's already out the door and gone quicker than he can complete his name.
For some reason, Bruces' stomach feels like it's taken a sharp plunge down, taking whatever good feelings Bruce had acquired today with it and leaving a hollow feeling behind.
"I don't know what just happened," he admitted, turning to look at Pepper, surprised to find her with her face in her hands.
"Oh God," she moans.
"Can you tell me what just happened?" Bruce asks. Then, as an afterthought, politely, "Please."
"For such geniuses," Pepper begins, making him recoil back with a glare when she lifts her head up from her hands. "You both are astoundingly stupid."
Huh. That was a little rude.
"Jesus. Okay." She shot a quick look at her wristwatch. "I've got... Fifteen minutes left of this lunchbreak. If we can't solve this by then, you're on your own." She turned her very focused and undivided attention to Bruce, who thinks he might have staggered a little under the weight of it had he been standing. "Tell me everything."
Fifteen minutes later, Bruce Banners mind was officially blown.
Pepper had to be lying; which didn't make sense, because he had gotten the impression that Pepper didn't lie. Or, at least, she didn't lie for just anything; so that meant she had to be mistaken, right? Or confused. Or she... She misheard. There had to be some kind of lack of communication going on.
And despite what she might think, it was definitely not between him and Tony, because they were friends and... Just that.
Bruce internally cursed, resisting the urge to run his hands through his hair in a nervous gesture that he thought he had gotten over but apparently finding out your good, er, friend(?) was under the impression you two were on a date fucked up, uh, everything.
Not that he objected to the date part. Much, at least. But there could honestly be no way that what Pepper had told him was true; that was just not how Bruce's life worked. He believed that he could spent the morning hunting around a farmers market with Tony Stark searching for strawberries, but not that said Stark believed it was a date.
That was just... He couldn't wrap his mind around it. It didn't make sense.
With a gusty sigh, he finally gave in and used both hands to run through his hair. He was in the lobby in no time, striding purposefully to the doors.
He was certain this was a mistake. It had to be, right? Right. There was no... There was just no way. All of his argument could be laid out in very simple terms; look at him... And then look at Tony.
Him. Bruce Banner. Bruce Banner.
In no uncertain terms, this was ridiculous. All of it could be explained in a way that made actual sense. Pepper misinterpreted something Tony said, and then... Embarrassed Tony. Or disgusted him. Or, even on the pathetically small possibility, Tony had thought of something important regarding some new tech or suit and had run off to do it.
Because any of that, anything in the world had more chance of being correct than Tony having feelings for him.
When he got outside, he saw that Happy was still waiting. His feet carried him a little faster, and when he jerked open the door he was unaccountably disappointed-and possibly a little relieved?-to see that it was empty save for Happy.
"Um, have you-" Bruce began uncertainly.
"Mr. Stark called in for one of his cars to be delivered," Happy said immediately. "It arrived just a few minutes ago. He told me to tell you not to worry." He offered a reassuring smile.
"Oh." Slowly, Bruce nodded. "I see. Alright then." Very carefully, he slid into the backseat, purposefully keeping his eyes out the side window and his breaths even. "Will you please take me back to the Tower, then, if you don't have any other matters to attend to?"
"Of course, sir."
The car ride home-when had he started thinking of it like that?-was silent and peaceful and every passing block felt like Bruces' collar was getting tighter and tighter. Unmercifully, he shoved back every emotion that was threatening to spill out and kept up his steady breathing, focusing solely on keeping his pulse calm.
In the back of his mind, that little corner that wasn't really his anymore but still was, the Other Guy was restless in the wake of all his emotions. The rage was still there, the rage was always there, but it was... Dull. A faint throb in the wake of a tsunami of guilt, desperation and hurt. The rage he knew how to control; even to a certain extent, he knew it, knew how to stretch it out and wear it thin so it wasn't all balled in one place and so, so much more easier to manage.
He even had experience dealing with the desperation and the guilt... But this. This emptied his stomach, leaving it hollow and empty. His chest was tight, temples pounding, eyes burning and dry; his limbs felt heavy, as if they were being weighed down.
He had no idea how to deal with all of that, let alone the situation that he found himself in now.
So Bruce did what he did best; he ignored it.
All he really wants to do when he arrives at the Tower is go to sleep. That's it, really, just strip out of the too-tight stupid suit and pass out for the next fourteen to forever hours, wrapping himself up in the silky comforter and blocking out the rest of the world.
This, he knows from experience, would not go well. He's tired, sure, but he's no where near the point of exhaustion-that point that he needs to get to if he has any hope of sleeping as long as he'd like, or even all through the night. So he stomps down on this urge, though he does end up stripping out of the suit(folding it as neatly as he can, putting it far back in his closet) and heads directly to the lab.
Which is where he stays for the next three days.
Bruce is use to running on only faint snatches of sleep now and then and periodic cups of tea and the occasional nutrition bar, so the next few days isn't something truly new to him. It's full of aching muscles, tired eyes and headaches every other hour, of which he gets JARVIS to deliver him a cup of freshly brewed tea via Dummy who has gotten a lot better and only spills a little of it on the way over.
He doesn't look at the Styrofoam cup that he still has, crudely drawn on and in a secret little drawer in his desk, carefully rinsed out and set aside for... Something.
He doesn't get a lot of visitors on a good day, so he's a little(see: a lot) surprised when his routine is interrupted by a very irate looking Pepper.
He doesn't duck behind the table he's standing at, but it's a near thing.
"Uh, Miss-" he catches himself. "Pepper."
The glare she sends him is downright horrifying.
He doesn't want to, but he asks, "Is there... May I help you?"
"Have you seen Tony?" She demands.
Bruce hasn't eaten something really substantial in days. He doesn't understand how he can still feel like vomiting.
"Tony? Is something wrong? Has he not-"
There's no warning, just Pepper's softening eyes and mouth before she reaches out and lays a careful, unafraid hand on his arm. His mouth snaps closed.
"Tony is," she struggles to find the appropriate words. "Well, at the moment, not great."
"Is he... Hurt? Sick?"
"Not sick, no. Hurt? Not... Physically."
Bruce honestly had no idea what to say to that. Something in the vicinity of his chest twisted viciously.
"Bruce," Pepper interrupted, taking a seat at an empty stool and crossing her mile long legs. "With all due respect, yes, you do."
She held up a hand when he opened his mouth to reply. With what, he doesn't know, but he closes it and blinks anyway.
"Everything I said to you was true," she said firmly, once again cutting him off when he tried to protest. "Bruce, trust me. I've known this man longer than I care to say. I know what he's thinking and feeling, even if he doesn't."
His eyes drop. "You're mistaken," he mumbles to the table. "We were... It was... He was looking for strawberries. For you."
She chuckles. "I'm really not. Tony isn't exactly subtle on the best of days, and the way he acts around you, talking about you... It's about as subtle as a flashing neon sign. Bruce." Here Pepper pauses, sending him a dry look under her lashes that spoke volumes. "I'm allergic to strawberries."
He can't help it, he flushes.
She laughs again, but sobers up quickly and looks at him seriously. "The only ones who were mistaken in this whole situation was you and Tony. Tony because he's an idiot who either over describes or under describes, and I'm guessing it was the latter, and you because I can not believe that Tony was subtle when you two were together." The look she sends him is one eyebrow raised and so very pointed and expectant that Bruce just can't help but think back to that stupid, ruined, perfect day.
Tony grabbing his hand excessively. Tony holding his hand. Tony staying close. Tony buying him catnip. Tony buying him lunch. Tony looking at him. Just Tony, Tony, Tony.
"Fuck," he said. Then, "I... I'm sorry."
Pepper waved her hand, looking not a bit nonplussed. "I've heard worse, trust me." Gently now, "I think you should go say that to Tony."
"Which part?" He bursts out, because he's suddenly nervous and panicked and holy hell, Tony fucking Stark took him out on a date and he had no fucking idea.
Pepper cracked a grin. "Second part first," she says, then looks like she's contemplating what to say next before she shrugs at some internal thought. "Then I'd suggest doing the first part instead of saying it."
And that really does it, he can feel heat climbing up his neck and settling in his face. Without a word, he marches across the lab and reaches a hand out to the thumb-print scanner to the side. The door whooshes open, and he's half way out of it before he hesitates.
"I know. He's in the shop, by the way. The override code is GoingGreen7.214, all one word, all caps, no vowels."
And really, he's embarrassed himself enough in front of Pepper Potts, so he hurriedly leaves before she can spot the way his already pink neck grows darker.
He can hear her faint, good natured laugh before the door closes.
Bruce's breathing is uneven and a little loud as he walks briskly down the hallways. He doesn't bother with the elevator, doesn't even think he can handle that small of confined space right now, and admits just a little bit to wanting as much time as he can get avoiding what he's about to do. He knows heartache, knows hurt and loss, but it's not exactly something he wants to have a repeat performance for with Tony.
Especially with Tony.
Fortunately(or unfortunately, as the case may be) he reaches the shop in no time, standing huffing and panting slightly just outside the door. Even through the thick-paned glass, he can hear the wailing solo of Black Sabbath.
"Is there something you need, Doctor Banner?" JARVIS speaks up calmly, giving Bruce a small heart attack. No good, no good, he thinks, he's too wound up and excited. This was going to be difficult enough without going into a green-hazed rage. He needs to calm down, breath in, Banner, breath out. That's right, easy does it...
A minute, five minutes, fifteen, he can't tell, later, his breathing is under control. Even if the trembling in his stomach isn't.
"JARVIS?" He murmurs.
"Yes, Doctor Banner?"
"How long has Tony been in there?"
"Approximately one hour, fifteen minutes and twelve seconds longer than you have been in the lab."
God damn it. God damn it.
"Mr. Stark has had a steady balanced diet of coffee, the occasional donut, and insomnia, the same as you, Doctor Banner."
He was afraid of that. In fact, now that JARVIS mentioned it, he was feeling a little dizzy...
Bruce shook his head. "Has he locked the door and ordered all personnel to be barred out?"
"Unless there was an emergency. Or Captain America received the large order of pornography that Mr. Stark had ordered in his name."
Bruce choked on a laugh, hoping it didn't sound as hysterical as he was pretty sure it had. He could feel his ears heat. "Um, gr-"
"Judging by your elevated heart rate and temperature and slight trembling, Doctor Banner, would it be safe in assuming that this is an emergency?" JARVIS interrupted smoothly, sounding just the barest diabolical.
"Then by all means, Doctor Banner. After you."
The door slid open soundlessly, shutting just as quietly behind him as soon as Bruce stepped in. The music was even louder inside, assaulting the eardrums viciously, but he paid it no mind while he stuffed his balled up fists into his pockets and studied the hunched figure of Tony Stark, sitting cross-legged on the concrete floor.
He looked tense, Bruce decided, an odd sort of calm taking over, washing away all the guilt and despair he had pushed away but not entirely gotten rid of. And it was true, Tony did; his movements were jerky and tiptoeing the line of uncoordinated, and Bruce gets the feeling that even he is at his limits. His hair was disheveled, shining under the bright shops lights with what Bruce could only assume was motor oil, since Tony looked to have very well bathed in the stuff.
Arms were caked in it well up to his shoulders, once navy blue tanktop sporting quite a few stains and even a couple tears. It looked to be as if he was taking apart an entire vehicle, surrounded in discarded parts and tools and even various cups of coffee, most of which looked only half finished.
He would bet anything that if Tony turned around right then, he'd be pale as death with dark bruises under his eyes and his mouth set in a firm tense line.
The moment JARVIS began to lower the volume of the blaring music into a far more manageable tone, Tony immediately snapped his head to the ceiling and growled.
Bruce tried not to let that get to him too much. He failed.
"JARVIS, so help me god, if you turn my music down one more time I'm going to program you with the voice of Hugh Laurie with bronchitis. And not when he has the accent, either."
"That sounds dastardly," Bruce comments, feeling just the tiniest bit of panic stab through his calm. If possible, Tony tenses up even more.
"Oh," he says carefully after a moment, still not turning around. After another minute he returns back to fiddling with whatever engine part he had in his hands. "It's you. Sorry, haven't been out of the shop lately, figured I'd..." He waved a greasy hand in front of him. "Y'know. Do stuff."
Bruce couldn't help the slight humorless smile that quirked at that.
"Do stuff," he repeated.
"Yep. Yep. Did you need anything? Sorta busy here."
And, well, didn't that sting just a bit?
"Actually, yeah, I did." He took another step in, saw more than heard Tony's intake of breath in the way his shoulders rose sharply. "I wanted to talk to you."
"Did your get your catnip?" Tony says suddenly, now tinkering furiously with whatever it was he had in his hands. He still refused to look up. "Cause Happy called, y'know, Pepper and said that he got it and had stocked it in the kitchen windows and greenhouse and things. I didn't even know I had a greenhouse; that was probably Pepper's doing."
"Tony," Bruce said gently.
"I mean that girl puts all sorts of crap into my buildings I don't know about. Do you know she tried to give me decaf once? I swear I started seizing. She didn't believe me of course, and nearly trampled me with those death traps she calls heels. It was horrible. I had nightmares. About the decaf, not her legs."
"But you know, Brucey," and was it just him, or did Tony flinch a little at the end of that sentence? "I am sort of really busy here, I mean I know I could do this all in my sleep, I'm pretty sure I have had this dream before, but I've had like eight cups of coffee since this afternoon and like half a bowl of raisin bran and I'm just a little jittery here and jittery plus little hooks and sharp edges don't really mix, so if you don't mind-"
"We need to talk."
It's like he's just announced he'd stepped on the mans little newborn kitten.
"Pepper's talked to me," he adds, somewhat hopefully. The silence really wasn't comfortable at all.
"Damn it." Tony hisses, uncaring as he scrubs a filthy hand through his hair. "You realize she's a pathological liar, right? I've had to send her to detox twice. Three times if you count her not so brief addiction to antacids."
"Tony," he admonishes, and the playboys shoulders hunch defensively. Bruces' heart breaks a little at the sight. "I didn't... Um. Know." He can't help but gesture helplessly, even if Tony couldn't see. "About-"
"Yeah, well." Tony cuts him off sharply, and Bruce takes a little step back at his tone. "All water under the bridge now, right? No big deal. No need to bring it back up. It's over, it's done, let's just..." He waves a hand. "Forget it."
There again with that heavy, tense silence.
"...No?" Tony asks quietly, seriously.
Bruce swallows. "No."
And now Tony is spinning around, crossed legs raised a little off the floor so he can effectively become a human top and face Bruce, and the expression he's wearing is a cross between flat out apathy and something a little more vulnerable, something that flashes when their eyes meet and is unceremoniously buried under an uncaring attitude.
"What exactly are you after, Doctor Banner?" He asks, tone hard and not a little cold.
Bruce spreads his hands out, palm up. "I just want to talk to you. About... About the other day."
"Really? That's too bad. I have work to do."
"I don't care."
And just like that, Bruce has a heart breaking look into what Tony is thinking, must be thinking, must be feeling in that instant, and it makes him a little ill and a whole lot empty.
"I don't think you do," he admits. "Not like you should. We've both been idiots lately."
Tony looks at him sharply, never once moving a muscle from his vantage point on the floor. With a deep, drawn out sigh, Bruce though 'Fuck it' and purposefully strode over to him, delicately stepping over pieces of machinery and other assortments of household products only found in Tony Starks house, and plops himself down next to said Tony Stark.
"Would you like to know why?" Bruce asks, sitting just a tad bit behind Tony so he can stretch his legs out and lean back on his hands. "It's sort of funny, but mostly stupid."
His look is calculating and piercing, not unlike the first time they met and Bruce got the feeling that he was attempting to be picked apart like a jigsaw puzzle so all the edges and dips could be thoroughly studied. Patiently, he waits.
"...Why?" Tony finally asks, uncharacteristically quiet.
"Because," Bruce says. "We really should have just done this from the start." And without giving himself a moment to hesitate(or consequently think about exactly what he was going to do), he leans in lightning quick and steals a kiss.
It wasn't exactly long or passionate, almost certainly not up to standards with what Tony has experienced from various other partners, and all it really is is just a brief pressing of the lips and over just as quickly... Except Tony looks about as stunned as could be, like Bruce has just whipped out a taser and electrocuted the newborn kitten he'd just stomped on while it tried to weakly crawl to safety.
"I-That was- What was that-" he stutters wildly, jaw slack, and suddenly Bruce is feeling like this wasn't the very best of ideas.
"Um, I'm sorry, I-"
"Need to do that a-fuckin'-gain." Tony says in a rush, one hand snapping out and curling around Bruces' neck, forcing his head forward so that Tony can show him how adults really kiss.
It is several airless moments before they actually part, flushed and panting a little and whoa boy what a ride.
"So," Tony begins conversationally, drawing the syllables out and making Bruce laugh a little breathlessly. "I guess this means we're going study after all?"
He shrugs helplessly, ducking his head a little because several days without proper food or sleep coupled with a mindblowing kiss actually make for a very woozy Bruce. "Yes. I'm sorry." And he really is. Not just because he was a complete unobservant jackass, but because he's probably about to pass out.
"Yeah. Me too."
Pepper finds them an hour and a half later, Bruce sprawled spread eagle on the floor with Tony in full on cuddle mode with one arm thrown over the scientists chest and the other tangled in salt and pepper hair, legs tangled hopelessly.
Both are passed out and looking absolutely adorable.
"JARVIS," Pepper begins in a murmur.
"Already taken care of, Miss Potts. Doctor Banner and Mr. Stark will be awoken in an hour and sent to bed, with Dummy's help if necessary. A number of various restaurants within several blocks of the Tower are on speed dial for when they wake up."
"And the various pictures I have taken will be sent directly to your private email and phone, Miss Potts."
"Thank you, JARVIS."
"My pleasure, Miss Potts."