The Promise of Rain

being a continuation of the avengers

with made up science

and much fuckery

"Okay, are all assembled comfortably? Everyone has popcorn? No sudden bathroom breaks?"

Tony claps his hands as he settles into a chair, and looks around the table. The strong mid-August sunlight streams through the expanse of glass wall by his right, and if he squints he can see the amused expression of Bruce Banner, who is sitting beside him. His words are met with derision, incredulity, and annoyance (mostly on Romanov's part; everybody else just looks confused). Tough crowd, thinks Tony. Well, he tried.

It's the first time they've gathered together since the shawarma-fest (immediately after which, he was plagued by angry calls from all of the Avengers, with the exception of Thor. Gods are, apparently, incapable of food poisoning).

According to Nick Fury – whom Tony (thankfully) doesn't see much of these days – regulations 'suggest' that the Avengers reconvene once a year. Tony doesn't object to this; in fact, he likes seeing the whole gang together again. Hell, if they got a van and a dog, they could go out and solve mysteries and shit. He just wishes that the meeting wasn't today, because –

Thor holds up a large cardboard bucket. "I do not understand this popcorn. Is it nourishment of some kind?"

"Stark –" Romanov already looks pissed off, but seems to decide he's a hopeless case and turns to Thor instead. "Yes, it's food. Stark's attempt at humour."

"Oh Natasha, you break my heart," Tony says, and clutches at his arc reactor.

"What heart?" she shoots back.

He turns to Banner reproachfully. "Mommy, she's being mean to me."

Banner shakes his head, smiling, "No way, Stark. I am not getting involved in this."

Tony says "I don't blame you," and then laughs with Banner. For some reason Thor joins in, and his bellowing laugh drowns both of them out, which makes them laugh all the harder.

Steve Rogers (of course) is the one to interrupt them. He clears his throat loudly and Banner stops laughing, and for a moment Tony is angry, before he brushes it off. He doesn't want to sit at this goddamn table all day, either. Not to mention the fact that Rogers is looking a little edgy today, so he's somehow less inclined to wind up the guy.

"As we all know," Rogers begins, "It's now been a year since our fight with Loki. Although there have been a few minor disturbances – which we have mostly been able to individually deal with – there doesn't seem to be any current underlying plot for world subjugation."

"Well said, great to hear, thanks for coming guys, I'm glad we did this," Tony says, and makes to get up.

"But," Rogers says tightly.

Tony sinks back into his chair and sighs; Banner claps him on the back in sympathy.

Rogers continues. "But, if there was, that's exactly what they would want us to think. It's been long enough to lull us into a false sense of security. If someone were to strike now, we may be oblivious and vulnerable."

This, at least, is something Tony can agree with. He's familiar with military tactics (Rhodey talks about them enough that he's probably a goddamn expert, in truth). The Avengers contemplate this for a few moments, and it's quiet. Yeah, Tony thinks, too quiet.

"One example is the incident that Thor had to deal with about half a year ago," Rogers adds.

"The Inquiri," says Thor. "A troublesome race. In the past, it has always been Loki who has maintained peace amongst them. I do not enjoy the company of such strange creatures."

Romanov irritably stirs at the mention of Loki, and then says, warily, "Inquiri?"

"You do not know of the Inquiri? They are loathsome beasts." Thor laughs as he adds, "Their mouths may be sharp, but their minds are dull. In order to regain peace, I elected an Asgardian lord as their ruler, and the beasts thought they had been blessed."

"We could have stopped those, uh, Inquiri, from ever hurting anyone on Earth if we'd only been more aware," Rogers says finally. "And now, a year after Loki's capture, we are more unprepared than ever. We need to organise ourselves."

It appears this is as far as Rogers got with his speech. He looks in askance at Tony, who pulls his box of popcorn towards him and digs in determinedly.

To everybody's surprise (and Tony's amusement), Bruce breaks the silence.

"Okay, so that's established. Are you going to suggest a solution?" he asks.

"I hoped we could all work on a way to fight this together, Dr. Banner," Rogers replies, staring at Stark.

"Team building. Fury would be proud," says Tony, who still has a grudge against the eyepatched asshole.

"Well, it's probably a good idea for us to stay together," Hawkeye says.

"I agree," Banner says.

Tony sets the popcorn carefully back on the table. "I disagree."

"Oh, come on Stark –" Romanov explodes.

"Are you just disagreeing for the sake of it, or do you actually have a reason?" Rogers demands.

"I side with the man of metal," says Thor, although Tony thinks he's just doing it to piss everyone off even more.

Tony raises a finger. "Spangles, I am ashamed and disappointed that you could think I would do such a thing," beside him Banner puts his head in his hands, "and furthermore, you are sitting in the reason I disagree."

Rogers looks down at himself uncertainly. "The chair?" he asks, confused and still very much annoyed.

"Stark Enterprises," Tony says, leaning back and spreading his arms. "I have a business to run; lives to save; ladies to charm." He winks at Romanov, who glares.

"You're telling me that you haven't made some portable device which you can use to manage it with?" Hawkeye asks, looking sceptical.

"Of course I have," Tony says matter-of-factly.

The table is silent. Then: "So you can do it?"

"I can," Tony allows. "But…"

"He won't," Banner finishes, and he sounds like he is trying not to smile.

"In that case," Hawkeye says grimly, "I'll point out that we are also currently sitting in a building with well over thirty floors –"

Tony realises what he's getting at immediately. "No, no, no, no, no –"

He ignores Stark and continues, "– probably like twenty bedrooms, all with a very generous owner –"

"Generous my fucking ass –"

"– and completely unused," he finishes.

The Avengers look questioningly at Stark.

Tony says, "Hell no."

Ten minutes later, Tony is sulkily picking popcorn out of his hair in the bathroom. Banner is helping him (correction: Banner dragged him there when Rogers and he started to get a little too aggressive, and now feels obliged to help him, but mostly he just wrings his hands). To say there was an argument is an understatement.

"Stark, I don't understand why you don't just let them live here for a couple of months," Banner says. "They'd probably hate it just as much as you would. Imagine getting to annoy Rogers every single day for eight weeks."

Tony raises an eyebrow. "Seduce me not, foul temptress."

"You see right through me," replies the physicist dryly.

For a few moments they continue in silence. Tony carefully pulls popcorn from his hair, moodily remembering Romanov throwing the box at him; Banner pulls at his shirt cuffs and watches him.

"I live here," says Banner at last.

Tony, impassive, says, "Yes. You do."

"Then what's the problem?"

Because, Tony wants to say, it's his thing. It's Banner who lives here, on Floor 12, the eighth bedroom, and he sleeps there and eats there and laughs there (when Tony's there, of course) and works there and it's only for Banner. Not for Steve Rogers or Robin Hood (whatever his name is) or Natasha Romanov or Thor. It's for Bruce Banner.

But, in the end, he just says, "It's different," and turns to inspect his hair in the mirror.

The reflected Banner stares at him. Quietly, he asks, "How?"

Tony whirls around. "Do I have any of that shit left in my hair?"

"No," Banner looks exasperated. "I know you're changing – wait." He pauses, and looks at him.

His hand rises, slowly, and moves towards Stark's face. Banner's eyes are doing that look again – the one that makes Tony dry-mouthed and quiet – right at him; they are blackly intent, opening at the edges and becoming everything, swallowing and swallowing and –

– and Banner's fingers are on his cheekbone and trailing to his ear, and they're warm and Tony wants to close his eyes but can't quite look away.

"There," says Banner, and pulls his hand away. "All gone."

"What?" Tony blinks, and looks at the physicist's hand. Pressed between a finger and thumb is small piece of popcorn. "Oh," he says. "Thanks."

"No problem."

"Are you sure it's all gone?" Tony asks, and dares a wink.

Banner for once seems at ease. "I wouldn't lie to you," he says simply.

Tony Stark does not often feel guilty – he's a billionaire playboy, he's not known for his kind and loving heart – but this is one of the exceptions. He has been unable to bring himself to tell Banner that he's still experimenting for a cure. Mostly because when he tried to suggest that he continue alone, Banner got upset and asked if he really thought he needed a cure, but also because he wants to surprise the guy. In about six months it will be Banner's birthday, and in Tony's opinion the cure to all his green problems will be the most awesome present ever.

Hence the secrecy, which turned into lying because Banner wanted to know what on earth he was working on, anyway, which turned into guilt because of moments like this.

Fuck, Tony thinks. And then smiles, and throws an arm round Banner's shoulders.

"I know. Let's get back to the losers in the other room," he says. "They're probably wondering where all the eye-candy went."

"I'm sure," Banner answers, but smiles widely and follows him.

No sooner do they return (and are greeted mostly with glares, although Thor grins), than JARVIS calls for him. "Sir, Ms. Potts has returned."

This is why Tony did not want the Avengers meeting to be today. Today, of all days, the day Pepper returns.

The elevator slides open only a moment later, and she walks through. She seems out of place in business clothes – a knee-length pencil skirt, a purple blouse, high-heels – compared to the various outfits around the table (cloaks, lycra and band t-shirts, to name a few).

"Pepper," he greets her, and opens his arms.

She doesn't come any closer. "Tony," she says, with the kind of enthusiasm all women speak with, right before they rip you apart.

Tony lowers his arms. "Oh, God," he says, and Thor looks up from his popcorn. Tony pats his shoulder. "Not you, Blondie."

"Tony," Pepper repeats. "A word?"

This is a test, he decides. One of those female tests. If he says he's busy, Pepper will smile and say "That's fine," and everything will be great and awesome and happy-fucking-days, until the next time he wants sex and then the oh-I-have-a-headache's and well-I-have-some-paperwork-I-should-really-do's will arrive in vengeful abundance. He's so got this.

Carefully, he says, "Of course," and walks with her to the kitchen.

He figures it's probably not the time to ask for a sandwich or something, so as Pepper waits he makes himself a vodka and coke and shoots it back. She whirls on him the moment he does, so he's kind of glad that it was more a large shot of vodka that looked like it had maybe hung around with coke at some long-past point of its existence, than anything else (see: weaker).

"It was the last night we would have together before I went to D.C. for a month," Pepper tells him, as if he didn't already know (okay, in truth, he'd forgotten, and had been quite confused when he woke up and there was a cold space on the other side of the bed, but Tony wasn't about to tell her that). "And where were you?"

Tony isn't sure if he's supposed to answer or not. Probably not. So he does.

"I was definitely not being bled on by Banner's face," he says. "Kidding, I totally was. Incidentally, did you know that needles can get stuck if you don't stitch the right way?"

"Tony, what is wrong with you?"

"Weird, that's what the doctors said. And Banner. Although when he said it, he was trying to physically harm me."

"Tony –"

"I say trying because, clearly, I am too awesome to actually –"

"Tony." Pepper looks more upset than angry now, and Tony shuts his mouth as he realises that he may have missed something. She says, quietly, "I'm tired. I've been travelling for several hours, I've been in meetings for a month straight, and I'm trying to talk to you. Please, don't shut me out."

Tony hates that. That weird ability that women have where they seem to know exactly what you are doing, even when you didn't know yourself. He holds his empty glass a little tighter and nods.

"I'm sorry if I'm coming across as angry," says Pepper apologetically. "I just thought that this –" she seems unsure as to what 'this' is, "– was working. I thought that you could settle down."

"No no no no, Pep," Tony says quickly, and he steps forward and touches her shoulder, then her cheek. "It is; I am. I was working with Banner. This cure is important."

Pepper doesn't pull away, but her tension isn't easing. "If you were really settling down, Tony, you wouldn't be putting Banner before me," she tells him. Her tone is light, but he knows her well enough that she looks sad.

It takes great restraint on his part not to say 'bros before hoes'. Instead, he repeats, "This cure is important."

Pepper raises her eyebrows a little and Tony himself is surprised at how vehement he sounds, but then, considering the fact that he spends every waking hour poured over screens and researching Banner's condition (and when he's not, he's talking to the man himself, who is paler and sleeps even less these days), then it really isn't all that unexpected.

"Tony, this –" she seems to search for words. "This – what we have – it's a relationship, isn't it?"

"Of course," Tony says, and tries not to be annoyed that she is asking.

"You care about me, my feelings matter," Pepper continues.

"Yes," he says shortly.

Pepper looks at him. "Then why haven't you said sorry?"

Tony is silent. When he doesn't answer, she shrugs his hand off and leaves the kitchen. The sound of her high heels echoes sharply, and then fades away.

The truth is, it's because he isn't.

a/n: my thanks especially to suga bee, awesomeperson17, radwoman, elementicy, xgentlesmiles, jen darknight, tmmdeathwishraven, incessance, to the anons, and to everyone who favourited and alerted. your encouragement always inspires me.

reviews are always loved – so even if it's just one word, please take a few moments to send one.

*inquiri - pronounced in-KEY-ree.