A/N: This picks up right after the New York War ends … How Stark and Banner's friendship evolves from there.
Disclaimer: I own no characters, storylines or dialogue that comes from Marvel.
Chapter 1: Likeability
Tony was on his sofa, lying back with his eyes closed. He wasn't sure where the rest had gone off to after Loki had been removed from his top floor, and he wasn't sure he cared. He just needed to lie down and rest his aching body for a while.
He didn't hear footsteps or breathing or any other sign that someone had entered the room, so when Banner's voice suddenly spoke into the quiet, his eyes snapped open in surprise, and he lifted his head to see the former Hulk standing there, having recently donned some of Tony's clothing.
"I hear you were the only one who knew I'd show."
Tony looked at his earnest face for a moment, and then settled his head back down and closed his eyes again before muttering, "They all should've known you'd show."
He tried to keep his voice calm, but it was probably the thing he found the most irritating about the others. The complete lack of faith they had in the flagrantly trustworthy Dr. Banner.
It was said with deep, quiet gratitude. Tony looked up again and studied Banner, before pointing out, "I should be thanking you. For saving my life."
"That wasn't me, that was the Other Guy."
What an odd thing to say, Tony thought. He eased himself into a sitting position, wincing slightly at his aching muscles, and then said, "You're saying that had nothing to do with you? Because I don't remember spending hours in the lab talking to a large angry green guy."
Banner eyed him for a second before giving one of those small amused smiles of his that signified private amusement at something nobody else found funny. In the time that Tony had known him, that something was usually people's fear of the Hulk, or Tony himself.
Banner moved forward to settle into the other end of the sofa, and said, "I don't know. He's never really done that before."
"Well, don't I feel special," commented Tony dryly, leaning back as well. "I wonder why nobody else likes me."
"Same reason they don't like me, I suppose," murmured Banner, but didn't elaborate.
After a pause, Tony asked, "In what way?"
Banner had clearly drifted off somewhere, because it took a moment before his eyes refocused on Tony. Then he smiled softly again, and said, "People don't like things they don't understand. And it probably doesn't help that we laugh at them for it."
Tony grinned, and said, "Well, they deserve that."
There was another pause, and Tony properly considered the fact that his life had been saved by the Hulk. He reflected that Banner had clearly grown to care for him enough that that had filtered through to the not-so-jolly green giant. One of precious few people who could tolerate him, let alone actually like him. So Tony added, "But thank you, anyway."
Banner seemed to consider this, and then he gave a sigh and said, "It's because you trust me. Trust ... Us."
He said the "us" with a tiny wince, and Tony tried to think of something to say. Something to distract Banner from dwelling too much. He still had to learn to accept himself. He was far more adept at controlling himself than Tony was, part of the reason Tony admired him so much, but accepting himself was far away.
"I think you should stay here for a while," Tony said, changing the subject, but not the undertone.
Banner looked surprised, and asked, "What do you mean?"
"You know, before you return to the luxury of slums, disease, isolation ... Enjoy some technology, some science first. Indulge in my brilliance."
Banner had that little amused smirk on his face again, and then turned to eye the room they were in, and the view outside.
"It's very impressive."
"I know that, Banner, and you've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Well, unless you count seeing me personally, because let's face it, I'm the majority of the Stark iceberg."
Once more, Tony marvelled at Banner's complete lack of annoyance in him. It was foreign.
"You're really okay with having me stay here? What if I smash up your iceberg?"
Tony glanced over for just long enough to make out true hesitation under that teasing smile.
"Then we'll have plenty of ice for our drinks."
For a second, just a second, Tony revelled in the fact that he could actually enjoy this man's company, revelled in the fact that he had found a friend, and then he added, "You're welcome here any time. It's nice to have someone around who can fully appreciate ... Everything."
"Thank you. I'd like that."
The words were mild as ever, but Banner's eyes were filled with a gratitude that Tony both understood and despised. Understood from personal experience. Despised because Banner deserved such experience ten times less than he did.
"Great! This is very exciting, we can have slumber parties and play scientist-scientist."
The smiling was back, and Tony felt again that unfamiliar sense of looking at somebody who actually liked him. Someone he actually liked.
Like hell was he letting this guy go back to India any time soon.
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