So, my second Avengers fic. Science boyfriends again because there is nothing cuter in my mind. And boy was this a labor of love. I've been staring at it for so long that I don't even now if its good anymore. But either way, I hope you all enjoy :)
Bruce tries to keep it a secret that when he transforms, when he's The Other Guy, he's basically conscious through all of it. He still doesn't have any control, really. Over the years of learning he's come to accept that the Hulk is the Hulk, and there's not really much he can do but get used to things. Get used to living in the anger and the fear. And... he's okay with that. For the most part. But when the Hulk is out, green and angry and so, so dangerous... he's still there. He's along for the ride whether he wants to be or not.
Its easier to tell people that the Bruce side of him gets shut down when The Other Guy is on his rampage. Otherwise tricky questions start to pop up like "Why can't you just learn to control it?" or "So it really is you, going crazy like that?" and those are the kind of questions that are more trouble then they're worth.
But like he's around for the Hulk's life, the Hulk is around for his. Like an itch in his mind, he's there and Bruce can feel him. Keeping him trapped there is the only part of control he has anymore, it seems. Especially after everything that's happened.
"Hey, Brucey. Wakey wakey."
Yawning, Bruce slowly sat up, face peeling unpleasantly from the leather seat he had been using as a pillow, rubbing on eye with the heel of his right hand he looked over at the driver's seat where Tony was still sitting comfortably behind the wheel, "Sorry, what? Want me to take over?"
Tony scoffed, reaching back to grab his duffle bag for him, "Sleep is for the weak. We're already here."
"Well you can hardly blame me, after the days we've had," He turned, freezing as his gaze landed on what was obviously the famous Tony Stark's home. The place was... Well, it was gorgeous, "This is where you live?"
"Problem?" Tony stepped out of the car, the bag the contained Bruce's few possessions slug over his shoulder, "Too high end for you?"
Bruce shook his head, getting out as well and walking over to his traveling companion despite his stiff legs, "Understand I've been living in... near poverty for the past years. Anything is high end to me at this point."
The signature smirk made an appearance as Tony's eyebrows lifted above his sunglasses, "Wait till you see the inside."
He followed him up the walkway to the house, the doors opening automatically at their approach. True to his word the inside was just as nice as the exterior, modern furniture mixed with rugs and hardwood, but obvious touches of Tony seen in the advanced gadgets just lying around and the floor to ceiling windows. Bruce stuffed his hands in his pockets, smiling as he took everything in, "Again, you live here?"
"Well, part of the time," Tony finally set his bag down, peeling off his jacket and loosening his shirt, the sunglasses getting tossed to the sofa, "When I'm not at the Tower that now needs rebuilding or California or..." he trailed off as Bruce gave him a look, clapping him on the shoulder, "And don't forget, you live here now too."
At that Bruce couldn't help but smile, "Thanks for putting up with me."
"As if I'd pass up the opportunity to show off my toys," Tony grinned, walking deeper into the house and gesturing for him to follow, "Jarvis, we've got company."
"Jarvis? Okay, who exactly is Jar-"
Suddenly a slightly metallic voice emanated from the ceiling, making him jump if only a little, "Hello, Dr. Banner. I've heard a lot about you."
Tony was incredibly smug, "Bruce, meet Jarvis. He yells at me when my experiments get almost out of hand and is basically my best friend around here."
"You flatter me, sir."
"So... Artificial intelligence?" Tony nodded as he pondered that for a moment, then shrugged, "Not the strangest thing we've sen in the last twenty four hours."
Tony just smiled and kept walking, Bruce close on his heels. Jarvis quickly picked up the conversation, and he couldn't help the fresh wave of amazement at the accomplishments of the man before him, "I hope not. I'd say that I'm much more complacent then a horde of alien soldiers."
He smiled, "You seem pretty good so far."
Tony snorted, "Unless he's trying to wake you up in the morning. Then he's a real pain in the ass."
"I do these things for your own good, sir."
They stopped in front of a door, Tony's hand coming to rest on the handle. He looked over his shoulder, giving him a look that Bruce had already come to know as his 'I'm about to be really cool' look, "Ready?"
Deciding to humor him he spread his hands out, "Please. I can't stand the suspense."
"Well, if you insist." And with that he opened the door, leading him into his workshop.
Bruce had to admit he was impressed. The room was spacious, filled with half-finished projects and tools and computers. Tony smiled brightly and Bruce got the feeling that this is where he's most at home, no matter what house he's living in. He was knee deep in Tony's element here, and everything was as amazing as the Stark name claimed.
But instead of voicing his thoughts he just looked at Tony, a brow raised in jest, "Is this supposed to be impressive?"
"What? Oh, come on!" Tony took him by the arm, bringing him over to a desk and sending papers flying to the ground with a swipe of his arm. In a few touches the panel came life, a 3D holographic view of the Iron Man suit rising before them, "What's not to be impressed with? And you haven't even seen half of it!"
He shrugged but couldn't keep the grin off his face. The joke was over but now Tony was the one playing along, pushing him over to the other side of the room while he turned on some music, "How do you feel about baseball, Banner?"
"Baseball?" he laughed or something pretty close to it, unsure of where the question had come from, "Fine, I guess."
"Right, I see. Ever played?"
"Not since I was little, why-"
"Alright, hang on," Bruce watched with a brow raised as Tony pulled an old wooden bat from under a table and handed it to him. The bat was worn smooth from years of use, a good weight in his hand.
"So we're going to play baseball? With all the delicate equipment in here?"
"Not just any baseball!" Grinning Tony held out his hand, a shinning green holographic baseball appearing there, "Stark baseball!"
Bruce shook his head, a smile spreading across his face. This was... surprisingly mundane for something that involved Tony. And not at all what he was expecting. But it was good, in a way, "I just got here, and you want to play baseball? And what, no holographic bat?"
"Hey, I'm working on it. Batter up!" Winding up Tony threw the little orb of light straight at him. Ducking, it hit the wall and vanished before a new one reappeared in Tony's hand, "I thought you said you played."
"Not since I was young, I said. I didn't have a lot of free time over the past few years."
"Just excuses, Banner," Tony slung the ball at him at him again but this time Bruce was ready. He swung and the hologram connected, but instead of vanishing it sailed back at Tony, over his head and into the opposite wall. Tony whistled, a wolfish grin on his face.
"Excellent form, Doctor. If that's how good you are now I'd love to see what the big guy could dish out. Ready?" He threw again, and the cycle continued a few more times in silence before Bruce spoke.
"Tony?" he started after hitting another into the ceiling, "I want to say thank you."
Tony shook his head, "Bruce, I told you. What's mine is yours, stay as long as you like."
"No, that's not..." he sighed, setting the bat down and leaning on it, "I want to say thank you for the way you treat me."
Straightening, Tony let the ball vanish, walking over to him, "What are you getting at?"
He ran a hand through his hair, gritting his teeth, "Everyone who knows is always on eggshells around me. You saw how Steve was even in the SHEILD lab. They think that at any second I could..." he waved his hand around, discomfort with the whole situation releasing as nervous energy, " 'Hulk-out' and go crazy. As if after all this time I don't have a hold on it. As if I'm some kind of a liability," And maybe he was. Maybe all he was good for anymore was the Other Guy. But still...
"So what you're saying," Tony was right up next to him now, lifting his hand to rest on his arm. The contact was warm, and comforting, "is that you want to thank me for treating you like a human?"
He looked up, sure the realization was blooming on his face, "Yes. Yes, that's it exactly."
Tony paused, as if collecting his words. Bruce had to admit the look didn't seem quite natural on him, "Bruce, listen. When you're in my house, or just with me in general, never apologize for who you are."
He looked down, a weak smile toying across his lips, "Its not who I am, its what I am."
"No, it's who you are," Tony emphasized, "We've all got our monsters, Banner. Some are just more visible then others. Doesn't make us any different."
Again he looked up, making eye contact with Tony. And for once in a very long time, all he saw there was honesty. There wasn't fear or suspicion, hatred or greed. Just the trust of one Avenger to another.
He smiled, the closest thing to a real smile he'd had in ages, "Thanks, Tony."
And suddenly Tony's wild grin was back and he was pulled into a tight one-armed hug, "You've got to ease up, Bruce! Learn to live!"
Chuckling weakly he ran a hand through his hair again, "Maybe you can help me with that."
"I would enjoy nothing more. Lets head back to the living room, okay? I'll order up some killer cheeseburgers from down the street and Jarvis can find anything you want to watch on the tube."
"Yeah... that sounds pretty good about now."
Taking the bat and setting it aside Tony guided him to the stairs again, a hand firmly on his back, "And tomorrow, we'll work on getting you your own lab space. Only temporary until the tower is rebuilt."
"Of course. You know, it may be nice not being the only genius around here."
Over the next few weeks Bruce couldn't deny that he and Tony were getting along beautifully. They fell into a routine: Every morning Bruce would make the coffee (Tony claimed it tasted exponentially better when he made it), then sit at the table and read the paper while Tony made breakfast (or pretended to make it while he had machines do most of the work for him). It was nice having news about the world again, although he strategically avoided pictures of the Hulk. He had enough daily reminders without seeing them in print. After breakfast they usually went their separate ways, Tony to his workshop and Bruce to the impromptu lab space that was nonetheless fitted with the most up to date equipment you could find. And there was nothing wrong with knowing that the other was just a comm call away.
In the evenings they tended to stay in. Tony had struck Bruce at the party type but he seemed perfectly content to just chill on the sofa with a mammoth bowl of popcorn. Which suited Bruce just fine. He wasn't sure he really wanted to be around people. Not now, not with the Hulk so close to the surface. So every night they'd settle in, watch a movie, share some stories. Sometimes Tony's head would migrate to his shoulder or his lap and sometimes Bruce's hand would come to rest on his knee or thread through his hair. But that was okay too.
One night after a funny movie that had both of them laughing (he'd been doing that a lot more lately) Tony got up with him when he rose to turn in for the night, following him for a few paces before speaking, "Bruce, can we talk for a sec?"
He stopped, looking at him, "Sure, Tony. What is it?"
Tony grinned, "Well, not talking exactly..."
Bruce frowned, "What do you-"
The next thing he knew Tony had pushed him hard against the wall and their mouths collided. Bruce couldn't move, couldn't think, and it took a moment to realize that the Tony Stark was actually kissing him.
All of his senses were on fire and he could feel the blood pounding in his ears and Tony's hands seemed to be going everywhere all at once. And even though everything was... was good and new yet familiar at the same time, he could feel the Hulk reacting, reaching up to dance at his skin like a green flame swimming through his very DNA. So he pushed Tony away, and pushed the green back down deep inside of him.
There was silence, and he took a few deep breaths before speaking again, "What... do you think you're doing?"
"Well..." Tony leaned back against the opposite wall, "Didn't you enjoy it?"
Face flushed he shook his head, trying to clear it. No, no this had to be a Hulk thing. From the second they met Tony had been trying to provoke him. And now he had almost dragged him out.
"Was I supposed to?"
"In theory, yes," Tony looked at him, searching almost, "You see I've been thinking, which I do a lot, and it seems like we're pretty good together, you know. We're both brilliant. You've got an amazing body and so do I and we've got the whole science-y thing going on and I can't be the only one whose noticed that we just work together, right? We'd be totally unstoppable together. So, what do you say? Be my awesome green boyfriend?"
"You..." He clenched his fists, "You're crazy, Stark. Crazy. Do you want to get yourself killed?"
"Bruce, its not about-"
"Its always about him, Tony." He raised his hands up, a worthless defense mechanism, chuckling weakly to hide the bitterness, "Trust me, I've learned that by now. Look, just don't do it again. Ever. I'm going to bed."
"Goodnight, Tony," Turning he hurried to his room, closing the door soundly behind him. Making his way to the bed he sat and closed his eyes, breathing in and out slowly, letting the thrumming in his veins die down before getting ready for sleep.
After that he and Tony seemed to have lost their rhythm. As much as he hated to admit it, Bruce had definitely been avoiding his housemate. He got up later in the mornings, more often then not heading straight for his lab. Instead of a movie and sharing a bowl of popcorn he started reading a book or some sort of medical journal instead. Even Jarvis noticed the tension rising between them, as he found out one night while digesting a few chapters of Les Misérables.
"Dr. Banner," The AI's voice called out to him and he looked up from his book, pushing his glasses farther up his nose.
"Uh, yeah, Jarvis? Kind of busy at the moment."
"Master Stark is watching some sort of documentary on whales and he was wondering if you would care to join him."
He frowned, "Jarvis, did Tony actually ask you to ask me to watch it with him?"
There was an incredibly human pause, "No, sir."
Bruce sighed, "Then I think I'll just get back to my book, thanks."
After another pause, in which he read at least two more pages Jarvis chose to add, "But he was wondering, sir."
When a week of strategical avoidance had gone by, Bruce started to pack his things. He went out and bought a new med kit and didn't stuff much else besides a few changes of clothes and a book or two into his duffle. He was used to a life on the run, he knew how to live with little.
Somehow it didn't surprise him when Tony showed up at his door, hands stuffed in his pockets and arc reactor shining through the fabric of his t-shirt. Exactly like the first time they worked together, "... So you're going away?"
He didn't look at him, "Yeah. I want to feel useful again."
Tony stepped further into the room, "You're being useful here. Doing all that research with that big brain of yours."
"I'm not helping people by staying here," And finally he looked at Tony again. And it's like a hand had wrapped around his chest and tied a string to his heart and was pulling, pulling, pulling him across the room.
But his feet stayed planted on the floor. Tony looked down, taking something out of his pocket and the moment is gone, "Where will you go?"
Bruce zipped up his bag, "Not sure yet. Maybe Haiti. Or Vietnam. Anywhere they need a doctor."
"Yeah, well there are plenty of places that need a doctor around," Tony peeled one bill after another from the wad of cash he pulled out of his pocket, throwing them each on the bed as he talked. All hundreds, "For more medicine. Food. Travel. Clothing. Buying people off," he threw two more on for good measure, "And emergencies."
He stared at the money, then looked back up at Tony, "I can't accept this."
"Yes, you can. And you will, because you're also accepting this," Reaching into his pocket again he took out a small device, something that looked like a normal bluetooth, "This will hack into any satellite that happens to be close by and connect you straight to Jarvis. You can get weather, news, access to databases. Whatever you can think of really. You know, make calls or something," he placed it on top of the money, "But I won't know anything unless you tell Jarvis to tell me. Completely private."
For a second he considered not taking it. He'd gotten by pretty well on his own in the past. But then again, it could come in handy. In quite a lot of situations actually.
"Fine. Thank's Tony."
Tony cracked a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, "Please, something like this? Kept me from getting bored in my workshop."
"Right," He returned the smile, even if it was more then a bit awkward. Sliding the money and device into his pocket he grabbed his bag, heading to the door, "I'll be seeing you, Tony."
Before he made it over the threshold he felt Tony behind him, "You're coming back though. Just so you know. You're coming back."
He paused to think about it. It didn't take him long, "Yeah. I'm coming back."
In the end Bruce decided to go to Haiti. Disaster areas the world had forgotten about were some of the best places for him. Plenty of people without proper care, but lacking an armed conflict that might set the Hulk loose. Thanks to Tony he had plenty of supplies, helping people with everything from a sore throat to broken bones. It felt good to be anonymous again, to be known for actions of his own violation.
It wasn't until he'd been settled for a month that he looked at the small earpiece Tony had given him. Lying down on his cot after a long day of scrapes and sores, he held it aloft in the dying light of the day. It was hard to ignore that he'd been thinking of the man in the iron suit more often then not while he'd been away.
Tony was just so different from anyone he'd ever met before. There was nothing rational about the man. When most people found out what he was it was a constant fight or flight reaction. But Tony had been the first one to smile at him, to hold out his hand and say, "Hey, you're a good guy. Stop hiding."
Not that he had stopped hiding. Hell he was hiding right now. But still. Slowly he put the device in his ear, pressing the small activation button, "... Jarvis?"
"An absolute pleasure to hear from you again, Dr. Banner," came the almost immediate response. Bruce smiled, closing his eyes and settling into the thin bed, "Master Stark is being insufferable."
He found himself chucking, "Is that any different from normal?"
"He's become more insufferable then normal since your departure."
"He hasn't set anything of fire has he?"
"Not yet anything we couldn't manage to control."
There was a pause in the conversation and Bruce took a moment to reflect on the situation. Here he was, having a pleasant little chat with an AI that was based thousands of miles away like it was perfectly normal. Then again there wasn't much normal in his life anyway.
"That's good..." he trailed off, thinking about how to approach the subject, "Is... is Tony doing alright?"
"Dr. Banner, I'm under the impression that Master Stark misses you terribly."
He opened his eyes again, looking at the ceiling, "We couldn't... There's no way that we could be what Tony wanted it to be. Even if he doesn't just want the Hulk its too dangerous."
In the back of his mind he thought about what the Hulk did that day. About seeing Iron Man falling from the sky with no power to hold him up. About the mad dash across building after building in order to make it in time. The intense feeling of relief once he'd been in the Hulk's arm. And then the anger, a kind of anger he'd never felt before when he and the Hulk both thought that Tony Stark was dead.
"Sir, are you interested in Tony Stark?"
Bruce stiffened, coming out of his own thoughts, the bluntness of the question shocking him, "Its... I don't know. But its impossible."
"Tony Stark is a man who owes his life to impossible."
"... Yeah. That reactor in his chest is pretty amazing science."
"I was indicating that you managed to save his life the day of the battle."
Covering his face Bruce wondered for a minute if Jarvis had evolved the ability to read minds. It seemed like something Tony would try to do. Then again. Maybe it was time for something impossible to be a step in the right direction for him.
"Jarvis? What's the weather like tomorrow?"
"Partially cloudy, eighty-three degrees by eleven, light rainfall in the evening."
"Thanks... Tell Tony I'll be another month at most."
"I'll inform Master Stark of your estimated arrival home."
Switching the device off he set it gently on the floor, rolling over and closing his eyes. As he drifted off, glowing arc reactors and the word 'home' swam behind his eyelids.
Bruce walked up the driveway slowly, no worse for ware then the first time he'd done so. He was used to being nervous. He spent his whole life living on edge, searching for an exit, waiting to bolt. But this was the kind of nervousness he felt walking into the SHIELD helicarrier. Knowing he was going somewhere where there may not be a way out.
The doors opened at his approach and he stepped inside, placing his bag down carefully in the foyer, "Tony...?"
Walking further into the house there was no sign of the charismatic genius. He slipped a hand through his hair, fingers twitching a bit, "Jarvis? Where's-"
There was a large bang from downstairs that had him jumping and rushing to the door of Tony's workshop. Before his hand touched the handle it slammed open, revealing a plume of black smoke followed by a soot and oil covered Tony Stark.
There was a pause that consisted of them just staring at each other before Tony grinned, reaching out to pull him into a half-hug, arm slung across his shoulders, "Welcome home!"
Feeling the same smile growing on his face Bruce shook his head. Looked like things were back to normal between them, "Thanks. What happened to you?"
"Oh, you know. This and that. Wires and processors and... stuff."
"Right. Stuff," he chuckled, untangling himself from Tony's grip, "Looks like you got more 'stuff' then you could handle down there."
Scoffing Tony wiped his face on the sleeve of his shirt, "Never enough stuff, Bruce. So. What desolate part of the world did you find yourself in this time?"
Bruce shrugged, finding himself being led to the kitchen, "Haiti, so not the most desolate place I've ever been."
Tony hummed, grabbing them each a bottle of water, "Hot there?"
"Well it is the tropics. What have you been doing lately?" He sat down, taking the bottle and having a sip, "You know, when you haven't been blowing yourself up."
"Hey, I was working on improving the power of the repulsers on my suit so technically it worked perfectly."
"Right," smiling, he shook his head. He had missed this. Against all odds, despite his protests, he had missed just being with someone who understood him.
"Bruce. Hello, you in there?"
Jumping he looked up. Tony was looking at him curiously, brow raised, "Sorry. Still a little jet lagged, you know how it is."
"Sure," chugging the rest of his bottle, Tony tossed it with practiced ease into the trash, "Then let's just play it cool the rest of the day. I can show you my new projects tomorrow."
"Whatever you want, Tony," he wiped his hand on the back of his mouth, "What should we do?"
"How do you feel about Star Trek?"
The rest of the night they spent on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in between them as the show played on Tony's big flat screen. More then once Bruce found himself doubled over with laughter, a well placed quip on Tony's part sending them both into hysterics and Bruce's near perfect impression of McCoy pushing them over the edge. It was as if he'd never left. But soon Bruce felt himself drifting off, head coming to rest on the back of the sofa. Eyelids drooping, he barely registered the strong arm pulling him close, or the pungent smell of motor oil as he fell into a comfortable sleep.
The next day Tony led him down a new staircase, descending deep into the ground, "Just wait till you see it," he said, "It's perfect."
Bruce smiled, double checking for his glasses, "You are Tony Stark after all."
Presently they came into a simple hallway, a few cabinets here and there with two doors facing opposite each other at the end. Tony gestures to the one on the right, "After you."
Reaching forward Bruce turned the handle and walked in, face lining with confusion as he looked around. It just looked like a big white room, "Alright, explain. This is your big project?"
"Yep," pressing his hand against the wall, Bruce pulled his glasses on as a small panel appeared, "Fully equipped, absolutely indestructible Hulk room."
Bruce felt the color drain out of his face, "What..."
Tony put a hand on his shoulder, "Bruce, I'm not trying to lock you up. This is not a cage, it's not a secret way for me to gather data, just a place for you. You know, if you want to use it. Just a place to let off some steam once and a while," he pressed a few buttons on the console and two punching bags the size of couches lowered from the ceiling, "And there's more where that came from," he gestured as the walls seemed to phase out, making it appear as though they were looking out over a mountain range, "Every time you come in here it will be something new, to make it feel less like a big old room. And if you want you can get mattresses to rip apart, random bits or rock to toss around, whatever. Everything the big guy could want in a workout room, really."
He shook his head, "Tony... This can't-"
"Can't work? You haven't even seen the fail safe," pressing a few more buttons Bruce turned around as a hole opened up in the ceiling and one of the Iron Man suits was lowered into the room. Tony put his hands in his pockets, smiling, "See? So say things do get out of hand. I pop this baby on and go head to head with him. It all works out."
"It all works out if I kill you?" he replied bitterly.
"That's not going to happen. I promise," Tony turned to face him, placing both hands on his shoulders, "You don't have to use it if you don't want. I just thought you're so on edge all the time it might be nice to have a place to go and flip out once and a while knowing you won't be causing any damage. Hey, maybe he's so angry because you keep him locked up all the time."
Chuckling he shook his head, "You're crazy, Tony."
"One of my best qualities. Ask anybody."
He looked around, then looked back at the man before him, "Thank you. Sorry I was so..."
Smile widening he put his glasses back in his pocket, "I was going to say paranoid but that works too. And this is probably I good thing, I'm just used to people wanting to trap me."
"Yeah, well that all ends now, buddy. You're free as a big green bird."
"I'll be sure to appreciate it," he turned towards the door with every intention of walking out, but the look on Tony's face stopped him, "... What?"
"Well you're going to try it out, aren't you?"
Tony spread his hands, gesturing to the room, "I built this entire place for you. I need to know that its perfect and for that it needs a test run. We can't just leave an experiment alone without testing the hypothesis."
"In this case I think we can."
"Come on, big guy. I'll wear the suit, and if things really get out of hand I'll blast out of here. No harm, no foul."
He threw his hands up, "No, plenty of harm! Possible thousands in damages, and you risking your life for the sake of this 'experiment'!"
"It's not just an experiment," Tony said, looking completely serious, "It's something I built for you. And that's pretty damn important, if you ask me."
He sighed, rubbing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at him. Tony was always like this. Tony was the stubbornest fool he'd ever met in his life. But maybe this would be a good thing. Maybe showing Tony the Hulk in all his power in an enclosed space like this would be enough to give the man a taste of what he wanted. And maybe then Tony would finally let the whole Hulk issue lay to rest, and they could get back to normal. Whatever normal was for a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist and a man with breathtaking anger issues.
"... Fine. But if you get hurt, I swear I'm never forgiving you."
Or myself... He said to himself, grimacing as Tony slapped him on the back, "That a boy! I promise, nothing is going to happen. I've even got spare clothes all ready for you."
Bruce sighed, starting to undo his shirt after setting his glasses to the floor, "Fine, fine. Just get in the suit, Tony."
Watching out of the corner of his eye, he couldn't help but marvel at the way the suit engulfed him. To Tony this was business as usual, but seeing it for the first time was awe-inspiring. It was nothing short of amazing the way the pieces expanded and contracted around his body, fitting like a glove and ending with the clank of the face plate coming down. Tony took a step forward as the eyes started to glow, "See, Bruce? Totally safe."
"We'll see about that..." he mumbled, the vile bite of apprehension rising in his chest. Trying to push his fear away he walked slowly towards the center of the room. Sucking in a deep breath, he looked up, "Ready?"
Tony spread his hands, "Always ready."
Running a hand through his hair he felt the Other Guy rumbling in the back of his head, close to the surface and ready to be set free. Slowly he closed his eyes, feeling his alter ego rushing past him as he sunk down into the recesses of his own mind, muscles tearing and stretching as the transformation overcame his body. A low growl rippled through his senses before his last shred of control was gone and he was seeing life through the Hulk's green eyes.
Tony watched in awe as the mild-mannered doctor shifted and grew into what the world knew as the Hulk. To actually see the transformation first hand was a humbling experience. The veins on his arms shone a stunning green before the color spread, taking over the pale skin like a flood before working up his neck and into his face. Eyes snapped open, brown for only a second before flashing green as well, the Hulk growling deep in his chest before stretching, and shaking himself out as the transformation completed. Tony stood there for a minute and watched the Hulk look around before taking a step forward, "Hey there. What do you think of the place?"
The Hulk turned toward him, eyes darting over his armor, "Metal Man," he rumbled.
"Yeah, that's right big guy," he let the faceplate slide up, grinning despite himself, "Although, you can call me Tony."
The Hulk frowned a little, and goddammit if he didn't look pensive, "Not metal, but also metal. Tony. Hulk knows."
Oh god he was actually having a conversation with the Hulk. That should have been worth some kind of recognition, "Well, yeah, I'm pretty metal right now, but you've got it figured out. So come on. What do you think?"
Looking around again the Hulk sniffed at the air, "No smash."
"There's plenty to smash if you want it! But no baddies, if that's what you mean."
The Hulk nodded, turning toward him again, "Room for Hulk?"
"Yeah!" Tony grinned, putting his hands on his hips, feeling justifiably smug, "Just for you buddy. Come let off some steam, smash a few things. Hell, watch some cartoons if you want. Point is, its your room. Get it?"
Reaching out he gave one of the punching bags an experimental push before giving the Hulk version of a smile, "Good room. Not bad room. Hulk likes."
"Fantastic! You've no idea how glad I am to hear that. Now, just give me a second here..."
And now came the fun part. Well, fun for him. He was sure if Bruce was around he'd be flipping his shit. He'd just make sure the physicist never got a look at the tapes.
Just for the record, Bruce was freaking out. He watched from the Hulk's perspective as the suit Tony had just slipped into began to collapse around him and fold into a nice little pod.
What are you doing? he wanted to scream. How could Tony be this much of an idiot? This stupid experiment of his was supposed to be over by now. The Hulk had told him he liked the room, so Tony should have been leaving not dismantling his suit in what seemed like a Tony version of taking off his shoes to stay the night. It was dangerous being with the Hulk while he was in the suit but to be with him without it? Alone? Completely unprotected? It was suicide!
He tried to block out his visual receptors as Tony moved the pod away and walking toward them. This was crazy. If something went wrong it would all be Tony's fault or course. But how would he ever forgive himself for hurting the one friend he had left in the world?
Hiding his nerves with a smile he walked up to the Hulk. The giant shifted around, watching as he drew near but not making any move toward him which Tony took as a good sign. He stopped a few feet away, looking up into the large green face. He didn't know if this would work, but he was Tony Stark and he's be damned if he didn't try every option, "Look, buddy. We need to talk."
The Hulk huffed, "Talking's dumb. Things don't get done."
"I know what you mean, big guy, but this is important," he looked him dead in the eye, taking a deep breath, "And right now, I think we need to talk about your fear."
The Hulk bristled, growling and slamming his fists against the floor, "Hulk isn't afraid of anything!"
"You want to bet?" he replied. This was so dangerous, possibly the most dangerous thing he'd ever done. But he was not giving up on Bruce so easily, "Because I have the crazy little idea in my head, you know? And its telling me that Bruce's fear of you is only because of your fear of the world."
The Hulk slammed another fist into the ground, obviously agitated at the suggestion, "No! Hulk not afraid!"
He took a few steps back, a rare self preservation instinct kicking in, "The prove me wrong, big guy!" he challenged, "Because I've seen the file, and it seems to me like you are always afraid!"
The Hulk roared at him, advancing a step which for him was about six to seven feet, "Metal man making Hulk angry! Hulk doesn't fear, Hulk smash!"
"Then why do you always run, huh? Why do you make him run?" He threw his arms out, eyes wild with their own fire. This was the Hulk, and if talking didn't get through then maybe yelling would. Any time was a good time to test a theory after all, "Bruce runs from everything because he's scared of how you'll react! He runs because you push everything away! So you know what? You need to stop running!"
"No!" stomping his feet he pulled back a giant fist, aiming it right at his head. Tony stood his ground, even as it started on its fast track collision course with his skull. He squeezed one eye shut, hoping that his body wouldn't be too mangled after all this to force Bruce away again.
His hand stopped mere inches from his face.
They stood there together, both remaining silent. Tony could hear his blood pounding in his ears, and he took a few deep breaths before reaching out and laying a hand over the massive expanse of skin before him, "... You don't want to hurt me. Right?"
The Hulk huffed again, his fist still eerily frozen in place, "Hulk... don't want to hurt anyone."
Stepping around the barrier the Hulk's hand made Tony walked even closer to the man in front of him, "You don't have to, you know. And I think I'm finally beginning to understand. To really understand."
He reached up, setting his palm across an impossibly big cheek, feeling the Hulk shaking underneath, whether from restrained anger or apprehension he couldn't begin to guess. This was new territory for the both of them, "God, look at us, huh? I'm kind of crazy and you're angry but here we are anyway," he shook his head, "You know, in the end I don't think we're all too different, you and me. And if that's true, then the world has been too fucking cruel to you, Hulk."
Scowling the Hulk barred his teeth, even those tinted green, "Makes Hulk angry...!"
"I know! And by all means, stay angry!" he pulled his hand away, two large eyes following the movement, "But... what about the fear? Huh?
It must have been some sort of a breakthrough because the Hulk sat down with a low boom, and Tony could have sworn that that was a pout on that big green face, "People hurt Hulk. People hurt Banner. Won't let it happen. Banner weak, can't do anything. Banner scared most of all. "
"... Hey," slowly he started tucking his shirt out of his pants, "Were you there when Bruce first got here? Do you remember what I said to him?"
When the Hulk shook his head he pulled the shirt over his head in a rush, letting the arc reactor in his chest see the light. He put a hand on his chest, only letting his thumb brush over the small circle of metal that kept him alive. "I told him that we all had our monsters. And that some were just more visible then others."
The Hulk tilted his head, a low growl of what Tony interpreted as confusion resonating from his throat, "Tony's monster...?"
He nodded, thumb toying along the edge for a second before he tapped the thing right at the center, "This thing keeping me from keeling over? It reminds me every day of what I used to be. A merchant of death. And even now, this technology gives me the power to do some serious damage. You saw that for yourself," he smiled a little, "But I choose not to let it control me. It may be my monster, but I can use it for the right reasons. You get what I'm saying?"
After contemplating for about thirty seconds the Hulk raised his hand again, one large green finger moving towards him. Tony swallowed but removed his own hand so the Hulk could see for himself. With a surprising gentleness even Tony couldn't anticipate he touched the reactor, letting his finger rest there, covering its light, before looking at his face again, "Tony not a monster."
Again he smiled, this one real and true and covering his whole face. He covered the finger with his hand, from palm to finger barely half the circumference of the Hulk's large digit, "Because I choose not to be. You see? Making sense to you?"
The Hulk pulled away, a scowl crossing his face, "Hulk can't choose. Hulk is the monster."
"Hey!" he followed the hand, taking hold of it again, fully aware his companion could pull away at any time, "Did I ever say that you were a monster? Did I?"
Shaking his head the Hulk almost looked like a kicked puppy. Which Tony would choose to be amused about later. But for now he sighed, and thought about what choices in his life had landed him in the role of therapist to the Hulk in the process of getting a man he'd fallen head over heels for not to run off to Asia at the drop of the proverbial hat.
"Listen, Hulk," he leaned against his leg, swept away by how incredibly massive he really was up close, "You are not Bruce's monster. And for that matter, he's not yours either. Fear in the monster for the both of you," He poked the Hulk in his big green chest. He was either getting braver or dumber as this wore on, "You're the strongest guy on the planet and Bruce may just be the smartest. Not including me of course, but that's besides the point. You let it control you, big guy."
The Hulk let out a puff of air, glaring at a wall. He sure hoped he was getting through, "But still. Remember how I was talking about controlling my monster? Turning it into a good thing?"
The Hulk nodded so he continued, "You can do the same thing too, I think. Use that fear to your advantage. Because there are some real bastards out there that want nothing more then to get to you."
Growling low Tony felt him tense up behind his back. And yet he forged on, "Exactly. So use that, you know? Use it to run like hell from the bad guys. But for the good guys..." he shrugged, looking out across the room, "Maybe stick around for a while."
The Hulk looked down at him, "... Good guys like Tony."
He looked up to return the gaze, "... Yeah. Good guys like me."
Tony yelped as the Hulk's hand wrapped around him, bringing him up to stand on his thigh so their gazes were level, green eyes meeting deep brown, "Tony likes Hulk.'
He smiled, "Yeah. There's a lot I like about you, big guy. Maybe your habit of saving my life for one but that's only the first on a long and extensive list."
"Tony likes puny Bruce too."
His smile faltered for a second before he shook his head, running a hand through his hair, "Tony... Tony loves Bruce, big guy. Sometimes I don't know how it happened. It's like one day I woke up, and all I could think was that holy shit, Bruce Banner was actually completing me. And if god really exists then that's the one I really need help with."
"... Hulk likes Tony too," The Hulk reached out again, pulling him into what could only be described as a Hulk-hug. Tony didn't bother hiding his shock before doing his best to hug back, hands stretching over his leathery skin as he tried to get a good hold. Hulk rumbled in a way that almost resembled a purr, pulling back and setting Tony on the floor again.
"No running. Not from Tony. Banner now."
Tony stood back, watching as the transformation started up again, everything that the Hulk was shrinking back into the body of Bruce Banner. Before the green had fully dissipated he darted out, heading quickly for the closet across the hall.
It was like he almost forgot to breathe for a second. Bruce stared up at the ceiling, trying to process all the information he had gathered in the past twenty minutes. Tony had... Tony had reached out to the Hulk and gotten something back. Gotten back everything that mattered. And it felt like he didn't know where he was anymore, like he didn't know what was reality and what was just plain fiction.
He felt the other guy's presence shift a bit inside his mind before settling down in what felt like, and he hardly dared to believe it, contentment. And that was something he was sure had never happened before.
Bruce lifted a hand, gently rubbing his eyes, "Tony Stark... the man who lives on impossibilities..."
"Hm? What was that?"
He looked up to see Tony walking in from the hall, a new pair of pants and a shirt hanging from his arm, "Dreaming of me? How sweet."
"Tony..." slowly he sat up, staring openly as the genius made his way over to him. There were so many things he wanted to say to him at this point, an infinite number of thoughts buzzing through his head, "Do you realize-"
"Listen," Tony cut him off, tossing him the clothes which he hurriedly pulled on, "You know, I think this thing is going to work out. The Hulk seemed to like the room, you know, beat up the punching bag a few times, poked at the wall. Demanded a few more toys like a giant green toddler, but that was about it. See? I told you everything would be all good."
"Liar," he mumbled, slowly bringing his eyes up to meet Tony's.
The man stared at him, "What are you-"
"I said, you're a liar," and before he could change his mind he stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Tony's shoulders and burying his face in his neck. Almost immediately Tony's arms wrapped around him, solid and warm and comforting.
They both sighed, just happy to be there in the warmth and the silence. Until Tony spoke because he wouldn't be Tony if things were to quiet, "So... you're welcome?"
He nodded, not lifting his face from the warmth of Tony's neck, "You're amazing, you know that?"
"Yeah, of course I do."
Bruce laughed, tightening his hold slightly, "You got him to like you. However you did it he likes you and..." finally he pulled away, a soft smile tracing his lips and a playfulness to his eyes that hadn't been there in a long time, "I like you too, Tony. You just get me, somehow, you... I don't think I'm going to be running from you anymore."
Tony's eyes widened with realization before he let out a quick puff of air, pressing their foreheads together, "Damn I really need to kiss you right now. Can I kiss you? Please? Because if not I think I'm going to spontaneously combust or something. Because you, Bruce Banner, are almost as amazing as I am and just everything that even matters right now and did I mention how sexy it is that you're letting yourself hear this now and believing me and-" he stopped, drawing in a breath, "Okay. Really need to get to the kissing thing."
"I don't think you have to ask anymore, Tony," Before Tony could move he leaned in, sealing their lips together. And he didn't back away as Tony kissed back, his lips rough and hungry, or as he slid his hands into his hair and held them there. And he let his own hands move down, wrapping securely around Tony's waist so that neither of them could move apart. Tony's body was warm against his own, solidly real and there just for him. Because it wasn't the house or the lab or anything else - being there, in Tony's arms, in that moment... That was what made this home, he decided. And the fact that Tony was an amazing kisser didn't hurt either.
So what if they were both impossible men in an equally impossible world? In the end, that was what made them possible anyway. And Bruce didn't think he'd be letting this go any time soon.