A/N: Written for Avengers kink meme prompt found here
Warning for a tiny bit of offensive non-PC language aim at people with learning disabilities.
Tony yawned for the fourth time in the last half hour. Bruce sighed and glanced over at his lab buddy whose hands flew across the keyboard as he typed. Tony had his own lab but whenever he started working on something that was less hands-on he wandered into the lab that he had provided for Bruce. He looked exhausted. Bruce couldn't resist asking, "When was the last time you slept?"
"Yesterday. I think," Tony replied as he stretched leaning away from the keyboard. He had opted for a traditional chair without any wheels so when he leaned back the chair balanced on two legs. Bruce winced and hoped Tony didn't fall.
JARVIS' dry tones rang out from the ceiling, "Last night, Sir slept for 1 hour and 17 minutes before you demanded a, I quote, 'fuzzy navel and a coffee.' I proved Sir with a coffee and you wandered back to your lab." Bruce could swear that JAVIS sounded reproachful. Only Tony could make an AI that sounded more human than some people that Bruce had encountered.
"When was the last time he ate," Bruce asked as he smiled up at the ceiling.
"Hey –," Tony started objecting before JARVIS cut him off.
"Sir ate 3 peanut butter and banana sandwiches at 2:37 am this morning," That couldn't be laughter in JARVIS' voice could it?
Bruce grinned at Tony, "See. Even your AI disapproves of your life style. What are you working on?" Bruce pushed off of his desk and his chair slid over to Tony.
Tony's chair slammed down and a hasty, "Hey, I didn't invite a bunch of spies into my home in order for them to start spying on me." Tony tried to close the word processor that he was typing in but Bruce brushed his hands away. He pushed Tony out of the way and glanced at the document reveling in his ability to touch another person without seeing fear in their eyes.
Bruce snorted, "You've got to be kidding me."
Tony was looking away pouting but he still responded so it couldn't be that bad, "What?"
"I've seen better writing from a fifth grader," Bruce laughed, "I mean how could you spell 'iron' wrong? It's part of the name of your costume."
Tony shrugged as Bruce continued to chuckle, "JARVIS save and close my work. Wouldn't want to subject Mr. Grammar Nazi to any more of my writing."
"Come on, Tony," Bruce said, "don't sulk. I know you can spell. I've seen your books and god knows that even a science major had to write a crap-ton of papers while working on a PhD. Let alone several PhDs."
"I can read my writing just fine. It's not like I was trying to get that published," Tony said.
"What's wrong? It isn't a big deal if you don't mind a small child writing better then you." Bruce tried smiling. Tony didn't get upset as long as you stayed away from his childhood and father. Bruce found that he could rib and tease Tony all he wanted. Tony certainly teased him and poked fun at him enough.
"Just let it go," Tony still wasn't looking at Bruce but his knuckles were white as his hands were clenched into tight fists. Bruce felt his stomach sink as he realized that he had inadvertently hit a sore spot with Tony.
Bruce knew when he started writing late at night his writing started looking pretty shitty. Why would Tony get so upset about something so small? He tried again, "You've probably had better schooling then anyone I know. You–"
Tony interpreted and replied flatly, "That was after I discovered math and engineering." Tony stood up and shoved his chair into the desk. The noise made Bruce flinch and Tony winced, "Just– Look. I'm just going to go to the garage to work on the Jaguar. I think one of the belts might be a little loose and–"
"What's the matter? Why are you trying so hard to escape this conversation? Some people don't have very good spelling. It's not that big of a deal. What's bothering you?" Bruce stood and grabbed Tony's arm before the other man could escape from the room. Bruce paused and grinned, "It can't be worse than making accidentally yourself into a monster."
A little of the anger left Tony's eyes at the last comment but he still snatched his arm out of Bruce's grip. "You're not a monster. And it's not that bad. Just the joke that someone decided to play on my life. There's a reason I didn't go to school till MIT. Couldn't let the scandal that Howard spawned a retarded kid get out. I have dyslexia."
Bruce's eyes widened, "You have dyslexia?"
"What? Does that change anything Brucy-pie? Dear old dad was thrilled with that." It always did come down to that with Tony but Bruce continued listening since Tony hadn't stopped speaking, "At least I was able to break into his shop and find out what I was actually good at. Otherwise, I probably would have never been seen in public." Tony huffed a bitter laugh his voice tight.
"You're not– Why–," Bruce tried to begin but Tony didn't give him a chance to finish.
"Why didn't I tell you? You feel better now that the genius Tony stark can't spell 'science'? Between JARVIS and the editors, my mistakes are swept under the carpet till we can make something presentable. So what that it takes me a lot longer to type up the email then anyone else in this tower?"
"That," Tony continued as he jabbed his finger at his work station making Bruce flinch again at the sharp movement, "doesn't define me. Why should I tell you or anyone? You never would have known if you hadn't decided to take a peak. I'm a fucking genius and–," Tony stopped as he finally seemed to see Bruce. Bruce couldn't help withdrawing during Tony's rant even though he knew it wasn't really him Tony wanted to say this to. Tony noticed his hunched shoulders and downcast eyes and quickly backtracked, "I'm sorry. I– ," Tony fled.
Breathing heavily Bruce tried to relax. He dropped to the floor and went into lotus position. He straitened his shoulders that had become hunched in the face of Tony's anger. Counting slowly to five, he slowed down his breathing. In. 1-2-3-4-5. Out. 1-2-3-4-5. In. 1-2-3-4-5. Out. 1-2-3-4-5.
Three hours later, Bruce finally felt relaxed enough to cautiously exit the lab in order to find Tony and apologize. He hadn't known. Bruce had finally gotten used Tony who poked fun at anyone and everything. Tony didn't expect you to sit there and take any abuse without defending yourself. He had a sharp tongue and Bruce enjoyed their verbal sparing matches.
But everyone had sensitive points which should be left off limits. He should have noticed Tony withdrawing into himself as he made fun of Tony's spelling. He should have let it go and moved on. If Tony hadn't been on the trailing end of 2 days without sleep, he would have been able to deflect and derail the conversation. Instead, Bruce had gone too far and Tony had fled.
Tony couldn't be found in his garage or his own personal lab. Bruce took the elevator to the common area that the Avengers shared now that they had all moved in to the newly redubbed Avenger's Tower. Bruce found Tony in the entertainment room staring at the giant TV that dominated the wall which he hadn't turned on. Tony was holding a large snifter of what was probably scotch if the bottle next to him was any gauge.
Bruce closed his eyes and hoped that he wouldn't send Tony running for the hills before he could apologize. "Listen Tony–," Tony's head snapped towards him.
"I'm sorry," Tony said, "I shouldn't have yelled at you. I–"
"No, I'm the one who's sorry," Bruce sat down on the coach next to Tony, "I was out of line. I had no idea that you had dyslexia."
Tony laughed hollowly, "I know. That was kinda the point of not telling anyone." Tony grimiced and took a swig of scotch. At least there was no sign of him bolting. Bruce moved the scotch to the coffee table in front of the coach and sat down next to Tony. He didn't want to loose one of the first friends that he had made in a long time.
The silence extended awkwardly. Bruce had just decided to break it when Tony's voice broke out roughly making Bruce jump, "I'd really prefer that you just keep this to yourself."
"Of course! But no one would think any less of you–"
Tony glanced at him and raised an eyebrow, "You really think Clint could resist making fun of our idiot savant? I don't think we need to give anyone more ammunition." Tony's smile twisted, "Tony Stark. You know him as a genius but actually a retard–"
"Tony! There is no way in hell you could pass for anything other than a genius. You are so goddamn smart I can barely keep up with you sometimes. There is absolutely no way this changes that. You revolutionized artificial intelligence and clean energy. You built a miniature arc-reactor in a cave! With scraps that were scavenged by terrorists You have a learning disability and you know what? It didn't stop you from graduating from MIT with honors at 19."
Tony lips twist into a halfhearted smirk, "Whoa. Someone's been reading their SHEILD dossiers."
Bruce glared but continued anyway ignoring Tony's interruption, "You are going to be remembered with the likes of Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Kelly Johnson. I'll be happy to end up with a fifth of your accomplishments. And I'm a pretty smart guy."
"Damn right you are." Tony grinned at him. He raised his hand and lifted it towards the ceiling. He stared at it before beginning, "It's just. When I was young – first or second grade – the school called my dad up and was asking to put me in a 'special' class. He, of course, flipped the fuck out. My parents nearly got divorced around that time. It couldn't have been his, the great Howard Stark, genes that spawned a child who was a fucking idiot. Math saved the family and myself. I probably would have been disowned if I wasn't good at math. After that it was the great family secret."
Tony sighed before continuing, "That was a long time ago though. I'm just not used to people seeing anything that I start writing till a much latter stage. As long as you don't see what I write for myself you would never know that I can't spell to save my life. I've dealt with it."
Bruce couldn't stop a snort of laughter escaping his lips. Tony clearly read his disbelief in his face because Tony continued defensively, "I have!"
"So that explosion of temper down in the lab was… I'm sorry, I'm going to need a hint."
Tony grinned, "It's just been a long week. Lack of sleep, etc. etc." Tony waved his hands in Bruce's face as if waving away Bruce's objection.
"Tony, honestly, it's not a big deal. Lots of people have learning difficulties." Bruce grabbed Tony's flailing hands and held it still.
"I know," Tony said and grimaced, "Even so."
"Even so." He squeezed Tony's hands as emphasis, "I won't tell anyone. You don't need to worry. You don't have to justify yourself. I was being a real jerk in the lab."
Tony looked away, "I did over react though. As you said, you didn't know. You couldn't have known."
"If you ever want me to look over anything for you, I'd be happy to help out." Bruce smiled. It was nice to know that he hadn't gone to far. They could still be friends.
"Thanks," Tony smiled weakly back at him before his stomach let out an unearthly growl making Bruce laugh.
"How about I get an early dinner ready? I managed to work through lunch and you haven't eaten nearly recently enough. Then off to bed with you!" Bruce stood up grinning.
"Yes Mom," Tony replied nasally, "I'll go round up the others to be your little helper bees."
"Careful. You might make me think you care." Before Tony could dart away Bruce grabbed him and pulled him into a hug. "Thanks," Bruce said. He knew Tony wouldn't understand but Bruce hopes that all their arguments can be solved this easily.
Tony quickly started squirming and pushed Bruce away and said over his shoulder, "Alrighty, going now. Feeling time is over. I'll go find Thor. He loves hugs. Lets not do this talking thing again. Or if we do there should be less feelings and more science. Science is cool."
Bruce let Tony retreat with his armor fully restored and walls back up. Tony felt comfortable around him enough to let the walls go down even for just a short time. Bruce suspected that Pepper was only other person trusted enough for that. Tony was still broken, but Bruce knew that their kind of broken would work well together.
Humming to himself, Bruce made his way to the kitchen. He'd better get started now because as soon as his 'helpers' came the kitchen was going to be chaos. Perhaps he could get Steve to help Tony peal vegetables without Tony ending up bleeding over everything. Again. How a man who could create such delicate circuits and could wield almost any piece of engineering equipment with the dexterity of a surgeon was so hopeless in the kitchen, Bruce would never know.