Author's Note- Here it is, the last chapter!
Just. Thank you to all of you who stuck with this over the past few months, and who reviewed and liked it and kept reading even when I stopped updating and…wow. You were all wonderful and I'm really, really glad you didn't just abandon me.
Six Months Later
It's Christmas. In this case, it's literally Christmas, not just another testament to Tony's genius and ego lit up in the sky. Outside the expansive windows, the snow is falling gently, glowing against the dark of the night. It's idyllic, a picture-perfect setting, the kind that just demands hot drinks and snuggling under blankets.
Bruce is sitting reading, curled up at the very end of one of the leather sofas, reading some dense book full of equations and diagrams. His eyes are dark, focused and intense, making their way across the page like scanners. It's endearing, his extreme concentration, in a way that only Bruce can be.
"Hey." Tony sits down next to him, placing two champagne flutes on the table in front of them. Even though it's a holiday, it's just the two of them. Clint and Natasha are off in some country in the Balkans, deep undercover, Thor is still on Asgard, and Steve is doing typical Steve things: going to church, serving Christmas dinner to vetarens, visiting Coulson's grave. Tony is grateful. Ever since the fiasco with Ross, Bruce has shied away from interaction other people, and Tony can't blame him.
They've never really talked about what happened. Bruce hasn't volunteered any information, and Tony hasn't asked. He's seen the video. He already knows. The only thing either one said about the whole thing was when Bruce asked if Ross was dead and there had been a moment of complete silence before Natasha had finally said yes. Other than that, nothing.
"Hey yourself," Bruce says, smiling a little and putting his book down, dog-earing the page he left off on. A stray curl of dark hair falls over his forehead, and Tony resists the urge to reach out and touch it. He'd missed this, this one simple thing, waiting for Bruce's hair to grow back, from the patches to a soft velvet to spikes and finally to the curls again. Not that he'd admit it, but it's comforting, Bruce looking like Bruce again.
"Champagne?" Tony asks, because it's the easiest question. Still smiling, Bruce takes the proffered glass, but doesn't drink. He looks like he's waiting for something.
"Are we celebrating something?" His voice is would-be casual. Tony swallows.
"Well, I thought, it being Christmas and all…" He takes a sip of the champagne, forcing it down, ignoring the burn in his throat.
"You just seem…nervous." For a minute, Tony curses Bruce silently for being so perceptive. Bruce's smile disappears and he gazes intently at Tony. "You know, we can talk about what happened, if that's what's bothering you."
"It's not bothering me."
Bruce practically rolls his eyes. "You've always been a horrible liar, Tony."
"I was just being nice, you know, trying not to push, not overstepping boundaries…"
"Things you don't normally care about? It's been six months, Tony. I think I can handle it."
"You first then."
Bruce gives him a Look, the kind that means more than just a casual scolding. "Me? I'm not…"
"You haven't said anything about it either. Not since you were in the hospital. So. You tell me what's bothering you, I return the favor. Negotiating one-oh-one."
For a moment, there's a very heavy, tense silence. Bruce looks away, over his other shoulder, and Tony's afraid he's pushed too far, been too flippant, until Bruce opens his mouth.
"How did Ross die, exactly?"
Fuck. "Nobody told you?"
Two chocolate eyes return to Tony's face. "Cap said the factory exploded, but I have the feeling there's something no one's telling me." The unease in his body is palpable, and Tony knows exactly what he's thinking.
"The Hulk had nothing to do with it," Tony assures him, and he watches as all the tension drains from Bruce's shoulders, the fear on his face replaced by confusion.
"Then what happened?" He's genuinely curious, innocently curious, but Tony knows his brain, and he knows that Bruce'll figure it out eventually. That or someone, someone who's a little more afraid of the Other Guy, will be persuaded to tell him. "Tony?"
"There was a missile."
Bruce's eyes widen with comprehension, and his expression is undecipherable. "Tony…"
"We went over this on the plane, didn't we? Don't give me that 'I'm a monster, I'm not worthy' bullshit, because you are, Bruce. You are worth a fucking Jericho missile. Hell, you're worth every weapon I ever made. If you can say that what I'm worth being the Hulk, then I can tell you that you're worth the weapons and the drinking and Afghanistan and-"
He doesn't get to finish because all of the sudden Bruce is in his space, cutting him off with a kiss that's long and warm and full of things that neither of them really wants to be saying out loud.
"We good?" he asks when they come up for air, and Bruce nods a little, and Tony knows that they're not done with this discussion, not by a long shot. It's always going to be there, Bruce feeling like he doesn't deserve Tony, and Tony feeling like he doesn't deserve Bruce. But for now, they'll accept that maybe Tony has a point, maybe they're equal.
"Your turn." Bruce's words are slow and deliberate, like he's afraid of provoking something.
"Blueberry?" Tony asks, trying very hard to keep his voice even, holding out the bag just like he did all those months ago on the Helicarrier. Bruce just gives him a look, the one Tony is used to, that says I love you but stop stalling and get to the point. "Come on, humor me here."
Bruce's eyebrows knit together, sensing one of Tony's ridiculous schemes. He reaches into the bag carefully, and Tony prays this works. Something in the bottom of his stomach twists with nerves, and god, he hasn't been this nervous in a long, long time. Suddenly, Bruce stops, looking up at him, and Tony knows that at least the first part of his plan is successful. He watches Bruce pull his fingers out, hold his hand up to the light for more careful examination.
"Vibranium-platinum alloy. Thought about adding some iron in there, given what it is, but I needed it to be able to shrink and expand when you transform…" He's rambling, freaking out, eyes locked onto Bruce's. "This thing with Ross…" No, that'x not what he wants to talk about right now, so he changes tack, back to normal: snarky, flippant. "The thing is, I'm pretty sure I can't live without you. Kind of like the vibranium. Bad things happen when I don't have it." Noting Bruce's silence, he continues. "It'll be painless, I promise. Nothing fancy, nothing big, whatever you want, I can afford whatever it is. It just needs to be you and me and I know this isn't a wife and kids and a picket fence, but it's the best I can do, okay?"
"Do you really think I'm settling by being with you?" Bruce shakes his head a little incredulously. "I've spent years not always getting what I want, and now….now I have you, and you're the thing I want the most."
"So is that a yes?"
"It's a yes." Bruce smiles at him in that way that makes Tony want to melt and reform and melt again, and so he takes the hand with the ring in it, combining their fingers. "I love you, you know that."
"I love you too." Carefully, like it's some incredibly delicate piece of technology he's working with, he slides the ring onto Bruce's third finger. He holds up his glass in the other hand and Bruce mirrors him. "To…"
"To us," Tony repeats, and they clink glasses and drink.