Author's Note: Okay, some people wanted an epilogue, so here you go. If you were fine with the story before, go ahead and pretend this doesn't exist, much like the Star Wars Christmas special. If you wanted an epilogue... careful what you wish for. I personally think I butchered it. Oh! Also, way back there was a reference to 'devil may cry' instead of the conventional 'devil may care'. Just to clarify, Tony said it, and I feel like he's the type of person who would play Devil May Cry the game, so his mind would go there immediately. Also, I sort of like it better, because if a devil's mission is to tempt us to sin, yadda yadda, I imagine he cares quite a bit what's going on, but someone who makes a devil cry-! Scary stuff. Plus I wouldn't give a devil who cares tissues and chocolates; I'd probably send him a dinky "Thanks for Caring" card or something, and who wants that? Okay, I admit, I was just playing the game and mixed the phrases. Sue me. Which Marvel might unless I say: I do not own Avengers, Hulk, or Iron Man. Enjoy the fic!
Six months after the Avengers victory ball, the team is invited to another party: Bruce Banner's birthday celebration.
Bruce had had to talk Tony down from renting all of Disneyland—or would you prefer Disneyworld, Bruce?—and several other elaborate schemes, and also had to send out separate invites to Captain America and Bruce Wayne when Tony 'forgot'.
Bruce Wayne declines, citing urgent business in Gotham that he really can't leave unattended (Bruce thinks of the recent crime spree and immediately puts another check in the column for Bruce Wayne: Mob Boss), but Steve is ecstatic and spends the next month peppering Bruce with questions about what he wants, because he really doesn't want to screw this up after Bruce was kind enough to invite him….
He apparently found something, Bruce thinks as he looks at the neatly wrapped package that would put Martha Stewart to shame. It is surrounded by packages in various shapes and sizes, a quantity that Bruce never expected to be presented with and that possibly exceeds the gift count of his entire life preceding this event.
"Left hand to the circular emblem of ruby, my flexible comrades. " Natasha quickly flips in such a way that leaves Bruce cursing himself for letting Tony claim both the acrobatic spies for his team. Clint was in the circus for goodness' sake. He sighs, but successfully stretches through Phil's arm and beside Steve to reach the mat.
"Superb! And now… Ah! The mystical divining tool informs me that a right foot to the sign of jade would be fortuitous!"
Right foot green. Pepper has to duck down by Phil's ankle, but she makes the move. Rhodey on the other team is practically nose-to-nose with Tony. Neither looks extremely comfortable with this position.
"Spin." Tony grits out. Thor does, after giving them another hearty round of congratulations. They'd had other party games planned, but it seems that none of the Avengers enjoys losing; they've been playing the same game of Twister for nigh on three hours.
Luckily Bruce has had excellent…stamina training recently.
"And now—ah! Your right hand is commanded to meet the sphere or purest azure."
Bruce looks down. He's the only one who can conceivably make the move without breaking contact with his team. Clint on the other side has already aroused cheers from his companions for the successful move.
Thor shouts out some flowery sentiment for Bruce's struggle that earns him the eyes of everyone in the room that can turn. No turning back now. Bruce takes a steadying breath, and bends backward. He is now splayed with one arm behind him on blue and one on red, with his head angled away from Steve.
He is insanely proud of himself.
"Damn, Banner." Clint snickers. "Not bad."
"Boyfriend." Tony reminds him testily, poking him roughly with his free hand. Clint just laughs.
"You're a credit to your country, Dr. Banner." Phil tells him seriously from somewhere near his ankles where he feels the agent's hand. He nods at the ceiling in reply.
"Right hand to… the golden symbol." He hears Tony chirp 'No problem' and looks around as best he can to see their situation.
"Dr. Banner… " Steve says carefully. Bruce sighs. There's no other choice.
"Go for it, Steve."
He hears the man gulp, and then reach between Bruce's legs to reach the mat. Pepper, who is still touching Steve's shoulder to keep him in the game, is shaking with laughter.
They might have gone on for eternity if Tony had not said, very loudly, "Rogers, please stop molesting my boyfriend. Honestly, there are boundaries."
"N-no, I ah! Ah!"
Steve is so distraught that he loses his balance and topples onto Bruce. He swiftly rolls away, babbling apologies at the doctor.
"And the winner is Team Stark! Well done! An admirable show by all."
Bruce sighs, stretching to his feet and offering Steve a hand.
"You didn't do anything wrong, Steve. Tony is just cheating, again."
Tony smiles sunnily, not denying it.
After cake comes presents. Bruce is practically vibrating with anticipation. Tony stands behind him, hands on the back of his chair but frequently straying to Bruce's hair, neck, ears.
Steve bashfully hands him his picture-perfect package first. In it is not one but two gifts: one from Steve and one from Phil Coulson. At Bruce's questioning look, Steve mumbles, ears red, "Phil and I went shopping together."
Bruce is already grinning from this comment before he even opens the package. In it he finds several carefully wrapped sketches. There's one of each member of the Avengers, and one final one that shows them all crowded around Bruce, holding presents in their hands and all radiating happiness.
"To, uh, remember us by?" Bruce gives him a fierce hug.
From Phil Coulson he receives a monthly exotic chocolate club membership. He could cry with joy. "To bribe you into remembering us with fondness." Bruce laughs and promises to share some with the agent should he ever visit.
From Thor he receives the pelt of what Thor assures him is a very large bilgesnipe. He still wants to cry, but not from joy. Thor booms at him that his brother had laughed with hearty joy and appreciation when Thor shared his inspired gift idea with him. Bruce thanks Thor as sincerely as he can and hopes privately that Loki laughed himself sick.
Loki, unfortunately(?), cannot make it, as he is forbidden from leaving Asgardian land. However, he does send with Thor a gift of his own: a bottle of a viscous tarry liquid that looks rather toxic.
"It is wyrm's blood." He assumes that Thor is referring to the mythical wyrm, rather than the worms in the garden. What is it with Asgardians and giving assorted body parts as presents? "Consuming it will gift you with the grace of tongues, so that you might converse with all creatures great and small."
…That is actually pretty freaking awesome. He gives a much more sincere thank you this time and silently forgives Loki for laughing, putting the bottle aside for later. He has a feeling he's going to need a spoonful of sugar for that medicine.
"How can we follow that up?" Clint complains to Natasha. Apparently they can follow it up with a pair of fuzzy handcuffs and a Taser.
"Am I supposed to use these together?" He asks dubiously. Tony yelps.
"Nyet, kuznechik. One if for when he is very very bad, and the other is for when he is very very good." Bruce hesitates to ask which is for which.
"Right. Thanks." It's always nice to have leverage against Tony, even if he would never actually Taser the man. He thinks.
Pepper and Rhodey give him a scrapbook containing all of Tony's most embarrassing and/or adorable childhood pictures. Tony actually seems more horrified by this than the Taser.
"You're trying to kill me. This is all an elaborate set-up."
"We will kill you if you do not reveal your own gift." Clint tells him seriously.
Bruce is a bit curious by this, since he doesn't see any more presents on the table.
"Oh, but Tony gave me this wonderful party!" He protests. Tony snorts.
"I'm not that much of a dick." He reproaches. "Your present is one that I'm giving in private though, so only after these yahoos leave. Speaking of…" He shoots the others a pointed look.
They don't leave for another hour or so, going back for a second round of cake and laughing over the scrapbook (which Tony promises to burn the first chance he gets), but eventually Bruce and Tony are alone.
Bruce is puzzling over how to make the noxious wyrm's blood palatable when Tony approaches him.
He has his hands in his pockets and not a package in sight. Bruce smiles at him cheekily.
"Is this the sort of present that will involve the fuzzy handcuffs?" He's okay with that.
Tony shakes his head silently, watching Bruce from the other side of the room. He looks sort of uncomfortable or strained. Bruce blinks at him worriedly and puts the bottle to the side for later.
"You don't look so good. Do you think it was the cake?" He feels fine, but maybe he just has a better immune system?
Tony shakes his head again. He looks like he might be sick.
"Maybe you should lie down…." Bruce says slowly, going to stand.
"No!" Tony yells, flying across the room and pushing him back into his seat. "You have to sit or else this won't work."
"Um… okay?" He looks up curiously at Tony, who is swallowing rapidly and staring down at him.
"Okay." The billionaire mutters under his breath.
And then Tony drops down to one knee.
"T-tony?" The man takes his hand and holds it tightly in his own. It's a little sweaty since both of them are now nervous, but their hands also fit together warmly and easily and Bruce doesn't want to let go.
"Bruce, you are completely insane and possibly masochistic." Oh. Maybe this isn't what he thought. But how is insulting him a birthday present? "That's the only way that you could not only agree to live with me, but also to date me."
"These last few months have been the happiest of my life, and I'm selfish enough to want to put an extended warranty on that happiness. I've been in love with you since the moment you said 'scrambler', and I really can't see ever not being in love with you because we just… click." He takes a deep breath and looks up at Bruce. His hand has slipped into his pocket and now it reappears, cradling a little velvet box. "Robert Bruce Banner, you are the positive cathode to my negative anode, and I want to make a circuit with you." He pops open the box's lid to reveal a silvery ring etched around the edges with lemniscates.
The mathematical symbol for infinity.
"It's made of the same element as my arc reactor, because I thought you'd like that."
"Are you asking me to marry you?" He asks slowly, because he doesn't want to mess this up. Tony blinks at him.
"Didn't I say that? Huh. Yes, that was what I was going for, unless the answer is no in which case I was just giving you a friendship ring."
"I think I'd rather have an engagement ring, if you don't mind." Bruce says, clearly.
The ring is barely on his finger before Tony is whooping and swinging him off the floor into a hug. Bruce is laughing and laughing, so incredibly light and happy that he feels like the ring on his finger is the only thing keeping him from floating away.
"We are going to be the best science husbands ever!" Tony tells him, spinning him in a circle. Bruce nods agreeably, still laughing.
How could they be anything else?
Much later Bruce remembers to ask Tony why he chose the arc reactor material for his ring, when the metal is so hard to synthesize and doesn't look that different than silver. He feels the curve of Tony's smile against his shoulder.
"So that everyone will be able to tell that you hold the heart of Tony Stark in your hands."
Bruce decides to tease him about the cheesiness of that later.
For now he rolls over and reaffirms his right to that prize.