Disclaimer: I don't own "The Avengers"-they belong to Marvel, Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, et al.
Author's Note: Just my take on how everybody ended up at Stark Tower. Or Avengers Tower. Or 'that big ugly building in New York.' You know.
Chapter One: Bruce Banner
It was only supposed to be a mini-vacation. A stress free week after what he'd rank in the top three as one of the worst weeks he'd ever had. Pre-Other Guy and Post-Other Guy. They'd been in Central Park, seen Thor and Loki back to Asgard, and then Tony Stark had turned to him. "So, you comin' by Stark Tower?"
He'd been surprised the offer still stood. Even more surprised that Tony had meant everything he'd said in the wishbone lab on the helicarrier. Or that he'd remembered it. And there was a feeling, deep down inside him, that the Other Guy seemed to like Tony. They'd told him after the battle how he'd snaked Tony out of the sky like a major league outfielder.
It could only mean two things: Either the Other Guy liked Iron Man…
Or that security guard had been right. Bruce Banner had some measure of control of an uncontrollable green rage monster.
The scientist in him was incredibly curious. "Sure," he'd answered carefully. Figuring that, like Nick Fury, Tony Stark just wanted to see what made him tick. Poke him a few more times with a pen to see what kind of reaction he'd get. But how many times did one get a chance to get a good look at the world's greatest scientific mind at work? What was it about Tony that piqued the Other Guy so much?
Tony had grinned excitedly, like a kid about to have his first sleepover or something. It was funny to Bruce, and he couldn't help but smile back as Tony gestured to his Audi and pointed to the passenger seat. Bruce had climbed in after saying goodbye to everyone else, and Tony had gunned the engine so fast they all disappeared in a blur. Cars were not meant to go this fast in New York City. He could feel the Other Guy getting tense, and he forced himself to relax as Tony weaved in and out of Manhattan traffic, around the city crews putting the city back in order, around the NYPD patrol cars and FDNY trucks restoring Midtown to its glory.
Stark Tower was a wreck, and Bruce felt bad. "The windows are comin' outta your SHIELD bonus," Tony had told him, and Bruce wasn't entirely sure if Tony was teasing him or not. He parked the car in an underground parking level. "Hey JARVIS, elevators still up and running?"
"Only to the twentieth floor," a disembodied, mechanical voice announced from somewhere around Bruce's head, and he jerked in surprise.
"What the hell was that?" he asked Tony.
Tony seemed unconcerned. "JARVIS. He runs the place."
"Is he your butler or something?"
Tony smirked. "That's what he's programmed for."
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Programmed?" And then he remembered. Tony had mentioned something about a JARVIS back on the helicarrier. "JARVIS is a computer?"
"Just A Really Very Intelligent System," Tony clarified. "Artificial Intelligence." He glanced up at the ceiling. "Maybe a little too intelligent for his own good sometimes," he muttered.
"I believe that would be your fault, sir," JARVIS's voice retorted in a flat voice.
Bruce laughed out loud. Tony looked sideways at him, and Bruce's mouth snapped shut just as Tony chuckled. "Yeah," he said. "I guess it is."
The elevator dinged on the 20th floor and the two scientists lugged their duffel bags (well, a duffel in Bruce's case, a metal briefcase in Tony's) onto the 20th floor. "This is the first floor of R&D," he said. "Looks like the base of the building didn't sustain too much damage."
"Just the top floors," Bruce said shortly. Feeling guilty over the damage the Other Guy had done to a multi-billion dollar mansion.
"That reminds me," Tony said, finally spotting the FIRE EXIT door on the far wall and leading Bruce over to it. "The Loki-sized hole in my living room floor?" He pointed to Bruce. "That you?"
A memory surfaced, one that Bruce didn't remember. An image of Loki lying on the ground was hazy, like it was drug-induced. But it was damn funny. "Yeah," he said after a moment. "I guess it was." He smiled at the image of Loki being thrown around like a rag doll.
"Huh," Tony said. "Nice work."
"Thanks," Bruce said, after a moment. He felt a rather unusual smugness coming from inside him. The Hulk was proud of his work.
The two didn't say anything after that as they climbed ten more floors. Both were too tired, too out of breath to say anything as they climbed. Tony did pause occasionally (more than occasionally) to catch his breath and explain what was happening on each level. Then finally, the door opened onto white tile floor. Tony held the door as Bruce stepped through into the living room of Stark's penthouse. "I'm drinkin' Loki's drink," Tony announced as he tossed the case down into the sitting area. He made his way up to the bar, which appeared relatively unscathed.
Bruce set his duffel carefully down and surveyed the room. It was hugely impressive. He could recall fuzzy bits and pieces of the room, but seeing it clearly was something else entirely. Someone had hung a plastic sheet up over the hole in the window. Already there were scaffolds up and plastic laid down for remodeling. "You don't let grass grow under your feet, do you?" Bruce asked as Tony came up to him, a tumbler of amber liquid in his hand. He handed it to Bruce, and he took it.
"Any excuse to play with new toys," Tony said flippantly. "There were things I didn't like about the original design anyway."
"Don't do that," Bruce told him, suddenly feeling annoyed.
Tony raised an eyebrow. "Do what?"
"Shrug this off," Bruce said, waving a hand around the room. The Other Guy could sense him getting agitated, and Bruce took a breath.
"Why?" Tony asked, genuinely curious.
"You don't have to make like this is no big deal," Bruce said. "I-the Other Guy-ripped this place apart," he said. "And I will pay you back for it."
Tony snorted. "Ah, with what money, Slumdog Millionaire?" He finished the tumbler of scotch in one shot. "In the time I've known you, you only own one pair of pants and one shirt. So unless you have an offshore account-" he paused. "JARVIS, run a search for Dr. Banner's financials."
"That won't be necessary," Bruce growled at the computer, unsure if it would listen to him or not. He looked at Stark. "You confuse the hell out of me, Stark," he said. "What's your angle?"
"Not everyone has an angle," Tony pointed out.
"No, everyone has an angle," Bruce countered. "What does the self-described genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist want from me?" His eyes darkened. "What exactly are you R&D'ing, Stark?"
"Not you," Tony said. "Jesus, Banner, you've got issues."
"You're right, I do," Bruce agreed. He could see the look on Tony's face as the Other Guy sparked through his eyes for a split second.
Tony didn't even flinch.
"Talk," Bruce growled finally, and Tony shook his head.
"Ross is still out there, Banner," he started. "And after today, Ross'll try even harder to try to get his hands on you." He waved a hand around the room. "While it doesn't look like it right now, you're standing in a room more secure than the White House, more secure than Fort Knox. I'm not after the Hulk."
It was always weird to hear someone call him that, and Bruce felt slightly unsettled. "He can pop out anytime he wants, in fact," Tony said. He looked Bruce directly in the eye. "Because the fact is, that guy saved my life," he said. "Or actually, I'm thinking you did."
The thought brought Bruce up short. Another hazy memory floated to the forefront, this one of sliding down the front of a Manhattan skyscraper like it was a fireman's pole.
He shrugged. "Doesn't matter one way or the other to me. Fact is, Banner, you're a good guy to have around in a pinch." He grinned. "And it's nice to have someone around other'n JARVIS that actually speaks science."
Tony pointed down the hall. "There's a bedroom back there that I think is mostly in one piece. Might be a little drafty. Yours if you want it, at least til things settle down. JARVIS is already monitoring military communication channels. We'll know if Ross tries anything."
He looked at Bruce. "So you're good for now. Both of you."
There was a sense of contentment in Bruce's gut, and he wasn't sure if it was his or the Other Guy's. But if the Other Guy was good with it…
"Which one's mine?" Bruce asked.
Tony smirked. "The one without the fist-sized holes in the walls."
"Are you going to spend this entire time trying to piss me off?" Bruce couldn't help but ask. But he was smiling as he said it.
Tony shook his head. "You don't scare me," he said seriously. "What scares me is having to tell Pepper about my little jaunt into space." He pointed at Bruce. "The Hulk's nothing compared to Pepper when she's pissed."
Bruce considered the situation. It wasn't ideal. It was probably only temporary.
But it was home. For now.