A/N Alright, so it's just an adorable thing to think about. You know it is. (Wrote it a while ago, only sort of like it. I decided it's post-worthy, though.)
Rated K plus for slight sexual references and mild language
Disclaimer I don't own the Avengers or any associated characters, events, etc.
He supposed the comparisons were inevitable. Tony seemed to find some sort of humor in that kind of thing, after all, always poking fun and tossing out impulsive references (mostly, he figured, for the resulting look of frustration on the deceivingly young features of Steve Rogers). And this one was obvious—so obvious, in fact, that it took longer than he expected for Tony to actually bring it up. Three weeks and two glasses of exceptionally pricey wine, to be precise.
(The wine had surprised him. Tony seemed like the type to appreciate beer, at first glance, but perhaps there was more character that stemmed from his wealth than mere self-obsession. Maybe the famous Mr. Stark really did have an appreciation for finery, after all—it would certainly explain the obsessive way that he always kept his suits stiff and pristine.)
But despite any professional, gentlemanly attitudes that he may unexpectedly project, he was casual now, by all definition. Standing at the edge of the partially rebuilt Stark Tower, eyes dark and dilated, gazing out over the city. The glass wall was still shattered, partially covered with tarps that billowed and snapped in the wind, but leaving the rubble-filled room open to the sprawling expanse of glittering buildings below. He stood at the brink, unperturbed by the dark air whistling in from the starry night, even as it wreathed around his head and shoulders.
"Like the Beauty and the Beast, isn't it?" he contemplated aloud, his deep amber eyes shifting over and his teeth glinting in a playful grin. "You and me, I mean."
Bruce's heart contracted, a rich sweetness filling his chest. Even if they had been 'together' (such a clichéd categorization, and nowhere near enough to contain the expanse of emotion that they harbored for one another)for nearly a month now, the words still gave him a shock, a chill creeping under his skin and singeing through him like a million pinpoint electrodes.
"I suppose so," he murmured, his own smile rather wry. The Beast. He couldn't bring himself to be offended, really. This was Tony who was saying this, after all, and he was the most accepting of any of them. He could never quite figure out why. Couldn't figure any of it out, really—why the famous Tony Stark gave him a chance in the first place, why he let that chance go far enough for the two of them to become friends, and, from there, for the friendship to develop into something else entirely. He may be a scientist—a genius, in the eyes of some—a scholar professed in the most subtle and obscure arts, but it was mysteries like this that really baffled him.
He finally tore his eyes away from Tony's face, turning instead to face the brightly lit mass of buildings that was New York City. Dashes of destruction still ran through parts of it, cutting lines of darkness in the golden white glow, residual damage from the massive battle that had run through the metropolis months ago.
A lot had changed since then, he reflected. And most of it for the better.
He could have taken two steps forward, right then, and gone off the edge. Into the shining darkness, plummeting down several stories, hitting the ground, every bone in his body shattering on impact. Nothing could survive that, he thought. The other guy wouldn't be able to recover from such utter destruction.
And yet, right now, with the wind in his hair and victory in his heart and Tony Stark at his side, he didn't want to die. He was wrapped up in a fairy tale, written into the Beauty and the Beast, and he felt the legend's magic in every cell of his body.
It didn't come up again for a while longer, a few weeks, perhaps. Not until late another night, this time with no alcohol to influence either of them. Both of their heated forms curled under a cool sheet, Egyptian silk soft along their chests. Shirts off, but nothing else; kissing was enough, for now, soft, repetitive kissing, endless, enough to drown in. It was nighttime again, but Bruce hardly registered the darkness outside—all he could sense, really, was the weight and the warmth beside him, and the gentle pressure of lips and tongue against his, sweeter and more comforting every time.
"You know…" Tony's voice was low, husky, as he drew back. He hesitated for a moment, and Bruce could feel the other man's heart and lungs underneath his hands, thrumming and hammering, two separate beats that interwove into a gorgeously irregular drumbeat. The glow of the arc reactor, a cold edge of metal along his finger, lit up Tony's face—slightly parted lips releasing heavy breathes, lids heavy over eyes the color of melted chocolate. "I love you."
Casual words, but ones that wrenched the very earth out from under him, turned his world upside down and left and right and a thousand other directions all at once. His own breath caught in his throat, and his fingers clawed tighter, nails cutting into his partner's skin.
I love you, too, Anthony Stark. He didn't know if he said it aloud, but he felt it, in his chest, stomach, head, heart. Everywhere. Burning. Glowing.
A laugh, and a hand, warm fingers gripping his own wrist. "There," Tony murmured, nuzzling against Bruce's shoulder, "maybe that's it. Maybe we've broken the Beast's curse."
Maybe it was stupid, or ridiculous, or childish—but, somehow, suspended in that golden moment, Bruce believed him. Because it felt like that, if only for a handful of shivering instants; felt like he'd never get angry again, like the monster inside of him was surely tamed, for he'd never felt this way before, so liquid and docile and perfect, as if he could just close his eyes and melt away into perfection.
"Maybe so," he sighed heavily, and breathed in slowly, letting Tony's low, dark scent fill every last bit of him.
If anything could break his curse, it must have been this. Because nothing, nothing, could ever get so close to enchantment.
There was dust in the air. All around him, suffocating him. But he still managed to laugh, bitterly, chokingly, half a sob, letting his head fall into his hands as sweat cut stinging lines into his skin.
A voice came from beside him, a familiar voice. Not as animated as usual, but not dampened, either. Just calm. Measured. "You didn't hurt anyone."
"Guess we didn't break the curse after all." It was a raw, desperate attempt at humor, and he knew that he came nowhere near pulling it off, only made himself look like an idiot in addition to a monster.
A monster. Hell, that's what he was, wasn't it? The Hulk—the 'other guy,' such a pathetic way to refer to something he was afraid of; pathetic to be afraid of it in the first place—wasn't something that he turned into when he became angry, because anger wasn't an additional level to his being. It was his pure essence—when all the walls he built up were stripped down, he was left with himself, and that self was nothing but a mass of raging, repulsive, animalistic fury.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Tony sounded almost surprised. A weight settled on the half-destroyed bus stop bench next to Bruce, and he felt a surprisingly gentle hand move ever so lightly over his shoulder, squeezing softly.
He didn't reply for a moment—in fact, he didn't even process the other man's words, not entirely; he was too busy just listening to his voice. There was something about the tenor of Tony's speech that never failed to calm him down, after or even during one of the Hulk's emergences. It rooted him down and pulled him together, and now he needed it more than ever, in the aftermath of the destruction that he'd caused in a moment of weakness.
"The… the thing you said earlier," he finally mumbled, raising a hand vaguely. "Back when we… you know. The beauty and the beast crap."
"I know what you're talking about." Tony's fingers caressed his shoulder almost thoughtlessly, and he felt the other man's lips brush along his ear, sparking a few strands of chills along his neck and back. "But I think you misunderstood me."
"You were never the beast, gorgeous. I know I may be a bit of a prick sometimes, but you really think I'm gonna go and be that insensitive?" Tony's other hand came around then, touched Bruce's jaw and tilted it closer, so that their foreheads were pressing softly together and all he could see were those endless brown eyes. "Look at yourself. You're one of the most amazing people I've ever met, you know that? I don't date easily, believe it or not."
Bruce half-scoffed, started to turn away. Don't tell me that I'm amazing. He wasn't going to believe it no matter what, so there really wasn't any use in repetition of the words.
"Hey." Tony's firm fingers stilled the movement. "Compare that to me—I'm a mess, alright? I fuck things up wherever I go, I'm arrogant and self-obsessed and—"
"What are you even trying to say?" A headache was stabbing at his skull now, and he honestly didn't want this—didn't want to have to talk, or think, or exist. But Tony still seemed intent, and he forced himself to concentrate, to listen.
"I'm trying to say that I'm the only beast in the equation here, Bruce Banner. You're smart enough to see that." He leaned in, and whispered just a few more small words before bringing their lips lightly together. "And if anything's broken my damned curse, you have."