Disclaimer: Avengers are not mine. If they were... sorry, just passed out for a second there imagining they did.
Rated T to be safe
Genre: Team-Friendship, focusing on Tony/Bruce (Tony/Hulk). Could be considered pre-slash but it was written as ScienceBros (GO SCIENCEBROS!), tiny amount of Clint/Natasha, blink and you'll miss it
A/N: My first Avengers story. I wrote this awhile ago, forgot about it, found it again, revamped it and thought 'Hey, not too shabby' so I decided to upload it just for the fun of it. It is UNBETA'D and this is not my mother language, so sorry if the english is weird, I did my best but comma placement is still a mystery to me...
Anyway, please enjoy!
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. - Unknown author
When Bruce wakes up in his own room, feeling the familiar ache he always does when he regains consciousness after hulking out, he knows that his life with the Avengers is over.
He turns on his side and curls up, burying his head in his shaking hands and feeling sorry for himself. He's also silently cursing the Big Guy, but its mellow and half-hearted because in the end it was him who had lost control and not the Hulk.
For a second he tries to remember whether they might have been called out on a mission but he knows that it's futile. He clearly recalls being in the living room, arguing with Thor of all people. The Asgardian and his alter ego have never seen eye to eye. Bruce should have relented or just gone away when the discussion grew too heated but he'd started feeling secure with these people. He'd started to regard the Tower as his home, the Avengers as his family, and you quarrel with your family all the time, don't you?
Because when Bruce argues with someone, no matter how petty the argument, the rage he so painstakingly tries to keep contained usually grows too much even for him and all hell breaks loose.
Bruce gets out of his bed, noticing that he's wearing his favorite t-shirt and pants and knows that Tony must have been the one to dress him because only his best friend knows that he has a favorite shirt.
The thought almost brings tears to his eyes. It has been so long since he could call anyone his best friend. So long since he's claimed a place he could call home. It had also been too good to be true, he realizes that now.
But it's too late. He hulked out in the living room and no amount of apologizing is going to make that okay. He can't undo all the damage he probably caused, all the people he must have hurt. Only the fact that he wakes up in his own room and not in a paddled cell clues him in on the fact that he probably didn't hurt anyone too badly but even a scratch is too much for Bruce. A scratch is all it takes to remind him that it could have been so much worse.
Thor had been with him and Steve had been in the kitchen, he recalls. Maybe the two of them somehow managed to knock him out or detain the Hulk before he changed back. But maybe he'd destroyed half of the tower. There is no way of knowing unless he goes looking himself.
When Bruce steps out of his room he is relieved to see everything as it should be. He expected Shield Agents and a salvage crew but the tower is calm and quiet. That doesn't change the closer he gets to the common area and when he steps into the living room he is surprised to see that there doesn't seem to be any damage except for a shattered coffee table. Tony is sitting on the couch, channel-surfing and resting his feet on the remains of the table as if he hasn't even noticed that there's something wrong with it. The others are nowhere to be seen but Bruce hears hushed voices coming from the kitchen and thinks he recognizes Steve and Thor.
Bruce is finding himself frozen to the spot, unsure how to call attention to himself or even if he wants to, when Tony finally notices him and greets him with one of his blazing devil-may-care grins. It's fascinating how it never seems forced, not even now that Bruce has endangered them all.
"Sleeping Beauty is finally awake, I see."
Tony pats the spot on the couch besides him and Bruce doesn't even hesitates before he slumps down. Their shoulders are touching and Bruce is waiting for Tony to flinch away and feeling awe and gratitude flow through him when the billionaire obviously manages to suppress the urge.
"I-, yeah. Wha- What happened?" Bruce asks although he really doesn't want to know. The living room seems to be okay, except for the coffee table, so the Hulk must have done something to one of the other rooms. Maybe he even left the Tower and attacked someone on the street. He doesn't want to, but he needs to know what happened, needs to know all the horrifying details. It's the least he can do.
Tony shrugs and leans back into the couch. He looks tired but alright which is a huge relief to Bruce. At least he didn't hurt his first, real friend. "Not much. Oh, Clint tried to cook again. Thank god for Natasha's weird bondage skills or we all would have turned up poisoned." He leans closer to a perplexed Bruce and whispers: "I wouldn't go into 'Tasha's room though. I'm not sure she untied him yet and I don't want your sweet innocence to be tainted. That's my job."
"Tony!" Bruce admonishes and blushes madly. He's gotten used to Tony's innuendos over the months he's known the man but sometimes they still take him by surprise. Especially if he is quietly freaking out about other things. "I meant about the Hulk! What did he do? Is Thor alright? The others?"
Tony leans back into the cushions and blearily stares at the TV. Bruce realizes that Tony must have pulled a couple of all-nighters again. "Oh that. Yeah, everything's fine. Don't worry about it."
"Don't-?" Bruce splutters. "Don't worry about it? How can I not? I hulked out in your living room! God knows what could have happened! What did happen?"
A hand is patting his knee. Bruce watches it like its an exotic animal as it stays there when Tony is too tired to lift it off again. The man's eyes are closed and he's yawning, probably already half asleep. Bruce can't help but be fascinated by the way Tony manages to fall asleep right next to him while Bruce is having a silent panic attack about the Hulk. Doesn't the man realize how dangerous Bruce is?
Apparently not, because Tony unceremoniously decides that the cushions aren't comfy enough. Before Bruce knows what is happening he got a sleepy engineers head in his lap.
"Nothing happened." Tony reassures him again. His voice is muffled from where he's buried his face into Bruce's stomach. "You hulked out, threw a little temper tantrum and then we watched some TV. Stop worrying so much."
Bruce is speechless for a moment. Completely, absolutely speechless.
"A little temper tantrum?" he asks weakly but the scientist is already asleep, softly snoring into his leg. Bruce thinks about waking him up to get some answers but he's seen the dark circles under Tony's eyes and the warm weight of the man across his legs actually feels kinda nice. It's grounding and comforting and Bruce realizes that his shaking has disappeared and that he's a lot less freaked out than he's been before.
Confused as hell, but less freaked out.
That's the moment Steve comes in from the kitchen. He's having a glass of water in his hand and takes one look at Tony's sleeping form before he utters something that sounds suspiciously like "Finally."
Then he sees who Tony is sleeping on and instead of fear or contempt, Bruce can only see relief and amusement in his eyes.
"I thought he'd never go to sleep. How are you doing Bruce?"
"Fine." the man in question murmurs. "A little confused maybe? I still don't know what happened exactly. I could have sworn I hulked out but-" 'But there is too little damage, nobody seems wary around me and the Big Guy is actually kinda quiet right now.'
He hasn't noticed it before, worrying – or rather angsting, as Tony would call it – about the damages he might have caused. But now that he's actually calmed down, he can tell that the Hulk isn't as animated as he usually is after the transformation. When he changes back Bruce always has to deal with the aftershocks of the Hulks rage, a cascade of angry snarls and growls echoing in his head. Today there's nothing of that. Just a constant rumbling which almost resembles a purr and which has only grown stronger the moment he laid eyes on Tony.
Steve sits down on one of the armchairs and scratches his head. "It's- It's kinda hard to explain." He thinks for a moment before a smile lights up his face. "I know. JARVIS? Can't you show us the video footage?"
"Certainly, Captain Rogers." JARVIS assures them and not a second later the television stops showing reruns of the Addams Family and starts playing the aforementioned recordings.
They see the living room and an enraged Hulk stomping around, waving his arms and yelling at no one in particular. Bruce is incredibly thankful to the AI for leaving out the part where he actually transformed. Maybe JARVIS is more aware of their feelings than he cares to admit and knows that the sight of his own body ripping itself apart just to turn into a giant green rage monster makes Bruce's physically sick. The other Avengers – all except Tony, Bruce notices - are already there, surrounding the Hulk but keeping their distance. Bruce winces a little when he sees them reaching for their weapons but he can't blame them. The Hulk in action is always a frightening sight, even if he's supposed to be on your side.
Tony comes running into the room just in time to see the Hulk smash the coffee table into a million tiny pieces.
Before Bruce can wonder why the hell the man isn't wearing his suit, Tony yells in a surprisingly loud voice "HULK! What do you think you're doing?"
Everyone seems to stop and even Steve is too taken by surprise to stop Tony from storming past him right into Hulks range.
Bruce watches in mute horror as the Hulk roars and growls and one of his fists barely miss Tony who is staring right at him with his arms crossed over his chest. "HULK SMASH!"
"Yes, Hulk smash my perfectly fine coffee table for no reason."
The Hulk hunkers down, looming over Tony who doesn't back away. The Avengers on the screen tense up and Bruce thinks he hears Clint mutter something about suicidal idiots but he is too mesmerized by the sight of Tony being threatened by his alter ego to pay much mind. The doctor finds himself laying one of his hands on the head in his lap to reassure himself that Tony is actually here and hasn't been crushed to death by the monster currently breathing into his face. "TONY SCARED?"
"No." Tony drawls and his voice is even and controlled and the Hulk is obviously taken aback by this human who doesn't cover in fear or runs away. "Tony angry."
"ANGRY?" The Hulk sounds confused but not any less threatening. Humans are always either afraid of him or angry, though the angry ones tend to scream and fire at him and not talk to him in a calm and collected manner.
"Yes, angry. There was no reason to smash that perfectly fine piece of furniture when it has done nothing to deserve it and now I'm gonna have to order a new one and Pepper's going to see the paperwork like she always does and then she's gonna blame me and probably force me to go to Ikea or something and put it together myself so I can appreciate my new coffee table and she won't let me built a robot to do it because it's apparently not the same as building it myself although I totally disagree because I will have built the robot and if the robot builds the coffee table then I will have at least technically built it as well so-"
"Stark. Breathe." Natasha cuts him off, but she looks rather amused now, as do all the other Avengers. During Tony's little rant, the Hulk had grown less and less tense and actually flopped down on the ground as if Tony's torrent of words weighted him down. Bruce would have never believed it if he hadn't seen it himself, but the look on Hulks face resembles that of a confused puppy as he watches the puny human, standing right between his outstretched legs and ranting at him about robots and Ikea.
"Angry?" Hulk asks now, less certain and almost a bit sheepish.
"A little." Tony finally concedes. "So how about an apology?"
"Apology?" The Hulk sounds as if he's never heard that word before but Tony just nods.
"That's one of the rules of this team, buddy. Apologize when you've done something wrong. Don't think just because you are bigger and greener and growlier than the rest of us, that you get out of it. You are part of this team so the rules apply to you too."
Bruce doesn't think anyone else sees it, not even Tony who is so near he could probably count the hairs of Hulks eyelashes, but he does. He sees the moment when Hulk realizes that Tony considers him part of the team as his own person and not just as an extension of Bruce Banner.
"I don't think growlier is a word." Clint whispers but Thor shushes him, obviously deeply moved by this show of companionship.
Bruce watches amused as the Hulk actually hangs his head. "Hulk sorry."
Tony immediately looses the stern face and grins broadly. The Hulk watches with wide eyes as the tiny human reaches up and gives the monster in front of him a friendly shoulder pat. "Alright then. Thank you."
"Tony not angry now?" the Hulk grumbles but he actually looks pleased and calm and Bruce notices how the others have long since put their weapons away.
"Nope. You apologized. We're good now." The Hulk doesn't look convinced and Tony elaborates. "That's another rule. Once you apologized and mean it, you are forgiven. Family doesn't hold grudges."
And Bruce sees it in his eyes. Sees the silently added 'At least that's how it should be' loud and clear in the brown pools of Tony's eyes. They have never openly talked about it, but Bruce knows how to detect the signs, what to look for in an individual to see the damages that are caused over many years. It takes, after all, a truly damaged man to recognize another.
That's why Bruce can tell that Tony's parents haven't been as abusive as his own. But Bruce also knows that they weren't exactly loving and caring and he can imagine just too well how even the smallest mistake must have been held over little Tony's head for months at a time because the genius father of an even greater genius boy wouldn't tolerate anything but perfection.
The Hulk grins back without the malicious edge to it, just happy and relaxed, and its such an alien sight on his face that Bruce needs a few seconds to recognize it. That's also as long as it takes for Hulks expression to darken again. The Avengers - except Tony – tense in preparation for a belated attack but they needn't have worried.
"Hammer man apologize too." Hulk yells and points at a nonplussed Thor. "Hammer man stupid to Banner."
Tony looks pointedly at Thor while the others snicker behind their hands, even Natasha. The God of Thunder doesn't even hesitate and steps forward, almost bending half at the waist. "My deepest and sincerest apologies, oh mighty green warrior. It was never my intention to anger Dr. Banner."
Hulk nods and Bruce feels like crying when he responds with a sincere "We good now."
"All right kids. That's that. I'll just go back to my work now and-" but before Tony can take even one step towards his workshop, Hulk picks him up and crashes down on the couch which miraculously withstands the weight. Tony hangs in the big arms like a puppet and he still doesn't look scared, just slightly stunned and annoyed. His brows furrow for all but five seconds as if he actually considers fighting the hold but Tony is a genius after all. If the Hulk wants you to stay and watch some TV there is not much you can do. "Or maybe me and my big green buddy will watch some TV. That's cool too."
Everyone is openly laughing now and the feed cuts off to the sight of Clint and Thor sitting down to keep them company, weapons nowhere in sight and Hulk occasionally sniffing a grumbling Tony's hair as if he still can't quite believe that this human doesn't smell like fear.
Bruce and Steve sit in silence for a few minutes, until the Captain chuckles lightly. "Who would have thought, huh?"
"What?" Bruce asks, his eyes on Tony.
"We always tell you that we trust you. And we do." he adds when he sees Bruce stiffen. "We try so hard to show no fear in front of the Hulk. Sometimes that's all we think about when we go into battle with him at our sides. Just don't show fear. And we are not scared. Apprehensive maybe, but not scared."
Bruce nods. This isn't new to him and he doesn't blame them for their feelings. He can't expect people to not be at least apprehensive, as Steve puts it, when faced with the Hulk. It's this open honesty of his team that he appreciates the most actually. He can live with them being wary from time to time as long as they don't hate him.
And as long as he has at least one human in his life who truly isn't afraid, that's all he needs.
"But after today," Cap continues, gaze fixed on the wall and distant, as if he replays the afternoon happenings. "I think we were so focused on not being afraid, that we forgot that the Hulk is not the mindless monster our critics think he is. We tiptoe around him, assume that he knows nothing but anger and hate and smashing even though his countless actions in battle have shown us differently. We didn't treat him like part of this team but like a domesticated yet still dangerous beast that has to be handled with extra caution." Steve's eyes flick to Bruce and there is grief and guilt and apology in there and Bruce just smiles warmly. Before meeting Tony, before seeing the footage of the battle where the Hulk actually caught a falling Tony to save him, Bruce regarded the other guy as a mindless beast himself and he lived with the guy in his head for years. He isn't presumptuous enough to expect others to think differently from the get go.
"We always told him he's part of this team just like you, but we never acted like we actually believed that, never treated him as an equal. No wonder he's still wary of us. We discussed it at length while you were asleep and it won't happen again, you have our word on that. I'm sorry Bruce and I know the others are too."
Bruce fidgets, not exactly knowing how to deal with Steve's sincere gaze and open apology. He wants to say 'It's nothing' but it isn't nothing. It's actually a pretty big deal and his chest feels all light and heavy at the same time. Steve doesn't just promise him that they will treat Bruce Banner better from now on, but that they will all make an effort to make his alter ego feel welcomed and cherished too. Words can't express what he feels right now and the "Thank you." that tumbles out of his mouth sounds honest but weak.
Steve doesn't seem to think so. He smiles that soft smile he always gets when he is inordinately happy, the sadness that lingers in his eyes from time to time disappearing completely. They spend a few minutes in comfortable silence before it is broken by a snort from the third man in the room. Tony is talking in his sleep, something about his suit being purple and begging Pepper not to leave him in favor of managing a professional tennis player. By the time he orders Dummy to fetch him his Toy Story 3 bedsheets the two men are openly laughing, wiping tears from the corners of their eyes and bemoaning the face that they can't record this for the others.
Steve regains his control first and regards Tony with a look that is a mix between incredulity and fond exasperation. "Who would have thought that Tony Stark of all people would be the one to set us all straight."
Bruce just nods. There is nothing to say really, because he can actually believe that quite well. Tony lives for surprising others.
Thank God for that.
Don't like the ending, but since I never like my endings that's not saying much. If you can take the time to tell me what you think I would certainly appreciate it. Thanks for reading either way.