They made their way silently to the elevator, both aware of a strange new tension buzzing between them. Tony cleared his throat.
"I've got this stuff in my room that Natasha gave me. Some kind of Russian balm.. It works pretty good." Bruce didn't respond, as he was exhausted from his outburst. Tony hit the button for his floor. Once in Tony's room, Bruce curled into an overstuffed chair next to the floor-to-ceiling window. Tony rummaged around in his cluttered cabinets, letting out a soft grunt as he found the glass jar of balm. He returned, and sat on the edge of his bed.
"Might wanna lay down or something," he said, scooping a palmful of the semi-solid cream out, "Take your shirt off." Bruce hesitated for a moment, then shrugged off his purple linen shirt and draped it over the footboard. In the fading twilight, Tony saw thick crisscrossed scars lacing Bruce's pale skin. A large patch of his shoulder was shiny with a long-healed burn. Bruce laid down, head propped on a silk pillow. Tony's thumbs slipped easily down Bruce's spine, kneading knots and working through years of stress. His fingers grazed the thick, ropey scars occasionally, but Bruce didn't seem to notice.
"When you change," Tony blurted, "Does it..." He trailed off, tracing a particularly nasty scar. Bruce was silent for a minute.
"It did the first time." He replied,"My body adapted. I almost bled out, but he wouldn't let me. I woke up with my skin almost shredded." Tony continued without any more questions, until he reached the base of Bruce's spine, knocking a vertebrae into place with a satisfying crunch. He sat back on his heels, wiping his hands on the bedspread. His "victim" shrugged experimentally, and let out a sigh of relief. Tony let his knees fall the side, and watched as Bruce continued to lay motionless.
"C'mon," he urged, "Let's have a stiff drink and work on that project some more." Without thinking, he swatted Bruce's ass. Bruce was, in a blink, sitting up with a pillow wedged neatly between his chest and knees. "Shit," Tony muttered, "Shouldn't have done that, eh? Do you need a minute to put the other guy in place?" Bruce shook his head silently, but Tony backed towards his closet anyway. He studied Banner for a few seconds, then turned and went to find a change of pants, as the balm had found its way onto his current pair. In the recesses of his closet, Tony sunk into a crouch against a wall. His palms held the memory of Bruce's skin, and a self loathing smirk found its way to his lips.