When Secrets Have Secrets

Bruce was asleep in one of the labs when Tony got back from SHIELD. It was around one in the afternoon and Bruce was slumped over a desk, surrounded by holograms of the IntelliCrops. Tony's tried not to smile. It seemed like Bruce had found his new obsession.

"How long has he been looking into the IntelliCrops, Jarvis?" Tony said, watching Bruce from the doorway.

"Approximately two weeks, sir. He has all of the research from NGCH-4, and has been attempting to discover the weak points in the cell structure. I believe he is only another week from creating the first test subject since the project was ended."

"Been a busy little bee, hasn't he?"

Tony approached Bruce, reaching out a hand. Bruce fell out of the chair.

He looked absolutely terrified, the heart monitor on his wrist beeping like mad and steadily climbing higher. Bruce looked at Tony, frowned, and didn't even bother to get up from the floor. He just closed his eyes. He took a breath, and his heart rate plummeted back from Hulk-territory to a more normal range.

"Handy trick," Tony commented.

Bruce opened his eyes, raising his brow in that "oh, so you're pretending you're smart now" way that he had. "What, the 'jumping out of my chair' or the control of my heart rate?"

"That was not a jump. That was a fall, mister. The heart rate. I never did figure out where you were hiding that huge bag of weed."

"If you haven't found it by now, and you still think I have it, aren't you worried about where I'm keeping it?" Bruce said dryly.

Tony smiled, delighted. He let the smile fade after a moment, trying not to think too hard about Bruce's fear- he really hadn't liked General Ross; General Ross was a big dick, or rather, a small dick, which was probably the problem in a Freudian kind of way- and said, "So Fury handed me these files, more or less told me to freelance the Avengers Initiative since his hands are tied by all that logistical government garbage, and told me where to find an alive!Coulson. Surprise?"

Bruce closed his eyes again. His heartbeat determinedly stayed the same.

"I assume there are details?"

"Well, yeah. Apparently, Coulson was dead for a while, but they injected him with one of the components of the Serum, and then he was in a coma for a while instead. He woke up a few days ago. This is from Fury's personal files; the official files don't even bother mentioning the Serum, since apparently the Serum is property of the Army and having any part of it connected with you means the government owns you."

Bruce's heart rate spiked. Tony kept half an eye on it, For Science. "I'm aware of that, thanks."

"Or at least thinks they own you. We're working on legislation and stuff, but it's a problem since everything is still really classified and all that jazz, but SHIELD and I are working on it." Tony clapped him on the shoulder, because he isn't even a little frightened of a big green man who saved him from crashing and burning and who talks science with him when he's not big and green.

Bruce looked achingly lost for a moment. "So, what does Fury want you to do?"

Tony decided not to answer directly. Bruce isn't a trophy or anything, but in some ways, Tony had been planning to collect all his favorite superheroes for a while now. "Jarvis, pull up the rebuild schematics. The Avengers suites."

A dazzling array of blueprints replaced the IntelliCrops. Bruce looked around, almost turning a full circle to see all of them. Each one is individually imprinted with the logos of all five Avengers- Steve, Thor, Bruce, Natasha, and Clint. Jeez, Coulson needed one now, didn't he? Tony didn't need a suite emblazoned with a logo. He had his name on the building, after all, and wasn't really one of the Avengers besides.

(Or was he? Fury had said "one down, five to go," not "two down, five to go," after all. But he had said Tony was a renegade Avenger. And did it matter what Fury thought if the Avengers Initiative no longer even belonged to SHIELD? Though, thinking that Fury didn't plan on keeping a hand in was naïve, which Tony was not.)

"What does this mean, Tony?" Bruce finally asked. His voice was soft, very soft, as he enlarged the blueprints for the suite Tony had planned for him. It had a private lab for Bruce's more sensitive experiments. There was a meditation room to the left of the living area, with a waterfall and bookshelves, because Bruce liked reading next to running water and books helped keep him calm anyway. The kitchenette had a sub-listing of all of Bruce's favorite foods that Jarvis should keep stocked. Tentative links had been added for furniture, including a ridiculously decadent bed and a small, 22" television for the living room, since Bruce didn't like the world to intrude too much in his private space.

"It means," Tony said, his tone equally soft, "that I want to know if I should contact Coulson or Rogers first, because we have no clue how to work together, and we have no guarantees that whoever survived in the gigantic army on the other side of that portal won't decide to take the long way to us. Gonna help me choose, Bruce?"

Bruce looked at him, then quirked a smile. "Of course I am. What would you do without me?"

Tony grinned, nodded. "Right. Science bros for life."

If Tony melts a little when Bruce smiles, that's just a private bro thing, totally normal yo, so there was no need to comment on it, really.

"Coulson," Bruce answered after a moment. "I didn't know him, but I got the distinct impression that he had been planning the Initiative for a while now, and he seemed like the kind of guy who would have plans about plans on how to make the Initiative actually functional. If we can get him to talk about it instead of keeping Fury' s secrets, it might work."

"Excellent. He's, uh, upstate, though."

Bruce didn't look as horrified at that as he expected. "Your point being?"

Tony shuddered. "There are cows up there."

"There are cows in India, too, Tony. Lots of cows. I don't think we need to be frightened of them."

"That's because you don't have Italian leather shoes," Tony pointed out. The simplest way to fix that would be not to wear the Italian leather shoes, but what is Tony, a heathen?

Bruce shakes his head. "When did you want to leave?"

"Tomorrow. I need to design the floor for Coulson if we're bringing him back with us, and I can't do all of it on the way."

Bruce smiled a little at that, awkward and so charming that he probably vomited rainbows like a special, special unicorn. Tony decided it was time start work so that he didn't have to look at the rainbow-vomit that was Bruce anymore. "Jarvis, pull up the templates," Tony ordered. "Oh, Pepper is going to kill me if I don't get this building functional soon. Jarvis, make a note: no being killed should be on my agenda."

"That note has existed for quite a while, sir."

"Well, okay then. Where are the bots?"

"In your lab. You are in Dr. Banner's lab."

"Thanks for the heads-up, got it. Well, I guess I don't need them anyway. Coulson likes wine, right? We should get him a wine rack. Make a note, Jarvis. Or a wine cellar."

"A wine cellar would require him to travel over forty floors."

"Okay, nix the wine cellar."

Bruce shook his head and sneakily pulled up the IntelliCrops again.

"I see you doing that. You don't think I mind, do you? It's a good project, not that I can make any headway on it personally."

Startled, Bruce said, "I just didn't want to give you any false hopes, since I don't know if I can do anything yet either."

Tony shrugged. "Science is the business of hope, false or not. And hope isn't false unless you're lying about it. You just don't know yet- untested hypothesis, not the same thing, yada yada. Do you think Coulson would like to be close to or farther away from Barton and Natasha, given that he knows them better?"

Bruce stared at him for a moment (people always do that), then shakes his head ruefully. "You might leave him something to choose for himself, Tony."

"Okay, okay. Sure. So, no bright pink bathroom."

"I advise against it."

No one appreciated Tony's brilliance. Coulson would have looked awesome in hot pink.

Footnote: I had this half-finished for quite a while, and then I started working on it again and tenses went all over the place. It was painful. I kept switching from past tense to present and it nearly drove me mad. I think I've been reading a lot in the present tense lately? And it kept getting longer, and I kept forgetting to actually use italics instead of manuscript format (underlining). I am not entire certain I caught all of the unintentional tense shifts. Ugh. I appreciate reviews, and warn everyone ahead of time that we're switching away from the science bros next chapter.