They had found Bruce in the lab, albeit it wasn't the same Bruce who had gone down to work on some top secret project at eight o'clock at night. Bruce had been held up in his lab for the past week, quietly giddy. He ate very little, and drank even less, sticking to coffee and water. It wasn't uncommon to stroll down the hall of Stark Tower and see Bruce eagerly studying some sort of sample or the other; peanut butter smeared carelessly over his face, a half eaten bag of pretzels thrown onto the floor in the scientist's haste to clear his work table. But when Bruce disappeared into his lab at eight, and no one, not even Tony, had seen him in three hours, they began to get worried. Or at least Natasha, Clint, Thor, and Steve did. Tony made a few sexual innuendoes that no one found amusing.
Steve was the first to brave the lab. He was wearing casual jeans and a white t-shirt, which was a welcome alternative to the spangly get-up (as Tony would put it) that he seemed to wear like a second skin. However, as his foot pushed past the door barrier into what felt like near hostile and very restricted territory, he wished he taken the time to put on his suit. No time for the super soldier to be a wimp though. He moved the door the rest of the way, surprised beyond words to find the lab empty and unaltered. Tony, of course, shoved his way to the front of the group, but had to do a second take once he realized one Mr. Robert Bruce Banner was not in the facility.
"I'm pretty sure we lost Bruce." Tony said, his voice echoing around the interior of the lab. Natasha came up beside him and studied the area for herself.
"So it seems." She replied dryly. Tony snickered, but everyone could tell it was forced. He shuffled, almost Bruce like, to the station where Bruce seemed to busy himself 90% of the time. The engineer's fingers brushed the marble work station, a frown buried deep on his face.
"No Hulk, clearly." Steve interjected as he stepped up beside Tony. The genius waved him off as his eyes drifted to a place beyond the station. A long white lab coat was laying in a heap on the floor, along with brown khakis and a purple T-shirt.
"Told you he wasn't wearing any clothes." Tony gloated as he walked over to the pile. It was bulkier than an average pile of clothes would be, but Tony was honestly afraid to move aside the coat and see what was burrowed underneath. He kneeled down and rocked back on his heels. He knew Bruce hadn't voluntarily stripped, he wasn't like that, but what other alternative was there? The clothes weren't ripped, and they seemed almost neat in their order. It hadn't been coincidental that they all ended up in a singular pile so neatly.
Tony kicked aside the shoes and khakis and that was when he saw it. A little foot was sticking out from under the giant lab coat. It was pale, with a few notches where scabs were most likely picked off. With uncharacteristic hesitation, he pawed the top of the lab coat to reveal a head of bushy brown curls. Oh no . Tony had a sinking feeling settling in his stomach. Something had clearly gone terribly, terribly, inconceivably wrong.
"What the hell are we supposed to do!" Natasha hissed as she buried her face in her hands, red curls falling into her face. Steve was pacing, a permanent frown on his lips and crease between his eyebrows. Thor was sitting up straight in the Stark Tower living room love seat, fiddling with a loose string on his casual T-shirt Jane bought him. Clint was leaning against the wall, being totally unhelpful as he observed his teammates. Tony, well Tony was holding about a thirty pound lump in his arms that was all wrapped up in a white lab coat.
"Has this...I think I owe Fury another ten dollars." Steve sighed as he finally sat down next to Natasha. She just heaved a deep breath and controlled herself.
"We need to tell Fury, or someone who can handle this and find out what happened." She reasoned. Tony just shook his head as he bounced from foot to foot.
"No way Little Red. Fury will stick him in some petting zoo for sure." The billionaire dared a peek down at the young face nuzzled against his shoulder. "And why do I have to hold him?"
"He's four years old, Tony! What are we supposed to tell Fury when we get called out on a mission and Hulk isn't jumping around bashing alien's faces in? I think it'll be more than noticeable if he's missing. Somehow somebody will find out and then Fury will have our asses."
"Fury's going to have our asses anyway. Being the genius I am, I should be able to find a way to reverse whatever the hell Bruce did to himself in," -Tony snapped his fingers- "the amount of time it takes Thor to eat a poptart." Steve glared at him.
"And what do you expect to do with Bruce while you're down in the lab?" He interjected before Natasha could dish out her own biting retort.
"I expect you girls are going to watch him." Tony said, staring at each of his team members like they were stupid. Clint spoke up from his place against the wall.
"Tony, we have missions and stuff. Tasha and I have to go to Russia on a top secret field op. Thor, no doubt, has to be getting back to Asgard, and Steve has volunteered to help agents refine their combat skills at a camp in Africa." The archer said. His eyes drifted to the bundle in Tony's arms. He wasn't saying that he wasn't going to help, but as of right now, everyone was pretty much booked.
"Great to know we're a big, helping family then. Despite popular belief, guys, I do have work to do outside of just fixing up the MARK suits. Press conferences and social gatherings and other stuff that makes me want to shot off my own head, like galas and paperwork." Tony tired of bouncing so he lowered himself to the floor and crossed his legs.
"Looks like you're going to have to reschedule." Clint argued, pushing himself away from the wall and over to the center of the living room.
"I can't just reschedule, Birdbrain."
"Neither can we." Natasha spoke up. "Listen, Tony, you're going to have to get help from Coulson and Pepper while you try and reverse this..."-she gestured at the bundle resting on Tony's lap- "And we'll try and do our stuff as quickly as possible. Sure, none of us are exactly experts in pediatric care, but we can give it our best shot. So long as no alien forces rain down on Manhattan and Loki doesn't escape Asgard, we should be alright." She glanced over at Steve who was nodding slowly.
"I must depart, but I will return with haste." Thor said suddenly. He swept to his feet and stormed out of the tower.
"Very befitting departure for a God of Thunder." Tony commented airly as he got to his feet and stole Thor's chair before Clint could claim it.
"Hey!" Clint whined, "You saw me eyeing that bitch!"
"I'm with child." Tony smugly retorted as he shifted Bruce in his lap for more effect. Clint rolled his eyes and sulked, kneeling on the wood floor beside the couch. Natasha reached over and patted his head soothingly.
"We have to go, Clint. Our jet has probably been waiting for at least an hour." Tasha said as he stood. Clint bit his lip and nodded.
"Just let me grab my bow." He said as he rushed down the hall, disappearing into the bedroom Tony had made specifically for him.
It wasn't long before Steve was gone too, and Tony was left alone in the love seat with Bruce perched awkwardly on his lap. Concerned that the child had yet to make a noise, Tony shifted the lab coat just enough to see the velvety soft eyelids covering Bruce's chocolatey brown eyes and the faint dusting of pink across the deaged cheeks. Bruce, being this little, was a snowy white, like, paler than anyone Tony's ever seen, except that one albino kid he knew growing up. The deep tan grown-up Bruce often adorned was missing, making the scientist seem younger and more virtuous. The tan, as Tony often saw it, was a symbol of Bruce's hiding and running and taking refuge in third world countries. But the white of his skin now sang another song; a song of Bruce's life before the Hulk became a leading force in it.
Tony smiled a little at the smooth face of his science bro. He wanted to run down to the lab and leap right in on researching Bruce's work to try and find an antidote of sorts, but he couldn't just dump the kid down on the couch and leave him. If Bruce was anything like himself as a kid, he'd no doubt be scared and confused. Tony smoothed his hand over the kid's back and breathed in deeply.
"JARVIS?" He called into the strangely silent room. His own voice echoed before the AI responded.
"Sir, how may I be of assistance?" The British voice inquired. Tony looked down at the child still passed out on his lap.
"Um...could you call Pep for me? And uh...take Bruce's measurements. I think he's going to need a new wardrobe."
"Certainly. Dr. Banner's measurements have been calculated and stored. I am dialing Ms. Potts now." The familiar sound of ringing met Tony's ears, putting him immediately at ease. It wasn't long before he heard the tired voice of one Pepper Potts.
"Tony, this better be good. I'm exhausted and I'm trying to drive." She said. Tony smiled minutely, picturing his favorite woman hunched over the steering wheel, red hair askew, and wearing sweat pants, even though he knew she was probably wearing a pencil skirt and white blouse.
"It's pretty good, Pep."
"Oh yeah?" She said condescendingly. "How good?"
"Steve just lost another ten bucks good."
"Oh." Tony could hear that her voice lifted slightly. She was finally taking him seriously.
"Um, you might want to stop at Starbucks and get a coffee or something. I think you'll want to be wide awake when you get here. Hurry home, my dear." Tony signalled for JARVIS to cut the call before Pepper could respond. He leaned back in the chair and shifted Bruce as carefully as possible so that mat of curls Bruce called hair was tucked under his arm. He looked so peaceful like this; mouth slightly open, eyelids fluttering as he dreamed, chest rising and falling in an impeccable rhythm. Tony dared to brush his thumb over the turned four year old's cheek. The skin was baby smooth against the pad of his thumb. It had been so long since Tony had been around, let alone held something as precious and breakable as a toddler. He always thought that he'd have kids of his own someday, but it hadn't been something he prioritized. And now, with the Avengers and kicking alien ass...Tony wasn't sure if he wanted a child. Not that it'd be a burden or anything, but what he had going right now, something that seemed so easy...he didn't want to give up any of it, not even for a kid.
Maybe he was being selfish. Tony had a habit of indulging in his own interests before others and all too often that was his downfall. He hadn't even talked to Pepper about it. Maybe she wanted kids and always assumed that if -when- they got married, they'd have them as time wore on, or maybe she never wanted kids. She was all about work afterall. Surely they could be happy without a child. Plenty of couples were childless by choice.
But this, Tony decided, this was nice. Even if his best friend had been deaged roughly four decades, and Tony was currently holding him in his lap, he enjoyed the peace on Little Bruce's face that was never on Big Bruce's. To think his science bro had once been this tiny, this innocent...it was a foreign feeling that was strangely warming and comforting in a way.
Tony continued to muse until he heard the ding of an elevator and the subsequent swish of it opening. Pepper stepped out, wearing her pencil skirt and blouse and casual black high heels. A case was gripped in her hand, papers under her arm, and a cappuccino in her free hand. Her hair was pulled messily back into a bun, and her makeup was smudged.
"Tony...what is that?" She gestured to the bundle of white resting on him. She cautiously took a few steps forward, dropping the case and setting the papers down on an end table. Tony waited until the drink was also on the end table before speaking.
"This," -Tony shifted the bundle around so Bruce's face peeked out between the folds of white- "is Doctor Robert Bruce Banner A.K.A The Incredible Hulk."
It was a good plan for Tony to wait until Pepper was no longer holding anything before revealing this piece of information because as soon as she saw the face of Bruce, she collapsed on the floor. Her heels clattered as they flew off of her feet. Her eyes were bright and wide, searching Tony's face for bullshit. However, the only thing she found was the conformation of the severity of the situation.
"That's...Bruce?" She breathed as she regained herself. This was crazy. Bruce could not be naked four year old in Tony's arms right now. Fucked up shit like that just didn't happen. Tony was pulling the wool over her eyes for sure. With a huff, she stood back up and straightened her skirt.
"In the flesh." Tony confirmed as he lifted the toddler higher for Pepper's inspection. She walked forward and peered at the boy, eyes dancing over every little detail.
"It does have some of the same facial features as Bruce...but that doesn't mean I'm buying it."
"First of all...it? I'm sure Bruce would appreciate you calling miniature Bruce an 'it'. Also, this isn't a joke, Pep, although I wished I thought of something like this to pull on April's Fool's Day." Pepper rolled her eyes.
"You know what I mean, Tony. I don't literally mean an 'it'. I'm sure he's a male. But the question remains unanswered; what the hell are we supposed to do with him? You have meetings and galas booked for every day this week, and I'll be damned if I postpone them all again ."
"You might have to. We can't exactly drag along Bruce and I'm not going without you; I need some sort of distraction and force to keep me from gravitating towards the other lovely ladies." Tony winked at her and stood, positioning Bruce on his hip and careful to keep his modesty by wrapping the lab coat coat tighter around him. "If you'll excuse us, Ms. Potts, we're going to go down -er up rather- to Bruce's bedroom and get him some clothes." The pair marched off and as soon as they were out of earshot, Pepper groaned, flopped onto the couch, and dropped her head into her hands.
"JARVIS, is this really happening?" She asked mournfully. The AI was good source to go to when she wasn't sure if Tony was bullshitting her or not.
"Unfortunately Sir is not lying this time. Dr. Banner has been regressed to the age of four." JARVIS informed solemnly. Pepper made an inaudible whining noise in the back of her throat. Of all the times for Tony to be telling the truth, it had to be under these circumstances. Of course.
Upstairs in Bruce's huge, specifically made bedroom with white walls and a purple rug that Tony installed just for kicks, said billionaire was digging through Bruce's closet to try and find the smallest item of clothing he could find. Finally, he came across some gray boxer shorts rolled up in an unopened package and a small purple t-shirt that he must have worn on the run.
Tony pulled the clothing out of the closet and laid them on the floor next to Bruce, who was propped up against the wall. Tony didn't really want to remove the lab coat and reveal everything Bruce had to offer, but there was really no other option. Glancing back over his shoulder to make sure Pepper wasn't standing in the doorway, Tony unravelled the tiny body from the lab coat. Without hesitation, he slipped the gray shorts on over the skinny thighs and pulled the purple shirt over the kid's head. Surprisingly, the child didn't even stir.
Tony kicked aside the lab coat and looked down at his friend. Bruce's t-shirt went all the way past his knees, and the boxer shorts were just hiding under the hem of the shirt. He'd have to have JARVIS order some clothes for Bruce and get them delivered. It wouldn't do it any good for Tony to go out baby shopping. Then Fury would definitely find out about their little predicament.
He swept down and gathered Bruce into his arms, feeling the steady, strong thump of Bruce's heart against his own. Body heat radiated from him like a litter furnace, which was some cause for concern, but JARVIS had assured him earlier that Bruce was not suffering from a fever. Tony carried the child as smoothly as he could back to the living room where he found Pepper snoring on the couch. So much for her being shocked senseless. He shook his head and offered a tiny smile as he watched her leg spasm in sleep. God he hated that, especially when either he'd kick her by accident or vice versus.
The genius brought Bruce to the kitchen and looked around. His stomach had been growling since he found Bruce in the lab, but since every other person in this god damned world wouldn't help him with his altered teammate, he hadn't gotten a chance to munch on anything. But Bruce was still cradled in his arms and there was no good spot to set him down. Sighing and resigning himself to a night without food, he went to his and Pepper's bedroom.
The giant bed spanned across nearly a quarter of the even more giant room. Thick, cotton comforters were strewn haphazardly across the bed, and a few pillows were scattered on the floor. Pepper and Tony might have or might not have gotten into a little pillow fight this morning. Gold laced the pure wooden backrest to the bed, a vanity was stationed in the far corner with a mirror bigger than some T.V screens, and two dressers made of mahogany lined the walls. Other than that, the room was fairly empty. Tony like to keep it that way. The bedroom was meant for sleeping and sex, not extracurricular activities.
He carried Bruce over to the bed and laid him down on Pepper's side. The shirt shifted and a corner of tender, milky white flesh poked out. Tony smoothed it down with his hand before crawling over Bruce to flop down on his side of the bed. It felt weird sharing the same room with a child, especially when said child was Bruce. The billionaire pushed the thoughts out of his head and nestled under the covers, drawing them up below Bruce's chin. He'd have to be careful not to kick or whack him in the middle of the night.
Easier said than done.