Bruce stared out of the windows, his eyes scanning over the skyline of a bleeding New York. Half of the city was still out of electricity and he could see smoke rising up against the dark sky. Though you could barely see it against the night sky it was a constant reminder of all the people that had died. This city was never silent but her sounds had changed. Normally the murmuring of people and cars, sirens and shouting had always been soothing for Bruce but now the city was screaming. Sirens were ever present, the buildings seemed to groan, ready to collapse into themselves, people were yelling and crying.
But what had woken Bruce from an uneasy sleep had been the silence. Under all of those sounds, under the scream of a wounded beast was the silence. The city was still frozen in fear and while rescue teams and helpers ran around the rest of the citizens were paralyzed, licking their wounds and mourning their dead, wondering if they were going to pull through now that the rush of adrenaline had left them hollow.
Whatever they said about the silence before the storm, it was the silence after that broke people. The silence of the dead and dying and of those who were still alive.
They had won today but sitting here, gazing across the bleeding city Bruce couldn't feel the satisfaction that had filled him before. They had won, but the costs had been too high. Sometimes, when the Hulk had gone back to sleep and he was left empty and exhausted he wondered if the world wouldn't have been better off without all of them. If they had never tried to play God and create new, more powerful beings maybe there would be no super-villians or alien attacks. They had saved the world today but the next time the earth might need saving from one of them again.
He turned his head to the left when he saw a hint of green at the edge of his vision. There, next to him, was the Hulk, sitting cross-legged on the ground of what had once been Tony's bureau but was now destroyed. The Hulk didn't look at him, his eyes fixed on the skyline calmer than Bruce had ever seen him before.
"You saved him." he said after the silence had stretched out and became uncomfortable.
The Hulk nodded, finally looking at him with a grim smile on his face. It made him look like he wanted to eat something but the ever-present anger was a flickering candle right now and not the normal, roaring wildfire.
"Why?" Bruce knew he should simply accept that he and the Hulk could work together, that they could do good things but he needed to know.
"He was good to Bruce Banner. He didn't hate you. He wasn't afraid of us."
Us... It was still strange to think of them as an entity. Because they really weren't. They were two different persons put into one body. One time, when he had tried to explain how it felt to someone who wasn't important enough to remember, he had told them it was like being inside out. He was angry, always angry. There was never a moment in his life were he didn't just want to smash something or hurt people. But he didn't.
Bruce knew it was wrong and he didn't want to hurt people. No one should have to suffer because he had suffered, what happened to him was enough. So he was angry, always angry, but he kept the fire under control, stashed it away deep inside and went through his life trying to be something you didn't have to fear.
The Hulk was that other side. He was the raw, burning rage he had hidden deep inside. He was the dark part of his soul, the one that Bruce had tried his whole life to get rid of. When the Hulk came out it was Bruce that was stashed away, just a whisper at the edge of his being. Being the Hulk was being inside out.
Bruce was glad no one else was here to witness him speaking to the green rage monster only he could see.
It was seldom that they saw eye to eye. While Bruce was in charge he tried not to listen to the Hulk because listening to the Hulk would mean listening to his anger. He feared himself more than he feared any alien invasion. The Hulk didn't listen to him either, he never stopped when Bruce had asked him to though sometimes he got the feeling that the Hulk just wanted to protect him in his own way.
"He doesn't think Hulk monster. He trusts us."
He knew the fierce need to protect and destroy wasn't his own but he didn't clamp down on it like he usually would. For once he didn't mind the Hulk's thoughts mingling with his own.
"He likes you." Bruce replied with a smile at the green monster.
This seemed to please the Hulk since Bruce could feel some of the anger inside him ease. It was an alien feeling and though he should be happy about it Bruce wasn't quite sure if he was.
"Tony Stark likes Bruce Banner too. And Bruce Banner likes Tony Stark a lot."
Bruce more than liked Tony if he was honest. Tony was the first person to treat him like a human since the accident. Sure, he had tried to provoke him but that was simply Tony and in a way it had shown that he wasn't afraid of him, that he trusted the Hulk not to hurt him. It was idiotic and suicidal but Bruce hadn't been able to stop himself from being glad. But most importantly he had believed in him, had never stopped believing in him, even when he had been late to the fight.
"Go back to Tony Stark."
The protective feeling surged in him and for a moment Bruce was sure that he would change but then the Hulk pulled back, curling up in his place in Bruce's mind, more content than he had been since Bruce could remember. The need to protect and destroy stayed but Bruce could live with that because he felt the same thing. Tony Stark had offered him everything he had never dared to dream of.
As the Hulk had said, Tony had seen more in him than the Monster, he had made him more than that.
Bruce had never felt so at peace with himself since the gamma radiation had turned him into... no, not a monster. If today had proven anything than that the Hulk wasn't a monster, he shouldn't call him that anymore, not even in his own head. Maybe he imagined it but he could feel the Hulk being pleased in the corner of his mind.
Turning his back to the weeping city Bruce slowly climbed up the stairs toward the bedroom in which Tony Stark was safely tucked away. Though he had been unable to sleep before he felt a bone-deep weariness set in and maybe it had something to do with the two parts of him that had always been at war coming to an understanding. Though he probably shouldn't interpret too much into this and it was simply the battle. No matter what it was, when he climbed back into the bed and curled up against Tony's chest he fell asleep as soon as two arms wrapped around him, holding him close.
For the first time in a long, long while he didn't dream of rage and destruction but of protection and home.