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so here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope

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Regrets collect like old friends,

Here to relive your darkest moments.

I can see no way, I can see no way,

And all of the ghouls come out to play.

 

Tony can see his jaw working, can see the thoughts flashing across his face, can see the exact moment Bruce gives in and sighs, and Tony’s already smirking when he opens his mouth.  So, that’s how it happens that Bruce gets one of Stark Tower’s floors, and that’s how it happens that Tony doesn’t drown himself in alcohol and then accidentally fall out of a window because he’s nothing but a man in armor, and, take that away, he’s open, he’s weak, he’s useless.  Steve Rogers made sure that he would never forget that.  There’s nothing as therapeutic as the man you grew up hero worshipping to practically rip you from your pedestal.  Tony can barely feel his heart beating these days, relies almost entirely on the arc reactor, but he’d felt it clench the second before he snapped back his four-word retort, and he knows, he’s damn fucking sure, that Steve saw everything flash across his face because he’s Captain fucking America, and of course he did.

 

But that’s neither here nor there, and all Tony really cares about focusing on is the glass of whiskey balanced in his hand and the ever-present thump of the monitor keeping track of Bruce’s heart rate.  It had been Jarvis’ idea, and Tony had actually approached Bruce about it, who had actually smiled and thanked him before even saying yes.  Bruce is twelve floors down now with a bunch of contractors because so many of the top thirty floors, twenty of which are devoted to living quarters, in Stark Tower are empty, and they need to be made truly ready for someone to live in them, which is why Jarvis thought of keeping track in the first place, just in case the Hulk looked like he might want to make an appearance.  Tony’s not in any shape to come to the contractors’ aid if that is the case, regardless, but it’s a small comfort knowing he’s trying at least a little.

 

“Sir, incoming call from Miss Potts,” Jarvis informs suddenly, and Tony grunts.  Once for no, two for yes, he’d told the AI a while back, and so Jarvis drops the call.  Pepper’s already yelled at him four times, and he just wants to fall into an alcohol-induced slumber that maybe he won’t come out of because he figures that would be a nice way to go.  Everyone’s opinions of him, even beyond Steve, would pretty much be met, so at least there’s that.

 

“I’m cutting you off,” a voice that’s not computerized says, and Tony makes an undignified noise when his glass is plucked out of his hands and then promptly thrown off the side of the Tower.

 

“That was expensive,” he says, glaring up at Bruce, who just shrugs at him and then pads back out of his line of sight.

 

“If you try to follow it, I will go after you, and if we die, I will make sure hell is sunshine and rainbows in comparison to me.”

 

“Hulk in hell,” Tony muses, and Bruce snorts at him before he heaves Tony up off his precarious seat on one of the broken panes of glass, and Tony flails at being manhandled, but Bruce has a strong hold on him and just tosses him away from the glass and edge of the Tower.  When he gets his footing, Tony glares at Bruce’s back until the scientist turns around, and then he sticks his tongue out at him.

 

“Very mature, asshat.  Let’s go, bedtime.”  Bruce ushers him back into the main room, backhands him across the head when he tries to derail toward the bar, and, somehow, Tony finds himself pouting in the elevator.  They go eleven floors down to where Tony’s quarters are, and Bruce steers him through the small lobby, down the four stairs into the living room, back up to the hallway that hides his bedroom.  He leaves Tony in his bedroom as he makes his way toward the glass door that opens into the bathroom, and Tony watches him for a curious moment before making a beeline for his bed.

 

He’s nearly halfway to being unconscious when he’s flipped onto his back, and he opens his mouth to make a distasteful comment about Bruce Hulking out during sex when he tugs off his sweatpants, but Bruce pinches his thigh, and Tony makes a mental note to stop being so obvious about his jokes because, really, Bruce knows him too well, already, which is terrifying in its own right, but that’s not the point, the point being Bruce is now sitting him up and pulling off his t-shirt.

 

“Jarvis will wake you in the morning,” Bruce says, and then he’s gone, and Tony stares at his closed door for a moment and then at the open bathroom door, which is starting to let out steam.  Oh, what the hell.  He takes the shower Bruce started, and then he slides under his blankets and drops off.

 

--

 

In the morning, he has a very itty bitty headache, but he just pops a pill and pads out of his bedroom, down the hall, and through the living room to where the kitchen lies on the other side where Bruce is already cooking.  Tony stares at him for a bewildered moment before stepping up into the large space where Bruce is just finishing a mound of hash browns that smell like cayenne pepper and that has red and green peppers mixed in.

 

“This is a one-time thing,” Bruce threatens, actually threatens, and Tony allows him a genuine smile just for that.  There’s already a tall glass of orange juice and a steaming mug of coffee, and he makes a content noise as he takes a seat at the island.  Bruce sits across from him and the spread of food, hash browns, toast with jam, and little links of sausage.  His plate is staring at him through two yoke eyes of sunny-side-up eggs, and he looks at it all and then at Bruce.

 

“What’s this for?” he asks.

 

“Because you cared enough to look past everything, and so did I,” Bruce says with a shrug.

 

“Everything?” Tony repeats, and wow, his tongue is really not doing its usual damage.

 

“What am I to you?”  It’s a test, Tony knows it, but he also knows that no matter what he says, Bruce is still going to be here tomorrow.

 

“An incredible scientist with manageable rage issues, and—” Tony stops, frowning.  This isn’t like him.  He doesn’t lay his batteries out on the table, doesn’t let people get close to him.  Pepper is very clear proof of why that doesn’t work, and even Rhodes.  No one knows how to deal with him, not really, most people just tolerate him or put up with him, and he doesn’t let them figure it out because he—he just can’t.  It doesn’t work like that.  His father made sure to instill that in him.  Still, he finds himself finishing that sentence, “maybe a—friend,” he tries the word out, frowning after a second.  No, he really doesn’t like it.  Rhodes is his friend, and even then, not really, he’s just another person in his life that he let get too close and care about him without being able to return all that much more than flash of concern or sincerity.  I mean, really, look how being close worked out with Obadiah.

 

But, still, Bruce says, “Exactly.  That’s why.”

 

And Tony thinks, maybe—maybe he gets it.

 

And every demon wants his pound of flesh,

But I like to keep some things to myself.

I like to keep my issues drawn.

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

 

A week later, when Bruce decides he’s really sick of listening to the pounding noise of Stark Towers being fixed, he throws on a grey blue button-up, steals one of Tony’s leather jackets from the seat of one of his cars, and then stares around the garage with his hands in his pockets for a few minutes before nodding and going over to the motorcycle.

 

He’s still pretty afraid of being in New York, especially Manhattan, but no one seems to recognize Doctor Bruce Banner.  All anyone ever sees is the Hulk—everyone that isn’t Tony Stark, of course, but that’s a whole other story.  Manhattan or not, Bruce feels a little free getting out of the Tower and zipping through the streets, bypassing some that are still being cleaned up, and he finds himself, eventually, parking outside a small café.

 

When he goes inside, though, he starts to get that itchy feeling he does whenever he’s in tight spaces, but a few drawn out breaths as he walks toward the counter shrugs it off, and then he’s left to ordering lunch and a coffee.  When he’s sitting by the window with his sandwich, a voice appears over his shoulder.  “Doctor—Banner?”  He turns halfway, quirking an eyebrow, and the voice is in the body of a scrawny college kid who has wide eyes behind his large, square glasses.  “Wow, it really is you,” he says, stepping into his line of sight.  The kid sticks out a hand, one side of his mouth pulled up in a crooked smile.  “Peter Parker,” he introduces, “I’m studying biophysics at ESU, but I’m home on break.  Do you mind if—if I—”

 

“Sure,” Bruce says, extending a hand, and Peter takes the seat across from him with his soup and salad.  “ESU?  Is that in Pennsylvania?” Bruce asks, and Peter nods vigorously.

 

“That’s right.  Your work, while not exactly—in my major, whatever—it’s just—woah.”

 

“Glad to hear it.  Parker, did you say?”  As soon as he says it, there’s a shift, and the wheels start turning at the same time Peter gives a forced smile.

 

“Yeah, that’s right.”

 

It clicks when Peter looks down at his salad and the sunlight flashes off his glasses.  “And here I thought the bite got rid of your need for glasses,” he says, and Peter looks up, “Read it in an article somewhere, as a side note.  Or—you know—on a file.”

 

“A file?” Peter repeats.

 

“Classified information, I’m afraid.  After Tony hacked into SHIELD’s mainframe, he made a copy of pretty much everything, and I’ve been through some of it, looked over the other superheroes that they’ve been keeping track of.”

 

“SHIELD?  Is that some kind of secret agency?”

 

“You didn’t think the Avengers just found each other, did you?”

 

Peter finally breaks, grinning.  “Fine, you caught me,” he says, and Bruce returns the grin, “Though I am actually studying biophysics, and I have actually read your work.  I just also happen to have been around town when you helped save Manhattan.”

 

“I’m sure you see plenty of action in New York City.”

 

“Lizards and stuff,” Peter tries to play it off, but he’s still smirking, and Bruce laughs lightly.

 

He’s about to respond when his Stark Industries provided phone buzzes in his pocket, and he apologizes before answering it, “Shellhead.”

 

“I will literally bite my tongue everytime I start to call you Mr. Green or Goliath or any nicknames that you find derogatory if you buy me lunch from wherever you are currently eating.”

 

Bruce laughs, rolling his eyes, “Jolly Green Giant?”

 

“Oh, that’s just cruel.  Really.”

 

“Gotta sweeten the deal, sorry,” he says, and Tony groans loudly and obnoxiously on the other line.

 

“I will let you make me breakfast again.”

 

He says it with such force and poorly hidden want that Bruce laughs again and says, “I’m going to spit in your sandwich.”

 

“Jolly Green Giant,” Tony snaps before he hangs up.

 

He talks with Peter for the rest of his lunch and even thinks he may have found a small fraction of a friend when they’re finished.  “You should come by Stark Tower sometime,” he says as they’re tossing their trash and returning their silverware and such to the counter, “It’s a geek’s dream come true.”

 

“Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer.  It’s been really great talking, though, Doctor Banner,” he says, offering his hand again.

 

 Bruce shakes it, saying, “Call me Bruce.  See you later, Peter.”

 

Peter waves over his shoulder before Bruce turns back and orders something for Tony, getting it to go.  He makes his way back through Manhattan and to Stark Tower, and, when he pulls into the garage and rides the elevator ninety floors up to a small hallway that holds the glass door to the lab, where he lets himself in, Tony is on the phone with Pepper and looking through a scaled model of the Tower to assess the damages still left over.  The top ten floors are all research and development, and it’s far from anything Bruce had been expecting when Tony first took him into the elevator and brought him to the ninetieth floor.  The top ten floors are made out of the strongest glass possible, floors, walls, and ceilings, and a staircase winds through the entire right side, the elevator being on the left, circling up through each until the ninth floor turns into a solid ceiling, and the open lobby that’s still being repaired resides.  Each floor is full of the most amazing things Bruce has ever seen, and he and Tony have spent much of their time thus far hanging out here.

 

Bruce waits until he’s done, taking a seat on his slightly raised platform where his desks and monitors are.  When Tony finally ends his conversation, he sighs and dismisses the model, turning and making his way over to Bruce, who holds the take away bag up, to which Tony makes an appreciative noise and rifles through it.  “I had lunch with Spiderman,” he tries to say in a neutral tone, but Tony still snorts.

 

“Myth,” is all he says, and so Bruce pokes him in the side, and Tony flinches away, frowning at him.

 

“Truth,” he says, “His name is Peter Parker.  He’s studying biophysics at ESU in Pennsylvania.”

 

“Why don’t you ask him over for a play date?” Tony snaps, and now Bruce is frowning.

 

“Why are you being a dick?” he asks, folding his legs up underneath him.  It’s not really comfortable, but it’ll do for now.

 

“Because,” Tony grumbles, and then he turns his back on Bruce and crosses his legs underneath him, and Bruce stares at it, at how they’re sitting the exact same way, even down to the curve of their shoulders, like a massive weight has settled over them.  For no reason he can understand, Bruce wants to take that weight away from Tony, wants to let him feel okay and calm and like he didn’t almost die last week.

 

“Tony—”

 

What?” Tony practically bites out, and Bruce rolls his eyes.  He turns around, nearly finished with his sandwich, and Bruce just glares at him for a moment before Tony defuses a little, frowning instead of firing laser beams from his eyes.

 

“Do you trust me?”

 

“Of course I do.”  He says it so quickly that Bruce doesn’t believe him at all and believes every word wholeheartedly at the same time.  Tony Stark is infuriating, he decides.

 

“Why?” Bruce asks because, well, might as well kill two birds with one stone.

 

“Because you’re a genius, and I’m a genius, and I like smart people.”

 

“That doesn’t explain why you trust me,” Bruce points out, and Tony finishes his sandwich before sighing dramatically.

 

“Because I do.  I just do.”

 

“Then I have a proposition for you.”

 

“Oh, I’m all ears.”

 

Bruce grins before saying, “If you do yoga and meditation with me, I’ll let you antagonize the Hulk.”  Tony seriously looks like Christmas has showed up right in front of him, sparkling with a million new toys, and he has this little blank look on his face for a moment before he pushes off his stool.

 

“Let’s go.  Yoga time.  And—fuck, meditation.  That means no talking or thinking, right?  That’s stupid.”  Tony keeps talking as he walks toward the elevator, and Bruce watches his progress with a small smile.  He likes why Tony trusts him because that’s exactly why he trusts Tony.  He doesn’t have a reason, doesn’t think he ever really could.  It’s just—it’s Tony, and it doesn’t matter.

 

And I’ve been a fool, and I’ve been blind.

I can never leave the past behind.

I can see no way, I can see no way.

I’m always dragging that horse around.

 

The Mark VI is almost irreparable.

 

That in itself makes Tony reach for the whiskey bottle and pour himself a finger.  When he gulps it down, he almost chokes.  “Jarvis,” he growls.

 

“Sir?”

 

“Patch me over to Bruce, wherever he is.”

 

“Upstairs in his kitchen, sir,” Jarvis says before he’s broadcasting in Bruce’s floor.

 

Bruce,” Tony says.

 

“How’s the Mark VI?” Bruce asks, completely unfazed.

 

“What the fuck is this?”

 

“Apple juice.”

 

And then something loud and angry is blasting out of the speakers upstairs, and Tony isn’t sure whether it’s Bruce being obnoxious or just drowning him out.  Either way, he takes a swig from the bottle, and, sure enough, it’s apple juice.  Son of a bitch.

 

He gets over it relatively quickly, though, because then Nick Fury is calling, and he effectively redirects his anger as Nick’s face opens up on the video call, and Tony stands as still as possible and says, “You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark, who happens to want to set Nick Fury’s eye patch on fire.  Don’t leave a message.”

 

He doesn’t expect Nick to buy it, though the director does give him an exasperated and overdramatic eye roll before he talks, “This is actually a courtesy call, so do you think you could be civil for four seconds?”

 

“One,” Tony says because he’s an asshole.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

“Two—”

 

“You almost died, Stark.”

 

“Three—”

 

“Has Banner had any issues moving in?”

 

This he doesn’t mind discussing, “He’s in love with his floor.  Why don’t you just call him?  I don’t like talking to you.”

 

Nick’s eye swivels, and he frowns.  “Are you drinking?”

 

“Apple juice,” Tony grumbles before setting the bottle back down and walking over to his platform, Nick’s floating video call following him.  “The Hulk hasn’t shown up, and he’s even around contractors and loud music and bye,” he ends rather quickly, ending the call because Bruce is pressing his fingertips to the lock beside the door and letting himself in.

 

“Apple juice is high in calories, I know, but it’s not bad for you,” he says, and then, “How is Fury?”

 

“Asking after the—other guy,” he finishes lamely, belatedly remembering his sandwich promise, “What’s up?”

 

“Are you busy?”

 

Tony groans wholeheartedly at the question, and Bruce is already on the platform and snatching up his wrist before he can start shouting orders for Jarvis to make himself suddenly busy.  Bruce pulls him away, grinning, and Tony lets him for a few seconds before just following.  They end up in the basement level of Stark Tower in the workout room, at the other end of the door where a series of gymnastic mats are laid out.  Tony had had the rest of the shit cleared away in case of green rage.

 

Bruce toes off his shoes near the wall while Tony tugs off his t-shirt, and then he notices the smell.  “The fuck are you drinking twigs for?” he asks, nose wrinkling, and Bruce actually laughs, a soft little thing.

 

“Green tea is good for you,” he says, and then he’s pushing a steaming mug in Tony’s hands, “It’s got a hint of mango.”

 

“Mangos are good.”

 

“Drink it, and don’t complain,” Bruce orders, and Tony sighs.  On the mat, they follow Bruce’s rules, off the mat, Tony’s, and so he takes a sip and sloshes the tea around in his mouth.  When he turns, Bruce has a curious eyebrow quirked, and he shrugs, sipping it again.

 

For the next hour, Bruce works them through a long series of yoga movements, pausing occasionally to sip their tea, and Tony won’t admit it, but he’s really come to enjoy these two hours of quiet.  The first time they’d done it, four days ago, he’d gotten up ten minutes into the meditation and gone back to his lab.  Today, he lasts nearly forty minutes before he’s starting to get itchy, his skin crawling through the silence and mindlessness.  He doesn’t know how Bruce does it, and he’s about to open his mouth and whine because he can, but then Bruce looks up, and Tony freezes.

 

Bruce’s eyes are very, very green right now.

 

He holds Tony’s gaze for the last twenty minutes, forces him through the last leg of the hour, and, though he blinks, his eyes stay green, and Tony can’t look away.  In the last five minutes, Bruce closes his eyes and breathes audibly, and, when they stretch out their legs, his eyes are brown again.  Tony opens his mouth, but Bruce beats him to it, “Why do you trust me?”

 

He’s asked him this twice now, and Tony frowns as he looks at Bruce, really looks at him, sees the scientist and the monster and the man.  “Because you’re in control,” he says finally, and Bruce frowns a little.  Tony shrugs, “Sometimes, you’re not, but sometimes, you are.  You just have to learn to always be.  I trust you because I think—I think that if the Hulk had just come out while you were staring at me with fucking green eyes—which was awesome, by the way—I think you wouldn’t have hurt me.”

 

“He,” Bruce corrects him, but Tony shakes his head.

 

“No, you.  The Hulk is you, and you are the Hulk, but the Hulk doesn’t control you.  You’re the same person.  You just need to figure out how to be calm instead of angry.  A very smart man once said that true focus lied somewhere between rage and serenity.”

 

“Hanging out with the X-Men again?” Bruce snorts, and Tony actually smiles, a true, genuine smile that catches Bruce off guard.  “I thought—myth?” he says, and Tony shakes his head.

 

“No more than Spiderman.  Charles Xavier is a very intelligent man.  Sometimes we talk.”

 

“And when did he say this?”

 

“He said that he’d once helped a good man learn how to control the darkness inside of him so that he could unleash it upon the world.  That man was Erik Lehnsherr.”

 

“So, you’re comparing me to a psycho who controls metal?” Bruce says, and Tony sighs again.  Bruce decides he hates when he sighs.

 

“No, I’m saying that it’s not rage that makes you green.  I mean, it can be, but I think—well, I think you can find a middle ground.  And I want to help.  I want you to remember what a good person you are.  That’s why I trust you.”

 

“That doesn’t make sense.”

 

“I don’t care.”

 

Tony shrugs when Bruce just looks at him, and he hopes that maybe he’s got under his skin a little, maybe he’s making him think, and that’s all he really wants.  He just wants Bruce to understand.

 

All of these questions, such a mournful sound.

Tonight, I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground.

 

It’s two weeks before the team comes knocking, and Bruce considers that pretty good.  Still, Tony says something obnoxious to Jarvis, who ignores him and lets them in, directs them to the elevator, and then takes them up ninety floors to the hallway that leads to the ten floors of R&D where Tony and Bruce spend most of their time, usually on the same floor or within shouting distance.

 

And so, Tony and Bruce are currently working around one another, Bruce playing the role of assistant today because he’s been feeling unruly in his head, and Tony offered to boss him around.  And so, they’re here, working on the last bits of the Mark VI.  It didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as Tony had originally said, and so the repairs haven’t taken too long, longer than usual for Tony, though, because Bruce has demanded he live a normal human being life and accompany him to lunch every day.  He doesn’t like to depend on people, but Tony has taken to carrying around his pointy thing and stabbing Bruce whenever he tries to refuse because he doesn’t want Tony to keep paying, and so he’s just given up and let him play the role of billionaire.

 

So, when the team approaches the glass panes leading to the door, Bruce goes to let them in, and he can’t help but grin a little as Steve looks around with huge, awed eyes.  Natasha doesn’t seem the least bit fazed, though Clint is definitely taking an interest, though not quite as much as Steve.  Bruce leaves them to stare around while he goes back to Tony, who is working the kinks out on the right arm.  He was snappy when Bruce tried to help him, and so he’s been sketching out equations of the repulsors and arc reactor, which Tony glances at every so often and makes little noises.

 

He’s about to swivel in his stool to say something to the team when a yelp cuts the lowered AC/DC, and Tony barks laughter, lowering his arm.  Peter glares as he peeks out from under the table, and oh yeah, Bruce had nearly forgotten he was here.  He’d bumped into Peter again a few days back when it was his turn to get pizza, and he’d invited him back the next day to play in Tony’s lab, as the billionaire so often said Bruce was doing.  It had taken one conversation and a squeak over the Mark VI armor splayed out everywhere, and then Bruce’s “pet,” as Tony referred to Peter, had been snatched away for playtime.  Peter was always hanging out now, giving back every snarky comment Tony threw and commandeering Jarvis as often as he could.

 

“Stop it,” he says to Tony over his shoulder before he extends a hand toward Peter, “Guys, Peter Parker.  Peter, the team.”

 

“Holy shit,” Peter says, eyes wide as he stares at them, and, for a very brief moment, Steve looks like he’s about to smile and nod, but it isn’t Captain America that Peter’s awe is for, but, “Hawkeye.  It’s an honor.”

 

Tony laughs harder at this, and so Bruce smacks him, but that just makes Tony smirk fondly, and he really doesn’t want to think about that.  “If they’re here, does that mean no time out?” Tony asks, and Bruce rolls his eyes.

 

“It’s not a time out,” Bruce says, “We made a deal.”

 

“And you’ve yet to Hulk out.”

 

He doesn’t retort, not after the last time he did with some stupid quip about being fed good food and then Tony locking them in the lab without a meal for four days until Bruce put Tony in a headlock, and then they went out for raviolis in Italy.  Instead, he just rolls his eyes and goes to hang out with Steve, Clint, and Natasha, who are getting to know Peter, who is casting a glance toward Tony’s arm every once in a while.

 

They actually all agree on Chinese and beer, even Tony, and so six o’clock finds them hanging out in Bruce’s living room because Tony scowled when he asked which floor.  The TV is on with something not stupid and dramatic, an infomercial maybe, but it’s not like anyone’s really paying attention anyway, not with the constant inflow of beers and the easy conversation.  It’s around eight o’clock when Clint says he actually misses Thor, and they launch into a conversation about ways to bring him back, which ends in everyone ignoring Tony, Bruce, and Peter because they’re not speaking simple English again.

 

It ends up that Natasha stops glaring at Clint when he tries to be affectionate, and so they settle with her legs kicked up in his lap and her head on his shoulder while they argue with Peter over which is better, Manhattan or New York City, which of course catches Steve’s attention, who immediately claims Brooklyn is the best, and no one notices when Tony’s arm slides from the back of the sofa to Bruce’s shoulders.

 

Bruce doesn’t react for a moment, but then he’s saying very softly, “What are you doing?”

 

“Not being drunk,” Tony says because he can and because he hasn’t had a single sip of beer tonight even though he definitely wanted to.

 

He’s used to Bruce doing things he doesn’t expect, so when he reacts the way he thinks he might, it still manages to surprise Tony.  Bruce turns his head, looking into Tony’s eyes, and he frowns, studying him.  “Not?” he repeats, and Tony nods, lifts his gaze quickly over Bruce’s head because he’s slouching a little, and then flicks it back down to Bruce’s face.

 

“Not since the apple juice,” he says, and Bruce’s face transforms into a wide smile, one that settles deep in Tony and makes his mouth turn up without his brain giving the okay, but he’s pretty used to his body surprising him around his science boyfriend, as he likes to call him.

 

Bruce starts to say something, but Tony shakes his head, and, for once, Bruce just shrugs and obeys, turning his attention back to the team.  Peter is grinning from where he’s pretending he can’t see them, and they both see it, so Tony slides his thumb along the muscles of Bruce’s neck and grins when he feels the physicist relax a little.

 

A few minutes later, Clint asks no one in particular about video games, and Jarvis responds by revealing a Wii, to which Tony snorts.  “Where did that come from?” Bruce asks, and Tony just shrugs.

 

“I don’t know where half the shit in this Tower comes from.”

 

They don’t say much else as Clint convinces Steve to try the Wii out, but Tony keeps massaging his thumb against the line of Bruce’s neck, and Bruce eventually feels calm enough that he considers what Tony said earlier, about rage and serenity, and he turns his head slightly and whispers, “I have an experiment idea for the other guy.”

 

Tony does that looking like it’s Christmas thing again.

 

--

 

The next day, suited up in the Mark VI, Tony goes toe to toe with Hulk, sparring for at least a half hour straight before he calls a timeout and goes to get a drink of water.  He waves a hand at Hulk and points to the ceiling, so he tips his head up, brow furrowed.  Grabbing another water bottle, Tony kicks off from the ground, helmet still off, and Hulk opens his mouth almost immediately, making some sort of half-growl noise that Tony takes for contentment.  He empties both bottles, and Hulk actually follows his descent with his eyes and speaks when Tony is getting another for himself, “Hulk likes Shellhead.”

 

“Hey, that’s great!” Tony exclaims, pausing to gulp down some water before he lets the mask go over his face again, “Bruce doesn’t think you like me, but I told him you did.”

 

“Bruce wrong,” Hulk says, “Hulk likes Shellhead.”  Tony smiles as he repeats this sentiment, and then they’re back to sparring.  Bringing out the Hulk had actually been a lot easier than Tony was expecting.  He and Bruce had done their usual hour of yoga, hour of meditation, mix in a little green tea sipping, and then Bruce had sat them cross-legged opposite one another, and they’d talked about Betty and Bruce’s mother before the accident and hanging out with Tony, and then Bruce had closed his eyes, and Tony had watched in amazement as he’d willed on the change, simply through these memories.  That he was included in the list is something he’s still not willing to address, but it had been such an incredible thing to look up after Bruce was Hulk and not see anger and destruction and hatred in his eyes.

 

He’d grinned like a lovesick kid and said, “Don’t go anywhere, okay?  I’m going to get the suit.”

 

And Hulk had actually nodded, watched Tony leave, and then had been there when he returned in the Mark VI.  So now, here they are, working together and trying to bring Bruce out in the Hulk.  Tony engages him in conversation the entire workout, forces him to keep a solid line of focus, and Hulk does his best to respond in his clipped sentences and small vocabulary.  And, little by little, he’s starting to see tiny glimmers of Bruce in some of the things Hulk says and does.

 

Two hours later, when Tony comes back from putting away the suit, Bruce is looking a little haggard, but he’s beaming, and Tony quirks a curious eyebrow as he tosses him a pair of sweats.  When he’s dressed, he helps him up, and Bruce leans on him a little as he says, “An African or European swallow?”  Tony gapes at him, and Bruce nods.  “You were quoting Monty Python,” he says.

 

“You remember,” Tony says, and Bruce starts laughing, softly.

 

“Yeah, I do,” he says after a moment, “I’m fucking exhausted, though.  Make me food.”  He pokes Tony in the stomach as he lowers his head onto his shoulder, and Tony just smiles and guides him to the elevator and back up to his floor instead of Bruce’s where he sets him up in bed, makes him a badass sandwich, and then returns to find Bruce snoring lightly.

 

--

 

Bruce wakes up because it’s dark out, but he knows it’s probably still early afternoon.  When he opens his eyes, though, he frowns for a moment before he understands.  The floor-to-ceiling glass walls are shaded black, hiding the sun, and the only light in the room is a soft blue glow to his left.  He turns his head, and Tony is facing him, one arm bent under his pillow where his head rests, and his mouth is open a little, lips occasionally twitching as though he’s coming up with formulas in his dreams like Bruce sometimes does.  He’s out cold, though, breathing softly, and the arc reactor whirs like background noise in his chest.  Bruce reaches up his left hand, and Tony makes a small noise and turns his head a little when he ghosts a thumb over the electric blue, mesmerized by it.

 

If he hadn’t been living here for so long and nearly always in Jarvis’ presence, he wouldn’t have heard the tell-tale signs of the AI waking up, and he whispers to the air, “Just me, Jarvis.  Sorry.”  The AI doesn’t respond, and Bruce takes his hand away from the arc reactor.  He guess it makes sense that Jarvis is connected to it, even if only minutely, enough to know that someone is touching it while Tony sleeps.

 

Bruce pushes up a little, looks over Tony’s shoulder to glance at the clock, and it’s only three o’clock, but Tony’s had bags under his eyes recently, and Bruce is still feeling shaky from earlier, and so he settles back into the blankets and looks at Tony’s face, yawning.  He wants to say so much to Tony right now, when he can’t hear him, when he’s not listening, but he still is, really, because Jarvis records everything, and Tony will probably look back on this nap to see if anything happened because he may not be considerate of things he does to other people, but Bruce has noticed that he takes great care with Bruce and Hulk.

 

So he just rubs his face and then turns his gaze back up to the ceiling and goes back to sleep, trying not to think about the small flutter in his stomach at the nearness of Tony and how it doesn’t make him feel scared or uncomfortable or anything but happy.

 

Shake it out, shake it out,

And it’ shard to dance with a devil on your back,

So shake him off.

 

Tony wakes up at six o’clock with a groan, and he can hear Jarvis waking up, but he waves his hand, and the AI doesn’t speak.  He nearly falls out of bed, and, once he’s picked himself up and really opened his eyes, he gets changed into something more comfortable and pads barefoot out of his bedroom and down the hall before he remembers that he has to pee.  Grumbling to himself he goes back the way he came, and, eventually, finds himself standing in the kitchen, frowning.

 

“What the fuck do Indians eat?”

 

Instantly, he has a few different screens up in front of him and Jarvis saying, “Doctor Banner is particularly fond of this one.”

 

“Then why did you pull up all these other ones?”

 

“For your perusal, sir.”  Tony actually laughs, and he’s pretty sure that if Jarvis could, he’d be smirking.

 

“Oh my god, that looks so fucking complicated,” Tony groans when he’s flipping through the recipe, and Jarvis just does that almost-sigh thing he’s developed, and, somehow, he manages to walk Tony through it without the kitchen going up in flames.

 

An hour and some hazardous insults later, Tony dredges up a tray from somewhere to set it up with the two plates heaped with rice with tomatoes and carrots, curry spiced shrimp, a little slap of salmon because Bruce is weird, and an obnoxious-to-Tony portion of sautéed mushrooms and peppers, two precariously placed glasses of some earthy crunchy fruity drink that Bruce likes, and a mango.  He manages his way back through the living room and down the hall to his bedroom where Jarvis is just getting rid of the black shades at Bruce’s request, who is on his side but rolling onto his back.

 

“Did I miss a war?” Bruce asks, not seeing the food yet, “Because you’ve been making a lot of—noise,” he finishes as Tony sets the tray down at the foot of the bed, takes the glasses, and clambers back onto the bed.  He hands one over to Bruce, who sits up and takes it with a furrowed brow.

 

When he sniffs the drink, though, Tony rolls his eyes, “I’m not completely useless.  Strawberries and bananas, right?  Fucking gross, if you ask me.”

 

“And what’s yours?”

 

“The same thing,” Tony says with a shrug, sipping his and making a face that isn’t really disgust.  He grabs the tray after, and Bruce takes his offered plate, still with that disbelieving look on his face.  “Yes, I made it,” Tony says when Bruce just looks at him, “Jarvis—uh—I don’t know, something nice.”

 

“We still haven’t categorized what nice is definable as, sir.”

 

Bruce laughs at that, and Tony sticks his tongue out at the AI before turning to his science boyfriend, “What do you wanna watch?”

 

“Something boring about icebergs.”

 

“Icebergs?” Tony repeats.

 

“Antarctica,” Bruce says, shrugging, “Icecaps, whatever.  I dunno, I had a weird dream.”

 

“Jarvis, Discovery Channel, find something with Antarctica.  Or Alaska.  Greenland.  Heck, even Iceland,” he adds, and then looks down to realize they don’t have utensils.  He sighs overdramatically, and Bruce laughs, already getting off the bed, but Tony swats at him and practically flies off.  “You relax.  Now,” he says before he’s gone, and Bruce just settles back on the bed and waits for him.  When Tony chucks a pair of chopsticks at him, he almost snorts with shock and amusement.

 

Their night goes like that, eating weird foods that Bruce likes and watching the Discovery Channel, just hanging out and occasionally commenting on the show.  At some point or another, Tony rummages out a glass pane that he brings to life in a blue glow, and he works while Bruce puts their dishes away and returns to hover in the doorway.  “I don’t mind if you hang out here,” Tony says without looking up, and Bruce can hear everything else he isn’t willing to say.

 

“Okay,” he says, and he knows Tony is hearing all the same things.  Tony hands him another pane that has black grips around the edges with his electronic library already pulled up, and so Bruce sifts through that and curls up to read with Antarctica in the background and Tony muttering to himself next to him.  For once, he’s just content to do nothing but enjoy the world around him.

 

--

 

At some point, they fall asleep again, and, this time, when Bruce wakes up, it’s because of his bladder, and he opens his eyes slowly, focusing on his breathing because there’s something heavy on his arm, and he’s learned to treat that like a threat.  However, when he remembers where he is, he looks over sharply and almost knocks Tony in the head—Tony, Tony fucking Stark, Iron Man—because he is currently very close.  The heaviness on his arm is Tony’s body, and, okay, when did he even shift enough that his arm was laid out for Tony to roll onto.  But then he really looks at how they’re sleeping, and it all clicks.

 

He’s on his back because he feels kind of claustrophobic otherwise, and Tony’s head is mostly on his shoulder, but his breath puffs out across Bruce’s collarbone.  He has one arm curled up between them, fingers in a loose fist, and the other is resting casually, lightly on Bruce’s stomach, rising and falling with every breath, fingers spread a little.  They’re not holding hands, thank god, Bruce’s other arm is still along his other side, but the arm beneath Tony, well, that’s a whole other story because it’s currently curled around Tony’s muscled back, resting against the lower dip.  So Tony likes to cuddle.  That’s cool.

 

Bruce doesn’t know how to disentangle himself without waking Tony up, but he’s not really sure he wants to anymore, despite what plans his bladder had.  Now that he knows what was going on while they slept, he’s more than a little okay with it, and Bruce doesn’t think he really cares that he shifts a little, carefully dragging Tony’s hand off his stomach and onto his sternum to ease the pressure, and then lets himself drift off again.

 

--

 

Bruce wakes up a final time to the morning sun streaming in through the glass walls, and he yawns, stretching a little because the left side of the bed is empty, though, surprisingly, Tony isn’t gone.  He pads out of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth and frowns.  “I’m sorry,” he says, and woah, okay, Bruce is definitely sitting up and looking at him strangely.  “Just—” he waves his hand about spasmodically before continuing, “—that was rude, I’m sorry.”

 

“When have you ever apologized for being rude?” Bruce practically snorts.

 

“Well, you’re—you can’t—I should have just slept somewhere else.  I’m sorry,” he says a third time, and Bruce is starting to connect the dots.

 

“You’re not going to bring out the other guy because you’re a cuddle whore, Tony.”

 

Tony opens his mouth to spit some stupid defiance, but Bruce shuts him up almost immediately when he slides across the bed and gets off, coming over to him.  Tony looks up at him in confusion, and Bruce’s frown is so deep, it might just stay there forever.  “I can’t be intimate.”  He has no fucking clue why he says it, and his brain is already trying to concoct something that will work to erase words that have already been said, but there’s no science for that, especially because Tony shrugs.

 

“Myth,” he says, and then he’s gone, and Bruce is afraid and thrilled all at once.  When did Tony and Bruce become tonyandbruce?

 

“Like—seven years ago, keep up,” is what Peter gives him for an answer when he puts his thoughts into words, and Bruce rolls his eyes at him.  They’re at the aquarium because Peter’s girlfriend had to bail on him and because Bruce wanted to watch the turtles.  At the eye roll, though, Peter elaborates, “I knew it the second I walked into that lab.  Actually, I knew it the first day I met you when Tony called you.”

 

It?” Bruce repeats, his gaze back on the massive turtle as it surfaces before going back under.

 

“That you’re in love with each other.  God, it’s like—it’s kind of ridiculous.”  When he says this, Bruce snaps his gaze back up, frowning.  “You two are so fucking stubborn and blind, but the whole world knows that science boyfriends—I mean, honestly—isn’t just a pet term for you two.  Even Jarvis knows, okay.  You two are so stupid.”

 

Bruce doesn’t say anything for a long time, just thinks about Tony waging kitchen war eight million to make him something that tasted like home, about waking up to Tony curled around him and then apologizing with a domestic fucking toothbrush hanging out of his mouth, about Tony caring about him and not just being fascinated with the Hulk, about everything, and he knows Peter is right because he knew it the moment Tony fucking Stark walked up to him and complimented him on his work and then the green beast.  He knew it the moment Tony brushed the colorful screens away to talk to Bruce through the pane of glass at base, knew it the moment Tony watched him sometimes, whether he had that curious spark in his eye or he was just observing, knew it the moment he was let inside of Tony Stark’s batteries with no hope of ever pulling away because once he was wrapped up in his cords, that was it, and he knew it that moment because he didn’t feel panicked like he did with everything else in his life.  Tony made him Bruce, just that, and he knows Peter is right.

 

“Fuck,” Bruce says.

 

“Yeah,” Peter laughs, bumping shoulders with him before walking away, and Bruce doesn’t follow him, just continues to watch the turtle.

 

I am done with my graceless heart.

So tonight, I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.

 

They keep doing this thing, where Bruce learns to control the Hulk and Tony helps him, where they spar every other day after yoga and meditation, where Tony gets on a normal sleeping cycle, where Bruce starts to laugh a little more, where Tony cuddles and Bruce sometimes thinks about intimacy and then runs away.

 

He’s currently doing one of those running away stunts, and Tony’s learned to just ignore them, and so he’s cooped up in his lab, tinkering with one of the back-ups he made of the arc reactor, when Jarvis informs him, “Doctor Banner has just left New York, sir.”

 

Tony frowns and looks up from his work, shoving his goggles up onto his temple and pushing his chair away from the desk so that it goes to the ones opposite.  He flaps off one of his gloves and flicks through a few screens until he finds the tracking list for all of his jets.  One of them has just taken off with a destination for New Mexico, and yeah, that makes his chest ache a little.

 

“Jarvis,” he says just to be sure, “Where does Betty Ross live currently?”  And, sure enough, New Mexico.  Tony gets up to cross the room to the small bar, stops halfway, and says, “Call Parker.”

 

On the second ring, Tony starts walking again.  On the third, Peter picks up, and he stops, “Hey Shellhead, what’s up?”

 

“Where are you?”

 

“On my way to class, why?  Is everything—”

 

“So, Pennsylvania?”

 

“Tony, you can’t just—”

 

“Bruce is in New Mexico.”  He doesn’t know why he says it, but Peter’s silence lets him know that he understands.

 

“I have class for the next four hours.  How fast is the suit?”

 

“Half hour, probably.”

 

“I won’t be in class yet.  You can drop in and be obnoxious, if you want.”

 

Tony hangs up.

 

--

 

In Pennsylvania, Tony spends the afternoon terrorizing Peter’s classmates and being admired for his presence at the beginning of the class only to have the professor threatening to throw him out toward the end after he’s argued half of what they’re saying.  Overall, it’s a pretty normal day, and Peter is in hysterics by the time his classes are finally over and he’s showing Tony back to his apartment.  “Seriously, you probably just made me the most hated person in that school,” Peter says even as he’s grinning, and Tony just shrugs and considers it a good day.

 

When they get back to the apartment, after stopping for Chinese, Peter cracks open a couple beers, and they kick back on his sofa.  Tony is expecting an attack, but Peter just flips on the TV, and they spend the night hanging out.  In fact, Peter doesn’t say anything until he’s offered his sofa to Tony, who declines and seeks out the Mark V case in the kitchen.  “Maybe you should fly to New Mexico for a goodnight kiss.”

 

And then Peter disappears into his bedroom, and Tony actually takes his advice.  He has Jarvis find Betty’s house, and then he calls her, half expecting her not to pick up because he knows what it’s like to see a restricted number after your world is turned upside down, like being held captive in Afghanistan or having your ex-boyfriend-superhero-mess of a man show up on your doorstep going out of his mind over a man.  She does pick up, though, and, what’s more, she knows it’s him, “I kind of thought you might call.”

 

“Is he there?” Tony asks as he crosses into New Mexico, still high in the sky.

 

“He is—in the kitchen.  I have to say, if it wasn’t me, I’m glad it’s you.”  Her words make him remember he has a heart, and he lands clumsily outside of her house.  “I’ll send him out,” she says after a moment, and Tony waits until she hangs up before letting out a gasp of a breath and then lowering the mask.  He slides out of the suit, one of the newer features he’s installed in the portable models he prefers that it folds back in on itself; the Mark V reforms into the briefcase, and Bruce is just opening the door when he lowers it to the ground.  He moves forward five steps, and then stops, and, for once, he doesn’t know what his face looks like.

 

Bruce must, though, because he comes right down the stairs, and Tony’s been kissed before, by Pepper, when he thought he was falling in love with her, when he knew he was in love with her, when he had to tell her he couldn’t do it, not to her, all in the most ridiculous moments of his life, after killing Vanko, after drinking himself so low he almost didn’t wake up, after going into space and nearly dying, but this.  This is none of those.

 

This is Bruce stopping three steps away from him, this is Tony swearing and saying, “I love you, okay, I just—” and this is Bruce smiling and rolling his eyes and closing those last three steps to press his forehead against Tony’s and say, “Yeah—I love you, too, actually.”

 

Tony crosses off trying to instigate a green rage monster to kill me on his mental list of stupid ideas, and instead he just tilts his head up, nose brushing along Bruce’s, and he kisses him, hands moving to grasp at him, thumbs digging into his jaw, and Bruce’s own fingers curl around his forearms, and he actually kisses back, matches every ounce that Tony gives and then takes a little.  When he pulls back, he’s breathless for the first time in a good way in a long time.

 

“Can you come home?  I really don’t want to sleep alone,” Tony admits, and Bruce almost laughs at how much those two phrases define everything about them.

 

And given half the chance would I take any of it back.

It’s a fine romance, but it’s left me so undone.

 

When Tony wakes up, it’s because he’s drifted from the cycle of sleep Bruce was so carefully constructing, and so it’s three o’clock in the morning when he opens his eyes and looks over at the clock to his left and then to his right where Bruce is lying on his back, one hand resting lightly on his stomach.  The sheets are pooled at his waist, and Tony gets that, know why he refuses to sleep on his sides or stomach, as well, but the fact that the sheets are pushed down means he’s easily distracted by the rise and fall of Bruce breathing.

 

He remembers Bruce sliding off the bed and coming over to him to whisper that he couldn’t be intimate, and he remembers practically tossing the word myth at him.  Tony likes challenges, but he likes Bruce more, and while this may be a challenge of sorts, he doesn’t think of it like that.  This is Bruce, and on that principal alone, it means something so much more.

 

Tony thinks about heart rates and chemical imbalances and different stressors as he rolls onto his side and props himself up on an elbow, his other hand twitching a little on the mattress, on the space still between them.  He thinks about Obadiah reaching into his chest and Betty saying if it wasn’t me, I’m glad it’s you and how things were never going to work out with Pepper as he tiptoes his fingers across the mattress and brushes his knuckles against Bruce’s t-shirt clothed side.  He always sleeps clothed, and so Tony’s gotten into the habit of doing it, if only to make Bruce more comfortable.

 

He thinks about listening to Thor tell him how Hulk had caught him out of the sky, how the Norse god had already been preparing to save Tony himself, how Hulk had been so far away, but how he’d seen anyway, how Steve had heard the roar before Hulk was even really that close, how he and Thor had turned to watch as Hulk careened through the air, how Steve had thought for a split second Bruce was lost, gone entirely, never to be seen again as Hulk took over, rogue and angry.  He thinks about listening to Thor tell him how Hulk had smashed into a building catching him, how he’d shielded Tony with his arms and body, turned his back to everything so that Tony wouldn’t get the blow, curled around him as they fell to the ground, how Hulk had growled, loud and clearheaded, how Tony had woken up, how Thor had almost laughed at Hulk scaring Tony awake.

 

It was how Thor had described it, though, how he’d said that Hulk was shifting like he was frustrated, not angry, but like he couldn’t think straight, how he’d seemed to make a connection a few moments later, how he’d roared after; that was what had caught Tony’s attention, and he knows that’s why he’s been testing Bruce.  Because, in that moment, he knows that frustration was Hulk digging for Bruce, trying to find his knowledge, trying to understand how to wake Tony up, he knows that Hulk roaring was Bruce’s doing, a small part of the scientist coming through with a solution to the problem.

 

Even before that, Tony was never afraid.  Now—now he thinks he might be a little reckless sometimes, but he trusts Bruce so much, with everything, with his life.  He knows he’ll never betray him, knows there’s no possible way that could ever happen, not even with Hulk.  Because he’s combining the two, teaching Bruce to accept Hulk and Hulk to help Bruce, and he knows they both appreciate it.

 

And so maybe that’s why Bruce doesn’t stir when Tony’s knuckles brush his side because, somewhere deep in his slumber, he knows it’s Tony, and he knows he’s safe.  Tony settles for the knuckle-brushing for a bit before he lets his fingers track up to where Bruce’s hand is on his stomach, and he traces patterns on the back of his hand, following the lines of his veins until Bruce makes a little noise and turns his head, brown eyes fluttering open.

 

Bruce holds his gaze sleepily as Tony’s fingers skitter up his arm until his palm flattens over his shoulder and rubs around the curve of it, back until it’s just his fingers, and he skips over the collar and slips a thumb underneath, presses at his collarbone.  He makes Bruce focus on him for a moment, makes him answer the question in his eyes, and Bruce does so by closing his own, breathing out slow.  So Tony takes his hand away and sits up a little, grabs the back of his t-shirt and pulls it off, tosses it over the side of the bed before he shifts and moves, right leg sliding over Bruce’s body and settling on the mattress again, the sheets falling farther away as he does.  He hovers, still unsure, but then one of Bruce’s hands comes up along his thigh, fingers ghosting right up under Tony’s boxers, and he holds his hand steady there for a few beats before the callused pads of his fingers, so alike Tony’s, knead softly, carefully, warningly, and Tony knows what it means.  That is his sign—just in case—for now.

 

He settles slowly, straddling Bruce’s waist, and the scientist just keeps on breathing as he has been, soft and slow and easy, and Tony knows what it means because he can feel Bruce’s slightly quickened pulse, still barely above sleeping anyway, when he lays his hand just above his heart, fingers splayed against his neck, shoulder, and collarbone.  God, he loves those, and it’s such a weakness that Bruce has already discovered from the way Tony will tap his own, will tap Bruce’s when they’re close enough, when he’ll drum out rhythms while he’s thinking.  He leans down, lets out a puff of breath to let Bruce know where he is, and Bruce hums underneath him, turns his head a little farther.  Tony places a tentative kiss on the skin of his neck, Bruce’s fingers knead, and then he curves his tongue over his salty skin, and Bruce’s fingers still for a moment.  Tony waits until they start up again on his left thigh before he continues, kissing his way up Bruce’s neck, over his greying black stubble until he reaches his jaw, nips lightly, and Bruce makes a soft noise in the back of his throat.

 

Tony does it again just to hear the noise, and then he sucks the spot in between his teeth, bruises it and marks Bruce as his.  He waits until he can feel the blunt nails on Bruce’s fingers before he moves his hips, small little rotations, and Bruce turns his head, opens his pupil-blown brown eyes to stare into Tony’s blue ones, begs.  Tony sees it, and he loses his breath like he’s been punched, but it doesn’t hurt, and then Bruce’s fingers are leaving his thigh and coming up to cover the arc reactor.  Tony hears everything in that gesture, hears Bruce telling him you’re safe, I won’t hurt you, he won’t hurt you, and it’s all because of you, thank you, I love you.  So Tony puts his hand over Bruce’s and squeezes, says it all back, and then they kiss, slow, but it’s there underneath, this building energy that makes their tongues flick a little faster, that makes Bruce’s hand slip out from underneath Tony’s and find his thigh again, that makes Tony lean back and grunt, pulling at Bruce’s t-shirt.  Bruce leans up enough that Tony can pull it off and throw it somewhere haphazardly before they’re kissing again, Tony’s hands coming up to curl in Bruce’s hair, to tighten a little and test what that does to Bruce.

 

When he pulls back, he says the first words, “You’re in control,” and Bruce breaks a little at how much faith and trust Tony has in him, in the monster.  He doesn’t say anything back because he can’t, but Tony seems to understand that because he takes up the duty of speaking again, “How do you want to do this?”

 

Bruce opens his mouth, closes it again because that’s a question and a half, and his brain catches up a little slowly, and so it’s a few moments before he responds, “I want to be inside of you.”  Tony groans a little, eyes fluttering closed as he rocks a little harder against Bruce, pulls in his bottom lip to scrape his teeth over it.  “I want you above me, though,” he continues, and Tony’s eyes snap open to stare at him for a full three seconds before he nods, once, all genius billionaire playboy philanthropist before he softens again, a split second change as he leans over Bruce and reaches toward the nightstand on the right, fumbles open the drawer, and comes back with a condom and a small tube of lube.  Bruce looks at Tony for a moment before reaching up and taking the foil packet.  Tony blinks as Bruce puts it back on the nightstand, and then he’s beaming, and it’s Christmas in his eyes again, except it’s softer and happier this time, not new toys, just—joy, Bruce realizes belatedly.

 

“Do you want to or—I mean, I can do it, if you want to just—” Tony breaks off in a huff, frustrated, and it’s so adorable that Bruce winds his free hand around Tony’s arm and pulls so that he can kiss him.

 

“I want to,” he whispers when they part, and Tony nods before he’s rolling off Bruce and lifting his hips so he can remove his boxers.  Bruce gets rid of his pants and boxers, watches as Tony lifts a leg over him again, and he takes a moment to just look at him, lean and muscled and beautiful.  The arc reactor casts his and Bruce’s body in a soft blue glow, and he reaches up a hand to brush his fingers over it, smiling softly.  Tony’s eyes never stray from his face, and his own smile gets a little wider at Bruce’s actions.  But then he’s holding out his hand for the lube, and Tony gives it over, quirking an eyebrow until Bruce nods upward a little, and Tony gets the message, lifting off his lap and scooting up a little higher, settling on Bruce’s stomach, knees brushing against his upper arms, toes wiggling against his sides.  He loves that Tony can never sit still.

 

Tony watches Bruce coat the fingers of his left hand, remembers belatedly how much he finds left-handed scientists adorable because then Bruce’s hand is disappearing behind him, and Tony sucks in a breath as he feels his cool, wet fingers skim over his ass, dip between and stroke over his entrance.  He hasn’t done this a long time, with a man, and it’s been even longer since he let one top, but he knows it’s nothing compared to Bruce and his one and only girlfriend, someone he hasn’t been with in years.

 

When Bruce’s index finger passes through tight muscles, Tony arches a little, and he knows his hands are frantic because Bruce’s right hand laces with his left, holds him steady, so Tony settles his right on his thigh, kneads his fingers there in Bruce’s absence.  It’s the second finger that Bruce brushes over that bundle of nerves inside him, and Tony moans, lifting a little, legs tightening in pleasure, and Bruce squirms away from his hand to rub over his thigh and then curl his fingers around Tony’s leaking cock, squeeze the base and then pull up in a slow drag until Tony is gasping and coiled tight with the tension of trying not to react too much.  But then Bruce is releasing his cock and rubbing a hand over his stomach, and his fingers dig in for a second before he breathes audibly, in and out, a little ragged, but steady, and Tony takes his lead, listens to his breath and copies it, follows him into serenity.

 

When Bruce’s three fingers slide back out, Tony is fucking aching, and he takes the bottle of lube, upending some of it in his palm before reaching behind him and wrapping tight fingers around Bruce’s dick, and that’s when his breath staggers, hitching into a bitten-back groan that Tony desperately needs to hear.  “Don’t hide from me,” he whispers, and Bruce looks at him as Tony rises up on his knees, scoots back a little, and holds Bruce’s gaze as he carefully lowers himself down, buries Bruce’s cock inside of him until he can’t take it, and he sighs, stilling only when he feels stretched and filled and home.

 

He splays a hand over Bruce’s stomach, rubs it up over his chest until Bruce takes his hand, holds it tight, and his other settles on Tony’s thigh—just in case.  Tony moves slow, moving above Bruce, building that energy inside them until he can feel it licking at his spine, fire dripping down to coil at the base, and then Tony sees a flare of Hulk.  Bruce’s eyes flash green for a split second, and Tony stills, not afraid, but careful, worried, concerned for Bruce, but the scientist just grunts, and Tony feels his thighs tighten beneath him.  His fingers grip a little harder at Tony’s, his hand slides up to his hip, and the green is gone in the instant before Bruce flips them, manhandles Tony onto his back.

 

Tony stares up at him, unsure, watching, until Bruce takes his hand from his hip to curl it around the back of his knee, hitch his leg up around his ribcage, and only then does Tony grin.  He slides his leg along Bruce’s side, settles his heel in the back of his knee, bends the other to hold himself steady on the mattress, but Bruce is having none of that.  His hips snap in, slap against Tony’s ass, who gasps and grunts at the fierceness before Bruce is lifting his other leg, hooking it over his shoulder, and oh god, Tony could come just from Bruce taking charge like this.

 

He lets Bruce take, lets him turn everything on its head as he sets a slow rhythm, fucking into Tony hard until they’re both groaning and clinging to each other, moving fluidly.  “Bruce,” Tony says suddenly, the hand in his hair, curling even more from the sweat at his temples, tugging until Bruce looks up, “Bruce.”  And Bruce is there, and Hulk is far, far away, for once.  Tony tugs again, and Bruce goes, lets Tony abuse his mouth as his other hand slips in between them, jerks his cock fast and hard, matching Bruce’s climbing rhythm.

 

“God, Tony,” Bruce groans as he pulls away from his mouth, presses his forehead against Tony’s, who can feel it all in Bruce’s body, so he digs his heel into the small of his back a little, flexes the muscles in the leg over Bruce’s shoulder, digs his thumb into the bundle of nerves below the crown of his dick, and gasps as he feels his orgasm bite sharply in his belly, tug low until he’s clenching tight around Bruce and swearing, hand coming up in a tight drag before he comes, and Bruce watches with hungry eyes until his own hips stagger, and he tilts his chin down, claims Tony’s mouth in a bruising kiss as he lets go.  He thrusts shallowly until he feels like he might collapse, and only then does he release Tony’s mouth, only then does he feel the tremor in his muscles, and he needs air.

 

Tony knows immediately, can feel it in the way Bruce holds him, and he untangles quickly, legs falling boneless back to the mattress as Bruce eases out, groaning a little as he does.  Tony gasps, clenching around nothing, empty.  Bruce stumbles off the bed, sags into the nightstand for a second, gathers his feet, and pads a few feet away, digs his fingers into his arms, closes his eyes.

 

It’s only when Tony comes up behind him, tucks his chin over his shoulder, and whispers, “I love you,” that he calms down.

 

And I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.

So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope.

And I’m ready to suffer, and I’m ready to hope.

 

Weeks after the fact, Erik Lehnsherr throws a hissy fit and decides he’s not on speaking terms with Charles anymore, and, as they’re arriving on the scene, Steve gives the commands until Hulk grunts, and he stops, looking up at him.  “Shellhead not fight,” he says, and Tony frowns, turns to Hulk and opens his mouth to argue, but Hulk just narrows his eyes and continues, “Metal man hurt Shellhead.  Control him.”

 

“He has a point,” Clint says, frowning.

 

“Hulk like Shellhead.  Hulk not want Shellhead hurt,” Hulk says, sounding very sincere, and Tony sighs, but it’s so obnoxiously obvious that he’s still not backing down, and even Hulk notices it because he leans down a little and practically whispers—it’s Hulk whispering, though, so it’s mostly just a low rumble—“Bruce says he loves Tony Stark.  Bruce not want Tony Stark hurt.”

 

Tony gapes because what?  The rest of the team is shocked, too, staring at Hulk, who looks a little confused, brow furrowed like he’s listening to Bruce talking inside him.  “Bruce happy with Hulk,” he says after a moment, and he practically beams, straightening again.

 

Tony’s already dismantling the suit, knowing even flying back to the Tower is a bad idea, and Hulk gives him a little pat on the head that nearly makes him topple over, but Clint steadies him with a quick grab of his arm.  When Hulk takes back his hand, Tony returns the gesture, patting his leg.  “Shellhead likes Hulk, too, big guy.”

 

He helps with the fight from the Tower after he someone manages to stealth his way back, talking over the com whenever he notices something the others don’t, and it’s an hour fight before they’ve wrapped up, and Tony turns just as the elevator door is chiming open.  “Just—turn.  Like this,” he hears Clint say a few moments later, and then Jarvis is overriding door privileges.  Hulk somehow gets inside, erupting into Tony’s living room, and he stops immediately, looking around with a frown.  “He asked me to help him back to you,” Clint says, his head poked around the door, and Tony nods in thanks before he’s gone.

 

It’s another hour before Hulk is Bruce, and then still another before Bruce is Bruce, awake and yawning and complaining about being hungry, but, when Tony grabs his face and kisses him hard, Bruce smiles when he pulls back.  “I remember a lot,” Bruce says, and Tony’s whole face scrunches up.

 

“Do you remember telling the Hulk to tell me you loved me?  In front of the whole freaking team?”


“Fuck yeah, I do.  That was my favorite part.”

 

“See, I told you you’d enjoy it one day.”

 

“Make me food,” Bruce says, still grinning, and Tony kisses him again.

 

“I love you, too,” he whispers.

 

It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat,

Looking for heaven, found the devil in me,

Well, what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen to me.