In Tony’s opinion, right now, Bruce pretty much has the H– the other guy under his control, ninety-nine per cent of the time . He hasn’t transformed - unwillingly, at least, because being an Avenger usually requires Bruce to turn into the jolly green giant – in quite a while.
Bruce – with the help of one Tony Stark, of course - has been working on identifying the things that trigger the other guy’s appearance, and trying to eliminate, or control them, at least. The most obvious causes - his anger, extreme fear, even threats to his safety – he has gotten a grip on, with varying degrees of success.
But the one thing they’ve never tested – never even thought to test, honestly – is the Hulk’s reaction to someone he cared about being faced with a threat.
And apparently, he really, really doesn’t like it. That’s why, when an army of red, spiky, extremely threatening aliens manages to barge into Stark Towers and take Tony by surprise – meaning without his suit – the Hulk makes an immediate appearance. No thought, not even an attempt at control. He just appears, and places a massive hand in front of Tony’s body protectively, just in time to stop him getting hit with the blue laser-beams that would have undoubtedly done serious damage, had it connected.
Of course, an enormous battle ensues and Tony scrabbles to find his Mark 7 bracelets, or get to his lab, whichever he manages first. Then, out of nowhere, this enormous green wall just sweeps him off his feet and slams him to the wall. But oddly gently, for the Hulk.
Still, ‘gentle’ by the Hulk’s definition is pretty much equal to really freaking hard. And damn, that hurt like nobody’s business. Shit, even in the suit, getting thrown around by the Hulk isn’t much fun. Without it? Ow. Just so everybody’s clear.
By the time Tony’s head stops ringing and everything doesn’t seem like a giant blur anymore, he gathers that the Hulk was trying to keep him out of the line of fire. That is… a strangely sweet thought, but still.
Taking stock of the situation, Tony realises that the ringing isn’t all in his head. JARVIS is understandably having a freak-out of epic proportions. Alarms are blaring, lights are flashing, and JARVIS is alerting just about everyone he can reach about the situation.
And he’s trapped. The Hulk had slammed him the furthest corner, where he’s least likely to be hit by any stray beams, but that has also put the fight, and a shit-ton of armed aliens, between him and the suit.
Thankfully, backup arrives almost immediately. Having teammates who can commandeer a jet in two seconds flat and shoot an arrow that hits its target every damn time on top of that, is a really useful advantage, Tony thinks.
Between the Hulk, Natasha, Clint, and Steve, the fight winds down in a matter of minutes. All of them are used to punching above their weight, and these guys aren’t even close to what they usually face.
When the fight is over and done with, everyone takes a minute to breathe, because lightweight or not, there were a lot of those aliens, and their weapons were no joke either.
This is usually where the Hulk retreats to a corner, or another relatively shielded spot, to curl up and shrink back to Tony’s favourite shy, reserved scientist.
Not this time, though. This time, he strides right up to Tony and picks him up, bodily, in a giant green fist. From Tony’s perspective, the world goes blurry for a minute, and then suddenly he’s staring at a giant green face, legs dangling from the air.
“Bruce, what -” is all Tony is able to get out before the Hulk is moving across the room. With his large strides, he only needs a couple of steps before he’s out of the room and in another empty one, in the other side of the tower.
In the middle of the room, the Hulk sits down, and places Tony – carefully, he might add – on top of one massive thigh, so basically, Tony is sitting in the Hulk’s lap. Before he can even contemplate this freaking bizarre turn of events, Tony looks up at the Hulk’s face, trying to figure it out, and oh. Oh.
When he looks into those eyes, he sees. There is no anger in that expression; no rage or fury. There is just fear, and a kind of desperate concern, and that’s when Tony understands. Because the concern? It isn’t for himself. It’s for Tony, and that is so mind-bogglingly unlikely that Tony is struck speechless for a moment.
The Hulk is worried about him, and damn, there is so much of Bruce there that Tony can read in that one expression.
There are footsteps coming down the hallway, military boots by the sounds of it, and a lot of them, too. They’ve probably been notified of the situation and are armed by tranquilizers, Tasers, and who the hell knows what else, ready to take on the giant rage monster.
Only, the Hulk isn’t a monster, and not exactly raging at the moment. On the contrary, his head has whipped around at the sound of the footsteps, and his expression has melted into fear and distress, knowing what they meant.
And then Tony is just tired. Tired of the fear in the Hulk’s eyes, the same fear he sometimes sees in Bruce, too. The fear of putting even a toe out of line, of being vigilant every second he’s awake, so he doesn’t do the wrong thing or hurt the wrong people, in fear that he’ll be taken away and handed to someone as a lab-rat. Tired of seeing his friend get hurt, over and over again. He is just so fucking tired of it all.
So he tells JARVIS to lock the damn door and not to open it for anything, as long as it takes for him to get back Bruce; to get back his friend.
Because Bruce only changed to protect him in the first place, and he’s still trying to keep Tony safe. So yeah, damned if he’s going to let anyone lay a finger on Bruce after all that.
“Sir?” says JARVIS, sounding hesitant and somewhat protective.
Okay, yes, Tony officially has the best AI ever - he can be protective - but now’s not exactly the best time. “Just do it, all right, JARVIS?”
“Hey,” he says, looking up at the Hulk. “Hey, big guy, it’s okay, yeah? It’s all right, you’re okay…we’re okay, see,” he gestures at himself.
The Hulk makes a rumbling sound, inquisitive and noticeably anxious. He’s still fixated at the door, from where there are sounds of people trying to break into the room.
“Nobody’s going to hurt you, buddy,” he says, trying for the casual Tony Stark confidence, the one he wears when he’s trying to cover up the cracks; the same one he used on Loki. It doesn’t work, not this time, because the Hulk leans down and growls at him, right into his face.
Okay, not the best thing to say. Almost a lie, that one. There’s a lot of people outside that door, outside this tower, who would happily take the chance to hurt him. So, the next best thing, then.
“I won’t let them hurt you,” he says, voice shaky. Because he means it, oh so much. He wants to protect this man, both sides of him, from the world that has hurt him so very much. “Okay? Whatever it takes. You and me, we watch each other’s backs. You were protecting me earlier, now I’m going to return the favour, yeah?”
Now the Hulk is watching him, with something that looks very much like understanding in his eyes. Tony watches as the fear drains away from his expression, bit by bit, until all that’s left are the two of them. And then Tony is leaning against the Hulk’s chest, because he’s not a threat here, not to him, and because this has been a massively exhausting day, all right?
As soon as Tony feels the shifting signalling the Hulk’s transformation, he scrambles to get off of his lap, because the last thing Bruce needs after changing back is a lapful of dirty, exhausted Tony Stark.
And then it’s just Bruce, sitting curled up on the floor, shaking a little bit and looking wrecked, but thankfully not unconscious this time. Tony finds a worn grey blanket from a cupboard and wraps it around him. Bruce pulls it closer and looks gratefully at Tony.
Then, and only then, does he tell JARVIS to unlock the door. Immediately, chaos descended, as people pour in the room, pointing weapons everywhere, and their teammates, who are scanning the room everything with hawk-like intensity, taking in every detail.
Tony stops anyone from going near Bruce, especially the people with weapons, because fuck it, they are not allowed, okay? Bruce is still shivering, slightly, and the guy deserves a little peace and quiet, and Tony’s going to make damn sure he gets some.
He know that he’s going to be yelled at six ways from Sunday for pulling the door-locking stunt, but he just can’t bring himself to care. He’s always been yelled at, his whole life, but that hasn’t stopped him yet.
Looking at the small smile Bruce gives him, amidst all the chaos, Tony decides that yeah, it was definitely the right thing to do.