Bruce folded his arms and leaned against the counter. “Okay, but Stark’s not going to like it. He won’t be able to see why you’re trying to ruin his fun.”
“He won’t be able to understand why I don’t want him making pillow forts in one of our spaceships?” Fury’s voice was highly skeptical.
“In all fairness, it’s a very intricate pillow fort. I had no idea that pillows were such good building materials.”
“I don’t care how good it is. I want it gone. We need that ship to be usable.”
Bruce pushed away from the table. “I can tell him what you said, but he’s not going to listen.” He walked down through the building, stopping a few times to punch in high-access security codes. Usually, the fact that he was trusted enough to be given these codes made him feel good, but right now, all he could think about was what he would say to Stark.
It was funny, after all they’d gone through together, that he still thought of him as Stark. He didn’t think of the other Avengers by their last names. And in the entire world, Tony was probably the person Bruce was closest to. Not that it was much of a contest.
Bruce knocked on the door of the spaceship, tapping out his name in Morse Code.
“I’m sorry,” said the door. “That password is not correct.”
Bruce sighed. Of course it wasn’t correct, because Stark changed the password every few days and could never be bothered to tell him the new one. He hit the door with his fist. “Stark, it’s me! Could you let me in?”
“I’m sorry. That password is not correct. You have one more attempt before I will be forced to terminate you.”
Bruce pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed.
“Hello, Dr. Banner. What can I do for you?”
“You changed the password again.” Bruce couldn’t keep the annoyance out of his voice. He took a few deep breaths.
“Oh right, I did. It’s the atomic masses of Krypton, Astatine, and Sulfur.”
Bruce thought for a moment. “That spells Krats. I’m assuming you did that on purpose?”
“Well, I couldn’t make Stark with the letters on the table, so I had to write it backwards.”
“Of course. I’ll be inside in a minute.” Bruce hung up and looked back at the door. “83.798; 209.99; 32.06.”
“That is the correct password. You may now enter.”
Bruce stepped inside the ship, ducking between pillows until her reached the center. where Stark was sitting on the couch, sunglasses on and drinking a cocktail.
“Let me guess. Fury sent you to tell me that spaceships aren’t toys, and I need to leave.”
Stark leaned back and put his feet on the table. “Well, I can’t leave until I finish my experiment.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
Stark looked at him through his sunglasses. “Bruce, sit down.” He pointed to the couch.
Bruce sat down on the couch, feeling awkward. “You keep talking about your experiment. What is it?”
“I want to see how long it’ll take Fury to get me to leave. It’s been about two weeks since I set up in here, and he still hasn’t sent anyone in except you, and you don’t count because you have my permission to be here.”
“I don’t understand why he hasn’t sent anyone to get you out yet.”
“He wants to keep the peace. Doesn’t want to disrupt our happy little Avenger family. And he has you to consider.” Stark set his drink down. “You’re in here all the time, and I’d bet anything he’s weighing the odds of you hulking out the minute he sends someone in here to extract us.”
“So you’re using me as way to keep out people you don’t want?”
“No, I’m using you as part of an experiment to drive Fury up the wall. Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like fun.”
“But you’re still using me to get your way.”
Stark nodded, and took a large sip of his drink.
“I should go.”
Stark grabbed his arm. “Why?”
“I need to leave. I don’t want you using the Other Guy to get your way. I don’t want to hurt anyone just so that you can have a pillow fort, and I think you’re underestimating how dead you’ll be if he makes an appearance.”
“I resent the insinuation that I want you to hurt anyone. I only said that Fury wouldn’t want anyone destroying his ship.”
“Not anyone. Me. I’m the one who he doesn’t want destroyed the ship.”
“Well, I think he’d be upset no matter who did the destroying.”
Bruce didn’t know why this was frustrating him so much. Stark was just trying to push his buttons. He should have better control than this, but he could feel his heart rate speeding up. He was getting dizzy and his thoughts were fuzzy and he had to get control of himself. He needed to sit. Yes. Sitting down. That was a good idea. Deep breaths, in, out.
“Bruce, are you all right?” Stark’s voice seemed far away.
“Don’t talk to me,” he said through gritted teeth.
“But I need to know if you’re all right. Listen, do you need a drink? I can make you a martini.”
“Please, just-don’t.” Deep breaths, in and out. “I just need a minute.”
“Are you sure?”
“Will you please listen? I need you to stop talking! I don’t want to hurt you!” and oh God, spots were appearing in front of his vision and breathe in, breathe out, and he was trying to hold on to his remaining threads of consciousness, had to hold on, but it was flickering and fading out and just keep breathing, keep breathing, in, out, in, out, and then there were Stark’s hands on his shoulders, and “Come on, Bruce, breathe with me!” and in, and out, in, out, in out.
The spots retreated, and Bruce’s heart slowed down. “That was too close. This is why I have to go.” He tried to stand, but Stark was still holding his arms.
“You can’t leave.”
“I can’t stay.”
Stark didn’t listen, just put an arm around Bruce and pulled him against him. “You’re still too close to the edge. If you leave here and something sets you off, we’re all screwed.”
“What if you set me off?” Bruce asked, trying to ignore how Stark’s arms felt around him, how safe he felt here.
“This place is aircraft metal reinforced with pillows. Isn’t it a little conceited to think that you could break something this strong?”
“I could still hurt you.”
“I know the risks.”
“Not Stark. You always call me that. It drives me crazy. If you can’t bring yourself to call me Tony, at least say Iron Man.”
“Why don’t you want me to call you Stark?”
He sighed. “It’s what people called my dad, and I’m not him. It’s his fault I was into the weapons business. That so many people died- it’s not what I stand for. I’m not him. Now, can we please move away from this topic? It’s starting to feel like psycho analysis, and that can only end badly.” He picked up a remote and turned on the TV. Some cooking show was on, but he didn’t move to change the channel. Bruce suspected that Tony didn’t care what he was watching, if it changed the subject.
His arm was still around him.
“Tony, why are you doing this?”
“Whatever it is that you’re doing. You could be rebuilding Stark Tower, or out with Pepper. Why are you here?”
“Yes, but you see, if I were at Stark Tower, or out with Pepper, there wouldn’t be the added bonus of driving Fury crazy. Besides, Pepper and I broke up, so I don’t know how easy it would be to go out on a date with her. I suppose I could surgically alter my face so that she wouldn’t know it was me, but that seems like a lot of work for one date.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“I’m here because I feel like it. It’s got everything I like. Science, pillows, alcohol—” he held up his glass. “and cooking shows.”
“Yes, but you have all of those at home, too. Tony, will you please just tell me what’s going on?”
Tony didn’t answer, and Bruce decided not to push it. After several minutes, Tony finally spoke. “Do you ever just get scared?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I never used to worry about what would happen if I failed, because I knew that I wouldn’t fail.”
“Must have been nice.”
“Not the point. The point is that there was always some part of me that enjoyed fighting. That was always waiting. And I don’t feel that way anymore. Now whenever I think about the next big thing, I just get scared.”
“I’m always scared,” Bruce replied quietly.
“Myself, mostly. That I’ll lose control. That people will die, and it’ll all be because of me.”
“But that’s not you you’re scared of, it’s the Other Guy. If you failed, it wouldn’t be your fault.”
“Tony, I am the Other Guy. It’s impossible to separate me from him. If he kills people, it hurts me as much as if I was the one who did it.”
“Sorry. I’m just- I’m not used to being scared.”
“Why now? What’s changed?”
“Bruce- it’s just- the world was almost destroyed by Loki. And it was me who stopped it.”
“But I almost didn’t. I hesitated. Wasn’t sure if the world was worth my dying over. I didn’t want to risk it.”
“Tony, what’s your point?”
“My point is, the world was almost destroyed, and it would have been all my fault.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. You’re not the one that stole the cube. You’re not the one that tried to destroy the world.” You’re not even the one who lost control and smashed your team’s ship.
“Yes, but it still would have been my fault. I almost let the world be destroyed.”
“But you didn’t.”
“But I almost did.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does.”
Bruce turned his head to look Tony in the eye. Tony’s arm around him made this hard to do, but he did it anyways. “You are the most self-centered person I’ve ever met. You saved the world, and all you can do is gripe about one moment of hesitation you had?” He was getting frustrated, but mostly he just felt desperate to make Tony understand. “You’re just so—”
He reached up and grabbed Tony’s face, and suddenly they were kissing, and it was both like drowning and like waking up from a good dream. Tony’s arms went around his waist and things went hazy, but not the way they did when the Other Guy was about to make an appearance. In fact, Bruce was sure that as long as Tony was kissing him like that, he would never transform again.
After a few seconds, they broke apart. Tony looked at Bruce, confusion on his face. “What was that for?”
“I’m not sure,” Bruce confessed.
“I suppose that’s fair.”
“So, about your experiment. I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s an excellent idea.”
Tony smiled impishly. “Do you?”
“Absolutely. I’ve always wondered what Fury’s like when he’s angry.”
“He’ll probably send Natasha in after us.”
“I was thinking Steve.”
Tony groaned. “I don’t know if I can handle Stars and Stripes without a drink in my hand.”
“We’ll just throw pillows at him until he goes away.”
“That is the advantage to hiding out in a pillow fort. You promise you’ll help me throw them at him?”
Bruce smiled. “Yes, I promise.”