He can feel it, even when he’s not there and the Hulk is controlling the situation. Even surrounded by his friends – no, co-workers – he feels it. When the people see Captain America and Iron Man taking down bad guys, there’s the look of admiration on people’s faces.
When the Hulk stops a barreling truck from colliding into an orphanage, people glare and stare with fear, as if he’s not the same, as if his good deeds are meaningless.
When Bruce comes to, he can feel it, the deep loneliness that the other guy experiences. He might be primal urges, but he’s not entirely mindless. He cares enough to save Tony falling from the sky, and he cares how people scream in fear, even when he’s trying to help them. He’s angry, yes, but there’s a part of that anger generated on Bruce’s behalf for being made to feel alone, even when he shows how good of a person he is.
Bruce doesn’t feel like it’s worth it anymore, but he knows he has no choice. He can’t kill himself, and who knows if he’s immortal? No, all he can do is suck it up and accept the fact that he will never be accepted.
And the one person who accepts him completely for who - no, what - he is seems too self-absorbed to notice how he feels.
Words he doesn’t understand.
Die a little on the inside.
Get in the car.
Go back to the tower.
Sit alone at the bar with a drink in hand.
Hesitate to call Bruce.
Put phone down and go to sleep.
There are days when Bruce feels as if he’s really part of the team. These days go by smoothly with everyone getting work done and being in a good mood. Clint and Tony’s banter goes on while he, Steve, and Natasha talk quietly about politics. Sometimes Thor is there, but as a prince of another realm, he’s needed in more places than one. But when he does come, everyone’s mood rises. No one can honestly stay mad at that unearthly smile.
And then there are days when Bruce just locks himself in a small janitorial closet and breathes deeply for half an hour because he’s so close to hulking out that he can actually see a pale green tint in his skin and feel his muscles straining. On these days, someone has offended someone else and fighting breaks out. More than once he has had to talk Tony down from getting in Steve’s face, and today is one of those days.
But this time, Tony snaps at Bruce.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Bruce. Who asked you to be the goddamn U.N.?” Tony turns his attention to Bruce, who is absolutely still, used to being yelled at, but not by someone he cares so deeply about.
“You’re not our babysitter, okay? We’re grown ass men who don’t need some meek little bitch trying to interrupt us all the time!” And then Tony storms out and everyone is on guard, expecting Bruce to transform. Instead, he sighs loudly and covers his face, too ashamed to allow the others to see the tears fighting their way past his eye lids. He tries to keep his breathing steady, tries to stay calm, but his heart is racing dangerously and he wishes someone could shoot him dead.
There’s a soft hand on his back and a thicker arm wrapped around his shoulders. He sniffs a little, wipes his face in one motion and looks up. Everyone is crowded around him, and it’s Steve and Natasha who are brace enough to approach him when he’s so close to becoming a raging, uncontrollable beast.
It settles his nerves, and he smiles shyly.
Too cocky to admit being wrong.
Ad hominem arguments.
Not even really angry.
Annoyed on an adrenaline rush.
Did I really say that to Bruce?
Run away from apologizing.
Cry into a bottle of vodka.
Wake up in own puke.
Pepper doesn’t even look fazed.
Need to escape everything.
He continues to come to work, putting on a happy face and being cordial. He has to, because he’s not about to admit he’s still hurt over something that happened a week ago.
A week and no sign of Tony, not even a call or email.
Bruce has this nagging feeling that he should tell someone his concerns or just go over on his own, but maybe this is normal for a man with so many issues. After all, Bruce has been known to disappear completely after he gets angry.
He chooses to leave Natasha a note that reads,
Gone to visit Tony to see if he’s okay. If it all goes well, you’ll know by the lack of property damage.
He chuckles at his own dark humor and leaves it on her book.
A cocktail of liquor and pills.
Drink the liquor because it’s familiar.
The pills are scary.
How bad do I want to die?
Who will find my body?
Should I leave a note?
Which pill is this?
Is this the right –
Is this going to hurt?
Who is coming up?
No one will care.
Pushed everyone away.
Oh god, Bruce.
I don’t want to die.
The walk is long, but it gives the doctor some time to think about what he’s going to say. He practices the words over and over in his head, plays out each possible scenario, and ultimately decides to just say, “I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
The receptionist lets him in once he identifies himself as an Avenger and he heads up to the penthouse. He prays that Tony looks half-way decent and is at least half-sober.
The elevator dings and the doors slide open silently. Bruce wrings his hands nervously as he steps out and looks around. Nothing seems amiss, which is a good sign, but he can’t find Tony. Nervously, Bruce walks around, inspecting the open common area, the kitchen, and the restroom. Swallowing, he looks at the staircase and decides to push his luck. With each stair step, he feels increasing dread. Something is wrong; Tony was alerted of his presence and was supposed to be here. He should have known Bruce was here.
Bruce pushes open the first door; a study.
Second door; bedroom.
Third door; bedroom.
Fourth room; gym.
Fifth room; storage.
Sixth room: Tony.
The scientist is lying on his side and there are various bottles strewn about the bed. Bruce’s doctorial instincts kick in, not bothering to ask why, how long, or what was taken, because he just knows.
He drags Tony to the large master bathroom and positions his friend over the toilet bowl, then grabs a tooth brush and shoves it down the billionaire’s throat until he vomits. Tony is still unconscious, but Bruce is relieved to see some of the pills hadn’t digested yet.
He does this a few more times until Tony is dry heaving and has opened his eyes, red and teary.
Bruce silences his attempts to speak with a look as he undresses him and lifts him into the tub. He turns on the cold water and allows the tub to fill, even though Tony is shivering. He needs to shiver; he needs to stay awake.
Bruce needs him to stay awake.
“I love you.”
A gentle hand wiping his forehead.
“Please don’t leave me.”
A whisper lost to the darkness that settles over him.
Bruce is sitting in the waiting room with the others, including Nick Fury, and no one speaks. Natasha is leaning against Bruce to comfort him. He appreciates it, because he knows she doesn’t touch people unless it’s fighting. She is always nice to him. She is the only one who sees the last look of desperation, the saddened humanity, in Bruce’s eyes before he completely turns into the Hulk. It’s brief and the transformation is there, but she catches it the first time and always watches for it. She understands that it’s not his choice to be a monster; life set him up to be miserable, the way life set her up to never trust anyone except Clint and Bruce.
The doctor arrives with a chart in his hand and Bruce automatically jumps to his feet. The conversation sounds like a dull drumming in his ears, but he catches, “He’s alive and conscious. The stomach pumping went without a hitch” and that’s all he needs to hear.
Fury takes over the conversation and Bruce almost collapses with relief. Thor catches him in one, strong arm and gives him a tight hug.
Bruce appreciates the affection, but all he wants is Tony.
A hand against his face.
Eyes open; focus.
A kiss on the forehead,
A breathy sigh.
“Don’t do that to me again, Tony.”
Fingers in hair.
“You’re not alone.”
A choked sob.
He doesn’t mind that everyone sees him kissing Tony. He doesn’t care what they think. He only cares that this poor, lonely man feel better soon.
Bruce thinks, This is me. This was me when I tried to kill myself. But I had no one who cared about me.
He refuses to leave Tony’s side, stating that he himself is a licensed doctor, and no one argues with him. No one wants to argue with the Hulk.
I’m not the Hulk; I’m just misunderstood.
Natasha touches his shoulder and leaves without a word. When it comes to consoling, she is wordless. The rest follow her lead, and Bruce lays his head on Tony’s arm, murmuring words of love into his skin. He intertwines his fingers with Tony’s and whispers how afraid he was, and how much he worried before that. Bruce tells him how alone he feels, how bad it gets, how he tried to do the same thing, but couldn’t. He tells Tony how much he loves him and will always be there for him, no matter what.
Open eyes; dark curls.
“I could hear you.”
“Thank you for not giving up on me.”
“I will never give up on you.”
“When will this loneliness be over?”
A soft kiss to the fingers.
“When people realize that when we bleed, we bleed the same.”